Dear Philly-o-philes, Paglia-esque pundits, Rocky Balboa buffs, and Duchampian demimondaines:
I recently visited my close friend Camille Paglia in Philadelphia, where she is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts. Camille and I met back in October 1992 when she was touring with her essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture. In 1993 we collaborated on the short film, "Glennda and Camille Do Downtown" and in 1995, "Glennda and Camille Do Fashion Avenue." I hadn't seen her since she visited NYC two summers ago and it truly was a treat to have her as my own personal tour guide in the City of Brotherly Love (I hadn't been there since 1994, when our film played at the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I have vague memories of being on stage--done up like a Nancy Sinatra doppelganger--standing next to Camille, and rambling on about why I thought Leni Riefenstahl was a feminist icon).
On this recent day I visited Philly, Camille, as you can imagine, never stopped commenting for one moment on the details concerning every monument, fountain, painting, sculpture, building, street corner, tree, rock, and lamp post that came into her crosshairs. (I exaggerate, of course--but I learned so much!)
We started out the day with dim sum at Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown. Better than most of the dim sum I've had in NYC and on par with what I've had in Hong Kong, mainland China and Kuala Lumpur, the food at Dim Sum Garden is a must for all visitors to Philly's Chinatown, One of the highlights was the spicy sliced ox tongue and veal stomach with cilantro (above). Mmm, mmm, good! I instructed Camille on how to eat Shanghai soup dumplings (which I first tried in Shanghai 5 years ago) without burning her mouth as we wildly caught up on international gossip--all off the record, of course! It was such a relief to gossip publicly in Philly without having to constantly look over my shoulder, as I do in NYC, to see if so-and-so editor or bottom-feeding blogger is eavesdropping.
Next stop was the gorgeous Swann Fountain in Logan Square on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which connects Center City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's also known as the Fountain of the Three Rivers--three colossal Native American figures represent Philadelphia's main waterways--the Schuylkill River, the Delaware River, and Wissahickon Creek.
The Swann Fountain was designed by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder in 1924. Calder's son was Alexander Calder, who is of course famous for his mobiles. Calder's father, the sculptor, Alexander Milne Calder, did the giant figure of William Penn atop the tower of Philadelphi's City Hall.
Logan Square was where the public gallows used to be. The last person executed there was in 1823.
- Above: Camille cools off in the Swann's spray
Camille: "I am wearing my Axe t-shirt from Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, where I lectured in May. The Brazilian superstar singer, Daniela Mercury, who sent me five of her DVDs tied up with red ribbon to the green room after my lecture, is called 'The Queen of Axe.' Axe is a heavily rhythmic pop music that was born in Bahia, the most Africanized region in Brazil."
Speaking of Mercury, I found this article and photo of the singer kissing another woman star onstage (shades of Madge and Brit, hello) while recording a DVD. (To enlarge photo, click on "Vieja a foto ampliada).
After her recent lecture trip to Brazil, Camille wrote about Ms. Mercury in Salon and it can be read here.
Camille: "The pediments (triangular architectural niches above columns) of the Philadelphia Museum of Art recreate the original design of Greek temples. We think Greek and Roman statues are cool marble white, because their paint has worn off over the centuries. It seems weird and garish to see how vividly polychrome ancient sculptures actually were!
At the center here (created in terra cotta in 1932) is Zeus, king of the gods, wearing a sunburst crown and carrying the globe of the world in his hand. To his right is Aphrodite, goddess of love. To his left is the mother goddess Demeter with the child Triptolemus. Then seated is Ariadne, princess of Crete, watching the Greek hero Theseus lift his sword to slay the dread Minotaur, half bull, half man, whose lair was the mysterious labyrinth at the great palace of Knossos. Scholars have conjectured that ancient Cretans thought that the thundering sound of earthquakes was the roar of a subterranean bull."
(For some reason, whenever I hear "Greek mythology" I think of the yummy Harry Hamlin as Perseus in "Clash of the Titans".....)
Above: Camille would like to see Diana stripped of her patina
"Diana," by August Saint-Gaudens, is a colossal, gilded copper image of the Roman goddess of the hunt, which dominates the main staircase at the Museum. "It definitely needs cleaning--I am appalled!" Camille exclaimed when we entered the main hall. "In 1991, when Harry Benson photographed me at the Museum for the cover story of New York magazine ("Woman Warrior"), the statue was still gold!"
"Diana" was made in 1891 for the tower of the original Madison Square Garden, designed by Stanford White and demolished in 1925. As an archer, she illustrates the Garden's sports motif. It was actually the second statue of Diana that Saint-Gaudens made for the tower. The first one was designed as a weathervane and turned out to be too big. It was the highest object in Manhattan at that time and was the first statue to be lit up by electric light. It could be seen from New Jersey and the other boroughs.
Above: Proto-Bollywood starlet, circa 1578
Camille and I toured the Pillared Temple Hall from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, in Southern India. It was constructed of granite in the 16th century.
Me and a Hindu fertility goddess. Too bad I left my ovaries at home that day!
Above: "I'm as haggard as my fellow Aries, Bette Davis, in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?'! I'd just staggered from two straight weeks of boilerplate university paperwork." (We think Camille looks fab posing here in a Japanese ceremonial teahouse in a stone and bamboo garden.)
Above: No, this is not a Catholic sex toy.
This Silver Reliquary contains the forearm of St. Babylas (!), martyr and bishop of Antioch from the 3rd century. Made around 1467 (they kept his arm around for that long?! Did they even have freezers back then?) in Germany. Relic from Byzantium (Constantinople, now Istanbul).
Above: In case you were wondering whatever happened to Sister Wendy...
This is the Reliquary Bust of Saint Scholastica, sister of Saint Benedict (she may also be a distant relative of Gina Lollobrigida but this has not been confirmed). Born in Italy during the decadent late Roman Empire (THOSE were the days!). She is the patron saint of convulsive children and nuns. Painted wood, made around 1500 in southern Netherlands or northern France (and she would like great on my bookshelf next to my late-decadent Elvis bust and Fellini DVD collection). Camille: "She sure looks fresher than me! Love those glossy skin tones." And this was before CHANEL moisturizer was invented!
Above: Paglia pauses for pious prayer pose and precious pontification.
Camille: "Saint Michael has been my favorite saint since childhood because there was a gorgeous statue of him in my baptismal church, St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, New York, the factory town where I was born. He is shown in the silver armor of a Roman soldier as he spears and tramples the devil. As an Aries (sign of Mars, god of war), I have always identified strongly with that approach to life! It certainly inspired me as I trampled the devil of poststructuralism into the academic dust. It must be remembered that I was raised in the peppy, perky, ever-smiling Doris Day/Debbie Reynolds 1950s. St. Michael, in contrast, was a role model of fierce aggression. He represented courage and independent action--as did Amelia Earhart, my feminist role model during high school in the early 1960s. Is it any wonder that I had no patience whatever for the whining, male-bashing, victim-oriented feminism that sprang up in the late '60s and '70s? I'll take St. Michael over Gloria Steinem any day!" ZING!
Above: A day without minimalist, reimagined porn is like a day without sunshine.
Brancusi, "Torso of a Young Man," 1917-22, maple on limestone block
Camille: "A magnificently minimalist icon, descending from the kouros sculptures (nude athletes) of Archaic Greece. The streamlined missing genitals are startlingly reimagined in the overall phallic/scrotal design."
Camille: "Glenn exchanges a long, lingering glance with an attentive, mysteriously evocative cultic object."
Brancusi, "Princess X" Polished bronze on a limestone block. 1915-16. "This began as a portrait of a real woman with a long neck. It then morphed toward the phallic and created a scandal."
After my intimate encounter with Brancusi's evocative, provocative objet, we made our way over to the Marcel Duchamp room....
Above: Long before the calculated controversy of Damien Hirst, there was "Nude Descending a Staircase."
Camile: "Duchamp's cubist painting was the sensation of the Armory Show, held in New York in 1913, which introduced then-radically new European modernist art to the U.S. People laughed openly at this painting, and it was mocked in the press as "an explosion in a shingle factory." It looks more Futurist than Cubist, in my opinion, and resembles a series of stop-actioin photographs, or metallic gold robots/automatons."
Above: Camille and I each posed behind Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" or "The Large Glass" (1915-23). It's one of my favorite pieces by him.
Above: I snuck a photo of Duchamp's swan song, an installation, through the work's keyhole.
Duchamp, "Given: 1 The Waterfall; 2 The Illuminating Gas"
Camille: "The public was not told about this work until his death in 1969. The viewer must look through a peephole in an old wooden Spanish door. There's a tiny, glittery waterfall effect created by an electric motor. But what stuns the viewer is the sprawled body of a naked woman, pudendum to the fore. It's not clear if we're looking at a pastoral picnic or a sex crime. The work has been highly controversial among feminists, many of whom consider Duchamp an apolitical sexist. However, to Warholites like myself, Duchamp was the brilliant, iconoclastic prophet of Pop Art."
Meanwhile, back outside on the Museum steps....
Camille and I waited in vain for this bride and her bridesmaids to be stripped bare by their bachelors, even. I guess it was all for the better that life didn't imitate art.
Besides wedding photo shoots, the other non-stop activity on the steps involved tourists running up the stairs and stopping at the top, fists raised in triumph ala "Rocky."
Above: Well before puberty, I abandoned my crushes on Mary Tyler Moore and the teacher from Romper Room and moved on to my first make-believe husband: Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.
Eye candy alert! This adorable Rocky wannabe made it to the top of the stairs in record time. Eat his dust, Sly!
After the Museum, Camille and I drove down South Street and I jumped out to snap some of the local art...
Above: Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens. Zagar is very famous for his glass mosaic murals, and artists come from all over the country to study with him.
After that, it was off to dinner at BUMP (a gay restaurant which featured waiters with meticulously appointed biceps and eyebrows) and drinks at Woody's...but I was so engrossed in the conversation, I forgot to take photos.