Viaggio di lavoro in America / American Work Trip

Work trip to the US last week in review. Philadelphia, the NAFSA conference, a quick Sunday jaunt up to northern New Jersey, and Matthew Broderick’s priestly sister!

My annual week of NAFSA conference work concluded last Friday – this year, in Philadelphia, whose gloomy weather and cobbled eighteenth-century streets gave a true feel of England. I have been to Philly once before, in 2004, for the massive MLA conference with Jason; we were in the Club Quarters in a room the size of a shoebox.

I stayed my first weekend in Cedar Park with my friend and colleague Liz, whose home looks like a set backdrop for Lemony Snicket. She had just been our guest in Firenze for the preceding week, and gamely retrieved me from the airport and whisked me off to buy some shoes for the week since my selection was skimpy and uncomfortable. We got our Ethiopian spice and injeera on at Gojjo – my fingers smelt of wat for days. Her turret guest bedroom looked out onto St. Frances de Sales, calm and hulking in the Philadelphia humidity.

Liz’s genteel home, channeling Thornton Wilder for reasons unknown to me.
I spied on the street below from the top turret.

St. Francis de Sales, seen from Liz’s guest turret.

I took advantage of the Sunday to take an Amtrak regional train to Iselin, New Jersey, to catch up with a dear friend and her family. Quick note here – Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, what a gem.

30th Street Station in Philadelphia, gleaming Art Deco insouciance.

It rained so hard that day that the flash floods in Maryland took out the small town of Eddicott for the second time in two years. The train was peaceful and clean, the windows streaming with rain, impromptu ponds filling up in the fields as we slipped quietly by. I read a recent New Yorker, enjoying my Atlantic seaboard morning. My friend picked me up at Metropark, and we went straight to St. Peter’s Episcopal in Morristown for 10:15 mass. The music was superb and that choir was huge! Also, Matthew Broderick’s sister Janice is the rector there, and employs in her role all the charm and presence that clearly runs in that family.

St. Peter’s Episcopal, Morristown NJ

Betsy and I repaired to her home next to the Deserted Village Watchung reservation for lunch and then headed to that most international of American experiences – the weekend salon for pedis. I felt so at home among the many Spanish accents. Plus my sparkling gilt fingers and toes garnered comments and compliments the moment the woman finished, and through the rest of the week. I slid back down to Philly in an easy 45 minutes and went straight into work mode.

NAFSA is a ninety-hour workweek every year, and one I enjoy for its annual occurrence, because I could not do it with any greater frequency.

Terra Dotta represent!
GoAbroad awards reception, May 31.

Eight to nine hours on the floor with 13,000 attendees, company meetings after, leavened by strings of evening receptions with clients, colleagues, and prospects, frequently at genteel venues. Two highlights –

The Creative People reception at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts museum. (I just love that NAFSA has a home for creative people of both professional and sidebar persuasion). They put on a calm, high-culture respite from the nuttiness of the expo hall just across the street, although I forgot to switch my Google map to “walking” from “driving” and so we took the extra-extra-long route. I giggled when one of the hosts informed me that the Academy was “so old!” as it was founded in 1805. Oh America, the innocence… I ran into a few people I knew, made a handful of new friends, and made one very shy videographer very uncomfortable with my well-meaning but possibly too-straightforward conversation (sorry shy guy) while a colleague who knows me well looked on and good-naturedly rolled his eyes. (In my defense, I was genuinely interested in what he was doing and how he got to be doing it, but understand that a person whose career has included screening documentary film submissions alone in a room for hours, for months, on end may not be the most prepared person to discuss much in public.)

The AIFS dinner aboard the Moshulu, moored in the Delaware River, was the ideal cap to the long week, summer night on the water in good company. Local colleagues filled us in about Camden town across the way (“full of hurt and pain”), and later, I bizarrely found myself
in a minor dispute with an American late in the evening about whether or not the Oltrarno was, in fact, part of Firenze centro (Me: of course not. Him: pulls up map on his phone to press his point. Me: I know where the Arno is…) And now I just read the history of the ship, which includes Astoria Oregon, Bainbridge Island, and Finland, plus the history of the name, well, I like it even more … I have the soul of a sailor, I swear. My heart thrills to the sea.

Aye cap’n! I’ll gladly be shanghaied onto the Moshulu!

Philadelphia’s pre-Revolutionary streets, side streets, and alleys were festooned with foliage in this late spring season, and although I did not get out of the conference center much to see it, one long evening walk from Town Hall to Penn’s Landing via Spruce Street and I was smitten. Past medical residents swarming about the sidewalk at UPenn Med, brick stoops with boot scrapes and flower boxes overflowing with sweet pea and violets and ranunculus. Paned windows with pewter candlesticks, perhaps the better to airbnb by?  I hoped not. A duck into the amusing Varga Bar with its retro and homage pinup art for a beer (many medical residents noted in bar and in scrubs). (I am tempted to post a picture here, but my colleagues might stop talking to me). Brick walls incorporated dates into their designs – 1701, 1770. For the US, this is old. The entire quarter was like Georgetown, but an arterial.

Philly, you so pretty.

The gloomy weather all week was rough – it did little to ameliorate my jetlag. Philadelphia is not Los Angeles, obviously; last year’s conference was sun-soaked, backed up by the La la Land soundtrack. But I always appreciate these trips back for the anchor they give me to the US, the more so since we are not returning this summer as a family to Spokane. Jason will make the work trip much shorter this time and on his own. Philadelphia, you made me miss the US.

Coming next: five dreamy hours in the Madrid airport where I explain why this travel and cultural connection rendered me so verklempt. And the Italian cultural adventures continue unabated – 

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