At first glance, if you were to compare Philadelphia side by side with Paris, you may have to tilt your head and squint to see any considerable commonality. The often-maligned and under-appreciated City of Brotherly Love certainly has its fair share of detractors and critics, many within its own limits. However, anyone who sees the cup half full, and who can find the silver lining in his or her hometown, knows how to sing the praises of Philadelphia. In America, Paris has long been viewed as the beacon of forward-thinking culture–it’s on the cusp of art and fashion, at least. Not exactly what too many Philadelphians would claim of their hometown. But Paris is far away and hundreds of dollars to visit. Thankfully, PIFA is planning on bringing Paris (albeit from 1910 to 1920) to Philly for three weeks, and Philadelphians hungry for snails, wine, cheese, fashion, and art will have the chance to satiate their grands appétits with hundreds of events and performances to get their high culture on.
Let’s go back to the eighteenth century for a minute. Remember how our country was basically born here, in Philly? For those of you who have forgotten your US History, France was pretty instrumental in this process; we needed help to beat the Brits in more ways than one. We needed money and military support, but we also needed intellectual foresight in order to break free from a tyrannical imperialist; and then there was the need to articulate why and how this country intended to stand on its own two feet…
Ben Franklin, one of our biggest heroes, was a hardcore Francophile and represented America in France for years. Philadelphia has ten sister cities, one of them being Aix-en-Provence. The Rodin Museum, not far from our renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art (on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, in fact) holds the largest collection of Rodin’s work outside of France. Philadelphia also boats a river with parks and trails alongside it (OK, the Schuykill’s no Seine, but roll with me here); we’ve also got a vibrant café and bar culture at our disposal, as well as fine fashion for those willing to drop a pretty penny to look like pure style walking down Walnut Street‘s sidewalks. What I’m saying is, Paris and Philly aren’t COMPLETELY opposed. And, in fact, for three weeks in April, they’ll practically be one in the same.
Not convinced? You should check out the free lecture on April 8th at Philly’s hidden gem, The Athenaeum, entitled The French Connection: Paul Philippe Cret’s Influence on Design in Philadelphia. It’s an illustrated lecture about the French-born architect’s influence on Philly’s public structures. If you’re looking for something more general, you could also check out the ongoing exhibition of French-inspired architectural drawings called From the Bastille to Broad Street: The Influence of France on Philadelphia Architecture. Clearly, we’re just scratching the surface here, gazing at what’s in front of us in terms of buildings and layout. The connections between French culture and American culture are actually endless: art, music, politics, fashion, philosophy and partying, to name a few. There are limitless opportunities slotted for the coming weeks that will shatter any doubts you may have; take a peek at PIFA’s website to prepare for a more thorough investigation.
Disclaimer: PIFA, the Philadelphia International Festival of Arts, based in the Kimmel Center, is sponsoring the writing of a series of blog posts. Bill Chenevert will be contributing previews and event spotlights leading up to the actual festival, which will take place all over the city of Philadelphia, in numerous venues.