Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

A Playful Day in Philadelphia

lksmith's picture

            Play is a crucial part of human life. Without it the world becomes dull and uninteresting, lost to all those who cannot live in the moment and embrace what comes their way. This is what I was reminded of during my excursion into the city of Philadelphia this weekend.

            Everywhere in the city people filled the streets, museums, and markets going about their daily activities. There were many that stared straight ahead and marched on with determination as they walked from place to place. Others were more relaxed, simply glad to be out in the sun enjoying the city’s lively atmosphere. I found myself in awe of all the amazing things that I passed by as I strolled slowly down the streets trying to take in everything all at once.

            While moving from place to place around the city at my leisurely pace, I saw people of all ages playing in endless ways around me. A great example of this from my journey was seeing people crammed into the Reading Terminal Market, moving past one another to reach the source of one of the many wonderful sights and smells that filled the air. As I walked amongst these people munching on a delicious lemon bar that had called upon me to devour it, I saw people picking through small shops, smelling various products made from bees wax, giving in to the temptations of wonderful foods, and watching in awe as fresh pretzels were made by hand. Although none of these people were playing in the traditional sense of games and running around, the atmosphere made it clear that everyone one was embracing the spirit of play as made their way through the market.

            That experience at Reading Terminal Market made me think about the Portland Saturday Market that used to go to with my family. I always hated going to Saturday Market. For me, that was the most unpleasant activity I had ever done in the city, and that includes having my wisdom teeth removed. As I entered Reading Terminal Market, memories flooded past me of long Saturday mornings sifting through all the different tents trying to move as quickly as possible so that I could finally go back home. However, my experience this weekend could not have been more different. Even though the crowds were bigger and the space was far more cramped, this felt like the most exciting thing I could have done in the city.  

            As I meandered about Philadelphia, I saw a few thing that made me think of the article by Robin Marantz Henig entitled “Taking Play Seriously.” Although the main point of the article was the importance of play in childhood, the opening paragraph also stressed the significance of play for people of all ages. Walking past city hall I found myself in what appeared to be a larger than life land of lost toys. Everything from monopoly pieces to dominoes were scattered around waiting to be played with. Kids and adults alike climbed all over these massive game pieces, laughing and taking pictures. This scene made me realize that although kids are the primary participants in the games that were represented, adults can also enjoy the excitement and youthfulness that these games bring out in people. The opening paragraph of the article by Henig addresses exactly that idea. Being able to witness the truth behind that piece of the article firsthand really made me appreciate its true significance in society and in my daily life.

            Another situation in which this article connected very well to my experience in the city was during the performance of “The Quiet Volumes.” In order for this piece of artwork to be fully appreciated, the audience must be willing to embrace the opportunity they are given and let themselves be consumed by the performance. In other words, the audience has to be willing to play along with the artist. As my partner and I went through more and more of the piece, we both became more actively ready to play along. I noticed myself becoming more open to taking in my surroundings and becoming an active participant in them. In the article, Henig talks about the social benefits of play due to the interactions that come with play and the barriers brought down by it. Throughout the progression of the performance my partner and I were placed into positions where we were forced to interact with each other and do activities together. This did exactly as would be expected from the article, by the end of the performance we were a lot more comfortable going around the city together than before.    

            Throughout the day, the group of people I explored the city with realized our own ability to play and live freely in the moment. As we walked down the city streets, we became aware of everything around us and felt our own connection to it. One observation that defined many parts of our adventure was that Philadelphia is filled with all different kinds of statues. We spent a great deal of time looking at the statues and even imitating them. This was something I never would have thought to do. We all freed ourselves of any inhibitions and stepped into the moment becoming a part of the city around us.

            The excursion into the city of Philadelphia this past weekend was an amazing and freeing experience. It felt as if I was not merely playing in the city but rather as a part of it, integrating myself into the atmosphere that filled its streets. At the end of the day I felt comfortable in Philadelphia even though it was my fist time seeing everything that I had seen. The city welcomed me in with open arms and now I eagerly await my next adventure into its captivating streets.