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Serendipity in the City

pialikesowls's picture

Going into Philadelphia yesterday, I was certain that I was going to go to the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or both. However, plans change and time restrains. My group and I found ourselves on Walnut Street, a major shopping street in the city. While I did not get to see a Post-Impressionist painting, I did manage to purchase some clothes from Urban Outfitters, some books, tea, and perfume.

The Quiet Volume was extremely bizarre; I’m not too sure how else to explain it. It felt strange, having a man whisper instruction into my ear. Oddly enough, it did make me aware of what I wasn’t usually aware of when I’m in a library, or when I’m reading. I became conscious of the placement of my hands, the noises I was making, and what I was reading. Every flick of the nose, flip of the page, little cough was audible to the people around me.

One of the pieces that I felt connected with during my trip yesterday was Sunstein’s piece about finding serendipity. While attempting to find serendipity on the Internet might be impossible due to personalized news, it is possible to find serendipity in real life. Finding serendipity is considered old-fashioned, according to Sunstein, but in my opinion, I find it beautifully rare. A place might exist in the sense that it is a part of the city; however, coming across it might affect someone in such a way that cannot be explained.

As an avid book lover, I found serendipity on the corner of North 20th Street and Wood Street: The Book Corner. This piece of serendipity contained three rooms full of books. The first with gardening, art, cooking, and travel books, the second with non-fiction books, and the third with fiction books. I found three perfect books; two in the first room and one in the third. As an aspiring art history major, it’s no surprise that all three books that I purchased (for $5.04, I might add) had something to do with art and its history.

Finding these three books made me realize that while I may occasionally find something hilarious or interesting on the Internet, it is absolutely no comparison to finding something wonderful and being able to hold it in your hand. Sure, there are adorable cats on the Internet, but I also now have a mini book about Impressionism with 64 pages in color.

This bookstore was my kind of place; a personalized serendipity, if you will. While I didn’t get to visit the Barnes Foundation or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I did manage to observe the Book Corner as a kind of tangible museum where the works of art were for sale at reasonable prices. There were people admiring books, searching for books, soaking in information from books. Going back to Mumford’s ideas and my previous essay, does this constitute a kind of city? A city within a city? This was a place where different ideas came together to form a place where people could connect to different things.

Walking around Philadelphia, I saw a lot of homeless people. This is just a fact. However, I remembered that Sharon Zukin said in her Big Think interview that the poor people left the cities and their educated children came back. Though I am aware that there are homeless people everywhere, in every city, it felt like there were many more in Philadelphia. While Zukin made the notion that urban residents are more educated, I couldn’t help but think about the homeless and how they got to be that way. I wondered what they were like in school, whether they made one fatal mistake or several little mistakes. I wondered if they viewed the city of Philadelphia the same way I did. I knew I saw things that they didn’t, and I wondered if they saw things that I couldn’t, and what those things were. I then realized that they were not parts of the city, like a display, or a section of the stage; they were also the actors, performing and experiencing a city.

I always love going into cities. I love the shopping, the food, the pace, and the accessibility. However, the city is also exhausting. After walking around, finding serendipity, taking part in a peculiar performance, and eating a delicious burger, I felt as if the city had worn me out. This being said, I can’t wait to go back into the amazing Philadelphia.