A Philly Story: Cheese Steak & The Rhythms

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I spent five days in Philadelphia which felt like a month, even a lifetime. I know I often say that, but it’s a fact. What can I do? Travel and dance distort our perception of time.

I was in Philly for a 5 Rhythms dance workshop about the different cycles of life. I sweated my prayers six hours a day with about fifty other people from the most diverse ages, shapes and cultural backgrounds. That was AWESOME as in life-changing.

Each day was focusing on a theme and a rhythm. Day 1 was about our conception, birth and mother (Flow). Day 2 was about our childhood, father and male lineage (Staccato). Day 3 about our teenage and puberty (Chaos). Day 4 about maturity and leading the tribe (Lyrical). The final day was logically about death, including our own (Stillness).

I was staying in a very weird house in South Philadelphia, with two lovely hosts (one of them was a photographer who got punched in the face for his birthday – no joke), two cats and a strange decoration. There were piles of random objects everywhere and peculiar unidentified pseudo-decorative items hanging on the brown wooden walls. Most of the houses on that street looked abandoned so it’s a miracle that this one wasn’t. It was fun staying in an odd place though. It added to the extraordinariness of the overall experience.

My Parisian friend C², who recently moved in with her boyfriend and left to New York for three months after a few weeks of common life (I only know unusual people) came to hang out with me in Philly to share the bedroom. We laughed a lot. She’s obsessed with planning her meals and always carries left overs in her handbag. She even found the way to pick fresh parsley and tomatoes from a shared garden in the city and she had them for lunch.

Every morning, I was walking to the dance studio in the autumnal sunshine for the yoga warm up with a beautiful Israeli-American teacher from New York. I was attending classes half for the stretches and half to stare at his beautiful skin colour. I’m drawn to very specific complexions and he had the perfect one for my taste. It was hard to focus on what he was saying. Jaw-dropper.

The dance studio was in the heart of the apparently famous Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich alley. A bunch of Italian immigrants got the clever idea to put some steak and cheese inside bread in the early 30s and that got renowned worldwide. All the spirituality of the Cycles was therefore surrounded with fast-food, meat and neons. Interesting balance.

I was getting my bi-daily 50 cents coffee from Pat’s King of Steaks which is featured in the movie Rocky, back in 1976. Every time I was ordering, a sign under my feet was reminding me that Sylvester Stallone once stood there. It gave me goosebumps. By the end of the week, the dudes working there had become familiar with me. The nicest one gave me my ultimate coffee for free on Sunday. He made an announcement to the rest of the crew: “She’s going back to New York!” How sweet is that?

I tried to see some of the old stuff that is really constitutive of the American history, but I only got to see the Liberty Bell in the dark and a bunch of important buildings that I’m all mixing. A policeman told me off for getting too close to the statue of George Washington. That’s about it for culture. I’ll have to come back.

This trip wasn’t about architecture or history anyway, but about people. As often on the dance floor, I met the most fab tribe of dancers of the human disco. They would give faith in humanity to the most sceptical. I hanged out all week with a trio of hot ladies from Toronto who organically adopted me.

Above all, I found a spiritual father and a spiritual young aunt/older sister during these few days. Why do we click with some people like that and start liking them irrationally and instantly? No one really talks about this phenomenon outside the traditional “love at the first sight”. But what about “spiritual fathering at the first encounter?”

My “spiritual father” is π. He was born in the US in 1942. He told me the incredible story of his father. We danced a lot together, his gestures were unusual and full of his life story. On the last day, he told me: “You are delightful!” and kissed my forehead. He gave me a mini-pumpkin as a souvenir when we parted.

My spiritual aunt/sister is ε². She’s from Toronto. We have almost the same birthday, 19 years apart. On the first day, we randomly paired up and she said things that I’ve been thinking most of my life, picking the words that I would choose too.

I exchanged details with them. We will all cross each other again anyway, in one country or another. The 5 Rhythms is such a small wide world.

I’m heading back to London, the place I nickname Hostile City to myself, after this high time of my life. I’ve always been in conflict with it, and I sometimes forget where it originally came from.

Time for flow.

I don’t care about hating the city where I live any more. After all, London is a hot spot of earth with super cool human disco dancers too.

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Dusk of Brooklyn, Dawn of Philadelphia

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I read the phrase “Dusk of Brooklyn” in a magazine or leaflet somewhere, years ago. I don’t remember the context, but I remember contemplating this appealing mental image with desire. I wrote the expression at the top corner of a random note book. See, I need it now.

All of last week, the dusks of Brooklyn were mine. I let them inundate me like I wouldn’t let anyone. My New York time was peculiar. It’s been the quiet part of this adventure, like a restoring pause between two hectic discovery phases. Feels like I’m a New Yorker now and nothing special happens there cause I’m melting in the daily scenery and routine of the City.

I woke up at 5am this morning and finished the night on the Greyhound bus bound to Philadelphia. As the tradition requires, I spent my last night in New York on the 5 Rhythms dance floor. Every time the teacher was asking to pair up with another dancer, I was looking through the window and chose the Empire State Building as a partner. I love dancing with New York and I was shouting on the inside “Manifest that shit!!!!!”

It was such a joyous leaving party, very tall muscled (straight) guy wearing leggings with cat faces was there, and it never feels like I’m leaving New York anyway. I’ll come back again and again and again and one day I won’t have to leave. That’s how the story goes. (I played the Green Card Lottery on Friday and purchased the long life payment option, the “until you win” one. I had found out in the morning that I’m homeless when I get back to London. The friend I was subletting from is getting evicted. How fun! No roof upon my head in Hostile City. So, Mrs Goddess up there or whoever runs the lottery of life, it would be very welcome if I became a permanent US resident by Monday. Thank you.)

I’m sitting alone at a 24 hour diner in South Philadelphia on a rainy evening as I’m writing this. The Wheel of Fortune is playing soundless in the background. I love diners because they never close and are available for drowning your loneliness/sorrow/hunger at any time of night or day (not like people), because they have cosy seats which feel like private booths, because coffee refills are unlimited, because waitresses wear a uniform, and finally, because they are one of the archetypes of America that I cherish from all the 80s movies.

I’ve seen very little of Philly so far, but what stroke me is the number of American flags (way higher ratio than any other US city I’ve visited) and the colourful mosaics on the facades.

I’m in town for a 5 day long 5 Rhythms dance workshop called Cycles, about the map of our family history. It is taught by Jonathan Horan, the son of Gabrielle Roth, founder of the 5 Rhythms dance technique, who passed away two years ago today. We focused all day on the Mother figure: the actual Mother and the Cultural and Divine Mothers. It is hard to describe. I started the class hating everything and everyone for no reason and I gradually sank into the seductive charm of this odd technique. I had to tell strangers the circumstances of my conception and birth.

I loved it.