August 24, 2012
After taking leave of John and Lauren, we rode along the rural roads of New Jersey, on the route suggested by John last night. We enjoyed a ride through pastoral country scenes, green rolling fields, white-fenced pastures filled with grazing horses, ripening crops, a county fair advertising 4 H events and animal competitions, and roads dotted with abundant farm stands. An enormous contrast to the hectic traffic and high paced energy of Long Island.
The weather was hot and muggy, typical for the East Coast in August. During the hottest part of the day we struggled to climb what seemed like an endless hill. Although we have been taking it easy, a week ago I wouldn’t have managed to get up the hill without dismounting and pushing my bicycle. It was still strenuous and an effort to climb, but it’s encouraging to see that just by spending time on our bicycles we are gradually building endurance.
Exhausted, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly continue on, we coasted down a long, steep mountain into Lambertville
and continued riding along the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trails, easy, flat bicycle paths along the river. In North Trenton we rode as fast as we could and just managed to catch the train into Philadelphia. In only an hour we were in the center of the city. Why do Europeans think there is no public transportation in the United States?
The ghettos we rode through were so awful we were glad to be sitting safely in the train, and couldn’t help but feeling sorry for the people sitting in the summer heat on front stoops or in broken chairs on the street.
Christof booked a hotel for the weekend, and it was a treat not to have to search for accommodation on a Friday evening. We rolled our bikes into the elegant lobby of the hotel and after checking in, into the elevator and the spacious bedroom.
During the evening we strolled around the city in the dark, mild air. As the oldest American city, Philadelphia has large, intact neighborhoods of colonial buildings that give an impression of life in the early years of American history. What a thrill to be in a city again, to observe the hustle and bustle of well-dressed people chatting and laughing at outdoor cafés and restaurants.
August 25, 2012
Today we dived into the American past, walking through colonial neighborhoods and visiting some of the historical sites. The largest Quaker prayer house in America has a permanent exhibition on William Penn.
Penn is the forgotten founding father, a man of exemplary character and influence. His thoughts and democratic ideals directly inspired the framers of the American Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin is remembered and honored, but was only able to rise to the height he did in Philadelphia due to Penn’s legacy of open-hearted tolerance. William Penn maintained respectful relationships with the Indian tribes and spoke some of their languages. Unfortunately these relationships deteriorated once he died.
The Revolution and the difficulties the colonists had choosing a position in the conflict with England was the subject of one of the exhibitions at the Independence National Historic Park. The question of independence tore both families and neighbors apart. Fear of repercussions and an inability to see into the future made a choice difficult for many undecided colonists. Should they stay loyal to Britain or yield to the patriot’s loud cries for Independence?
The Revolution, which started with Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and continued until the surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781, didn’t terminate the challenges facing the new states.
The task of creating a constitution acceptable enough to be ratified by nine of the thirteen States produced new divisions and intense debates. The opposing sides were no longer Loyalists and Patriots, but now Federalists and Antifederalists. There were no neutral positions in ideas about the role the Federal Government should play in the lives of its citizens, and the fears that the centralization of power would lead to lack of freedoms, corruption, and inefficiency, topics so modern that we are still grappling with them today.
The founding fathers wrote the constitution in only five months, but the ratification process, a lengthy odyssey, took more than two years to complete.
A separate exhibition addresses the dark chapter of Slavery – the United States continued to traffic in the slave trade long after other countries had stopped, and oddly, despite the new freedoms and ideals written into the constitution, the incongruent plight of the slaves was overlooked. Thirteen amendments and close to a hundred years would pass before the slaves would be freed and recognized as citizens of the United States. This oversight left a stain on the fabric of the life of the country that neither the civil war, the civil rights movement nor Obama’s presidency have been able to completely alter and transform.
If we hadn’t ridden through the horrible neighborhoods on the train ride into Philadelphia and seen them with our own eyes, we wouldn’t believe that they could and do exist in a country as wealthy as the United States. How can a country that considers all men equal and in possession of inalienable rights, a country willing and able to spend unimaginable sums of (tax) money defending Democracy abroad, tolerate inhuman conditions for its citizens at home?