Philadelphia's INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR Foreign delights without the hassle of traveling abroad

May 17, 1992|By Diana C. Gleasner | Diana C. Gleasner,Contributing Writer

I always knew that someday I'd go abroad, so I'm not terribly surprised to be in the cloister of a French abbey. The only sound is falling water from the fountain. Here under the arches it is cool, dim and peaceful, but my thoughts are catapulting all over the place.

This is a fine spot to sort it all out -- this whirlwind tour. My mind flips through multicolored memories that form pretty patterns, but, like a kaleidoscope, they tumble and merge.

Those colossal Egyptian monuments, the boisterous Italian market and the tranquil Japanese tea house -- all in one day. A small world indeed.

That's nothing. Yesterday our Chinese menu offered a bagel and cream cheese on the same page with a breakfast appropriately named the "Hong Kong," which inappropriately turned out to be French toast.

Lunch was an Italian hoagie and funnel cake chased by Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer.

Hard to believe, but five hours later we were wolfing down fried squid and Gorgonzola bread, mere warm-ups for a main course of spicy beef fajitas.

Where else but Philadelphia?

Actually you don't even have to leave the Philadelphia Museum of Art to go international. I, who cannot entertain the thought of going to India or China (too much money, not enough time), have gazed into the "well of heaven" ceiling in a temple of wisdom and strolled into the dark heart of a Hindu temple from Madura. (This, by the way, is the only stone architecture from India in an American museum.) It was here that I happened into the French abbey.

We went to the University Museum of Archaeology/Anthropology because it has one of the most important collections of Chinese art in the Western world, but we ended up spending all our time in the Egyptian mummy room.

Oh well. We would get a taste of the Orient later in Fairmount Park's Japanese House and Garden. There, in our stocking feet, we sat cross-legged on tatami mats and learned about the Japanese tea ceremony. All problems and gossip must be left outside. The only comments allowed were tea-related -- the beauty of the flowers, fragrance of the tea, that sort of thing. We were swept along on a gentle swell of serenity.

Quite a contrast to South Philly's Saturday morning melee, better known as the Italian Market. These five blocks of outdoor hucksterism ("You want cheese, honey? We got it all.") offer great values if you don't mind sidestepping the clutter.

Even more fun was the Reading Terminal Market with a trumpeter and piano going strong in the corner, a man with a guitar singing folk songs to anyone who would listen and a grandmotherly type dipping up sizzling hot doughnuts. We grabbed lunch as we walked, stopping to watch quilters at work and chatting with a bearded gentleman busily painting hex signs.

Later, at the 16th Street Bar and Grill, while breaking Gorgonzola bread with friends, we came up with the perfect cure for jet lag. We decided to drive home.

But we'll be back. I doubt there would be a better place than Philadelphia to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Columbus voyages.

This summer, the city kicks off a year-long celebration -- "Neighbors in the New World" -- to honor all the people of the world who were explorers like Columbus and who came to discover America.

In addition to festivals, picnics and the arrival of Tall Ships, visitors will be able to explore their own ethnic heritage by using an interactive computer program, "Do Your Own Heritage," which is available at four centers throughout the city. After answering questions, participants will obtain a computer printout that will guide them through one of 19 self-guided tours of Philadelphia attractions, museums and sites linked to their heritage. ("Do Your Own Heritage" will be a permanent attraction.)

The ethnic heritages waiting to be explored are: African, Baltic states, British, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, Latino, Native American, Polish, Portuguese, Southeast Asian, Swedish and Ukrainian.

'Neighbors in the New World'

* USAir Jambalaya Jam -- May 23-25. Explore the Spanish, French, Italian, African and island influences that made Philly and New Orleans two of America's most prominent ports. Sample the best of New Orleans and Philly food, music and fun at this three-day festival at Penn's Landing, Philly's waterfront park.

* Caravel Tour -- June 17-22. Authentic floating replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria sail the Delaware River to Penn's Landing. The festival includes demonstrations and hands-on exhibits highlighting Columbus and his times.

* Picasso and Things: The Still Lifes of Picasso -- June 9 through Aug. 23. More than 120 of Picasso's works (many never shown in public) will be on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Exclusive East Coast presentation before traveling to Paris.

* Tall Ships -- June 26-29. Graceful Tall Ships from around the world visit Penn's Landing and may be boarded free.

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