On Friday, my best friend and I went to the Philadelphia Museum's Craft Show. We're not talking crocheted toaster covers or refrigerator magnets. We're talking $4,000 pieces of hand-woven and hand-dyed fabrics, biomorphic porcelain sculptures, hand made sterling silver cameras smaller than an Elf.
But first we had to eat. We went to the Reading Terminal Market, which is one big tourist trap - in the best sense of the word! A historic place that lost its way but after some growing pains, came back around to be true to Philly. There were Amish rolling pretzels, Koreans filleting fish, Philitalians hauling meat. Three musicians in Brooks Brothers suits, having walked down the block from their office, adding steel brush drums and amped guitar twangs to the rumbling of voices and scraping of chairs. We pushed our way past the line at the pork sandwich shop. She said "Indian!" like a sailor on the SantaMaria, and I said "Land Ho!" We sat on round vinyl stools at the counter. Our coats were crumpled on our laps, our purse straps draped across our knees. We were jostled by people walking by, and those standing by to place their order. I ate chicken korma and vegetables over saffron rice, the ochre juices running over the styrofoam plate. She ate off my plate like only girlfriends do.
We tried to make ourselves small, pressing between coats and made it back out to the street. We crossed over Arch into the Convention Center, my heels getting stuck in the sidewalk cracks. We walked down the runway-width hall to the main exhibition space, green - wearying and deadening. It glared and pressed us down. Six double rows of exquisiteness. The stalls were storage cubes, tied together like K'nex. Row after row. Homosote tables with a calculator and receipt pad, a stack of business cards, draped fabric and Zen pebbles for make-shift drama. Little cube worlds of their own compulsions. A bored artisan sits on a chair. Their 5th show this year, 2nd day, the 4th hour of a 10-hour day. A self-conscious artist sits alone on her chair, trying not to seem like a loser.
Every stall had incredible wares. We were drawn to certain cubes like flying bugs. A whirling path, like the seemingly random path of a fly. Brenda and I'd buzz over to one, lose each, find each other. Bump. Every artisan had exquisite craftsmanship. Every stitch, every leaf, every weave, every surface was perfect. Many of them had to have some exquisite madness that compelled them to make stroke after stroke after stroke on their leathered clay form; to pick, dry, treat, wind and weave strands of grasses into watertight baskets of fine, consistent patterns; to melt and meld and form and sand and carve minute layers of gold around a pearl in just the right twist, just the right wave. Row after row. Cube after cube. Black ceiling glowing shots of green, sucking life out of us.
Hyperventilating at so much beauty and perfection. My eyes burned. My heart tied. Throat scraped. My soul spent.
Exhausted, I sat alone, over a bowl of hot soup, trying to remember the ground I had walked on just a few hours earlier, when I was a mere suburban mortal. I don't know what I am now, but I'm not what I was before.