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Well Met In Philadelphia

Last winter I posted a limerick teasing Silke-Maria Weineck about her objections to emoticons. She replied by email that the rule was that limericks mentioning her had to have her first name as the last word of the first line. She said that she expected a set of three such limericks, promising a box of German Xmas cookies in reward.

Who could resist such a challenge? Naturally I composed three such limericks, more ingenious than good. Cookies were duly promised but what with one thing and another were not delivered. I am not one to let such debts go uncollected.

This past weekend I hied myself down to Philadelphia to collect my cookies. Actually, given the season, it was mutually settled that Silke should feed me dinner in lieu of cookies. She kindly offered to put me up in her pied-a-terre. My readers of course know what a pied-a-terre is. I did not; small matter, that’s what I have a dictionary for. I said that it might be best to put up in a hotel; she suggested one that was quite good and was moderately priced. I called them and discovered that it had been converted into a private residence. I checked the web and discovered listings for a number of hotels which were immoderately larcenous. I checked back with Silke and took her up on the offer of the use of the pied-a-terre, strictly informing that she didn’t need to clean up.

Silke, by the way is quite happily married with two children ages three and four. Silke and husband are believers in doing well by their children – they have no TV and they read things like Greek mythology to their children. I was dragooned into reading duty at one point. They live in a section of Philadelphia which is inordinately civilized – one can walk about anywhere, there are outdoor restaurants, and all manner of convenient shops.

I arrived late Friday evening to be greeted by Silke and a university crony of hers named Gwen. They were both slightly tipsy and were engaged in plotting an outrageous Harlequin romance entitled Ivory Tower. The heroine, Bristol Bradley, and the hero, Richard Armstrong teach in the literature department of a small New England university. Not to worry – this literature department has scant resemblance (one hopes) to anything remotely close to academia. Since I was from New England I was pressed into service to provide information about local color. Another bottle of wine was breached, dinner was served (a quite delicious dinner by the way), and the conspiracy to commit literary crimes continued. The issue at hand was the choosing of a wild animal which would threaten the heroine who would then be rescued by the hero. I derailed their plans by pointing out that New England is not home to wild boars. After some discussion we settled on a peripatetic moose. By this time Paul, Silke’s husband, had arrived home from Princeton where he had spent the day. He expressed the opinion that a moose would be ridiculous. This was true, of course, but it was not a matter of moment to our tipsy and enthusiastic authoresses.

By this point yours truly, having been on the road for seven hours and having consumed his share of a bottle of wine, was quite ready for bed so I toddled off to the promised pied-a-terre. As requested it was not cleaned up (or if it was I don’t want to know about it) except for the bed which was freshly changed. Said pied-a-terre consists of a small but functional kitchen, a study, a bathroom, and a bedroom on the top floor of a row house.

Silke was committed to taking the kids to a birthday party during mid-day Saturday but promised to squire (squiress?) me about in the late afternoon. Morning came too early – it always does, you know – and I wandered about Philadelphia taking in sundry sights. I happily discovered an art show in one of the squares, Ruddigore or some such, and spent an hour or so viewing the works of rightfully undiscovered artists. I took in the magnificence of City Hall, which rivals the Albert Memorial for gorgeous ticky-tacky. I discovered a book store. Browsing in book stores is essential part of sight seeing. Viewing historic sights is not. There are no end of things I did not see and will never feel the want of not seeing them.

Mid-afternoon I returned to the pied-a-terre to await Silke’s call. A word about this pied-a-terre. The Weineck-Sunstein apartment is a well kept, quite pleasant and graceful, neat apartment. The pied-a-terre, which is a work place away from home, is no such thing. It is littered with manuscripts and books and is quite properly disordered. Then there are the coins. For obscure reasons there are coins scattered everywhere on the floors. This may be a practice of a religious cult I have never heard of. On the other hand it may be her version of an IRA. And there is the matter of the coffee pot.

I had been invited to make myself coffee. There was indeed a coffee pot. But such a coffee pot. This coffee pot had some sludge in the bottom that might have been coffee in the pre-Cambrian. The pot was artistic, being profusely decorated with antique coffee stains. The less said about the contents of the filter, the better.

In due course Silke called and wandered over. I taxed her with the matter of the coffee pot. She replied that coffee pots should not be washed – that the accumulation enhances the flavor. This will not do. I know that routine. I’ve used it myself. It was my turn to return the skepticism I have so often met in the past.

Bravely she made coffee and bravely I drank it – my indignation was not a principled one. We chattered for a while and then set out to see the sights. In this case, seeing the sights consisted of wandering about, descending on a coffee shop, and continuing the conversation.

A word about my hostess. In print, on rab, she is a trifle, uh, sharp. In person she is vivacious, attractive, and personably feminine in the continental style – serious about her literary and philosophic interests but definitely not an academic bore. She cheerfully claims to be a bitch and may well be for all I know but no such thing was in evidence.

We returned to the family apartment where I was duly impressed into reading duty, relating tales of Andromeda and Perseus to an enthralled audience. After general conversation among the adults I went back to the pied-a-terre to retire for evening.

At this point it is apropos to mention that I am not the most observant of people of my environment – indeed I have the most amazing capacity to not see undone housework. As noted the kitchen was not in the neatest order. In the morning I conceded defeat and set out to make a cup of coffee. Thus it was that I noticed for the first time, nestled amidst the clutter on the drain board of the sink, a fur-lined pair of handcuffs. “Ah, Silke, Silke”, I said to myself, “my, you are the lively one.”

Very latish Sunday morning (which is the earliest Sunday mornings should begin) Silke arrived for another round of sight seeing. This consisted of consuming croissants, coffee, and the NY Times at an outdoor restaurant, followed by a tour of a local street dedicated to servicing the college population. Naturally I did not mention observations of interesting paraphernalia found strewn about the pied-a-terre. The afternoon ended when she had to go back to take her turn at child tending (they take turns) and I headed back to New England.

Ah, the literary life. It’s so educational.

Later I mentioned my appreciation of my observations in email to Silke; she insisted that they be included. Better to be remembered for handcuffs than for a dirty coffee pot…

This page was last updated June 11, 1997.