Of Al Capone, The Thief Maker and Death by Baklava

On a whim this Saturday I decided to take a friend on a Thief Maker Reality Tour by visiting the famous Philadelphia neighborhood where the majority of my book was set, touring Eastern State Penitentiary and dining at one of my all-time favorite restaurants.  

It had been a well over a year (maybe even two) since I had been back to the Art Museum District centered around Fairmount Avenue (and I’ll be there again next weekend for the Late Renoir Exhibit at the PMA).  Though I’ve only ever been a visitor to the area, it was like returning home as it had lived in my imagination for so long and served as the inspiration for the primary setting of my “first” novel, which now seems like such a distant memory.  It was great stomping around my old haunts, and for the first time, I played the part of a true tourist by paying to enter the famed Eastern State Penitentiary – former home of Al Capone. Continue reading

Sideways in Bucks County

This past Saturday (amidst all the crisp sunlight and gusting winds) was spent on a self-guided wine tour of Bucks County.  It was our little Pennsylvania version of Sideways as we hit many of the spots along the Bucks County Wine Trail, but unlike Paul Giamatti’s character, we did drink some Merlot. 

We visited five wineries in Bucks County (sorry, no pictures for this day-trip…too busy drinking)…and I’m confident in selecting Crossing Vineyards and Winery on Wrighstown Road in Washington’s Crossing as the best of  the Bucks County bunch.  

It was the first on our stop and features beautifully appointed grounds and interiors, warm and friendly service, a fantastic “tasting” set-up amongst the wooden barrels and giant steel drums, and most importantly…the best wine we tasted that day.  The Crossing Vineyards prides itself on presenting the best possibilities of Pennsylvania wine and has won numerous awards.  Their White Viognier and their Specialty Le Nouveau were the highlights for me, and I happily left with a bottle of each to take home. 

Other great wineries along the trail in Bucks: Continue reading

Point and Shoot

Remember that German mountain film Bridget Von Hammersmark kept rambling on about in QT’s Inglourious Basterds?  Well, North Face (Nordwand) isn’t it.  (POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD) You see, this historical suspense-packed mountaineering film clearly paints the Third Reich’s desire in 1936 to use two politically indifferent Germans’ race to the top of the north face of the Eiger as a part of their propaganda machine, but it wasn’t meant to be.  What’s so refreshing about North Face is that instead of showing the triumph of the men who would eventually make it to the top of the Eiger, it shows the folly of the men who didn’t: ordinary men trying to do extraordinary things (the climbers) and a government catastrophically over-reaching its power.  However, whether or not the Third Reich ever gets their story about “Superior Aryan Mountain Climbers” (and they do, though it’s a footnote in history) becomes the least of their problems. Continue reading

Race for Understanding

Sometimes it’s good to look outside of the little bubble of film, literature (and occasionally politics) here at The ‘Spin and find a good cause to champion.  Autism has become one of those things where everyone knows someone affected by it yet there is still a huge “unknown” factor and so much research that needs to be done.

If you live in the greater Philadelphia region, there’s a 5k Run for Autism Awareness being held at the beautiful Tyler State Park near Newtown, PA in scenic Bucks County on Saturday April, 17th 2010. 

Get all the details about how to register and get involved here at the site for The Race for Understanding. 

All proceeds will go to help Autism Speaks in their tireless efforts to solve the puzzle that is Autism.

If you don’t live in the area and would like to learn about events in your neck of the woods, go to the official Autism Speaks website where you can learn how to participate or simply make a donation.

The Covered Bridges of Bucks County

With fall winding down, this past Sunday was potentially the last nice day to do a day-trip of this nature.  The plan was to tour the Covered Bridges of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Below are some of the photos I captured.  Why so few pictures of the actual bridges, you ask?  Well…we go lost thanks to lousy directions,  Bucks County’s willfully eccentric and confusing system of back-roads through the hills and countryside and non-GPS friendly points of interest.  The roads frequently change names, and some stop dead only to appear miles down another road and running perpendicular to their original selves.  Genius!  If anyone can tell me how to get to Cafferty Road from Dark Hollow Road, a small reward might be paid.  If you do this tour and absolutely must see every covered bridge, my only suggestion is to kidnap an actual native of Bucks County to be your guide. Continue reading

Light in September

In the Deep South of Faulkner Country it might be the Light in August that casts an inspirational glow, but in the Northeast nothing compares to the light in September.  On my annual daytrip out to Batsto Village, I was struck by how the light changed and undulated under the shade of the trees and passing cloud cover, casting an aura over the scenery that really only could’ve been appreciated with a continuously tracking camera that would capture all the nuances.  It’s times like these when I realize the limitations of the snapshot…but that’s not to say I didn’t capture as many of those moments and changes of light as I could.   Some of the photos around Batsto may appear as remakes or re-imaginings of shots from last year’s visit, but I also stopped at an ancient cemetery along Route 542 that boasted graves as far back as the mid-1800’s, and another picturesque graveyard in Hammonton along the White Horse Pike where new images were found. Continue reading

A Visit to Grounds for Sculpture

With the return of Spring comes the return of my Day-Tripping Series.  This week I made use of my new GPS system–oh, how I love it when she tells me in her British accent to “Get on the motorway”–and headed north to Hamilton, NJ to Grounds for Sculpture which is a mere forty-five minute drive from the immediate South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia.

The website for this beautifully landscaped outdoor park of sculpted and artistic wonders claims there is an entrance fee, but I walked onto the grounds freely, and I imagine so did all the children and their parents and teachers traipsing about.  The park has a gentrified zoo-like feel to it with people milling about and kids shouting, but luckily the grounds are vast enough that you can still capture a few good shots without having somebody walk into frame. Apart from the sculptures on display, there are also plenty of quiet hidden paths to meander about away from the fray of the main walkways. 

Here are some photos I captured on my walkabout Grounds for Sculpture: Continue reading

Philadelphia Film Festival Closing Night

Apparently I had been asleep at the wheel and missed the fact that the Philadelphia Film Festival had been going on since March 26th.  Luckily at the last minute, I was still able to fit in some showings on the festival’s closing night on Monday, April 6th.

All the people with beautiful smiles ride bikes together in Tel Aviv.

All the people with beautiful smiles ride bikes together when spending a weekend in Tel Aviv.

For a late matinee For My Father aka A Weekend in Tel Aviv showcased just the type of thoughtful independent filmmaking one comes to expect from a world class festival. The film delicately weaves the tale of a Palestinian suicide bomber who gets stuck in Tel Aviv after a botched job and befriends a young Jewish woman trying to escape her orthodox heritage. The screenplay boils down the complex issues of the Palestinian conflict to a simplistic, but ultimately humanistic and relatable level. The film shows how the telling of stories can form a bridge to healing wounds and features nice production values, a well placed sense of humor, and a likable cast portraying interesting characters easy to route for. As the characters’ back-stories are slowly revealed, some tighter control of the plot points and development would’ve done the film well, but it’s easy to overlook the narrative flaws when the rest of the film is so naturally compelling as it careens towards a harrowing conclusion.

This vampire should not be for sale!

This vampire should not be for sale!

For the final showing of the evening, it was a totally different type of film presented indicative of the vast diversity of films represented every year at the Philadelphia Film Festival.  The horror flick I Sell the Dead (whose title sounds so much more intriguing if you say it with a There Will be Blood style Daniel Plainview accent) seemed a fitting choice to close the fest since Philly always likes to showcase horror films and it was at the 1st annual Philadelphia Film Festival many moons ago where Guillermo Del Toro first cast a blip on the American filmgoers’ radar with his Mexican vampire flick Cronos.  Sadly, I Sell the Dead did not stand up to Del Toro’s high standards even though it featured a can’t miss plotline involving hapless grave robbers uncovering…dun dun dun…the UNDEAD.

The cool title aside, I Sell the Dead is one of those schlocky mish-mashes that tries way too hard as it clumsily marries old-school Hammer-era homage with Gilliam-esque silliness while being stylistically influenced by graphic novels.  The film featured a distractingly bad sound design (which I assume could be fixed if it gets picked up by a larger studio) and so much fake fog blowing through its gothic Victorian set designs that it could make your eyes water.  Though it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, I Sell the Dead contains just enough fun moments (like the goofy vampire bit and lovely Fanny’s back-story as a “wrecker”) that I imagine it could still develop a small cult following.  I for one will be no part of said cult.

For more information on the Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest ‘o9, click here.

Written by David H. Schleicher

To the Victors the Spoils

World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Still to this day it sounds unbelievable…like I’m living in a dream…and just a year ago seemed as unlikely as President Barack Obama. 

In late October of 2008, the newly crystallized reality of the former and the hope of the latter were all that the city of Philadelphia had to hold onto in the wake of Wall Street slitting its throat and flooding the streets of America with blood.  But Philly’s streets were proud to run red, and in early November it turned out American’s hearts beat blue once again as Obama swept into the White House.  My most lasting memory from that time period was walking the quiet autumn painted streets of Society Hill in the swell of Philadelphia’s rising tide towards victory in the playoffs and seeing on every other window in the neighborhood an Obama sign next to a Phillies’ sticker.  The feeling of impending triumph was palpable.  Pardon the cliche, but you could almost taste it.

And now to the victors go the spoils, at least for a short while.  Continue reading

With a Head Full of Snow…

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow
With a head full of snow
In the window there’s a face you know
Don’t the nights pass slow
Don’t the nights pass slow

Even though The Rolling Stone’s “Moonlight Mile” is about a different kind of snow, the lyrics seem apt to describe the over-hyped winter storm that ushered in March of 2009.  Last night we all went to bed with heads full of snow and dreams of school closings and work stoppages and unplowed streets.

As the greater Philadelphia area continues to go through one of the coldest winters in memory, the entire Eastern Seaboard decided to tell Global Warming to “Get off our lawn!” as six to twelve inches of the white stuff was dumped from Atlanta to Boston Sunday night into Monday afternoon. Most snow connoisseurs will agree, this was some high quality blow, perfect for snowman and fort building and some of the best stuff we’ve experienced in years.

While driving into work, the flow of traffic prevented the madman-wannabe-photographer in me from capturing some of the more picturesque images. But part of the beauty of an open field blanketed in white or of snowdrifts collecting against farmhouses is that the perfection of the moment quickly fades, and even with a picture, you can’t take it with you. Only with the naked eye is the beauty true. Below are some of the fleeting images I did capture with my camera. Continue reading