A reformed neuroscientist attempting to change the dialogue about Philadelphia, Emma Fried-Cassorla currently runs Philly Love Notes and is the communications manager for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. A Philly lover, biker, eater, twin and traveller, she is constantly on the hunt for the best bowl of pho and the best skyline view.
Ten months ago, I talked about how I was going to leave you. I dreamed of escaping from an unsatisfying life to pursue a new career in one of the West Coast cities of my twin brother or my best friend. I was going to leave you behind and start anew with the hope that a location change would lead to a life change that I desperately needed.
I had returned to you after college and a year-long trip around the country. I came back with a boyfriend who would eventually become my husband, and a notion that I might want to be a scientist. A house in the Mt. Airy neighborhood, a car, a divorce, and another failed relationship all came and went. My job in the lab and an unsettled feeling were all that remained.
I felt stuck in Philadelphia, but rather than mope through the streets aimlessly, I wanted to mope with ambition. I decided to start a blog about Philadelphia. To those close to me, this decision was bewildering. I had considered myself to be a Luddite, eschewing social media and smartphones and turning my nose up at the word "blogger."
Yet I needed a project, I needed new friends, and I desperately needed to connect to my home. I started by writing my own love letters to the city. Hardena, an Indonesian restaurant in South Philadelphia, that serves $7 plates of beef rendang and tofu with eggs was my first recipient. My second note professed my love for the Race Street Pier, a beautiful public park built out onto the Delaware River. The third was to the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania with its ornate spiral staircase, catwalk, and hearth all under the guise of being a library.
I reached out to friends, family, and to people in the city who seemed "cool." I asked them to write love letters and to meet me at their favorite spots. People snuck me up into historic skyscrapers to revel in the view of the city, they took me on their favorite walks, we drank coffee in old-fashioned Center City diners, beer in coffee shops, and stretched our legs at sidewalk cafes while eating oysters.
I no longer woke up dreaming about mountains and craftsman style homes in Portland. My weekends were filled with love note meetings: long bike rides that took me through the backwoods of Fairmount Park, road trips through the Great Northeast, and architectural scavenger hunts through thriving and beautiful neighborhoods.
Philadelphians have an unfortunate habit of wallowing in the negative of the city - we wear it almost as a badge of honor, or perhaps as a way to beat outsiders to the punch. Yet ask us our favorite thing about the city, and the first answer is inevitably: "there are too many to choose from." Ask again, and we will write odes to a building, a view, a restaurant, or a favorite tree.
Someone asked me if I really love the city that much, I'll answer honestly - I didn't, but I do now. This project, filled with love letters, and you, filled with a gritty loveliness, have changed me in ways I never imagined. So this is my love letter: to everyone who has participated in this project, to readers, to residents, to friends, to my love, family, and of course, to you, my city.