The University of Penn runs a great series of seminars on 'Material Texts'. Yesterday, I left the Library Company early and headed across the Schuylkill to University City, with the plan of doing some writing, and then hearing Dan Hobbins (Notre Dame) discuss the early history of the colophon.
But, on the way towards the Van Pelt library, we spotted a bunch of TV crews, and thought we'd take a look. There were long lines of people, and lots of young people with clipboards and Obama badges. I asked what was up. The answer:
The 42nd President of the United States was doing a rally in a couple of hours. This was at once exciting, and troubling, as it underlined how much Pennsylvania is a swing state (apologies if this reveals my political bias). We followed the line (there are no queues in America). It swept around the sports stadium. There were thousands of people. Taking a punt, we decided to see if we could get in before the colophon talk started. An hour later, and we were in, as participant observers.
As expected, we got political razzmatazz. I was disappointed by the lack of straw boaters and puzzled by the oddly low-key security, but there was a band, sousaphones, banners, a huge US flag (Philly is the home of Betsy Ross after all), and lots of call-and-response shouting. We were whooped into action by a couple of congressmen, the governor, Mayor Nutter, swore allegiance to the flag, got a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, and were urged to go 'Forward!'. Then, Bill arrived, and delivered a masterful half-hour of political wonkery and homely homilies.
A few people drifted out before the end. Perhaps they had trains to catch. But the buzz was real enough afterwards, as people mobbed Clinton, asking for autographs, photographs and to sign their placards (one guy delightedly showed us his afterwards).
We walked back across the Market Street Bridge, and spotted the 'Beast' waiting to whisk the ex-President away, on to the next engagement, next to a pile of snow cleared from the Class of 1923 Ice Rink. Some pumpkin beer, onion rings, and a quarter of the Philly 76ers, and it was a very American night. The colophon talk, by all accounts, was great, too.