on November 13, 2011
The Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a venerable institution of high culture – when we visited Philadelphia there was a major Renoir exhibition on. I, however, paid it a visit for very low cultural reasons…I am not ashamed to admit that I garner a certain joy from visiting cinematic icons. I have followed Indiana Jones’s last crusade from Venice’s ‘Library’ to the ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ at Petra. I have seen where Sean Connery’s James Bond spied on the Soviets in Istanbul, where Roger Moore’s threw an assailant from a roof in Cairo and where Daniel Craig’s had a rooftop chase in Siena. In Tunisia I poked around Luke Skywalker’s farmstead and climbed the tower from which Monty Python’s Brian fell (before being rescued by a flying saucer). While in New York I ‘accidentally’ happened to drag Rebecca and Marie past the Ghostbusters’ station house. It was inevitable that I would want to see the Rocky Steps.The ‘Rocky Steps’ are simply the 72 stone steps that lead up from Eakins Oval to the main entrance of the Museum of Art. The film Rocky was released in 1977, the year of my birth. In it (and its sequels) Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa finishes his training montage by running up the steps to the Rocky theme Gonna Fly Now and then stands like a champion, arms aloft, gazing down the Parkway in triumph. It has in many ways become a meme.And so on our last morning in Philly we left our hotel at the far end of the Parkway and schlepped up to the Museum of Art. We stopped at the bottom of the steps. I passed Rebecca my camera and sent her ahead. I checked there weren’t too many people around… and then I sprinted up the steps.Thankfully, there are a huge amount of steps and they are quite shallow. While I’m not the fittest person in the world – particularly not after a week of US-sized dinner portions – I was able to reach the main landing in good order, and still had plenty of breath left to jump up and down, fists punching the sky, whilst bellowing "Adriaaaaan!" for good measure. I shouldn’t have worried about other people. No sooner had I finished than another man ran up, turned, and saluted the view down over the mounted statue of George Washington, and along the Parkway and out to the needle-tipped cupola of Philadelphia’s city hall. And then another did the same over to my right. So there were three of us, in a line, arms extended skywards. And we looked less like Rocky, more like three-fifths of the Village People mid-YMCA…At the base of the steps, just to the left as one descends, there is a nook in the foliage. Hidden away here by the Museum of Art (who would clearly much rather one came to pay homage to Renoir than Rocky) is a ten-foot tall bronze statue of Rocky himself, in full boxing regalia. A couple of hawkers stood by ready to sell fans t-shirts with images of Rocky on them. Stallone donated this statue to the city, though the city rather sniffily shunted it off to a sports venue after deciding that it did not class as art, but rather just as a movie prop. Regardless, it has now stood in its new location at the base of the steps since 2006 and the films have immortalised the steps up to the Museum in popular culture forever.
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