By: Jon Rizzo
A few months ago, my girlfriend, Jamie, approached me holding her smartphone, “you have got to see this.” With a curious look on my face, I grabbed her phone expecting a video of food being thrown at golden retrievers; I positioned the phone in front of my face and looked at the small, white play button surrounded by a sea of black. I gently tapped it. Within the first second, I was captivated. I had just watched the first release trailer for the film “Meru.” It looked awesome, and to top it off it, it had some legendary faces in the climbing world. The two most prevalent being Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin. I knew this was going to be good
We had looked up any information on the film that we could. Mount Meru was an epic mountain, slapped with a legendary big wall climb and properly named, the “Shark’s Fin.” This was the holy grail of big wall climbs and has, up until this movie, not been summited. That is what this group set out to do. Jamie and I were psyched. We then saw the release date–August 15–bummer.
Weeks went by and the memory of Meru popped up here and there, usually sparked by social media. For the most part, the film went to the back burner…until August 15th. It’s amazing how the brain works, for some reason I remembered “Meru”. I yanked my cellphone out and typed casually. It was the date of release, and we were completely occupied. Disappointed, I wrote it down on a napkin and tossed it into my pocket.
We returned to State College and life went on. I was home alone doing some laundry. As I was pulling clothes out, folding them, and putting them away, I threw on a nice, freshly laundered pair of shorts. Oh, the freshness. I immediately felt a lump in my pocket. Was it a wad of money? Probably not. I reached into the deep pocket and pulled out the object. The holy napkin. The word “Meru” had long been washed away, but that didn’t matter.
I ran over to my desktop and powered it on. The fans began to spin and the monitor came to life. I went to the Meru Film website and looked up theatres, most of which were unfeasible for a weekend trip. Out of frustration, I scrolled down the list quickly. My eye caught something. “Ritz at the Bourse, AUG 21”. My eyes panned right. “Philadelphia.” I was ecstatic. My “Google Fu” was impeccable. Jackie Chan, eat your heart out.
Dinner is booked, the hotel is reserved, tickets are bought, and the itinerary is printed. Everything played out perfectly. On our ride up Friday morning, the opposing lane of traffic was crammed with cars for 100 miles. We knew we made the right decision, Meru or not.
After losing all of my hair trying to park, we made our way to the Magic Gardens. Our movie was at 9:20 PM and we agreed to see some sights around the city before then. We walked down South Street, all the while appreciating the shops and the city life. Such a change of pace compared to State College. It’s chaotic in Philly, but it somehow had its appeal over me. We continued for about a mile and we stopped at our first destination. You could immediately see how amazing this was. The Magic Garden is something we were both meaning to see and when Jamie told me to look it up, I knew it had to be on our list. We walked in and paid for our tickets. Student Discount, yes!
The Magic Garden is a giant mosaic of cut glass, bottles, bike tires, and pretty much anything you can imagine finding on the street. It was gorgeous. I have to say, throughout my whole life of travelling, I have never seen anything like it. If you are in the area, don’t overlook this one. It’s cheap and you usually avoid the bulk of tourists who try to see the national park sites that are close by.
By this time, I was pretty ravenous. We remembered checking out a traditional German restaurant, “Brauhaus Schmitz,” on the walk down. Might as well do something different, I thought. We walked in and got slapped in the face with the atmosphere. It was really cool. The seating had you exposed to the street and the decorations on the walls were very entertaining and beautiful. The smell, so good. Another recommendation here, the food was top notch and the prices were very affordable.
After stopping off to get our Golden Retriever a treat, we visited some sites around the city. Most were, however, closed by 5:00 PM. We were still able to appreciate Independence Hall, and the visitor’s center for some awesome photos. But, it was getting close to our dinner reservation of 6:45 PM, so we headed to the car to change.
By this time it was 6:40. I had to call the restaurant. We were booked to eat at “Moshulu.” The venue was unlike any place we have eaten. It was a permanently docked, vintage ship at Penn’s Landing. It looked really cool. I give kudos to the staff at Moshulu for being so understanding. They were able to hold our seat, which is something they never normally do. I really appreciated this when we arrived 15 minutes late because of a certain cab fiasco.
Our seat was perfect, nestled on the other side of the ship, a table for two. We had a perfect view of the harbor. If you have the time and are looking for a very fancy venue, Moshulu is your ticket. The service was outstanding, everyone was nice, and the food was promptly brought out. We couldn’t be happier. After laughing about the day over drinks and some wonderful food, we thought everything was smooth sailing from here on out.
Most of us know of Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will, and our bread landed on the floor jelly side down. We lost track of time. It was already 9:00 and we still needed a cab to get to the theatre. We were used to the constant flow of cabs, which definitely was not the case near the restaurant. We caught a break and before we knew it, arrived at the Ritz. Now, a note to anyone going to a movie in downtown Philly, there are two Ritz Theatres that are about a mile in proximity to one another. Of course, we were at the wrong one. Murphy strikes again.
After a few confusing minutes, we were able to get directions to the other theatre, and let me say, “thank you for Goggle Maps.” We navigated the streets, needless to say, Jamie was thrilled about the hike.
We saved a lot of time by already having the tickets bought. We flew through the ticket booth and down the escalator. We quickly rushed right into the theatre and found perfect seats for both of us while the previews were just ending; take that, Murphy. The room turned black and the distinct mutterings in the room fell silent.
This documentary was different from the usual run of films that you see from both The North Face and Nat Geo. It wasn’t your usual film packed with fluff, marketing, and seemingly unhuman climbers. This film depicted the emotion, the story, and the rawness that defines mountaineering. They show not only the success, as is so typical with most documentaries, but also the extreme failure and limits to which all the athletes are pushed. They show rare scenes of exhausted minds, and blistered feet… Jamie can relate. They filled almost half the movie with fine character development, to the extent that you can feel the emotion as they climb. You quickly find how important Meru is, especially to Conrad who, not only carries his own aspirations, but also the aspirations of Mugs, his mentor, and Alex, his partner. Both Mugs and Alex were killed in separate accidents, which proves to be a heart wrenching story in and of itself.
When the credits rolled and the lights came on, there was a long pause of silence. This has always been an indicator, to me, that you just watched something special. Finally, as if learning how to speak again, the theatre erupted with conversation and smiling faces. This film captivated everyone. You need not be a mountaineer, climber, or outdoorsman to appreciate this film. I think that’s what makes it so special.
Jamie and I talked extensively about the film. It lived up to the bar we set, which was anything but low. We continued talking on the way to our hotel, or should I say B&B. We arrived late at 11:30. The woman who owned the establishment, Burbridge Street Bed and Breakfast, accommodated our late arrival and left us a key and a very welcoming note on the thick, vintage door. The Burbridge B&B is a restored house that has a heaping ton of character. The paintings, furniture, and the fixtures all added to the ambiance. After such a long day, we had a pretty heavy sleep, even though the note read: “Breakfast will be ready at 8.” I was both happy to get a free breakfast, but sad I had to wake up before noon.
Our alarms startled us out of our slumber. We shot up, got casually dressed, and headed down the large, old, winding steps. Breakfast was laid out. Fruit, breads, cereals, all organized with plates evenly distributed on the large round table. Our host was awesome, she had a lot of life experience as did the other guests at the table. We sat there for over an hour, the air filled with rich conversation.
We did not have much planned for the day. We had to commute back to downtown and I had to lose the remainder of my hair in another parking ordeal. We went to the Franklin Institute. For those who don’t know, it’s a very hands on museum with some really cool exhibits. If you have the time, it is definitely worth it, but be ready to spend a few hours. We spent most of the day there and didn’t cover all of the exhibits. We stayed until close, and swung by the gift shop. After that, it was time we finally made the long ride back home.
The weekend was wild and fantastic. Coming back and having missed move-in weekend was even better. We had our own little adventure going to Philly and seeing uncommon sites. Adventure shouldn’t be characterized by being alone on a mountain, but by experiencing things you don’t normally experience. That is the essence of adventure and life.