Swimmers and Skaters of Baltimore

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Hi!  How have you been?  Did you wonder where I disappeared to?

Without going into stupid details, it has been super hard for me to find the time or energy to write lately.  But it rained this morning, and Bill and I cancelled our plan to walk to the Baltimore Farmer’s Market, and so I find myself with a few extra minutes.  Let’s hope a rushed post is better than no post!

We went to two events in the past few weeks that I want to share with you.

The first was a “water ballet” performance of Moby Dick at Patterson Park Pool.  I cannot be more emphatic about my quotation marks on this occasion!  This aquatic interpretation of Moby Dick was performed by Fluid Movement, a Baltimore-based performance art group that apparently translates a classic to pool format once a year.

USA's team competes in the synchronisedYou’re probably finding it difficult to imagine Melville’s epic tale of human madness amidst the 19th century whaling industry portrayed in swimming pool form.  Let me help.  First, picture the synchronized swimming events in the Olympics.  Then remove those eight graceful swimmers from the picture and replace them with 70 goofballs with silly costumes and rudimentary swimming skills.  Now dress the goofballs up as zombies.  (Er, yeah, I don’t remember that part of the novel either.)

The famous "Zombie Scene" from Moby Dick

The famous “Zombie Scene” from Moby Dick

On the whole, it was a very silly event, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

A swimming chorus line of Captain Ahabs?

A swimming chorus line of Captain Ahabs?

Equally fun, but less wet, was the roller derby we went to last night.  Yes, Baltimore has its own roller derby league, known as the Charm City Roller Girls.  Last night we saw a Charm City team, Female Trouble, beat Washington’s National Maulers by about 70 points.

I remember seeing roller derby on tv when I was a kid, but I don’t remember taking much interest in it.  As I recall, it was a sort of staged fight similar to professional wrestling.

vintage roller derbyBut what we saw last night was a real athletic event!  When we first arrived, we had a lot of trouble following the action.  Eventually we figured out the fundamentals, but most of the rules are still somewhat fuzzy to me.  But all these strong young women seemed to be having a terrific time, we had a lot of fun watching them.  (And I wish I had taken a decent photo!)

Grandma and Me

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This picture cracks me up.  If you put your hand over the unpleasant-looking infant, you can imagine that the lady in the yellow dress is smiling up at you from the pages of Town & Country magazine.  A spread on Easter in the Country, perhaps.  Move your hand, and you stare at the scrawny, unhappy baby.  I imagine a spectacular photographic series showing the same two once a year, the lady always brightly smiling, the baby, transforming year-by-year into a child, a teen, an adult, but always with her mouth open and her eyes screwed shut, looking awkward and out of place.

That unhappy baby is me, and the pretty lady is my grandmother, who died last month at age 102.  The truth is that she was more down-to-earth and informal than the picture suggests, and I loved to spend time with her once I grew out of that scrawny, colic-y baby stage.

Both my cousin Liz and I spoke at Grandma’s funeral last month.  We didn’t coordinate ahead of time, but we both ended up telling stories from our grandparents’ courtship.  Grandma was pretty and spunky; Grandpa was shy and good-humored.  They loved each other very much and enjoyed a marriage of over 50 years, despite their differences.

It’s hard to know what else to say.  Grandma told me several years ago that she didn’t understand why she was still around.  Some time after that, she stopped talking, so I don’t know for certain what she was thinking.  I hope that she was privately re-living all the many good times she enjoyed over the years, including that first kiss, on the train, between the cars.

TEDx Baltimore: Baltimore ReWired

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Are you familiar with TED Talks?  It’s a semi-annual event that brings leaders from a wide assortment of fields together to present new and innovative ideas about making the world a better place.  “TED” standards for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design,” and their mission is to spread ideas that change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. The format involves a very strict time limit for each presentation, forcing a presenter to really distill his or her thoughts down to the most essential.  Attending a real TED Talk conference itself is crazy expensive, but videos of the individual TED Talks are available for download here.

In addition the main TED event, there are regional, independent TED events, always denoted as “TEDx.”  Friday I attended the first ever TEDx Baltimore.  It was outstanding!  So many smart people, right here where I live, doing such great things.  Speakers ranged from CEOs to a surgeon, to musicians, to a blacksmith who forges dresses out of metal, to students, and so on.  They youngest speaker was 17 (Keimmie Booth, captain of the RoboDoves); the oldest was 92 (Lois Feinblatt, sex therapist).  So many people committed to making Baltimore a strong and healthy city for all its citizens.

I loved the opportunity to hear more about some of the great work going on around me here in Baltimore.  I loved meeting so many really cool and smart people.  I loved meeting students at Morgan State, which hosted the event. My first TED event was an unambiguous success.  I can’t wait to attend another.

Eating More in Baltimore: Bistro Rx

Bistro Rx is one of our stand-by restaurants when we can’t get our act together sufficiently to make dinner.  It sits across from the northeast corner of Patterson Park, in a space that once housed a pharmacy (hence the name).

Inside is a spiffy modern interior, with lots of exposed brick and painted shutters serving as wall hangings.  There are about 15 tables and a bar spread over a split level floor plan. In the warm months, there are also tables on the sidewalk overlooking the park.

The staff is friendly and capable.  One time I inadvertently called during a heavy rush in order to make a reservation.  I was on hold for so long, that I finally hung up.  The manager called me back when he was free, and remembered the call a few nights later when we arrived for our reservation.  Rather than feeling badgered, I felt like he was anxious to make up for leaving me on hold for so long.

The menu promises a decent assortment of dishes of varying sizes.  It’s easy to compose a meal with two small plates if you like, but the entrees are also popular.  The salads are large and can easily serve as an entree all by themselves.  Dishes are always well made.  Bill often gets the pork chops, which are moist and thick.  Last week I ordered a spinach salad which boasted large pieces of smoky bacon, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and a raspberry vinaigrette.

The wine list is nicely eclectic (e.g., a South African blend available by the glass).  Likewise, the beer list offers the variety that today’s urban crowd has come to expect.

Bistro Rx is a perfect neighborhood eatery.  A step above a pub, but still a nice place to meet your neighbors.

Bistro Rx
2901 East Baltimore Street (northeast corner of Patterson Park)
Best for:  Patterson Park area, Canton, and Butcher’s Hill residents seeking a nice meal close to home; dinner out with visitors who’ve never ventured beyond the Inner Harbor or Fells Point.

Going Out More in Baltimore: Is This Post About the Ottobar or the Ravens?

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The Ottobar is a no-frills club in Remington.  On the first floor, they host local bands.  Upstairs is more of a regular bar, which happens to host a free Comedy Night every other Saturday.  Last Saturday Bill and I went to catch the comedy and walked in on the fourth quarter of the Ravens-Broncos AFC divisional play-off game.

The first time I moved to Baltimore, the city had no NFL team.  Residents still mourned the loss of the Colts and talked about the trauma they experienced that morning in 1983, when they awoke to discover that their beloved football team had decamped for Indianapolis in the middle of the night.  I had dinner once at the Golden Arm, a restaurant founded by Colts idol Johnny Unitas.  I remember when the Canadian Football League’s short-lived foray into the U.S. included a Baltimore team that they tried to name the Colts, until the threat of a lawsuit prompted them to fall back on “Baltimore-CFL,” and finally Baltimore Stallions.  The Stallions won the championship their second year in Baltimore, then transferred to Montreal when the CFL gave up on its southern strategy.

Baltimore residents pined for an NFL team of their own.  That dream finally came true when Art Modell moved his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.  The Ravens started playing in Baltimore 1996, and we left in 1998.  Vinnie Testaverde was quarterback.

When Bill and I moved back to Baltimore last year, we were unaccountably surprised to see how important the Ravens had become to everyone here.  Everyone wears purple on game days.  I once saw a child at the Safeway with a purple mohawk.  The density of Ravens fans in Baltimore is much, MUCH higher than the density of Redskins fans in Washington, DC, and the intensity of their admiration is much more powerful.

But Bill and I are not huge sports fans.  So we didn’t plan to join the folks at the Ottobar to watch the Ravens win the AFC semi-final.  It just happened.  And let me tell you, the sea of purple jerseys in that hipster bar was a sight to behold!  Young folks, old(er) folks, Amy Winehouse wannabes, and ZZ Top wannabes.  All of them were on their feet cheering when Jacoby Jones made a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game in the last minute of the fourth quarter.  That cheering turned to ecstatic screams when the Ravens triumphed in overtime.  The Ravens will face the Patriots tomorrow night, in a competition for the AFC championship and the privilege of playing in the Super Bowl.  There is a decidedly purple tinge to the lights of downtown Baltimore this weekend.

So anyway, the Ottobar.  No frills music venue downstairs, no frills bar with ratty pool tables and ratty seating upstairs.  The beer is affordable, and the crowd, not surprisingly, skews fairly young.  The comedy show was both funny and forgettable.  A fine diversion for a Saturday night, but nowhere near as impressive as the hometown win that came before it.

The Ottobar
2549 N. Howard Street (Remington)
Best for:  Twenty-somethings keen on indie music; people who are accustomed to drinking beer in their mom’s basement.

Seeing More in Baltimore: American Visionary Arts Museum

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Have you been to the American Visionary Arts Museum?  It’s unlike any other art museum you have ever visited.  It houses a large permanent collection of artwork created by people who work outside the main of the art community.  Many, like the nameless Ukrainian holocaust survivor and mental ward patient who produced a painting a day, are coping with mental illness, their fixations driving their work.  Others are fully functioning members of society who produce unbelievable pieces — for whimsy, therapy, financial gain, or some combination of the three.

Of course, the items borne from an obsessive attention to detail fascinate us:  the enormous model of the Lusitania made entirely of toothpicks.  The throne of bottle caps.  The dress crocheted to represent a horse.  The 7-panel painting of thousands of people, reminiscent of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, but so much more ephemeral.

Beyond that, there are all the stories.  People who had normal lives, suffered a psychic break, and ended up on the streets doing their art.  People in asylums.  People living without electricity or running water.  Artists, exorcising their demons over and over via their art.  Baltimore gets its fair share of representation, but this is much more than a display of local talent.

The AVAM has three buildings.  The main building houses the permanent collection as well as some special exhibitions, the store, and a cafe on the third floor.  I’m still confused about how you get into the cafe if you’re not paying to see the museum, but maybe you just don’t.  The store has a wide collection of books, art, gizmos, and reading glasses (Get it? Glasses! At the Visionary Arts Museum!).  The Tall Sculpture Barn is mostly storage and also a venue space.  On our visit last weekend, the middle of the floor was occupied by a large chess set of sculpted metal angels.  And the Jim Rouse Visionary Center holds several exhibits:  whirligigs, Baltimore painted screens, the world’s first robot family.  Also shown are some of AVAM’s entries in its own annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.
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Lee with a new friend in Baltimore

Lee with a new friend in Baltimore

AVAM encapsulates what I like about Baltimore itself.  People go to Washington to see the work of masters they have learned about in school.  You go to Baltimore and AVAM for its idiomatic perspective on real life — warts, psychosis, and all.

American Visionary Arts Museum
800 Key Highway (Federal Hill)
Best for:  People who like quirky and weird and are not put off by it; visitors to the city looking for something more than the Inner Harbor; curious kids.

Sara: Explained

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I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my drinking career, I started requiring a cocktail napkin with my drink.  If the bartender doesn’t set my drink on a cocktail napkin (or one of those cardboard coasters), I’ll reach for one myself.  If the cocktail napkin is drenched from an overfull beer, I replace it with a fresh one.  It’s just a thing I do.

This past Sunday, Bill and I had brunch with various family members at a restaurant in northern Virginia.  Unlike our last visit (Mother’s Day) to the same place, this time we practically had the joint to ourselves.  We had been lounging for a while, enjoying our coffee and orange juice and Bloody Marys in anticipation of our meal, when it happened:  my dad stood up in the middle of the conversation, walked over to the servers’ station, grabbed a stack of cocktail napkins, and set a napkin under every drink at the table.

I thought Bill’s eyes were going to fall out of his head.

Nature Sightings

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I traveled to Florida a few weeks ago to catch some of the local fauna.

I saw a flock of green parrots, noisily making their way across town, one tree at a time.

(Look very closely.  They're there.)

(Look very closely. They’re there.)

I saw a squad of pelicans floating on Tampa Bay, digesting their meal.
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I saw an egret, monitoring the situation.
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And I glimpsed a royal Micah, surveying the terrain and calling it “good.”

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Eating More in Baltimore: Langermann’s

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Welcome to a new feature at Bmore Sara!  As part of my resolution to blog more, I want to try to write about local restaurants, bars, and other outlets.  

Langermann’s puzzles me.  It advertises itself as a local eatery, but its scale and gloss suggest the heavy intervention of venture capital.  Presumably, some of those precious venture capital dollars went toward fancy baffling technology because the other puzzle about Langermann’s is how a large restaurant can boast high ceilings and exposed brick but not deafen patrons when it’s crowded.  I’ve never struggled more than usual to keep up with conversation at this restaurant.

I’ve probably been to the original, Boston Street location in the Can Company about five times.  (I’ve yet to visit the recently opened the Federal Hill location.)  Visits have all been for lunch, brunch, or late afternoon snacking.  I’ve never had a proper dinner at Langermann’s — probably because I prefer a more intimate and homey location when that option is available.  Today Bill and I took advantage of a Living Social offer Bill spotted last week:  $30 got us a pitcher of mimosas and our choice of four brunch entrees.  When we arrived, we learned that the offer was universal:  those four items were the only meals available at Langermann’s this afternoon.  

The pitcher of mimosas was tasty.  Served in a plastic beer pitcher with a large scoop of ice, it did not skimp on the bubbly, and the orange juice was not cut rate.  I overheard a bartender say she had already made more mimosas today than she ever had in her life, and I believe her — they were cranking them out!

I would have thought that with a four-item menu, the kitchen would crank with similar gusto.  Alas, we were left to wait for our meal for quite a while.  Ray and Harriet (more on them later), who arrived after us, received their meals well before us.  Just as disappointing, the bar staff never acknowledged the delay — and kind of avoided acknowledging us much at all until our food showed up.

Fortunately, the meal was solid.  My Langermann’s Hash included chorizo and potatoes, with scrambled egg.  The scrambled egg was both skimpy and overdone, but the spicy hash made up for it.  Bill’s Eggs Chesapeake looked lovely:  two poached eggs on top of meaty crab cakes on two halves of an English muffin, all topped with a tasteful helping of hollandaise.  Any more hollandaise would have been overkill, as the egg yolk added its own richness to the crab cake and toasted muffin below.  A small bowl of sweetish grits seemed somewhat out of place — a small dressed salad might have fit in better.

In general the atmosphere at the bar was friendly but subdued.  Separate groups tended to remain separate, although we did have a very friendly conversation with our bar-neighbors, Ray and Harriet.  In all, lounging over brunch at the bar in Langermann’s was an entirely acceptable, low-key way to acclimate to the new year.

Langermann’s
2400 Boston Street (Canton)
1542 Light Street (Federal Hill)
Best for:  large parties that need a separate space; out-of-town relatives who are uncomfortable with “funky”; pre-Happy Hour cocktails; meeting newer and/or younger residents of Canton.

Tristan

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I have this picture in my head of Tristan when he was about nine years old. He had just gotten a haircut. He had wanted something edgy, long on top and super-short underneath. Somehow the hairdresser lost her place and cut a bit too much in the back, making the long hair just stick up in a silly, goofy way.

But the picture in my head is not just the hair. It’s the sparkly eyes, the open mouth smile, the waggle of his eyebrows, the clever, clever jokes. Too clever. A little boy wearing a big brain and a devastating sense of humor. A little boy who wanted to become a chef. A fearless boy who literally walked on top of the jungle jim.

Not too, too many years later, Tristan became both a professional comedian and a chef, of sorts.  I am embarrassed and ashamed to say that I know very little more than that.  I know there is a comedy troupe.  I know there is (was?) a coffee shop.  I know there was a comedy blog, and I was subscribed to it (was I?), but I don’t remember seeing anything for a long time.  I could dwell more on my own inadequacies and how I shortchange those I love, but this post isn’t about me.

I think of the people closest to Tristan, the ones I love and the ones I’ve never met, and I imagine them donning boots and parkas, still just contemplating the forced climb ahead of them, no choice but to put one foot in front of the other.  I can only bear it if I also imagine that goofy imp climbing up ahead, fearless and tossing out jokes the whole time.

Oh, Tristan, you will be so, so missed!

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