Saturday, April 01, 2006

flânning in baltimore


A baltimore neighborhood
Originally uploaded by benho.
The nice thing about waking up at 5am (R- has to be at the hospital by 5:30 for rounds) is that I can work for 6 hours, take a 3 hour nap, and still be justified to quit for the day a 2pm, time I have spent flânning around baltimore all afternoon.

(to flânn is my own personal coinage from the french term flânneur which is a very french concept describing what parisians seem to do all day, the american heritage describes it as aimless idling or loafing, but a better description would be aimless loafing with a mission, to experience life, to breath in experience. as i said, very french.

So after two amazingly productive mornings where I finally got a hold of the data I've been meaning to get for a year, (amazing the power of the internet and e-mail connections and Granovetter's weak ties), I rewarded myself with a flann about town. Something I try to do in every city I visit, but haven't done in baltimore despite coming here regularly for almost two years now.

so the first day, in a bright beautiful sunny day (in ironic contrast to current california rain) I had lunch in mt vernon, the historical neighborhood where Amistad was filmed filled with the peabody, a nice park, old colonial architecture, where I had fantastic pad thai from Thairish, a hole in the wall, little more than a kitchen and a couple tables, with limited menu, but fantastic pad thai, nice chewy freshly fried noodles, with firm meaty shrimp, cooked by the proprietor, a Thai immigrant with an Irish wife, who's been serving food there for decades.

Stomach sated, I walked north past slowly revitalizing hipness, past the university of baltimore and mica to penn station (beautifully ornate like the many other penn stations, and the former penn station in new york), with the giant calder metallic burning man statue out front. from penn station, i continued north, to the other side ot the railroad tracks, where I found myself the only non-black person to be seen, and garnered strange looks at times. though i was comforted by the fact that every store placard was written in korean, including the hair place, which i knew was a hair place despite having no apparent english, by the large posters of black women hairstyles in the window. I wound up at a Safeway, which was amazingly well appointed, nothing like the dodgy key food in my old brooklyn neighborhood, complete with the same occassional gourmet food sections as teh safeway back in palo alto.

the next day, again at 1:30pm ish, I set out, this time for Blue Moon Cafe (rated best breakfast in baltimore) in fell's point, one of my favorite neighborhoods, a 2 or so mile walk, but again, beautiful weather, a bit more humid than dry california, but comfortably so for an east coaster. Walked through downtown, this time past colonial french architecture, reminded me a bit of new york complete with hot dogs and "new york style" buffet delis which I remembered well from my morgan stanley days, occasionally nice neo-gothic church spires would appear in the cracks between buildings, or an italian renaissance tower, or a ugly brick tower which I had to investigate and discovered it was a police memorial.

walked through another all black neighborhood, this one completely residential, a nice new development of brick rowhouses, still vaguely uncomfortable especially after being chased down the street a couple weeks before (thankfully I was in a car). But felt protected and happy by the bright sunlight, and the soothing sounds of terry gross on my ipod, a podcast (these rock) of an interview with a half-black/half-white writer for the show Scrubs, and enjoying the really nice discussion of race (As opposed to the crassness of crash) and medicine which reminded me of R-.

entry in fells point was heralded by the heavenly smell of baked goods emanating from two large commercial bakers, apparent warehouses but for the smell of raisin oatmeal bread and other confections, whetting my appetite for the blue moon cafe which i finally reached, and found myself. a dark, hot, stuff and cramped shack with just a few tables, but it was late, so i had the place to myself, to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, which went perfectly with a banana chocolate scone and a great italian omlette. also proud that i managed to only eat half, (little victories, J- would be proud) and after savoring the meal a bit with my economist magazine, headed out to walk back along the water front, and industrial canals, to the tunes of Rilo Kiley. A random solitary store in a residential area caught my eye, and I found myself in an irish boutique, where the proprietor, a MICA graphic design graduate discussed her 25 year history of owning that store, and we talked about my cousin, and R- for whom I was looking for a present.

finally, time to head back with a couple final errands to whole foods and a little south asian "quik-e-mart," with "for entertainment purposes" slot machines in the back with a regular permanently seated, a scene i've seen in many of these markets whether south asian or hispanic.

Showing J- around Baltimore last week proved to me that I really have come to know baltimore reasonably well. i for one have come to sorta like it, though don't think R- would totally agree. it's got a nice "realness" to it, whatever that means. I guess the best way to sum it up is that it's a city where it's almost impossible to find a Starbucks, and I mean that in the best way possible.
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