Taqueria el Sabor del Parque in Highlandtown faces Patterson Park, a bright little corner of light looking out onto Linwood St. with the requisite 10 tables, Univision flat screen, 27 kinds of tacos, and a startingly clean bathroom. I went in solo last week before a show at the Creative Alliance and ordered myself al pastor and chorizo tacos, which came with a four-corner caddy of blended and chopped salsas. Without asking, I was told: everything is spicy. Cue swooning.
Category Archives: Baltimore
The more time you spend in Baltimore, the easier it is to believe that everyone in the city knows each other. Not just because it’s a small city, but because people seem more likely to talk with strangers here than in other Northeastern metropoles. This means I hear a lot of really, really great stories, just in passing.
I work at Hopkins, and sometimes have to take a passenger van shuttle from work. I only know the driver from his right arm and what I can see in the rearview, but Larry is bald, brown-eyed, has an huge collection of glimmering silver rings, and an amazing watch. While we sat at a stop light today, looking down the road at flashing red and blue lights, the conversation turned to accidents.
It turns out that Larry’s worst accident was on 795, which connects the city to the northwestern ‘burbs. Driving in his first car, a Chevrolet Sprint.
“Welllll… It was kind of my fault,” he laughed. “I was looking down, messing with the radio stations, and when I looked up I was looking at a tailpipe!” Larry’s little Sprint swerved across three lanes, flipped up into the air and over, and went down the embankment. Larry was working as a Macy’s cosmetic consultant at the time, and the car was suddenly filled with a tornado of department store swag.
“Can you imagine? They’d say ‘That man was killed by Hermes umbrellas!'”
A doctor and nurse driving the opposite direction turned back to the scene, but Larry was already walking up the embankment with no more than a bad cut on his finger.
“Do you know what I was thinking, when the car was just rolling over in the air?” Larry asked. “I just kept thinking… Dukes of Hazzard survived!”
Northeast Market in East Baltimore is hard to miss. You can smell the canola oil frying and hear the gulls squawking from two blocks away. Inside, fried chicken, fried lake trout, and sub joints reign over the four red-tiled aisles, and the meat selection ranges from chicken breast to pig ears. But only two or three stands with fresh produce.
I would never fit in at a party in Hampden. When I drove down with my sister after work to get sandwiches at Luigi’s Italian Deli for a free movie night downtown, we were the only people in the near vicinity wearing shirts… and two of only a few not wearing very, very worn-in jorts. But a very dense hipster population apparently doesn’t get in the way of awesome sandwich shops and massive rich-people wine-and-cheese warehouses.
The restaurant is set up on the first floor of a townhouse off 36th street, and down the long hallway lined with assorted pastas, olive oils and cookies, you’ll find a small counter and case stocked with imported meats and prepared salads. The jars on top are full of cannoli shells ready to be filled, which oddly enough all are labeled with Simpson’s characters. It was almost like being in my great-grandmother’s house, only the people serving dinner had much better mustaches.
Bastille Day in Baltimore dawned dark and pouring rain; actually kind of fitting for a girl who is trying to get back to the very rainiest and foggiest part of France. By 10 a.m. the clouds had rolled away, leaving a fresh breeze which lightened up our French-speaking picnic at Fort McHenry. A friend from New Jersey came down to meet me afterward and we made our way along the harbor in search of coffee, beer, or ice cream.
A German friend once told me how surprised he was by the number of flags flown in France, and asked if there were as many in the United States. I laughed, and told him I was constantly surprised how one French city only flies a handful of flags. On Independence Day the American Flag decorates our front porch, my beach towel and sunglasses, but it’s normal for every school, business, stadium, and (here, anyway) neighborhood telephone pole to fly the stars and stripes every day of the year.
Last week’s Fourth of July firework celebration started off with a dusk singing of the Star-Spangled banner, which we sing often enough that Marylanders add an extra-loud “OH!” for the Baltimore Orioles “Os” baseball team. The next day I accidentally rode my bike through a Fourth parade where the street was lined with thousands robed in red, white and blue. Despite the horrors in American past–slavery, near-destruction of the native population, civil war, overreaching ourselves as a superpower–in general we are a nation that stands under that flag. It had never occurred to me before this year that anyone, anywhere, might find that strange.
Like every flag of every nation, all the parts mean something. The 50 stars on the field of blue stand for our 50 states, and the stripes represent the first 13 colonies to make up the union. Maryland was one.
Red supposedly symbolizes hardiness and valor, which Americans have been showing since Day 1; pioneering and working to build a seriously huge nation. White is for purity and innocence… which is hogwash, probably. But blue is vigilance, perseverance and justice.
In part, we’re just being silly. As a nation we like to celebrate, and go over the top a lot more than I’ve ever seen the average low-key Frenchman or woman even attempt. But we’re also full of pride when displaying an American flag tshirt or saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and I think that if it helps us remember from time to time what the country was built on and that we should aim to be…. then we’re doing it right.
It’s a sad fact that when people disappear from the internet; their blogs, Facebook, email inbox, etc., I have a tendency to worry. In reality, they’re probably too busy living life, which is the case for me recently. Since coming home from France I’ve made visits up half the Eastern seaboard. I spent a week visiting across Kentucky. I started a summer job as a summer camp art teacher. And I’ve had eyes wide open to the good, bad and the ugly I never noticed before about my hometown and region.
Consider it a romantic comedy story arc: I have three months to try and learn what I can about a city that birthed me, Baltimore, and it has one summer to make me fall in love with it.
Most people think Baltimore and think “The Wire” and crabs. Yes, “The Wire” is kind of true, and it is the (marketing) Summer of Baytriotism. But the richness of the characters is more important than the number of drug-related murders–while I might not know the city’s best bars, I do know that the people who live there are generally honest, hardworking, down-to-earth and friendly. It’s an area with personality.
I researched the farms and markets. I’ve got area checklists, like these amazing maps with Baltimore’s more than 200 neighborhoods, including quite a few I’ve never heard of. What’s “Violetville”? I’m volunteering for Artscape and the Baltimore Office of Promotion of the Arts. And I’m hoping my new coworkers will be glad to tear up some of the places I’ve pulled off the beer special finder.
And while going to the inner harbor is nothing new for me, it was nice to be up there last weekend for Sailabration 2012 with the tall ships, bands, and some beautiful east coast weather. A lot has changed in the last five years, but a lot feels like it’s never changed at all.
Tips always, always welcome.
Even when you might have been the tourist, and I’ve been the local.