Category Archives: Memoirs and Musings

Evolution

I started this blog four years ago. I spent a long time trying to come up with the name, and chose Fresh Era for two reasons: because I was invigorated about big life changes and because I was really learning how to cook.

I’m pleased to realize that even though I’ve jostled through three apartments and three jobs to a place where I’m tethered by a mortgage, a boyfriend and (the biggest surprise) a kid, I still feel like the title applies.

Home

My house was built in 1900 (in a neighborhood that’s seen hard times I didn’t weather) but I’ve never lived so wholly in a place, or experienced such depth of humanity. Last weekend I ate El Salvadorean food with former peace corps members to my right and Hells Angels to my left. The next morning I waved a paper fan from the back of a local Baptist church I should have been embarassed to even enter; African drums playing just outside the door. I can only comprehend a tiny fraction of Baltimore: past, present and future. But even on its worst day, I still feel a warmth and light that is new and hopeful.

Heart

Questionable advice from someone who met their boyfriend on Tinder: You can’t always get what you want, and the internet might not be helping you find what you need. I got lucky and fell into someone who fits that bill (honest, eternally patient, not afraid to dance in public)…  in a package I could easily I have refused. My plans did not include former-delinquent racecar drivers and their rambunctious 5 year olds. In the last 18 months I have been to a three racetracks, a gymnastics party and PTA meetings: on purpose!  Luckily, I love a meaty challenge. Dig in.

Hearth

My first month in France I had one pot, one knife, a few plastic utensils and some leftover yogurt cups. I miscooked chanterelles (it was fun!), learned how to cook anything on a stovetop, ate an unidentified cheese every weekend, and came back to the States with my own cooking style and some snobby ideas about the price of wine. You can expect light, veggie-heavy, fresh and spicy when eating at my house. Unless I’m tired–then you can expect egg and cheese sandwiches.

Era

This time four years ago I was living on my friend’s basement futon. I miss that. I miss the costume parties, the poorly conceptualized booze parties, and the total inappropriateness of being 25 and single in America.

But we’ve already been there and all of this—weddings, promotions, family vacations, ailing grandparents, creakier joints and sensible shoes—keeps us guessing, and keeps us fresh.

What it sounds like to work from a DC coffeeshop

Ebenezer’s near Union Station, a Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.*
Population: Between 15 and 30

I have a vanilla, soy, no-foam cappuccino…
I have a mocha latte….
Iced coffee!
vhrrrrrrrrrrr
Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich?
Iced, mocha lavender latte?
Thank you!
Iced coconut latte?
I had a chamomile tea?
I have a large, iced, mocha caramel custard latte…
vhrrrrrrrrrrr
Large iced caramel custard on the bar!
Single shot?
I have a sesame bagel toasted with cream cheese!
Have a great day!
It was just a moment to break your life
We’re heading out to New England this afternoon
I have a medium half-caf…
Medium caramel whip…
What’s the wifi password?
Um, banana.
I have a second dirty chai…
vhrrrrrrrrrrr
Small americano?
Small black eye?
Small red eye?

vhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrhhrrrrrrrrr

coffee

*Full disclosure: I had a medium americano and banana bread from home. The coffee is very good, but I can’t speak for the mocha caramel custard latte whips.

New Orleans: That Which Cannot Be Named

IMG_1017In my head, New Orleans is wide streets under balconies full of Spanish moss, with 24-hour jazz funerals parading down the street.

This is slightly true. My friend Carly and I spent our Thanksgiving  in the Marigny, four blocks up Frenchman street from piles of jazz bars and the cry of street-band trumpets. New Orleans also has economically disparate neighborhoods, no laws against open containers, and a transient-friendly climate. You can sense that something is not quite settled under the town’s skin. But you can also sense that it’s cultural quicksand–it could suck you in for good.

We met people who had only left New Orleans for one month in their 50 years, and transplants from Texas, Seattle, Chicago. Musicians, glass blowers, baristas, bartenders, and shopkeepers. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in Baltimore as well. What makes a city addictive? It’s hard to pin it down but …

IMG_1069Rhythm.
It’s a Big Easy legend that every citizen grows up playing an instrument. Frenchman street featured a full jazz band that, if seen in Baltimore, people would make “The Wire” jokes about. Dancing in the road creates joy.

History.
New Orleans has 300 years of history so diverse that almost any American can feel a connection. The roots are deep, and the feeling of being a part of something seeps into the air.

IMG_9228Signs of life.
Coming from the north, the packs of purple, orange, and yellow houses look like they’re smiling at you. A jeweler told me 100 percent humidity means people chill. People seem to be whom they want to be, whatever they are.

Spirit.
Every skycap in the airport had on a Saints jersey. A woman who sold me a wooden wine stopper was wearing two-inch tall Saints player earrings. If you live here, you’re on the team. Baltimore gets this drift, too.

IMG_1072Because you have to.
Probably because of Katrina, New Orleans still feels like an underdog. There’s no facade hiding this, and an underdog with tradition and life is irresistible.

Enjoy. Everything is spicy.

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This image is 100 percent stolen from the internet.

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.

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Other people’s stories are better.

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!”

The Travel Buddy Checklist

3499_10100229988228615_847782171_nIt’s a new year! New resolutions, new to-do lists, and twelve whole months full of open calendar just begging to be filled.

Being back in the motherland means I have many more people to visit, and old friends who could be new options for travel buddies. This could be a real blast… or it could end in near fisticuffs when we find out that we are completely, utterly unsuited for bus-hopping and sightseeing together.

Enter, stage left, the Travel Buddy Survey.

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The Case for Sundays

A picture is definitely not worth a thousand words.

No matter how skilled the photographer is, no image could truly capture the splendor of a beautiful Sunday in France: a day so completely reserved for time off that your body is physically forced to lower your blood pressure.

Park time.

In the city, the usual roar of traffic dulls to a rumble, leaving space in the air for the sounds of bicycle gears clicking, leaves scratching across the sidewalk, and the knives, forks and laughter of your neighbors’ rose garden luncheon. In the country, it’s the best day to go for a long, car-free run, then share a picnic by the river. You become incapable of speed beyond a leisurely stroll, you listen to jazz, cook big meals and catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen for weeks. Continue reading

The USA Like I’ve Never Seen it Before

“It’s so surreal! I feel like an alien! I feel like ALF!”

All this in response to… a parking meter. Continue reading

Pledging Allegiance

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.

 

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Coming Home to Be More

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.

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