There was a flutter on Facebook yesterday over an article about Baltimore.
A newspaper of some repute had engaged a writer with low esteem for the city to venture here and write about his discoveries. He followed a familiar pattern: Writer from the Big City comes to a quaint little burg and discovers that some of the locals have adopted bipedalism and tamed fire to cook their victuals. Then, with an air of condescension as pungent as the aroma that wafts off the Inner Harbor in July, he departs for civilization.
This worthy, you understand, traveled here from Washington. The city famed for its insularity and self-regard. The city that John Kennedy described as combining Southern efficiency with Northern charm. One can imagine the results if The New York Times should dispatch one of its ethnographers with a supply of cleft sticks to survey the aborigines.
The article, of course, touched off a flurry of irate responses, as it was no doubt designed to do. A friend on Facebook advised Baltimoreans to simply ignore the article, since it amounted to no more than "clickbait."*
These one-day wonders in journalism always find something superficial while missing something essential. One of the essentials is that Baltimore (and I will stipulate all the characteristic urban troubles that afflict it) is a comfortable, genial city with an elusive charm not to be discovered by parachute journalists.
Having only lived here for a little over twenty-six years, I haven't been around long enough to tease out all its charms, but if I were your sherpa, I could show you things beyond The Wire and crab cakes.
I would take you to the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street, where you can stand in the central hall to gaze at the portraits of the Lords Baltimore, the colonial proprietors, on the walls. Then across the street to Mr. Latrobe's Basilica of the Assumption, where construction started in 1806 and where the enlightenment light has recently been let back in through a restoration.
We would head down to Fort McHenry on to walk along the fortifications and look down the harbor to the point near the Key Bridge from which Admiral Cockburn's flotilla fired its Congreve rockets. Or just feel the breeze off the water while watching the sailboats of the day pass by.
I would stand you to a pint of Resurrection ale at the Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon (where my son cooks) or take you to the Hamilton Tavern for the Crosstown Burger, which some connoisseurs call the best burger in Baltimore. If you were here on the right Saturday in October, we could go to the Festival-on-the-Hill in Bolton Hill to drink Heavy Seas beer and eat oysters in the sunshine, as I did with a traveler to these parts last fall.
At the Baltimore Museum of Art, we could sit and gaze at a room full of Matisses collected by the Cone sisters, friends of the artist. Or we could go to the Peabody Library off Mount Vernon Square, the image of which is on my Twitter site, and perhaps catch one of the student recitals at the conservatory.
Chances are that you will find something to tempt you at the Kelmscott Bookshop. I find it a dangerous place to enter. It's cheaper to walk around the reservoir at Lake Montebello, exchanging nods with the other strollers and stepping clear of the bicyclists.
Henry Mencken held Baltimore in higher regard than New York City, because it was a city where one could live a comfortable and civilized life, rather than merely grub after money or fame. Baltimore today is not Mencken's and there is much more Baltimore than my circumscribed portion. But it is still not a city that owes anyone an apology. Much less someone from Washington.
*Which is why I am not troubling to link to it.
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