IT OCCURS TO ME, just after a recent move, that I've spent more than 10 years in roughly the same part of the city, having volleyed back and forth between Butcher's Hill and Upper Fells Point.
I've only moved a handful of times within these two neighborhoods, but I've lived on the same one-way street twice. Is that a metaphor for being stuck? Sometimes I felt as if I were going nowhere as I drove around the block in a square of one-way streets looking for a place to park.
With this last move, my horizon changed just slightly, and instead of the tall green steeple of St. Michael's Church, I am facing a large starburst of stained glass at Holy Rosary. It glows purple and green and blue at night.
As I write, church bells are ringing. I have a view of downtown and the harbor depending on which window I look out of. I see sailboats during the day and hear the tugs at night mournfully calling across the dark water. Sometimes Hispanic music plays from a nearby window, which lends a sense of otherworldliness to this place. My new neighborhood is not altogether different from my old one, but I am seeing it from a fresh angle.
My friend Jim, who also just recently packed all his furniture, wrapped his dishes in newspaper, unplugged his computer and schlepped it into a new residence, said, "Moving is like looking out of a different window. Your perspective changes and everything feels new, no matter how familiar it is."
In fact, over the past several years our view has transformed quite a bit. Fells Point has been renovated and is more flashy and tourist-friendly. Canton, once doomed to become a superhighway, has also been renovated and is now corporate and glitzy, almost suburban with all its bright neon shining along Boston Street.
Upper Fells Point has changed dramatically, too. There is a thriving Hispanic community with festive businesses and restaurants where formerly there had been none. For the way it feels at times, you'd think I'd moved to another part of the world. It's exciting.
Not only the view has changed over the years, but the local boundaries, too.
Recently, an acquaintance attended a cookout hosted by the Mid-Point neighborhood association. Mid-Point is neither Fells Point nor Upper Fells Point -- just a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The difference is subtle, the dividing line almost invisible, but the residents within the small radius of Mid-Point confirm what my friend Jim believes: The world and its concerns appears different wherever you stand.
The newsletter I received in the door of my new house is addressed to the citizens of Upper Fells Point and West Canton. Local zoning issues were addressed, as was a battle in the War of 1812. The newsletter described how 15,000 men gathered to fight for freedom on Hampstead Hill. I have a hard time imagining it. Hampstead Hill is now Patterson Park.
It changes every day, I have to remind myself. Occasionally I look out my window searching for the thing that is new, the thing that was absent the day before. Sometimes it's the sight of cranes off in the distance, erecting buildings or tearing them down; other times it's something as seemingly insignificant as someone's laundry hanging out to dry.
I once kept track of an old Ukrainian woman who lived next door to me by the rags she hung on her clothesline. I worried if nothing changed on her line for a few days. When she died, I missed seeing the small flower arrangements she kept in mayonnaise jars. So, I look every day to remind myself of the impermanence of my view. And by staying put, I've learned to appreciate a place, see it evolve and know its history.
I once knew of a woman who had moved 17 times in the same neighborhood. She'd traveled extensively, I was told, but always came back to Baltimore. I was in college at the time I heard this, and dying to move far away from here, so this woman's choice to stay in the same neighborhood was incomprehensible to me. I thought it was boring, unworldly, even, to move into another rowhouse down the street.
It occurs to me now that I am becoming that woman. Moving 17 times doesn't seem as uncommon to me as it once did. Nor as insular. I've come to understand the comfort of staying in a familiar place. My last move was only two streets east and two streets south, but there is a certain subtlety with each new angle, nuances from block to block.
Jennifer Grow is a writer living in Upper Fells Point. She can be reached at email@example.com.
City Diary Considers issues of interest to Baltimore's neighborhoods.