Thursday, February 21, 2013


I remember being little, filling up ice cube trays to place in our ever-frosted freezer. The refrigerator door, which must have once been the color of ripe avocados, had browned over time - rust, grime, age - and sometimes, when I cracked the ice into our mason jar drinking glasses, I saw that same green-grey, freezing in pockets of air, Baltimore tap water and the taste of coolant.

I remember Baltimore in the bad things, like ice trays which needed to be emptied and refilled, and the young man who followed me to my grandparents' house asking for my name, and the houses like broken teeth on North Avenue, and the car door slams which sounded like gunshots, or were. I remember the purple-kohl sky of no stars and of street lights, and the smell of Fells Point in the summer; I remember dark, narrow alleys with flattened rats and urine.

And I think this, this is what people are afraid of.

I also remember the taste of French pastries, the delight of my grandfather as he drank coffee with cream, the moments when we didn't talk because we were caught up in a city with a voice and a sound like crying and singing. I remember my father taking me to harbor place - still relatively new - in my stroller, and I remember looking at buildings, my father giving them new life as he taught me history and architecture, romance and the stone whispers of the dead.

I remember going to the City Cafe with my grandmother, and as we ate mushroom ravioli she looked right through me and I was naked there in her love and in the sparkle of lights and glass.

Season tickets to Everyman Theatre - Thursday nights, my grandparents and I and professional actors who were beautiful and young and old and flawed and heartbreaking. Elderly women with tanks of oxygen and dyed wash and sets. A plastic cup of cheap wine, wood dust.

Pints of Ben and Jerry's, my stepmother and I wandering to the corner store for ice cream and girl talk, slugs sliming up the wall of our brick row home apartment, Ken Jackson's voice of smoke and sex on the radio, "Celery Stalks at Midnight."

My piano teacher, cursing and raging and filled with passion, and his beautiful piano which sounded like butter on silk. His orange cat, my stumbling Ravel; our search for truth and our too-long memories.

I remember the first time I went to the Single Carrot Theatre and saw a burlesque show - tassels swinging, real women with flesh - a little, a lot - in high heels, audience participation and giggling and revelry, a glass of Malbec, feathers on my neck.

And there were the days of pearls and gold dresses, New Years parties in houses filled with mosaics, Epiphany parties with cocktails and finger foods and bubbling lights on the Christmas tree, high school parties which smelled like mistakes, sticky sage and barley.

There was my hairstylist, wedged into a formstone row house, who knew my stepmother since she was small and who called me his diva and who handed out illegally burned CDs of Broadway musicals. A flapper's bob, Judy Garland on the wall, makeup like Marilyn Monroe.

There is the angel font, the cold softness of his cheeks, the place where my priest brought me into life, brought me into marriage, helped my grandfather find his peace.

There was my parents' wedding, red icing on the cake, silver sprayed leaves, a foundation which will not break. Bubbles, swing dancing, love.

Can this possibly be what we, in Columbia, are afraid of?

I want all of this, so badly, and I want it for my husband, and I want it for our future children. I want little Alice or G to be able to walk to the corner store, or to walk to piano lessons, or to walk to the park. I want Baltimore, here.

Living somewhere - choosing to live somewhere - should give that place life, not immobility, not inertia. When I moved to Columbia it was out of necessity, but why I choose to stay is out of a desire and a belief that there is something here which is urging us to let it grow. We have the people tree, cast forever in metal, but we also have a seedling of something more, something which can change and develop and surprise us, a newborn with deep purple eyes.

I've talked frequently about the restaurants I go to, and those are an element of my conviction that life in Columbia moves and adapts, and that I'm not the only one who appreciates it. After all, who can get a parking spot at The Ale House Columbia at happy hour? There's a demand, a real need, for new things, for excitement and life and zest, and restaurants can be a part of that.

But there's more, always, which grows. Which we must help to grow.

Life is wild and unexpected. Life explodes. Life is that which makes us wake up and get up and try again, and life is that which imparts shock and disgust and pleasure and licked lips and a feeling that there's something, out there, which is bigger than we are. Where we live, how we live, is that foundation upon which we build our dreams.

I wake up to a new Columbia every day. And I want it to be awesome.

Here can be a place of feathers and pearls, shined shoes, mosaics, tassels and cocktails and marriage.

Here can be a place where I can cross the street (as I did today) and get a haircut and style - but this time, with crosswalks and sidewalks and signals.

Here can be a place of theatre, where the older generation and the younger meet, as I hope they will with the Inner Arbor plan.

Here should be a place where I can roll my child along in her stroller and point out the good things, the strong things, the romance, and the legacy of Rouse.

Here will be the place where my children's grandparents can take them to see something flawed and beautiful, to eat something painfully delicious, to listen to the sounds of a city.

I have Baltimore in my soul, green ice cubes and all.

I have Columbia in my heart, because it is growing.

1 comment:

  1. That is my Columbia too. Thanks for the perspective on Baltimore.