Friday, January 7, 2011

Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don't be sorry

"Without deviation progress is not possible."
-Frank Zappa 

I'll admit, I had been harsh on Baltimore. My reluctance to really go out and explore had more to do with the fact that I had cocooned myself into the recently unfamiliar comfort and privacy of a my own room and bed. Even though the sirens and bum arguments continued, I sprawled myself out onto the queen size bed and had the kind of sleep that is near impossible to release yourself from. Put short, I slept in.

No matter, there was no line for the shower and I didn't have pack and dress in silence or darkness. For all the greatness of hostels, it was nice to be treated like a responsible and independent adult again.
The original Washington monument

Turning left from my hotel and heading the opposite direction of yesterday's jaunt, I walked up the hill to the new hostel. Within a block the whole city had changed, and what was previously shady had transformed into sumptuous. The metropolitan legoland of downtown and decay of the ghetto was replaced with historic buildings and a latte belt of cafes.

For a while I forgot I was in Baltimore as I walked around monuments, large cathedrals and parks occupied by statues. Mt Vernon is a lovely historic area of a few square kilometres. It's as if it has shielded itself from the rest of the city, or simply, is too much effort walking up a hill for thugs to be bothered with.
empty shop

Recharged,gorging on humble pie, feeling positive and equipped with google maps on my crapberry, I took about exploring the city with a new buzz. I was first going to see the Frank Zappa statue at the library, with google successfully leading the way. What google didn't do was take me to the correct library, and I was unable to see the soviet style bust that matches the one I saw in Vilnius. Dang, I figured I'd get google to take me to Edgar Allen Poe's old house.
Billie Holiday sign

It looked close on the map and I was expecting to see a line of goths lead the way. However, google took me through some of the shadier streets of downtown. Whole blocks of N Howard street were boarded up, and looked like they had been for some time. An old theatre had seen better days, but in it's current ramshackle guise still had an element of beauty. Like an old decaying shipwreck is covered in barnacles, these buildings have inherited their own sense of intrigue, their atrophy is a mere chapter in their story.
Part of Howard Street's empty buildings. A few blocks from the famous Lexington Markets

The next city blocks improved, though like a random scattering of seeds, badlands had grown intermittently throughout the area. What seemed like a reprieve occurred when travelling past a university and medical facility. The next set of housing estates even looked respectable, but in the near distance I could see the gates of hell opening up.

It was instant, all of a sudden the windows were shattered onto the ground, shingles were missing and doors were banging in the wind. Tall grass was growing from the footpaths and the people exiting their houses had the walk of zombies. I would have given anything to have been on the most rickety and run-down and riskiest roller-coaster instead of taken my chances in this place, but I was so close to my destination. I pushed on, and walked the remaining 100 metres with a sense of alertness that would make any special-op proud. Across from the footpath was a semi vacant lot. I presume it was originally full of houses that had since fallen victim to the residents a few remained boarded up. There was movement in a couple at the top of the street, and even new-ish furniture in the backyward.

In the background a bird was crowing. Surely it wasn't a raven. By the time I reached the refuge of the house I felt like a character in one of Poe's stories. I was truly frightened of the area, even if it was founded on reputation alone. Worse was to come though, the old house was boarded up for renovations and now looked like everyother dump in the area. I couldn't believe it at first, and spent a few more minutes looking for an answer or a quick way out. the streets got worse, and all of the shops in the area were as lively as a graveyard. Defeated and somewhat paranoid, I marked my exit with a bit more pace than I'm familiar with. I had made it to the relative safety of the not-so-slummy areas. Phew.

I have since done a bit more research on the museum, and every review says do not walk to it. I had said I was going to Baltimore because there is more to the U.S.A. than Disneyland and the Statue of Liberty and that I wanted to dig deeper into what makes this country such a peculiar oxymoron. I certainly got that today, and upon reflection in in the safety of the hostel, I'm happy for it.

The rest of the afternoon was a breeze. The beatdown parts of downtown felt like Rodeo Drive and in fairness, the harbour area is quite nice. The city is turning purple or the upcoming Ravens' NFL game. I continued walking around the city, eventually making it back to the Walters Art Museum. It's free, it's beautiful and it has an excellent collection of Egyptian artefacts.

Baltimore has proved to be the biggest lump of coal I've ever seen in my life. Somehow though, there are some stunning diamonds in there. The academic part of the city is world class. This hostel is also one of the best I've ever stayed in (easily the best in North America). I also found the tastiest Indian food since I've been on this island. But all of this goes hand-in-hand with the city's more famous side. A lot of the great things about the place are missed out on because of it. A phrase in spraypaint on a door summed the place up perfectly well; "put the politicians on minimum wage & watch how fast things change". No doubt there's unbridled potential about the city, it just needs to be acted upon.

Frank Zappa could only have come from this city.

*Note: I was too shit-scared to take photos in the ghetto. I'll try to be less of a pussy next time.

Delphic - Acolyte.
This has become my new album to write to. when they're not sounding like Bloc Party they're writing lovely songs like this. Grab the album, some good headphones and a pen/keyboard and let the words flow.

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