“The yearning had no object, no subject, it was just there. And maybe her mother was correct when she said it was ’eternity set in her heart’.”
Started off on the adventure by checking into the stately Lord Baltimore. They live up to their brand, with posh, old-fashioned lobby, classical music playing, and historical markers mentioning that Babe Ruth stayed here and Amelia Earhart attended a dinner here. There’s a lot of history in Baltimore, beginning with in 1662 with the first settlement, becoming a city in 1728, being the hometown of the Charles Carroll, Frederick Douglass, and Babe Ruth among many....
One of my short list of 8-10 “must see” ballparks happens to be in Baltimore. (List off the top: Wrigley, Fenway, Detroit, Yankee stadium, Dodger Stadium, SF park and Camden Yards.). Today I got to see Camden Yards. I love that I was able to walk there rather than Uber or drive and park. What a thrill to “live” close enough to walk to a ballpark. Thankfully the O’s are wOeful, so tickets were easy to come by. It helped that it’s a Tuesday evening I suppose. Maybe 9000 fans?
A google search shows attendance terrible in April: "The paying attendance of 6,585 last Monday night was the lowest crowd in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history, and that’s just the start of an ugly story." (Amazingly, the Clippers draw about as many as Camden Yards!)
The park reminded me of our own Huntington Park in Cbus, not surprising since Huntington was modeled after this park I believe. I still think Great American’s more impressive, but this park is certainly charming and “old school”, built in ‘92 in the intentionally retro fashion.
My first surprise was during the penultimate line of the national anthem: “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave...”. I was startled by crowd yelling “oh!” (obviously because the Orioles are the O’s).
I find a spot in the right field stands just above the scoreboard where you can stand. I had no desire to hunt up my seat in the nosebleeds. And immediately, first half of inning number one, there’s a line drive headed directly for me and Lord it was hard-hit. I shamefully backed up instead of try to catch it but I felt better when the young guys next to me said they did the same thing, saying they weren’t gonna try to catch that thing. It’s a 21 foot scoreboard and he hit the 20 foot mark and I’m standing at 23 feet.
Post-game I looked for a convenience store and found one in a sketchy part of town. You know when the store has a sign saying, “No ski mask and hoodies inside the store” that it feels legit. I documented my bravery by taking a picture of it, making up for the backing away from the fly ball.
Next up was the great Peabody Library. There was a Shakespeare concordance a mile thick and proof that Bardolatry was alive and well at time of publication. How many authors, save the Biblical ones, have concordances?
Words fail at the beauty of that “cathedral of books”, a masterpiece of a library. I walked around it, explored it’s side “altars”, took pictures and breathed the smell of old books. Thought it would be a great place to read except for the temperature (near freezing). I also considered how it’s kind of a shame that the Internet has taken over the knowledge search business, to a great extent. I kind of envy those 17th century learned souls who actually could read everything important enough to have been put on parchment. There was, then, a circumscribed limit to what we knew, while now it’s sort of hopeless.
Afterward I walked to Mount Vernon square and it was a stunner. Really it’s only equal were some I’d seen in London. Just plain beautiful. In the middle a great pillar to George Washington, completed well before the Washington Monument and far more attractive. Herman Melville wrote of it in Moby-Dick:
“Great Washington … stands high aloft on his towering main-mast in Baltimore, and like one of Hercules’ pillars, his column marks that point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals will go.”A beautiful pool and fountain of a Naiad completed the tableau. On the other side another fountain, which wag once called "Washington's urinal".
Afterward I headed south to the Baltimore Basilica, the oldest in the United States. So much history there, including “visits from at least 15 saints or potential saints”. St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa in our day. The genesis of the Baltimore Catechism. The oldest churches in America, in “Mary’s Land”.
Afterward walked through Little Italy, including the street named for Nancy Pelosi (she grew up on the street). It was sad, kind of, seeing how little effect the efforts of so many priests and teachers could not keep her Catholic enough to vote like one. But so it’s always been; if our physical lives are vulnerable how much more our spiritual.
A guy with booming stereo speakers in his car sat at red light with his windows down, and you could hear an African-American motivational speaker exhorting from a half-mile away: “If you mind is weak, you a motherfucka! You’re no Schwarzaneggar. I don’t care if your body is strong, if your mind is weakling then you ain’t no f-cking Mr. T.” Not in Kansas anymore.
I get a ride to Admiral Fell’s Inn on the wharf and walked the dock. The Fell Inn was okay but the feel of the area was very much like Columbus German Village and thus a bit too familiar. I wasn’t too sad about skipping out staying there.
Come 2pm I had a pretty-looking Guinness and lunch at The Horse You Rode In On Saloon, one frequented by no less than Edgar Poe. Including supposedly on his last day on earth.
This city is a highly social one. A loud, talkative city. At Barnes & Noble, you’d think there wouldn’t be a cacophony of voices, but there is - both inside and on the full-of-potential third floor outdoor covered deck. The downside of a social nature: loud arguments, this time a very angry young man in his 20s who was yelling and mad at a spurned lover but no one did anything for the 20 minutes it went on.
Sitting in Poe’s saloon today it felt ... hard to imagine him sitting in there. Sure, the wood looked old and perhaps even original, but... I thought about the elements that were different, starting with the way folks were dressed. And even if re-enactors came in, in period dress, it wouldn’t be the same. It would be phony, like a man dressing up like a woman. Plus there’s the language that’s changed, the proprieties, the customs and coinage and music and even the drinks, to some extent. Even if you got all those externals right, you can’t get inside their head - or can you? Are they basically the same as us on the inside? Or is the past like a “foreign country” and if you begin from such different world views and media inputs... Does it mean anything really that Washington slept here or Poe drank here if the externals have changed, let alone if what made them tick is foreign? Is it the externals - the horse and buggy and tight clothing - that makes them who they were or the shaping of ideas and world views?
We’re searching, I think, for solidarity with the past not so much on the cheap celebrity plane in which we get selfies with TV stars but that if Washington slept here than that some of his patina may rub off on us if we can imagine him being here. We can feel connected with him and thus connected to his patriotism and mission. Sort of the Jesuit school of spirituality: put yourself in the gospel scenes.
I didn’t see Poe’s original grave site on Wednesday and it turns out that’s where the famous “Poe Toaster” laid roses and cognac annually. Oddly, it almost feels like this legendary homage to Poe has eclipsed where his bones actually lie. Or at least it feels just as iconic. It seems strange that the choice of cognac toast was not where his bones are, but it does feel like I missed something in not seeing that shrine. (Later: saw the original site on my way to Ruth museum.)
Lovely morning. The only downside of this hotel room is the dearth of natural light. But I sit next to the nearly lightless window surrounded by buildings, prop my footsore feet on the bed and read my purchase at B & N yesterday: The Judge Hunter by Christoper Buckley. Set in the olden time of the 1660s, it’s a tasty read so far. Something about those old Puritans that attracts.
Walked in the surreal heat and wonder-sun (it sure feels like the South here, and we are south of Mason-Dixon) to the Babe Ruth Museum. Some really “interesting” streets, hard-looking for sure. The museum highlight was the rosary that he carried with him all his days and which were hanging on his hospital bedpost when he died. His love and outreach to sick children reminded me that despite his faults he sure had some huge virtues.
Then walked to Poe house, straggling down dull-looking, unshaded streets towards the manna of air-conditioning. The house was ok; he lived there only two years and I feel like it wasn’t a formative influence, didn't feel like he'd haunt it. And I’ve never been that much into Poe although I appreciate his genius and influence.
Ubered to Washington Monument and felt in sync with driver. He lived most of his life in Cincy and Indiana and wants Skyline Chili in Maryland pronto. Said he roots for Reds/Bengals “when they’re good”, which means not much of late. Said he can’t root for Ravens since all his friends are Ravens fans and he wants to be the contrarian. He said people are much different in Midwest, more laid back and more accepting of obstacles. Uptight types in Baltimore apparently.
A return visit to the Peabody Library. It seems the sense of satisfaction the space presents is that all knowledge could be contained within. Or at least all written knowledge as circa 1750. It’s the same desire to complete a baseball card set, to collect all cards issued in one year. Similarly this container of books acts like a complete set of knowledge, or seems to promise it.
And of course there’s the pleasing “variation within order”, like a symphony. The varied hues of books versus the stately repetitive order of the balconies and cornices and wrought iron, all of muted grey with gold relief. Very much a great sense of order and cleanness here.
It’s like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Or a super large six-layer wedding cake.
Afterward, since the art museum was free and close by, I headed there and looked at some great art... Dawdled over dinner plans; I wasn’t particularly hungry but felt like I wanted to get it over with. Finally the weather decided - a storm coming in 6 minutes! Had to hustle back to hotel just in time. Well, thirty seconds to spare. Kindle, iphone and AirPods represented vulnerable electronics on me.
Next up is Ascension Thursday Mass at the traditionalist parish of St. Alphonse. Only time you can view the church is when it’s open for Mass so...when in Baltimore, .... Read up on it and it was built in the mid-1800s and was pastored at one time by St. John Neumann! Wow. Likely the first U.S. parish I’ve ever attended Mass which was pastored by a saint. I imagined the saint preaching from that same (extremely) high pulpit.
It was known as the “German parish” back in the day, and it’s gothic to the max. Unabashedly gothic. It has a lot going on, a million statues. It’s sort of like every single space in the church has some flourish. I had hoped for a short half-hour mass but it was a Latin high mass, which means long mass, but I couldn’t seem to justify skipping out early and thus skipping communion in favor of getting back to hotel for beer o’clock. Just a really bad look there, so I stayed and profited.
I thought of how Babe Ruth’s mentor, the guy who changed his life, was a Catholic religious at St. Mary’s Industrial School, and how that fellow ought be the famous one. The greater our grasp of reality the more our celebrities are the saints and religious heroes. Brother Matthias Boutilier was a Canadian who moved to the States and became a Xavierian brother at age 20, in 1892.
Baltimore was the second U.S. city to have a presence of the teaching brothers; first was Louisville, KY in the mid-1800s. The order was begun in 1839 by a former Dutch shoemaker, Theodore James Ryken.
So the road for Ruth’s success began with a humble shoemaker who, at age 19, felt a calling to God to become a Catechist.
Not my idea of entertainment:
Skye acknowledged that some Baltimore teens seem to use public spaces as an opportunity to meet and hash out beefs — something she feels is a form of play that has become more common.
"It gets boring, so they try to make fun out of anything,” she said of her peers. “It's entertaining to watch a fight. You get videos out of it or bragging rights.”
Did an hour walk towards downtown east and south. Very pleasant warm and sunny day. Got to love the nearing summer equinox. Saw the modest red light district; with the tree-lined streets and absence of actual red light it seemed almost gentrified. It's right by the police station, ironically or not.
Postscript: Feel a bit of pine for olde Baltimore, the baroqueness of it, the germination of Catholic America, the dare of slum streets, the small but real thrill of finding a “clean, well-lighted place” for morning breakfasts, the twilight at Camden Yards, the breath-take and peace of Peabody Library, the bright, beautiful sunlight, the topography of Federal Hill, the run till the (near) rain to Lord Baltimore, the classical music and elegance therein, the plenitude of hat ladies wearing their grandiose hats, the excitement of the check-in and checking out the new pad, the light of the old Cathedral, the graveyard worthy of Savannah and her ghosts, the cigar enjoyed mid-city, the somber London-fog view out the hotel window, the squirreling of beers and chocolate cake in the ‘fridge, the puzzling if pleasing interior of the Barnes & Noble’s at Inner Harbor, the refresh of fresh reads on Baltimore and Poe and a novel of early America, the retracting Ruth’s & Pelosi’s youthful steps, and the theater of how a minute into the Oriole’s game there’s a double a foot below me...
Reading Bone’s book
At the boneyard
Where Poe ghosts trellis
Beside the greystones.
Later at lordly Lord Baltimore
Inked sheets of King-sized expanse
Emblemed flora and font-a
Olde English ye
The lush of covenant time
I lozenged the lilting silence
Waiting for a boredom that never came.
Mornings brought the stream-sun
Amid the salmon-run
north to the wonder-bus of a breakfast joint
pregnant with tweed’d professors and the gilt-interior
Befitting a former bank.
The plaintive rain drops outside St. Alphonsus Liguori
(Oh, Grandma’s Liguorian magazines!)
Mornings mapping out le’ day,
Evenings in the 19th century,
And the lure of the lobby and its Mozart and leather couches
Where laptops like lit jewels spawned from wired girls.