Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year
Photo by Fortune, c. 2012

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The World Famous Lexington Market

My birthday was spent roaming the fabulous World Famous Lexington Market, home every kind of Mom & Pop fried chicken, dessert stand, Asian cafe, seafoods and meats imaginable. A virtual treasure trove of crispy, fried goodies! However, my nostalgic choice for a birthday lunch was the award-winning lump crab cakes at John W. Faidley's fish palace. It was really good, outdone only by the historic ambience of the place.

Established in 1782, Lexington Market is one of the longest running market in the world and stands on its original ground. Located in downtown you can see a real slice of Baltimore life in all of its seamier sides. It is not a place for the tourist or resident that requires a safe, predictable environment. But if you crave a diverse mix of people of all ethnicities and have an appreciation for life's hustle, then this is the place.

Because I grew up running through Seattle's Pike Place Market well before it became the elite tourist attraction it is today, Lexington Market feels like home, a somewhat shady but endearing, familiar friend. There's a spirit that runs throughout the place found only in markets, a spirit of history and brash characters looking to make that sale. The market place, a metaphor for the rigors of making a life whatever your circumstances. Oh, how I love a market.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

A big thank you to Ms. Bea, my sweetheart of a Mom! If it weren't for her love and care I would not be here. And many thanks to Cecil for providing the rock upon which we grew and prospered. Dad, we miss you terribly.

It is a warm morning with a mist of sweet rain that promises to remain for a few days. Lovely. I am on my way out into the city to see what wonders this day brings.

Song (and lyrics) for the day: Dave Matthews Band-Satellite


Thursday, September 23, 2010

...and This Little Piggy Went to Market

I confess. I love to shop for groceries...everyday. Maybe it's the "daily marketing" mentality I developed while living in Europe but I believe it is right and proper to purchase your food daily. To take time selecting, preparing and eating it, getting to know the people selling your food, explore the usual food stuffs but also the things that are unique to your market. I love to cook and shun eating out much. Nothing burns my butt more than paying for something I could have cooked better myself. So, where I shop for food is exceedingly important because a relationship central to my nutrition - and comfort - is being...well, nurtured, which is why I make an effort to by as much local produce as possible.

So, I am happy to report I finally found my grocery store! Initially I shopped at the Shopper's Warehouse. It was okay but just another grocery store and much too far away. Then I found a Safeway so old that it still had the low ambient lighting before everything got so bright. Fun but off the beaten path. Occasionally I make a bus trek down Eastern Ave, over to Broadway and down Fleet Street to the local Whole Foods in the chic, "lofty" area of downtown Baltimore. But this Whole Foods is a mere shadow compared to the super WFs I grew accustomed to in Santa Fe. Plus, I question their politics of late. The Spanish store a couple of blocks away is good for bananas, mangoes, papaya and limes but the women who work there are not especially engaging. They may or may not smile when you pay for your purchase and if they do those smiles fade as soon as their hand closes over your money. This kind of exchange does not a food shopping relationship make but in a pinch I enjoy feeling like I am in a small Mexican town.

ut just down the road past the Value Village (one of the best I

have ever seen, i.e. six 18 carat gold-trimmed crystal wine glasses for a 99 cents each!) past the Enoch Pratt Free Library, past the six barbershops and hair salons (yes, I counted them), past the three neighborhood convenience stores, the three liquor stores, past the two pawn shops and one adult toy store is The World Markets of Highlandtown.

Under one roof are several markets but they are not artfully arranged and sectioned off like, say, Talin Asian Market in Albuquerque where each culture has its own neatly arranged isle. No, this store is a wonderful jumble of cultures much like Highlandtown itself. One section is sort of Middle Eastern, another more or less Asian. The Hispanic food spills onto the isle ends with piles of tortillas and sweets and then there's the wonderful Italians and other Mediterraneans. You can find Italian, Spanish and Turkish olive oils in various locations throughout the store. The Indian Gee and pickles are sandwiched between the Lebanese pomegranate syrup and colorful boxes of Japanese crackers. There's an array of different rices. Big bags of black rice from Indonesia, Indian white or brown basmati, jasmine rice, sushi rice lay piled on shelves at the back of the stroe. I counted tahini from four different countries.

The vegetables and fruits are pretty standard fare but you have to hustle to get the good collard greens as they get snatched early in the day but are easily substituted with dandelion greens, kale or savoy and green cabbages. Plenty of fish - crab, shrimp, cat fish, snapper, and more - and the deep meats: goat, beef heart and kidney, goat, tripe, ox tail with the usual pig, chicken and beef.

Tonight's menu: wilted romaine salad with grilled pieces of marinated chicken breast, grilled pineapple, tomatoes and mushrooms with warm Asian rice wine vinegar dressing. Yummmmy! Yep, I found my grocery store and it's got soul. No, really, today they were playing Duke of Earl over the sound system. I'm a happy camper.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And a Good Time Was Had by All

Baltimore's natives came out to celebrate their native son, Frank Zappa, and a good time was had by all. Dr. Carla Hayden, executive director of Enoch Pratt Free Library hosted the events. The roster of "important folks" was impressive: Baltimore's Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Vilnius, Lithuania's Mayor Vilius Navickas; Ms. Gail Zappa and the Zappa children; Jeffery Sharkey, director of The Peabody Institute and the Zappa statue donor, Saulius Paukstys.

But the real thrill were the attendees, a sizable number of which traveled from Lithuania and cities around the country. And Zappa's music is just as great as it was when he was rocking it. The concert by Dweezil Zappa and Zappa Plays Zappa was loud, ironic, satirical, and pumping. It was really like an old time gathering of hippies, wavy dancers, esoteric stompers, and heads. It's been years since I've heard so many 'Right on's' and 'Far out's.'

From Boomers to babies, everyone was in fine form. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen such a group of happy Boomers since the economic downturn. A few of the men still had hair down their back, make-over episodes would be lost on these guys. Everyone quite a bit fuller about the middle thanks to the volume of pizza's and sandwiches thick with sausages, sliced meats and sauces. It was clear that the seniors of the group were especially pleased that this music still ignited their children and grand children.

The partying continued at the Creative Alliance with Telesma, a great local band who describes
their music as psychedelic electro tribal rock. They did not lie. Not surprising that they list just about every popular culture marker of the last 50years as their influence. Good music and worth a listen. Again, some very happy revelers were in attendance, a younger crowd. I'm thinking the Boomers were partied out and - the lucky ones - had to get ready for work on Monday morning.The first thing out the mouth of the woman I sat next to was a slurred, "I'm into this." She then continued to provide an on-going monolog of her day. She sold $4,000 worth of t-shirts (still a very good business), this was like the good ol' days, and she was gonna dance after she went out for a smoke and would I watch her purse and she had just turned 60. Well, rock on, my sister! Just like the good ol' days.

Speaking of t-shirts, I was most impressed by the one this guy wore. The obvious question is, "Is this really your phone number?" I had to ask. He launch he did into how he really wanted to meet someone and thought he'd just let everybody, the girls, know. Wink, wink... anticipated response, suspended animation. I caught the sympathetic eye of a woman - sympathetic towards me - as I wished him a lot of luck and assured him that he'd find someone. One of the stompers, he danced with abandon off into the crowd. I saw him later at the Creative Alliance still stomping...still alone.

I am happy to report that Zappa's music is alive and well. It is gratifying that his music has a growing audience. Equally as important was his political activism in the music industry. His take on the current state of the industry is fascinating to consider.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Baltimore's Genius Son

It is Frank Zappa week-end in Baltimore and Eastern Avenue is plastered with posters and abuzz with excitement. The Patterson Theater and Highlandtown if hosting an array events celebrating his life and work.

His wife, Gail Zappa, is giving a talk tomorrow morning down stairs at Theater. Tomorrow night a big party is planned and his son, Dweezil, will perform his father's music. Tomorrow afternoon is the dedication of a bronze sculpture of Zappa down the street at Highlandtown's Enoch Pratt Library commemorating August 9, which the mayor has proclaimed Frank Zappa Day. The original bronze sculpture by artist Konstantinas Bogdanas is erected in Vilnius, Lithuania. This second casting was offered to Baltimore by Saulius Pokstys. Given Zappa's vast creativity and intellect, it is fitting that his image should watch over the entrance of a public institution of learning and mental explorations.

I saw Frank Zappa in Seattle in the mid-80s. He was playing the Paramount Theater, another theater I also lived above at the time. It was a wild, exciting, fun, brilliant, classical, ironic, jazzy, r&b, and rock n' roll mash up - Zappa style, the creation of a uniquely gifted composer and musician.

What a great welcome to town.

Cheers from Zappa Land,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Howlin' for the Wolf

A good buddy of mine says he wouldn't be caught dead walking the streets with an iPod plugging his ears with music - no matter how great the beat. Being from Chicago's South Side, conventional wisdom dictates that without the use of his ears..well, anything could jump off. And he just might be "caught dead."

I guess he has a point but I was raised in Seattle at a time when it was a little shy, cloudy hamlet in the Northwest and don't have that particular reservation (we can talk about why I prefer not to live above, say, the third floor of any building at another time). Howlin' Wolf has been serving up the backbeat to my life these days. Here's what's pumping in my brain while I explore the Baltimore streets. And, yes, I might look like an absolute fool waiting for the light to change to the beat but I don't care:

I especially love this video. He was some kind of raw man with an overpowering animal magnetism.

Here's an NPR piece I found:

I am reminded of a trip to a Washington, DC bookstore famous for its liberal inclinations. It was where all the hip, NPR-listening DC literati shopped for their books. I was with a distinguished, highly educated friend who was a dean at an exclusive New England college. Her head of beautiful silver natural hair drew a lot of attention. And so it was this particular afternoon that we stood in this bookstore when were became aware of a good white couple paying attention on the q-t to our every word. We'd move, they'd move a little closer, especially the woman. We'd slide around a corner, here they'd come acting real casual like. She was listening so hard, you could easily imagine her ears stetched taut straight out from her head. It was as though a cartoon bubble sat above her head that said, "My, they are sooo articulate. Honey, listen! They speak just like us."

So we racheted it up a notch and began using our $50 and $100 words, words with a whole bunch of letters in them. I don't even recall what we were talking about but it was no doubt some esoteric nonsense. The woman leaned ever closer in restrained disbelief. She had never heard such! In fact, she seemed almost proud by our articulation as if she had discovered some unusual species. Articulate black people! Two of them! This was pre-Obama. Hopefully things have gotten better but I can't be sure.

And then the funniest thing happened. On the store sound system, in the middle of our conversation, we heard, "how, how, how, how!" And like two tribes women we answered the call with our own, "how, how, how, how!" And loud, too. It was like some DNA programming kicked in and we were right there with the call and response thing. When John Lee Hooker calls, you got to answer. And so we did. It was so fast, so spontaneous, so DNA-esque, that it stunned us as much as it did our eavesdropper. Poor thing. She was convinced that we were somehow unusual, unique. How else could you explain our ability to speak the Queen's English so well? But instead we were black women - howling - out in public, even.

Well, she had to rethink all of that. Her mind was blown along with all of her assumptions (and now I'm assuming). I swear she almost fainted from the shock of it all. And we ran, tumbled out of the bookstore screaming with laughter. I love African American culture.

from B'More

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How We Do A Parade!

This week-end kicked off three days of events celebrating Baltimore's Historic Pennsylvania Avenue. Today I attended the 1st Annual Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Festival Cadillac Parade, thank you very much!

Boy, I love how we celebrate!

More information on Baltimore's Historic Pennsylvania Avenue here: