A return to the art of talking

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Proprietor: At Louie's...

November 30, 1997|By Carl Schoettler

A return to the art of talking; Proprietor: At Louie's Bookstore 0) Cafe, Jimmy Rouse encourages literate conversation at the 'Table of Ten.'

The talk at Jimmy Rouse's "Table of Ten" at Louie's Bookstore Cafe may never outshine the Algonquin Round Table, that fabled benchmark of brilliant literate conversation in the Manhattan of the '20s and '30s.

No tart-tongued Dorothy Parker has yet appeared. No acerbic Alexander Woollcott. No iconoclastic Robert Benchley, father of Peter.

But the jawing at Jimmy's has been pretty good, lively, interesting and even amusing. In the era of e-mail, Internet chat rooms and talk radio, Rouse is trying to promote acoustic talk, where 10 human beings actually communicate face to face.

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

"I like the personal. I like to see people's faces when I talk to them," says Rouse, the painter-proprietor of Louie's. (The cafe was in fact named after his son, who was about 4 when Rouse took it over in 1981. Louie's in college now.)

"I feel like there's a lack of opportunities in this society to have interesting discussions with strangers, with people you don't know ahead of time."

Rouse likes the idea of the European cafe and the 19th-century literary salon.

"I would like to create that atmosphere," he says. "It's a natural in this neighborhood. This is what cities should be about, bringing diverse people together. This is why cities are civilizing, potentially. Should be. Have been through history."

So he set up the Table of Ten and rounded up a gaggle of moderators to set the tone. He invited anybody who felt like it to stop by and join in. The talk is free, but you have to buy your own drinks and food. People come in, sit down and, well, just talk.

"I selected 10 because I've sat at a lot of tables here and it's noisy," he says. "A table that size everybody can hear each other. Ten people becomes like a dinner conversation."

David Simon and Edward Burns, the authors of "The Corner," started off with the gritty argot of Baltimore's drug world.

"We booked it for 10 people and 20 showed up, all claiming they had reservations," Rouse says. "Everybody there had all read the book. That's a stipulation we made."

The whole level of discussion rose a notch or two above chain-store book chat. Simon and Burns were booked for an hour and stayed two.

"It was the first time they had talked to 10 people who had all read their book," Rouse says.

The next Table of Ten talk brought urbane conversation about old and new Mount Vernon, led by Charles Duff, the president of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, who's leading a new planning effort for the Midtown Benefits District.

Tomorrow night, Robert Sirota, president of Peabody Conservatory, and Bill Struever, developer and school-board member, will talk about the arts and the city-school curriculum. Tuesday, Mark Crispin Miller, Johns Hopkins University professor, will talk about media giants and the news. You could ** come down to 518 N. Charles St. and try to get a word in edgewise.

And, yes, Jimmy Rouse did have the Algonquin image in mind for his Table of Ten.

"That kind of free-form discussion with that kind of intelligence would be wonderful to have," he says. "There's a need for it, and people feel a need for it."

He plans to keep the Table of Ten going as long as people feel like talking intelligently.

For more information about the Table of Ten series, call Louie's at 410-962-1222.

@ It all began when Karen Sawyer went looking for artwork that expressed the love she and her husband felt for each other. She wanted to decorate the second floor of their home in Northeast Baltimore with images of devoted, interracial couples.

She couldn't find any.

A long, frustrating search eventually led her to a small ad in the back of a defunct magazine named New People. In Texas, she discovered, there was an artist named Brian Joseph who created interracial posters, some of which now brighten her walls.

The 31-year-old Sawyer decided the world needed an easier way to link multicultural families up with multicultural products. So she provided one.

Her mail-order business, InterSpectrum, publishes a catalog offering posters and books for adults and children about multicultural families and interracial relationships; multicultural arts and crafts, T-shirts and cassettes, and subscriptions to the multicultural magazines Interrace and Child of Colors.

There are even greeting cards. For the holidays, InterSpectrum carries Interracially Correct Greeting Cards by California artist Tracy Smith, a line that blends photographs of interracial couples into its designs. Other note cards are created for couples who have adopted children from races different than theirs.

Sawyer, who works as a sales representative for ADT security systems, started the business with her husband, Mark, a teacher of math, engineering and computer-assisted drawing at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

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