Culture, sports beckon Baltimore Glimpses

March 24, 1998|By Gilbert Sandler

NOTWITHSTANDING surveys showing that suburban residents continue in impressive numbers to take advantage of Baltimore City resources, one still hears of a minority of county residents who say (too often) that they not only live in the county but also work there, and visit the city infrequently, or not at all.

It's sad that even a minority feels that way.

But how can such a point of view exist? Baltimore, after all, is home to the Baltimore Museum of Art and its Cone collection -- one of the world's most important collections of artwork by Matisse -- and to the Walters, which originates history-making shows ("Pandora's Box," "Masters of Light") that tour America.

The city is home to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, performing space for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recognized as one of the great orchestras in America, and Center Stage and the Baltimore Opera. It is where Earl Weaver did his wild dervishes at home plate in Memorial Stadium while thousands cheered, and where new generations of fans sit with the old in Camden Yards and dream of their own World Series.

The Mechanic Theatre and the Lyric Opera House offer the best of the country's music, dance and drama; and such museums as Great Blacks in Wax, Visionary Art, B&O Railroad, Babe Ruth, and soon, Disney's Port Discovery offer exhibits for all ages. Little Italy, that improbable old-world village of neighborhood life and commerce, defies time and change. Only the city could have produced a Maria of Maria's, who claimed in all honesty that every Thanksgiving in her place she shared a spaghetti dinner with H. L. Mencken.

The city is home to Lexington Market and the Baltimore Zoo, where you went as a kid and where your kids take their kids. Yesterday and today come together in the pulsing diverse excitement of Fells Point, Canton and Greektown. In the hushed reading rooms of that wondrous university of the people, "Central" -- or the main library of the Enoch Pratt -- generations of Baltimoreans have taken advantage of one of the region's largest library and research centers. The city also offers excellent medical care at the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center.

The city is where the cornucopia of light and water and life we call the Inner Harbor glistens in the sun during the day, and, at night, lights up the city's heart.

In the city, the past has a presence. When you walk down Charles Street you follow in the steps of Pratt, Poe, Peabody and Walters, where the D'Alesandros and the silver-tongued Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin held their high-level conference in Bickfords ("No. 10 Downing Street").

You pass the corner of Liberty and Saratoga streets, where H. L. Mencken downed his oysters ("13 to a dozen") and quaffed his first legal beer after the repeal of Prohibition in the dining room of the old Rennert Hotel. You pass the old Post Office, where Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency of the United States. You remember the town characters: Abe Sherman, Melvin Perkins, Mr. Diz and a nameless man, braving the cold of many a winter standing outside of the Century Theater on Lexington Street, who approached to sell you a sprig of lavender.

All of this is city experience: it could happen only in Baltimore City! Is there a Glen Burnie Symphony Orchestra? An Art Museum of Greater Arbutus? A Maryland Science Center in Monkton? Some way of walking the lonely streets out there and still connecting to the rich and storied past that defines "Baltimore"? Is there a National Aquarium of Pasadena? Priceless Matisses, Degas and Cezannes on display in a firehouse in Rosedale? Have we missed something?

Lewis Mumford, the great lover of and writer about cities, once characterized the people living in the suburbs as suffering from "collective amnesia." The problem then, for you who are not visiting the city, is that you've forgotten what the excitement and the rich diversity of Baltimore is all about. But such urban-amnesiacs can get the old feeling back once they are reintroduced. So, you who have forgotten (apologies to the good folks in Pasadena, Rosedale, Glen Burnie, Monkton, Arbutus), come see us. We'd like to see you again.

Gilbert Sandler writes from and about Baltimore.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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