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Maryland Wine Uncorked • Inside the Comedy Underground • Can I Can? september 2009 issue no. 63

the learning issue

Teaching Behind Bars The Murky Future of High-Stakes Testing


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AD: College of Notre Dame Monument Circle Washington DATE: September PUBLICATION: Urbanite SIZE: 8 x 4.875 4/C CONTACT: Gayle Gillespie, Marketing Coordinator, 410-532-5124

Produced by Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts Mayor Sheila Dixon

Nurturing the Culture of Literature urbanite september 09

Friday Literary Happy Hour Hosted by Aaron Henkin, WYPR’s “The Signal” “Poetry Animations: Creativity From All Angles” Music by Rahne Alexander Other Weekend Highlights Cave Canem Poets, Dan Fesperman, Zohara Hieronimus, Connie Imboden, Charles Jensen, Michael Kimball, James Magruder, Philipp Meyer, Jen Michalski, Lia Purpura, Ben Shaberman, Lizzie Skurnick, Sue Ellen Thompson, Money for Lit Panel, School of Lit, Architecture Panel, Jason Tinney with Music by The Wayfarers

Complete Schedule at www.CityLitProject.org 410.274.5691

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Friday Feedback Writers: Got lit? Get feedback! Talk with agents, editors, and published writers all afternoon.

CityLit Project Presents at the Literary Salon “Our Daughters, Our Sons, Ourselves: Stories from Parents” Moderated by Marc Steiner, WEAA Sunday, September 27, 3pm


september 2009 issue no. 63

the learning issue dropout city 42 keynote: why do half the kids in baltimore leave school without

contents

a diploma? education reformer robert balfanz has some answers. interview by marc steiner

in progress 46 testing no child left behind, the school accountability legacy of the bush administration, is

due for an obama-era makeover. what’s next, and how will it affect maryland’s public schools? by sara neufeld

the hard way 50 learning from the baltimore high schools to the maryland penitentiary, a teacher reveals the inside story of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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by michael corbin

57 school/work at cristo rey jesuit high school, students pay for their own educations with an innovative out-of-the-classroom approach.

by andy cook

departments note 7 editor’s teachable moments you’re saying 9 what that's all she wrote

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you’re writing 11 what hard lesson: goodbye to jim, a thank-you note, and battle scars

15 corkboard this month: antiques roadshow, tunnel run, and italian stallions goods: an eco-friendly inn. plus: green collision repair, double-duty purses, and 17 the kids’ consignments

this month online at www.urbanitebaltimore.com:

observed 25 baltimore the watchman: jim peters keeps an eye on the wild inhabitants of a fort mchenry wetland.

by mary k. zajac

video: into the wilds of fort mchenry with jim peters

aid: could an experiment in urban agriculture really feed the city? 27 farm by rebecca messner

video: clips from the underground comedy scene

in the balance: an after-school yoga program helps at-risk kids hold steady. 31 lives by andy cook

resources: home canning how-to’s

wine country revisited 33 escape: by mary k. zajac see your youth 60 memoir: by jonathon scott fuqua

on the air: urbanite on the marc steiner show, weaa 88.9 fm sept 8: robert balfanz on dropping out sept 23: the pros and cons of highstakes testing sept 24: michael corbin on teaching in prison

rebirth of the cool 64 space: by david dudley preservation nation 67 eat/drink: by martha thomas

71 reviewed: talara and coal fire pizza 73 wine & spirits: the rum diary 75 the feed: this month in eating funny people 77 art/culture: by greg hanscom

plus: a memoir of motherhood, airborne theatrics, and this month’s cultural highlights on the cover:

illustration by dave plunkert

to eye 90 eye urbanite’s creative director, alex castro, on leslie furlong w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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Issue 63: September 2009 Publisher Tracy Ward Tracy@urbanitebaltimore.com Creative Director Alex Castro General Manager Jean Meconi Jean@urbanitebaltimore.com Editor-in-Chief David Dudley David@urbanitebaltimore.com Managing Editor Marianne K. Amoss Marianne@urbanitebaltimore.com Senior Editor Greg Hanscom Greg@urbanitebaltimore.com

Google began as a student research project in 1996.

Literary Editor Susan McCallum-Smith literaryeditor@urbanitebaltimore.com Proofreader Robin T. Reid

By 1998, it had almost 60 million indexed pages.

Contributing Writers Michael Anft, Scott Carlson, Charles Cohen, Mat Edelson, Lionel Foster, Clinton Macsherry, Tracey Middlekauff, Richard O’Mara, Andrew Reiner, Martha Thomas, Sharon Tregaskis, Michael Yockel, Mary K. Zajac Editorial Intern Cara Selick Design/Production Manager Lisa Van Horn Lisa@urbanitebaltimore.com Traffi c Production Coordinator Belle Gossett Belle@urbanitebaltimore.com Production Interns Christine Abbott, Valerie Paulsgrove Senior Account Executives Catherine Bowen Catherine@urbanitebaltimore.com Susan R . Levy Susan@urbanitebaltimore.com Lois Windsor Lois@urbanitebaltimore.com Account Executive Rachel Bloom Rachel@urbanitebaltimore.com Advertising Sales/Events Coordinator Erin Albright Erin@urbanitebaltimore.com

a lot ca n happen in t wo years.

Bookkeeping/Marketing Assistant Iris Goldstein Iris@urbanitebaltimore.com Advertising Intern Caroline Martinet Founder Laurel Harris Durenberger

At Towson University’s Graduate School, two years is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be. With more than 70 affordable programs, you’ll get the practical knowledge and experience you need to go further in your career, or start a new one. And it only takes two years — sometimes even less.

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Advertising/Editorial/Business Offi ces P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211 Phone: 410-243-2050; Fax: 410-243-2115 www.urbanitebaltimore.com Editorial inquiries: Send queries to editor@urbanitebaltimore.com (no phone calls, please). The magazine is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or artwork. Urbanite does not necessarily support the opinions of its authors. To subscribe or obtain assistance with a current subscription, call 410-243-2050. Subscription price: $18 per year. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission by Urbanite is prohibited. Copyright 2009, Urbanite LLC. All rights reserved.

Thinking outside.

SM

Urbanite (ISSN 1556-8105) is a free publication distributed widely in the Baltimore metropolitan area. To suggest a drop location for the magazine, please contact us at 410-243-2050. Postmaster: Send address changes to Urbanite Subscriptions, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211. Urbanite is a certifi ed Minority Business Enterprise.

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uTOW-GRAD-2009-7674_GOOGLE.indd rbanite september 09

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7/29/09 12:52:35 PM


editor’s note

courtesy of Sara Neufeld

courtesy of Michael Corbin

photo by Mary Helena Clark

contributors Andy Cook is a freelance photographer and writer living in Remington. Cook received his BFA from Cooper Union in 2004. Since returning to his native Baltimore, his work has appeared in such local publications as City Paper, the Jewish Times, and the Examiner. For his story “School/Work” (p. 57), Cook documented the lives of several students from Cristo Rey, a Jesuit high school near Patterson Park whose students work at local businesses to offset their tuition costs. “The sense of purpose that the kids had was really impressive,” he says. Michael Corbin teaches and writes in Baltimore. A former recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Poetry and a Maryland Society of Professional Journalists Award for Public Service Reporting, Corbin reflects on teaching inside the walls of the Maryland Penitentiary in “Learning the Hard Way” (p. 50). Of the fourteen students in his most recent prison class, thirteen passed the state’s GED examinations and received their high school diplomas. Former Baltimore Sun education reporter Sara Neufeld, who contributed this month’s look at the impending reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (“Testing In Progress,” p. 46), has covered education longer than NCLB has existed. A native of Connecticut, she moved to Baltimore in 2003 to write about schools in the county and city. Along with most educators, she gives the controversial and influential legislation mixed reviews. “Most people agree that the intent of No Child Left Behind is good,” Neufeld says, “but there are certainly many problems with the execution of it.”

“You learn something new every day”

might have been a bland but true aphorism in its time, when the day in question was spent grinding barley or roofthatching. But they call this the Information Age for a reason: I challenge you to get though twenty-four hours without learning a whole bunch of stuff, whether you like it or not. To illustrate, let us now review yesterday’s Web history, which functions as a passable map of my mental journey. It was a typical workday—a scramble of proofreading, factchecking, and frequently interrupted attempts to write this editor’s note. Throughout, there was a steady din of online research, the background music of the knowledge economy. Most of this clicking was targeted at magazine-related loose ends, but, like a mile-long fishing net that hauls in everything that swims, the search turned up all manner of intellectual bycatch. I learned that there are at least two sets of lyrics to the Hawaii Five-0 theme song. I learned that turkeys really can drown in a rainstorm because they stand with their beaks open. I gave myself a brief tutorial in capitalization rules for German and a refresher course on the regional lingo of New Orleans, where sidewalks are, weirdly, “banquettes.” And, in the course of rummaging through the day’s events on a half-dozen news and media sites, I glimpsed fragments of more complex issues. (Why exactly is the French economy improving? How can anyone fix Afghanistan? And what is up with these health care rioters?) Then I moved on, having learned—what? The technology writer Nicholas Carr caused a stir a last year with a magazine article whose headline asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His thesis was that our addiction to the miraculous instant-answer machine was doing strange things to the brain’s neural circuitry, rendering us incapable of sustained concentration and problem solving. Bloggy accusations of Carr’s Ludditery followed, but those old enough to recall an academic or professional life that involved pencils and book-reading know that, for all the miracles of information-age learning, something was indeed lost on our way to the data cloud. I recently saw evidence of this traumatic cognitive rewiring during a presentation at my daughter’s school, when a group of third-graders challenged the audience to solve a mathematical puzzle in our heads. You could almost smell the burning oil as a roomful of adults tried to re-fire their long-dormant algebra neurons. Some reached for smartphones. Isn’t there an app for this? There’s another way to look at the information revolution, though—as proof of the mind’s fierce hunger for new knowledge and skills. We’re still in the kid-in-a-candy-store stage of this transformative moment, dazzled by the universe of shiny factoids we can call forth. The real learning will be in the intelligent application of this new knowledge and in whether we can teach the next generation to thrive in an age of information unbound. This month, we focus on four issues confronting both the teacher and the taught. Sara Neufeld explores No Child Left Behind’s impact on urban school systems and how the reauthorization of the law might address its failings (“Testing in Progress,” p. 46). Michael Corbin reflects on the bitter ironies of Baltimore’s other great public education institution—the corrections system (“Learning the Hard Way,” p. 50). Andy Cook follows a group of high schoolers whose learning comes from the real world (“School/Work,” p. 57). And Marc Steiner talks to researcher Robert Balfanz, whose work confronts one of the greatest challenges facing school reformers: keeping kids interested enough to stay in class (“Dropout City,” p. 42). Harry Truman, in one of his many aphoristic moods, is reputed to have said, “The only things worth knowing are the things you learn after you know it all.” Now we can indeed know it all, or at least more of it than anyone in human history. What we do with it is the next big question. —David Dudley

If we build it, will they come? Coming Next Month: Architecture, design, and reinventing the city. www.urbanitebaltimore.com w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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what you’re saying

Small Print I’m surprised you only featured five pieces of writing in the “Emerging Writers” issue (August). Baltimore is a huge literary town. As an MFA student in the creative writing and publishing arts program at the University of Baltimore, I know for a fact that there are many great writers in this city. I hope the next time you do this issue you provide more pieces from each genre and feature more talent. —Courtney Beardsworth, Baltimore From the eds.: Indeed, we received many submissions from area writers but only had space to print five pieces in the magazine. We did publish more emerging writers on our website; go to www.urbanitebaltimore.com to read their work. Hooray for Civilization I’m always amazed by the multitudes in the Baltimore area that pursue creative careers (“Emerging Writers” features, August). There must be thousands of poets, writers, artists, musicians, actors, designers, and singers in our community. Has there ever been a time in history when so many could chase recognition in fields that are already so overcrowded and for the most part poorly paid (if paid at all!)? I often wish that we had a similarly bulging roster of “emerging” electricians, mechanics, plumbers, family doctors, nurses, police officers, and repairmen. We live in a privileged, lopsided culture. When the majority of humanity was occupied from sunup to

sundown with the business of staying alive and keeping a roof over their heads, only a fraction of the population could enjoy what we now take for granted. Think about it.

in the Baltimore strip scene is alive and well—and it has a sexy Russian accent!

—Rosalind Nester Ellis, Baltimore

Road Work

A Stripper’s Lament I was very pleased to see an interesting and thought-provoking article about burlesque and its relevance in the modern adult entertainment industry in the July issue of Urbanite (“Bump and Grind”). However, the article seemed to give no satisfactory answer to the question, “Where does burlesque already exist in the adult entertainment culture of Baltimore (prior to neo-burlesque revivalists guest-performing at the Hustler Club)?” This mythical burlesque-stripping hybrid does exist just beyond the city line. It is a burlesque-themed gentlemen’s club called the Crazy Russian, and I dance there. Unlike a traditional strip club, the Crazy Russian has costumes and entertaining skits. There are two poles on the stage, but the dancers are more likely to use them as dance partners than to perform any wild gymnastic tricks. The dancers strip down simply to panties and pasties, and the Crazy Russian also does not offer lap dances. Patrons are encouraged to applaud after each set, further enhancing the theatrical atmosphere. The City Paper called it “a throwback to burlesque” and named it Best Strip Joint in 2008. I totally disagree with writer Greg Hanscom that burlesque and modern stripping are “like estranged siblings who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room.” Burlesque

—Name withheld by request

The “Highway to Nowhere” displaced thousands of people whose homes were demolished, and a dead-end, unused gully of roads was built in its place (“The Drawing Board,” June). A coalition of communities has begun to heal the wounds left by this displacement. There’s an oral history recorded by a MICA intern at the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation; an arts and culture installation planned by Culture Works, an organization formed around using culture in the wholesome development of the Red Line along the highway; and a West Baltimore Coalition that weighs in on ideas and designs that directly impact the transit-oriented development that’s happening in their backyards. It is my sincere hope that the folks at BaltiMorphosis.com, the authors of the June “Drawing Board,” consider that the aforementioned people, all critical to the growth and success of development along the Highway to Nowhere, are not all tech-savvy Internet users but have been designing this site since the wrecking ball fell decades ago. —Kate Joyce, North Baltimore We want to hear what you’re saying. E-mail us at mail@urbanitebaltimore.com or send your letter to Mail, Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211. Please include your name, address, and daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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ily under the porch of the house just west of mine, and every day they scampered over to eat our birdseed. As rats go, Jim’s family was pretty nice. They were fastidious: The huge father rat spent most of his time going through the mulch and picking out bits that he carried to their nest. The mother rat would pick just as carefully through the seeds, looking for the best nuggets of peanuts or corn. And then there was Jim. Even in a family of exceptional rats, Jim was special. While his siblings followed orders, Jim climbed. From the rose trellis he roamed the horizontal beams of the fence. Then he branched out, climbing in and out of the squares of the fence next to our house. The neighbor to the west wanted the rats gone. The neighbors to the east hated them too, but they were willing to discuss plans to make them leave. In concert, or so I thought, we all agreed to stop putting out birdseed, to reinforce our storage doors, and to trim the bushes so that the rats would have less habitat and just go away. And then my fiancée and I left town. When I got home, Jim was dead. Our western neighbor had called the city, which sent workers out to spread pounds of rat poison around our yard, leaving a third of it (and the vegetable garden therein) encrusted in poison. When rats walk through the poison, it sticks to their feet. Because they are generally

photo by John Miskimon

HARD LESSON Jim was a rat. He lived with his fam-

clean animals (and Jim and his family were particularly so), they wash their little paws and faces—and ingest the poison, which destroys their insides and slowly kills them. Jim died curled up with one of his siblings, licking each other’s noses until the end. I know this because the western neighbor told us. In the days thereafter, I dug out the vegetable garden, now dead soil, earthworms gone or disintegrated. The western neighbor does not seem aware that calling the city behind our backs and killing the rat family—and possibly rabbits, birds, and neighborhood cats—was not OK. The hard lesson? There are many—don’t name the rats, I guess, would be a big one. The hardest one, though, has been letting go of Jim. His determination to ascend was inspiring. I sorely miss the way his little pink feet clutched and gripped as he pulled himself up, up, up. —Rafe Posey is an MFA student at the University of Baltimore. He loves books, breakfast, and estuaries, preferably all at once.

Mr. Lowe, I’d like to thank you.

It was in your biology class that I became obsessed with learning. In your class everything made sense—that an earthworm would have as many as ten hearts, that a lizard would remain close to the earth, that a spider would shed its exoskeleton. Your class was the key to the universe; every being on the planet had a purpose. And so it seemed fitting that you would serve a purpose in my life, too. I wanted to know everything there was to learn about life and the world, and because you were the one who opened my eyes to this perfection, I wanted to repay you. I studied incessantly, aced your tests, and did all the homework. My freshman year of college, I decided I was going to be a doctor. I couldn’t wait to tell you. I planned to visit your classroom on winter break and share the news. I pictured you sitting behind your lab desk like you always did, dressed in your white lab coat (did you

what you’re writing want to be a doctor, too?), nodding your head and smiling. But before I could visit you at school, I saw you at the grocery store. We stood in front of the automatic doors that swooshed open and closed while we talked. When I finally told you about my decision, you simply said, “You’ll never be accepted to medical school.” So I guess I should thank you, Mr. Lowe. Were it not for your words, I would never have begun to doubt myself and my abilities in the field of science; I might have had the confidence necessary to finish the pre-med program. And had it not been for your words, I would not have discovered two very important things: One, that I was destined to become a teacher. And two, that I would never be a teacher like you. —Liz Bell Jones teaches English and mythology at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring.

I later learned from the police that

the 15-year-old girl who robbed me at knifepoint was earning her membership in the Bloods, which is why Kendra* had thrust her knife into my forearm and pulled the blade almost halfway across its circumference, cutting me to the bone in front of her two companions. I identified Kendra in a photo array, and the three teens were arrested a few days later. It took a month before Juvenile Justice scheduled a hearing. I missed work, suffered violent nightmares, popped oxycodone and Valium, and filled out form after form of “victim” paperwork for the State’s Attorney’s office. The first hearing date passed—the defense had requested a postponement. By Thanksgiving week, another hearing date rolled around, and I was on standby to testify. I sat for hours in the “victim waiting room,” getting occasional updates from the prosecutor. By the end of the day we had to reschedule; Kendra had shown up late because she had trouble getting a ride. On December 8, I again reported to the victim waiting room, prepared to take the stand. Before I did, the prosecution dropped all twenty-two charges against Kendra’s two companions. They were released, and the case against Kendra was scheduled to continue the following week. *The name of the defendant has been changed.

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Eight days later, while Kendra yawned from her chair where she sat accessorized in a bright red belt with a matching chunky laminate bracelet and hoop earrings—her gang color—I took the stand and recounted what she had done to me. After my testimony, Kendra’s lawyer had to leave for a prior engagement, so we stopped and selected a date to reconvene. In January the hearing resumed but did not conclude, as one of the officers scheduled to testify failed to appear. By the next hearing date, Kendra had run away. It was another six months before police apprehended her. The judge who had heard the first part of the case had since moved to another court system; the new judge declared a mistrial. The case is ongoing. A jagged, silver scar edged in purple circles my forearm like a handcuff. ■ —Hilary Hansen lives in Baltimore County and works for University of Maryland, School of Law. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University nonfiction writing program, she is working on a collection of essays about her time spent in hospitals.

“What You’re Writing” is the place for creative nonfiction from our readers. Each month we pick a topic. Use the topic as a springboard into your own life and send us a true story inspired by that month’s theme. Only previously unpublished, nonfiction submissions that include contact information can be considered. We reserve the right to edit heavily for space and clarity, but we will give you the opportunity to review the edits. You may submit under “name withheld” to keep your essay anonymous, but you do need to let us know how to contact you. If you’ve already changed the names of the people involved, please let us know. Only one submission per topic, please. Send your essay to Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211, or e-mail it to WhatYoureWriting@urbanitebaltimore.com. Submissions should be shorter than four hundred words. Because of the number of essays we receive, we cannot respond individually to each writer. Please do not send originals; submissions cannot be returned. Topic

Deadline

Publication

All Grown Up Broke Fresh Start

Sept 15, 2009 Nov 2009 Oct 13, 2009 Dec 2009 Nov 9, 2009 Jan 2010

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corkboard

Baltimore Summer Antiques Show

Sept 3–6

A sea of art, jewelry, books, and more, the twenty-ninth annual Baltimore Summer Antiques Show is the largest indoor summer antiques show in the country. This year, there’ll also be lectures given by experts on such topics as decorative arts, collecting American folk art, and Chinese glassmaking.

Baltimore Convention Center 1 W. Pratt St. $12 admission, good for the length of the show; lectures are free www.baltimoresummerantiques.com

Defenders’ Day

Sept 11–13

Salute the stars and stripes at Defenders’ Day weekend. Commemorating the successful defense of Baltimore in 1814 and the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the holiday brings a host of War of 1812-themed activities to Fort McHenry, including cannon-firing demonstrations, fife and drum music, and parades. Take a picnic lunch and stay all day.

In and around Fort McHenry $7 adults (good for seven days), children 15 and younger free; all Saturday evening activities starting at 6 p.m. free 410-962-4290 ext. 224 www.nps.gov/fomc

BioBlitz

Sept 12–13

Every year, professional and budding scientists alike head to Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Harford County for BioBlitz, a two-day hunt to find and identify flora and fauna that might need special protection in the water and on land around Otter Point Creek and the Bush River. Volunteers can spend Saturday searching for butterflies and noctural insects, then return for an early-morning kayak trip to find wetland birds on Sunday.

700 Otter Point Rd., Abingdon Free 410-612-1688 www.otterpointcreek.org

Tunnel Run

Sept 20, 9 a.m.

Claustrophobics, beware: The Fort McHenry 5K Tunnel Run course takes runners and walkers into and back out of “Bore 4,” one of the four tubes that run under the harbor. $25 gets you a spot in the race, but additional fundraising to benefit Special Olympics Maryland is encouraged.

For more information, call 410-308-1870 or e-mail kelly@charmcityrun.com www.tunnelrun.org

Maryland Green Home and Living Show

Sept 26 and 27

If you’ve been itching to make your life more eco-friendly, head to the Maryland Green Home and Living Show, where you can learn about environmentally friendly products, services, and technologies. Urbanite is a sponsor of this event.

Timonium Fairgrounds 2200 York Rd. 410-265-7400 For ticket information, go to www. homebuilders.org/page/greenshow/

Viva Italia

Sept 27, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

Revel in sleek, sexy Italian-made cars and motorcycles at Viva Italia: Concours D’Elegance. The fifth annual free outdoor show includes more than a hundred macchine bellissime, from such marques as Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Ducati. Registration fees for exhibited cars benefit the Children’s Guild, a nonprofit that serves kids with emotional and behavioral challenges.

S. President and Aliceanna sts., Harbor East 410-444-3800 ext. 130 www.viva-italia.org

Photo credits from top to bottom: courtesy of the Palm Beach Show Group; courtesy of National Park Service; courtesy of Anita C. Leight Estuary Center; © Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime.com; © Katya Triling | Dreamstime.com; no credit

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The folks at Altcar (410-814-3000; www.altcar.org) hail their endeavor as the nation’s first electric vehicle (or EV) car-share program. Supported in part by a sponsorship from ExxonMobil (the gas giant’s chemical division developed the battery separator film used in the vehicles’ lithiumion batteries), Altcar offered sneak previews this summer with an exhibit and test-drive program at the Maryland Science Center; this month, the ten-car fleet of snub-nosed Maya 300 four-door hatchbacks should be on the road, using a membership model not unlike the national Zipcar car-share chain. (Unlike Zipcar, Altcar nonmembers can also rent an EV by the hour or day.) There’s a catch: The Chinese-made Maya 300, with a range of up to 120 miles per charge, can pass for a “real” car—complete with AC, airbags, and an mp3 player—but until it passes federal crash testing, it is officially rated as a low-speed vehicle. Altcar is thus obliged to limit the cars to 25 miles per hour—enough to hum around town, but don’t try to get on the highway. Altcar COO Dan MacDonald says the company plans to add highway-capable hybrids to the fleet soon.

courtesy of Business Wire

Current Event

—David Dudley

A Brand New Bag

courtesy of Limon Piel International

pho

It’s that time again—the beginning of the school year, when kids demand new wardrobes along with their pencils and paper. Outfit your little ones at new children’s consignment shop Lily Pad of Towson (6907 York Rd.; 410-377-0025; www.lilypadoftowson.com), which carries both new and “gently loved” clothing for infants up to age 12. Gap, Janie and Jack, and Polo all hang in miniature form along the walls. The store is a veritable playground of clothing, as children stuff their feet into brightly patterned Western Chief rain boots and doodle on the shop’s chalkboard. Lily Pad also carries maternity wear, bedding, and diaper bags, as well as high chairs, strollers, and car seats. Owner Sarah Weiskittel, who grew up in the neighborhood, started the shop as a way to live greener by recycling clothes, and that mantra has carried over into some of the store’s new items, such as the Oprah-endorsed snackTAXIs (pictured), reusable cloth snack and sandwich bags that can replace disposable plastic bags—perfect for eco-friendly school lunches ($6.95 snack size, $8.95 sandwich size).

While volunteering on a medical mission in Colombia in 2006, Baltimore County native Lisa Garrett fell in love with the country and its people. While she was there, she bought a handcrafted leather handbag from a woman named Liliana Montero—a purchase that has grown into a lasting partnership. Today, Garrett imports Montero’s bags through her company, Limon Piel (www.limonpieldesigns. com). The Southwest-chic bags, which sell for $200 to $400, are stitched by members of local tribes that lend their names to the different Limon Piel lines. Ten dollars from the sale of every bag goes to annual medical missions to help treat cancer, diabetes, and children with special needs in Colombia, headed by Mercy Medical Center surgical oncologist Armando Sardi. Garrett, whose background is in medical marketing and management, coordinates the missions stateside. Find the bags locally at FRESH!, Box of Rain, and Vasarri. —C.S. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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“Kinda overdone,” Kary Kuo admits, looking around the luminous, oak-floored waiting room of Bumper Globe Collision Centre, his new collision repair and auto detailing shop in South Baltimore (1845 S. Hanover St.; 443-708-8352; www. bumperglobe.com). “But we wanted to do away with the Joe’s Auto Body image.” Instead of girly calendars and grumpy grease monkeys, the shop boasts plush couches and free WiFi. Bumper Globe also has an appropriately grand setting— the building locals know as the “Pabst Castle,” a former Pabst bottling plant topped with a turret and crenellations. Kuo is catering to a well-heeled Federal Hill crowd—the work bays are filled with Mercedes, Audis, and Jeeps—and his prices reflect that. But he says the shop offers high-quality work, mediates with insurance companies, and is as eco-sensitive as an auto shop can be, using energy-efficient heaters and compressors and biodegradable cleansers. In the coming year, Kuo plans to transition to water-based, low- or no-VOC (that’s “volatile organic compound”) paints—a switch that will be required of all auto paint shops by 2011, but, he says, “we want to set the example.”

courtesy of www.Trekbikes.com

—Greg Hanscom

photo by Valerie Paulsgrove

Crash Palace

Ladies First Race Pace Bicycles owner Alex Obriecht, who founded his four-store local chain of bike shops in 1978, decided that the time had come for a retail outlet that exclusively served the growing number of women riders. “The industry’s been trending this way for many years,” says Obriecht, who claims that Bella Bikes (8450 Baltimore National Pike; 410-461-7887; www.bellabikes.com), which opened two years ago in the Normandy Shopping Center in Ellicott City, is the first womenonly bike store in the country. The shop shares a service department with the adjoining Race Pace store, but it boasts its own staff and its own inventory of gear, including women-specific road and mountain bikes by Trek and Terry, plus racks of shorts, tops, cycling skirts, and other clothing. “Women’s clothing usually gets short shrift in bike shops,” Obriecht says. —D.D.

At the corner of President and Lombard streets is the new Fairfield Inn & Suites (101 President St.; 410-837-9900; www.green fairfieldinn.com), in the stately brick building that once housed the Baltimore Brewing Co. The first in the Marriott chain to aim for LEED certification, it’s going for gold, the second-highest rating. The hotel purchases carbon offsets to stay carbon-neutral and boasts such eco-friendly features as a green roof and low- or no-VOC paint, carpet, and wallpaper. (“We don’t have that new car smell,” says general manager Patrick Leary.) The silo that once held grain for beer has been recast as a rainwater collector, which feeds a fountain in the outdoor courtyard (covered by “turf grass” made from recycled tires). And the interior wall that separates the lobby from Tavern 101, the adjoining bar/eatery, is made of original 18th-century brick. The tavern is open to the public, so even locals can check it out. —Marianne K. Amoss

photo by Jim Bernett

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Through its wide-ranging offering of parttime programs and courses, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Liberal Arts gives adults a chance to explore—and ultimately see their lives in a different light.

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photo by Lindsay MacDonald

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As leaders of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Liberal Arts, Brian Fitzek and Melissa Hilbish create mind-expanding opportunities for students of all ages.

Whether they’re coming for a graduate course in Faulkner’s fiction or a single noncredit lecture on the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, students at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Liberal Arts share one thing: a wide-ranging curiosity. Through the Center’s vast array of courses and programs, participants can nurture intellectual passions they already have— and also develop new ones. “Students have time to explore, to think about themselves differently in relation to the larger world and as a result, a world of possibilities opens up to them,” says Melissa Hilbish, PhD, director of the Center. In the interview that follows, Hilbish and Brian Fitzek, associate director for non-credit programs within the Center, discuss the value of making education a lifelong journey.

Can you talk a bit about Hopkins’ Center for Liberal Arts? What was the genesis for it and what does it encompass? Johns Hopkins University can often seem like an exclusive place. But it’s not. It’s an integral part of Baltimore and the surrounding communities. And the Center for Liberal Arts is a great example of how the university

is creating opportunities for people to stay connected, to keep learning, and to do something meaningful with their time. We believe that everyone pursues an educational journey through life, in one way or another, and the Center offers courses, workshops, lectures, and more to keep people engaged in their journey. Johns Hopkins launched the Center two years ago, within the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. It brings together under one umbrella three liberal arts programs that had already existed at Johns Hopkins, but in different parts of the university. The first program is the Masters of Liberal Arts (MLA), a widely respected part-time graduate program that was established in 1962 and offers a robust, engaging curriculum. Next is the popular Odyssey program, which offers a broad range of non-credit courses, lecture series, and workshops, primarily during the evenings and on weekends, at our Homewood campus. The Center also includes the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, formerly known as the Evergreen Society, which provides non-credit courses for retirees. Osher members can choose from three different locations: Grace United Methodist Church on North Charles Street in Baltimore City, Johns Hopkins’ Columbia Center, and Johns Hopkins’ Montgomery County Campus in Rockville. Each program attracts a different group of people, and by bringing those programs together we’ve been able to create a synergy for the liberal arts at Johns Hopkins. The Center has something for everyone, wherever they are in their educational journey. The Center’s community is made up of curious minded people, at different stages of life, who enjoy learning. Some people come to the Center to pursue a passion, some to enhance their profession, and some for personal enrichment. There’s room for a tremendous amount of flexibility.

The Odyssey program is offering a lecture series on Hubble’s Expanding Universe this fall. Topics will include The Life Cycles of Stars, The Pluto Wars, and Super-Telescopes of the Future.

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urbanite september 09

Who is drawn to pursuing graduate studies in the liberal arts? While students enroll in the MLA program for both personal enrichment and professional development, they all seem to be searching for a broader vision of their lives that the liberal arts can provide. Currently, our students range in age from 23 to 74, and they come from every academic and professional background you can imagine: Our students include bartenders, lawyers, doctors, website developers, teachers, and secretaries—even a former state senator, a mortician, and a vineyard owner. I interview every prospective student who enters the graduate program and one thing they share is that their interests don’t fit neatly into any one traditional field. They like history but they are also interested in literature—and they’re really intrigued by that course on Beethoven, but they also want to learn more about archeology. Our courses cover subjects such as physics and the universe, Faulkner’s fiction, art of the Middle Ages, film and public memory, and more. The wide range of courses we offer enables people to pursue interests they already have, but also to develop new ones. We’re one of the few programs like this in the country. Do you see many career changers? Yes, though it’s not a straight path from the MLA into any particular career. By the time our students finish the program, their world is changed because something within them is awakened. The realizations that a student will make during the MLA program are impossible to anticipate at the start. It is a personal and unique journey. We had one student recently who went on to enroll in nursing school, and others who have decided to study law. Another


student, originally a secretary at Johns Hopkins, finished her MLA and then went on for a master’s of library science. Thanks to connections she made during her MLA internship, she was recently hired by the Walters Art Museum in Rare Books and Manuscripts. Graduate programs today are becoming increasingly specialized and focused. This one asks you to do exactly the opposite— to broaden your educational bases, to find connections between very different kinds of fields. Completing this program has resulted in big changes in peoples’ lives.

appeal to those who work full time. Each semester we have about 600 people enrolled. We’ve recently introduced more flexibility into our Odyssey line-up. This fall we’re debuting “Odyssey on the Go,” a series of “one-stop” lectures on Thursday evenings, designed for the busy person who can’t commit to a multi-session course. Participants can pick a two-hour session on The Life and Times of the Baltimore Colts, for instance, or explore Flight: A Dream of Wings, taught by Jeremy Kinney, curator of the aeronautics divisions at the National Air and Space Museum. (Visit odyssey.jhu.edu for Odyssey’s fall course catalog.)

Who comprises your faculty? With the MLA program, nearly 80 percent of our instructors are full-time Johns Hopkins faculty members. They teach in the program because they really enjoy the breadth of experience the students bring. Classroom discussions are very energetic and engaging. The program also taps seasoned specialists as instructors; Dr. Gary Vikan, director of The Walters Art Museum, for instance, Dr. Ed Papenfuse, the Maryland State Archivist, and Ray Sprenkle, a musicologist from Peabody Institute. Many of our faculty members value the experience so much that they teach in all three of the Center’s programs. What do participants find most appealing about the Odyssey program? Odyssey brings some of the university’s finest faculty and specialists in various fields to the community. The caliber and wide range of offerings is one of the things that makes the program unique from other non-credit programs. Odyssey aims for the broad reach implied in its name by offering fascinating topics from astronomy to dreams to Native American culture. Because our classes are offered in the evening and on weekends, they

What draws retirees to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute? These are people who have retired from work but haven’t retired from life. They’re an incredibly curious and energetic group. They read and prepare for every class, even though the classes are non-credit. They even produce a journal in the fall and spring of each year. Members can take 4 to 6 classes a semester, and the program also offers an array of community-based activities for members: symphony concerts, plays, discounts on events. We currently have about 700 Osher Institute members. This fall, they’ll be able to choose from such courses as Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, The Art and History of Printmaking, and Films of Asia. One six-session class, Where Baltimore’s Best Were Laid to Rest, will take a group of hearty souls on a field trip to Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery, final resting place for Enoch Pratt, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, Johns Hopkins, and other local legends. (Visit osher.jhu.edu for Osher’s fall course catalog.) For information about the Johns Hopkins Center for Liberal Arts and its programs, visit: greatthinkers.jhu.edu.

“The Center’s community is made up of curious minded people, at different stages of life, who enjoy learning. Some people come to the Center to pursue a passion, some to enhance their profession, and some for personal enrichment. There’s room for a tremendous amount of flexibility.” —Melissa Hilbish, PhD

photo by Will Kirk

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Dr. Gary Vikan, director of The Walters Art Museum, will be giving the St. Elvis lecture at the Walters Art Museum on Tuesday November 3, 2009.

This fall, the Johns Hopkins Center for Liberal Arts will offer two mind-expanding special events that are free and open to the public. RSVP’s are required as seating is limited:

Galileo: The Starry Messenger Wednesday, September 16, 7 pm Johns Hopkins University To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations at the telescope, Hopkins brings actor and physics teacher Mike Francis to the Space Telescope Institute for a StarryTelling evening. During this living history performance, Francis will take the noted Italian mathematician out of the history books and onto the stage, revealing how Galileo made his celestial discoveries that changed the way the world looked at the universe. Saint Elvis Tuesday, November 3, 6 pm The Walters Art Museum During an evening led by Gary Vikan, director of The Walters Art Museum, participants will explore the life of Elvis Presley, pre- and post-mortem, in an effort to explain this enormous phenomenon of pop culture, its historical antecedents, and its contemporary parallels. Vikan will explore the meaning of sainthood (sacred and profane), as well as holy earth, sacred days, pious travel, and miracle-working pictures. Vikan has published extensively on holy men, icons, pilgrimage, relics, and magic, weaving in contemporary parallels from popular culture. A wine and cheese reception will follow. For more information, directions, and to RSVP for either or both events, visit www.greatthinkers.jhu.edu.


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Monday, October 19, 9 a.m. and Sunday, January 10, 2 p.m.

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Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, Founders Room 1417 Thames Street Baltimore, MD 21231 Registration is required. Register at http://bcp.eventbrite.com, email bcpinfo@baltimorecp.org, or call Larry Schugam at 410-675-7000 x 17.

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baltimore observed

a l s o i n b a lt i m o r e o b s e r v e d :

31 Transformer Striking a pose for after-school yoga

photo by Valerie Paulsgrove

27 Sustainable City The challenges of building local, urban farms

On the wild side: Jim Peters surveys the urban wetland next to Fort McHenry that he has spent a decade helping to restore.

ternacnosuf n o tremre r

The Watchman “You are standing over the Fort McHenry tunnel,” Jim Peters says. It seems an improbable place in the city, this wooden pier at the southern tip of a small marsh adjacent to Fort McHenry, past the small outbuildings used for science demonstrations for school children, past the hanging gourds used as purple martin houses, past the small pond where a great egret steps delicately through the mud and the rocks where thick brown water snakes lie braided together in the morning sun. Across the hazy Middle Branch of the Patapsco, ships are unloading automobiles at the Port of Baltimore. But here the air is quiet, pierced only by an occasional bird’s cry.

For more than a decade, this 10-acre wetland has been Jim Peters’ domain. Peters, 79, has the trim, ruddy handsomeness of an old film star; with his calm blue-gray eyes and shock of white hair, he could play the sage country doctor in a 1950s Western. He’s listed on Fort McHenry’s website as the fort’s ornithologist, but that does little to describe his many roles—teacher, scientist, gardener, tour guide, even trash collector. There have been years when he estimates he’s spent 1,400 hours on the marsh. To see the wetlands through his eyes is to discover what the tundra swans and other birds that migrate through Baltimore find: a natural oasis on the fringe of the city. Sandwiched between the fort and a warehouse and dock, the marsh is known variously as the Fort McHenry Field Station or the Fort McHenry Wetland. Over the years, the prop-

erty has had a number of uses, including a swimming beach and, in the 1940s, a dock for the houseboat of a woman known as Tugboat Annie. The land was restored by the Maryland Transportation Authority in the late 1970s as penance for the marshlands destroyed during the construction of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. Trouble was, the mitigation plan made no allowances for upkeep. In the 1990s, the site fell into disrepair until 1998, when the National Aquarium in Baltimore began a program of on-site monitoring and maintenance, run almost single-handedly by Peters. In his time here, Peters has identified 253 bird species, including the first bald eagle documented nesting inside Baltimore City limits; he spotted it across the Middle Branch from the marsh, at Masonville Cove. (For a schedule of Peters’ free Fort McHenry bird walks, go

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baltimore observed

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to www.nps.gov/fomc.) He has listed thirtysome visitors complained that he’d disfive species of mammals, including muskrat, turbed the fox’s habitat. But before the trail deer (who swim across the Middle Branch to was built, the fox had to weave through the the fort property), and his nemesis, the beaweeds to get to her den; now she uses the ver that loves to chew down the trees he has trail. “She has I-95 outside her door,” Peters planted around the marsh. On the morning says dryly. “I’ve had a lot of experience with we meet, Peters is still buzzing from a sighting animals, and they’re very adaptable.” the night before of a red-necked phalarope, a That may be true, but amid this marsh’s wading bird that’s extremely rare for this area. rebirth, there has also been loss. When fort  “Jim has brought to light the value of a administrators mowed a section of grass small, high-quality habitat within this really that had previously been left long to replicate developed area,” says David Nemerson, a cona historic cow pasture, the bobolinks, redservation biologist at the National Aquarium winged blackbirds, and savannah sparrows who studies the wetland. “This is only 8 to 10 disappeared. A few years ago, the Steinweg acres stuck in the very urbanized Baltimore Corp. demolished a chimney next door to the harbor, but animals find it. We use the data he fort, so Peters lost the chimney swifts that has collected all the resided there. After the comtime to say it’s imporbuilt a new warehouse Over the years, the prop- pany tant to maintain presin a nearby field, the great ervation patches.” erty had a number of uses, blue herons that feasted on  Raised on a farm grasshoppers each summer including a swimming in Connecticut during moved on. the Great Depression, this site has seeded beach and, in the 1940s, other Still, Peters remembers how revivals. Baltimore he “crept up on birds a dock for the houseboat City students have helped and learned their grow marsh grasses here, belonging to a woman calls” because his parthen transplanted them to ents couldn’t afford a and Eastern Neck known as Tugboat Annie. Blackwater set of binoculars. He national wildlife refuges. And thought about becomPeters’ bird walks have ining an ornithologist but instead made a career spired scores of upstart naturalists, including teaching science for the Baltimore County ranger Vince Vaise, the fort’s chief of interpublic schools and, later, serving as a supervipretation. “He literally changed my life, woke sor of their science programs. He’s received me up to birding and trees and nature,” Vaise grants from the National Science Foundation, says. Visitors know the fort for its human studied botany at the University of Maryland’s history rather than its natural history, he College Park campus, and hiked alongside says, but Peters’ work shows it is rich in both. naturalist Elmer Worthley (husband of Miss In 2003, Peters was the first recipient Jean, of PBS’ beloved Hodgepodge Lodge), who of the National Park Service’s George B. used only the Latin names for flora and fauna Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer and quizzed Peters at the end of each walk Service by an individual. Next year he’ll turn about what he saw. 80, and he talks about cutting back his du As we walk through the wetlands, Peters ties on the marsh. He’d like to travel, spend points out cedar waxwings feasting on mulmore time with his grandchildren, devote berries, a brick-red-and-black orchard oriole less time to mowing trails and giving tours. (Peters has also seen Baltimore orioles on the Nemerson says that Peters has been threatsite), and a tree swallow (“See the iridescent ening to do this for years. blue with the white belly?”) nesting in one of New volunteers may appear to conthe many bird boxes Peters has made in his tinue monitoring the wetlands and keep home workshop and brought to the marsh. trash at bay, but it’s hard to predict what Now and then we pass small, hand-lettered will happen without Peters’ diligence. The signs where Peters has named various geofox could lose her freeway to high grass, the graphical features: “Walden Pond,” “The beaver could re-establish its deforestation Butterfly Garden,” and “Cross Creek,” after agenda, and the young buck who’s been Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s book. nibbling the dogwoods recently might take  For all his fascination with the wild up permanent residence. The marsh would things, Peters seems comfortable with the once again be untidy and untamed, but still give and take between humans and nature a living example of nature’s ebb and flow. ■ here. At the entrance to the marsh trail, —Mary K. Zajac there’s a sign he’s made that lists new species added in 2008, including a ruddy quail-dove that Peters speculates must have hitched a Web extra: Watch a video of Jim Peters ride here from the Bahamas aboard a Domino leading a birdwalk at www.urbanite Sugar ship. As we pass a former fox den, Pebaltimore.com. ters remembers that when he built this trail,

Seeds of change: Civic Works employee Mitch Matthews is preparing the ground for the first of an ambitious network of urban farms.

s u s ta i n a b l e c i t y

Farm Aid

On a sweltering June afternoon, the 6 acres of dry grass behind the football field at Lake Clifton High School look especially barren. Matt Bell surveys the landscape from the shade of a few sparse trees, assessing the progress he’s made with a small army of volunteers. The place is still lightly littered with candy wrappers and broken bottles, but it looks better than it did. He points to the spot nearby where he and some high school students recently hauled away a couch that looked like it had been lit on fire. This inauspicious site, Bell says, will soon be transformed into Real Food Farm, the epicenter of a city-backed, many-tentacled urban agriculture network that, within the next decade, will produce 10 percent of the food consumed in Baltimore. That is, if all goes according to plan. That plan had its genesis with the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, a nonprofit headed by Ted Rouse, son of developer/ philanthropist James Rouse and a onetime partner in the development firm Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse. With the alliance’s former executive director, Terry Hardcastle, Rouse spent last winter concocting an elaborate business model for urban farming in Baltimore—a large commercial-scale operation, not just a community garden. The plan spun off from the work of the Baltimore Urban Agriculture Task Force, which Rouse helped organize last year. It calls for a central farm here at Clifton Park, equipped with twenty greenhouses to produce vegetables year-

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round. The Clifton site, planners say, could generate enough income after three years to fund the construction and operation of satellite farms throughout the city. A decade from now, they hope to see 250 greenhouses on sites all over Baltimore. Buoyed by the local-food movement, urban agriculture is a hot topic nationally, with downsized industrial cities eager to both redevelop their abundant vacant land and feed their low-income residents, many of whom live in parts of town poorly served by grocery stores. Rouse, a longtime garden buff who was inspired in part by a prototype urban farm in Philadelphia, says that one key goal is to provide access to fresh, organic vegetables in inner-city Baltimore “at prices equal to the Safeways and Giants closest to those neighborhoods.” The plan calls for providing 150,000 pounds of produce annually to the low-income communities surrounding Clifton Park at below-market-rate prices; surplus food would be sold on the wholesale market to supermarkets and restaurants, as well as farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. While urban ag is being touted as a potential source of green jobs, the initial numbers in Baltimore would be modest: The plan anticipates the creation of five full-time and ten part-time jobs at the Clifton Park site, with additional stipends for community volunteers. But Rouse and company are thinking big. One of the Clifton greenhouses will serve as a classroom and training site, where area students will learn about the farming process, from planting seeds to marketing produce—a launching pad for a homegrown industry. “If even half of the 1,500 available acres in Baltimore City were used for food production,” the Civic Works project overview states, “3,000 new jobs could be created.”

STOP

In May, the plan received a thumbs-up from City Hall, and Deputy Mayor Andy Frank arranged for the use of the land in Clifton Park. The business alliance then turned the operation over to Civic Works, a nonprofit job corps based in the Clifton Mansion, just a few hundred feet from the farm site. Now, Matt Bell and his fellow Civic Works employee Mitch Matthews are clearing away the trash and preparing the site for a full-scale organic farm. These upstart agriculturalists have their work cut out for them. This July, Baltimore Green Works sponsored a visit from Will Allen, founder of the Milwaukee-based city farming outfit Growing Power Inc. and a rising star in locavore circles (see Urbanite, Nov. 2008). Speaking at the Great Kids Farm, a project of Baltimore City Schools food chief Tony Geraci (see Urbanite, Nov. 2008), Allen warned of the challenges facing those who are serious about growing food in the inner city. For high-intensity farming to work, he said, Real Food farms would need lots of volunteer labor—not to mention a market willing to pay for the food they produce. “Inspiring the local community—that’s the first step,” Allen said. “You’re going to have to get embedded in the community, organize the community around food.” And then there are the myriad challenges inherent in all farming, urban or otherwise: uncooperative weather, disease, bugs, and endless manual labor. “I think it’s a great idea,” says Joan Norman, who, along with her husband, Drew, has run One Straw Farm, the largest organic farm in Maryland, since 1985. “But I’m afraid that people won’t understand its potential. What if they put up twenty greenhouses and they don’t do so hot this year? There’s nothing more disappointing than a failed crop season. ”

baltimore observed One Straw Farm sells its produce through a CSA, at farmers’ markets, and to restaurants such as Gertrude’s and Woodberry Kitchen. Norman knows that farming—especially organically—can be an expensive proposition that requires a long-term commitment. “Two things a farm can’t be sustained on are volunteers and grants,” she says. “The food has to make money.” The business end of the urban ag formula is still something of a question mark: Allen’s Growing Power, the national benchmark in city-to-farm projects, now enjoys a steady flow of grant funding to supplement its sales revenue, and its fourteen greenhouses are still a long way from supplying 10 percent of Milwaukee’s sustenance. Civic Works says that it will cost about $500,000 to get the first twenty greenhouses built, and each commercial greenhouse could generate up to $25,000 per year in produce. For startup funds, they’re pursuing grants from a host of local and national foundations. Once the site is cleared, the group hopes to construct the first greenhouse by October and have the other nineteen built and ready for planting in March 2010. Norman, for one, is crossing her fingers and wishing these future farmers success in the spring. “This is way too important to fail,” she says. ■ —Rebecca Messner

Web extra: Read the complete Real Food Farm proposal online at www. urbanitebaltimore.com.

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transformer

Lives in the Balance It’s a rainy afternoon in West Baltimore, and the Druid Hill YMCA is alive with shouts and the squeak of shoes on a basketball court. About a dozen schoolkids are playing a chaotic game of basketball. An adult shouts an order, and the kids snap into a line against the wall. They do sprints, push-ups, crunches, and shooting exercises. Then, just when it seems like they’re ready for a real game, the players

march upstairs, unroll rubber mats, and start to breathe deeply. This is an after-school session with the Holistic Life Foundation, the brainchild of brothers Ali and Atman Smith, who grew up in the nearby Mondawmin neighborhood, and their friend Andres Gonzalez. On weekdays, they take restless schoolkids to the Druid Hill Y to practice yoga and physical fitness and learn about nutrition, anger management, good study habits, and the environment. On weekends, the trio runs neighborhood cleanups, tree-plantings, and occasional field trips to farms and wildlife preserves. “Our goal is to teach them about their own health and the health of the environment, and show them how they’re connected,” Ali says. “A lot of the kids in the program have asthma, and they become conscious of the fact that there’s a link between that and the pollution in their neighborhood. We want to empower them with information.” The foundation, created in 2001, is funded in part by a loose collective of hip-hop artists called For The People Entertainment,

baltimore observed or FTP, that throws parties and live concerts. Approximately fifty kids have been through the after-school program so far. About thirty of them have graduated into the foundation’s mentor program, which pairs older kids with younger ones to serve as role models. Larry Jackson, an 18-year-old mentor, started after-school yoga sessions in the fifth grade. “I didn’t even know what yoga was,” he says. He credits the Smith brothers and Gonzalez with giving him the support he needed to get a flagging high school career back on track and encouraging him to apply to college. He starts at Maryland Institute College of Art this fall and plans to pursue photography. Ali says stories like these begin with giving kids a place to retreat from their often-turbulent lives: “The world is stressful, but if you take the time to center yourself before you go out into the world, it gives you a base, a kind of fitness that you need to deal with the things that are constantly bombarding you.” ■ —Andy Cook Each month, Urbanite profiles people and programs that are transforming the city, one block at a time. To nominate a transformer, e-mail editor@urbanitebaltimore.com.

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Maryland, Uncorked Mary K. Zajac takes a wine drinker’s tour of the Old Line State.

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Vineland: Thanks to increasing state support and a growing market for locally produced products, new wineries and vineyards are taking root across Maryland.

Wine Country

Revisited Maryland’s homegrown wine industry isn’t just getting bigger— it’s also getting better. BY MARY K. ZAJAC

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photo by Lisa Helfert

Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery in Eden, Maryland, just north of Princess Anne in Somerset County, lives up to its French name: Its vineyard and tasting room, which opened last year, are right by the water’s edge, abutting the wide Wicomico Creek. Owner Tom Shelton says he’s counted fourteen bald eagles in a single sighting from his brick colonial estate—more chateau than house—that shares the property with the winery. The grandness of the structure and its grounds suggests the seriousness of purpose of this fledgling winemaker: This is far more than a hobby. As we stroll his vineyard, Shelton, a former executive at Purdue and current CEO of Case Foods, compulsively pulls weeds and thins the canopy of leaves that shield grape clusters from the sun, thinking aloud about the weather and spraying schedules. Tucking in vine tendrils that have escaped from their wire stays, Shelton points to a cluster of Vidal, long and elegant, dripping grapes like crystals of a chandelier; nearby, Pinot Grigio fruit clings tightly together. “The Pinot Grigio has really done well here,” he muses. “We’ll plant more of that.” Later, in Bordeleau’s tasting room, I plant myself on a leather barstool to sample some of Shelton’s work, including the crisp 2008 Pinot Grigio that won the Best in Show at the 2009 Winemakers Choice Awards, a competition judged by Maryland winemakers and wine cognoscenti. Shelton also offers a sneak peek at some reds taken directly from the barrel. It can be tricky to evaluate wines at this stage, but the Bordeleau offerings— including a spicy, delicate Chambourcin and a seriously intense Cabernet Franc—show great


ESCAPE Winecellars in Manchester, for example, owner Ray Brasfield invites local chefs such as Antonio Baines of Baltimore’s Tapas Teatro to prepare multi-course meals to pair with the winery’s wines. “Everything we do here is foodcentered,” Brasfield says. “We want to show people the context of our wine with food.” But more than the opportunity to eat and drink wine in a beautiful setting (though it certainly is that), visiting wineries is also a great excuse to roam the state and discover where the wine you drink comes from. From region to region and winery to winery, you’ll quickly learn that there are as many philosophies of grape growing and winemaking as there are wineries.

It’s no secret that, in years past, Maryland wine hasn’t exactly enjoyed a world-class reputation. In the region’s early wine history, post-Prohibition, wines made with native American labrusca grapes like Concord and Catawba (and some European vinifera grapes) tended to be both acidic and “foxy,” a term used to denote a musky quality in the wine. The adjective “regional” became pejorative. Today, many winemakers (albeit many of them grudgingly) still produce at least one sweet wine to satisfy the broad palates of some consumers. But in the last decade, winemakers have realized the need to become good farmers as well as good chemists, and as the industry has grown, a

combination of research and trial-and-error has led to better growing choices in the vineyard. Growers now pay more attention to terroir—the complex relationship of climate, soil, sun, and water—and rely less on grapes trucked in from afar. Today, the highest quality wines produced in Maryland are dry and made from vinifera (European varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) grown in the state. “We used to make a Riesling [from outof-state grapes],” says Al Copp, co-owner of Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton. But the 23-year-old winery eventually stopped producing it, instead using locally grown Vignoles and Traminer grapes to make an aromatic white. “Woodhall only uses Maryland-grown grapes because we think if you say you are a Maryland wine, the grapes should be grown in Maryland,” Copp insists. “Using Maryland-grown fruit, we can make wine equal to anything in the wine industry.” Sometimes what winemakers can grow in this region is predictable: The success of Italian varietals like Barbera and Sangiovese in steamy Southern Maryland makes good sense, says Fiola of the Western Maryland Research and Education Center, because the grapes do well with warm days and cool nights. But he’s surprised at the success of the Sauvignon Blanc that Shelton has grown at Bordeleau. “It’s defied logic,” Fiola says. Sauvignon Blanc has a tendency to rot in Maryland humidity, he explains, but at Bordeleau,

photo by Lisa Helfert

promise. As I sip, Shelton peppers me with questions: How could it be better? What’s my favorite? “I want my wine to be more than just drinkable,” he says adamantly. “I want it to be memorable. I want it to be so good you’ll go to extremes to find it again.” That lofty goal might have sounded improbable years ago, when, not altogether deservedly, Maryland wineries were known for producing mostly sweet or undistinguished bottles. But a host of ambitious new ventures are serving notice that local wine is ready to be taken seriously. The industry has seen explosive growth: In 2000, there were a dozen wineries in Maryland. By the end of 2009, there will be forty, covering all regions of the state, from Deep Creek Cellars in Garrett County to several new ventures on the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland. Why the wine boom? According to Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, starting a winery in Maryland has become easier in recent years, thanks to long-overdue state support and new legislation. Maryland has been actively promoting grape production, particularly in Southern Maryland, as a replacement for tobacco farming—another high-value-peracreage crop. The boom has also been fed by the research in viticulture (grape growing) and enology (winemaking) at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research and Education Center, where Dr. Joseph Fiola has been leading the effort to improve grape quality and yields for state winemakers. Factor in an increasingly wine-savvy public and the burgeoning locavore movement, which has extended the philosophy of eating local to drinking local, and the popularity of wineries as agritourism destinations makes a lot of sense. Accordingly, the Maryland Wineries Association has established wine trails to help visitors hop between regional wineries throughout the state, similar to those found in Europe and on the West Coast. This fall, two new Maryland trails open, bringing the total to five (see sidebar on page 41 for more details). You can sample Maryland wine at the plethora of wine festivals that occur across the state (the oldest, the 26th annual Maryland Wine Festival, takes place at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster on September 19 and 20), but hitting the road to visit the wineries themselves offers a more intimate look at the Old Line State’s wine country. Most wineries are open to the public for weekend tastings and special events such as music festivals and wine dinners. At Cygnus

A new leaf: Pete Conrad, a member of the Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative, works his vines in St. Mary’s County. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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is seen as a single living organism (the cow’s manure is used for compost; the movable chicken coops allow the fowl to eat insects in the vineyard and fertilize the vines). O’Herron and Boyce’s care in the vineyard translates to the bottle, and they’re not afraid to make serious wine, from pure varietals like their creamy 2008 Viognier to award-winning blends, including the 2007 Bedlam, a blend of five white grapes that won the 2008 Maryland Winemasters’ Choice Award. Their 2006 Crumbling Rock, an impressive Bordeaux blend, won the 2008 Maryland Governor’s Cup. O’Herron, who has the lean build of the distance runner that she is, compares advances in Maryland winemaking to the breaking of the four-minute-mile barrier. For years, there was a feeling among winemakers that Maryland wine had reached its potential, that the wine being made was “as good as we can do,” she says. “But you can only live up to what you can believe you can do.” O’Herron and Boyce are aiming higher.

Other Maryland winemakers are turning to technology to improve the locally grown product. Down the proverbial road from Black Ankle, on the wooded grounds of newly opened Serpent Ridge Vineyard near Westminster, owner Greg Lambrecht uses “oak alternatives,” a combination of polyethelene tanks and small oak planks, as a more sustainable (and less expensive) way to age his Basilisk, a Cabernet Sauvignon made from locally grown fruit. Using oak in this format is controversial in some circles, but Lambrecht is open to new ideas. “I believe in Old World wine concepts,” he says, “but I believe we should also embrace today’s technology.” When I meet Lambrecht in mid-July, he is counting down the days until his retirement from the Coast Guard (he’s on Day 46).

Outside the tasting room, which looks like a summer cabin in the woods, rows of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese, a favorite of Lambrecht’s wife, Karen, fill the small hill. In the tradition of European vineyards, rose bushes sit at the end of each row, serving as barometers of mildew or disease rather than pure decoration. Lambrecht has only 6 acres, a combination of his own property and a piece he leases from a neighboring farm, so he supplements his winemaking with grapes grown at other local sites, like the Seyval he buys from J. Rose Vineyards in Damascus. Last year Serpent Ridge produced a little more than six hundred cases of wine; this year the volume will increase to a thousand cases. For all his interest in new methods, Lambrecht’s wines taste refreshingly classic. A 2008 Albariño tastes much like a Spanish version—minerally, punctuated with nuances of melon, and smelling of the sea. The Basilisk, the Cabernet blend Lambrecht ages with the oak staves, is silky and balanced, with bright fruit, while the traditionally aged 2007 Vintner’s Cabernet yields more spice, sweet fruit, and black pepper. Lambrecht’s dedication to innovation extends to his tasting room. From the outside, it’s a rustic structure with a welcoming front porch full of wicker furniture and pots of geraniums. Inside, the building boasts the winery’s most curious eco-novelty—a waterless Incinolet toilet, which disposes of waste via incineration. The device saved Lambrecht the trouble and expense of digging extra septic tanks on his property, further proving his credo: “We don’t have to do it [a certain way] because that’s the way it’s always been done.” Like Lambrecht, Morris Zwick, a fulltime technology executive who owns Ter-

ESCAPE

photo by Christine Abbott

photo by Valerie Paulsgrove

better soil drainage and a perpetual steady breeze off the water keeps the temperature a few degrees cooler than inland vineyards, and as a result, the grapes stay clean. When Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron, who own Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy, were location-scouting for their winery, finding this ideal combination of growing conditions and grape varietals rose to the level of obsession. “We are complete geeks,” O’Herron admits, a bit sheepishly. The couple, former D.C.-area management consultants, toyed with a number of projects, including opening an amusement park, before settling on a winery. “What really enchanted us was trying to grow grapes and trying to understand what makes one wine better than another.” To that end, they spent years prowling the state, conferring with wine consultants, and taking soil samples before choosing a former farm with gentle slopes, ample sun exposure, and good drainage. Black Ankle, which opened last year, is Maryland’s first estate winery, making wines only with grapes grown on their property. “People go and buy what’s a great success in California, and that’s the exact wrong thing to do,” O’Herron says. “I could make a lot of things I know people can buy, but I want to see what I can grow here.” Like many other Maryland wineries, Black Ankle looks to France for inspiration— particularly Bordeaux, because of its similarity in latitude. But along with reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, they’re also having good luck with whites like Albariño from Spain and Grüner Veltliner from Austria. While the winery is not certified organic, Black Ankle is, as O’Herron puts it, “as clean as we can be,” which means minimal use of fungicides and pulling weeds by hand. They also follow the principles of “biodynamism,” which means that the entire vineyard, including the cows and chickens,

Serpent Ridge Winery owner Greg Lambrecht checks the cabernet sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes in his small Westminster vineyard.

Black Ankle Winery in Frederick County relies on the principles of biodynamics: Free-roaming chickens keep insects under control and provide free fertilizer. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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photo by Lisa Helfert

rapin Station Winery in Elkton, embraces technological advances in winemaking and packaging: He chose to market his eight wines as bag-in-a-box when he couldn’t find the necessary equipment to enable him to use screwcaps. The old-school corked bottle, he argues, “is an anachronism.” While consumer perception of box wine as low-quality swill is still an issue, Zwick prefers the challenge of educating his wine-drinking public. Corks can be tainted and thus ruin a bottle of wine, while a box poses no such risks. “You have to ask, What’s the benefit to the consumer?” Zwick is also among a new wave of winemakers who see winemaking as a moneymaking venture as well as an artistic one; they refer to themselves as businesspeople rather than, to use Zwick’s term, “hobbyists.” Mike Scarborough of Running Hare Vineyard near Prince Frederick in Calvert County is perhaps the ultimate example of the former. He envisions his spectacular 291-acre estate as an events venue and agritourism attraction as well as a place to grow grapes. “I’m not sure if a winery can sustain itself on wine alone,” Scarborough says as we talk under the pretty wooden pavilion nestled between two grapevine-covered hills.

Above us rise rows of Chambourcin, Cayuga, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc vines. Scarborough used to be a hobbyist, making wine for fun while he was running Scarborough Capital Management and Retirement Management Systems, the two companies he owns in Annapolis. But after he purchased this property as a weekend escape, plans for a winery (and more) quickly unfolded. He points to a flat area above a hill of vines where a Tuscan-style events hall (potentially the largest events building in Calvert County) will be built. Sunflowers will fill another empty field; beyond the woods, he plans a music amphitheatre. “We are always dreaming up something,” he says. Scarborough is adamant in describing his business as a winery in Maryland rather than a Maryland winery. “What I can’t grow, I buy from elsewhere,” he says—Pinot Grigio from Washington, Malbec from Chile, Chardonnay from Napa Valley. He’s not alone in this practice: Plenty of other wineries, including nearby Solomons Island Winery, buy juice from other states and countries, in part to have access to varietals that don’t grow well here. But such importation is also necessary because, at the moment, there are more people making wine in Maryland than there is in-state fruit. So popular is the current winery boom that the vintners have outpaced the grapes themselves.

To help feed the burgeoning industry, a new approach to Maryland winemaking is taking root across the Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County. Looking for a crop to supplant tobacco in Southern Maryland, the St. Mary’s County government and the city of Leonardtown approached a group of hobbyist grape growers and winemakers in 2006 with the idea of starting a winery. The city provided an old state highway administration building, and the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development

Corp., a quasi-public group that assists local farmers, kicked in low-interest loans to fund the transformation of the structure into the Port of Leonardtown Winery, due to open in spring 2010. The growers formed the Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative, the state’s first agricultural cooperative dedicated to growing grapes specifically for winemaking, “Our goal,” says the co-op’s president, Richard Fuller, “is to make wine from Southern Maryland with Southern Maryland grapes. We think that’s real important.” There’s an inspired sort of symmetry in transitioning from tobacco growing to winemaking—essentially, trading one vice for another, healthier one. And the individual members of the co-op—former tobacco farmers, young professionals, and retirees— make an eclectic mix. Retired Department of Defense employee Bernie Byrne works a property dubbed “Long Look For, Come At Last” on Golden Beach Road, which is co-owned with several extended family members, including his 80-year-old brotherin-law, Pete Conrad. Part of the mission of Byrne’s vineyard is to help agricultural researchers discover what varieties can thrive in Southern Maryland. In one parcel, each row of grapevines is dedicated to a different varietal (most uncommon to Maryland), so that the Portuguese grape Touriga shares close company with Italian Sangiovese and French Mourvèdre. The vineyard has a DIY quality about it: The vines curl around wires strung to hand-hewn rails; bicycle wheels, used to hold netting that keeps birds out of the vineyard, spin lazily atop the end posts in the hot summer breeze. Sparkling shards of compact discs designate row numbers, making the vineyard feel more like a found art installation than an experimental test site. “Talk about a low-budget operation,” Byrne chuckles. But don’t be fooled: Southern Maryland might well be our next great wine region. “The land value and climate, as far as winter damage, is less of a risk for grapes,” says state viticulture expert Fiola. He’s predicting the development of a significant industry in the area—and further growth for winemakers throughout the state. The proof, he says, is in the fields now. “When someone comes to me and says, ‘Can we do this in Maryland?’” I point to these vineyards and say, ‘Yes we can.’” ■

ESCAPE

—Urbanite contributor Mary K. Zajac writes about food and wine for several Maryland publications.

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Hit the Road on Maryland’s Wine Trails

oldest family-run winery), Basignani Winery, and Woodhall Wine Cellars. Fiore Winery is in Harford County’s Pylesville. (www.mason dixonwinetrail.com)

decoys of Long Island carvers (909 S. Schumaker Dr., Salisbury; 410-742-4988; www. wardmuseum.org).

If you go: Autumn means apples, and Stewartstown boasts many orchards. Try Barton’s Fruit Farm & Farm Market (20199 S. Barrens Rd.; 717-993-2494) for fruit and cider.

4

3 Room with a view: Black Ankle’s tasting room overlooks the new Mount Airy winery’s vineyard.

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The Frederick Wine Trail includes longtime Maryland wineries Linganore Winecellars, Elk Run Vineyards, Loew Vineyards, and Frederick Cellars (which now includes the former Catoctin Vineyards), as well newcomers Black Ankle and another Bordeauxinfluenced winery, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard. (www.frederickwinetrail.com) If you go: If you’re looking for a ribeye to go with your bottle of Cab, visit Wagner’s Meats in Mount Airy, which processes beef, lamb, and pork on-site. Besides the usual steaks and chops, the market offers homemade beef jerky, country pudding, and scrapple. Sides of beef and pigs for barbecues can be ordered in advance. (604 North Main St., Mount Airy; 301-8290500; www.wagnersmeats.com) Check out Frederick’s thriving restaurant scene: Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s buzz-worthy VOLT showcases local ingredients in a restored downtown mansion (228 N. Market St., Frederick; 301-696-VOLT; www.volt restaurant.com).

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T he Mason-Dixon Wine Trail hops the border to cover several Pennsylvania wineries, including Adams County Winery in Orrtanna (near Gettysburg), Allegro Vineyards in Brogue, Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown, and Seven Valleys Vineyard & Winery in Glen Rock. Baltimore County is represented by Boordy Vineyards (Maryland’s

ESCAPE

When all its wineries open, the Chesapeake Wine Trail will cover a wide swath of the state, from Cecil County’s Dove Valley Vineyards and Winery in Rising Sun southeast to the forthcoming Costa Ventosa in Whaleyville (Worcester County). In Queen Anne’s County, find Cascia Vineyards in Stevensville, Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards in Church Hill, Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton, and Tilmon’s Island Winery in Sudlersville. Little Ashby Vineyards in Easton and St. Michaels Winery in St. Michaels round out the Talbot County wineries. Further south, find Layton’s Chance Winery, coming soon to Vienna in Dorchester County, and Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery in Somerset County. (www.chesapeakewinetrail.com) If you go: Eastern Shore Brewing is just across the parking lot from St. Michaels Winery; stop in and sample several brews for a small fee (605 S. Talbot St., St. Michaels; 410-745-8010; www. easternshorebrewing.com). Long known for shops and art galleries, Easton also boasts some terrific ethnic food: Try Thai-Ki, chef Andrew Evans’ newest venture (216 E. Dover St.; 410-690-3641), or Taqueria y Polleria La Amistad, a tiny storefront with fresh Mexican food (306 E. Dover St.; 410-819-3666). If you’re heading to Wicomico County, stop by Beach to Bay Seafood, a small seafood store and lunch counter, for fried oysters, homemade hush puppies, and pickled beets (12138 Carol Ln., Princess Anne; 866-651-4505; www.beach tobayseafood.com). Work off all that hearty Shore fare with a hike on the nature trails of 276-acre Terrapin Park on Kent Island. The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury boasts a fine collection of locally made decoys. Fall exhibits include Clever Corvids: In the Company of Crows, which explores crow history and folklore, and an exhibition of

The Patuxent Wine Trail takes you from the northern swath to the southern tip of Calvert County, beginning with Fridays Creek Winery and Running Hare Vineyard near Prince Frederick. Follow the trail south to Perigeaux Vineyards & Winery, Cove Point Winery (just south of Calvert Cliffs State Park), and Solomons Island Winery near the lower Patuxent. (www.patuxentwinetrail.com) If you go: The Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum (4155 Mears Ave., Chesapeake Beach; 410257-3892; www.cbrm.org) offers a fascinating history of one of Maryland’s early beach resort towns. For barbecue lovers: Southern Maryland is hog heaven. Try Flavor of the South Cafe in Huntingtown (3930 Old Town Rd.; 410414-9407) or one of Solomons Island’s many barbecue joints, including Boomerangs Original Ribs (13820 H.G. Trueman Rd.; 410326-6050; www.loveribs.com), Jethro’s BBQ (13880 N. Solomons Island Rd.; 410-394-6700) or The Grill Sergeant BBQ (77 Charles St.; 410-394-6000; www.thegrillsgtbbq.com).

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The Piedmont Trail is scheduled to open this month and will include several wineries in Baltimore County, including Basignani, Boordy, and Woodhall, as well as Fiore in Harford County’s Pylesville and Mount Felix in Havre de Grace. Dejon Vineyards in Hydes will join the trail when it opens in early 2010. If you go: Broom’s Bloom Ice Cream and Dairy Store in Bel Air offers artisan cheese, country sausage, and other pork and beef products, as well as homemade ice cream (1700 S. Fountain Green Rd.; 410-399-COWS; www.bbdairy.com). Cromwell Valley Park (www.cromwellvalley park.org) offers hiking trails and ample opportunities for bird and wildlife sightings. Or grab your bike and ride beside the Loch Raven reservoir. —M.K.Z.

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keynote

Dropout City Education researcher Robert Balfanz on the art of keeping city kids in school Interview by marc steiner

photograph by leo Howard lubow

D

epending on whom you ask, the dropout problem in Baltimore City schools is either moderately bad or truly terrible. The school system claims an on-time graduation rate of 62.6 percent for 2008; a 2009 study from the nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance put the number at 41.5 percent—which ranks the city forty-sixth out of the fifty largest metropolitan school districts. Tellingly, the figure is also a whopping 39 points lower than the graduation rate in the neighboring suburbs. So let’s say that about half of the kids who enter high school in Baltimore City—as in most other major U.S. cities—fail to graduate. And the moment a teenager stops being a problem for the city schools, he or she starts being a problem for the rest of us. That’s the message of Robert Balfanz, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS). His work focuses not only on why students turn their backs on school, but also on what schools and communities can do about it. As the associate director for the Talent Development Middle and High School Project, he and his fellow researchers worked to translate their findings into a model for facilities that hold on to their students through the perilous passage from the middle grades to high school. Run in partnership with Hopkins, the Talent Development High School in Harlem Park opened in 2004 as the first new school built from the ground up around the CSOS model, which involves intensive intervention and an emphasis on engaging students in the act of learning. In 2008, TDHS graduated 84 percent of its first senior class. “We have to remember that, yes, we have to develop skills, but we also have to develop passion and desire,” Balfanz says. “The crazy thing is we all know from personal experience, when we actually learn something we care about, that’s a joyful, exciting thing.”

Q

We tend to think of truancy and dropouts as school problems, but your research seems to approach them from a larger social context.

A

Essentially, what we came to realize is that they are community problems—it’s the community that bears the cost of the dropout crisis. When kids drop out of school, they stay in the community. What that means is we have large numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds who are simply idle—officially idle. In reality, they find other things to do.

Q

Why has it been so difficult to put our hands around the actual numbers of kids involved?

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A

The challenge is that kids don’t walk into the principal’s office and say, “I’ve had enough; I’m out of here.” They just stop showing up. The schools don’t know what happened to them. The famous term used in many statistics is “whereabouts unknown.” It was assumed that if your whereabouts were unknown, we didn’t have to count you as a dropout. [Schools] didn’t feel they had a solution, and they felt a lot of pressure to raise achievement scores, so there was sort of a gentlemen’s agreement to minimize the problem.

Q A

How many children are affected by this in the United States?

The estimate is about 1.2 million kids drop out every year. A friend of mine, the former governor of West Virginia [Bob Wise, currently president of the Alliance for Excellent Education], argues that if we heard on the news that three thousand kids disappeared today, we’d be up in arms. It’d be a national crisis. But that many kids do disappear every day, quietly and unnoticed.

Q A

Is it because when we think of dropout kids, they’re likely to be older and therefore less sympathetic? You’re right. This isn’t the bright-eyed 5-year-olds; it’s the surlylooking teenagers. So it’s much more easy to say, “If you don’t want to graduate from high school, how can I make you?” That leads to this sense that no one’s responsible, that no one can make a difference. In fact, when you talk to dropouts, they almost instantly regret it. Many try to come back. And they often will say, “If only one adult had just said ‘Don’t go,’ I would’ve stayed in school.” Many people might assume that these are all wild kids who are looking for their freedom outside the doors of the school. Or kids that get pregnant. Or kids that have to work to support their families. That’s all true, but it’s a small percentage. We routinely have half or more of our kids—for decades—dropping out of school in certain communities. That’s not a problem—that’s a crisis. What we found is that the schools aren’t helping these kids succeed. Very few kids drop out right away. They miss a few days of school, they fail a course, they don’t earn enough credits to get promoted. Then they try to repeat the grade, but it’s the same scenario. Then maybe there’s a short stay at an alternative school. And then they’re gone. It’s a very predictable process. As early as the sixth grade, kids are actually


raising their hands and waving, saying, “Help.” And we either haven’t chosen to pay attention or we haven’t known the signals to look for.

Q A

You’ve written that “this year’s dropout is last year’s truant.”

What typically happens is after you first skip a few days of school, you learn nothing happens: No one says, “Where were you?” So you skip a few more days. Eventually, you have one foot in, one foot out. In the meantime, school’s going on, so now you’re going to fail everything and repeat the grade. And then you just don’t come back after the summer. It’s really important to pay attention to chronic absenteeism; that’s the canary in the coal mine.

Q A

How can a school system address that?

What you’re trying to do is to create smaller personalized environments for kids, where you don’t have this enormous number of needy kids and a limited number of adults that don’t want to be there. In Baltimore, you can clearly see from the data that our large middle schools were essentially educational agents of destruction. You can debate what the better design is, but the thousand-student middle school was just about the worst design.

Q A

Tell me about these so-called “transformation schools.” The idea is to open twenty-four new [grade] 6–12 schools [by

2011] that have about seventy-five kids per grade, as opposed to three hundred in a big middle school. It’s a much more manageable number of kids. They also take them right when kids are making these independent decisions and get them all the way through to graduation in one place. When you’re in elementary school, you go because your mom pushes you out the door—you do what you’re told. When you turn 11 or 12 or 13 years old, you make an independent decision to be engaged in school. Students that age also have the wherewithal [to leave school], and it’s enabled in a big city by mass transportation. In the suburbs, the yellow bus picks you up at your front door and drops you off in front of the school building. There’s no escape. Starting in middle school, most cities rely on mass transportation. This gives kids life skills—not many suburban kids could do three bus transfers by themselves at 12. But it also provides opportunity. In the city, out the back door, on the MTA, and you’re—

Q A

Wherever you want to be.

Wherever you want to be. We have to recognize that there’s a huge middle-grade need for adventure and camaraderie. And if we don’t supply that in schools, kids will find it outside of school.

Q A

Let’s talk about some of the prevention steps you recommend. One is don’t expel primary school students. You would think that would be the biggest no-brainer. Yet in some places, it’s a growing trend. You know, “We can’t handle your behavioral outbursts, go somewhere else.”

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Q A

So what does the school do? You have a lot of very angry, frustrated young children in inner-city schools. This is where the community has got to step in. We can’t say, “Too bad—deal with it.” We have to invest community and external resources to provide the social worker, the family intervention, and the more structured learning environments to get that child to be able to socialize within the norms of school.

Q A

You’ve said it’s vital that kids be promoted on time to the tenth grade, but also that we shouldn’t have social promotions. That means really intensive, until-it-works, right-away intervention. With sixth-graders, we don’t wait to see if they grow out of it. We give them after-school, Saturday school, summer school, tutors, mentors. We keep increasing the intensity until they’re back on track. That’s the only way around the dilemma. By the same token, if you hold them back a grade, we know that there’s no one angrier—and almost no one with lower odds of graduating—than an overage eighth grader. If you’re 16 and in middle school, all you see is a bunch of babies. Until we get you out of that, you’re not going to pay attention to anything because you’re just angry.

Q

In one of your papers, you say that for every hundred sixth graders who fail math or English, only 11 percent graduate on time, and only 27 percent graduate within two years.

keynote

A

It’s one of those things that flabbergasts you. Why would just failing math when you’re 12 be the end of your educational career? But think about it: It takes a lot to fail in the sixth grade. Middle-school teachers are forgiving. If you’re failing sixth-grade math, you’re getting, like, zeroes on all your tests, which means you really are behind multiple years. Or you’re either acting out or missing lots of school. And, without intervention, what’s going to change that? What’s happened is we want to believe that they’ll grow out of it. We all have family stories of people in early adolescence being really off the hook at 12. Maybe we got them a tutor; maybe we took them to a psychologist. High-poverty neighborhoods don’t have those resources. Their resource is the school. If the school doesn’t have a solution, there isn’t a solution. We’ve done these studies in about ten cities, so it’s not just one bad city, one bad year. One in four kids that struggle in the sixth grade will graduate. In Philadelphia, we were able to cross-reference school records with social service and juvenile justice records. Two-thirds of the males that got arrested in the ninth grade and two-thirds of the females that got pregnant in high school had a sixth-grade off-track indicator. So it’s not only essential for their lives that we intervene and get this right—it’s essential for the community. This is the engine of the underclass. ■

On the air: Listen to a podcast of the full interview at www. steinershow.org or tune into WEAA 88.9 FM on September 8.

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Testing In Progress The much-reviled No Child Left Behind Act is due for a post-Bush administration makeover. How will the future of high-stakes testing affect Maryland public schools? B y

S ar a

il l u s t rat ion

by

Two years ago, Hampstead Hill Academy Principal Matthew Hornbeck changed his school’s math curriculum. He replaced the one he thought worked with one he thought would raise test scores. The old curriculum covered a small number of concepts in depth; the new one sped through all the concepts on the annual Maryland School Assessments. “Our second-grade teachers used to spend time helping students master foundational skills like multiplication facts and then apply them to problem solving,” Hornbeck says. “Now they have to cover up to ten disjointed skills on a single worksheet, because that’s what’s covered on the state test.” And sure enough, Hampstead Hill—a charter elementary and middle school near Patterson Park—saw its math scores soar: Among sixth-graders, fewer than a third passed the math test in 2007. In 2008 and again this year, 95 percent passed. “I don’t think it’s sound math, but that’s a larger statewide issue,” Hornbeck says. Welcome to public education in America under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), where annual tests in reading and math drive nearly every aspect of how schools operate, particularly schools that serve impoverished student populations. Test scores drive neighborhood real estate prices and provide campaign fodder for political races local, state, and national. As Baltimore is experiencing this year, with the city’s elementary students outperforming some suburban Maryland jurisdictions for the first time in recent memory, a boost in scores can go a long way toward improving the public’s perception of educational quality. Many applaud President George W. Bush’s signature domestic initiative for shining a light on the achievement of all students. NCLB breaks out scores for racial minorities, the poor, and the disabled, whose performance could previously be hidden behind averages including more advantaged peers. Schools may indeed be “teaching to the tests,” but that’s better than not teaching anything, which was arguably the case in some schools before the creation of an accountability system. (Maryland had its own version for a decade before No Child Left Behind.) Ideally, good tests would measure students’ knowledge of a good curriculum. But educators have no shortage of complaints about the law. They accuse NCLB of turning classrooms into testing factories, of spurring national neglect of subjects such as social studies and art, of driving teachers away from the neediest schools. “We’ve put teachers in the position where they have to act as though that limited measure is what really matters and nothing else does,” says Dan-

N e ufe ld dav e

plunker t

iel Koretz, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the author of Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us. “That gives us in many cases lousy instruction. … Unfortunately, the neediest schools, under the most incentive to raise scores quickly, have the biggest incentive to cut corners.” The law, long overdue for reauthorization but viewed as an untouchable political football during last year’s presidential campaign, will undergo some major modifications under the Obama administration, starting with its name. One of the authors of the 2001 legislation, Rep. George Miller (D.-California), now calls No Child Left Behind “the most tainted brand in America.” Arne Duncan, the new U.S. secretary of education under President Barack Obama, uses the word “toxic.” No Child logos have been stripped from the elevators at the federal department of education, and official government correspondence now refers to the law by its official, virtually unknown title: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. (NCLB was one of the reauthorized versions.) But the crux of No Child Left Behind, emphasizing student outcomes on standards-based tests, is not going away. As Baltimore schools chief Andrés Alonso points out, the federal government made a historic $100 billion investment in education in Obama’s stimulus package, and “it requires that a component be about public accountability.” A big complaint from educators about Bush was that he never gave schools the funding they needed to carry out the mandates of No Child Left Behind, which requires reading and math exams to be administered annually in third through eighth grades and once in high school. Because the stimulus provides just a onetime cash infusion, Congress and the Obama administration will still need to confront long-term funding issues. NCLB has picked up plenty of detractors on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Liberals say testing strips teachers of creativity; critics on the right grumble that the federal government shouldn’t meddle in local education. Centrists are more likely to see some value in the law, even if it needs major reworking. This is where the Obama administration comes down, alongside civil rights advocates who insist annual testing is needed. For far too long, they say, schools were able to shortchange poor and minority students and children with disabilities without consequences. Testing has changed that. So here’s the next big question: Will it be possible to preserve the spirit of No Child Left Behind while fixing its numerous flaws?


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It’s too soon to know how the revised law will look, but Duncan has highlighted two areas he wants to change: • The law as is does not reward schools for making progress; rather, it measures them only on whether they meet stateestablished benchmarks each year. If a student comes to a teacher four years below grade level and makes three years of progress, the teacher has done great work—but the student still fails the test and the school gets no credit. Duncan wants to tie student progress to teachers’ evaluations and pay.

“Nothing else matters but the test scores,” says Jenae Toulson, a curriculum specialist at City Springs and mother of a sixthgrader. She says that she’s tired of explaining to people that her son does not attend a bad school.

• The law allows states to develop their own standards and tests, so accountability systems are all over the map. Maryland’s is considered one of the nation’s more stringent; states generally have an incentive to make easy tests that produce high scores. “For too long, we’ve been lying to kids,” Duncan told a group of governors at a symposium in June, according to a transcript. “We tell them they’re doing fine, give them good grades, and tell them they’re proficient on state tests that aren’t challenging. Then they get to college and they’re put into remedial classes. Or they go into the workforce and find out that they don’t have the skills they need to succeed.” No Child Left Behind began with the premise that all children would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Bush left it up to each state to define proficiency. Every year, schools need to make what’s called “adequate yearly progress” (also defined differently in each state) toward that benchmark. A school that doesn’t make AYP for two years in a row gets put on a state watch list. If the school has a high-poverty population, it must give students the option to transfer to a higher-performing school. If it stays on the watch list long enough, it faces sanctions as severe as staff replacement. And if one “subgroup,” such as special education students or English language learners, fails to make AYP, the whole school fails. Last year, even as Hampstead Hill saw its math scores soar, it didn’t make AYP because of the test performance of one special education student: Thirteen students with disabilities needed to pass, and one failed. “That’s really harsh. I think I work in a great school,” says Pat Jones, an eighth-grade math teacher. “I don’t think anybody minds being held accountable if it’s done fairly.” In Baltimore, Alonso has surprised principals by telling them he doesn’t care about AYP; he cares about whether their schools are making progress. There is some correlation, but it’s not perfect. The tests given under NCLB don’t account for individual progress because they don’t compare the same students with each other: One year’s third-grade class is measured against the next year’s third grade. Children aren’t tracked to see how they do when they move on to fourth grade. Nor do the tests account for the high student mobility rates in many impoverished neighborhoods. The Baltimore Curriculum Project, the nonprofit that runs Hampstead Hill and four other city charter schools, requires its schools to administer an online test called the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress at the beginning and end of each year. When a child answers correctly, subsequent

questions get harder; wrong answers generate easier questions. The computer quickly offers results for each child, showing areas of strength and weakness. Teachers say the results are far more useful than those from the Maryland School Assessments, which don’t come back before the academic year is over. “What I’m looking for is an honest measure of the growth of each child,” says Muriel Berkeley, president of the Baltimore Curriculum Project. “We can’t do voodoo. We can’t take kids if they’re well below grade level and make them well above level in a year. At the same time, if a child is bright and can nail that test, that doesn’t mean we should stop teaching them.” In the United Kingdom, which tests at the end of each school year, a leading testing official recently predicted that pen-and-paper exams will be obsolete within the next decade, to be replaced with online assessments given as students are ready. Online adaptive exams make it easier to test students at the level appropriate for them. In other words, as Harvard’s Koretz explains: “If a sixth-grade kid is reading at a second-grade level, you don’t bother giving him a sixth-grade test. What you do is give him a second- or third-grade test because then you’ll see if you managed to teach him anything.” Historically, because state tests have not measured individual student progress, it has been hard to gauge teacher effectiveness based on the scores. If that changes—and Duncan is giving states and districts financial incentive to do so by establishing a federal fund called Race To The Top to reward innovation—it seems likely that a growth model will pave the way for teacher evaluations and pay scales that account for performance. That raises a host of other politically charged issues involving merit pay for educators. Moving toward that end, Baltimore is one of several districts using stimulus money to try to develop a better data program to track student progress. “How can you possibly talk about teacher quality without factoring in student achievement?” Duncan asked at the governors symposium. Maryland education officials say they’re open to the idea of measuring schools based on academic growth. But Ronald Peiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy, notes that there’s a danger that a growth model would set lower goals for students and allow them to come up short. “In the end, when they graduate, they’re still two to three years behind,” he said. While No Child Left Behind has highlighted the racial and economic achievement gaps within American schools, another critical issue is making American students competitive with their peers abroad. On an international math test administered in 2007, eight countries outscored the United States in fourth-grade math. In public appearances, Duncan often notes the increasing numbers of engineers, doctors, and math and science doctoral candidates coming from abroad. continued on page 85 Urbanite and the Baltimore Curriculum Project are co-hosting a public forum on high-stakes testing on September 17, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park. Go to www.baltimorecp.org/leadingminds for more information.

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Learning the Hard Way Notes on Teaching in Prison By

M i c h a el

Ph oto g r a ph y

by

C o r b i n

C h r i sto ph e r

When Darrell walks into my classroom, I recognize him immediately. Like most men in prison, he affects a look of cool, studied hardness. But his eyes betray him: They don’t rest, feverishly scanning the room with sublimated paranoia. He’s here for the first time and he’s learning and he is scared. When he does see me, there is a momentary pause of recognition in those eyes and then an immediate camouflage of emotional flatness. I knew him at the East Baltimore high school where I once taught. Back then, Darrell was all arms, legs, adolescence; too much energy to sit still in my ninth-grade English classroom. He’s gotten bigger, mannish, thick through the shoulders and chest. Tattoos crawl up his muscled arm and neck, but his fussy plaits, his nonDOC-issue street clothes (“Gotta keep it fresh, Mr. C”), and his stillboyish face mark him as real young for here. “He is a clown,” an older, Muslim inmate tutor whispers to me later, in confidence. “He is not worth the time. At best, he is lost.” There rarely is a harsher judgment of the young inmate here than that provided by those who have served longer time or who are simply older. “He is still the street, and you can’t change that.” “I know,” I say, a bit too quickly, wanting to convince myself as much as the tutor. “But maybe he doesn’t know that yet.” In 1787, the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush delivered an address about crime and punishment at the home of Benjamin Franklin. “All public punishments tend to make bad men worse, and to increase crimes,” Rush declared. He offered instead the image of prison as a “house of repentance,” with monastic cells, enforced silence, separateness, and regular labor—all meant to reform, reeducate, and redeem. Beginning in 1790 with the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, this model—the penitentiary—became the enlightened way to build prisons. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America began as observations the famous Frenchman made in the 1830s while on a mission to study this new form of distinctly American punishment.

M y e r s

The Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore—now called, without irony, the Metropolitan Transition Center (MTC)—opened in 1811; it’s the oldest continuously operating institution of its kind in the Western world. It has become the heart of a sprawling campus of penological institutions that stretch east from Fallsway to the Latrobe Homes public housing projects, spilling over the boundaries of Eager Street to the north and Madison Street to the south, a place where teaching someone a lesson is as in no other institution of learning more literally, concretely embodied. You can see this in the architecture of the original penitentiary. In its grandeur, the massive Romanesque administration structure, hewn of Port Deposit granite, represents what used to be taught here, what we used to hope for, what we used to teach and no longer believe in. In America today, one in every hundred adults is incarcerated. More people are behind bars in our country today than any other place on Earth. Nationwide, 7.2 million people are either confined or under the supervision of probation or parole. In Baltimore, on any given day, that number is 28,000. Most of the residents of this invisible world will be returning to our own, someday: According to the Abell Foundation, approximately 13,000 men and women exit Maryland’s prisons each year and approximately 50 percent of those return to Baltimore City. Maryland’s recidivism rate is more than 50 percent. In another time zone of psychic space from the majority of citizens in Baltimore, tens of thousands matriculate through this carceral campus each year. Among its diverse disciplinary academies: one of the largest pretrial detention facilities in the country, a central booking facility, a super-maximum prison with a death row, a diagnostic and classification center, a pre-release unit, a transition center, a correctional center, and a prison hospital with a lethal-injection death chamber. At the end of 4-Yard, next to the hospital, is the school building. During the day, a few men can come to work toward a high school diploma. I help them with that, and in the evenings I teach w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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a college class for those who already have a diploma and want something more. I come to this campus each day to teach, wading through the scrim that separates one America from another, one Baltimore from another. While I am no longer sure what narratives matter the most, I try to tell a story about the possibilities of education and redemption. Only a small fraction of men incarcerated here come to school. Academics are not the core curriculum on this campus. Much learning takes place, however. And, because we no longer really believe that prison is a place of redemption and rehabilitation (despite the fact that almost all prisoners now incarcerated will eventually return to society), what’s left to be learned is the naked violence of incarceration and its darker twin, a kind of nihilism. There are dangerous men in prison, along with many who are not; prison will do little to change the dangerous and much to teach the others that they can expect little else.

At first, the serendipity of running into one of my former high school students here is striking. But then, a month after Darrell, I see Javon in the Yard. At the “innovation” public high school in Baltimore where I once taught, I had tried to help him with his adolescent relationship problems. Javon looks awkward in his new kufi—a fresh convert to Sunni Islam. And then there’s the brother of Oshawn; and like a cascade, I see brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors of former students. Almost all the men in my prison classroom are dropouts, refugees straight from Baltimore City public schools. For me, this causes an overwhelming sense of both recognition and disorientation, a kind of vertigo: Here is the living reality of what social scientists and civil libertarians call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” “Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid, and poor children of color are the fodder,” writes Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children’s Defense Fund. According to the fund, nationally, one in three African American boys and one in six Hispanic boys born in 2001 will be imprisoned during their lifetime. When I talk with the young men in my classroom, they rarely have a sense that prison is genuinely some separate moral space from that which they inhabited prior to incarceration. It is not pedagogically different from the schools they attended, the streets they ran. A common misconception about young men who come to prison is that they have chosen it to gain some kind of street cred, or that this is some kind of chosen rite of passage. None of my students chose to come to prison; it just became a part of life. Still, seeing Darrell here, I am unnerved. I stumble over my words a bit as I scan the scores of a diagnostic test he took to get into prison school. It shows upper-elementary-level literacy. I have a regular schtick when a new student arrives—I try to get into his head a little bit—but our previous history throws my timing off. I feel a little sick, actually. “This ain’t what you think it is here, brother,” I tell him. “This ain’t no Patterson High School. That door over there is not locked. You don’t have to come to my class in prison. And listen to me now: They can’t incarcerate someone’s mind—only you can do that. There is only chaos here at MTC. You want to make it different?” I say this without any tough-love inflection. Just quietly— monotone. I lean in, trying to make it personal, hoping the attenuated connection to the past pays off. I push a composition book and a pen into his hand. “Now let’s get started on something different. For you.” Darrell does return my gaze momentarily. But he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t much interested in school. His time is short, less than a year. The street is omnipresent. He is young. He has already learned what prison teaches: the sense of unredeemed and unredeemable separateness. Prison merely confirms his sense of participating in some parallel yet profoundly separate America. He


Almost all the men in my prison classroom are dropouts, refugees straight from Baltimore City public schools. For me, this causes an overwhelming sense of both recognition and disorientation, a kind of vertigo: Here is the living reality of what social scientists and civil libertarians call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” is now ready to return to the streets of Baltimore with his newly minted felony credential. In her 2007 book, Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration, Princeton sociologist Devah Pager calls what happens to Darrell and other men who come to prison “credentialing the stigma”—a kind of degree-conferring process. “The ‘credential’ of a criminal record,” writes Pager, “like educational or professional credentials, constitutes a formal and enduring classification of social status, which can be used to regulate access and opportunity across numerous social, economic, and political domains.” On the day Darrell leaves MTC, I meet him in the Yard as rain begins to fall. There’s a fresh wound to his eye, pink and puffy, from the fight he had in the dormitory with another prisoner. Another lesson. I am pained, because I feel our brief shared past was an inhibition to another possibility: that transformation narrative that I try to weave into my class. I tell Darrell not to come back. This has become my standard line to guys leaving. We both look up and away, abashed at the inadequacy of the words. There’s a pigeon carcass hanging in the razored helices of concertina wire that top the 20-foot, chain-link fence subdividing the outdoor free space of the prison. Darrell smiles and forces a laugh. “You know that, Mr. C. You know that’s fuckin’ right.” Darrell and I dap. I pull him in little tighter and then let him go. One evening in the fall, I’m asked by a group of prisoners to go to A-Building on campus to talk to an inmate-organized umbrella organization of several prisoner groups, or “affiliations,” to let them know about educational opportunities and the new college program on campus. This is the first college program to be offered at the penitentiary in more than a decade. The organizers of this meeting have taken their inspiration from the former Black Panther George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye. One of a different generation’s political martyrs, Jackson was shot dead in San Quentin in 1971, and several organizers here have on T-shirts with “Revolution is the Answer” superimposed over the famous picture of Jackson lying in the San Quentin yard in his own blood. I’ve come to see this apparent contradiction as representative of the fundamentally tragic narrative of modern incarceration for these men: the idea of change, empowerment, political consciousness, and revolutionary possibilities for a different life after prison tied, almost necessarily, to an image of violent death. Prison as a civic institution tells no meaningful story, provides no coherent narrative about rejoining society, so in that absence, prisoners find their own stories, create their own coherence and affinity groups. This is another kind of learning that takes place in prison. The Black Guerilla Family, Dead Man Inc., Bloods, Crips,

Aryan Nation, FTK: To outside observers, these groups might be merely gangs, protection rackets, criminal enterprises—and sometimes they are. But in the Hobbesian world of prison, these affiliations often provide an inmate’s only moral frame of reference. Each has a myth of origin, a systematic understanding of the universe, a story to tell. There is a quasi-militarism to this gathering of storytellers, the small room filling with more than one hundred men, mostly young. “Hamjambo,” a young man calls to the assembled when he enters the room. “Hatujambo,” his compatriots reply in unison, their Swahili call-and-response greeting marking pride, unity, and separateness. As I sit next to the podium and look out at the room, it strikes me that the gathered represent a terror of the public imagination: young, black, organized, prisoners. And there is a sense that they intuit that as well, and take a kind of pride and find an identity in it. “This is what I am talking about,” one of leaders, with shaved head and stentorian voice, booms from the podium. “I see leaders from all over here tonight. This is historic. This is what we hope for. They don’t expect us to think. They don’t expect us to learn. They treat us like animals, and the problem is that many of us become animals here.” I and a few other speakers talk about education, the economy, family life, hope. Some questions are entertained, a polite exchange of ideas among the gathered in the overheated, overstuffed room, and the meeting comes to a close. As we are leaving, one of the inmate-organizers pulls me aside to ask if another meeting is possible. “Most of the young brothers aren’t even conscious,” he observes matter-of-factly. “They are not asking the question, ‘How do I understand why so many people who look just like me are herded into this concentration camp?’” The cool fall air feels good as I leave out of the building into the Yard at night. Rats scurry along the fence line. The energy, intellect, the solidarity, the stories that bubbled up from the meeting had a common theme: In the penitentiary there is little penitence; there is no redemption, only exile. The consciousness of hope for life after prison here in the meeting tonight was in the powerful esprit de corps—a commonwealth that did not exist outside of prison on the streets of Baltimore, or in the America the gathered knew and would expect to return to. The next day a student who had been at the meeting wants to continue the conversation, challenge me a bit. “What am I really going to be able to do when I get out?” he demands. “Huh, Mr. Corbin? Even with a GED?” He is academically capable, an intellectual leader of his affiliation; he likes to read. “I tell you what, though. I am going to do what I have to do to eat, to feed my kids. Ain’t shit going on here to help me when I go back to the same blocks I been living at. Other than my people. And we just gonna get more organized.” w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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Discovery Days Discover the greatness for yourself. And for your child.

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“True, brother,” I say, smiling and shaking my finger in a mock scold. “But now, with all your learning, you can organize them for something different. Right?” When he arrives at my class, Marvelle addresses his fellow – students and me with an Arabic greeting: “As-Salamu Alaykum.” “Alaykum As-Salaam,” a few of the other Muslim students say in return. Marvelle grew up in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and is serving five years in prison. He helps me in class, tutors young inmates, and is deeply dedicated to learning. His journey from self-described thug to a devout Muslim, from a high school dropout who ran the streets of Baltimore to a man who has taken college classes and taught himself Arabic, speaks of the power of Islam here in the prison. “I was in the street and in trouble as a kid,” Marvelle tells me. “I used to be a violent dude. I carried a gun because I wanted to die with one rather than without one.” He speaks deliberately, softly, while looking me directly in the eye. “I realized eventually I was calling out to the wrong god. I met a Muslim brother at Central Booking and eventually made my Shahada while I was in the detention center. I studied the Deen of Islam and knew this was the truth. I never lived before. I never was a man before.” My Friday afternoon class is always small because the Muslim students have left to attend Jumu’ah, the Islamic prayer service. On Friday mornings students will have colorful prayer rugs and kufis, the devout will have a Qur’an, and the hangers-on will look for a reason to be out of the housing units. I can watch as scores of men with trimmed beards, tunics, and galabiyas make their way to the afternoon service. As I look across the Yard on Fridays at noon, I think, here is another terror of the public imagination in contemporary America. One of the largest and fastest growing responses to the intellectual void of prison is the conversion of many during their incarceration to Islam. Hamid R. Kusha, a professor at East Carolina University, argues that prison life and its perceived perversion of the penitentiary’s original Judeo-Christian ideals leads many— particularly the dispossessed—to find a counter-narrative in Islam’s universalizing appeal. “The reality is that life in American penal institutions does not always reflect the American penal philosophy’s rehabilitative ideals,” Kusha writes in his 2009 book, Islam in American Prisons: Black Muslims’ Challenge to American Penology. “For the most part, life in American prisons is a dehumanizing experience marred with violence and exploitation.” “Allah has the best of plans,” a Muslim inmate says with a smile to one of my young students on a particularly chaotic day. He’d been

complaining about one of the innumerable and seemingly arbitrary changes to the prison-life routine at MTC. “I gotta get the fuck outta here,” the student exhales with bitter resignation. The older inmate meets the bitterness with a smile. “In sha’a Allah, brother. In sha’a Allah.” There is no fanfare at MTC when a student gets his GED. Still, for some men, getting a high school diploma is a unique intellectual achievement, a testament to something they often don’t believe in. To mark their passage, I started taking pictures of the men with their diplomas. The pictures came to take on special meaning; they circulate among other prisoners and are often sent to loved ones. Before I came to work in prison, I had tried hard to convince one of my former students, Ashley, to get her GED. She had aged out of the public school system, was still too many credits short, and simply never went to school enough. She was hopeful, though—so much so that in her last academic year she had ordered a cap and gown to graduate with her class. Luckily, Ashley was a big girl; when she dropped out of school, I was able to get her graduation outfit and bring it to prison for some of my students. “Which side does the tassel go on after you graduate?” a student who just received his passing scores asks me as I squeeze the elastic of the mortarboard down over his thick and graying dreadlocks. I pull the gown down as far as I can. It comes to about his shins. “I’m going to send this to my mama,” he says. “She never did believe I’d graduate. And my daughter. I’ll have it for my daughter.” Because the windows of the prison school admit no daylight, I pull the student under the unflattering gleam of the fluorescent lights. He smiles in a moment of pride, and I take the picture. ■ —Michael Corbin teaches in the Metropolitan Transition Center. This is his first story for Urbanite.

On the air: More on teaching in prison on the Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM, on September 24. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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Cultivating the Intellect

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BALTIMORE HUMANE SOCIETY

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Real world education: Like his classmates at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, when Darien Conaway’s not in class, he’s working at a local company, earning part of his school tuition.

/ work Students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School step out of the classroom and into the office StoRY AnD PhotoGRAPhS BY AnDY CooK

On a spring afternoon, Darien Conaway pauses to look out the eighth-floor window of his office at the headquarters of Whiting-Turner, a contracting and construction firm based in Towson. The room is abuzz with whirring copy machines, ringing phones, and clacking keyboards, but for a moment, Conaway doesn’t seem to notice. His expression doesn’t betray his thoughts, but between his armload of paperwork, his upcoming lunch appointment with colleagues, and his looming chemistry homework, you can be sure this 16-year-old has a lot on his mind.

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Above: Daysha Bragg watched the end of a snowfall while commuting to her job at the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights, where she spent her time in the mailroom, the daycare center, or whatever office needed her most. Although her work at the JCC had little to do with her dream of being a forensic scientist in the FBI, the sophomore had already learned one important fact about office life: Coworkers can matter almost as much as the work itself. “My supervisor was like a second mom to me,” Daysha says. “She checked up on my grades and gave me feedback about my job and also about life. I actually liked going to work.” Right: “It’s a lot of work,” says Kerri O'Dair, who spent her sophomore year filing patient information at Sinai Hospital. Because she hopes to be a physical therapist for war veterans one day, O'Dair (whose twin sister, Erin, also attends Cristo Rey) says she was pleased to be in a hospital environment and wants to return to Sinai this year. “But I hope I don’t have to do as much filing.”

Conaway is a sophomore at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which opened two years ago at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Chester Street in Fells Point. Modeled after a school that started in Chicago in 1996, it is one of twenty-four Cristo Rey schools nationwide, private Catholic institutions that serve low-income urban youth. The schools have attracted attention for their impressive graduation and college placement rates: Ninety-four percent of Cristo Rey students graduate, and 99 percent of its 2008 graduates were accepted into college. The thing that sets the schools’ educational model apart—and, just as importantly, allows them to stay afloat while parochial schools across the country shut their doors— is the corporate internship program. “We basically run a placement agency—the only difference is our clients are students,” says Robyn Fleming, who until recently directed the local school’s corporate internship program. Her job was to make sure that all of the more than two hundred students had entry-level positions in real-world workplaces. Here’s how it works: A company hires a “team” of four Cristo Rey students. Each student works five days a month; collectively, each team does the work of one full-time employee. The company

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pays Cristo Rey $25,000 for the team’s work for a year. The expense is typically less than the cost of an entry-level employee, especially when the added cost of benefits and payroll taxes are considered. The program supplies a large portion of tuition funding for the students. Combined with donations and grants, the payments allow families who couldn’t otherwise afford a private education to send their kids to Cristo Rey. (The average annual income of the families of Cristo Rey students is just under $23,000. The school’s cost per student is roughly $15,000 a year, but families pay just $250 to $2,500, depending on family income. At Towson Catholic High School, which closed in July because of chronic financial difficulties, families were paying $9,500 in tuition.) This work-for-tuition setup was originally hatched by a consultant hired by the Jesuits to create a school that could be affordable for low-income families. But the internships have become popular because they provide students with four years of professional-level work experience, along with skills and a sense of workplace conduct rare in most 18-year-olds. Many students fill administrative roles, filing or running errands for companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, M&T Bank, and Johns Hopkins University. But Fleming says


the emphasis is less on skills gained through tasks and more on the bigger themes of the working world. “Ultimately, the goal is for the students to learn the basics of work ethic, professionalism, and how to network within their community,” she says. “As the students grow, they start to realize what kind of career path they want to take, and we try to have the student placed in that path as much as possible.” Students don’t get a break from academics just because they work five days a month: They make up for their abbreviated school week with an extended school day (7:40 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.) and a longer school year, which begins the first week of September and runs almost until the end of June. “Two years ago I wouldn’t have been nearly capable of doing as much as I do at work and at school,” says Melinda Romero, who worked at the Baltimore County Workforce Development Center at Eastpoint during her sophomore year. At 16, Romero is one of Cristo Rey’s oldest students; in the 2008–2009 school year, the school had only freshman and sophomore classes. They will add juniors this fall and seniors next year. Unfortunately, the school’s business model has made it vulnerable to the recent economic crisis, Fleming says. Some companies have pulled out because of cutbacks. Fleming has also had to place

more students at nonprofits, which don’t pay the school for the students’ services. As a result, the school has had to rely more heavily on private donors. This may be bad for the bank account, but Fleming says it has been good for the kids. “The students who’ve been working at the nonprofits have matured really quickly,” she says. “The nonprofits don’t have a lot of staff, but they do have a lot of work. So [the students] are exposed to a lot more challenges.” Indeed, Cristo Rey students face many challenges in a city where the public high school graduation rate hovers someplace between 42 percent and 62 percent (see “Dropout City,” p. 42). While many of their peers never consider the college-to-career track, it’s what is expected of Cristo Rey’s graduates—and, more importantly, what they expect of themselves. “I know I’m going to college,” says Bernard Edmonds, a sophomore with dreams of becoming a lawyer. “I went on a college tour from Delaware to North Carolina. Hopefully, I’ll be the first in my family to finish.” ■ —Andy Cook also wrote about the Holistic Life Foundation (p. 31) for this issue.

Above: When he wasn't heading up an after-school “crump” (a modern-meets-African kind of dance) club with friends Craig Williams, Syntia Sympkins, and David Ehrenpreis (from right to left), Darien Conaway (far left) worked as an office assistant at Whiting-Turner, one of Baltimore’s largest contracting companies. His sophomore year was his second at Whiting-Turner, and he considered it good preparation for his target career as an architect or engineer. “I’m interested in the design end of things because I like to draw and work with my hands. The things I did there have helped me realize my work goals.” Right: Back when he was an eighth grader at Francis Scott Key Middle School, Bernard Edmonds already knew he wanted to be a lawyer. But after two years working at the Baltimore law firm of Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, he says, “I want it more.” Too young for the courtroom, Edmonds spent most of his work time as an IT tech, installing programs, troubleshooting computer issues—and getting his colleagues up to speed on new technology. “Some of the people in the office wanted to know about text messaging, so I gave an informal seminar,” he says. “I liked it because it was a role reversal. It was something I taught them instead of them teaching me.” w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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See Your Youth B y J o n at h o n S c o t t F u q u a i l l u s t ra t i o n by D e n n i s farb e r

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memoir

See your youth. Watch it go away like a crack on the highway.

Recall the time your dog died in your bed. Was she on your pillow or stretched out beside you? Remember being in love with a girl and how it was life-sustaining and agonizing and how the sensations, like automobile collisions in a thick fog, came one after the other. Everything was new. There were no patterns to study, no experiences to reference. Many years later, I sit in a police department on Princess Anne Boulevard in Norfolk, Virginia. I’m 38. Christmas has come and gone; the lights and sounds of the season feel old and spent. Dirty snow sits mixed with gravel and sand against curbs. I look at the detective in front of me. He’s younger than I am, tall and pale and skinny, wearing jeans so stiff they must be made of cardboard. His shirt drapes off his shoulders and arms. He says, “This kind of thing is common. This isn’t unusual at all.” It is for me. I wonder why I’ve come. “I’m gonna record our conversation,” the detective tells me. I nod. He asks a simple question. “When did you first meet the captain?” I have been waiting to tell my story to the authorities, to burn the man’s reputation, disfigure him for the remainder of his life. But fire can only burn so hot. On the day I turned 14, my family, which included my mother, stepfather, brother, and sister, moved from Naples, Florida, to Norfolk, where we settled into my mother’s childhood home, recently a sorority house. It was teeming with thumb-sized cockroaches. On our first night there, before the moving van arrived with furniture, I slept on the floor and had a gargantuan roach walk across my chest. I screamed and jumped to my feet, panting so hard my head started to wink off and on. A few days later, my brother, sister, and I took different buses to our new and separate schools. There were two months left in the academic year. Summer approached. Sunlight lingered until after supper. It was too late in the spring to make friends, at least it was for me. My older brother, who always fared better, fared better. On the last day of classes, I got home from Blair Junior High and sat on a stool in the kitchen while my mom did dishes. I had no plans. I felt hopeless and alone, like the sky might suddenly slide free and sever my head from my neck. But summer, at least at first, proved to be far better than I had imagined. I had a German Shepard puppy named Wolf, and I spoke to him like he was a person with a deep interest in my life. “What do you think of Tracy? Yeah, she’s so foxy she kills me.” Wolf stared thoughtfully. “You think she feels like I’m gross?” Wolf would appear injured by this idea. “Yeah, it sucks,” I’d say. Midsummer, I was given a Styrofoam sailboat by my grandmother. She wanted me to be happier. It wasn’t much, but it felt like a yacht. Wolf and I sailed the Elizabeth River alone, like some sort of heroic story about a boy, his dog, and the sea. At home, my brother appeared for dinner, ate, and left with his new friends. My sister hung out with the weird, dirty kids around the corner. In late July, I started a business in order to pay for my growing comic-book obsession. I went door to door and asked people if they needed someone to mow their lawn. “No, dear,” they said. “Thank you, but no thank you, son,” a man told me. A lady drinking a cocktail asked, “Young man, are you related to Laffy Duffer?”

“Who’s Laffy, ma’am?” “He’s a rheumatologist at DePaul Hospital.” “What’s a rheumatologist?” She looked saddened by my stupidity. I asked if she needed her lawn mowed. “No, I already have a boy.” Most everyone had a boy. Eventually, I came to a two-story house surrounded by tall grass. A Navy officer answered the bell. “Can I help you?” he said in a cheery way, smoking a brown cigarette and holding his officer’s hat under his arm. I could see myself in his glasses. “Sir, I’m out looking to cut lawns for money. Do you think you need that?” “I might. How much?” “I don’t know.” “Five dollars?” he asked. “OK,” I agreed. He waited a second and said, “No, how about twenty?” Somehow, I’d negotiated and hadn’t even known it. “OK.” He said, “You want to cut it now?” “Sure,” I told him even though it was getting late. “I’ll give you a key, and you can get my lawnmower from the shed. If you get thirsty, come in the back door for a soda.” I appreciated how generous he seemed. Most men I knew weren’t that way. My father never gave of himself; he had a series of opposing personalities that changed from day to day. My stepfather, a provincial Frenchman who grew up under the Vichy government, stomped and banged around like a burly dictator. Thank God for my mother. Captain Peter said he was a flight surgeon on a nuclear aircraft carrier. He told me that he would like me to mow his lawn twice weekly, whether it needed it or not, which was fine with me. For twenty dollars a shot, I would’ve mowed it every day. Pete, which is what he told me to call him, gave me a key on a ring with his name on it. He instructed me to go in and get Cokes from the refrigerator if I ever became thirsty. A few days later, he arrived home while I was working and told me that on hot afternoons I could turn off the lawn mower and relax in his living room. He said, “I mean, if you need to take a break while you’re working.” That seemed weird, so I said, “I’ll be fine.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them so that they sounded like pieces of sandpaper. “If you come in, you can look at Playboy, Hustler, or Penthouse. They’re on my coffee table. Feel free.” I didn’t reply. “Do you like those magazines?” he asked. I stared, incredulous. “Yeah,” I answered, nervously. An adult had never offered me porn before. “What’s your favorite part? You can tell me,” he said, shaking his head kindly. “It’s OK to be honest.” My face got hot. “I like naked women.” “Yeah,” he laughed. “I bet. You ever watch porn movies?” “You mean rated-X movies?” “Yeah.” “No. You have some?” “Two good ones,” he said. “Let me know if you ever want to see them.” Smiling, he went upstairs to change into one of his red velour shirts. He liked the V-neck types that revealed a tangle of gray hairs, like a patch of gray shag carpeting, on his chest. I went back outside and finished his lawn. At home, I held my tongue about Pete’s sex magazines and movies and how he’d instructed me to enjoy them if ever I wanted to. I knew

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that if I mentioned them to my mom, I’d never get to mow his lawn again. I also knew that it would get Pete in trouble, which I didn’t want to do. I could tell he was a little strange, but I also knew he was more generous than he was perverted or disgusting. Besides, if he was a pervert, the Navy would’ve failed him instead of made him the doctor on one of their most important ships.

I still remember worrying that I’d hurt Pete’s feelings. So I went back the next day, and, of all things, he gave me a gift—the most unbelievable stereo system. “It’s for you,” he said. I really didn’t like music. Rock felt cynical and rebellious, but I loved the look of all the parts. “Wow.” “I didn’t buy it. It’s extra. It was in my attic.” “Well, I still love it. I really do,” I said. That night, my mother looked at the various components, paused, If I study my youth, certain events and people dominate, and said, “Something is wrong here, Scotty. Men don’t give boys $500 mountains so high they scrape craters right off the bottom of the moon. stereos for no reason.” Pete is one of those mountains. “He wasn’t using it. It’s an old one.” I am back in the police station, recounting for the detective. Pete “I’m really uncomfortable with this. I think I need to talk to Pete.” was tall. He had a gut. He wore a chunky gold necklace. He combed Nervous that she’d end our friendship and that he’d tell her I might his gray brush-cut straight back. Curly silver hair covered his body like be gay, I begged her, “Don’t talk to him, Mom. He’s nice!” a pelt. “Is he?” “God,” I say. “Yeah.” “You were a kid,” the detective tells me. “He took from you. You She spoke to him anyway. didn’t give it to him.” Pete assured my mother that he was simply being fatherly. He I know that now. Except that Pete didn’t actually take. Taking is wasn’t allowed much access to his own boy, who was my age, so he was straightforward. Pete duped. He acted as if he cared. At one point, I showering me with kindness. actually loved him like he was my father. Later, Mom said, “If he says or does anyHe got me thinking that abnormal was thing weird or questionable, you tell me.” normal. I was a mess. I nodded. But he already had. There were a few days in which I I was young, but I wasn’t so young. I I don’t precisely recall how, but one day was naïve, but I had lived. I had more sense I found myself resting atop Pete’s bed. It was thought back over my relationship than to be controlled that way. in the middle of the afternoon. He wanted Eventually, while Pete was at work, to give me a massage. He said I was tense. with Pete and realized that in the I watched a porno movie called Candy He could see it in my face. first instant that we met, he began Stripers. Disgusted, I allowed him to rub my I’d never seen anyone having sex bearms. I wanted to get up, but I was scared. to calculate. Not one action or gift fore. It was so strange. Eventually, he began hovering around my had been given in kindness, generI thought about it constantly. belt buckle. After a moment, he unclasped I wondered if adults were really that it. He pulled down my pants. osity, or friendship. It was all a lie. disgusting. I acted like I was asleep, or dead. I The summer ended. School began, passed into another world, felt ill. and Pete started driving me to Captain For days, I played like it didn’t happen. Zero’s Comic Book shop, about 20 miles east. I was so grateful. He did, too. Then he wanted to do it again. About that time, he started asking me to pee in the toilet with I told him, “I’m not gay.” him simultaneously, which is what my brother and I had done when we “You don’t know,” he said. “You need to find out. All boys have to were young. So I did. find out.” One day, after a visit to Captain Zero’s, we were passing through I knew I liked girls. I had been obsessed by the opposite sex since Pete’s kitchen when he tried to put his hand down the neck of my shirt kindergarten. But suddenly I was trapped. I had lied to my mother. I and grab a nipple. I trapped his fingers against my skin. had done things that made me look gay. If I’d told my brother, he’d call Furious, he shoved me against a doorframe. me a faggot. If I told my dad, he would disown me and possibly kill He said, “Don’t you dare stop my hand again, after all I’ve done for Pete. The person it seemed natural for me to run to was Pete, and Pete you. I will punch you in your face.” He pointed at me. “I kid you not.” was the cause of my misery. He repeated that—“I kid you not”—and wandered into the living After Christmas, one of Pete’s friends came to visit. He was also a room. He turned on a porno movie. Sitting on his couch, he unbuckled naval officer, except overweight, like some cannonball-headed televihis pants, pulled out his penis, and masturbated. I couldn’t believe it. sion wrestler. He mostly ignored me when I came in from raking the Done, he told me, “It’s normal. When people are friends, it’s noryard. He wore a jet-black Japanese kimono that he left open, exposing mal to do this in front of them.” his privates. “I’ve got to go,” I answered. I told Pete, “I’m done working.” “Where?” Pete said to the man, “Scott’s no prude. He’d get in a three-way in “Home.” a second.” He went and cleaned himself off. The man put the paper down. “Would you?” he asked me gruffly. “You watched,” he told me. The idea made me want to throw up. Desperate, I said, “But I have “Because I didn’t know what would happen.” to go to my grandmother’s.” “You liked it.” “No you don’t,” Pete said harshly. “I didn’t,” I told him. “It’s her birthday. I swear.” He said, “You need to mow the lawn tomorrow. Don’t forget.” Pete said, “Do what you need to do and come back.” I nodded. I didn’t go back. I was too revolted. “You want the money now?” The following week, Pete went out on his aircraft carrier for a “I don’t.” month.

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rebirth o f t he B Y D A V I D D U D LE Y P HOTO G R A P H Y B Y A NNE G U M M E R S ON

Cool

This page: Built in 1966, the hillside home of Howard Katz and Marianne Matheny-Katz has a West Coast vibe. “My friends call it ‘Howard’s Hollywood House,’” Katz says. Opposite page, left: The ground floor clubroom, outfitted with a complete bar, hosts a monthly series of live jazz concerts. Center: With two patios and a long secondfloor porch, the house is made for indoor-outdoor living. Far right: Removing interior walls during renovation opened up this large living/dining space to the kitchen.

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Space

A 1960s party pad gets a new gig

H

oward Katz found the place on Craigslist. “I know you don’t want to move,” he told his wife. “But you gotta see this house.” Katz and his wife, Marianne MathenyKatz, were living in a rehabbed rowhouse next to Patterson Park. Matheny-Katz commuted to D.C., where she worked as an economist at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army; her husband ran a commercial laundry company and dabbled in real estate. (The couple met when he sold her a house: “I conveyed with the washer and dryer,” Katz says.) City living agreed with their urbane lifestyle—Matheny-Katz moonlights as a jazz vocalist at local clubs—but this house was something else. Built in 1966, the low-slung residence, tucked into a sloping lot in the Lake Manor neighborhood near Lake Roland, was equipped with substantial local color: The original owner was a Runyon-esque restaurateur/bookmaker with a taste for showbizstyle entertaining, and the house itself resembled a transplant from the canyons of Los Angeles: long, low, and angular, like one of architect Richard Neutra’s Hollywood hillside dens. Longtime neighbors recalled that the place lived up to its aura of Rat Pack swank—Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were

rumored houseguests. But the house’s partying days were long gone. “It was a mess—nothing was done for twenty-seven years,” Katz says. Along with the space-age bachelor-pad appointments— which included a koi pond and waterfall under the ground floor staircase—came a host of less-desirable features, including a decrepit basement sauna, a neglected frontyard pool, a profusion of High-Vegas-style gold-patterned wallpaper, and a multitude of small rooms that chopped up the home’s 5,400-square-foot space. “It had such great potential, but it was all walled in,” Matheny-Katz says. “When we started pulling walls down, it started making sense.” During the several months of renovations, the house was partially gutted. On the second floor, vaulted ceilings and skylights opened up the master bedroom and living room, radiant floor heating was installed, and the kitchen—complete with new eucalyptus cabinetry and a Wolf range—was exposed to the living/dining room, creating a huge indoor-outdoor space lit by a long wall of floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto a balcony. The rectilinear house is bisected by the prominent stonework chimney, fed by a

pair of working fireplaces, one on each floor— plus a built-in outdoor fireplace/grill on the patio. “That’s what sold me on the house,” Katz says. “I’m a grill man.” The couple parted, reluctantly, with the swimming pool and sauna, but the reborn house retains its party-friendly heart—a vast ground-floor clubroom serviced by a big, curving bar. The room serves as the stage for a monthly series of house concerts, dubbed Jazzway 6004. Local and visiting jazz artists perform for up to sixty-five guests who pay $25 to reserve tickets for the concert, or $40 for dinner and a show. (Matheny-Katz cooks the meal herself.) On show nights, the bedroom wing is closed off, but guests have the run of the rest of the house and grounds. The third Jazzway 6004 season opens on September 26 with bass clarinetist Todd Marcus and his quartet. (For ticket info, go to www. jazzway6004.org.) Welcoming that kind of a mob every month might give pause to the average homeowner, but the couple seems to accept that serious entertaining is what this place was designed for. “You have a house this big,” Katz says, “you have to invite people over.” ■ —David Dudley is Urbanite’s editor-in-chief.

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The Feed This month in eating

Preservation Nation Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Ball Jar

Canning—preserving fruits, vegetables, and what-have-you in airtight glass jars—has always, for me, fallen into the category of culinary risk-taking, like eating fugu, using a pressure cooker, or leaving potato salad out in the sun. My mother, a mid-century homemaker liberated by new technology—her chest freezer— turned her back on the pickled beets of her Prince Edward Island ancestors, choosing instead to flash-freeze beans, corn, peas, and berries on a window screen set across the bins in the freezer before packaging them in plastic bags and storage containers. The urge to preserve effectively skipped a generation, only to emerge as the latest DIY pursuit of those anxious to consume with eyes and consciences wide open. Just ask 28-year-old Lauren Devine, of Jarden Home Brands, distributor of the ubiquitous Ball jar. Sales of the company’s jars and canning supplies jumped 30 percent in 2008, and there’s a similar increase this year, she says. By Martha Thomas photography by steve buchanan

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With my budget maxed out, I stuck with the BWB for my next undertaking. I picked two peck baskets of strawberries, learning afterward that processing my harvest would require around eight separate batches (warning: simply doubling a recipe can result in failure!). After unloading half of the berries on friends, I set to work. Four batches later, I had three dozen half-pint jars of jewel-colored jam. This time, my price-per-jar was less than $2 (although the jars can be used again). I considered this a victory in home economics, not to mention global food politics. Emboldened, I decided to introduce some culinary challenge to my endeavors, which led me to the kitchen of Odette and Fernand Tersiguel near Randallstown. The founding owners of an eponymous French restaurant in Ellicott City, the Tersiguels grew up in rural Brittany; to them, home preservation of fruit, vegetables, and meat is a way of life. “We had no refrigerator, so that’s what you learn to do,” Fernand says. The restaurant reflects that farm-to-table upbringing—it’s partially supplied by a private “farm” (actually two large vegetable patches, an herb garden, and a chicken coop on the couple’s 17-acre lot at the western tip of Baltimore City). On a summer afternoon, Fernand and his dog, Loco, gave me an enthusiastic tour of the grounds: raised beds of herbs and greens, tomatoes, squash, corn, blueberries, and a tangle of raspberries off to one side. In the kitchen, saucepans bubbled on each burner. While Petr Hoffman, Tersiguel’s Czech sous chef, boiled beets in a brine of sugar, water, and vinegar, Odette tended pots of blueberry jam and zucchini relish. She shared a trick: Drop a piece of butter in the simmering fruit to keep the foam down. (Wait—what’s the pH of butter?) Fernand showed me how to make pickles: He’d layered baby cucumbers in a bowl with sea salt a day or two before and now stuffed them in jars with shallots and garlic, cramming in fresh-picked chervil and bay before topping them off with tarragon vinegar. It looked so simple, but once I got my own cucumbers, I clenched. Would the vinegar kill pathogens? Would a BWB turn everything to mush? I forgot Fernand’s breezy instructions and retreated to the safety of the Blue Book. In canning, only skill and experience breed improvisation: I never saw any Tersiguel with face buried in a cookbook. When Fernand gave me a formula for homemade pork pâté— “salt, pepper, a little piece of garlic, a water bath”—you’d think he was talking about tossing a salad. Maybe once I overcome my fear of tomatoes, I’ll tackle pork. ■ —Martha Thomas is a frequent contributor to Urbanite. Web extra: Home canning resources at www.urbanitebaltimore.com.

eat/drink Jam Masters

recipe

Devine, whose official title is “FreshPreserving Community Manager,” is co-author of The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. She teaches home-canning classes in partnership with Home Gardening magazine and observed an increase in home gardens even before Michelle Obama dug up the White House lawn. The home preserving renaissance has multiple roots, Devine says. “The local food movement has definitely made an impact. If you want to be serious about that lifestyle, it’s hard to do in colder climates without preserving food.” The economy also plays a role, as do recent food safety scandals. In the era of cheap and readily available calories, taking the time to preserve your own food, she says, is “a conscious choice.” Late last summer, I consciously dropped around $240 on jars, canning equipment, and bruised tomatoes at Baugher’s farm store in Westminster. After two steamy days in the kitchen focused on the tomato sauce recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, I had fourteen pint-sized jars of deep-red sauce—about $17 a pop. Granted, the cost will drop over the years, as my investments in a lid magnet, jar gripper, and the $129 old-style juice extractor amortize. But if you factor in the hours of pushing overripe tomatoes through the Squeezo strainer (the store manager exhorted me to buy it), stirring bubbling sauce (it simmered all day to reduce by one-half), and dipping jars in boiling water to sterilize, returning them to seal, and waiting for each satisfying “pop” signaling success, it was a hefty investment. It was also a challenge on a fundamental level: I’m not a precise cook, and home canning is all about precision. Experimenting with the tomato sauce recipe, therefore, was not an option. I didn’t know how salt might affect pH (not much) or whether extra chopped onions might change the acidity of the sauce and accidentally turn me into a modern-day Mary Ann Cotton, who was hanged in 1873 for allegedly poisoning twenty-one family members (they could). So when I presented jars of tomato sauce to friends over the holidays, it was not without a heady sense of ceremony. “The only way to make it cost-effective is to grow your own vegetables,” advises Larry Kloze, who taught a canning class sponsored by Baltimore Slow Food that I attended last year. Kloze and his wife, Vicki, have been canning for thirty years, stocking their shelves from the garden behind their Mount Washington house. In class, he demonstrated how to can green beans with a pressure canner. Low-acid foods such as beans, corn, and asparagus need to be heated to at least 240 degrees Fahrenheit to kill that insidious bacterium Clostridium botulinum. A boiling-water bath (known to canning chatroom habitues as BWB) only hits around 212 degrees. This information dialed up my canning anxiety and sent me scurrying to the Internet to price pressure canners (expect to pay at least $100).

Bill Vondrasek, Baltimore’s acting Chief of Parks, began making jam a decade ago when the bountiful raspberry bushes in his Hamilton backyard left him little choice. “I was picking two cups every other day,” he recalls. “I had to do something.” Vondrasek has moved on to other fruits, such as blueberries and kiwi (strawberries, he says, are too sweet). And while he started out, like me, following standard fruit/sugar/pectin recipes, he soon began using fruits such as apples as thickeners instead of the commercial powdered stuff. On the early-summer afternoon we spoke, Vondrasek was preparing to make mango-rhubarb jam with rhubarb from his garden (he now lives in Towson) and four mangos that were on special at Shoppers Food Warehouse. His plan was loose: “I’m going to cut up the mangos and see what I have,” he said, figuring four cups of mango would complement two cups of tart rhubarb. He had psyched himself up by rereading the preserves chapter of the Joy of Cooking (which the 1996 edition improvidently omitted). The information, he says, “is kind of cryptic, but it’s all there.” —M.T.

Bill Vondrasek’s Rhubarb-Mango Jam 2 cups rhubarb, chopped 4 cups mango, chopped 4 cups sugar 1 package pectin Mix fruits and pectin in a heavy saucepan and bring to rolling boil, stirring constantly. (You may need to add ¼ cup water.) Add sugar and bring to rolling boil for one minute exactly. Pour into sterilized jars, seal with lids and bands, and turn jars upside down for 5 minutes. Turn them right side up and let cool.

Odette Tersiguel’s Zucchini Relish 10 cups zucchini (peeled and seeded) 4 cups onion 2 green peppers 1 tbs salt 1 tsp cornstarch Chop the vegetables coarsely in a food processor. Let it sit for 1 hour in a large bowl; drain off liquid. Then add: 2 ½ cups vinegar 4 cups sugar 1 tsp celery salt 1 tsp dry mustard 2 tsp turmeric powder Dash of pepper Mix well and cook in a large pot over high heat. Stir continuously. When mixture comes to a full boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let mixture burn on bottom of pot. After 30 minutes, dissolve cornstarch in 2 tbs water and add to mixture. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars, seal lids, and process in boiling water bath.

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photo by Christine Abbott

South of the border: Talara offers a Latin twist on raw fish.

Ceviche—raw seafood marinated in lime or lemon juice—isn’t exactly something Baltimoreans eat every day, but boisterous South Beach-themed Talara seems intent on changing that. Step one: Explaining what the stuff is. The menu thus summarizes the “hotly contested” five-thousand-year history of the dish, making sure we know Talara’s ceviche (also spelled seviche or cebiche) is marinated quickly, rather than “cooked” for hours in the acidic citrus juices, as is typical down south. Having established this nod to convention, the kitchen then subjects its fish to an eclectic array of preparations. Like nearby Ra Sushi, another high-concept Harbor East bar/restaurant plying raw seafood to a shiny crowd, much of the menu departs from any recognizable regional style. Servings are small and pretty, and you’re meant to order several, tapas-style, as you quaff caipirinhas or mojitos from a goofily-named cocktail menu right out of Sex and the City. (Who wants another Pomegranatini?) The ever-changing raw and semi-cooked species of seafood at Talara’s “seviche bar” can be had in seven different preparations, from curry and tropical fruit to gingery seared fish with wasabi mayonnaise. The Asian tartare is five melt-in-your-mouth bites of chopped fish (in this case, the fish of the day, blue marlin)

balanced on slices of nori-wrapped sushi rice and topped with a lotus root chip and a sprinkle of flying fish roe. The “Fire and Ice” tosses habanero into the lime mix, the fish served on a row of porcelain miso soup spoons, each with a dollop of prickly-pear granita. The ice melts fast, but the fire lingers in the mouth. For those who remain stubbornly squeamish around raw fish, there are cooked items in a pan-Latin fusion vein—a citrusmarinated pork shank with goat cheese polenta, coconut shrimp tempura—as well as salads fortified by braised Cuban-style flank steak and chipotle-dusted crab. So-called “mini paellas” are saffron-tinged rice served in diminutive iron skillets, studded either with a traditional seafood-and-chorizo mix or less-traditional filet mignon and mushrooms (there’s also a vegetarian option). The Jamaican rum-soaked tiramisu—chocolatedusted and topped with dark chocolate coffee beans—has a punch that rivals any caipirinha; a fried apple empanada curiously evokes the hot apple pie of long-ago fast food meals. (Dinner nightly. 615 S. President St.; 410-5289883; www.talarabaltimore.com.)

reviewed

eat/drink

Talara

—Martha Thomas

Pizza nerds buzzed all summer about this place, one of two pizzerias in the region equipped with a coal-fired oven (the estimable Joe Squared in Station North installed one last summer). Coal-burners are enjoying a renaissance of late: They can hit extremely high temperatures but are tricky to master because of inconsistent heating. Among slice aficionados, a coal oven is essential gear for turning out the elegantly blistered thin-crust pies that were, until recently, the sole province of a handful of historic pizza temples in New York City and New Haven, Connecticut. Located in the squeaky-new Shipley’s Grant development in a once-rural patch of suburban Howard County, Coal Fire Pizza is no smoke-seasoned pre-war pizza joint: The kidfriendly dining room and attached bar could be a tastefully rehabbed ex-Olive Garden, and the pristine uniform polos of the eager young servers are a curious counterpoint to the rustic specialty. But the pizza itself—served only as whole pies (12 or 16 inches), not slices—is serious, even exemplary stuff. The pies spend fewer than five minutes in the oven and arrive as thin, well-singed rounds of faintly puffed crust veiled with discrete pools of melted mozzarella (Ceriello in Belvedere Square supplies the fresh cheese). The menu counsels topping moderation, “to ensure the perfect bake” (too

many will lead to undercooked middles), and purists should begin with a textbook Margherita—crushed tomatoes, cheese, and fresh basil. The crust is burnt enough to impart a fleeting bitter note, and it’s both crisp and sturdy to the core, despite its delicate dimensions. You can experiment with thirteen toppings and three varieties of sauce, including a “signature” sauce with a deeper, far sweeter profile; in the “Rustic Red,” made with red peppers and red onions, that sugary sauce turns the whole affair a bit cloying. Non-pizza items include a host of sandwiches and pastas, including an indulgent crab-flecked macaroni and cheese. Ovenbaked wings are an admirable concept that needs fine-tuning: Blasting naked birds in a coal oven may approximate the crisped skin of deep-fried wings, but it also renders the meat dry to the bone, and the puzzling tangle of nicely carmelized onions draped atop is neither sauce nor side. Gooey, garlicky grilled Caesar salad is more like a pizza-on-a-plant: It’s a full head of warm, dressed lettuce all but embedded in Parmesan. If there’s a less healthy way to get your greens, you don’t want to find out. (Lunch and dinner daily. 5725 Richard’s Valley Rd., Ellicott City; 410-480-2625.)

photo by Christine Abbott

Coal Fire Pizza

Hot stuff: At Coal Fire Pizza, it’s all in the oven.

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Hampden More to do in

!

King’s Grilled Kabob.

You no longer have to fly to Egypt to enjoy authentic grilled kabobs and mouth watering meze platters. Enjoy Middle Eastern food at its best in a warm atmosphere. *B.Y.O.B.* 907 W. 36th Street • 410-889-3663

Milagro.

A Global Boutique. Bringing you a cultural blend of clothing, jewelry, world folk art and pottery. Mexican Day of the Dead decorations arrive in September! 1005 W. 36th Street • 410-235-3800 • milagrobaltimore@yahoo.com

Golden West Cafe.

Serving an eclectic menu of Southwest favorites, classic Americana and Asian inspired dishes. Baked from scratch and made with love, everyday. 1105 W. 36th Street • 410 889-8891 • www.goldenwestcafe.com

Mud & Metal.

Presents functional art hand made by american artists, speciallizing in decorative hardware, switchplates, ceramics, jewelry, prints and cards. Give the gift of hand made happiness or take it home with you! Open Daily! 1121 W. 36th Street • 410-467-8698 • www.mudandmetal.com

Ma Petite Shoe.

Flirty, poetic shoes and boots paired with exotic truffles, handmade caramels, and chocolate from around the world. Crafty socks and slippers and accessories with drama. Open 7 days a week. 832 W. 36th Street • 410-235-3442 • www.mapetiteshoe.com

Events

HampdenFest September 12, 10am

Hampden’s annual festival of arts and entertainment. HampdenFest takes place on five blocks of W. 36Th St. between Falls Rd and Keswick Ave. Enjoy Food, Art, Entertainment, Live Music, Children’s entertainment, the first annual HampdenFilm Fest, and the now famous Hampden Idol Contest.

For more information, please visit www.hampdenmerchants.com 72

urbanite september 09


From cane to cocktail, the Caribbean’s liquor offers a world of variety

© Kelly Cline | istockphoto.com

By Clinton Macsherry

D

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espite the tiki-bar tableaux peddled by the tourism industry, islands in the Caribbean—and continental areas on its rim—offer astounding diversity. Ethnic groups include the descendants of Africans, Europeans, Asians, and Native Americans; English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and various patois are spoken. Landscapes range from cloud forests to mangrove swamps, and the sea encompasses vast cerulean shallows as well as the Puerto Rico Trench, deepest in the hemisphere. And then there’s rum, mankind’s most variegated spirit. Sugarcane, rum’s raw material, arrived with Columbus in the West Indies, where it thrived to such a degree that the plantations of the Caribbean became the primary connection for early-modern Europe’s fearsome sugar fix. Grueling sugar production fueled the infamous “Triangle Trade” of slaves, molasses, and rum. Scholars have written volumes on the impact of sugar and rum on global economics and a couple centuries’ worth of geopolitics. There’s also an ocean of colorful rum mythology, much of it apocryphal. By most accounts, islanders on Barbados first distilled fermented cane juice or molasses (a byproduct of processing cane into crystalline sugar) into a rough spirit in the 1600s. They called it “kill-devil” or “rumbullion”—the latter British dialect for “uproar,” and likely the origin of our current word. Two fears haunted Caribbean planters: revolt by slaves (who outnumbered them) and raids by pirates (or the navies of colonial enemies). Rum itself was often a target of plundering brigands. To encourage the protective presence of friendly vessels, planters supplied them with liquor, one of

the few pleasures available to sailors. Beginning around 1650, Royal Navy seamen received a daily “tot” of rum, a tradition that persisted until July 31, 1970 (known as “Black Tot Day” among rummies). Ranging from clear to nearly black, with tastes and textures running a similar gamut, rum can be many things to many drinkers—part of the reason, perhaps, that it trails only vodka in U.S. sales. Marketleading Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Cruzan, and Malibu have more or less held their sales ground lately, according to trade journal Wine & Spirits Daily, but ultrapremium rum sales fell nearly 12 percent, after posting gains of 50 percent last year. Rums are usually grouped into five categories: white, gold, dark, spiced/flavored, and aged (or añejo). But all leave the still clear: Coloration comes from aging in different types of cooperage (often, used whiskey barrels) and frequently the addition of caramel. Some buffs can list more than twenty regional variations among rum-producing countries, but within the Caribbean, generalized contrasts can be drawn between the major language groups. The ron of Spanish-speaking islands and mainland countries is often relatively light and clean tasting. Molasses typically dominates the darker, full-bodied rums of the British West Indies. The Francophone islands distill their rhum from cane juice in a heady style reminiscent of French brandy. I caught the rum bug a decade ago during some travel by land and sea between the Florida Keys and Patagonia, but until recently I hadn’t tasted Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale ($23). Made from cane juice, double-distilled, and aged eight years in French oak (there are also 4- and 15-year-old bottlings), it pours transparent and brassy hued. Aromatic hints of apricot and magnolia lead to a medium-bodied, Armagnac-like palate, with inklings of raw sugar, tea leaf, and coconut. Melted Butterfinger lingers on the finish. Given the spectrum of rums, it’s silly to pick one favorite. But I’m tempted. A classic daiquirí, named for a Cuban beach, calls for light rum, but don’t be afraid of the darks. In a shaker with crushed ice, combine two ounces with the juice of half a lime and a half-teaspoon of simple syrup or powdered sugar. Shake, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lime slice. It makes a dandy vehicle even for rums that I’d normally sip neat, as long as bananas and blenders aren’t involved. ■

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wine & spirits

eat/drink

Born to Rum

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photo by Robert Kneschke | dreamstime.com

tHe feed

eat/drink

This Month in Eating Compiled by Martha Thomas FRESH SCREENING

SEPT 10

Calling all locavores: The new documentary Fresh stars a who’s who of farm-to-table types, including Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan and Milwaukee urban ag advocate Will Allen, talking about the perils of industrial food production. The screening at the Creative Alliance—organized by the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative and co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and other plant-friendly groups (including Urbanite)—includes a bazaar with growers and restaurants and a panel discussion with local foodies. Bazaar 6:30 p.m., screening 7 p.m. $12, $10 Creative Alliance members.

Creative Alliance 3134 Eastern Ave. 410-276-1651 www.creativealliance.org

MARYLAND SEAFOOD FESTIVAL

SEPT 11–13

The massive Maryland Seafood Festival celebrates the blue crab, with picking, eating, and soup-cooking contests—plus music by the Crawdaddies and microbrew and Maryland wine tastings. New this year: the Phillips Seafood Oasis, a full-service eatery on the beach. Bring nonperishable edibles for the Giant Sea of Food, which benefits the Maryland Food Bank. Fri and Sat, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. $10 regular admission ($2 per ticket goes to charity if purchased online); cook-off tickets $8.

Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis www.mdseafoodfestival.com

MOUNT WASHINGTON WINE, ART, AND JAZZ FESTIVAL

SEPT 20

To avoid a conflict with the Ravens’ first home game, the Mount Washington Village festival was bumped back a week—but, oops, now falls on the same day as the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster. Never mind—the day promises plenty of wine, from the nearby Old Vine shop as well as Maryland’s Basignani Winery and others. Sulgrave and Newbury streets will close down for food vendors, children’s activities, antique autos, and live jazz. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Free admission; $10 for ten tastings.

Mount Washington Village 410-561-0065 www.mtwashingtonvillage. com

FOOD FOR THOUGHT AT THE BALTIMORE BOOK FESTIVAL

SEPT 25–27

The annual Mount Vernon bacchanalia for bibliophiles may be all about reading and writing, but it’s also about eating. The Food for Thought stage features cookbook authors demonstrating recipes from their books and doling out samples. This year’s celebrities include Ingrid Hoffman of the Food Network’s Simply Delicioso! and cocktail king Dale Degroff. Fri and Sat, noon–8 p.m.; Sun noon–7 p.m. Free.

Mount Vernon Place www.baltimorebookfestival.org

MARYLAND MICROBREWERY FESTIVAL

SEPT 26

Along with the dozen or so microbrews on tap, the fourth annual festival will host a contest for home brews in the categories English Ordinary Bitter and Brown Porter. The winning beer chosen by certified judges will be recreated by a Westminster brewery and served at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. The festival also includes demonstrations, crafts, and the sort of fare favored by beer enthusiasts: pit beef, brats, and crab cakes. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. $18 in advance, $20 at the gate, $5 for nondrinkers, free for children younger than 16.

Union Mills 3322 Littlestown Pike, Westminster www.marylandmicrobrewery festival.com

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THE BSO EXPERIENCE. You just have to be there. The unprecedented collaboration between the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Marin Alsop delivers performances of artistic innovation and gripping intensity. This season explores musical influences from around the world, celebrates the whimsical sounds of the circus and showcases the talents of world-class artists.

Order tickets or subscribe today to experience the passion, energy and innovation of your BSO.

TIME FOR THREE

CELEBRATION GALA

Thur. Sept 24 & Fri. Sept 25

WITH LANG LANG

Symphony meets bluegrass as Time for Three teams up with Marin Alsop and the BSO to perform Jennifer Higdon’s groundbreaking Concerto 4-3, built on one of America’s great folk country traditions. Plus, Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

Sat. Sept 12

Maestra Marin Alsop and the BSO kick off an exciting season with piano superstar Lang Lang performing Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable First Piano Concerto. Supporting Sponsor: Audi of America LANG LANG

DLA Piper Series

TIME FOR THREE

HOLLYWOOD: THE EPICS

TCHAIKOVSKY & BARTÓK Fri. Oct 2, Sat. Oct 3 & Sun. Oct 4

Fri. Oct 9, Sat. Oct 10 & Sun. Oct 11

Marin Alsop leads a program filled with life and dance including Harmonia performing traditional Eastern European folk music, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Grammy winner James Ehnes’ captivating interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Violin Concerto. M&T Bank Series MARIN ALSOP

The ever-entertaining Jack Everly conducts the opening of the BSO SuperPops season performing epic film scores including music from Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, Star Wars and Gone with the Wind. Presenting Sponsor: Constellation Energy

SIMPLY CLASSICAL Thur. Oct 22 & Sun. Oct 25

American pianist Simone Dinnerstein makes her BSO debut with one of Mozart’s most joy filled concertos. Conductor Louis Langrée explores an animated symphony by Haydn and the early Romantic contours of Beethoven’s powerful Fourth Symphony.

JACK EVERLY

SIMONE DINNERSTEIN

Single Tickets on Sale September 1st!

Subscriptions are still available. SELECT 6 CONCERTS TO CREATE YOUR OWN SUBSCRIPTION SERIES.

BSOmusic.org | 410.783.8000

B A LT I M O R E S Y M P H O N Y O R C H E S T R A


art/culture 79 BOOK

Sondra Guttman on Daughters of Empire

81 THEATER

Martha Thomas on Air Heart and Bérénice

83 THE SCENE

This month’s cultural highlights

Funny People Baltimore’s alt-comedy scene puts the outcasts in the spotlight.

“A

n Englishman, a Frenchman, and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, are captured by the Nazis. They are thrown in jail for a year and each given one request. The Englishman requests beer. He is given it. The Frenchman requests wine. He is given it. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, requests cigarettes. He is given them. A year later they are removed from jail. The Englishman is drunk. The Frenchman is drunk. The Human Torch asks, ‘Does anybody have a light?’” BY GREG HANSCOM PHOTOGRAPH BY J.M. GIORDANO


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art/culture

photo by Peter Hill, Images of England: Corby (Tempus, 1996)

This joke, told this spring at the Bar BaHuge Penis. “It’s like punk rock comedy,” con Fun Time Comedy Hour at the Golden Meyer says. “It’s the difference between West Café in Hampden, is, of course, a variaeating at the Golden West and eating at tion on an old one. It probably goes without Applebee’s.” And then, because he can’t saying that the butt of the original was a help himself: “Sometimes you get a shitty gentleman of Polish descent, not the Human meal at the Golden West, but there’s a betTorch, Marvel Comics superhero and member ter potential payoff.” of the Fantastic Four. Nor was the original tellThe alt-comedians are rearing their er of the joke Baltimore comedian Jim Meyer, disheveled heads elsewhere in the city as who dressed up like the Fantastic Four’s chief well. The Baltimore Improv Group’s offernemesis, Doctor Doom, for the telling. ing of interactive, made-up-on-the-spot At the Golden West, this and a long comedy skits has been growing steadily string of other hoary gags (all involving memsince the group’s creation in 2004. In bers of the Fantastic Four) elicited howls, January, the Mobtown Theater hosted “An which attests both to Meyer’s skills with deEvening of Scum and Hilarity,” featuring livery and to his audience’s appetite for supercomic takes from such pop-culture villains hero jokes. On the Internet, where the bit was as G.I. Joe’s archenemy Cobra Commander beamed via YouTube, it drew a range of reacand an evil extraterrestrial Dalek from Dr. tions. “I can’t decide whether to be offended Who. (“Some of it was good, and some was or highly amused,” said one commenter. “I awful,” says one of the participants.) The suddenly remember Metro Gallery in Station why a few months ago North recently staged “It’s not the cool kids” I really wanted to move “Humiliated,” a night of to Baltimore,” wrote “confessional comedy” who are defining the another. “They’ve got modeled after the San an excess of wonderful alt-comedy scene, says lo- Francisco storytelling weirdos down there.” franchise, “Mortified.” cal performer Jessica hen- The inaugural perforThose weirdos are busy feeding the city’s kin. “It’s the kids who ten mance, held in July, rising alternative comfeatured a story about years ago were dancing trying—and failing—to edy scene, a movement notable for unabashed, sex for the first time, a little too dorkily at the have self-deprecating nerdia description of a 14ness. Meyer, a brand candy machine concert, or year-old boy’s fantasized manager for Diamond relationship with a model laughed a little too loudly in Hustler magazine, Comic Distributors by day who got his start in three readings from at a joke. The people who and stand-up in Portland, childhood diaries. (“Why, Oregon, created Bar are willing to make an ass Diary, is love so hard to Bacon to escape what get from the male speof themselves seem to do cies?” bartender/writer another comic calls “the drunk, 98 Rock, Lindsay Smith asked, best at this.” keg-stands crowd” that channeling her 12-yearfrequents the city’s old self.) mainstream laugh houses—the Baltimore The live comedy scene seems to be Comedy Factory downtown and Magooby’s reviving after some low years, says veteran Joke House on Harford Road. “I wanted to Baltimore comic Mike Storck, who perbe able to make the references I wanted to forms nationally. Blame cable TV comedy make, to be political the way I want, to disshows and the 24/7 laughs on Comedy cuss social issues the way I want,” Meyer says. Central, which took a toll on comedy clubs “We get references to the Treaty of Versailles in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Baltimore and Doctor Doom. People are willing to go has seen its share of clubs shut down, most with more esoteric stuff and more in-depth recently Winchester’s and the Baltimore political stuff.” Improv (not to be confused with the still Meyer also wanted to create a space extant troupe of similar name). But there’s where aspiring comedians could try their also been a resurgence of interest in hulines on a live audience without fear of being mor that isn’t “force-fed to you by Clear booed off the stage. Bar Bacon, held every last Channel,” Storck says. “People want to find Friday of the month at 11 p.m., features a mix their own stuff—and it’s better quality of established comics and first-timers. The than what you find on TV.” result is rough around the edges and a little And what of the distinctively geeky envelope-pushing; at a recent performance, bent to the local scene? “Back in the 1990s, door prizes included a bag of Japanese porn when I was in college, this never would comics and a book called How to Live with a have been possible,” says Jessica Henkin,

England calling: Jane Satterfield’s return to her British roots yields a bittersweet memoir.

book

Mother Tongue

Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond (Demeter Press, 2009)

Born in Northamptonshire, England, but raised in the United States, the poet Jane Satterfield expected a personal transformation when she followed her husband back to her mother’s country in 1994. “Somehow, I thought, this landscape would reveal the pathway out of the confines of my life,” writes Satterfield, currently an associate professor of writing at Loyola. Instead, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant and seemingly fated to retrace her mother’s housewifely existence. It’s not a novel problem, as every mother searching for the sublime in the spit-up can tell you. But Satterfield’s approach is more scholarly than most contemporary “momoirs.” A slim collection of essays, Daughters of Empire gains narrative coherence via an accretion of personal details—Satterfield’s pregnancy and her daughter’s birth, her dissolving marriage and her family history. Moving gracefully from memoir to cultural commentary, the book also chronicles Satterfield’s search for a literary foremother, a woman who (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton be damned) survived to tell the tale. It begins and ends on the threshold of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire (home of the childless writersiblings Charlotte, Emily, and Anne), which serves as a metaphor for the book’s central dilemma: “In one direction lay the graveyard and the church. … And further off, above, the open—the expanse of the moors.” Satterfield brings a poet’s eye and ear to the task of grappling with questions of gender, sexuality, and maternity. In an essay that reflects on both George Harrison and a Neolithic stone circle, she describes “the eeriness of it all: the road behind us a white dash into nowhere, a stitch undone, a vacancy; autumn beginning its ordinary ruin.” The book’s somewhat pat resolution—yes, you can be both a good poet and a good mother—isn’t as compelling as the ambivalence so beautifully expressed elsewhere, but Satterfield’s voice and images are a powerful reminder of the intricate relation between literature and life. —Sondra Guttman

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Just a couple of guys coming together to play their instruments. MENCKEN DAY - Saturday, September 12 - Central Library, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Honoring the Memory, Career and Bequest of Henry Louis Mencken

“Treasures of the Saturday Night Club Music Collection” THE 2009 MENCKEN MEMORIAL LECTURE Exhibit on display from August 10 - September 12 2:30 p.m. Wheeler Auditorium “Bryan Debates Mencken: The Confrontation We Missed,” by Dr. Michael Kazin, professor of history, Georgetown University, and author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan.

Purchase native, hardy, fast-growing trees and shrubs for planting this fall. For more information please visit www.parksandpeople.org or call 410-448-5663. All proceeds will be re-invested in Parks & People’s work on behalf of clean, green and healthy communities.

The Gwynns Falls Baltimore Greenway to the Chesapeake Bay Proceeds will help support the Gwynns Falls Trail Council

Purchase a copy of this book: - Phone 410-448-5663 - Send a $25 check to 800 Wyman Park Drive, Suite 010, Baltimore, MD 21211 - Pay by credit card or PayPal at www.gwynnsfallstrail.org

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who performs with the Baltimore Improv Group and co-founded the Stoop Storytelling Series. At that time, the underground arts scene was dominated by post-grunge indie rockers: “It was very erudite, very male, and very serious,” Henkin says. Since then, a certain brainy set that didn’t run with the popular crowd in high school seems to have come of age, and the kings of contemporary comedy are a distinctly dorky lot: Think of comedians Patton Oswalt and Tina Fey, the hapless bandmates of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords, or the entire oeuvre of producer Judd Apatow, creator of loser-hero blockbusters The 40Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, and the recently released Funny People. On the local stage, that revenge-of-the-nerds narrative has translated into a Baltimore arts scene laced with a strong strain of pure silliness, from the Fluid Movement community water ballet to the gonzo musical productions of the Wham City arts collective. “It’s not the cool kids” who are defining the alt-comedy scene, says Henkin. “It’s the kids who ten years ago were dancing a little too dorkily at the Candy Machine concert, or laughed a little too loudly at a joke. People who are willing to make an ass of themselves seem to do best at this.” Should you be so inclined, the opportunities are there for the taking. The Baltimore Improv Group hosts the third Baltimore Improv Festival, featuring performances and workshops at Mobtown Theater October 8–11. All manner of weirdos are welcome, says Heather Moyer, a Sierra Club media specialist who performs with a cast that includes a green builder, an ordained minister, and several lawyers. (And if that doesn’t sound like a bad joke …) “Humiliated” is also cooking up its second offering for October. And you haven’t seen the last of Doctor Doom. Jim Meyer says the original act has ricocheted around the Internet, from MTV to Publisher’s Weekly. The next bit, Meyer says, will include a run-in with Spider-Man’s foe Mysterio. “If you did that at a regular comedy club at a weekend show, it would be like reading poetry at a music open mike,” Storck says of Meyer’s comic-book act. Do it for the latenight crowd in Hampden, though, and they’re right there, laughing along with you. ■ —Greg Hanscom is Urbanite’s senior editor.

Web extra: See videos of the Bar Bacon Fun Time Comedy Hour and “Humiliated” at www.urbanitebaltimore.com.

photo by Elliot Lieberman

art/culture

High-wire act: Mara Neimanis inhabits the famous aviatrix in her one-woman show, Air Heart.

t H e at e r

Soloists

Air Heart, Sept 3–13 at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s BBOX Bérénice, Sept 25 at the National Museum of Dentistry

The use of aerial equipment as a theatrical conceit has increased in popularity of late, but Mara Neimanis likes to believe what she does is a little different. She’s not using aerial stunts as a staging device—as the Baltimore Shakespeare Company did a couple of seasons ago during a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Titania dipped and twirled from a pair of long ribbons. Nor is she letting the acrobatics take center stage in a circus-like display of skill and daring. Rather, Neimanis sees the aerial device as a co-author. She’s been developing her solo aerial show, Air Heart, for several years; it was initially created and produced while she was a resident artist at the Creative Alliance in 2006. The apparatus—an abstract airplane designed by sculptors Laura Shults and Tim Scofield—“creates rhythms, movements, and helps define the character,” Neimanis says. Air Heart, playing this month at MICA’s BBOX performance space, is about Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In part because of her mysterious disappearance while attempting to circumnavigate the world in 1937, Earhart’s legacy has achieved mythic scale. Neimanis tells the story with words and movement, using the spinning airplane as swing, trapeze, and teetering stage. The play, she says, “is a study of flight told though the incarnation of Amelia Earhart. It’s about being confined and being free,

and it’s about how myths can develop.” She says the physical sensation of flying helped her to understand her character: “Once you taste flight, there’s something addictive about it. It’s a feeling that nothing else can touch.” Next month, Neimanis is producing the first-ever Baltimore Aerial Festival, a celebration of aerial artists and sculpture that will take place October 9–11 in the alley behind Load of Fun on North Avenue. For information, go to www.in-flighttheater.com. Baltimore actor Tony Tsendeas brings his own solo work, a resurrection of Edgar Allan Poe’s Bérénice, to the National Museum of Dentistry near the University of Maryland. Based on the creepy 1835 short story about a man’s obsession with a woman’s white teeth, the production is part of the yearlong Nevermore celebration of the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. The tale, which involves the man pulling out Bérénice’s teeth while in a kind of trance, was so grisly that Poe cut some of the more disturbing passages before it was published. “It’s about a fetish before there was a word for that,” Tsendeas says. “Even for Poe, it’s particularly nasty.” Those interested in learning more about 19th-century dentistry can try the museum’s Tell Tale Tooth Scavenger Hunt, which includes such artifacts as dentures made of gold and porcelain and runs through September 30. —Martha Thomas For tickets to Air Heart, go to www.brown papertickets.com/event/76098. For tickets to Bérénice, call 410-706-0600 or go to www.smile-experience.org.

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t h e s c e n e : s e pt e m b e r ROCK

Across the Universe

White Magic—the Brooklyn-based duo of Mira Billotte and Sleepy Doug Shaw—perform their psychedelic folk at the Creative Alliance, with local post-hardcore visionaries Daniel Higgs and Asa Osbourne opening. The show marks the closing of Billotte’s Creative Alliance exhibit, Kosmos: Music of the Spheres, comprised of mandalas, altar objects, and other items that together create a “secret diagram of the Universe.” Sept 4. (3134 Eastern Ave.; 410-276-1651; www.creativealliance.org)

Change of Pace

Fans of bathing in fake blood will flock to see Gwar, the heavily costumed (and Grammy-nominated) metal band, at Sonar on Sept 20. The calmer, cleaner crowd will go for indie pop group Matt and Kim, also at Sonar, on Sept 17. (407 E. Saratoga St.; 410-783-7888; www.sonarbaltimore.com) INDIE MUSIC

Locally Grown

Baltimore-based record label The Beechfields showcases some of its local talent, including lo-fi folksters Among Wolves and power pop band E. Joseph and the Phantom Heart, at the Windup Space. Sept 19. (12 W. North Ave.; www.thewindupspace.com) JAZZ

Local Songbook

At An Die Musik Live on Sept 20, Baltimore Jazz Works—George Spicka on piano, Phil Ravita on bass, and Scott Tiemann on drums—performs works by nine local composers included in the Baltimore Jazz Real Book. A follow-up concert on Nov 8 features

works by the book’s other nine composers. (409 N. Charles St., second floor; 410-3852638; www.andiemusiklive.com)

Veracruz, and Jalisco regions of Mexico at Port Discovery. Sept 26. (35 Market Pl.; 410727-8120; www.portdiscovery.org)

CABARET

Spanish Steps

Mamma Mia

Mother-daughter duo Elizabeth Hart and Siobhan Kolker sing Irving Berlin, Carole King, and more in Mother Said: A Momplicated Relationship, at the weekly cabaret at Germano’s Trattoria. Sept 10. (300 S. High St.; 410-752-4515; www.germanos trattoria.com)

Out of the Box

At Minás Gallery on Sept 5, local contortionist/performance artist Rebecca Nagle presents selections from her one-woman piece, A Dozen Things I want to do onstage. During the performance, a throwback to 1920s European political cabaret, Nagle may discuss why something is racist, fit herself in a small box, or take it all off to “Wenn Ich Mir Was Wünschen Dürfte.” (815 W. 36th St.; 410-732-4258; www.minas galleryandboutique.com)

On the Catwalk

Take a gander at the fall collection from high-end women’s clothier Ruth Shaw at a fashion show on Sept 17 at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Proceeds benefit the school’s annual production of the Nutcracker. (712 Cathedral St.; www.bsfa.org/ events.php) DANCE

South of the Border

Baltimore-based Mexican folk group Bailes de Mi Tierra (Dances from My Land) performs traditional dances from the Chiapas,

Flamenco master Edwin Aparicio brings his dramatic footwork to the Creative Alliance for a high-speed performance accompanied by live music. Sept 19. (3134 Eastern Ave.; 410-276-1651; www.creativealliance.org) PAINTING

Thank-you Gift

In gratitude for America’s assistance after a major earthquake in April 2009, the National Museum of Abruzzo in Italy has loaned the 15th-century Beffi Triptych altarpiece to the National Gallery until Sept 7. (4th and Constitution Avenue NW, D.C.; 202-737-4215; www.nga.gov/exhibitions/beffiinfo.shtm) VISUAL ART

Hot Stuff

Rob Tarbell’s series Smokes consists of smoke marks formed into haunting animal shapes. Gallery Imperato hosts Smoke Rings, selections from Tarbell’s series, with proceeds from sales benefiting animal rescue organizations. Sept 18–Oct 31. (921 E. Fort Ave., Suite 120; 443-257-4166; www. galleryimperato.com)

Road Less Traveled

At School 33 is Shunpiker, a term that refers to one who avoids main routes and travels by side roads. It’s an apt description of the work in this multimedia show, which sculptor R.L. Croft curated to be more about the artists’ individual voices than one particular theme. Through Oct 3. (1427 Light St.; 410-396-4641; www.school33.org)

art/culture

CONTEST

Page Turners

Destroying books is frowned upon by most libraries, but the Enoch Pratt’s Altered Books Competition encourages it—as long as the volumes become works of art. Enter the competition by 1 p.m. on Sept 26 (there’s a workshop on Sept 25 at Urbanite’s Book Festival tent, with free old books and supplies); winning creations may be displayed at the central library. Go to www. prattlibrary.org for more information and inspiration. BENEFIT

Helping Hand

Honor the contributions of local dancer and actress Maria Broom (a 2009 Urbanite Project participant) at “When the Women Dance.” At School 33 on Sept 24, the event includes hors d’oeuvres and drinks, a silent auction, and a performance by slam poet Gayle Danley. Proceeds go to offset Broom’s recent medical expenses. RSVP by Sept 17 at http://mariabroombenefit.eventbrite. com. For more information, contact Young Audiences/Arts for Learning at 410-837-7577. (1427 Light St.; www.school33.org) LITERARY

Pump up the Volume

It’s Baltimore Book Festival time again, when fans of the written and spoken word flood Mount Vernon Place the weekend of Sept 25–27. Go to www.baltimorebook festival.org for the full lineup—and make sure to stop by Urbanite’s tent and the What You’re Writing workshop led by Managing Editor Marianne Amoss at the CityLit stage on Sept 27. Urbanite is a Book Festival sponsor.

Local and global landscapes are the focus of Golden Hour, Baltimore photographer Jack W. Hoffberger’s first solo exhibition. Held in the Bearman Gallery of the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Meyers Maritime Park Museum and curated by Jordan Faye Contemporary, the exhibit includes Fishing (pictured) and other panoramic scenes. Through Oct 15; artist talk on Sept 9. (1417 Thames St.; www.jordanfayecontemporary.com) Compiled by Marianne K. Amoss

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Testing in Progress continued from page 49 With Duncan’s support, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have commissioned three educational companies to draft internationally competitive standards outlining what students should be learning in reading and math in each grade. Forty-six states, Maryland among them, have signed on to review the standards for possible adoption. While it appears that Duncan and Obama don’t want to mandate a national test, common standards could pave the way for states opting into one. And the Obama administration has pledged $350 million to develop new assessments. “For states that adopt these standards, most will have to phase in some pretty big changes in curriculum, professional development, instructional materials, and the tests they give,” says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a Washington, D.C., company that is involved in writing the standards. “This is not a change that’s going to happen overnight.” What these common state standards should include—and thus, what might eventually be on a national test—is hugely controversial. Cohen says the proposed math standards will likely cover limited topics in great depth, which is also the practice in most of the countries that outscore the United States on the international assessment. Many states, including Maryland, now cover a lot of material quickly, requiring teachers to come back and review basic concepts every year. An Abell Foundation report released this spring showed that a large, growing number of the state’s high school graduates need remedial math when they get to college. Maryland State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says she’d love to see a common denominator across states in terms of what’s taught and tested, but “if a state has very low standards, they may not want to sign on to this because, for their public, it’s going to look like the performance declined.” Currently, the only way to compare states’ performance is through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a lowstakes test administered to a random sample of students in grades four and eight. NAEP scores are typically much lower than scores on the high-stakes state tests used for No Child Left Behind compliance—a fact that NCLB skeptics often cite as evidence that the NCLB scores are inflated. The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education campaign, a coalition that includes some of the nation’s most prominent educators, recently issued a report with recommendations on what should replace No Child Left Behind. The group’s report suggests expanding NAEP beyond math and reading to measure performance in the arts, citizenship, and physical fitness. It also calls on states to send inspectors to schools to gauge climate and quality of instruction to ensure that they aren’t singularly focused on test preparation. Koretz, too, says the federal NCLB system should be changed to allow states and localities to reintroduce some human judgment in evaluating schools to understand the reasons behind their performance. “If a school has low scores because the teachers are incompetent, or a school has low scores because teachers are competent but not working hard, or a school has low scores because of a lot of challenges, like an influx of kids who don’t speak English, we treat all three schools the same way,” he said. “That’s just stupid.” In the 2007 book Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, Baltimore author Linda Perlstein spent a year following students at Tyler Heights Elementary, which serves an impoverished population in Annapolis. She compared the instruction there

with that at Crofton Elementary, also in the Anne Arundel County School District but located in more affluent neighborhood. Both schools scored well on the Maryland School Assessments, but teachers at Tyler Heights relied much more heavily on test prep. “At Tyler Heights, they got drilled in writing paragraphs in the exact same format as the test: ‘I know this is a poem because …’” Perlstein recalls. “At Crofton, the kids actually write poems.” With its intense test prep, Tyler Heights has been successful on standards-based tests, but many schools serving children from lowincome families have not. Last year, five thousand schools nationwide, including 109 in Maryland, were required to restructure under No Child Left Behind for failing to meet AYP for at least five years in a row. Restructuring can involve a variety of overhaul tactics; in Maryland the most common is requiring the entire school staff to reapply for their jobs. Very few schools in that category have managed to turn themselves around. Duncan wants to see the worst schools shut down entirely, a strategy Alonso shares in Baltimore. City Springs Elementary/Middle in East Baltimore’s Washington Hill neighborhood, another charter school operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project, is among those that have failed to meet AYP for several consecutive years. On a summer afternoon, City Springs Principal Rhonda Richetta sits in her office with Hampstead Hill’s Hornbeck, sharing their frustrations with No Child Left Behind. Going into her third year at a school that hasn’t met its benchmarks, Richetta is under more pressure than her colleague. City Springs has done well on nonobjective measures, such as a recent evaluation of its special education program, but if its scores don’t improve, the Curriculum Project could lose its contract to run the school. As a charter, City Springs gets public money to be run independently in exchange for results, and its contract is up for renewal this school year. If the contract is not renewed, control of City Springs would revert to the Baltimore school system, which could make any number of changes, including staff replacement. “Nothing else matters but the test scores,” says Jenae Toulson, a curriculum specialist at the school and mother of a sixth-grader, on her lunch break after City Springs’ remedial summer program. She says that she’s tired of explaining to people that her son does not attend a bad school. “Teachers suffer,” Richetta says. “Everyone else outside the building looks at them as bad teachers. It’s a horrible thing to live with every day.” This academic year, Richetta will be trying out two periods a day of math for her middle-school students: one class for test prep and one using a curriculum she thinks is more effective. “I compromised what I believed to be best and devoted some time in the schedule to test prep,” she says. “Do I stop this curriculum that I know my children need so I can get high scores on this test so I can keep my job?” Obama has indicated that he’s open to supplementing tests with other measures, such as classroom observations and student portfolios, but such measures would be both logistically and financially challenging to implement. “It would be hugely expensive, but what is at stake here?” Richetta asks. “It’s hugely flawed, and we need to get it right,” Hornbeck adds. “This next iteration will hopefully be better.” ■ —Baltimore journalist Sara Neufeld has written about education for the past nine years. This is her first story for Urbanite. On the air: More on the future of high-stakes testing on the Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM, on September 23. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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See Your Youth continued from page 63 I was told to take care of his house, but it was robbed. One of my brother’s new friends took the key from the hook in our kitchen and stole everything of any value. I was almost glad. Walking around the place with a police officer, I was astounded by all the wires it had taken to run Pete’s stereo system. After that, I stayed away. That house was like a boneyard to me. Distance. See events rush away and grow small. There were days while Pete was gone on his cruise when I actually forgot about him and felt normal. I’d talk to Wolf again, draw, dream of what to say to Jill Corcoran. There were other days when I was so deeply humiliated I could hardly attend class. It was during one of these that I threatened to punch my algebra teacher for laughing at me. And there were a few days in which I thought back over my relationship with Pete and realized that in the first instant that we met, he began to calculate. Not one action or gift had been given in kindness, generosity, or friendship. It was all a lie. It was devastating.

Clearly, I wasn’t a courageous boy, so I’m not sure

how I got up the nerve to save myself. Maybe it was his friend in the kimono. But when Pete returned from his cruise, I refused to go visit. He called me on the phone. Over a week, his voice progressed from irritated with my rebellious behavior to desperate, begging for a visit. Then he changed tactics and phoned my mother, complaining. I wouldn’t budge. As for my mom, I eventually lied to her. My heart pounding, embarrassed, I told her, “He made a pass at me.” “A pass?” “He wanted me to take a shower with him.” She stayed very calm, as if she wasn’t surprised. “You can’t go back over there.” I nodded. I didn’t tell her the truth, until decades later, fearing what the truth said of me. My lie was enough, though. My mother told my stepfather. Always looking for someone upon whom to direct his fury, he took all of the fancy audio equipment Pete had given me and dragged it down to his car in a box, slamming it into the trunk. He forced me to go with him to return it. My mom watched from the front door as we roared up the street. Two blocks, and we stopped and climbed from the car. After carrying the box up the front walk, my stepfather banged on the front door like he was trying to take the house down. Pete emerged in his officer’s uniform. Feeling as if I was betraying him, I looked away. My stepfather, with his heavy French accent, said, “Here’s your goddamn radio.” “But,” Pete replied, confused, “I gave it to him.” I didn’t meet his eyes when I said, “I don’t want it.” “I want you to have it.” “Fucking pervert,” my stepfather growled, and I was glad to have such a formidable, terrifying person on my side. Pete just stared at him. My stepfather went on. “Stay away from him. From now on, you stay away, or we call the goddamn police.” “But we’re friends,” Pete said, leaving out the rest. The trees I’d been overpaid to mow around for months began to tremble and spin. I worried about crying. I felt fragile and threatened that Pete would reveal to my stepfather that I was part gay. I couldn’t

tolerate feeling weak or vulnerable in front of him. Worse, for some ridiculous reason, I felt guilty about what I was doing to Pete. “You stay away,” my stepfather repeated. “But, Scott—” Pete called to me. I stood there hyperventilating until my stepfather, thankfully, snagged my arm and yanked me down the steps toward his car.

In the months after, Pete followed me for a time, to the shop-

ping center, friends’ homes, the basketball courts near my house. Once, he confronted me in a field, and I concentrated on keeping my knees from trembling when I said, “Everyone thinks you’re terrible now.” “Did you tell them?” “No,” I said, which was both true and false. I’d told people that he’d made a pass at me, not that he’d succeeded. Months went by, and, eventually, Pete gave up. He just quit. The following summer, I saw a new boy mowing his lawn. I felt horrible for him, but I didn’t have the strength to save him. A few years later, Pete moved away, and then I went off to college. By the time I got my degree, I was a shadow of the person who’d entered the school four years before. A combination of issues had brought me to my knees, among them Pete. If I had only been younger when it had occurred, I could’ve blamed it on youth. But I’d been 14. I hadn’t even run when his intentions became obvious. I’d walked into the situation, and, when I figured it out, I stayed, frozen by fear or betrayal or something else. The officer in the police station in Norfolk explains, “First, we need to find out if he’s alive.” Pete had been a smoker. He drank. He’d be in his 70s. I believed him dead. “If he’s alive, he probably gets a military pension, right?” I ask. “There must be some way to find him with that.” “Probably. Unless he was dishonorably discharged.” That thought gives me hope. See, I didn’t have lofty goals. I only wanted to destroy him, or know he was destroyed. Unfortunately, ghosts are hard to ruin. I leave the police station, and on the way back to my mother and stepfather’s home, I go by Pete’s old house. I see a television flickering in the window, the blue on the walls, and I think of the porno movies I’d seen there. The detective, for all of his good intentions, comes up with nothing. Years go by. I do my own research. One cold winter night, I search online and find Pete’s name deep down a list of aircraft carrier medical officers. I find him again shortly after that. In 1990, he was named as an emeritus member of a naval flight surgeon organization, implying that he was never dishonorably discharged. I’m injured by this realization. I find nothing else. All I can assume is he’s dead, which is upsetting in that he seems to have done well after his life in the military. I’d hoped he’d experienced massive failure, an unveiling. See bright, false notions about justice wither. See childlike beliefs that good wins out fade like highway discolorations. Those who do harm might never be harmed. Learn, as we grow to adulthood, that innocence is merely innocence and the world takes it away. Finally attain the strength to sit in a police station telling a young, hardened man that you were once so gullible as to believe that a stranger could give deeply of himself without expecting something shocking and tangled in return. And, still, nothing will come of it. This is life. See your youth. It is gone. ■

—Jonathon Scott Fuqua’s most recent novel is In The Wake of the Boatman. He lives in Baltimore.

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Roland Park Victorian Canton waterfront condo Mount Vernon brownstone Bolton Hill townhome Mount Washington modern BECAUSE CITY LIFE IS A WONDERFUL LIFE Avendui Lacovara 410-583-0400 443-326-8674 (direct) alacovara@ywgcrealty.com

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urbanite september 09

Deli Check Out Our Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Menu

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at McDonough Rd. Valley Village Shopping Center Owings Mills • 410-363-3353

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Now in Baltimore Open for Lunch & Dinner 413 N. Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 410-244-6988 Fax 410-244-6833 www.josscafe-sushibar.com


w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m s e p t e m b e r 0 9

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eye to ey e

Baltimore artist Leslie Furlong fascinates us with images that seem commonplace. Whether in photographic or video form, her work is constantly focused on the landscape, especially its subtle changes and complexities. She is interested in the psychology of our vision of our surroundings—and more, how we mark and adjust the world as we pass through it. Furlong’s most recent still images are not all that simple, however. What seems like a misplaced parking lot is actually one of a series of digitally manipulated images composed of many different elements and bound together by the artist’s feeling for place—in this case a fictional place that only exists in the two-dimensional form before us. These images, Furlong has written, “utilize iconic symbols found in the American landscape—parking lots, strip malls, housing developments, industrial sites, etc.—to create an enhanced illusion of our ever-transforming landscape that appears simultaneously real and surreal.” What is real, and what is not? Where does the artist draw the line? Is there a line drawn at all? It is worth a trip to her website to see how Furlong uses this sense in video. —Alex Castro

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urbanite september 09

leslie furlong #3, from Parking Lot Series 2009 30 x 30 inches digital print www.lesliefurlong.com/art


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{

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Silopoint.com

2009 Winner National Community of the Year

Condominium Sales by: CSM Partners, Seller’s Agent MHBR #5575 Obtain the Property Report required by Federal law and read it before signing anything. No Federal agency has judged the merits or value, if any, of this property.

September 2009 Issue  

The Learning Issue, Maryland Wine Uncorked, Inside the Comedy Underground, Can I Can?

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