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There But For the Grace . . .

Posted 10/5/2005

I was disappointed to read Christina Royster-Hemby’s take on the efforts of Baltimore to welcome evacuees from New Orleans (“Room at the Inn,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 28). I was displaced from my home. You have no idea how it feels to pack a bag expecting to be gone for four days, which had been the case in previous evacuations, only to find out 48 hours later that it will be weeks, maybe months, before you get to go home.

My family was one of the fortunate ones that were taken in by a family two days after we arrived in Texas, saving us from having to continue living in a hotel or, worse, having to live in a communal environment with complete strangers that offered absolutely no privacy. As you can imagine, every shelter in Texas was full. There was too much going on in that state.

The various aid organizations were clamoring to find places where they could basically “store” a vast influx of more evacuees who had been living in the Superdome, the convention center, on the interstate, even their rooftops for days on end. People would arrive on buses at rest stops, and were allowed 20 minutes to get out, walk around, and find rest-room facilities before they were herded back on board. Many had no idea where their family members were, and wouldn’t find out for weeks.

When I arrived in Baltimore and found the relief center at the “Du” Burns Arena, I was so happy to have been greeted by people who were ready to help and had been educated in the services their group was offering. I was able to talk to Red Cross to get financial help and a tetanus booster for my return home in a few weeks. The mayor’s office offered to help me find work and a place to live, and I was given access to the mounds of donations the people of this area had so graciously given.

With all due respect, Ms. Royster-Hemby, you cannot even begin to fathom what we are all going through. I’m so sorry you feel almost shorted that Baltimore didn’t take on more evacuees. Still, I think 990 people seeking refuge in your city is a lot. I wonder that if it had been the opposite situation, would you instead be upset that the city’s resources for the local citizens were being stretched to assist people from another state?

I am thankful that many of your neighbors are focusing on helping instead of feeling slighted. I appreciate the local government’s response in providing aid. I know that I will be here for a while. My home was completely destroyed by a tornado. I now have the arduous task of rebuilding my life. Although I am a fan of Baltimore, it’s not home. I wouldn’t mind having my simple little life back, surrounded by my family and friends. But that is impossible now.

Be grateful that this situation has not befallen you. And I pray that it never will. Believe me . . . traumatic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Melissa Dyer
New Orleans

Christina Royster-Hemby responds: I believe I can speak for all of my colleagues and myself when I say that City Paper empathizes with you and everyone else who has experienced loss because of Hurricane Katrina. The article in question was not written to negate or cast doubt on the work that those who set up operations at the “Du” Burns Center have been doing in terms of providing services to evacuees. Instead, it sought the answer to one simple question: Why weren’t those 500 cots filled when so many people were displaced by the hurricane? While it was uncomfortable question to ask, I did my best to report the complicated answer in a fair and sympathetic way.

A Bellyful

As a professional belly dancer in the Baltimore area, I was extremely offended by the obviously ignorant comments of the writer of “Best Trend We’d Like to Throw a Robe On” (Best of Baltimore, Sept. 21).

As an attorney educated by the University of Baltimore School of Law and a Maryland teacher with an Advanced Professional Certificate, I apply my pedagogical knowledge and years of dance training in this discipline to my work as a dance teacher and performing artist. I am a full-figured, African-American woman who has performed with my troupe to very enthusiastic crowds at the Fells Point Fun Festival for over five years. I am not waiflike, nor do I remotely resemble Barbara Eden. In fact, at a cultural presentation at the Baltimore City Community College, I was described as the “new true Beyoncé,” which I thought was pretty good considering I am over 40 years old.

It is demeaning and denigrates the cultural roots of the dance, which are primarily North African, to describe it merely as “writhing,” and I do not think that any dance artist should be reduced to such disrespectful descriptions as “a couple of barefoot chicks”! By the way, if the writer had ever bothered to discuss what he or she was watching with one of the performers, he or she might have learned that “bells on their fingers” are finger cymbals called zills in Turkey or sagat in Egypt and are an instrument included in Egyptian orchestras. Such sexist, racist sentiments simply make Baltimoreans look narrow-minded and ignorant—surely we deserve writers who can do research before making such generalizations. If the writer is tired of belly dancers, then don’t look, but please do not disparage the number of professional women who take their art very seriously. Obviously, if we are still being hired, then our hosts have better taste than the writer does. Perhaps the writer needs to just spend time at some dive where his or her neurons will not be challenged by the presence of something that he or she obviously does not understand and really doesn’t care to. We have a word for that in education: ethnocentrism, and it doesn’t belong here.

Michelle M. Alexander,
aka MiaNaja al Sephira
Baltimore

Well, there’s “belly dancing,” of which your writer is tired, and there is professional “Middle Eastern dancing,” of which this town could use a lot more. Putting on a costume and shaking your ass may be only slightly more entertaining then having a noncostumed City Paper writer shake his/her ass. Perhaps. I don’t know where you’ve been seeing all this shaking, or what your ass can do, dear writer.

But for those out there who would like to see really good Middle Eastern dancing, check out MemSahib at Lexington Market on a Friday night, come to 5 Seasons on the first Sunday of the month for a huge show, or visit www.baltimorebellydance.com, a site run by dancers on what’s happening in the scene.

Go see a professional. There’s a whole lot more than ass-shaking going on in a professional show, and you just might get your “ooh and ahh” back. It is art, it is theater, it is passion.

And to all those ass-shakers out there—make sure you’ve had lessons and are under the guidance of a master teacher before you go out there and give our art a bad name.

Nina Rutledge
Baltimore

More Best of/Worst of

As I read “Best Poetry Café Gone Bad,” I realized the writer and/or editor does not know the history, soul, strength, and heart found at 5 Seasons. I can base my history and experience on being a patron since 5 Seasons was located on Charles Street. A very small, ecliptic, cozy, and down-to-earth atmosphere of family, I could compare it to a black Cheers, with spoken-word artists, where everyone knew your name. To this day, 5 Seasons is home.

As Buttahfly, I emerged from my cocoon, gave birth to poetry there. I have performed, transforming talent that was kept in the pages of my poetry journal and written through my fountain pen into words and snapped fingers. My family felt my pain, saw my experiences, and was there—we were united through my words. 5 Seasons is a positive place, with positive people, receiving numerous awards from the mayor’s office to having celebrities come to perform. The city of Baltimore needs more venues like 5 Seasons, but it would rather invest in more in juvenile facilities and jails, to keep people from learning, understanding their history, culture, and most importantly, themselves. 5 Seasons is a haven providing security and life to the young and old. CPR has been provided to the establishment, people, artists, and the management, therefore 5 Seasons will continue to live. Snap on that.

Japonica Kearney, aka Buttahfly
Baltimore

What a wonderful surprise to pick up City Paper and read “Best Way to Buy Art.” As always, I thank you for the support you afford School 33. We cannot do without you!

Jody Albright
Director, School 33 Art Center
Baltimore

I’d like to thank City Paper for its recognition of Mark Wright’s set design in your annual Best of Baltimore issue (“Best Set Design”). As director of the piece, I have to agree—Mark’s set was striking. I would also like to point out that, as great as Mark’s design was, it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the lighting design of Keith Sherman. The combination of lights and set created the effect that I, and many others, found spectacular. I am very happy to again have the benefit of the excellent work done by this designer duo on The Turn of the Screw, which is playing at the Fells Point Corner Theatre through Oct. 9.

It isn’t often that theater set and lighting designers get the recognition they deserve, and I am so very pleased and encouraged that City Paper has done so.

Alex Willis
Baltimore

Shame on you for using the Best of Baltimore to rudely bash Little Havana (“Best Waste of a Deck”). I was under the impression that this edition was intended to acknowledge the best of Baltimore as a city and community of locally owned businesses (your advertisers, bread and butter, etc.). I am left to wonder if this very immature slam is politically linked (many of us are aware of the mounting drama between Little Havana and the city, yet this has never been addressed by your paper), or perhaps someone has a god complex and wants to intimidate other venues for some special treatment on their nights out. Finally, if your issue is with a busy bartender and drunk young men and women, perhaps there is an episode of Matlock on that you should stay home and enjoy.

Guinnevere Hughes
Crofton

Mail-Wise, Hampden Is the New Charles Village

I’ve been seething since the self-appointed savior of Hampden and self-serving high commissioner of Atomic Books held forth on protectionist trade policy for neighborhoods (“Life on a Different Avenue,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 31), followed by letter writer Mike Peters’ ringing defense of chain retailers (“Chain Me Up in Hampden” The Mail, Sept 14), and on to letter writer Jessie Green’s elitist screed (“Breaking the Chains”, The Mail, Sept. 21). All three are simplistic crap.

No matter what neighborhood, long- term retail success requires diverse choices for consumers who live in or visit the shopping district. Is Atomic Books ever going to offer books I want to read? There’s no chance in hell. Will Borders or Barnes and Noble offer the products wanted by customers of Atomic Books? I doubt it.

In answer to Jessie Green’s incredibly dumb yet elitist reply, Holy Frijoles! doesn’t offer a great hamburger with multiple choices like Chili’s, and although Holy Frijoles! is a nice place and the food is good, try telling anyone who likes real Mexican food its cuisine is really Mexican. They will laugh at you.

The self-styled alternative gurus like Green and Atomic Books’ Benn Ray are just another stripe of snob, differing from the Victorian ladies of the Gilded Age only in dress, gender, and time. Even if there is a ring in it, looking down one’s nose at other people’s lives and choices is uncool and hypocritical.

We Hampden residents deserve real choice and diversity, not Green and Ray’s terminally hip, pierced, and tattooed ad nauseam alterno-wonderland, or Peters’ suburbs in the city.

As usual, the extremes don’t offer any real solutions. The answers, as they always do, lie somewhere in the middle.

Joe Roman
Baltimore

Hampden, get over yourself. There is a pocket cliché alternative elite community in every city across the country. People with their bald heads, piercings, tattoos, black-T-shirt-and-dirty-jeans uniforms are a dime a dozen. Get an identity already.

Stop attempting to elevate yourself by taking potshots at people who reside in the suburbs, or anywhere else for that matter. They live there because they are tired of the plastic city bullshit. That includes your tired plastic city bullshit.

I like plain durable clothes. Sometimes that requires shopping at Gap. Although, Gap has no more influence over what I wear than you do. I hate that the clothes I wore as a poor kid growing up are now worn by you dipshits and called “vintage.” You are being duped.

Capitalism is still capitalism, even in Hampden. It’s still about status. You might as well wear Armani, and yet you still scoff. I walk by the Daily Grind every morning and see the pack animals out there drinking the right drinks, reading the right books, and looking oh so edgy and basking in their self-righteous and self-appointed brilliance.

I work in the area. I eat lunch in Hampden on most days. I like it there, and I agree that it doesn’t need a Wal-Mart. Yet, I’ve got no problem with Cockeysville, either. Internalize who you are, don’t wear it. And for God’s sake, try to be on target.

Dana Moat
Baltimore

Body Conscious

Ya gotta love this tired spin (Political Animal, Sept. 14). Still closely watching the death count, Brian Morton must be obsessed with death, from Iraq to New Orleans. He conveniently forgets that there are “embedded reporters” still in Iraq, so how can the news be filtered? Wasn’t that the point of embedded reporters? Has anyone reading this heard of any reporters saying that their microphones or cameras were seized? Seems to me, I remember a Marine who protected his platoon from a possible faker, who wound up on tape, with sound as well, images broadcast around the world, and almost was castrated for his heroic act. Who controlled that visual, Mr. Morton?

He forgets that his do-no-wrong president, Bill Clinton, along with Madeleine Albright, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and others, also thought that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power. He forgets the CIA told Clinton the same info that George W. Bush received, and Clinton recommended taking action.

Speaking of accountability, instead of looking at the cause of why so many folks were in the Superdome, why so many dead bodies are floating in New Orleans, why the esteemed mayor of New Orleans totally failed his city by not having city employees—or anybody he could—drive those buses out of town to save folk before they became submerged, why the evacuation plan was not fully implemented, Mr. Morton would rather view pictures of the dead and submerged bodies and continue his body counts.

No mention the spending of monies by the “New Orleans Levee Commission” on items not related to levees and their repair but on fountains to promote their own glory and other things not related to the safety of the community. We won’t even get into the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers had told both the local and state government that the levees were inadequate to withstand such a force of nature. Heck, this was know as far back as 1917, as stated in the book Levees. None of this worries Mr. Morton so it seems, only body counts and seeing horrible pictures of dead people.

’Tis a shame that Mr. Morton is so obsessed about death rather than life, or he would be making sure that feasible evacuation plans are in place for the next disaster that is surely coming. But then he couldn’t keep beating a dead horse who can’t run again for president, and we know how Mr. Morton loves death.

Robert Hill
Baltimore

strong>Editor’s note: Blow the dust off that manuscript or search out that file on your hard drive among the spyware—it’s time for CP’s annual Fiction and Poetry Contest. Get your short story and/or poem into us by Oct. 28 (see full details on page 14) and our hand-picked cadre of literary-luminary judges may just pick your baby for the pages of our Nov. 30 issue. And did we mention the cash prizes? I guess we just did.

This issue also marks the regular-season debut of Valerie Crosswhite’s Shabby Tabby, the winner of this year’s CP Comics Contest. Go here for the first installment in all its inky/minxy glory.

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