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Good Eating

Posted 3/6/2002

Wow! I must tell you how much I enjoyed Michele Gienow's piece "Apocalypse Chow" in the Feb. 27 issue of City Paper.

In 1947, at the age of 15, I had my first dining experience outside my mom's sterile kitchen: a sloppy hot-roast-beef sandwich with fries and gravy in the original White Coffee Pot on the corner of Edmondson Avenue and Monroe Street. That hooked me but good--I have been a diner and greasy-spoon junkie ever since.

In my 25 years as a freelance photographer and photojournalist (retired), I always sought out these unique places in their godforsaken locations wherever I traveled, and have had many memorable meals and experiences all over the country. But not once did it ever occur to me to document them. Chalk one up to Ms. Gienow for her imagination and creativity (and to City Paper for the nice treatment). With great simplicity, she has captured in both her prose and photography the heart and soul of these wonderful places, and absolutely nailed all of the splendid details of the tackiness and intriguing habitués that are an integral part of diner charm. Congratulations, Ms. Gienow.

Charles B. Nieberding
Baltimore

Bad EatING
Thank you for the recent survey in the EAT 2000 magazine. After reviewing the magazine, I would like to ask why homage is paid to a chef who hasn't been at Joy America Café in more than three years, and would also like to inquire about the meaning of "dumbed downed" (Feb. 27).

My staff and I work very hard to create innovative culinary treats, such as homemade tamales, papusas, and table-side guacamole, which your paper has named the Best of Baltimore.

Also, the correct location of the Blue Agave Restaurant is in Federal Hill , not in Fells Point.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Jason Horwitz
Executive chef, Joy America Café
Baltimore

Michelle Gienow responds: The Blue Agave confusion was the regrettable result of an editor's error. The editor says he is sorry. Regarding Joy America, I paid homage to Peter Zimmer because he created the reputation for inventive, spirited cuisine the café enjoys to this day. Joy America is still a fine restaurant, but Zimmer's name merits mention--especially in a history-minded dining guide--as the chef who pioneered nuevo Latino and southwestern cooking in Baltimore. Tamales, papusas, and guacamole are all well and good, but hard as the Joy America's staff may labor to create such staple dishes, they are hardly "innovative culinary treats." That's what I mean by dumbed down.

Air Waves
As a part of the "nebulous audience" of the former Underground Experience on WEAA, I would like to thank you for the article "Clearing the Air" about what happened to the show (No Cover, Feb. 27). The absence of this show leaves a void not only for Baltimore radio listeners, but for those who listened by Internet as well. The Internet exposed the show--and WEAA--to listeners in other cities, states, and countries. It is unfortunate that the station's acting general manager, Maxie Jackson, would disregard the fact that the show's broad appeal created a "community" that cannot be defined by race, nationality, age, income level, or geographic location. Nevertheless, this community includes those in Mr. Jackson's desired class--professional, educated, community-oriented African-Americans (and others) who listen to jazz.

While I am a professional who does not live in Maryland, I made financial contributions to WEAA for several years because I appreciated that the station offered an alternative to the diminishing diversity in radio programming. As a member of "listener-supported WEAA," I communicated my concerns to several Morgan State University officials, including Mr. Jackson. I never received as much as a form letter in response. It is a sad state of affairs when an affiliate of National Public Radio, which was developed to be responsive to the interests of the people, fails to respond to its audiences, regardless of their position. Mostly, though, I regret that WEAA is following commercial radio in making decisions solely as they relate to "the bottom line." Hopefully, this "difficult" change will bring Mr. Jackson a "refreshing" outcome.

Kimberly Jackson
Allentown, Pa.

Poetry Slam
Not often does ignorance leap off the page like it did when I took a glance at what Nigel Assam had to say about slams and phenomenal artists such as JaHipster, Talaam Acey, Komplex, the drifish, Saul Williams, and even Sonia Sanchez (The Mail, Feb. 27). To say their work lacks "literary merit" or is "of questionable merit" demonstrates that the status quo is alive and well, even in art. He reminds me of an older gentlemen who said that people like Nas and Outkast are not adding any value to our community but who has never listened to what either of them are saying. It is absolutely silly to try to define what is and is not good art. A serious person doesn't even make the attempt to generalize a particular form of expression as lacking merit or substance.

Bob Marley (who I am sure Nigel thinks lacks merit as well) sang in "Survival," "Nothing change, nothing strange." Spoken word encompasses that spirit of the ever-moving and ever-altering path to evolution. It helps bridge the gap between the mob's incessant need for entertainment and a poet's need to express self however self is manifested at any particular point in life. Perhaps it is not the way Nigel chooses to exercise his abilities, but who is he to say that GrandMa Dave or Mums have any less talent or merit because they express themselves in a different manner? I was unaware that his works were so much in demand in classrooms and on stages, or that he was universally accepted as a writer with loads of "literary merit." I wonder if he can spare some for those of us trying to actually reach those who we feel need to hear messages that, yes, oftentimes repeat themselves in content but are as varied as ice cream in flavor?

I don't understand a slight disdain for slams, but most of that comes from poets/performers/whateva who get too wrapped up in the politics and money aspect of the contest and judges too narrow-minded to open themselves up to other ideas. Yes, slams are very unorthodox to a writer more used to the silence of the blank page, but one cannot deny the potential they have to bring the "average" person back to Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, William Butler Yeats, Percy Shelley, Maya Angelou, Ted Joans, Langston Hughes, or Nikki Giovanni, helping them to be seen in a different light than the pale one this nation's system of miseducation often shines on them. Nigel can't tell me that there is no merit in spoken word even as Queen Sheba screams that women shouldn't be "making husbands out of thugs who can't even think straight!" or Sir gives his "Message to the Hue Man." Some of the works that come out of this genre hit people so hard that they leave the venue carrying more knowledge than they can absorb, so they pass it on to friends and relatives, who pass it on to their co-workers. Isn't the revival of poetry, in any form, a good thing?

Of course, as with anything American, there are those whose intentions can be counterproductive to what spoken word was originally meant to do, but that is just a temporary shift. The pendulum always keeps swinging. It is inevitable that some will use the flash of a performance to drown out their own lack of meaning, but for every Sean Combs (not hating on P. Diddy), there is a Mos Def, a Hi-Tek, or a Black Thought. Even in the written word, there are those who lack substance, but I wouldn't call them any less of an artist because I don't like the way they express themselves. Nigel is participating in the most American of concepts: elitism. This is why people migrated away from poetry. At some point, poets became too muddled in their own fanciful alliterations and the depths of their own metaphysical meanings that they lost the audience. That is quite alright if you are not writing for the general public, but don't blame the public if they'd rather go home and watch Friends. Spoken word is the weapon that can bring the lost ones back. To categorize and redefine what is and is not art, poetry, spoken word, slam, or whateva is about as correct as those who said Miles Davis is corrupting jazz or that Jimi Hendrix could not make it in the States or that hip-hop was going to go away.

So, Nigel, until you become less afraid of change, please continue your practice of avoiding the very thing you are criticizing (like commenting on a movie you haven't seen), and we will continue to fight for your right to express yourself however you see fit, because all we need is one mic.

Shane Tanzymore
Owings Mills

I read the article "The Revolution Will not Be Vocalized" by Afefe Tyehimba (Feb. 20) and realized that a black writer who poses no threat to white people will get newspaper coverage.

I am an Afrocentric feminist, and a black female poetess who poses a verbal threat to racist white folks. The truth is obvious to me. Black folks are too scared to talk about a revolution. We huff and puff at white folks, but we are not going to destroy the political system of white supremacy when we need a "job."

If there are a few brave blacks who will think about strategies needed to start a revolution, we would be stupid to vocalize a "much-needed" revolution. If you advertise, you die.

As I see it, a revolution that is born out of pain because of underdeveloped areas in black communities would be worthy of praise from me. A good revolution would stop white racist folks from incarcerating blacks (especially nonviolent criminals), shut down laboratories that are making diseases to kill selected groups of people in the world (AIDS was created accidentally? read The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS by Edward Hooper), and create a Jesus-followers' religion that would not have the evils of Christianity's dehumanizing exploitation.

Larnell Custis Butler
Baltimore

Out of the Mouths of Babes
Although I am an employee of the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), this letter is my personal opinion, and I state emphatically that I am not speaking for the agency but for myself as an informed citizen.

In the second of your two recent articles depicting the lack of help for delinquent children given by DJJ ("Shackled," Feb. 6), you appeared to overlook one important item. Everyone overlooks this item. That item is to listen to the children. They know what works for them.

The youth in your article was placed or misplaced in many facilities. He felt the only one that helped him was the Maryland Youth Residence Center (MYRC). The authority from the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth found this facility old and inadequate. But what about the youth's opinion of the place? He's the one who has stayed there. I would think his and the hundreds of other residents of the facility would have some voice.

MYRC may be lacking certain resources, but the one thing it does not lack is a caring and dedicated staff. Most of the children I have placed there over the years have fond memories of their stays in the facility. Even without the advanced degrees we so often feel are necessary to help people these days, the MYRC staff has stumbled across a formula that still works--stability, genuine care, and concern.

Most of the staff at this facility have been there for years and years. They are dedicated to working with the youth because they really care. The staff also provides a high level of cultural sensitivity to the minority and economically disadvantaged youth who are the majority of DJJ clients. The importance of this element cannot be overemphasized. The caring and sensitivity are genuine enough for the youth to feel and to respond positively.

The youth know which programs work for them and which ones do not. If asked, they may be able to assist adults by pointing us in the direction in which we need to go.

Karen Griner Smith
Baltimore

Molly Rath responds: As the article states, the youth was committed to a detention facility during the time the story was being reported and was unavailable for interviews, hence the absence of his own voice. Also, the story does not say he felt MYRC helped him; rather, it was a DJJ caseworker who asserted that the youth did better at MYRC than at his other placements.

The Skinny on Fatty
Bradley Paul's inaccurate and slanderous account of the death of Virginia Rappe and the trial of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (The Mail, Feb. 27) cannot go unchallenged.

Virtually all silent-film historians and researchers agree today that Arbuckle was falsely accused of any complicity in Rappe's death and was framed by a woman named Maude Delmont, who brought Rappe to the Labor Day party. Delmont had been previously charged in California with 50 counts of extortion, fraud, and racketeering. By all accounts, except Delmont's, Arbuckle attempted to help Rappe when he found her screaming in pain. No medical evidence showed that she was raped, but she was suffering from advanced gonorrhea. Publicity-hungry District Attorney Matthew Brady, with the aid of William Randolph Hearst, turned the trial into a media circus. The first trial ended in a hung jury, 10-2 for acquittal. (One of the holdouts later claimed that she thought Arbuckle was guilty from the moment he'd been arrested, regardless of facts.) The second trial's jury was also hung, mostly because the defense, out of total contempt for the prosecution's case, refused to let Arbuckle testify or even make closing arguments.

The third trial, however, was not only unanimous in voting to acquit, but returned one of the strongest statements ever returned by a jury for a defendant. "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle," the jury said. "We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. . . . We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free of all blame."

Arbuckle was a very funny man, second only to Chaplin in fame at the time of his arrest. He was by all accounts gentle, generous, and loving. (His wife stuck by him through his trials and the destruction of his career, as did his friends, including his one-time second banana, Buster Keaton.) What happened to him was a tragedy. If Bradley Paul wishes to be offended by your cover, fine, but let him do so without perpetuating the lies that ruined a fine man and a great comedian.

Jon Parker
Ellicott City

Editor's note: Our loss is the Abell Foundation's gain: News editor/feature-story ace Molly Rath is departing City Paper after five-plus years to apply her prodigious research and investigative skills to a contract position with Abell, a Baltimore-based education and public-policy philanthropy. We wish her good luck and happy hunting.

Speaking of . . . well, we can't think of a snappy transition. But know this: You have only a few days left to get us word on summertime events and attractions for to feature them in our annual Sizzlin' Summer mega-calendar. Send info and photos if you got 'em (sorry, they can't be returned) to Sizzlin' Summer, c/o Ronald Hube, City Paper, 812 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201; fax: (410) 523-8437; e-mail: calendar@citypaper.com. Deadline: March 10.

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