Archive for April, 2011


Minas might have a subversive fishbone


Most boutiques, shops, eateries, cafes and joints in between are passive establishments, set up to receive you like a park bench or a public bathroom, the listening station at a music store. You go in, you wander, consume and walk out. But few with the mighty shingle out front are set up to instigate, and fewer of those actually get away with it.

Minas, 815 W. 36th Street,  in Hampden is one of those storefronts. Part boutique, part gallery, part toy store, part book store, Minas pulls off the modern-day emporium provocateur quite well. That’s mainly because of the laid back proprietor Minas Konsolas. The  Greecian-ex-pat, Baltimore bounded since 1976, keeps a steady eye on his customers. Good with faces, he is, especially when he learns of their artistic habits. Writers and artists have gathered in his space for years.  A reading every third Thursday 5 p.m. has become a Baltimore mainstay. His upstairs gallery exhibits usually have pluck, a much appreciative counter to the amazing assembly line of  schlock that papers cafes and eateries around this town. Exhibit A is the current exhibit of James DuSel’s black and white photographs.

 Phainomena is the name, but the photos are black and white sprung from Leica, Rolleflex and a Linhof cameras of the 1930s. The old school look is well-earned and his subjects mundane, industrial, utilitarian work horses — the steel foot rest from a malt shop stool, a granite foundation, a chrome stack of nested chairs that I swear I saw somewhere (The Maryland Club or was it the Boy’s Choir in East Baltimore) and thought it would make a nice photograph. Light is stalked and captured, flared along a banister or snared in stainless gleam. And yeah, we get the point and DuSel’s mission statement, “I fully engage myself in the process, it uses my eye to measure the light , not a photocell. Thus I become part of my equipment, and my equipment becomes part of me.” Nice motto, but the proof is the artist’s vision sticks with you or at least with me as I found myself staring at a usurped train tracked installed to hold shopping carts at the Whole Foods down Mount Washington Way.

Next up  is Minas himself.

“It seems like I have been practicing for this the whole time,” said Minas, who took a frustrated portrait classes at MICA in the 1980s. This exhibited entitled, Interaction, is a big leap from his Masks that made a popular splash when exhibited in his shop two years ago.

“Interaction,” he said. “I’m trying to bring the word back to its original meaning when meeting someone was to smell touch and be with them.  We’ve got so many gadgets in-between us. Now that when we meet people in reality we don’t have anything to say.”

Of course he saying all this as he scrowls his art on his lap top. Minas realizes the irony, shuts down the computer and takes me to see the art live in his studio. I puruse his future offerings, but I’m struck most with the photograph pinned to his easel. His next subject.  Wild hair and wild eyes. One of the Catonsville Nine. (Those Vietnam Protestors that grabbed national attention way back when). He comes in here, ” he says, pauses. Nods.  

“I always like my paintings to have a part of me in it, because we all have a different vision of things”

I glance at the gent with the madcap hair and Minos with his subtle street wise concierge coiffe. This I got to see. 


William Donald Schaefer’s Funeral serves as quiet street fair

The soul of William Donald Schaefer wasn’t necessarily in the speeches by the state’s dignataries from Senator Barbara Mikulski to U.S. Rep. (and always rumored mayoral candidate) Kweisi Mfume . Try standing in the street outside St. Paul Episcopal Church on Charles and Saratoga streets. That’s where Schaefer prefered to linger anyway. While he pushed for big changes in the marbled halls of government, he never missed a crab cake dinner or failed to loiter with “the druggies” as one woman observer put it, in front of Lexington Market playing the part of civic barker. Schaefer was all about impressing his impact one handshake at a time. This is where he seemed most comfortable in the oddity that is street life. Except the day of  his funeral, the street of Baltimore failed to deliver its normally reliable panache. Honestly apart from the usual dignitaries and wanna-be dignitaries, there was a tumbleweed vibe, the hanger’s on in a ghost town as if they pack themselves in a Saloon in hopes of reviving the days long gone only to find the taps all dry. (See Scene in The Outlaw Josey Wales for further elaboration). And that spoke volumes in the same way when I went down and watched Martin O’Malley launch is Governor Campaign (last year) and saw a cluster of what seemed be paid employees and few bored government workers. Even then I tried to compare this wilted extravaganza to what Schaefer’s statewide spectacle must have looked like. But under bullying clouds going wild in blue skies, Schaefer got a light dusting of true outcome from The People that the Old Timey Pol used so well as a backdrop.

loitering, some people’s connections that drove them to take the day off to go to the funeral was dubious like one Patterson Park resident who remembers offering Schaefer a pair of vice grips when he his car broke down in a parade. “He told me to run along.” And the repeating version of  people down on their luck getting a job or public housing from Schaefer came off as if we were burying what James Smith declared, “The Last Don” not a public figure. But what really was telling was the great absence of people in the street. Factor in the clumps of media there were probably 50 people milling about and some of them were eating lunch. Sometimes it takes a death to realize that the change has been more sweeping than we had thought.

Robert Finn remembers running into Schaefer “and I’d tell him about a pothole and he told he already knew about it.” That was enough for him to stand outside the church, “and say goodbye to the man.”

Desha Dodopia. Owner of Desha’s Den, a former bar on Glover Street. She said she once spotted Schaefer on the street and invited him to her bar. “He came right on it. Just like that. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Antoinette Olanrewanjo, she met Schaefer when she was five years homeless, sleeping behind My Sister’s Place then on Saratoga Street, sometimes on the very steps that lead into Schaefer’s memorial service. She was there now, a woman who has left homelessness behind.“He saw me out on the steps and he said get up be free,” she said. “He told me let the people see the homeless.”

Brian McMillion called him the Don of Baltimore. He remembers when he worked in a community garden off of Greenmount Avenue and they wrote to the city asking for funding “he came out and gave us the check. He loved marigolds”


Thomas Forsythe Sr.  still a city worker, recalled when he started out as a mail room clerk fetching Schaefer’s breakfast.I would go to give him his change and he’d say keep it. Keep it. Put it in your pocket Do it now. Everything with him was do it now.”Schaefer tried to transfer the do it now attitude to the state government  with mixed resulted. His gumshoe technique didn’t get a thorough translation in the bureaucratic mish-mosh of state government. But his point man Luther Starnes, officially titled was a community liaison, but Schaefer thought of him as Secretary of Hard Luck. All those letters,the desperate ones written by people who believe that head of state could actually do something — he would get those to sort out. Schaefer would send him ones with the Get It Done emphasis.

“We never said this is  a state problem or a federal problem, it was our problem,” Sterner said. He recalled one time a Marylander-ex-pat and veteran living in Western Virginia and was getting nothing but hassles getting an official Maryland Flag from the Veterans Affairs. Starnes drove one out special for him.

“No one ever heard about that, but these are the kinds of things he did,” he said.

Starnes, (Right) Just after giving a eulogy.


Schaefer’s Funeral Will Be A Once in a Lifetime Event For Baltimore

Schaefer enroute to City Hall for a public viewingThe funeral for William Donald Schaefer will be probably be the last of its kind, a city-wide, deep reaching communal ceremony. Think about it. Who else will touch the city like the iconic four-term Mayor, two-term governor. Anthropologists and historians study funerals as a reflection of the cultures? The fact that there isn’t another leader or even personality to take Schaefer’s place says a lot about our time and the city, which has undergone sweeping changes in the past two decades. This is a sad and overwhelming comment on the city and whether it really is community at all. The city has attracted scores of young, the old stalwarts, The Baltimoreons, have gone. fled up I-95. In some sectors, being a Baltimore native is unusual.

Not only is there no emerging true leader to galvanize the city, but people maybe too divided and self involved into their own lives to even care, thanks to technology and the hyper, hysterical self afflicted pressures  of family life. Much can be gleaned about a person’s life, sometimes too much, during a funeral. The speeches, stories told over heaping spreads back at the house miraculously weave together a story of the departed.  Much will be said about Baltimore from this event, in the the crowd people will hold their own stories. But is even talking about Schaefer an indicator of a lost generation of Baltimoreans sort of like the people who still talk about the Baltimore Colts. Schaefer’s passing may not only be an end of an era. That era may  have long gone.

B'Nai Israel of Lloyd Street offers a message to Schaefer's passing motorcade


Baltimore Mayor First. William Donald Schaefer may have been a two-term Governor, but his heart belonged to Baltimore.

The late Governor and Baltimore William Donald Schaefer heads to City Hall one last time.

There’s a reason, that the pugnacious funeral procession started Monday morning in Annapolis where William Donald Schaefer officially hit his career crest as governor from 1987 to 1995, but ended roaming through his hometown of Baltimore before landing for a day of viewing at City Hall .

Baltimore is  still  morphing into the vision that he created 40 years ago. As Baltimore’s histrionic Mayor, he  grabbed national attention for having the gall to envision a dirty rotting wharf-front as a gilded tourist attraction.  Here is where he made his mark as four-term  Mayor Willie Don.

Schaefer will be eulogized as the guy who flipped the switch for mayors stuck with dying waterfronts not just nationwide, but worldwide, to view their harbors , not as derelict land but potential vacation spots for tourist looking some of that beach vibrations in between their jaunts to the ocean. Why couldn’t people get that good ol boardwalk stroll in the city. Crazy. Preposterous. Nuts as the guy who jumped into the seal tank at the National aquarium. Oh wait that was Schaefer.

But to Baltimore he was so much more. He was an old school character, tough and goofy, a little hard-boiled, part Comic Costello. He exuded a kind of fairy tale aura that drew you in the schtick and still did even from the hearse.  Even on Monday’s procession, you were in his world.

I saw this one last time today. When I was standing in Fells Point, one of about 14 stops on his tour de Baltimore before he was laid out at City Hall. I was standing in this still yet to fully blossom Colonial seaport, home of the Baltimore clipper, 1812 privateers and  tugs vacated to make way for a waterfront hotel that has yet to appear. This was also the place that Schaefer wanted demolished in the late 60s and 70s for I-95, 695 interchange.  This was the place where Schaefer realized the strength of the neighborhood, after fierce fighting, enduring protestors dressed like American Revolutionaries,  and he realized that rather  than bull them over like Robert Moses did up in New York, he embraced Fells Point and neighbors in the city.

Senator Barbara Mikulski displays a sign for the cause that launched her career and shaped Baltimore

So there stood his chief foe, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator flanked by neighborhood activists of days long gone. She told me how during the long battle, a low point came after she, then councilwoman, lost a bill to save the neighborhood and other waterfront stalwarts like Federal Hill across the Harbor, which now stands as  Baltimore’s more humble version of Boston’s Beacon Hill.. But rather than bask in his victory, Schaefer noticed something big was brewing in the neighborhoods.  He called Mikulski and others in for a sit down and fate did a slow change.   And when the motorcade finally ambled up the Fells Point cobblestones and came to rest in front of Jimmy’s Diner, a one time politico hotspot, the cluster of a crowd cheered. About 50 strong went ecstatic — a strange reaction at a funeral procession. But it was as if  the mayor was gonna step from the black shine of the limo , his  eggplant head  never  find balance on his neck, always in motion, looking for an angle, contorting his face, rolling his eyes,  yes even clown-like. His act was infectious when at his prowess and at times sadly ill-timed when he got older.  Still he was pure Baltimore, a tugboat of a man, tenacity done different. So when Old Schaefer failed to step out the limo, they cheered for his aid, as if  it was a homecoming. The strangeness stretched on as a classic Schaefer event, which of course it was, hitting spots like Faidley’s at Lexington Market and was it an accident that limo paused in front of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street as if he was going shoot the you know what in the KibitzRoom.

Schaefer's entourage heads down what was once the heart of Jewish Baltimore.

Working the crowd, today’s pols should be as masterful.

I remember when I had a similar  private audience with the king. It was behind old Memorial Stadium, three-quarters demolished. I was doing my first documentary, about Baltimore’s emotional hold  on the stadium, which he argued unsuccessfully to save. (Why I’m not exactly sure) On his  suggestion, he pulled up  and jumped out of the Limo and laid down the reasoning, how the demolition of the stadium was a failure of imagination. He did this right in the middle of the street and just nailed it with no press hands, no guards. Just him in his suit and the limo. Then he jumped back in and jetted.Whether you agreed with his politics. (He didn’t make too many friends when he bailed on Jimmy Carter for Reagan back in 1980), you had to admire his mastery of the craft.  Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy w th tourist glitz even if you crown it with jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion urban renewal, like of jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Schaefer’s passing isn’t an end of an era. That era was long gone. You could see it  in the ragtag crowds around  town. There were clusters of people, A few hundred here, 90 there. But the thousands were absent.

That may because many of  the Baltimore contingent are dead or have left the city a while back, although I’m betting his funeral on Wednesday will be a major draw.    Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy with tourist glitz even if you crown it with a jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion of  urban renewal, the loss of good paying  jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American  community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Despite the shortcomings, Schaefer had heart, an unabashed radiance woefully  missing in these wound-too tight times. Too much risk to let your personality shine, too many people with video on their phones. Schaefer himself as an 80-year-old Comptroller was taken down by gaffes that came off sexist, out mode and crass. Still we could use a guy who would bother to work the crowd. A lot is being made about Schaefer’s jump in the pool at the National Aquarium. But that was one of hundreds of so-called stunts. During some research at the News American archives now stored at University of Maryland, I came upon boxes upon boxes of Schaefer immersing himself in  tiny neighborhood shing-dings.  . There’s the Mayor with a lemon stick. There he is in leprechaun hat.  If Baltimore was the city of neighborhoods, he was the ring master
Where is that kind of politicking today? Don’t tell me,  time is better spent on strategic placement like Obama visiting Facebook’s headquarters.Compare the luke warm to snarky coverage he got  to the New York Times front page  photo of Obama running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to surprise tourists, after he managed to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

We need to get back to the human level. That’s why Schaefer even though after beating back Mikulski’s bill was able to see the human potential that she represented and he eventually came around to seeing Fells Point and Federal Hill as Baltimore assets. That insight shaped what Baltimore is today. We could have easily been in Newark’s position even if we live with in a two tier society that David Simon’s Wire so deftly depicts.  Schaefer’s  was a vision of classic slow cooking. It took two developer’s renaissance after Fells Point and Federal Hill was saved in 1970s for other neighborhoods to emerge nearly 30 years later as go-to waterfront spots like Canton, Locus Point. That’s why on a Monday afternoon, people in Fells Point cheered when the hearse slowed to a standstill.

The Mayor's hearse stops by Fells Point, Baltimore

They wanted so badly for someone to pop out once again with that kind of audacious, infectious belief in  Baltimore.


Rhino Spotted on the Jones Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Look carefully and you’ll spot an animal way out of its normal habitat.

On Saturday, just after a rain storm a rhino was spotted by yours truly. The rhino was seen in an obscured wooded area in what was Baltimore’s eariest industrial mill center now a struggling stream under I-83, a major expressway. The area lies not a mile away from The Maryland Zoo, which borders the stream. The zoo does have a rhino. All these thoughts came to mind when I was out on my bicycle and saw firemen looking down from a bridge. I figured it was probably a jumper until I saw them drive away, leaving me alone on this graffiti trail.

A graffiti Bridge along the Jones Falls in Baltimore

Then I turned to my left and saw this. My flee instinct kicked. Large Animal. I’m alone in woods. RUN. But I also was amazed. Am I seeing things. Was this a boulder with odd lighting. No. I scamped down and yes it was a rhino. How they got it down there is a mystery. The terraine ain’t easy by yourself never mind carting this thing down there. I talked to a passerby, a local Hamden guy and he said he goes by there ever day and hasn’t seen anything like this. I got closer and the detail was impressive. Notice the silica, the little hairs, the ribs.

Artist prank taken to its highest form.

This is why I prefer bike riding. I would never had seen this bit of wildlife. The placement of the art was impecable. not in the middle of a meridian strip but placed in urban wildnerness primed for discovery.

The closer I got the more impressive it became.

Indeed this was a Rhino, an excellent speciman.