Monday, May 9, 2011

Rediscovering the charm in "Charm City"

As I confessed in an earlier post, I am slightly terrified of Baltimore, based on its fictional portrayal in David Simon's TV shows. Yet I know its reality is far broader and more welcoming than that narrow, menace-filled vision.

So it was with gladness and relief that I attended the American Visionary Art Museum's Kinetic Sculpture Race on Saturday. There I saw families and friends working together to pedal and push giant creations across the city of Baltimore and into its harbor (on a short circuit to prove the seaworthiness of their crafts). Racers were dressed in wacky costumes, matching their sculptures, such as the Amish racers wearing suspenders and fake beards, pedaling their float-able buggy away from the water (below).

Six people dressed in lab coats, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, piloted the Lobe Trotter (below).

And the museum brought out its Fifi le Poodle—a sculpture on permanent display in one of the museum's annexes—to race again.

Many in the crowd dressed with the same panache. There were men and women in tutus, glitter pants, colorful wigs, and wacky hats. There were more normal types, too, parents and kids, couples, groups of friends.

Even as we walked around Canton, the nearby neighborhood, there wasn't a Stringer Bell or Marlo in sight. Just people walking, sitting on park benches, drinking beer, eating Italian pastries. It was all so normal—and beautiful in its normalcy. It made me realize that any fictional description of a place or time is always going to be limited, no matter how many characters or scenes its features.

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