“Silt, Muck, and Swirlies”…

… is the title of UD‘s latest dispatch from her hometown, Garrett Park, Maryland.

UD’s friend Sarah (who just got back from…

… Gore Vidal’s house) leads the charge against noise in her neighborhood.

UD’s father interviewed in 1972…

… on CBS News. About his cancer research.

A Swarm of Bees in May.

Here’s the nursery rhyme. I just found a massive swarm of bees in May.

I was in my backwoods.

Mr UD ordered a new chaise lounge, and for some reason they sent us three. I’d carried one of them on my head (thinking, as I did so, about my time in Bali, where women carry things on their heads) out to a clearing I’d made under a honeysuckle canopy. The idea was to create a very hidden green space – kind of a natural bird blind or something. As I hacked and raked and then settled the chair, I noticed a huge sound – like an oncoming train. Down the the path a bit, midway up a very old tree, what looked like thousands of bees were swarming.

Back inside, I emailed the Montgomery County Beekeepers and heard back right away from someone wanting to know if the swarm was still there. If it was, he’d be out immediately.

I went to check, and although bees buzz around as you walk, the swarm is gone. No more sound of an oncoming train.

But the beekeeper I’m emailing with tells me to

Feel free to call me directly if it shows back up. Usually they will swarm to a tree while they are looking for another location to call their new home. Usually it is not too far from where they were when they swarmed so you may want to go back out and check later in the day.

UD learns about bees.

A GW Student Talks About the Amtrak Crash.

One of the passengers was 18-year-old Gaby Rudy, a student at George Washington University who had been sleeping in the last car when she felt it verge off the tracks and then flip over.

The car immediately began to fill with smoke, she said. She called 911. And then she saw another young woman on the floor. Her back was injured. Rudy said she helped her out of the train.

Rescuers told them they had to run across another set of tracks in case another train approached.

They walked into some woods while helicopters circled above.

Rudy, who had been on her way home to Livingston, N.J., called her dad. He was at Temple Hospital 90 minutes later to pick her up.

“She was very panicked and screaming,” Daniel Rudy said. “It was the most traumatic thing imaginable.”

Mid-May, With Wrens

Comical fledglings now appear out of the striped planter (kind of like this, only deeper) in which they’ve been nesting. I watch them blunder into the ivy and try to fly out of it.

These are house wrens with a vengeance. The planters sit inches from UD‘s front door; the birds seem positively to want my company.

You could say wrens are dull. A poet picks up a dead wren, and when he lets it drop

my hand changed for a moment
By a thing so common it was never once distracted from
The nothing all wrens meant

But my wrens sing beautifully, even meaningly; and they have an alluring Madeleine Albrightesque insistency about them, emanating from their sharp eyes and puffy chests. They certainly mean to reproduce, and to express themselves – which covers a good deal of what anyone does…

May is busting out all over in Garrett Park; the wren nest is one of several in UD‘s front yard. Yesterday a caterpillar worked its way along Mr UD‘s arm as he sat on the deck reading. Rabbits of course are everywhere.

I’ve been spraying the front steps to get rid of wasps in the brickwork. I’ve been poisoning the poison oak. My neighbor Caroline has installed elegant high black fencing to keep out deer. Only a bright red door in the fence gives you access to her back garden.

We are all trying to hold back, even as we invite, the natural world.

I know there’s a lot of sky…

… but still I’ve been sitting outside gazing at the patch of sky I’ve got above my house, looking for vintage planes. I figure maybe some of them on their way to or from the National Mall for today’s flyover (it starts in ten minutes) will putter through the ‘thesdan blue. (Watch it here.)

So far all I see are the usual silent thin contrails streaming out of jets taking off from one of DC’s three airports. Loud birds and squirrels take up most of the aural landscape. In particular, a wren couple built its nest in one of our rather deep containers just at the front of the house, so there’s pretty much continual hysteria as they attempt to feed the hatchlings amid many interruptions.

Tomorrow La Kid takes UD to her beloved Rehoboth Beach for a Mother’s Day weekend. UD grew up in a house where the words bogus and kitsch and commercial were attached to Mother’s Day. But La Kid is pious about it, and UD‘s not complaining.

I’ll blog from the beach.

Snapshots from Home

UD walks into the room in GW’s Elliott School building where she’s giving her Modern British Poetry final exam. No students are there yet, but a man, a Muslim, is on the floor praying. The exam takes place in minutes, so UD silently – as silently as she can – puts her computer on the front desk and prepares to hand out blue books.

The man stands up and looks at her. “Is there a class in here?”

“I’m giving a final exam.”

“Ah. Well, I’ll finish somewhere else.”

“Sorry to interrupt you.”

“No problem. What’s the class?”

“Modern British poetry.”

“Do you read Kipling?”

“He’s not quite modern enough. More of a Victorian.”

“Ah. Well, nice to meet you.”

UD in the Splash Zone

Here she is in the Dolphin Discovery Zone, where she sits just above the Splash Zone (gotta protect the laptop) watching the little buggers leap curvaceously out of the pool. In the background another lot of them is doing some extracurricular not-on-command large white ball play.

In fact it’s all extracurricular sport these days at the Dolphin Discovery Zone, ever since “the staff decided” (says a guy a couple of rows down) “that it’s not nice to make the dolphins perform on command.” So the atmosphere is church-like, as we silently ponder the pods.

“Hey let’s see the ball in there! They want the ball!” An old coot one splash zone over breaks the silence. (The dolphins tossed the ball out of the pool.) Staff’s ignoring him. But he’s right. They want the ball. Just splashing around is (to quote Beyond the Fringe) not enough to keep the mind alive.

Well they’ve all lined up for their fish buffet, and it was fun watching them eat. Time for UD to re-enter the militarized zone.

National Aquarium with National Guard

Pretty much got the place to myself. Something about recent riots and current huge-gun-toting men in combat fatigues everywhere seems to have taken most people’s minds off of the planet’s marine life. (Pun about marines goes here.) So it’s just the dark massive sharks (housed on the evil creepy lowest level of the place, with menacing music piped in) and ol’ UD.

UD will make the obligatory travel snob statement here, since she can’t resist: Having visited the Sydney Aquarium, where the sharks are under, over, and around you in even greater profusion, she was thrilled but not peeing her pants at this display. More wonderful have been the profuse reefs, which remind UD that it’s been years since she’s snorkeled, and she misses it.

Without crowds (with nobody, basically – a few stragglers like myself), you can really hear all the hokey recorded animal sounds, and that’s fun too.

One of the guards escorted me up into the rain forest (I was today’s first customer) and insisted on showing me where the tamarin monkeys (reminded UD of the ill-fated Marc Hauser) hid in the mornings. Bird life up there is even more impressive than bird life in UD‘s own half acre.

UD Under Curfew

A quiet city comes to life ten floors down from my room at the Hotel Monaco. My early morning view’s a mad swirl of architectural style and history: domed and steepled churches, repurposed factories, red brick row houses, skyscrapers.

Very quiet down there. A few buses. A few people. No need for helicopters to buzz a sleeping city.

Our wedding party was a little late breaking up; by the time an army attorney defending the 9/11 plotters dropped her at her hotel (did UD remember they were at Guantanamo awaiting a perennially delayed trial? she did not.), it was 10:30 (curfew’s at ten). UD crossed the threshold to her hotel without incident.

Baltimore’s unfazed, far as I can tell, by recent events. The restaurant where we had post-ceremony drinks, toasts, and insane amounts of food (standout dish: a dessert plank – a narrow piece of wood, practically the length of the table, on which perched a massive array of sweets – marmalade upside down cake, maple pudding, pecan pie) was packed.

I sat next to the instaminister (apparently you fill out a simple online form) who officiated at the event – a politician of local renown named Maggie McIntosh. She and her wife, whose Baltimore house is just down the street from John Waters’ place, invited UD to their Lewes house – a renovated church (having checked it out online before the wedding, UD spent some time last night attempting to wangle just such an invitation).

And what of UD‘s plans for today? I need to get back to DC pretty soon – but it occurs to me that this is probably just the morning to see – finally – the National Aquarium (half-price admission!)

Long line of police cars…

… sirens wailing, are heading up Charles (away from the waterfront) as I type.

And many helicopters buzzing overhead.


Even at their absolute best, the city’s leaders have to contend with the cumulative impact of past disadvantage. White flight means a smaller tax base and fewer resources for improvement; industrial collapse means fewer jobs; crack and violence means a generation of “missing” black men, in jail or in the ground; a culture of police violence means constant tension with the policed.

“I hope you’re severely enjoying your nice little life.”

Routine urban madness as UD, boots on the ground, covers the length of Charles Street from Baltimore Penn Station. This comment came from a pretty well-dressed bum – light blue Ralph Laurenish clothes, though seriously askew – and he was addressing a young pregnant woman sitting on a sunny bench, lost in texting. It reminded UD of a moment long ago on the chic Boulevard Saint Germain, when an old man dressed in denims suddenly shouted at all of us Allons les capitalistes!

Charles, with its elegant old buildings and monuments, is rather subdued but entirely normal. Small groups of people in front of hotels and cafes chat among themselves, stopping to greet the police who walk up and down. UD assumes they’re all talking about the same thing.

I left Baltimore so young that little on this iconic street stirs much of anything; but the Peabody Institute and the Walters Art Museum certainly put me in mind of cultural outings with my mother (though she preferred to go to dog shows). The main thing I think of when I think of Baltimore is our large Jewish family. My mother’s mother (Fanny Kirson) had four sisters and a brother; my mother’s father came from almost as large a brood. His side of the family was full of major immigrant success stories – Aunt Bea (aka Bessye – here’s a photo that accompanied Baltimore Evening Sun coverage of her selection as 1971 Woman of the Year at her synagogue) got very rich selling pipe (I have no idea what that means; I was always simply told that she sold pipe); Uncle Harry was a bigshot doctor; my grandfather, Charlie Wasserman (scowling face here), was an engineer for Baltimore Gas and Electric.

Everyone was shocked when Harry’s daughter Caroline married Hubert, a First Nations person and a logger, and settled in way cold Temagami Canada. I think she’d been up there for summer camp when they met. We visited them once; they had a bunch of kids and seemed happy.

Baltimore Instablogging

Having jammed my black leather backpack full of stuff (jacket, dress, shoes, umbrella, laptop), and having hidden the garbage bin from the dog, UD is off, on a partially sunny day, to Baltimore. She will walk to the Grosvenor metro station unless

1. she is stopped by a neighbor in a car who insists on driving her; or
2. she gets to Strathmore Avenue just in time to catch the Ride-On bus.

Amazingly, after chatting with the town maintenance man (subject: the spring weather, and how it’s ideal for outdoor work), and exchanging greetings with Barbara, editor of the venerable Garrett Park Bugle, for which, as you know, UD writes (Barbara was working in her vegetable garden) (which reminds UD that yesterday she bought an entirely inappropriate plant to replace a bush that got eaten by deer — a Mediterranean, or European, palm, which needs more sun and heat, she figures, than she can provide, though some websites claim the thing can survive her planting zone), amazingly, as she approached Strathmore, there it was, the Ride-On.

Her fellow passengers at ten AM on a Thursday ‘thesda morning were the usual dispirited lot; as she entered, UD threw them a grin which was unreciprocated. But the driver greeted UD enthusiastically; she took his hearty wishes for a great day with her as she stood on the train platform.

How great will it be, though? She’s going to riot-torn Baltimore.

“Thank you for still coming to our wedding,” Courtney emailed a few minutes ago.

Things are a little livelier on the Red Line train to Union Station. A bald bespectacled guy with three or four newspapers smiles while making his way through today’s atrocities; the guy sitting next to me texting looks (and smells) fantastic in his expensive suit.

Dupont Circle, doors opening on the right.

In one of these Baltimore two-flats…

… wee UD lived for the first few years of her life. On this hilly street her brother when four or so crawled into a neighbor’s car, released the emergency brake, and drifted.

Our neighbors kept chickens. UD recalls watching one of them get its head chopped off.

I remember all four kids, home from school with the mumps, jumping together on our parents’ bed.

Fancy events were always at Haussner’s (enjoy the reporter’s hat).


This is all by way of beginning a series of posts on revisiting Baltimore — poor Baltimore, still shaking from the riots.

I’m about to pull myself together and get on a train. I’ll attend a wedding there today; and if things look calm, I’ll take a hotel for the night. I’ll blog with thoughts, scenes, memories.

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