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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.

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