San Francisco and Baltimore: Closer Than You Think
The Baltimore Ravens playing the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday is a win-win.
Sports fans, it's a tale of two cities, long-lost sisters. Each has preserved her offbeat, even eccentric, charm. Just ask John Waters of "Hairspray" fame.
Clearly, San Francisco is the younger beauty. But Baltimore handed down a major asset to San Francisco. Nancy Pelosi learned her political lessons well in Baltimore's Little Italy. Her father was mayor of Baltimore. Now her place in the House is a source of pride for San Francisco and Baltimore alike.
The sister cities share oval symphony halls, designed by the same architect. Classical concertgoers say the buildings are "twins," though the acoustics are better in Baltimore.
Deja vu misted over me the first time I heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The sensation happened often as I spent several years there as a reporter, seeing things that seemed to point back to beloved San Francisco.
To state the obvious, the two coastal cities thrived as waterfront ports built on scenic bodies of water. San Francisco Bay is like a vision, but the majestic Chesapeake Bay has its moments. The Golden Gate Bridge is a stirring sight to write about, but the soaring silver Bay Bridge, 35 miles south of Baltimore, goes unsung. The span connects to Maryland's rural Eastern Shore, where famed abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were born into slavery miles apart in Talbot County.
San Francisco is larger by the census count, but both are medium-sized cities with visual character in their residential streets. By its Victorian-vintage "painted ladies," you could only be in one place, San Francisco. Baltimore is well-known for row houses with marble steps, which welcomed immigrant families a century ago. Another point in common: their close-knit neighborhoods.
History buffs, note both cities were ravaged by "Great Fires" only two years apart, 1904 and 1906. The blazes remain part of collective memory.
Recently, both cities elected young mayors who became rising political stars. Gavin Newsom and Martin O'Malley, two blue-eyed Democrats, look like West and East twins, with parallel paths. O'Malley gave newcomer Newsom some pointers at Baltimore's City Hall. O'Malley's the governor of Maryland now; but Newsom may not be far behind in California.
San Francisco is a promised land for free spirits, writers and dreamers to dwell. Inspiration is in the air there. That's why I adored it.
But the fact is Baltimore has produced more than its share of writers. The long-gone Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, wrote cantankerous political columns still quoted, yet he never celebrated his native city like the late, great Herb Caen of San Francisco fame.
F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in Baltimore's elegant Bolton Hill in the 1930s while his wife Zelda received psychiatric treatment. He tapped out a novel or two there, conscious that his ancestor and namesake, Francis Scott Key, composed "The Star-Spangled Banner" lyrics after witnessing the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. Douglass wrote one of the classic American autobiographies, which tells of working on the same waterfront as an enslaved young man. The actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith grew up in Baltimore, and says she misses its "packed away kindness."
And, I ask you, how many NFL teams have names with such class? The 49ers are named for 1849, the year gold miners filled with hope crossed over the land and converged on them thar hills in the beautiful distance. And the Ravens are named for the haunting melodic poem of Edgar Allan Poe, who spent some of his life in Baltimore — where you can still see his tiny ramshackle row house. Poe died young in Baltimore in, yes, 1849.
Strange but true. Who knew?
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com
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