Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Renew our days as of old

Filed under : America,Baseball,Depeche Mode,Judaism
On October 7, 2012
At 5:45 pm
Comments : 3

On the eve of Simchat Torah and the ALDS, a Baltimore tale with a little holiday sermon thrown in. Shana tovah!

Our story begins in the early 80’s but we’re going to jump ahead to 2006, to a story I told in this very blog, about visiting Baltimore. While there, I walked from my hotel where I was staying as a guest of the lovely Dr. Toad, across downtown Baltimore to the nearest synagogue. I had to do this because I was saying Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, for my mother at that time, and you need to say it with a communal group, or minyan. The area to which I was headed, although I did not know it, is called Jonestown, but it’s not in Guyana, it’s just to the east of the Inner Harbor. While walking there, in 2006 remember, I crossed into something totally unexpected, a new development. I mean, literally, a new development. New rowhouses were being built and green spaces and squares and roads. It was a totally new neighborhood within a city that was three hundred years old and fully developed. I was really thunderstruck and curious. At the time, I was also struck by the synagogue (I wrote about that part in 2006) and how old and beautiful it was and what was it doing right there, just east of the downtown in what seemed like the last place on earth you’d imagine a Jewish neighborhood. Last week, I found out what that neighborhood was and why that synagogue was there through two completely separate means, except that both were through Google. Oh, and clearly, since they did have Google in 2006, I wasn’t curious enough to find out then. Plus, I found out what happened to the thing I haven’t yet mentioned from the early 80’s and how that ties in. Onwards!

(Oh my God, I’m going to mention The Wire again, be warned).

If you know any behind the scenes things about The Wire, you know that the “high rise towers” that get blown up somewhere in, I think, Season 3, were a liberty taken by the producers, and that, in fact, all the “tower” public housing in Baltimore city was demolished before the show even started. But it’s based on the time that David Simon was reporting for the Baltimore Sun and they had those towers then. I think it’s generally acknowledged, and I recommend again “the Pruitt-Igoe Myth” that high-rise housing projects are a big, huge failure and most cities got rid of them. The last ones to be imploded in Baltimore, and this was after I left and stopped paying attention, were called Flag House Courts and they were blown up in 2001 (appropriately on July 4th, as the flag house in that neighborhood is the one where the flag that was “still there” was sewn). I was reading about Flag House Courts, and I can’t remember why, but I found that what replaced the housing project was a new development. A new development in Jonestown. It opened up in 2005 and 2006. So now, six years later, my mystery is solved. It was a new neighborhood built on top of the footprint of the imploded housing project and it was called Albemarle Square.

But what was there before public housing? A slum, according to what I have read. But way before that, it was a Jewish neighborhood and there is still the synagogue and a few delis to let you know that. Almost all the Jews moved away to Northwest Baltimore, which is where I lived right after college. The synagogues went with them. And therein lies Part II of our tale.

When I was a kid, we used to visit Baltimore every year for the holiday which begins tonight, Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. That’s the one where the cycle of Torah readings, one each week, begins again, and we celebrate that. My mother’s college roommate had moved to Baltimore and we came each year and spent that holiday with her family. Their neighborhood wasn’t in Northwest Baltimore, it was in Baltimore County and the Internet variously calls that area Old Court, Milford Mill, Randallstown, and Pikesville. When I was a tween and teen, I called it Baltimore. This is what I would also call a tale of real estate. Because what’s the first thing you look for? Location, location, location. A new Jewish academy had opened there and lots of Jews thought it would be the place to be. But that didn’t really happen. As I found after college, the Orthodox Jews remained in Northwest Baltimore where they are to this day. The last time I was in the Old Court area was probably 1991. It seems to have gone downhill as a Jewish community since then. How did I find this out? Let’s go to The Google.

While I was looking at things about synagogues in Jonestown, I found the name of our family friends’ synagogue in Old Court. Really? Had it been in Jonestown? Yes! The congregation in the modernish, 60s-esque building I knew from my childhood had originally been located in the city and it dated from the 19th century. Eventually, according to this great site, it moved to Pimlico. And then, the site simply says, it moved to “the county.” I went to Google Maps to look it up, expecting to see the new frontier building I remembered so well, but confusingly, it was an empty, grassy field. What happened? I Googled the synagogue and listings now say, “closed in 2007.”


Here I was going to post a link to a lovely blog post found about the closing of the synagogue, with great pictures, and which told some of the story. And then I realized through little teeny details that it was by the son of my parents’ friends. The Internet is a small place, people! So you will have to do without that, because I am just private enough to not want to send a pingback there. But he, like most people I knew there, moved to the more vibrant northwest in the 90’s. I found other articles, one from 1998 about efforts the synagogue was making to attract more members and another about the closing. The Rabbi, who was a sweet, learned man, and had led the shul since 1952 “refused to comment.”

So here is this synagogue, which began in the 1800’s in the area known as Jonestown/Flag House Courts/Albemarle Square and moved out to Pimlico and then Old Court, and now has had to close (in 2007…. I’m late). I looked up the address of my parents’ friends who we used to visit…. they too moved to the northwest (and their kids live there with their families, too). Sometimes, you just gamble wrong on where the community is going to be.

I think cities live and die, people and communities move, neighborhoods change and change back, and even sports teams relocate. But we adapt and come back. And as the Orioles begin their first postseason in fifteen years, I wish them luck and I hope Baltimore, too, is rejuvenated.

If not, they’ll just fire the mayor and trade all the city council members to the Dodgers.

(Title does NOT come from this song… it’s an instrumental, aside from everything else).

I have mentioned that for me, the song Oberkorn (It’s a small town) reminds me of Baltimore. The song is exactly 30 years old this month. In the comments of a fascinating article about A Broken Frame’s 30th anniversary, someone says of Oberkorn (it was a B-side from that record), “[Depeche Mode] never really touched on that mood before or since.” I think that’s true. It is a strange, wistful mood, and one I love.

I never would have imagined they ever played it live but here it is, hidden in the intro to the far bigger song, “My Secret Garden” from a 1982 concert.


Even movie stars, they come to Cleveland to get away

Filed under : America,Travel
On July 6, 2012
At 8:00 am
Comments : 5

That line is from 30 Rock. I’m working my way through the episodes (which is my chief goal of the summer) and just happened to see the Cleveland episode tonight. How cool is that?

Here’s the complete Skitch for my trip. Those fancy arrows only go straight so you’re stuck with this disaster, sorry! I wanted a little more accuracy. The train trips were both cool except I have realized that my limit in a non-sleeper car type of journey is somewhere between 8 and 12 hours, eight being what it took to get to Pittsburgh, which was fine, and 12 being what it took from Cleveland to NY, which was too much. But I did see a lot of wonderful country.

I did not like Cleveland as much as Pittsburgh, even though it sits on beautiful water (which I could see out my hotel window, YaY!), although people from the area tell me I am mistaken so maybe I didn’t get to see it in its true glory. Basically, I was there on a weekend and it was empty and lifeless. All the stores were closed and there were no people except tourists like myself going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or Science Center. There were no amenities to cater to us. Nowhere to eat. Nowhere to shop. There were no coffee places. I wandered all over the downtown and then the Warehouse District which was said to be up and coming but I think it hasn’t upped or came yet. There were some restaurants open there (and a Starbucks, God bless them) but very few people.

It’s interesting that in this week in which I’m writing about American cities, I happened to see the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which is about a failed and demolished housing project in St. Louis (it’s always St. Louis around here, isn’t it?) The movie posits that part of the reason it was such a disaster is that it was a complex of high-density, high-volume residences at the exact moment when people were leaving cities to head to the suburbs. Population seemed to peak in these cities at about 1950ish. Urban areas have never really recovered and I think Cleveland is among them. So there is this beautiful downtown centered around an area called Public Square (which I kept reading wrong because I’m 12) and there’s no one there on the weekend. It was like an office park at 5pm. I felt sad about that. But I did take some pictures of some classic pieces.

This is the war memorial in Public Square. It’s really ornate and beautiful and has smaller statues on each side (you can just see them). It’s hard to tell from this picture, but it’s jaw-droppingly lovely.

(Notice the last man left in Cleveland on a Friday afternoon is running to the bus to escape.)

Oh yeah, this is the kind of building I drool over. This was the headquarters of the May Company Ohio department stores and dates from 1914. When I look at a building like this, I think of department stores like in The Women (the original… please) and the sort of profits they once made. I don’t know what it’s used for now (your local May’s is now a Macy’s, I’m pretty sure).

I took about 4,000 pictures of this but it was just too hard to capture it. It’s called the Arcade and words can’t really describe it. It’s like a mall from 1890 but a thousand times more beautiful. They were getting it ready for a wedding while I was there.

So you can see, Cleveland had a glorious industrial and commercial past. It’s the present that isn’t as awesome.

Speaking of, what I didn’t take any pictures of was the thing I had come to see, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The outside is cool but there are pictures of that everywhere, and the inside, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures of! Really sad. Honestly, I was pretty unimpressed with the place. It doesn’t tell a good story. That is, if you didn’t know the history of Rock music, you probably wouldn’t have learned a lot more here. The exhibits were really piecemeal and not always what was important, I thought. There’s also the much argued about aspect of “is Rock & Roll the kind of art that belongs in a museum, that can be formalized in this way?” My feeling after seeing it is, no. It feels weird and ill-fitting and… not very rock & roll. I liked the Experience Music Project in Seattle better. It seemed to take the whole thing less seriously.

The thing that meant the most to me, that was worth the entire trip plus my $22(!) admission fee was in the actual last thing you see in the Exhibit Hall. As a seeming “hey, we’re in Cleveland!” sort of gesture, there is a small section devoted to Rock from the Midwest and in it, just at the beginning, are Matthew Sweet’s handwritten lyrics to three of his songs: I’ve Been Waiting, Winona (originally called “Alone in This World”), and Sick of Myself. One is on an anime themed notepad and another is in a hardbound notebook. I really almost cried. It’s amazing to see these things.

If you are interested, which you are not, in knowing what the 80’s Alternative presence is in the HOF, it’s a Joy Division/New Order exhibit and the handwritten lyrics to A Little Respect (I dare you not to have that in your head right now). But I didn’t expect a lot and that wasn’t really what I wanted to see, either. I think hearing “My Woman From Tokyo” as I walked in reminded me of how long I’ve loved music. And seeing displays of many of the bands I’ve been involved with over the years made me, for the first time in a long time, miss what I used to do. Getting to be involved with music has been one of the great blessings of my life.

So I’m glad I went but I doubt I’d ever go back. If you want proof of my “meh” feelings, I didn’t buy anything at the gift shop! So unlike me!

In sum, even though I did get to see some lovely things, I kind of understand why Liz Lemon stayed here. But still, love ya, USA! Happy birthday!

REM – Cuyahoga


Blue skies come down on me

Filed under : America,Travel
On July 4, 2012
At 11:30 pm
Comments : 5

(For picture/space purposes, Pittsburgh and Cleveland will be split into separate posts. If you have something important to do, or anything to do, you may want to skip tomorrow. I kid!)

More of our beautiful country this holiday week! I went to Pittsburgh “on business” (I used the quoteys because I don’t really know what an all expense paid trip for professional development is called) and spent six days there. Surprise! I really liked it. I am only sorry that Pittsburgh has such a poor reputation that I was forced to use the word surprise. Here’s what I liked about Pittsburgh:
1. It’s near water – I like that in any place.
2. It was a city of neighborhoods. And people actually lived in them, rather than just running home at night to the suburbs.
3. It had glorious, glorious houses. Oh my God, the houses.

Like this one. I really could have taken pictures of almost any house near where I was staying, but this one was a great example. You can imagine some turn of the century family living there with their servants, eating dinner together after Pa got home from running the steel mill. They all had double doors and bay windows and huge porches. Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, meet me at the fair…..

I think part of what made it a fun city was all the schools there. This is the “Cathedral of Learning” at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s not really a cathedral, but there is learning, I’m told. I was actually told this by Dr. Toad, who took me there, and I believed her. I had not seen Dr. Toad since we met in Baltimore many years ago and it was an utter delight to see her again. She is one of the best people in the universe and another reason why I wouldn’t mind living in Pittsburgh.

I did quite a bit of walking around in the afterhours (my day went till 5) and I made it downtown via the busway which is a railroad for buses. Or something. There I bought chocolate caramel popcorn and walked along the river where I saw PNC Park, the stadium that Elena (and her sister via email) suggested I see. I hope they meant across a river with a bridge in front.

There were lots of things I didn’t get to see, including museums, which closed at 5, and the Inclines which are these funiculurs (like a railway that goes up a cliff). I didn’t do the Inclines because there was no easy way to get there from where I was by public transport and taking a cab is against my religion. Well, I could have split with these two women from my program who were going but I’ll just say that they would have sucked all the fun out of the funicular.

Speaking of public transport, this is the entrance to the Amtrak station. How cool is that? Once upon a time, this is how the people who lived in that house up top traveled in style. I took this on the way out because the train station is across from the bus station which, let me tell you, is one of the best things I can say about a city. It isn’t even true in New York. Pittsburgh – me likey!

OK, so the post title. This is one of those things that if other people told me they did, I would think it idiotic or pretentious, but since I already told you that I only listen to Disintegration when it rains, I suppose I can cringe and say I only listen to Cerulean when I’m on the train. I spent 21 hours on the train this week, so I got to listen to it a lot. And there were a lot of blue skies, too. But as I sat for 8 hours on the Pennsylvanian (see route a couple of posts down), I remembered that The Ocean Blue are from Pennsylvania! Woo, I finally got it right. So, lyric is from the song Cerulean from the self-titled record.
The Ocean Blue – Cerulean


Westward, ho!

Filed under : America,Travel
On July 3, 2012
At 5:00 pm
Comments : 6

In honor of our nation’s birthday, I’m going to finally write about all my domestic travels over the last month. This is really the first week of vacation I’m getting (I hear your tiny violins) in the sense that I can get up whenever and just slack around the house. Apartment. Whatever. Soon I’ll have to start the many projects for school that I have to accomplish over the summer, so it’s not like I will be spending the next seven weeks sitting on the sofa eating potato chips.*

*There may be some of this.

So! The first place I went was to visit my dear friend, Tami, in Provo, Utah. I had intended to travel to Utah for a long, long time both because Tami lived there and because it is one of those increasingly rare places in America that has a distinct culture. Also, because I didn’t want to be one of those people who get their main knowledge of the LDS church from Big Love. But then Tami’s beloved husband passed away suddenly and I knew that this was the year.

Utah is a lot like Tami. It’s beautiful and is also wholesome yet full of rugged character. Tami was kind enough to tour me all around in her DietCokeMobile and we visited Park City, Provo, and Salt Lake City with various stops in between. We even ate across the street from where they found Elizabeth Smart, but that was accidental, plus Tami forgot to tell me till two days later. Oops.

I took this picture out the window of the DietCokeMobile. Seriously, is our country beautiful or what?

And this one. So gorgeous.

This is in Park City. I can’t believe those guys wouldn’t get out of my shot.

This is Brigham Young’s house in Salt Lake City. It’s called the Lion House. I wanted to tour it but there was no time to do both that and the Nordstrom so we went to Nordstrom. This is kind of the story of our time together. We did a lot of shopping and eating. Personally, I did it all so that my tax money could go to better pay teachers like Tami in Utah. I am THAT selfless.

It was a totally lovely trip and I had an utter blast. Tami is the kind of person who has a million interesting stories but also listens to your dull ones. She even has fun friends. And her daughters were awesome, too. I am not sure if I am more jealous of her to have such great kids or of them to have such a great mom. In conclusion, we live in a beautiful country with amazing people, and all you can eat pancakes with buttermilk-maple syrup are the greatest invention ever. God bless America.

Tomorrow, two more cities I visited for the first time. Also, sorry there were no actual ho’s in this post.

Edited to add this song, which is Tami’s new favorite after she kindly set up the Depeche Mode Pandora station just for me and then proceeded to spend eleventy billion hours in the car with me. We sang the alternate lyrics, though, if you must know.
Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough


I’m on a plane, I can’t complain

Filed under : America,Travel
On June 15, 2012
At 8:00 am
Comments : 2

… hopefully. I had to post this in advance and who wants to jinx things when airlines are involved?

First stop on the American Cities I Have Not Visited Tour 2012:

Title from Nirvana. Yes, I know I used the homophone. School’s out!

Edited to add: this didn’t post on time, obviously. But I made it!