News & Community

The Chatter: November 2014

Firsthand accounts of what's happening in Baltimore.

Cinema Al Fresco

High and Stiles Streets
September 5, 2014

As the sunlight fades behind Ciao Bella, a gathering crowd, many carrying picnic baskets and wine, or pizza from nearby Isabella’s, settles into the canvas chairs in the empty parking lot next door. A decade-and-a-half ago, Little Italy’s restaurant owners were at their wits’ end over the huge, bare billboard outside Ciao Bella’s—a planned mural had turned into a zoning dispute—until Da Mimmo’s Mary Ann Cricchio had an epiphany after catching a movie, al fresco, in the old country. By a small miracle, she says, the third-floor bedroom window of Ray Lancelotta’s row home (then owned by his uncle, John Pente) turned out to be the perfect height and distance to throw a 35mm film onto the billboard, giving birth, of course, to the annual, tourist-friendly, Little Italy Open Air Film Fest.

Per tradition, the final evening’s film is Cinema Paradiso—the story of a Sicilian filmmaker and his beloved boyhood theater’s projectionist. After Cricchio introduces the film—not last year’s shortened version, which drew protests, but the original, three-hour cut—Rick Huether, upstairs in Lancelotta’s bedroom, discreetly loads a Blu-ray disc into a digital projector. The state-of-the-art equipment replaced the cast-iron, 35mm projector several years ago, Huether, who works for Astro Events, admits out of earshot of moviegoers. “We could put the projector anywhere now, but people like to point out the white bulb in the window to friends who’ve never been to the festival,” he says, gesturing to just such a couple.

Meanwhile, Lancelotta, who’s been watching Cricchio’s introduction from a sidewalk bench, ducks inside his living room. “I’ve seen all the movies,” he says with a guilty smile. “I’m watching the Orioles tonight. They’re having a great year.”

For Love of Country

North Point Road
September 6, 2014

The musket and cannon fire is so loud on the banks of the North Point Peninsula that some of those watching the action, including former steelworker David Crews, wear earplugs. Behind each shot, a putrid cloud of white smoke also blows forth—not out to the nearby Chesapeake Bay, naturally, but over the hillside crowd. “Oh man,” says Crews, shaking his head, interrupted by the stench as he tries to photograph Dundalk’s Defenders’ Day reenactment of the Battle of North Point. “That sulfur smell takes me right back to the “L” furnace at Sparrows Point.”

In 1814, some 4,000 hardened British redcoats landed here, planning to march to Baltimore and join the ships attacking the city. Instead, suffering key losses and slowed down by Maryland militiamen, they retreated after making it only as far as Patterson Park, where massive numbers of militia troops from the region were dug in. This afternoon, though, the British are giving as good as they get—standing firm in firing lines, lobbing volley after volley—before finally turning back. Their sergeant’s commands, however, are shouted in a noticeably un-English accent, with “About face!” for example, sounding more like “A-boot face!”

“We’re Canadian, from Niagara Falls,” Mike McAndrews explains. A bearded bear of a man, sweating profusely in his 23-ounce melton wool redcoat, heavy gray slacks, and boots, McAndrews notes that in the U.S., it’s difficult to find War of 1812 reenactors willing to portray the British. But in Canada, it’s the other way around. “To us, the loyalists were on the right side of history,” McAndrews says. “Look at whose picture is on our money—it’s the Queen.”

Roland Avenue

September 15, 2014
Hello in There

Dale Johnson leans his 20-year-old, pale-green Bianchi bicycle against a Hampden porch, grabs three small trays—a hot lunch, a cold-cut dinner, plus fruit, juice, and milk—from the cooler atop his rack, and rings the bell. “How are you, Bruce?”

“I’m doing good,” the middle-aged man answering the door says, managing a smile while shakily grasping the food that Johnson has brought by. “Polish sausage and sauerkraut? I love Polish sausage.” After briefly reminiscing about his college lacrosse days, Bruce mentions he’s got a psychiatry appointment later and plans to take the bus. Johnson listens and nods before waving goodbye, off to his next Meals-on-Wheels delivery, part of a small, two-wheel program with other cyclists that he began two years ago. “The best thing, really, is that it attracts younger volunteers,” Johnson says. “The average age of Meals on Wheels drivers must be 77. I’m only 62,” he laughs.

Later, he hands a blind gentleman two meals and lets him know he may have found someone to help read him his mail on a regular basis.

At two homes, only a relative of the incapacitated recipient makes it to the door. At others, Johnson may be the only person some see and interact with all day. “I’ve had a few clients who’ve died, which is sad, but you also meet interesting people,” he says afterwards, still in his bike jersey and spandex shorts.

His favorite is Ms. LaRue. “She’s 98, 5-feet tall, but she still has a spark about her,” Johnson says. “She used to go ballroom dancing with her husband and my wife has me doing that, so we compare notes occasionally. ‘Tell your wife,’ she said to me once, ‘that Ms. LaRue thinks you have great legs.’”