Walking around Durham North Carolina was a welcome change from suburbia. (Don’t get me wrong, I like suburbia.) Durham wears its industrial past like an undergraduate wears their first suit. Old factories had been converted into spaces for artists. Toil of one kind replaced toil of another kind. In many ways the two hours that I spent walking around, Durham put me in mind of my favorite America city: Baltimore.
Throughout my travels, I have tried to figure out why I like what I like. According to every national magazine ever, Washington is now hip. Yet, what I found were people who used the word hip in place of trendy, or had problems with their hip. Washington might be cool for the millionaire under thirty crowd, but it has nothing on Baltimore.
Discovering Baltimore was like going to the best history museum in the world. (Yes, I am kind of boring, NPR-listening, loafer wearing, Pratt-knot tying, 40 something wanna be.) Baltimore is old. Very old. It is the opposite of Texas, where I grew up. In Texas, most old manmade things are younger than the men who made them, some of whom are still alive.
Baltimore is haunted by the ghosts of America’s founding myth. I experienced these ghosts first hand, when I was in town for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore. Yet, a month earlier, I witnessed the largest concentration of young people and general youth since South by Southwest: Artscape. The duality that Baltimore encourages is why I love places. One side of the scale is the history and figuring out how to live within the history (witness the 200th anniversary celebrations). The other side of the scale is fostering an environment where the next, greatest thing can live (artscape).
In many ways, Baltimore reminds me of my favorite place that I have ever visited: Dublin, Ireland. Dublin and Baltimore grew up at roughly the same time. True Dublin is much older, and was far more established in the 1700 and 1800’s, both cities emerged during the Georgian era as centers of commerce and culture. Dublin had James Joyce; Baltimore had Edgar Allen Poe.
Both cities have a vibrant bar scene: Federal Hill and the Temple Bar area feel congruent. Both cities have an impressive waterfront: Fells Point, and Custom House Quay. Both Cities are littered with impressive universities. Both cities have seen combat, and both cities have amazingly discombobulated public transit. (Seriously, the Luas and the Dart are as well connected as the light rail and the metro.)
The last element that connects them is the people. Dubliners and Baltimoreans have the same friendly, life is life attitude that makes them a breath of fresh air in Europe and the East Coast respectively.