It was pouring with rain when we arrived at the State Capital of Maryland, Annapolis, but the next day the sun shone for the arrival of an excited little VIP who was looking forward to sleeping over on Grandad’s boat.
The marina was very pleasant, and Ian got a friendly greeting from Dusty, the Assistant Dockmaster.
‘You need a new hip.’
He was a retired Orthopaedic surgeon .
We were a couple of miles across the water from the City Dock, so we took the water taxi which called at the marina.
The Annapolis horizon is dominated by the Chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy on the shoreline, and the Maryland State House, which is built on a small hill with the old streets radiating from State Circle, and overlooks the whole city. It’s the oldest Legislative Building still in use in the country.
It was Memorial Day weekend, and Graduation Day at the Naval College too, so there was a festive air with lots of flags out and congratulations for the graduating officers.
After the promised ice-cream, eaten by the City dock with a lot of other people enjoying the sunshine, and a rather tuneless Bob Dylan-wannabe busker, we wandered up the hill to the State House.
Thurgood Marshall was a son of Baltimore, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and its first African American Justice. His statue stands in Lawyers’ Mall, near the State House.
On the Sunday we took Ewan out for a little trip up the creek in the dinghy, and after he and Ted had gone home, crossed over to the City Dock for an inexpensive night on one of the City Harbor buoys, as opposed to a marina.
Unfortunately, a combination of strong winds and wakes from the many other boats plying the waters at speed meant that Carina’s vertical/rotational movements were exceeding the limits of crew acceptability, necessitating a ‘conversation’ with the Captain. It was agreed that he would consult the harbourmaster to see if there were any buoys available elsewhere, so after a pleasant afternoon at the Hammond-Harwood House, followed by tea at the Annapolis Bookstore Cafe, we moved round to a buoy in Spa Creek, where I was able to cook dinner without the pans sliding off the cooker.
The flag outside the house is the Revolutionary Flag, with thirteen stars arranged in a circle.
Hammond-Harwood House was built in 1774 for Matthias Hammond, and is regarded as a fine example of Colonial architecture.
Next stop Baltimore, aka Charm City.
To get there we passed under the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
I’d wanted to go to Baltimore for a while, having read and enjoyed many of Anne Tyler’s novels, which are set there.
The marinas in the Inner Harbor are prohibitively expensive, i.e. in the don’t-even-think-about-it bracket, so we stayed on the North Shore of the harbour at Canton, which had a more interesting ordinariness about it than the glassy, glitzy inner harbour. It reminded me a little of parts of East London – a combination of old, run-down buildings, old buildings that have been saved and converted into dwellings, and new-build designed to complement the old. Some of the streets have the old cobbles and in places you can see the remnants of the train tracks that used to run down to the docks.
We set off on the bikes the next day to go to Fort McHenry, on the far side of the harbour. The day didn’t start well.
I rounded a corner to see Ian in the distance, cycling towards the end of a paved jetty, presumably to photograph the harbour scene. I caught up with him, only to find it was a case of mistaken identity, and the real Ian had apparently vanished.
Working on the principle that when you don’t know what to do, it’s probably best to do nothing, I stood in the sun, trying to look visibly obvious, but without drawing undue and unwanted attention to myself.
He answered at my second attempt at phoning, and a sharp exchange of words duly followed. It was just as well that we hadn’t adopted our usual practice of not bothering to take our phones with us.
But the day improved. We cycled a bit further on to find a water taxi parked at a jetty, and the Captain let us put the bikes on. It took us to a stop just a few hundred yards from the entrance to Fort McHenry, and saved us cycling several miles in the heat.
Fort McHenry was where the British were finally vanquished in 1814, so we felt we should pay our respects, so to speak. The young man on the desk gave us a funny look when he heard our accents, but rose to the occasion and explained the history to us. The war of 1812-14 was a complicated matter, compounded by Great Britain’s long war with France, Britain’s vicious trade restrictions on the young nation, and the Americans’ treatment of the Native Americans who were being forced to move from their homelands and territories by the new country’s westward expansion.
The Star Spangled Banner was an oversized American flag which was commissioned by George Armistead, the commander of Fort McHenry. He wanted a flag ‘so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance’. It was sewn in Baltimore by Mary Pickersgill and members of her family in Baltimore, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem The Defence of Fort McHenry which more than a hundred years later, became the national anthem.
The Statue of Orpheus stands in the park behind the fort, surrounded by a grove of flowering crab apple trees. It was commissioned in 1916 to honour Francis Scott Key and those who had defended Baltimore in the 1812 War.
Fort McHenry remained in use by the US Army until 1925, since when it has been preserved as a national monument.
We cycled back through Locust Point towards the Inner Harbor.
It was by now nearly 3 o’clock and we were getting a bit desperate for food. We decided to stop at the first establishment we came to. This turned out to be the Rusty Scupper, which occupies a commanding point on the south side of the Inner Harbor.
My heart sank as, dishevelled and perspiring, we entered the cool, air conditioned lobby. The place was vaguely reminicscent of the Royal Hongkong Yacht Club, the waiters smartly attired in matching ties, long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and the tables laid with white cloths, sparkling glassware and neatly folded napkins.
I was mortified.
But looking down their noses at inappropriately-dressed foreigners seems to be something that Americans don’t do, and we were made very welcome. Lunch was delicious, and very reasonably priced.
We cycled back to the marina via the Inner Harbor.
The next day we decided to try out the Charm City Circulator, a free bus service that’s supposed to run every ten minutes. After waiting nearly half an hour, and seeing three pass in the opposite direction, we gave up and took a taxi to the Walters Art Museum in the Mount Vernon District.
The Walters Art Museum, the gift 80 years ago of William T Walters and his son Henry, was world-class, with exhibits ranging from the Ancient World, through Byzantine, Islamic, Romanesque and Gothic to Italian, French and Spanish Art, and European Ceramics of the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
But the most moving was the exhibition of children’s reactions, thoughts and feelings about the Uprising the month before – the riots that had shaken Baltimore after the death in police custody of Freddie Gray. The teachers at Matthew Henson Elementary School, where Freddie Gray had been a pupil, had helped the children express their thoughts, fears and hopes for the future and composed a song ‘Save Baltimore’.
We decided to give the Charm City Circulator another go, but after we walked under a large expressway and found ourselves surrounded by parking lots and slightly odd-looking people, it was clear that we were no longer in the part of town to which visitors usually confined themselves, and even, possibly, in what the Lonely Planet Guide termed a ‘crime-ridden area’.
We couldn’t see the Charm City Circulator stop, but a gentleman kindly pointed us in the right direction. We ran gratefully across the road just as the bus appeared, and were soon back in the now-familiar landscape of Fell’s Point.
We took a few days’ break from the boat, having been invited to go to Sophie’s graduation from pre-school. There was a performance of Peter Rabbit in which Sophie very competently played the role of Old Mrs Rabbit, as well as some songs and the presentation of certificates.
There were warnings of thunderstorms when we got back to Baltimore, so we stayed another night.
Ian finds walking uncomfortable at the moment, so I am occasionally allowed out by myself. I had a walk down Aliceanna Street in Fell’s Point, where there are quite a few funky little shops and restaurants, to check out a dress I’d noticed in one of the boutiques. It was a successful trip, and the boutique, Babe, had an admirable philosophy.
I love finding wild flowers growing in cities. I saw this growing in several places, and thought it was scabious, but it is chicory, Cichorium intybus, and was used by Southern soldiers instead of coffee. Thank you Fred P. for putting me right on that one!
The war of 1812 is etched deep into the consciousness and identity of Baltimoreans, as evidenced by the number of them who refer to it on the numberplates of their cars. It’s even invoked in campaigns against traffic congestion.
My morning’s errand was really to stock up on wine and beer. Many supermarkets don’t stock it, and this was the case with the Safeway near the marina. So I had to go to the Canton Market, a liquor store with a deli. An odd combination, but there you are.
I had just finished paying at the counter for my supplies when an elderly man, with baseball cap, long grey hair and long grey beard appeared beside me.
‘I love your hair,’ he said. ‘As an artist. As a man.’
I thanked him and said he had made my day.
‘You made mine, daughter.’
The promised thunderstorms, now upgraded to a severe weather warning, appeared in the late afternoon and continue as I write. Whether we’ll be able to make the journey north tomorrow, to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, remains to be seen.