Charm City


Mark Kamine in the New York Times Book Review:

The name Charm City first came into use during a 1974 garbage strike and heat wave that led to looting and arson. This darkly droll anecdote, with which the novelist Madison Smartt Bell opens his guide to Baltimore, gives fair warning of what’s to follow. A standard tourist itinerary can be gleaned from the handful of walks Bell describes, but Frommer would serve better for those interested in simply seeing the sights and eating fine food. Bell’s Baltimore is a real city: complex, ever changing, often gritty and dangerous, always interesting.

The four walking partners Bell teams up with become guides to very particular facets of the city. Eric Singer, a transplant from South Africa, accompanies him through a sketchy stretch of discount stores, thrift shops and dive bars. Singer, like Bell, has an eye for racial divisions. Here we pick up useful tourist lore, including the local nickname for narcs (“knockers”) and the location of a grove of old trees in a church garden whose “deep calm” may be the reason homeless people camp there.

More here.