Why I took the photos

The Lexington Market poultry vendor with the lit-up marquee portrays expertise, while at a Ravens football game, a face-painting service offers diehard fans an outlet to express team support.

How I took the photos

I used my Nikon F manual film camera with a 28mm lens to document Foell’s Better Meats. I used a digital Canon PowerShot G7X with its 28-70mm zoom lens for the other photo.

What I like about the photos

The market vendor’s expression exudes “better meats,” and I liked the hardcore Ravens fans with their alter egos masquerading behind the “roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd,” psyched up, cheering on their gridiron heroes.

And one more thing

Chit-chatting invariably leads to asking, “Where are you from?” But does the question mean where were you born, or where did you grow up?

I am Baltimore-born. So are Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps, Nancy Pelosi, Thurgood Marshall, Frank Zappa, Tom Clancy, John Waters, Philip Glass and H.L. Mencken. Baltimore is also the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” penned by attorney and poet Francis Scott Key in 1814. I’m in good company.

But I grew up in western Massachusetts and attended Classical High School in Springfield. So, I say I’m from Springfield, where basketball creator James Naismith bounced around town before the sport took off.

The Basketball Hall of Fame is in Springfield, but Baltimore is in my blood.

I’ve lost the distinguishing Merlin dialect known as Balmorese, a distinct accent where Baltimoreans pronounce elfin for elephant. And waitresses call you hon!

Copywriter Ogden Nash, who morphed into a master of limericks, was a longtime Charm City resident. Baltimore was nicknamed “Charm City” in 1975 by marketers promoting the city: “Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.”

I have kept all my report cards from the two elementary schools I attended—Winsor Hills #87 and Arlington #234. Toba Weinberg was a 4th grade heartthrob. We’d go to Zentz Pharmacy for a coddie snack—a cold fish cake sandwiched between saltine crackers smeared in yellow mustard.

Coddies, crabcakes and steamed crabs are Baltimore’s pièce de résistance. Cracking whole steamed crabs with a wooden mallet is a ritual, like breaking bread in the Holy Land.

From late 3rd grade until early 5th, I lived with my father during his divorce, and his immigrant parents in the house that he bought for them. Orthodox Jews originally from Minsk, Grandma and Grandpa kept a kosher household—no pork or shellfish, nor any non-kosher food. They kept separate dishes, silverware and pots for meat and dairy food. I went to Hebrew school after regular school classes. Every Friday night, we ushered in the sabbath with a blessing, and lighted candles. My grandmother served us chopped chicken livers, brisket or chicken, matzo ball soup, vegetables and challah, her special bread. My father spoke Yiddish with them. I didn’t understand every word. And I didn’t understand when they spoke English, either!

Why are grandmothers always the best cooks?

But every Sunday my father and I would go off the reservation to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Shrimp with lobster sauce never tasted so scrumptious. It was our escape to the secular world.

When my father relocated to Florida in the mid-1950s to start his shoe salon business for high fashion-conscious women, I moved north to Springfield, Massachusetts, to live with my remarried mother. I never did follow in my father’s footsteps in the shoe business.

In retrospect, it was a welcome transition from a Mason-Dixon Line state to blue Massachusetts. It was meant to be. Making friends with new classmates and neighborhood kids was never problematic. I went to a college preparatory public high school. My friends graduated summa and magna cum laude in 1963, running off to Yale, Harvard or Brown. I graduated “kum-quat,” wandered west to the University of Arizona in Tucson—another transition and great adventure, meeting students from many different states.

In the 1980s my Classical High School converted to Classical Condominiums, still located across the street from the main library and the Springfield Museums of Art complex, which incudes The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. Theodore Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield. I lost my “Balmer” accent reading “The Cat in the Hat,” published in 1957.

The Springfield Museum has 62 of my photographs in its permanent collection.

Also, the Baltimore Museum of Art has a selection in its collection, including “Lexington Market.”

I’m at peace that my legacy resides in both cities that I identify with.

While western Massachusetts became home during adolescence, I keep ties with old Baltimore friends, attending Orioles baseball games at Camden Yards in the rehabbed Inner Harbor. Or join Ravens football tailgate parties at the stadium, a short distance from Charles Street in the nearby Otterbein neighborhood.

The Baltimore Renaissance sprouted in the early 1970s with the Homesteading Program that preserved the city’s old formstone (a type of stucco applied to brick) rowhouses. The program allowed a person to purchase a house for $1, with the stipulation that the house be restored to code and be lived in for a minimum of several years. The concept created new business and residential neighborhoods in an area that was on the skids.

Baltimore is a city of firsts: clipper ships; the frigate warship US Constellation; Samuel Morse transmitted the first telegraph. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company Museum has the largest collection of steam engines and the American Visionary Museum holds the largest collection of outsider art—“art produced by self-taught individuals without formal training…visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul….” Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA, remains a “premier leader of art and design education that is cultivating a new generation of artist.”

Baltimore is a first for me. It’s a paradox—a Charmed City with a crab-by population.

A selection of Chester’s images from the book The Bay State: A Multicultural Landscape, Photographs of New Americans, is on view at the Brookline Library – Coolidge Corner Branch, through July and August. www.markchesterphotography.com.

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