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Baltimore's Unique Charms

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009; Page WE23

There I was, a Washingtonian in the middle of Charm City, minding my own business as I browsed through the offerings at Atomic Books, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but . . . another Washingtonian.

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"Elliott?" I said.

My friend lives in Dupont Circle, so it was a bit of a shock to run into him 35 miles from home, in a Baltimore shop specializing in comics, art books, 'zines and art toys.

"What are you doing here, man?" I managed to stammer.

"Hanging out," Elliott answered. And then: "I'll tell you something. They don't have anything like this in D.C."

He was right, of course.

We live in an age when cities have become more and more homogenized. When every mall looks like every other and the highways have become littered with chain restaurants. So there's something that's still awfully reassuring about the fact that Baltimore -- despite its proximity to Washington -- has not simply turned into another outer suburb. That it has still retained its fundamental Baltimore-ness.

What does that even mean?

Both cities have big museums, restaurants both fancy and funky, shops of all kinds. But walk down Seventh Street NW near Gallery Place, and it could be Anywhere, U.S.A. Then visit Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood or the American Visionary Art Museum. Those places could hardly exist anywhere else. They need Baltimore's air to breathe.

Don't believe me? Spend a day in the city. Visit its museums and galleries. Sample its culture -- high and low -- and savor its many flavors. The guide that follows offers a few suggestions on how you can put together your own idiosyncratic tour of some of the sights that can be found . . . only in Baltimore.

ART

'A Circus Family: Picasso to Léger'

If you missed Cirque de Soleil's "Kooza" when it was at National Harbor this fall, fret not. The show is about to start up another round of performances, beginning Thursday, in the parking lot of Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. But why wait until then? There's another circus taking place right now under the big top . . . at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

You read that right. "A Circus Family: Picasso to Léger" features 80-some circus-themed paintings, drawings, prints and books by Picasso and other modernist artists. Plus an actual canvas tent (part of one anyway). The show's first gallery features artwork hung under a 42-foot-wide section of real circus tenting -- roughly the size of a European circus ring in the early 20th century.


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