On a Book Launch, Baltimore, and Echoes from the Alum Chine —

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On a Book Launch, Baltimore, and the Alum Chine –

I’m heading to Baltimore this week to formally launch my second historical novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine. It’s another journey back in time for me –to my favorite era, the 1910s. It’s where I live when I’m writing, or thinking about writing. This period calls to me, resonates in a way that I must heed. I’m not sure why; perhaps I had another life then. And if I did, it was definitely in Baltimore. This was the time of a city that was real – complete with watermelon rinds floating in the Pratt Street harbor, and Norwegian sailors, arm in arm, drunkenly wending their way back to their ships after a night carousing. A time before multi-million dollar condos and pretentious restaurants and bars catering to the pseudo-glamourous.

Okay, rant over – and who can stop progress, and it is tax-base, after all, and all those factory jobs and work at Bethlehem Steel are not going to return. I get that – but still, one can remember, even if those memories are tinted sepia.

Now for the commercial – The Baltimore launch of Echoes from the Alum Chine will be held on Saturday, April 22, at 1:00 p.m. at the Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum, 918 Lemmon Street. The museum is in the heart of SoWeBo, just south of Hollins Street and Union Square, an area, I might add, that has kept its authenticity without succumbing to pretention. If you are nearby, I do hope that you will consider attending.

Echoes from the Alum Chine draws on Baltimore history – specifically, the aftermath of the 1913 explosion of the steamer ship Alum Chine in Baltimore harbor – to share the tale of three families who persevere to transform tragedy into triumph during the early 1900s. The novel explores the complexities of class and race that have challenged Baltimore for centuries, as well as the intricacies of family dynamics.

I’ll also be presenting “Writing the Historical Novel:  Fact, Fancy, and Research” at the Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum on Lemmon Street at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, and again at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 23 at the Baltimore County Historical Society, 9811 Van Buren Lane, Cockeysville.

Dear readers, thank you for allowing this bit of blatant self-promotion, and I do hope that you will read, and enjoy, the book.

www.cynthiastrauff.com Echoes from the Alum Chine

 

On Grieving for a Place that Never Was

On Grieving for a Place that Never Was

1910 baltimore

I remain in a state of heartbreak after my trip to Baltimore last week. Not for the wonderful, warm reception I received from friends, family and readers, but for the city itself. And I realize that my fantasy, of a Baltimore now long gone, is sepia-toned, all rough edges, cruelties airbrushed away. The Baltimore of the 1910s. For it has to be a fantasy to hold on to a past I never knew.

And I am brought to Alexander McCall Smith’s poetic hymn to Scotland. I could not say it more eloquently. To me, it speaks of Baltimore.

From The Revolving Door of Life
(44 Scotland Street Series                                                                                                     Alexander McCall Smith

When I was a boy, not yesterday of course,

When life, I thought, was a whole lot

More certain than it is today,

I made a list of those I thought

Liked me as much as I liked them –

For at that age we’re loved

By just about everybody

Whom we care to love; how different

It is in later years, when affection

Has no guarantee of reciprocation,

When we may spend so very long

Yearning for one who cannot

Love us back, or cares not to,

Or who lives somewhere else

And has forgotten our address

And the way we looked or spoke.

The remarkable thing about love

Is that it is freely available,

Is as plentiful as oxygen,

Is as joyous as a burn in spate

And need never run out.

And yet, for all its plentitude,

We ration it so strictly and forget

Its curative properties, its subtle

Ability to make the soul-injured

Whole again, to make the lonely

Somehow assured that their solitude

Will not last forever; its promise

That if we open our heart

It is joy and resolution

That will march in triumphant

Through the gates we create.

When I look at Scotland,

At this country that possesses me,

I wonder what work love

Has still to do; and find the answer

Closer at hand than I thought –

In the images of contempt and disdain,

That are still there, as stubborn

As human imperfections can be;

In the coldness of heart

That sees nothing wrong

In indifference to want, to dislike

Of those who are different,

In the cutting, dismissive

Turn of phrase, in the sneer.

Love is not there, in all those places,

But it will be; love cannot solve

Every human problem, but it makes

A start on a solution; love

Is the only compass-point

We need to learn; we need not

Be clever to know it, nor endowed

With unusual vision, love

Comes free, at least in those forms

Worth having, lasts as long

As anything human may last.

May Scotland, when it looks

Into its heart tomorrow

If not today, see the fingerprints

Of love, its signature, its presence,

Its promise of healing.

Another Sunday,  www.cynthiastrauff.com