Rust Never Sleeps
I suspect that our President elect would have serious reservations about the cocktail that bears his name at Mo\’s Crab & Pasta joint in Baltimore. It\’s a scary blue, sickly sweet coconut tasting concoction with a lethal kick. And yet—and yet; here we were; me, a group of white construction workers, our Iranian-American hosts and Felicia \”Snoop\” Pearson, a diminutive young black woman who after six years in Jessup for Murder Two, emerged to find herself playing what Steven King called \”the most terrifying female villain in the history of television\”—a character not too far from her former self. We were drinking our \”Obamas\” and laughing our asses off—at what, I don\’t even remember.
It was one of those chance mash-ups of very different backstories: me and my crew, Felicia and hers, some pipefitters on lunch break at the next table, a shared silly moment that could only happen in America.
If you haven\’t seen THE WIRE, the single finest, best written, best made, best acted, most ambitious series in the history of television, then go buy the boxed set NOW. It got me to Baltimore again—a city with which I had unpleasant history (through no fault of Baltimore\’s). In the space of two days, I found myself sitting down for pit beef and crab cakes respectively with two people who appeared on that show: legendary homicide investigator Jay Landsman on whom the HOMICIDE and LAW AND ORDER character, Detective Munch (played by Richard Belzer) was based, and \”Snoop,\” who played, brilliantly and with truly chilling authenticity, the remorseless, teenaged assassin of the same name.
Both have seen the very worst of America\’s streets—and yet both have had improbably wonderful things happen to them.
Landsman describes seeing Snoop for the first time, shooting someone from the back of a bicycle, mid-wheelie, on the show—impressively, but entirely too proficiently, he thought. And Snoop describes Landsman, and Ed Byrnes and all the other veteran cops who worked on The WIRE (as well as producer creator David Simon) as \”family.\”
I don\’t know what the Chamber of Commerce will think of the Baltimore segment—or the city fathers of the other cities we\’re visiting on what we\’re referring to privately as the \”Rust Belt\” show, but I can tell you that I am already a big fan of pit beef, the wonders of \”lake trout\” (neither trout—nor from a lake as it turns out), and the heavy but wonderful, vodka soaked charms of Detroit Polish food and Macedonian pastries. And I wonder what my Russian friend and sidekick, Zamir is making of all this, the bombed out, half deserted inner cities, the abandoned Ford plant, the funny, tough-as-nails hard working people we\’re meeting whose jobs are either gone or under threat. I told Zamir I\’d show him America and that\’s what I\’m doing.
There is—in spite of it all—a fierce pride, a toughness—and a uniquely American sense of dark humor, shared by everybody we\’ve met, that\’s given me an uncharacteristic sense of optimism.
I had to travel all over the world, to find my way here, I think. And to feel the way I\’m feeling about an America they don\’t usually show you on the hotel channel.
This Monday, it\’s Venice. And if nothing else, one of the most beautifully photographed episodes of NO RESERVATIONS. I\’m proud of the look—and hope we managed to give a sense of how delicious the everyday food of the city can be. I draw attention—for benefit of any tech and film wonks reading this—to the use of our new toy, a 35 millimeter lens—adapted to DV cameras, which gave the episode the look of a big screen movie in parts. I\’m besotted by Italy lately—and this was a fun one to make.
Even in the middle of tourist season, we managed, I think, to make Venice look hauntingly empty. A single street sweeper in an otherwise deserted Piazza San Marco, backstreets populated only by Venetians, sipping their drinks and looking idly out at the world, a private world of simple good things set against a backdrop of Europe\’s most beautiful living museum, slowly sinking into the Adriatic. Baby softshell crabs, slowly stewed cuttlefish, cooked in its own ink, sweet and sour sardines, pastas you\’d cheerfully kill your own best friend for a taste of—and the best damn risotto I\’ve ever had.Eat first—or watching will be a torment.