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Travel for Artists: Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

On a chilly December day in 2016, a car whizzed crosstown in Philadelphia.  We stayed huddled in the backseat, unused to the blast of frigid air. Over the past few days we had gotten our fill of winter, tramping across downtown on foot, to visit the museum, running up the steps like Rocky, doubling over at the top, heaving from the exertion of it or the cold air. But on this particular day, my pulse quickened for another reason. We would be visiting the Edgar Allan Poe house Philadelphia.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia
I am as familiar as the next person on Poe’s contributions to pop culture through poems that involve a heart beating under the floorboards, a raven that speaks. I was on a different kind of mission though, one of trying to better understand what does the life and livelihood look like for the working poet?

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

The car slowed in front of an old edifice and we walked around the blocks until the staff had returned from lunch, also ensuring we were the first ones to take a post-prandial tour. I’ve been under a working supposition that the life in which the writer find her or himself ensconced is directly responsible for the kind of writing they produce in their lifetime. It did not surprise me to learn that this particular house inhabited by Poe, his wife and mother-in-law, had a basement of substantial proportions to the rest of the house. Of course it did! So much of his work happens in the nether regions, especially when the life lived upstairs was fraught with such difficulty. The docent, eagerly pointed out a recession in the chimney where a stuffed black cat glared out. She described how that architectural feature had provided the impetus for Poe’s, “the black cat.” We wound our way back upstairs and along the way learned how gravely ill Mrs. Poe was, learned how her mother doting on EA Poe provided a kind of mooring in the restlessness of that stormy sea.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

The ladies lived on the highest level of the house and you had to scale a very narrow stairway to access the space.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

But what stood out to me most, even beyond the basement was the close proximity between his study and bedroom on the next level down.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

At the time we visited, the light shimmered along the dilapidated walls of the study and I could envision sitting down at a desk to write, the window on my left, an option to look outside of self. I imagined him getting up in the middle of the night from his bed, an idea lightening his steps after flinging off the covers. How do we as creative people disconnect from the world of creative production really? Can dreams propel us into a new world on the page? Something about the short distance between those two rooms inspired me to wonder.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Not far from the Poe house, the Free Library holds secrets of its own. Notably, if you scale to the top of the building, you will happen upon the rare books room, free to access after signing in. The treasures housed within are nothing short of revelatory. Rejection letters to Beatrix Potter. A Maxfield Parrish painting. And the reason it was on our agenda, a very special taxidermied bird. A raven. The staff member flips a switch and the inside of a case lights up to reveal a glossy-feathered raven with an impossibly long beak. One eye that you might swear is twinkling and will continue watching you after you leave. This pet of Charles Dickens, a raven named Grip, inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous raven. If you listen closely enough you might hear it squawk, “nevermore.”

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

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24 Hours in Baltimore

 When you think about your favorite American town, does Baltimore come to mind? If you haven’t noticed I’m kind of sweet on Baltimore. I would submit Wit and Wisdom as a memorable meal, and stay tuned for a special write-up of my favorite restaurant in the U.S., perfect for when you have a bit more time, but right now let’s plan our 24 hours in Baltimore. I have  selected a hearty blend of food and poetry to make you also smitten with a city usually recorded for its football wins, crab cakes or crime.

Lebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese TavernaLebanese Taverna Baltimore

LEBANESE TAVERNA
Lebanese Taverna continues to give me a proper education in the art of Lebanese cuisine. Years ago when I visited the restaurant for the first time at a happy hour meet and greet, I discovered one of my food fixations: labneh. This is a restaurant where you hopefully have brought a few friends so you can order more dishes to sample. Their warm puffy just baked pita bread reminds me of the type of pita bread served on Mykonos in Greece rather than the sad plastic-wrapped version sold in mass market grocery stores. Their pita is perfect to pair with hommus from their extensive hommus section of the menu. As a hummus fan, their hommus is seasoned in all the right ways and if you order the spicy version, it comes with a pool of harissa in the middle. The Arnabeet salad, a roasted cauliflower, chickpea, yogurt and parsley salad really delights. If you’re craving something more traditional go for the refreshing Fatoosh salad of greens, tomatoes, mint leaves and crispy pita.Their Fatteh of eggplant served atop garlicky yogurt, chickpeas and fried pita chips also comes with jeweled pomegranate arils for a sweet, tangy burst, pine nuts and mint leaves. Expect long waits on the weekend  and evenings.

Edgar Allan Poe house  grave1

CHASING EDGAR ALLAN POE
Baltimore might be the one town in the United States to not only appreciate their resident poetic history but keep that history alive. As a test, I asked two strangers to cite for me where the Baltimore Ravens football team discovered its name. Without skipping a breath, they responded Edgar Allan Poe. I resolved to visit his gravesite even though some argue that his body should be moved to Philadelphia. The “Poe Toaster,” an anonymous Poe fan leaves a bottle of Cognac and three roses at his gravesite would definitely disagree. If you decide to make the trek out to Westminster Burial Ground, stay aware of your surroundings as it’s in a rough neighborhood.

Instead, perhaps head over to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum and make pit stops at other Poe places. To add onto the Poe places to visit, there have been other offshoots celebrating city ties with the poet. Restaurants like the Annabel Lee Tavern that serves a dessert called Edgar Allan Pate as well as the Annabel Lee cocktail of Stoli, peach nectar, and fresh lime topped with Poema Cava or sip on a pint of The Raven lager… If you appreciate poetry trinkets, pick up a Poe bobblehead.

The Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive Baltimore

THE BLACK OLIVE
Many years ago, several friends and I stumbled upon The Black Olive, nestled over on South Bond Street adjacent to Shakespeare Street and it left an indelible mark. It might have been the fresh fish on ice that you can select and order with your server when they lead you to review the display like the Bronzini shipped from Greece and then fileted tableside, served with a simple sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and oregano and a side dish of griddled polenta olive oil and feta cakes. I could also point to the refreshingly green take on hummus that incorporates parsley or the enticing Melitzanasalata roasted eggplant dip. But really, what keeps The Black Olive on my Baltimore short list is their Village Pie which inspired my homemade version as well as their Baklava Ice Cream with bits of baklava mixed into the ice cream for textural intrigue.

The Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse That You Came In On- Baltimore

THE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON
As it so happens, after eating dinner at the Black Olive in Fell’s Point, you are only steps away from America’s oldest saloon, The Horse You Came In On Saloon, known by locals as The Horse. Established in 1775, the rugged interior takes you back in time, but what makes patrons come back for more is the fun atmosphere, flowing booze and live music from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Over the bar, a sign reads, “Dry your eyes and soldier on.” Good advice. What took me to The Horse was the tiny tidbit that this saloon was the final destination of Edgar Allan Poe before he was found dead. The Horse’s colorful history adds to its charm plus it’s on an interesting cobblestone street with quaint shops lining that stay open late.