Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sabbatical Flashback 4: Baltimore Festivals: Pridefest

When I originally started this blog in 2006, my goal was to explore area ethnic and cultural festivals. It ballooned into something much, much bigger. But I did spend the first summer of the blog's existence going to festivals and writing about my experiences. One of my favorite festivals is Baltimore Pridefest (that includes the Saturday Block Party, whose mayhem has grown on me). I enjoy it because it is a chance to get together with my fellow gays and lesbians, as well as area bisexuals, transgendered and straight Baltimoreans, and celebrate our community. That also includes LGBT artists, drag performers, activists and musicians, including the below-mentioned Men's Chorus, of which I am now a member.

It is not, however, for the food.

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Baltimore Festivals: Pridefest

(originally posted Sunday, June 17, 2007)

I headed over to Droodle Park today for Baltimore's gay pride festival (avoided yesterday's block party like the plague - I don't care if they're gay or straight - a thousand people in the same small space sharing twelve trash cans make a mess). By "gay pride," of course I mean gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trisexuals (?), Homo sapiens, carcino... oops, got stuck in that song from Rent again.

GLBT pride festivals are known for many things, some more stereotypical than others: dykes on bikes (their name, not mine), guys in leather, drag queens, drag kings, shirtless men of all ages (both fit and not), middle-aged lesbian couples with their dogs in tow, couples walking hand in hand where they are not otherwise able without getting beaten. Pride festivals are less known for many things which, actually, are quite prominent at these events: many same-sex couples with children, lots of gay Christian and Jewish groups (I even saw a table for GLBT Buddhists), information about adoption, HIV prevention, GLBT community centers, super-cheesy promotions (Win a vacation today! Free single from the new Hairspray movie), a few straight couples there for a variety of reasons, and vendors selling what one friend and former colleague back in San Bernardino, CA, liked to call "rainbow-colored crap" - and why not? Gay people (though not the ones I knew in California) have money to spend on that stuff, right?

So true, you cannot get away from the ubiquitous rainbow-colored crap at these events.

And there are two things I have never seen at previous Baltimore Pridefests. One, the inevitable protesters (much more common in Cali), and two, edible food.

I found neither today.

As to the edible food: last year I did see a booth manned - womaned? womynd? - by staff at the Yabba Pot, Baltimore's only vegan soul food place (once on St. Paul, now in Pigtown - head's up, Fairfax!). As y'all have figured out, I am no vegan. But I will eat vegan food if I think it'll taste good. I got some jollof rice there once with some Nigerian spinach and vegan macaroni and "cheese." This last item was one that the master chef talked about on WYPR's Mark Steiner show a few years ago. She said she found a recipe that mimicked the consistency and flavors of good mac and cheese, but was completely vegan. Sadly, it was just as fattening as regular mac and cheese, she noted.

The Yabba Pot was not there this year. But lots of crappy festival food was. Stomach grumbling, I tried to find something halfway edible, preferably something that would capture the spirit of a gay pride festival. In retrospect, average, lackluster food captures the spirit of gay pride festival food to a tee, even if not the festival itself.

Amid the dizzying array of straight-owned (not that there's anything wrong with that) concession stands - Thai, Chinese, crabcakes, hot dogs, funnel cakes, cheese steaks - I found a familiar site, Constantine's Greek Kitchen. These guys, if I recall, were also at Honfest last weekend and at the St. Anthony Festival in Little Italy (a logical place to sell souvlaki and dolmas, no?). It seemed like a sign; I chose them for lunch. I almost got the dolmas (a small helping for $4), or the souvlaki for $8. But the fascinating "crab melt pita" (again, $8) caught my attention, so I tried that. And it's painfully simple, but potentially decadent: a pita, topped with melted shredded three cheeses mixed with crab meat - no, not the lump stuff. Again, potentially decadent. This was kind of unexciting. But I didn't have high expectations, and it was a nice , uniquely Baltimorean change for festival food.

I was mostly done, taking in more marriage equality booths and, again, rainbow-colored crap, until I meandered back to the food section. Lo and behold, my eyes alighted on "Rita's Deep Fried Twinkies." I initially gagged and walked off, but then it dawned on me: I will never order one of these things again. Why not be the good, brave scientist and try one of these fried Twinkies I've heard so much about? So, five minutes and $2 later (plus $1 for a bottled water), I had the hot, steaming fried Twinkie, drizzled in chocolate and powdered sugar, in my hands. I had to sit under a tree and try this. The Twinkie started falling off its stick, but when I bit into it, this thing was surprisingly tasty. Much more so than a regular Twinkie. It did fall apart, so I had to spear the individual pieces, now resembling the remnants of a tempura ice cream sans the ice cream, and eat them that way.

It was sinful and decadent. And I will never eat this again.

I left Pridefest, having (to my surprise) run into a high school friend (little did either of us know). With the Baltimore Gay Men's Chorus singing in the background, I made the umpteen-mile trek back to my car, Hairspray movie paraphernalia and rainbow-colored crap in tow.

Other photos:

The Baltimore Gay Men's Chorus, steering clear of cloying showtunes and sounding quite good.

It's pretty rainbow-colored crap, but it's rainbow-colored crap nonetheless.