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The Tentacle


October 10, 2007

The New Left Bank

Norman M. Covert

We are witnessing the ascension of the new café society of Frederick, albeit, "Little Bohemia." The movement senses it can coexist here despite radical political concepts arising from among its ranks.

You'll find Little Bohemia's neighborhood south and east of the Square Corner and up "Avenue de Market Nord" - described by one observer as the "Left Bank."

Yes, there are writers, artists, aspiring theatrical performers and musicians among these Young Bohemians. Whodathought jazz wannabees would congregate downtown to jam?

There also are those who try to inculcate these talented and wistful young people with the tenets of socialism. Such are the dangers of a free society.

There was a time in Frederick that talk of anarchy permeated this community and helped sow the seeds of the American Revolution. One doesn't think the justification for overthrowing King George III is akin to surrendering to 21st Century terrorists.

The genesis, however, of our "Little Bohemia" is rooted not in political upheaval, but in the flood devastation of Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and the remnants of another hurricane in October 1976. The Square Corner and environs was five feet or more underwater after the predicted "rain showers" stopped falling in '76. Rebuilding was the only option for many merchants, some of whom took the opportunity to build on higher ground.

The new neighborhood is the outgrowth of former Mayor Ron Young's initiative to get 100-year-flood controls started on Carroll Creek to prevent future storm damage. He fought tenaciously for support and ultimately the initial funding to turn the meandering stream into a showplace.

There are few complaints about the transformation achieved here in the past quarter century. There is algae growing in the shallow, above-ground channel, which Department of Recreation Director Roelke Myers says may be solvable come next spring. The underground conduits have proved capable of handling high volumes of water from recent tropical storms.

Above ground, too, the vision is nearing completion with opening of the promenade, park and bridges that cross from the spillway off Bentz Street, through the heart of town, towards its confluence with East Patrick Street, the next phase of Carroll Creek's work.

Mr. Young's City Hall office originally was in the old Opera House, between Church and Second Streets. It overlooked "Avenue de Market Nord," with its maize of utility poles and wires, a project that begged fixing.

"Put it underground," he said, "and fix the sidewalks, add proper lighting and it may stop the exodus from downtown."

An eclectic mix of stores has taken hold along the avenue replacing those who vacated downtown.

The streamlined avenue was the perfect setting to introduce bistros that would satisfy the epicurean lust for strong drink and first class fare in an upscale environment. Frederick became Georgetown North and the weekend visitors liked what they experienced.

Frederick has exceeded its southern neighbor in ambiance. Eateries have responded with a gourmet's "groaning board," wine cellars that satisfy discriminating patrons, and sidewalks virtually free of the threat of violence. The latter trumps many amenities along Georgetown's main drag.

Squatters' rights in Frederick weren't easily achieved by the "Young Bohemians." City inspectors quarreled for a time about how much of a public sidewalk is legal for small tables and chairs. Apparently compromise was achieved and the cafés serve "alfresco" as its patrons "talk a little anarchy."

Frederick's Left Bank coterie found its sounding board in The Daily Blather. It tells us on Page One about the 10 people who congregated to hear the latest anti-war poetry, how to "green" up your condo, or learn the latest socialist doctrines not attributed to Karl Marx, Lenin, or Trotsky.

Readers learned that some folks showed up at "Unity" (uptown, beyond the fountain), to view a cinematic thriller about the latest politico/scientific results on climate change. We sense some competition for column inches between Unity and the local Quaker congregation, with its quest for unconditional peace in Iraq. We've gauged the size of both groups to be between some and a few more.

We don't object to peace in our time and we consider that it may be divine coincidence that Starbucks may soon begin vending lattes to the new population. We do have a sense that when the "Global Whining" begins in a few weeks, the Young Bohemians will vacate their sidewalk venues and head back underground for the duration.

We hope that their artistic contributions, Bohemian or not, can add to the crazy quilt composition of Frederick. Perhaps, too, they can learn from former Mayor Ron, who can see that his work was good - and so is his artwork.



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