muckefuck: (zhongkui)
This morning I said to [livejournal.com profile] monshu, "Open House Chicago is going on. What are some buildings you'd like to see?" In the interests of not running all over creation, he restricted the choices to Rogers Park. I made my own list and, when we compared, we found our top choice was the Emil Bach House, a Frank Lloyd Wright home from 1915. A couple years back, it was bought by the Pritzers and completely refurbished. They're now renting it out as a vacation home (yours for the bargain price of $1500/day).

We expected it to be popular and, indeed, the line wound round the block. Chicago Architecture Foundation volunteers were working it, offering annual memberships ($65/person) to cut in line. One of them put the wait at about an hour and a half, and she was pretty close: by our estimation, 80 minutes. Rather than pair each group with a tour guide, they had docents spaced at strategic points in the house and grounds and sent us one from one to another, although the relay all began to break down after we visited the upper storey.

The GWO and I came to the same conclusion: beautiful, but I wouldn't want to live there. Like most of his works, it has such a strong personality that there's no much room left to impose your own. I loved all the the little niches and nooks, but couldn't escape the thought [livejournal.com profile] monshu had upon seeing them: "A nightmare to clean." He also pointed out that the back porch and teahouse weren't weatherised, significantly cutting down on the amount of usable space.

Compared to the Robie House in Hyde Park, the Bach House does feel small. It wouldn't take much of a crowd to make the living room unnavigable (doubtless the reason for the staged viewings) and the ceilings often felt uncomfortably close to my head. On the plus side, it's on the north edge of a double lot, affording great views of the gardens and plenty of light in the bedrooms. The view of the Lake, sadly, has been reduced to a small square between apartment complexes across the alley.

After this, the other choices were each a bit more anticlimactic. First we stopped off at the Loyola campus to see their spanking new Institute of Environmental Sustainability. The most intriguing aspect of the design was the greenhouse space, a room without walls on the upper storey. There is a door controlling access to the stairs, but I pointed out to the Old Man how trivially easy it would be to swing around the side of it and pass even the largest potted plants back to a waiting accomplice. It afforded tremendous views of the block of Kenmore now pedestrianised and appended to campus.

By now, we were both in need of food, so we stopped at Dak on Granville for rice bowls before continuing to the Conway House on Sheridan. I've always admired this lovely old pile, recently vacated by the Madames of the Sacred Heart. Some lovely dark wood built-ins and mosaic floors inside, but the "open house" only included the main level, and not even all of that. No line to speak of, so I suggested hitting the north mansion at Berger Park across the street. Again, great built-ins and other details, but sorely in need of some TLC. It looks rode hard and put up wet, which is only to be expected of a service building in a funds-starved park district.

Next year we'll be prepared, make our plans ahead of time, and hopefully make it to some Loop locations. (Big Tim posted that he was going to try to hit nine of them today; based on what we heard about yesterday's lines, he'll be luck to make half that number.) Such a damn big city and I've seen so very little of it.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I somehow managed not to connect the dots and conclude that I had today off until a couple days ago. We had no invitations for the Fourth, so on a whim I suggested a trip to the AI to see the Magritte exhibit. If you have any interest in his work or Surrealism in general, I highly recommend it. Really nicely mounted, with many works I've never seen before in addition to his most iconic. I recalled seeing an exhibition several years back with [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo and others, but it wasn't this extensive.

We got lunch beforehand at Cafecito, which [livejournal.com profile] monshu had never been in before, even though he'd eaten their Cuban once. He had the special of the day, the "Española". I wanted the Choripan, but it happened to be the one they were out of for some reason, so I knew I couldn't go wrong with the Lechón and I didn't. I fleshed it out with some caldo gallego (not the saltiest I've had by far, but still more sodium than I like to ingest), a guava turnover, and a mamey shake. I'm not the biggest fan of guava, but I liked this a lot.

At my request, we left the museum through the modern wing so I could check out the Lurie Garden. It looks fantastic right now with purple coneflowers in bloom everywhere. But the Old Man was more taken with the Japanese knotweed and the sea holly, so much so that we're going to look for them next time we visit Gethsemane. The rest of the park was mobbed, so we moved through it as quickly as we could on our way to Trader Joe's to get some sausages for dinner.

Of course, Scooter was on the deck, too, with his gaggle of women. Fortunately, they're all cold-blooded and it was a little cool today, so they retreated inside leaving us to enjoy our gourmet franks and two types of potato salad in peace and quiet--at least until the fireworks started in the alley.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
My doctor appointment was inconveniently scheduled for the middle of the damn day but I decided to turn this from flaw into virtue and get some food shopping done. I needed to hit the Christkindlmarket to play Piet, but I was close enough to the new Eataly that I thought I'd swing through and check the hype. The layout is...special. Imagine a high supermarket with all the usual sections (e.g. cheese, wine, meat, veg). Now imagine an Italian-themed food court with all the usual stations (e.g. pizza, pasta, panini). Then scramble them together and spread them over two floors so that it's impossible to shop without having to pass through several busy dining areas and impossible to eat more than one kind of food at a sitting without having to run all over the place. This is, what, the twentieth store they've opened so the model must be tested and true but I think I still prefer the H-Mart layout (i.e. all the food stalls off at one end--except the hodogwaja; it should be a healthy walk to get those because otherwise the smell would be overwhelming).

In any case, I had a perfectly decent $9 slice of foccacia. (I suppose when a concept washes up on the Third Coast from New York, it brings the prices with it.) [livejournal.com profile] monshu had asked me to pick up some "interesting" pasta and, since we already have some croxetti, the best I could do after several passes through the section was trofie. It comes from the homeland of pesto, so it should match well with the homemade we have in the fridge. I did consider getting a loaf to try from their in-house bakery but (a) I think Italian bread kind of sucks and (b) we've got rye coming out our ears at home already, since the last time the Old Man hit BreadCo all they had was a miche. It's not convenient or cheap in any case, more what Fox & Obel used to be: a destination for when you need some crazy specialty ingredient where you can also get a bite to eat.

The Christkindlmarket was refreshingly sane, but even this didn't hold me back from being kind of a dick at the Sweets Castle. I understand the love of browsing in that place, but please--I come here every year, I know exactly what I'm looking for, just stay out of my fucking way and no one gets hurt, 'kay? There seemed to be a couple new offerings this year. I saw a sign advertising "noodles" but I didn't get close enough to check out what exactly they were. It seems the Bavarians have finally arrived, bearing with Weisswurst and Germknödel. I was tempted by the latter, but being still all full of bread from earlier, I plumped for a baked apple instead. I should have at least one more crack at the Markt (before Fledermaus) if I don't decide to brave the crowds again before that.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The Cultural Center boasts two impressive stained glass domes. Everyone knows about the Tiffany, but I was equally taken with the Healy and Millet windows in the G.A.R. Memorial Hall. Having never really looked at the wall decorations before, I was baffled with the prominent depictions of weapons. Didn't this used to be a library? Generally those are decorated with books and busts of poets, not pikes and lances.

This is what I get for not studying history. I read "G.A.R." as "Gar" and thought we were dealing with the bequest of a family of war profiteers rather than a pioneering organisation of American Civil War veterans. As impressed as I was by their advocacy for Black (male) suffrage, I was even more impressed to read, "In 1956, after the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, the GAR was formally dissolved". I suppose in these days of widespread mission creep, it's refreshing to see group say, "Well, we fulfilled our mission, so now it's time to close up shop."

I'm not sure how the G.A.R. first got into the business of attaching libraries to their meeting halls, but Chicago's is not the only example. But I'll be damned if it's not the most impressive. In any case, some very timely (and sorely belated) reading for Veteran's Day.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Right now Chicago is windy and cold, with temperatures just above the freezing point and rain mixed with snow. I'm so glad I spent some time outdoors yesterday. It wasn't exactly warm, but it was quite comfortable in the sunshine. More importantly, it gave me a chance to spend a little time with [livejournal.com profile] mlr.

He was supposed to be our houseguest, but unfortunately that didn't work out. (Yet [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I still got hostess gifts anyway. Best deal ever!) Friday, our plans shrunk from half a day together to a few hours. Saturday, I still didn't trust my tummy, so I pulled the plug on high tea with Nuphy. We still planned to get to the opera house in plenty of time for introductions and sightseeing, but then he was horribly delayed in traffic and I was stuck in the outer lobby waiting for him while [livejournal.com profile] mlr had to show himself around. Then we missed our first intermission rendezvous, leaving only a truncated meeting during the second. He wanted food afterwards, but all I wanted was bed.

We both rose late the next day, so it was already afternoon before I made it downtown or he made it to the Art Institute. ([livejournal.com profile] monshu got the drop on both of us by hours and was already downtown killing time before meeting up with [livejournal.com profile] mollpeartree and [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo for Krrish 3 at the River East.) I didn't want to rush him so I ducked into the Cultural Center for a bit. Lots of gimmicky local art on the first floor but an interesting site-specific installation on the second floor. Then I took him to the Lurie Garden where we luxuriated in the sun and discussed landscaping.

He was surprised that I wanted to visit the Bean. "Do natives come here?" I didn't foresee myself growing so fond it either, but it inspires such genuine delight in all the tourists who visit it that's a year-round vortex of happy vibes--not to mention a loaded buffet for a language-and-culture buff like me. There was a gaggle of teens on the Gehry Bridge daring each other to slide down the side and a man with a hose spreading the first layers of ice on the rink in front of the Park Grill.

After that, we were at a bit of a loss for what to do, so I suggested he come check out the Cultural Center as well. I tend to forget about it because it's generally not open when I'm walking past, but it really is a municipal jewel hidden in plain sight. As we were climbing the steps from the south entrance, [livejournal.com profile] mlr asked if there was a string quartet playing. "Oh no," I said, "that's recorded"--moments before turning the corner on a landing and seeing that I was, in fact, dead wrong and three members of the International Contemporary Ensemble were playing beneath the rotunda.

[livejournal.com profile] mlr wanted to stay, so we managed to catch exactly half of the concert. Unfortunately, we were in the back section of seats where there was a constant flow of people coming and leaving (never between sections of course, only after they'd heard enough of the next piece to decide they didn't like it). I thought about moving up, but the photo-snapping and such wasn't limited to the fringes. Kudos to the performers for including some more challenging works alongside the Bach and such, but this was about the least suitable venue imaginable for a piece with extended silent sections and exquisitely quiet overtones.

Afterwards we met up with the Old Man at the Intercontinental (our wily Texan scored a room in the historic tower for less than the Super 8 in Rogers Park) with the intention of dining across the street at Lao Sze Chuan, not knowing that it wasn't slated to open until next month. Oops. But Oysy is quite close by and still quite good, even if the serve did inexplicably interpret the GWO's order of a "scotch and water" to be a San Pellegrino. ("Just watch," he said irascibly, "from the way he looked at me, I know he's going to get my order wrong." He was away from the table when it arrived and I sent your man away to get it right. "We're not going to tell [livejournal.com profile] monshu about this," I admonished [livejournal.com profile] mlr. But then he arrived and asked, and we gave the game away by collapsing in giggles.)

Today our doughty tourist is on his own again. I think I talked him out of an excursion to Hyde Park, but I'm still unease at the prospect of him fighting horizontal sleet to make it back to Michigan Avenue. But I guess it will take the Chicago experience of someone who's only ever visited at the beginning of summer before and make it into something altogether more well-rounded.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
We never made it down to Pilsen when my brother was in town and yesterday was our first chance to have another crack. I'd forgotten completely about DST ending (really, why couldn't it've come next weekend, when I'll be recovering from a Wagner opera?) so I was up quite early. But there were problems getting in touch with Nuphy, so we weren't out of the house until 9 and didn't arrive at the Museum until quarter to eleven--right at the same time as some massive schoolgroup.

But the kids were alright. The only real inconvenience is that we had to go through the main exhibit twice in order to check out the ofrendas in the second room, including one to the victims of Sandy Hook. I found it affecting, but not as much as the Hurricane Sandy one across the room. Nuphy and [livejournal.com profile] monshu were most attracted to an artist's altar for her fisherman father, not least of all for the Orthodox iconic nature of his portrait.

Nuphy picked up a couple skullettes for his grandsons from the Last Mondragón. (I admired the way she confidently addressed everyone in very loud and clear Spanish without bothering to ascertain whether they spoke it first.) Then he took us to his favourite local restaurant, Decolores on Halsted. We started walking, but this wore out the old men and they grabbed a bus while I continued on foot.

On the way, we visited the new Bombon which seems half the size of the old one. At least the pan de muertos is as good as ever. (We didn't get tres leches because Nuphs insisted we try that from Kristoffer's.) We all shook our heads at the massive line outside Nuevo León. It's a fine restaurant, but I've never had a meal there to justify waiting even fifteen minutes for a table when I could walk to an equally good restaurant in less than half that time. This is not some food desert, this is bloody Pilsen, people.

And for me, walking is much of the pleasure of the neighbourhood anyway. You never know when you're going to stumble across some quirky art installation or curious juxtaposition of character and "progress". I kept looking for the imagined boundary between (gentrified) East Pilsen and (ethnic) West Pilsen and never finding it; there are trendy cafés popping up west of Ashland and shambolic convenients holding on east of Racine. I passed the the birrieria we went to with Diego and Uncle Betty and the shrine to Ntra Sra de Guadalupe at San Procopio with three full size mock graves laid out in front.

Decolores embodied the liminal state of the west side of Halsted. They had a full bar with a specialty margarita menu, but they also had jamaica (though not under that name at least). There was a full slate of vegetarian offerings, but also a section of old-school standards like tacos al pastor. We seemed to get the one server who wasn't Spanish-speaking. (She was baffled when I asked if the "caramel" tres leches was made with caramel or with cajeta. "I don't know what that is.") Which is appropriate, I guess, because I think we were the only table without at least one native hispanohablante.

I would've been completely happy with my "Deseo de Abelina"--a roulade of bacon-wrapped chicken breast around queso fresco with a coconut cream sauce--if only I hadn't sampled Nuphy's lomo en guajillo and the GWO's mole. O treacherous esophagus, why must you deny me the pleasures of chiles? The tres leches (with cajeta, as it turns out) was good, but I'm still not convinced it's better than Bombon's. It was also a bit much, as we were all rather stuffed at that point. (I blame the the light-as-clouds made-to-order tortilla chips.)

They didn't have chocolate or champurrado, which made me sad that I'd passed on several opportunities to buy it from a street vendor. (A sign for atole con nueces also caught my eye outside Carnitas Don Pedro.) But, as I told the Old Man on the way back, it's not like we can't find it in our neck of the woods. That got him thinking of the "Mayan" chocolate from SoMa so I whipped us up some after we got back to go with the bread of the dead.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today I took the morning off to breakfast with [livejournal.com profile] sandor_baci, in town for a few days on holisness. I would've preferred doing lunch. Hell, if I'd had my druthers, it would've been the whole day, but just my luck to have an unmissable committee meeting this afternoon. And if I was going to come in for that, I might just as well come in for a one o'clock training session with my section.

I exploited the occasion to check out a highly-rated Gold Coast bistro, Café des Architectes in the Sofitel on Chestnut. It didn't disappoint. My crèpes au jambon were tender, generously filled with high-quality ham, and sauced with a flawless béchamel. I didn't expect them to be accompanied by roast baby potatoes with gruyère, but they were, and the complimentary croissant was most satisfactory, too. (Although why they don't have butter set out on the tables is a mystery to me.) The outdoor seating is lovely, but a bit noisy of a midmorning. (Should've remembered all the purveyors would be making their deliveries.)

[livejournal.com profile] sandor_baci didn't disappoint either. It was only after I was underway to meet him that I wondered how we'd find each other. I couldn't remember if he'd ever seen a photo of me, but I knew I'd never seen one of him. As it was, I needn't've worried; I scoped him immediately from my vantage point in the parklet across the road (now outrageously dominated by an Argo Tea). And it turns out that, despite the nature of the glamour shot from [livejournal.com profile] bitterlawngnome's session with me two years back that got him to pay attention to me in the first place, he can identify me from the front as well.

I'm not sure what exactly I expected, but it wasn't someone so (a) tall; (b) ginger, or (c) soft-spoken. As I told him, it was reminiscent of meeting [livejournal.com profile] paulintoronto, who can sound a bit stern in his posts (that's the schoolteacher coming out), but is anything but in real life. Sándor managed to launch right into a technical account of the fascinating work he does without seeming either narcissistic or condescending, and that's no mean feat.

The meal was over in a flash, leaving me with copious time to kill before I needed to catch my shuttle, so I walked him over to the Hancock and waited at the post office while he mailed his packages. Chicago was going all out to impress with fine weather, so we strolled around the MCA and Northwestern's downtown campus. He filled me in on some of his checkered past, which brought to mind Prof. Trefusis' line from Fry's The Liar: "Young people sometimes give me the impression that I have never lived at all" (albeit with "older" substituted for "young").

He then returned the favour from earlier, sitting on a bench with me while I waited on my ride back north before sauntering off to take in the Art Institute. After that, the bleariness of a poor night's sleep caught up with me and the rest of the day faded to a vaguely pleasant blur. Sometimes thing just work out.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
We didn't know where we wanted to eat lunch today except that we knew we didn't want it to be Fox & Obel. There used to be several other choices in the same building, but now there's one and it didn't look too promising. So we strolled down to Grand where I spotted Yolk, a newish breakfast chainlet that I associated with vaguely positive buzz. It was busy, but not too busy, when we walked in. The hostess took one look at my St Louis Cardinals t-shirt and said:

"That's the wrong shirt."

"For what?"

"For this city, for...life. Just wrong in general."

This prompted my usual response, "So, tell me, how many World Series have the Cubs won?"

"But you're...it depends, do you like in this city?"

"It doesn't matter how long I'm in Chicago, I'm not going to stop being from St Louis. It was just luck of the draw, really. If I were from Chicago, I'd be rooting for the Cubs, too. It's a shittier city, but we have better baseball, so it all balances out."

The noteworthy thing to me was that she could not have taken a pleasanter tone with me during the exchange. If you didn't understand English, you'd probably have assumed she was complimenting me. We ended up waiting fifteen minutes or so for a table outside, and it was completely worth it. Not because the restaurant was noisy (which it was) but because it could hardly have been a more perfect day to be outside on their lush little terrace. Food and service were lovely, too; my only complaint, in fact, was the size of my coffee: They charge as much for an 8 oz. Metropolis mocha as I'd pay for a 16 oz. in the store. (Though, as I pointed out to [livejournal.com profile] monshu, that price doesn't include seating in a garden space. And for sure not in a garden space in Streeterville.)

What were we even doing down there? you might ask. We were lured by [livejournal.com profile] mollpeartree, who was taking advantage of her temporary bachelorettedom by taking in a matinee of a new Bollywood release staring her pretend boyfriend Ajay Devgan. The Old Man was interested because he'd never seen a Bollywood film in a cinema before, and he was so impressed by the experience that he's talking seriously about returning to catch Krrsh 3 when it opens. She had another engagement afterwards, so it was only him who benefitted from the most fully-elaborated version of my postmodern analysis of Satyagraha.

The other attraction was, perhaps unexpectedly, Fox & Obel. [livejournal.com profile] monshu wanted a nice piece of fish to pair with our squid-ink pasta from Gene's and remembered their meat being as good as the produce was iffy. While there, we tut-tutted about the sorry state of the shelves once more but ended up leaving with Irish steel-cut oats (the local stores carry only inferior brands), a raw cow milk cheese from Schwyz, and--most surprising of all--a package of croxetti (the last they had, in fact). I read about this peculiarly Ligurian form of pasta only recently and never expected to stumble across it so soon. Now I guess I've got no choice but to learn to prepare a proper Genovese salsa di noci to cover them with.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Summer days in Chicago don't get much better than this.

Although I was thrilled at the prospect of checking out Lao Yunnan, the reinvented Spring World, I was dreading the prospect of having to get down to Chinatown to do it. When the City needs to upgrade stations on the North Side, it closes them one or two at a time and carefully guides the trains past them. But when it's the South Side, it just shuts the whole damn line down. Sure, there's a connecting shuttle, but I've learned to dread those things.

But then yesterday the Old Man says, "Why don't we take the water taxi from the Wrigley Building?" Now that's something I've never done and always wanted to. It really could not have been a better day for it. It was supposed to be 30℃ todau, muggy with a chance of thunderstorms. Well, the rain stayed away, but the clouds hung around long enough to keep the mercury rising from above 25℃. Add in shade and a breeze, and the bow of the boat was simply the most comfortable place you could hope to be outdoors. Plus we had cute Italians splayed over the benches in front of us.

All the recent precip has left Chicago's vegetation as lush as it ever gets. But I was dismayed as we approached 18th and the green wall on the east bank fell away: What happened to the pavilion? It was still there, but further down than I remembered because they've basically doubled the size of Ping Tom Park since our last visit. The construction we saw on the northern end is apparently a shiny new field house--and if the activity we saw there today is any indication, it will see lots of use.

We had a couple hours before dinner so we did some errands: Feida for pastries (walnut cake, coconut tarts, and winter melon cake), Ten Ren for ginger tea, Hoy Polloy Gallery for some tacky art (just looking, thanks!), and Saint's Alp for a snack. (Next time I'll avoid the green tea--badly oversteeped. But the "salt and pepper" calamari were nice, even if the jalapeños were a bit of a surprise.)

Then to Aji no Ichiban only to find that they've again reduced their selection of candied olives and kumquats. Then at the liquor store adjoining the restaurant we ran into the architect of today's get-together, [livejournal.com profile] innerdoggie, and her trusty companion [livejournal.com profile] tyrannio. I'm abashed to admit that it was he, not I, who spotted the "Three Penis Wine" (三鞭酒) in the middle aisle, right next to the "wolfberry wine".

[livejournal.com profile] lhn and [livejournal.com profile] prilicla met up with us at the restaurant soon after and we set about the business of putting together a shared meal for a party containing one strict vegetarian and one culinary Hebrewite. Fortunately, we're all fairly adventurous and spice level was not a problem. In addition to being earnest and well-informed, our server was also inadvertently hilarious. We asked her to inform us of hidden meat, so when [livejournal.com profile] tyrannio asked for the "vegetarian chicken" she hastened to tell him it was "not vegetarian" because the "chicken is chicken" (and not--as one might supposed--mock chicken made from tofu).

Then when we were ordering tong choy for a side, he asked if they had any fermented tofu (a.k.a. "tofu cheese" or fǔrǔ). After seeing it on his smartphone and checking with another server, she affirmed that they had it, but when we requested it be added to the vegetable, she balked saying they didn't use it in any of the dishes. (After she'd gone, [livejournal.com profile] tyrannio suggested they kept it on hand strictly for staff meals.) She finally agreed to bring a little dish of it we could add ourselves.

In the end, two appetizers, three meat dishes, and two veg turned out to be the right amount for six adults who have learned how to call it quits when they're sated rather than full. [livejournal.com profile] monshu got his lamb with cumin, I got my swine, and we were both impressed with the "bear paw tofu". We also got out for $30 between the two of us, which is practically dim sum prices.

Speaking of dim sum, we'll have to return on our quest to find a replacement for Happy Chef. The most promising candidate is the newest jewel in the Tony Hu empire, small plates lounge Lao Ju You. The large signs out front promise it's "Hong Kong style"; known of us know exactly what that means, but we don't see how it could be bad.

[livejournal.com profile] innerdoggie led the charge back to Aji no Ichiban for "wrong candy" and I was thrilled to find that I'd been lied to on the earlier visit: They had chocolate-covered sunflower seeds after all, the bastards! Because we are living in the future, [livejournal.com profile] lhn was taking pictures of indecipherable labels and feeding them through an online translator. The results were generally more amusing than informative, but at least we determined what "coralline" was (though none of us was brave enough to try a drink made from it).

As we strode out into the comfortable night air, we saw that the "supermoon" [livejournal.com profile] monshu feared we wouldn't be able to see had just risen above the horizon-hugging cloud line. The shuttle to Roosevelt turned out to be spiffy, quick, and--most unexpected of all--totally free. There the Old Man hailed a cab so we could be back on our porch at home for a limoncello before bedtime. That was nearly two hours ago, and I'm just now coming down to where I might be able to get some shut-eye.
Oct. 13th, 2012 11:39 pm

Home early

muckefuck: (Default)
Oh, Chicago, you so crazy! Two days ago I could see my breath on the way to work. Coming back from the opera tonight, I was too warm in my unlined raincoat. I hope I get around to writing up this one, since Strauss' Elektra is not performed as often as it oughta be and this was an excellent production, but I don't want to be up until all hours again. I'm already going to be paying for staying up past midnight last night because I was so wound up from the Cardinals victory.

That was one amazing game, by the way. At least three times (starting when they fell behind 6 runs to zero) I said to myself, "Well, that's it, call the undertaker." And damn if they didn't end up winning 9-7. If I were a Nationals fan, I know I would feel just gutted. There are few things more terrible when you're cheering on your team to see them piss away a commanding lead like that. I'm beginning to realise why some people dislike the Cards so much.

I'm in [livejournal.com profile] monshu's good graces, however. I made surprisingly good time to Greektown and had about fifteen minutes to kill before I was supposed to meet Nuphy at Greek Islands, so I killed them in the Pan-Hellenic Pastry Shop. At first, I was just there for a galaktoboureko. But then I thought of the Old Man and picked up a karyoka and some macaroons, plus some cookies for me.

For dinner, I had tacos al pastor. They didn't call it that, of course; the name on the menu was kontosouvli. But it was a seasoned pork stacked on a vertical spit and roasted and then served with pita for sandwich-making. Tacos al pastor.
muckefuck: (Default)
As I told the Old Man a couple hours ago, I'm not sure if the exhibitors at the art festival in Lakeview this afternoon were any better or worse than at the other fairs we've been to this year, but the crowd was at least 50% more gay. While he pawed through boxes of framed photographic prints, I stationed myself with a strategic view of the aisleway and scanned for cuties. The hottest of the hot seemed to be working the festival, so that's incentive to come back next year.

It took us less than an hour to reach the end--a temporary parklet installed by Patch Landscaping in the middle of the street. Very fun. There was a larger-than-life chess set that I'm sure would've had my eldest nephew squeeing. But after passing through that, we cast about for something else to do to justify the trip down on the Broadway bus. (And it was a trip: the crowd were doing their best to justify my calling that route "the street theatre bus".)

I saw the Treasure Island sign up ahead and suggested we do a little shopping. Last week or the week before, we discussed the fact that it'd been so long since we'd been in TI we really didn't recall how well they stacked up next to other contenders. It seems at least as good as I remember it, with huge chunks of Callebaut stacked in the first aisle and some truly lovely produce in the last. [livejournal.com profile] monshu talked me into buying a bag of red plums for Pflaumenkuchen using the Sahnequark from Gene's and he picked up a couple swordfish steaks to go with the squid ink pasta he picked up there.

He was about to pick up some basil as well, but I reminded him that, on our way to the alley, we'd inspected the basil our departing neighbours had stuck in the ground and determined there was enough for some modest preparation. The trip back was quicker and quieter than the ride down, but no less entertaining with fewer passengers. There was a high-strung old queen who I thought was going to have an aneurysm on account of the well-behaved by chatty little girl in the seat in front of us. And it's been quite a while since either of us has seen a wheelchair get stuck in the lock or a driver try it on with a fare.
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The first leg of our gonzo family vacation took place on the Jersey Shore, half an hour's drive from Atlantic City. I can't tell from the resort's webpage if they still have power after the weekend's derecho, but Atlantic County was apparently rather hard hit ("Worse than Irene" according to a local source) and there's a 9 pm curfew in effect. Really puts the downpours we had to drive through to get to Boston into perspective.

As mentioned before, I was sick my last two days in Boston. I checked into the Milner Hotel on Tuesday night and almost literally collapsed onto the bed. Fortunately, I was feeling rather better by the time I had to head off to Logan the following evening, but I still took a sick day on Thursday. Then, just when I'd found my feet again, I came down with a mild case of food poisoning in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Between the loss of sleep and dehydration I was woozy well into the next day and for a while it was touch-and-go whether I'd be joining [livejournal.com profile] monshu at the Gold Coast Art Fair in Grant Park.

As annoying as it was being laid up on Saturday, all I could think about was what an immense comfort it was that this was happening at home and not on the road. There was a moment, lying on a hard twin bed in my tiny dreary hotel room, when I began sobbing, I wanted to be home so much. Some people in this world are natural travellers; me, not so much. I am a soft boy addicted to my comforts.

Up on Miss Cleveland's balcony yesterday evening I was singing the praises of Chicago, telling everyone how I'd made a point of descending at Roosevelt to catch a cab north so I could have the pleasure of viewing the skyline from across Grant Park. It may not be my hometown, but it is home.
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  • A "NO DUMPING" sign on a back fence defaced to read "NO HUMPING".
  • A laughing young man racing out of a backyard with a smiling young woman in hot pursuit. (She gave up before he reached the end of the alley.
  • A cinder block shattered on the sidewalk.
  • A gaggle of young children sitting in a circle on the grass.
  • Dark stains on the pavement underneath all of the mulberry trees.
  • An albino African-American teenager being interrogated by a cop yelling abuse.
  • About a dozen fireflies.
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Last week on Facebook I bet a near-stranger that I would cut off my fingernails (his idea, not mine) if his dire predictions about anarchist mayhem came true over the weekend. My counterprediction was that we wouldn't see anything worse than a few broken windows at most. Sadly, our mutual acquaintance deFriended me as a consequence so I'm not in a position to gloat at having been proved right. But really, the relief of an uneventful series of protests is more than reward enough.

There were moments last night, watching the newsfeeds, where I glimpsed the potential for things to get really ugly. Once I saw that barricaded hefted, I thought we'd see some shattered glass for sure. In the end, however, the police seem to have behaved better than I feared them capable of. (One friend reports that supervisors repeatedly broadcast the message, "Remember that you are on live television and show restraint!") Yeah, they busted a few heads, but only after being seriously provoked, and the brunt of their response seems to have landed on those actually doing the provoking; when bystanders complained that they were being given no place to go, the cops pulled back. Most importantly, they identified and surrounded the Black Bloc hooligans early on without disrupting the surrounding march. I didn't see any evidence of the awful baton charges on peaceful parties or instances of kettling vividly broadcast from the streets of Toronto. How refreshing would it be if we're actually learning from Canada's mistakes for a change?

The much-touted traffic chaos turned out to be a bust as well, quite possibly because so much of the workforce heeded calls to stay home. The shuttles I rely on to get into work, which loop down to Chicago Avenue and back north, ran perfectly on schedule. I'm still waiting for a report from our buddy Diego, who announced at Saturday's brunch his intentions to go south for some sightseeing. Again, there were moments on Sunday when I asked myself why I wasn't doing the same. Twenty years ago, I would've been there for sure. But I fall in the vast middle ground between the grannies reliving their rebellious youth and the rebellious youth living it out for the first time.
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So it's not just the weather which was summery this weekend. It didn't make the list, so I don't know what was going down around 9:30 last night when Mazeppa gave me a ride home from Scruffy's, but Ridge was completely blocked off at Howard Street. There were at least a half dozen squad cars. Once it became clear to Mazeppa that there was no way through, he calmly turned into a side street and rode over to Clark instead.

It recalled an incident earlier in the day at the local market where I'd gone to buy ingredients for the salad I made. Three employees were facing off in the entryway with some angry young man who was loudly calling for witnesses to the fact that he'd been "pushed out of the store and they broke my silver chain". Seeing he wasn't armed, I passed within a foot of him and nonchalantly strolled into the store even as people there were looking my way trying to determine the source of the raised voices that carried after me through the door.

Later I saw two more employees hustling that way, obviously having been summoned, and upon leaving I saw an unmarked police car and your man in cuffs on the sidewalk. I couldn't figure out what his deal was. How much does it cost to repair one link in a silver chain? A touch of warm weather and people just go nuts with the poor decisions.
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Normally I avoid book readings like the plague because...I'm not really sure why. After all, all the ones I can remember now I really enjoyed. But be that as it may, what got me to Gerber Hart last night was the promise that my friend Dale would be reading. Seeing as he never showed (he said all his friends cancelled because of the storm--which even didn't start for another fourteen hours!--so he did, too), I might've had reason to be annoyed. But, fortunately, this nice nursing instructor I met last Bear Night was going, too, so we met for dinner at his local Thai place (Thai Grill, right across the street and perfectly serviceable) and then headed over together.

Take away Dale and we still had three readers--or four if you include the editor, who read from her slightly overwrought preface. It's an anthology of queer Chicago writing and, judging from who was present, they seem to have done well in terms of gender/identity diversity, but not so much in terms on race of economics. (The preface, for instance, singles out for a shout-out Cubs fandom--the whitest, most North-Side kind of Chicago sports fandom. I wanted to wave my Cardinals scarf in protest.)

I liked the first piece the best. It was a very direct and unsentimental poem called "Survivor" about a lesbian woman visiting her sister's grave west of the city. The second excerpt was in a voice I like to call "first-person justificational"--one that should be familiar to anyone who reads many blog entries for its portrayal of a clash between two characters narrowly from the viewpoint of one of these who--SURPRISE!--bears far more than a passing resemblance to the author. (In this case, a middle-aged M-to-F.) I actually rather liked the description of waiting in a godforsaken stripmall coffee shop for someone to arrive, but once it became clear this was all just a set-up for a blast of the narrator's self-righteousness, I lost all interest. (I had to confirm afterwards that, yes, it was intended as fiction and not first-person essay.)

The last reading was an exuberant nostalgia piece about a long-gone dance palace called Dugan's Bistro. Charming enough as far as it went, but it seemed to get a lot of its charge from old-timers' gauzy recognition of a litany of song titles (songs I first heard on a shitty transistor radio or years later at Bear Pride dances, so the effect wasn't quite so powerful on me). In the end, I wasn't in the least tempted to buy the collection, but my companion did so I guess I may find out from him how worthwhile it is. The doyenne of the library ended the evening by plugging a disco exhibit at the History Museum and we made tentative plans to take that in.

Of course, it wasn't possible for me to leave a room containing that many books without buying one (a $4 copy of Days of awe by Chicago's own Achy Obejas, someone I've always meant to read). Amusingly, we ended up sitting next to a Northwestern journalism student who I recognised by her library drawstring bag. She asked if we could interview us afterwards, but then apparently forgot all about that, since she popped up from her seat to buttonhole the editor of the volume instead. Not a bad evening, even if I didn't take full advantage of the Choco-Leibniz on the table in back.
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I didn't want to go out again Friday night, but I made myself. And to manage this, I had to dangle my favourite carrot: Glancing at a map, I realised that Bookworks was only a few blocks from the arts centre. And I knew from experience it would be open until late.

Which is all good, since the Open House at the Cornelia Arts Centre was a bit disappointing. There seemed to be fewer artists than when I took [livejournal.com profile] his_regard there back in May, and there didn't seem to be much new work of interest from any of them. Joey was genuinely happy to see me and never alluded to my missing his solo show in August (whether out of tact or forgetfulness, I don't know), which was too bad since I'm still confused as to how it happened that he sent me the wrong date. I had a fun chat with a couple of his guests but I wasn't feeling up to repeating that and slipped away.

It was about twice as far to Clark as I'd estimated, but it was a nice night and I enjoyed the exercise. Bookworks was the most crowded I've ever seen. Granted, I don't often visit that late on a Friday and it is in the heart of a nightlife area. The local college freshmen I passed as I made a beeline for the foreign language section seemed a bit drunk as they loudly riffled through the postcard rack. A moment later, I heard one ostentatiously critiquing the organisation of the East Asian history section (undermining his attempted air of authority with repeated references to the "Ming Empire").

I did my best to stay out of the way of two young women who were scanning the foreign language literature with the same intensity as I was, but I broke my silence when one squeed over a copy of Rimbaud in French. Their next exciting discovery were two Harry Potter books in German and I reassured one that her Schweindeutsch would be up to the challenge. This had drawn a third and by the time I heard her say that she already had a copy of the first book in French and the second in Russian, I was beginning to soften their garrulous presence. A moment later I heard someone from the neighbouring aisle say:
"Hey Celeste, what time do we have to leave by in order to make it back to Hyde Park?"
I melted. How could I ever have suspected they were from anywhere else but my alma mater? Who but UofCers would be in a used bookstore in the heart of Lakeview at 9 p.m. on a Friday night?

After that, I jettisoned my reticence at being seen as a creepy old man and asked one of the girls who'd been repeating her desire for some entertaining reading material what she liked to read. She turned down Oscar and Lucinda despite being intrigued by the blurb but did let me put Spring snow into her hands. (When I asked if she'd read Mishima before she somewhat abashedly apologised for not having gotten around to it and I had to bite my tongue in order to avoid replying, "That's because you're a foetus!") I remarked on the volume of Frank O'Connor her companion was browsing and he told he was looking for more "twentieth century Irish" literature. I literally rubbed my hands with anticipation before giving him my assessment of the O'Connor, Lavin, Edna and Flann O'Brien, on the shelves and sending him off with a volume of Seán Ó Faoláin in his clutches.

I was feeling so expansive that I even gave him first crack at a larger collection of Ó Faoláin's short stories that I coveted for myself, but fortunately he took the slimmer volume. I added to that an anthology of Lavin, Carey's Jack Maggs, and a "Gothic novel" of Gombrowicz's that I noticed too late was a retranslation from the French. The clerk was intrigued by it himself--"I've never seen this before, not even the publisher"--and we probably could've chatted a bit if I weren't anxious to get home and get a full night's sleep.
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I'm very glad I made the effort to make it to [livejournal.com profile] justmatt's show last night. Not only was the work worth seeing, he seemed genuinely pleased to have me there. During my lengthy internal debate earlier in the day, one of the things I told myself was He'll be chatting away with all his friends while I stand around feeling crummy. Far from it: he invited me to sit and we bantered, caught up, and talked about his ambitions until I announced my intention to get something to eat.

The deli-café next door, Deli Boutique, had raves on Yelp, so I gave it a try and was not disappointed. When I ordered the "Matador" (roast beef, bleu, caramelised onions, horseradish), the petite, personable, young Eastern European woman behind the counter told me, "It's always men who order that. Like 97%!" It was damn good; I told her I particularly liked that the crust wasn't too tough, indicating that it had been assembled to order and not hours in advance. And, hoo boy, was it generous. I took home almost half because I wanted something from the dessert case. Their "pecan cookies" looked and tasted like an oversized kipferl (a word she didn't recognise, strengthening my surmise that she was Balkan rather than K.u.K.); sadly, the "apricot walnut cookie", a crumbly underbaked mess, failed to live up to the promise of it.

Afterwards I hit Apple Market, my old corner grocery. (The eyeglass store where [livejournal.com profile] justmatt had his show was all of fifty paces from my old apartment on Belden.) I thought they would have the sweet-hot mustard [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I liked, and they did--not to mention lemon curd and andouille sausage. The whole experience left me strangely nostalgic.

Green Tea is gone. I discovered this from Google Maps. It's now an all-you-can-it sushi place called "Para Sushi". Yeah, no thanks. I'll have to get the skinny from Chef Jeff next time I see him--whenever that is. It's been something like a year since I've bumped into him on the street. I'm guessing he'll also know what happened to Blue Elephant, since it was opened by as fellow Green Tea alum; we just noticed the change of sign on Sunday coming back from Pilsen.
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I wonder if this will go down as the Year We Became Rogers Parkers. One of our neighbours calls our area "Rogers Edge" and there's something to that. Demographically, it has much more in common with adjacent parts of Edgewater than with most of Rogers Park. (For instance, despite the condo boom, the eight-block area around our house is the only part of that neighbourhood where more than a quarter of residents own their homes.) And when it comes to shopping or socialising, we always default to going south. It'll be our third full summer in this place without hardly venturing north of Pratt.

But Saturday I found myself roughly where Farwell meets the Lake (or would, if there weren't a park in the way) horsing around with bears while being eyed curiously by Hare Krishnas. And then Sunday I was back for more, drinking "tonic with a gin floater" (in the GWO's words) on the cordoned-off brick street in front of the Glenwood. It was my third visit there this year, and I'm really beginning to warm to the place. [livejournal.com profile] monshu had never been there before, but I think he'll be back.

I was hoping that we might try out one of the newer (to us) restaurants up on Morse for dinner, but the Heartland was right there and half empty. It kind of amazes me how little they've done to raise their game in all this time despite the new competition; their menu wouldn't have been adventurous even in central Iowa. When the cashier asked me what I thought of my meal, I said, "It was underseasoned, but I expect that from hippie food."

I'm trying to get in the habit of walking again and whereas I used to to head down into Edgewater Glen or west of Clark, increasingly I find myself heading up towards Greenleaf. A couple months ago, I ran into a nice couple we met through friends up there and I hope I might do so again. Or if not them, one of the other locals I'm beginning to get to know through [livejournal.com profile] profundojoe, [livejournal.com profile] lucentnotion, and others.
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I'm glad I put off coming downtown for a day, since it was infinitely nicer to be in Millennium Park this afternoon than it would've been in the cold and wet. While it wasn't exactly balmy, it was quite nice in sun, and there was plenty of that. So much that I suggested to Nuphy that we move to the shade of the Lurie Garden before we ended up lobsters. Speaking of which, there was a dancing lobster at the Next Generation tent. (At first I thought it was a dancing shrimp and got excited for reasons that not more than a half dozen people on my flist could possibly understand.)

As for the Fest itself, meh. I'm agnostic about whether it works in the space. Before, everything was arranged along Columbus Avenue, which made it easy to get an overview of events and tents. Now it's all spread over three levels, so when you're at the Next Generation tent (just off Michigan), you haven't the foggiest what is happening on the main stage at Pritzker, and vice versa. I overheard some of the concessions operators complaining about being stuck on the far side of the pavilion grounds and I don't blame them; their share of the foot traffic was minimal.

Concessions have always been the weakest point of Celtic Fest, and now they're only weaker. We may have joked every year about the presence of a Thai place, but at least it was another option. This year there were all of three vendors who weren't affiliated with the Park Grille (which is three more than I expected to see, frankly). But the most galling affront was the beer. Fucking Budweiser, are you kidding me? I did not come all the way up here from St Louis to have that swill at my city festivals.

Fortunately, anticipating the poor pours of Guinness that are part of Celtic Fest tradition, Nuphy and I met up first at the Gage. (I'm sure no one wants to hear me go on again about how this is the one bar in Chicago which maintains a standard of pouring Guinness that isn't an embarrassment to all that's Irish, so I won't.) That is the sole clear advantage to the new location: Finding food fit to eat is as simple as crossing the street. We ate at Cafe Baci--a half hour in the shade, and I was more than ready for a macchiato.

In the past, if you needed a hot beverage and a place to sip it, there was always a stand with tepid brew and expensive shortbread. I'm not sure if that, like the Heavy Athletics, is a casualty of the smaller space or a change in sponsors. I seem to recall that the Highland Dance tent was underwritten by some Scottish tourist agency; now that it's all under the aegis of Fly Nova Scotia, the various promotional booths have all vanished. I counted a grand total of eight society stands (the Cornish didn't make it back this year, though the Manx did) and a roughly equal number of vendors; that seems half what it was only a year ago. Hard times or a hard time from the organisers?

Bitch whine moan kvetch--what about the music? Even that was more disappointing than in years past, but it still deserves better treatment than I can offer it in a codicil to this post.

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