Xmas in the City

We went downtown this evening to see the lights. Billions and billions of little twinkly lights.

“I don’t remember all these lights when I was a little kid,” I told CVH.

“That’s because they didn’t have all these lights when you were little. They didn’t have little white lights back then. All they had were the big ones that didn’t work very well.”

“That would explain it.”

We saw the big blue tree down by The Bean.

We stopped at the Palmer House. It’s the 150th anniversary for the hotel (and the hotel burning to the ground in The Great Fire); they had a nice selection of historical ephemera and memorabilia on display. There were photos of celebrities who played the Empire Room, and menus from Trader Vic’s, where I ate once as a small kid. It was a fabulous place for a little kid; not sure why such kitschy excess appealed to adults.

The hotel had a nice tree, complete with “150th Anniversary” ornaments:

All this holiday folderol put me in a generous mood, and I took CVH over to one of her favorite restaurants, Russian Tea Time.

The piroshkies! The blinchikis! It’s delicious.

On the way home we saw more twinkly lights, and the horns on Macy’s.

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World Premiere!

Yes, there are still movie world premieres. We went to one tonight: Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter

Charlie Trotter

This film is a sympathetic profile of a man who is usually portrayed as a rather unsympathetic person. A little heavy on documentary clichés, perhaps, but still entertaining and worthwhile.

Being a world premiere of a movie about a world famous chef, the audience was a Who’s Who of the Chicago haute cuisine crowd. Most were rather well-dressed; I was not, but I did look like I might be one of the film crew: plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, Merrells. Grant Achatz sat in front of us.

Chef Grant is known for his creative dishes.

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Remembering Boca Chica

This afternoon, CVH told me that William Shatner had returned from his short space trip.

“Yes, I saw that in the news,” I replied.

“In Van Horn,” she said. “They could see the Guadalupe Mountains on the way down.”

“Everyone should see Van Horn at least once in their life. We had a good time there.” We had visited Van Horn when we went to the fiftieth anniversary of the UFO crash in Roswell.

“There wasn’t much there twenty-five years ago; I can’t imagine what it looks like now,” she added.

“Probably like Boca Chica,” I guessed. “A lot of highly paid rocket scientists walking around.

“I remember going on vacation in Boca Chica when I was little. The adults rented these beach things called ‘cabañas’, which were completely unadorned concrete block boxes with concrete shelves on the walls holding thin mattresses where you slept. I’m not even sure they had doors. There was a bathroom area in the back, and that was all.”

“After playing in the sand and waves all day, they would put us kids to bed and then go back out to…to…”

“Do God knows what.”

“Yes. We were right on the Mexican border. Heck, we might even have been on the Mexican side. I’m sure they were dirt cheap to rent. Uncle Willis probably hopped in the big Chrysler and got a bunch of cheap tequila.” I paused. “You know, the more I think about this, the better it sounds.”

“They knew how to live, Conrad. They knew how to live.”

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How old do I look, anyway?

I know I’m getting old, but it still surprises me how many other people notice this, too.

I passed a panhandler on the street this week, and he called out to me “Hey, Clint Eastwood!”

The grandkids called my wife for her birthday, and reassured her that “You’re not old. Grandpa’s old.”

This morning I walked up the stairs to the top of our building (twenty floors). I was waiting to take the elevator down (save the knees) when the roof inspectors came by.

“You live on twenty?” one asked.

“No, I just walk up the stairs for exercise,” I replied.

“Twenty floors?! You’re kidding!”

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North Pond

We are lucky in that we live next to Lincoln Park (you can see part of it in the “Edgewater Beach Now” picture on the right side of this blog). Although I have spent many hours in the park this summer, I still haven’t seen all that it has to offer. Today we travelled a few miles south of our building and visited the park’s North Pond. (Lincoln Park is about seven miles long.)

North Pond has been reclaimed, restored, and is now a native prairie and wetland area. We saw lots of butterflies and bees in the extensive wildflower fields. Down by the lake we saw a Great Blue Heron.

We did not see this particular bird, but one that looked just like it

There was a birder there who identified the heron for us, and told us that it was a young one, probably making his first trip down from Minnesota or Northern Michigan to the south. He could tell by its color that it was male. He said it would probably winter over in Texas or Florida. I remember seeing birds like this on January bike rides through Brookshire.

Ducks and turtles were also out on the lake. In addition, we found a Michelin-starred little restaurant tucked away in the park.

North Pond Restaurant

Although we did not eat there – advance reservations only – CVH went inside and spoke with the general manager, and now she wants to go back and have brunch.

We continued our walk and went around the Nature Museum, which has been edifying Chicago residents since 1869, if you can imagine. That was before the Great Fire! (Although North Pond was not here at the time, the Fire did reach this far, miles from the O’Leary barn.) The original museum burned in the fire, as you might expect.

Nature Museum on North Pond in the Springtime

The grounds around the Museum are a delight for city dwellers. The location was popular with what appeared to be wedding engagement photo shoots. We tried not to insert ourselves in too many of them, but it was a busy place.

Not as busy inside the park as it was right outside, though. It was perfect Sunday weather for visiting the park, and traffic was horrendous. Outside the park cars kept circling, looking for parking spots and honking their horns. Fortunately, we didn’t hear any of this inside the park, and more fortunately, we took the bus.

After the museum area, we went to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.

Really pretty.

The Lily Pool has been around since 1889, and its fortunes waxed and waned over the years until it was restored about twenty years ago. It is just stunning now. More photo shoots. Old-timers will note that the Muzak has been removed.

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Full Moon Jam

Although the full moon was two nights ago, there was a Full Moon Jam in the park this evening.

This has been going on for over fifteen years. A bunch of people beat on drums and others dance with torches.

I’m sure it takes practice to do this without scorching yourself.

It’s probably more enjoyable if you’re on drugs.

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Buddha Heads

A Chicago (or maybe Evanston) artist has installed a number of Buddha heads around the city. Several of them lie between the lakefront bike path and the freeway, and I pass by them regularly.

The artist, Indira Johnson, says the images are intended to invoke feelings of calm and peace.

There are those who, noting that this is not a traditional way of depicting the Buddha, complain that this is cultural appropriation. Rare, though, is the art piece that doesn’t upset someone.

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The Balbo Monument

The Balbo Monument consists of an ancient Roman breccia column on top of a plinth. It commemorates a difficult transatlantic seaplane crossing by the Italian aviator Italo Balbo. The column dates to the period of Julius Caesar, and comes from the ancient port city of Ostia. It was a gift to Chicago from Benito Mussolini.

Not well thought of by everybody

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Rome, so I thought I’d best go see it while I could, before it is cancelled out of existence (it has already been removed from Google Maps). I rode a Divvy bike downtown to seek it out.

The Balbo Monument in prouder days

It’s not too hard to find if you’re looking for it, but it doesn’t stand out anymore. The pine trees in the photo above have grown all around it to hide it from view, and it’s surrounded by a ten foot chain link fence. Still, it’s fascinating to see something that stood in the city when and where Cleopatra’s ships unloaded their grain to make Roman bread. As long as you don’t focus on who gave it to us.

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Old Folks Breakfast

There’s a nice local sausage available in Louisville, “Old Folks”:

“It’s gooo-od”

At my age, however, breakfast sausage is allowed only as a rare treat.

So my summer cold cereal shelf looks like this:

Plus I can eat the box for approximately the same effect.

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Hey, Grandpa!

I had no idea, but there is a whole series of these books for elementary school children. With titles like “What Did We Do Before Online Shopping?” and “What Did We Do Before Social Media?”

I should get busy writing and knock out a few myself. How about:

  • “What Did We Do Before Seat Belts?”
  • “What Did We Do Before Low-Fidelity Streaming Music?”
  • “What Did We Do Before College Was Unaffordable?”
  • “What Did We Do Before Strict Drunk Driving Laws?”
  • “What Did We Do Before People Shot Up Schools And Churches?”
  • “What Did We Do Before Free Pornography On The Internet?”
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