Missed the first three parts? If you're some sort of insane completist, here they are - Part One, Part Two, Part Three. However, feel free to dive in here and pretend you've read the others. I won't know the difference.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12
As I look back over my notes, I'm somewhat astounded by how much we crammed into every day of this vacation. What I find most interesting, though, is that it didn't feel as though we were pressured in any way, shape, or form. There was no, "We have to do this NOW! We'll regret it forever if we don't make it there on time!" Instead, we did what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it, and if something else of interest was placed in our path, we enjoyed that, too. It was truly a swell trip.
I come from Boston. We have Fenway Park, the oldest major league baseball stadium in existence, built in 1912. The only other park I have reverence for, and which I would go out of my way to visit, is Wrigley Field, the second-oldest, built in 1914. So, since we were in the neighborhood, we did.
Wrigley Field is home to the Chicago Cubs. The last time the Cubs won the World Series was in 1908, which will be 103 years ago when next season rolls around. That is the longest drought, between championships, of any major North American professional sports franchise. Hell, the last World Series they even took part in, win or lose, was in 1945. Being a Red Sox fan, and having seen the somewhat recent ending of our own 86-year misery, I very much empathize with Cubs fans. I follow their games and would love to see them vanquish the various bogus curses under which they are supposed to be operating.
(That anyone would buy into something as silly as The Billy Goat Curse thrills me to no end. It is what makes America great. You can always get at least some people to believe any bunch of malarkey you concoct. It is this sort of thinking that makes me refuse to lay down my dream of becoming the first musician to release a million-selling recording of nothing but bass guitar solos.)
As with Fenway in Boston, Wrigley is located in a residential neighborhood. That was part of the charm of such older ballparks. They weren't occupying some godforsaken 20-acre cement slab in a suburb 35 miles outside of the city for which the team was named. They were right in the heart of that city, and thus truly in the hearts of those who followed their fortunes. They weren't just entertainments. They were neighbors.
The season (at least for the Cubs) is over now, so nothing much was happening around the ballpark. We took a nice walk, enjoying the statues of past Cubbie heroes, the quaint (for this day and age) architecture of the park, and the quirks of the neighborhood. For instance...
Waveland Avenue sits behind the outfield, and thus behind the bleacher seats within the park (which you can see a slight bit of on the extreme right of the photo.) One of the totally charming aspects of Wrigley is that the apartment buildings behind the park all afford a view of the games from their rooftops. That isn't to say Joe Blow off the street can go up there and squat, but if Joe Blow rents an apartment on Waveland he can see all 81 home games absolutely free. Those apartments come with a season ticket. That the Cubs management hasn't built a huge wall to destroy the view speaks volumes.
(When it was just the apartment dwellers watching from their rooftops, and perhaps having a cookout, Cubs management put up with it magnanimously. Once construction of the rows and rows of seats began, with concomitant admission fees and sale of food and drink, they did raise a stink. A settlement was reached whereby the Cubs received a percentage of revenues. Still quite generous for a sporting franchise, in my opinion. They could easily have built a 'spite' fence and left them with nothing.)
As we finished our circle of the park, we came upon an entrance used by equipment vehicles and so forth, and spied a view of groundskeepers working on the field prior to its winter shutdown. One of the crew saw us pointing our camera through a metal grating. He came over and kindly opened it for us to get a better shot. How nice was that? If it was a Fenway groundskeeper, he probably would have chased us away with a shovel.
I have nothing but kind words for the Cubs, and I hope they win it all in 2011.
Art Institute Of Chicago
After Wrigley, we headed for The Art Institute Of Chicago. This was on MY WIFE's 'must do' list, and I had no objections. She's more of an art admirer than I am, but I enjoy a nice afternoon in a museum, too.
A Magritte. I say I like surrealism. MY WIFE says that
I like anything with tits in it. Both are true.
The place houses a great art collection, but we found the layout bewildering. One had to go through some very weird hoops to reach certain areas of the museum. This problem was exacerbated by one of their elevators being under repair. Perhaps we might not have found it so trying during some other week, but it seemed that every time we tried to find a specific gallery, we had to go up a flight of stairs, then go down in an elevator to a mezzanine, then take a different set of stairs back up, and so on, until we were ready to just say to hell with it. Very convoluted.
I am a particular fan of Salvador Dali, and there were, as I recall, three of his on display. Other surrealists, such as Magritte and Peter Blume, are well-represented.
MY WIFE's tastes run towards the less-nightmarish, with a particular fondness for the impressionists and pointillism. Unfortunately, the one painting she particularly wanted to see, one she had admired in prints and other copies for years, was not available for viewing.
Paris Street, Rainy Day, by Caillebotte, was the one work in the museum that MY WIFE absolutely wanted to see. And it was on loan to another museum. That lack put a damper on what had been, even with the weird layout of the place, a fun afternoon of enjoying artwork. I think it can safely be said it was the major disappointment of our trip (MY WIFE's disappointment stemming from not seeing it, and my own disappointment due to her disappointment.)
However, as I have espoused, Everything Gets Better. Upon our exit from the museum, I heard a magnificent voice singing some seriously good soul. I looked around, expecting a radio or boombox, but saw Laurence T.
This man was performing on the sidewalk, in front of the museum, with a portable amplifier and mic. He had some sort of a karaoke set-up. That is, he had backing tracks pre-recorded, and he was vocalizing on top of those. And he was tremendous.
Laurence T. & MY WIFE. The man can SING.
We stood on the museum stairs, transfixed, listening to this amazing voice. After he finished a number, I went and dropped a dollar in his bucket. He began another, and MY WIFE came over to me, grabbed me, and started dancing with me on the sidewalk.
You must understand: We don't really dance. MY WIFE is proficient, but I'm horrible. However, she had it in her head to do as many things as possible that were mentioned in the song "Chicago", and "I know a man who danced with HIS WIFE" was one of the lines. Laurence T. saw us dancing and, during an instrumental break, said, "Now that's what I'm talking about!" We danced for a short while and then settled down on the museum steps to listen to this guy belt out a couple more.
I can't for the life of me figure out why he doesn't have a major recording contract. No, let me amend that. I can't for the life of me figure out why he isn't an international superstar. He has a smooth sexy voice, with both high and low (extremely low) range, and he also has absolutely stunning stage presence, especially for someone who was performing on the sidewalk of a busy downtown street.
After MY WIFE put an additional dollar in his bucket, he handed me a business card, reproduced here. Now, please go to You Tube and enjoy a performance. Once you do, I expect you may be of the same opinion as me, in that, even though he has apparently made national television appearances, and performed in Las Vegas on a regular basis, he deserves a wider audience. He's a superb talent. And there he was, performing on the street for us, for relative chump change. An amazing highlight of our day, for sure.
After having enjoyed Laurence T. and his superb pipes, we walked a short distance to Millennium Park. It is Chicago's downtown green space, a cousin to The Common in Boston and Central Park in New York.
The place is full of fascinating stuff. I'll describe a few of those we enjoyed.
The Crown Fountain, which consists of two towering glass blocks at either end of a shallow reflecting pool, was the first thing we encountered. Video projections of the faces of Chicago residents play on the blocks, changing every few minutes to a new face. The overall effect is supposed to be one of the faces spitting water into the pool, and that must be incredibly cool when it's happening. However, that aspect of the fountain is only on display during warmer times, and wasn't happening while we were there. Still, the faces were fun, and without the water it looked as though they were blowing kisses to each other across the couple of hundred feet between the towers.
We strolled through meandering gardens of wildflowers and shrubs, a contemplative space amidst the big city racket. It was surprisingly quiet, with a small stream flowing there where the more adventurous took off shoes and refreshed their feet in the waters as we passed by.
Near the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert space, we came upon an oddly curving and shape-shifting pedestrian walkway, sort of a maze that you can't get lost in. As with so much of the other bits of this park, you can't see the entirety of it from where you stand. You have to explore it if you want to see it all. Just about everything in the park is more than at first meets your eye. Much of the artwork incorporated into the landscape was designed by Frank Gehry, and he deserves big applause for providing so much relaxing entertainment for the mind.
Our favorite thing was The Big Bean.
The official name is Cloud Gate, and it was created by the artist Anish Kapoor (from whose site the above image comes.) It is... well, you can see what it is. It's a big silver reflective bean. Everybody who comes to it loves it. No matter how old the person interacting with it, he or she is childlike with wonder.
The reflections are truly quite amazing. Here are our shots of it.
If you look closely, you'll see the two of us reflected,
dead center, taking the photo.
This shot was taken from underneath the sculpture,
inside it actually, looking up. Again, we are in the
shot, but in this instance some 8 or 9 times, at least.
In case you couldn't see us in any of the others,
here we are again!
Another shot from under the sculpture.
The entire park is a great public space, and we loved it.
Silly Damned Ride On The El
We went back to the hotel and freshened up. After another great meal at OYSY, we finished our day with a pointless ride on the elevated.
We enjoyed most of our rides on the CTA. It's a good efficient system, and has enough character to entertain thoroughly (not quite as much as London's Underground, or the New York subway system, which are my two faves, but still quite a bit.) Our previous tour of the Pink Line had been fun, and riding around The Loop was always fascinating. However, our final extended ride was rather mundane and mostly boring.
We decided to ride the Blue Line to O'Hare airport. It looked to be a longish ride, and we assumed, since the majority of the system as a whole is elevated, this ride would provide us with a nice nighttime view of some neighborhoods. However, to our dismay, only a short section of this line is elevated, most of the distance either underground via subway or running in the middle of an expressway (which has a certain charm, but becomes repetitive quite quickly.)
We never even made it as far as O'Hare, deciding instead to cut our losses by disembarking at Jefferson Park and waiting for a return train. Oh, well. Not every day can end with a winner. Tomorrow will, though.
(That's a teaser, of course.)
Soon, with tomorrow.