Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicago, Chi-blog-o

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Our ride to the airport early Sunday morning to catch our plane for Chicago happened at a very convenient time. A friend of Beth’s needed a rental car returned there and Beth dropped it off on Saturday night so that we didn’t have to pay for parking, nor wake anyone up early in the morning to drop us off. Our flight was relatively smooth, but turbulent enough for a few minutes that I felt I needed to take an Ativan. In retrospect, I should have toughed it out. By the time the pill took effect, everything was smooth sailing. The same thing happened on the way home. Probably, I should just take the darned thing when I get to the airport.

Ted and Susan met us at Midway Airport, which is just a few minutes from their incredibly unique and art-filled home in Riverside. We spent a few hours browsing at the extensive outdoor 57th Street Art Fair, now in its 63rd year, in Hyde Park. After the unseasonably muggy weather in our area, Chicago was literally a breath of fresh air. A short distance away, we enjoyed a late lunch together at a very pleasing Caribbean restaurant, Calypso Café. Then, being the Frank Lloyd Wright buffs that we are, we took a guided tour of the Robie House. Our docent was very informative and interesting.

Tired from our day’s excursions, and still sated from our big late lunch, at home we tossed together a big and satisfying salad for dinner with Susan’s homemade remoulade dressing and went to bed early.

In the morning, Ted was up early preparing an elaborate breakfast for us. Saul and I were fraught with indecision about how we wanted to spend what we thought was our free unscheduled day, he leaning towards just hanging out and taking a walk around the neighborhood, and me wanting to check out the new modern art wing of the Chicago Art Institute. Eventually, we set out, just the two of us in the car, to see the museum, and within just a few minutes, took a wrong turn and got lost. Almost immediately after that, our cell rang, and Susan and Ted asked us to return because they had mixed up the dates for the Appreciation Concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and it was that evening. Returning to the house, we changed into nicer clothing and a short time later, set out to tour Millennium Park and have dinner out with Ted and Susan before the concert. Parking underground at the Symphony Center, we were greeted, as we emerged topside, by two huge Blackhawks-helmeted lions outside the Art Institute in preparation for the upcoming final games of the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers. Who would have guessed, when we booked the flights back in December, that Chicago would be competing against Philadelphia!? Again, the weather was delightful, a perfect day for wandering around the extensive gardens, avant garde fountains, striking architectural features, such as the Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion, and viewing Cloud Gate, better known as “The Bean” to the locals.

Eventually, tired from a few hours of walking, we settled in for a very early, but very leisurely, dinner at Rhapsody, an exquisite restaurant that Susan told me is usually packed with people on regular concert evenings, but which, to our delight, was relatively empty at such an early hour on a Monday. Our dinners were elegantly and artfully presented, the food imaginative and delicious, and the service was cheerful and efficient to a fault. Over a mellow bottle of Merlot that Susan selected, we caught up on old times, and pleasantly whiled away the evening until it was time to take our seats at the concert. The concert hall itself was spectacular to see and the acoustics marvelous. During a violin solo, we could hear every nuance of the highest notes as they resounded and then faded away. The truly excellent performers were winners of the Fidelity FutureStage Auditions.

On Tuesday, after such a busy and satisfying round of activities, we decided to just hang out for a while, and Susan unveiled a deluxe Scrabble game which entertained us for a few hours while Ted went out to pick up some produce for dinner. After we all caught up with some computer work, Susan and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up additional supplies. I took a nap that afternoon while Susan prepared dinner, Ted made his signature coleslaw and Saul hung out with them.

On Wednesday, after Ted again prepared a delicious breakfast, we set out with him to take “The Official Architecture River Cruise Tour” of the city, arriving in time for the 11:30 a.m., 90-minute boat tour. Boat tours can be very chilly or very hot, and I chose poorly, although I was glad that my arms were spared a sunburn by my long sleeves. I was wise, however, to borrow a Tilley hat from Susan that was indispensable for protecting me from the strong rays. Saul and Ted had Tilley hats as well, so we were all covered, you might say, and we were able to maintain our upper deck seats with the best view. Our guide was a wealth of information and spoke incessantly for the entire length of the tour to the point where we wondered if it was possible to do more than one tour a day without doing serious damage to the vocal cords. The architecture of Chicago has many beautiful examples of classic buildings, well-preserved, over a long period of time. The river, once spurned, has now become an attraction, flanked with tony balconies sprouting from interesting and award-winning residential skyscrapers, such as the new Aqua building.

After the tour, we wandered a bit down the inviting Riverwalk to an outdoor café, O’Brien’s, opposite the new Trump skyscraper where the ambiance greatly outdid the food. On the way home, Ted took us to Chicago Portage National Historic Site, for a brief walk through the woods to see the local flora, and to experience what they call a swale, and we call a swamp. After I took a quick shower back at the house, we set out for dinner with Ted and Susan’s regular Wednesday night group of dining friends, who have been getting together on Wednesday evenings for dinner for many years. On this particular evening, about 20 of us dined at a very good Thai restaurant called Bodhi Thai Bistro. We were all invited back to Mary’s house to view what turned out to be the final hockey game of the series together, but decided not to go for several reasons—Susan had a headache, Mary has several pets, and we would have been the only Flyers fans there. We returned to Susan and Ted’s house after dinner, uncorked a Valpolicella we had purchased at Trader Joe’s, and sadly watched the Flyers lose, although the game was very lively and we only lost during a sudden death playoff.

Thursday was our last full day in Chicago, as we were due to fly home around noon on Friday. After another of Ted’s wonderful breakfasts, early in the morning, we set out with him to attend another concert and finally tour the new wing of the Chicago Art Institute. The concert was, again, at the magnificent orchestra hall, an open rehearsal for donors at 10 a.m. The orchestra was rehearsing an all-Beethoven concert, including Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72a, Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60, and Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68. The orchestra, conducted ably by Bernard Haitink, was in fine form. Afterward, we went to see the Matisse exhibit which is featured right now. I had hoped to develop a greater appreciation of Matisse from the exhibit, as I had with Picasso, Cezanne, and especially, Dali, but found that Matisse’s work just does not speak to me on any level. I was absolutely wowed by the spa-like beauty of the new wing with its natural daylight filtering down through the glass ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows through pristine mesh screens. I was immediately greeted by my favorite Picasso, “The Old Guitarist,” as I entered. We spent a brief time touring through the older part of the Institute with a docent named Martine, who is a neighbor of Ted and Susan, but I was more interested in spending time in the new wing.

This time, on the way back from the city, Ted took us to an original section of real prairie because I had asked if any still existed. In fact, there is very little left intact as most of the land was farmed at one time or another. There was a small footpath which led into the acreage and we photographed some of the native wildflowers before heading home. Susan and Ted took us to a great barbecue joint, Chuck’s Southern Comfort Café, where we pigged out on great food, and met Chuck in person, telling him how much we enjoyed his sauces, especially the honey chipotle.

On Friday morning, we arrived at the airport to find large crowds at the Southwest terminals. We immediately discovered that our flight was overbooked because of bad weather elsewhere and we volunteered to be bumped to a later flight, which was less than a half hour later. For that, we received half off of our previous tickets, $100 each in free vouchers for future flights, and Saul got a pre-boarding pass which allowed him to save seats for us together on the plane. As it turned out, because of delays, our “later” flight arrived about 20 minutes before the “earlier” flight on which our luggage resided. We had to wait around a bit for the earlier flight to arrive. Beth was right there to pick us up in her new car, a Hyundai Tucson. We drove to King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting Mall where we were met by our friend Larry, and had an early dinner before Shabbat. We went to bed early, not even bothering to unpack our suitcases.

The next morning we attended services at Or Hadash for our friend, Faith’s, granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. The building, the music room addition of the converted old mansion, Fairwold, is magnificent, and after the warm and unpretentious service, featuring the poised and beautiful Abby, we had a light luncheon on the patio. The bat mitzvah continued later at Camp America, where there was kosher barbecue, and all the camp facilities available—paddle boats, fishing, heated pool, playground, etc. It was great fun!

Last weekend, my brother Ken was taken to the hospital in great pain. After much testing, it was discovered that his gall bladder needed to be removed, a laparoscopic surgery that was performed on Tuesday morning. He was home by Thursday, and I was not able to visit the whole week, so Sunday, Saul and I picked up all the ingredients for a nice breakfast and went to visit him. An added benefit was that Randi was babysitting Presley so that Jamie and Andy could catch the Broadway show, Mary Poppins, in New York. We were able to see them briefly before they left, and we were able to enjoy Presley, who is absolutely adorable and good-natured, as well. Last night Beth called to ask what we were doing for dinner and we wound up dining together at Bonefish Grill. Our time has been so filled that we will need the next few days to prepare for the opening of “Camp Bubbie and Saba,” which will officially begin on Wednesday evening when we meet Jessica and the girls for a Picnic Event at the Philadelphia Zoo.

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