Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chicago 2011, Day 3: Finely Cultured

Looking out of the window of our 29th floor room along East Wacker overlooking the Navy Pier, I was somewhat astonished to see a filmy white substance thinly coating the ground and the surfaces of still-parked cars. Surely not... was that snow?

It certainly was.

As I lurched out into the wind (which no matter the direction I headed throughout the day always seemed to be blowing directly into my face), snow flurries rode the currents.

My plan had been to be at the Frank Lloyd Wright home/studio museum by late morning, so a quick nip to State and Lake put me in the way of picking up the Green Line, which happily was pulling into the station just as I came through the turnstile. I skipped across the platform and straight through the train doors just as they were about to slide shut. This felt a bit like being in a movie.... except that in reality, as the wind had blown my hair straight up in the back, I did not feel that I was exactly exuding a movie star aura (unless we're talking about a Muppets Movie). Also, there was no soundtrack playing (other than the one in my head, naturally, which is pretty much continual).

Still, my lack of glamor aside, it was pleasant to sit on the nearly-empty train and rattle out of the city, passing boarded-over buildings, junkyards, and slums.

At nearly the end of the line, we reached Oak Park. From the Metro, it was just a short walk up the oak-lined streets into the Historic District. (Incidentally, on the way to the Frank Lloyd Wright home, I may have passed Hemingway’s birthplace, and I’m sorry, but *yawn.)

Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio

Our tour group was the usual motley crew: a young couple, a pair of hippies from San Diego, a husband and wife duo from Italy (he translated for her the entire time – how exhausting!), a heavily bearded fellow from Spain, a father-son combo from Ohio, a middle-aged mom who asked questions at every turn, and yours truly (in all my Muppet-haired glory).

We began our tour outside in the snow (of course).

Against the Sky

The remarkable design of the overall building and each of the individual rooms is apparent even to one such as me, who has no real design knowledge. I will forgo any description here, as my vocabulary for describing architecture is along the lines of thinking certain things looked “neat” and others “really, really neat and awesome.”

Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio

Our guide through the house was an adorable retired gentleman named Fritz, who loved architecture of this period so much that he has studied “all the greats,” as he put it, and even saved up for the “trip of a lifetime” to see Charles Rennie MacIntosh’s work in Scotland and some other Italian names, which of course I did not recognize. The tour, which was supposed to have lasted an hour, went for an hour and forty-five minutes, but Fritz was so interesting and the house so enjoyable that nobody even had noticed until he pointed out to us that we were “a little behind schedule.”

Speaking of being behind schedule, upon the tour's completion, I decided to have a quick walk around Oak Park before catching the metro back to the city. What actually happened was that I got turned around and walked in (stately and refined) circles for over an hour before a kindly bag lady at a 7/11 put me back on the right track.

Keep Kids Alive

Arriving back in the city, I stumbled into the nearest Corner Bakery and treated myself to another soup in a bread bowl, into which I also crumbled several packets of crackers, because some days it just seems impossible to get a meal starchy enough!

Knowing that I had a long evening planned out with friends, I nipped back to the hotel to charge my batteries (both literal and figurative) and get set for a big night ahead.

In anticipation of the big night in question, I headed back toward the city center around 5:00pm, looking forward to meeting up with my friend Becca and her husband Dustin. While waiting for the metro to deliver them, I chilled (literally) at the corner of Michigan and Randolph. Much to my surprise, I spotted a kilted gentleman trotting up the sidewalk carrying a drum. Eventually I nipped back into the Chicago Cultural Center to see what wonders the other floors (other than the ground level, which I had seen the night before with James and Wendy) had to offer.

And there were indeed wonders to be seen.

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

Not long thereafter, Becca and Dustin arrived and sent me instructions to meet them at the Intelligentsia coffee shop just a few doors down. Guzzling our (excellent!) coffee and chatting, we hoofed it down Michigan to the Art Institute, which was packed due to it being a “free night” from 5-8. Once inside, we were immediately separated. I wandered through the Impressionists and the armor displays alone, then--after a flurry of texts--met up with Becca again in the Renaissance rooms. (And may I just say, those Renaissance artists... saucy!)

Once fully cultured and full of the joy of the fine arts, we sallied forth into the cold, catching a bus up to the North Side and riding just a few stops north for dinner at the Grand Lux (which, to the best of my knowledge, is the actual name of the restaurant and not something I made up because I could not remember the actual name). Becca and I ordered a pasta and chicken dish that was to die for, and Dustin ordered a burger that would have taken three hands to eat had he had three hands. (Important Note: He only has two, but still managed to eat the burger.)

During dinner, much good conversation was had. This husband and wife duo was able to offer advice on 1) how to get rid of a Southern accent, and 2) the best plan of attack for studying Greek/Hebrew. When Dustin excused himself for a few minutes, I shared with Becca some of the few Merry Misadventures that don't actually make it onto my various internet outlets. (Hard to imagine, I know, but there are some...)

Before any of us knew what was happening, we had ridden the bus back to Wacker and had come to the point of parting. Some fervent side hugs and sincere handshakes may or may not have been exchanged (and some spoken blessings thrown into the mix as well), but at any rate, eventually my hosts headed one direction into the night, and I another.

Back at the hotel, I found Sarah and Robin in the lobby lounge holding court with several other nerds of the music persuasion. We chatted happily about our respective days before dragging our weary selves up to the room for another night of restorative sleep.

Chicago, Day 4 was right around the corner!

See more photos from Chicago Day 4 HERE.

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