Friday, November 2, 2012

Chicago Is

My partner has been posting on Face book a series of photos entitled "My Kind of Town". They feature diverse views of Chicago, the city we call home. I have never regretted, in fact often rejoiced, at my decision to move here over twenty five years ago. Knowing after 6 months of unemployment I would soon be returning to the workforce, and with our early fall weather generally being some of the finest of the year, I decided to take in just a small amount of what the city offers.

The Goodman Theater

This is a season ticket I subscribe to. The opening production just happened to coincide with my final moments of unemployment before beginning new job training the next day. I enjoyed a rare, albeit somewhat uneven, production of Tennesee Williams "Sweet Bird of Youth". With the high level of production values I have come to expect from this award winning theatre and featuring the outstanding performance of Diane Lane in the role of Alexandria Del Lago, it was a wonderful way to kick off a new chapter of my life.

The Lincoln Park Zoo

We try to get here a least once a year. A zebra had just given birth and the new foal, less than one month old, was a delight to watch as it's mother kept a vigilant eye over it's every move. There were several other newborns on display, a reflection of the zoo's successful breeding programs. With it's free admission, easy access via public transportation and lush park setting, it is well worth a visit from tourists and residents alike.

Outside the zoo's main entrance, across an expanse of green lawn, colorful flowerbeds and fountains sporting a blue green patina, stands the late 19th century conservatory. Temporary and permanent exhibitions share space inside the historic glass and steel structure. Admission to it is also free.

Through the back entrance to the zoo, a few steps to the north, is the tranquil oasis of the lily pond. Restored just a few years ago the waters of the pond provide a home for ducks and turtles. Again lushly landscaped, featuring Arts and Crafts style pavilions, it feels a world apart from the busy city streets less that a block away.

A Birthday Lunch with Friends

Again, I had no control over the timing of this, it was just coincidence that it took place during my last free weekend. Chicago contains an almost embarrassing wealth of unique and outstanding restaurants. Ranging from expensive fine dining to small neighborhood haunts there is something for every taste and budget.

This celebration was held in the private downstairs dining room of one of the city's finest Mexican restaurants. the guests ranged from the "Birthday Boy's" young granddaughters to his siblings. Our table was hosted by his daughter. He recognised us, during the obligatory speech; my partner in particular, for our assistance on his daughter's wedding day. The food was outstanding. The city's restaurants are not something we get to take advantage of very often making the rare opportunities to do so all the more special and memorable.

The Art Institute

We maintain a membership to this world class institution. They had mounted a special exhibition of 18th and 19th century textiles culled from their permanent collection. Bedcovers, samplers, quilts and even embroidered lace bonnet veils were displayed. An immense, spectacular star quilt, which had managed to retain it's bright colors, was one of the highlights here. A beautiful white bedcover had delicate stitching depicting flowers spilling out of a cornucopia in it's center. Mourning samplers were lovingly rendered remembrances of cherished ones who had passed on. Other samplers almost looked as if they were paintings due to the tight, thick stitches used to create them . Some of the pieces possessed extensive provenances including dates of birth, deaths and marriages of the previous owners. The incredible amount of work involved in crafting these pieces insured their status as treasured family heirlooms and contribute to their knowledge of their provenance and remarkable state of preservation.

This impressive exhibit made me think of the many other pieces of art and history that are stored out of sight in museums collections, not displayed due to lack of space or the fragile nature of the artifacts. When I first moved to Chicago I interviewed for a position in the cash office of the Art Institute. As I was led back to the managers office I vividly remember, decorating the cubicles and hanging on the office managers walls, the oil paintings in their elaborate gilt frames. 

The museum does periodically change, reorganize and rotate some of it's exhibitions. A recent change is 10 pieces by Toulouse Lautrec, formerly interspersed with other works, pulled together in one gallery.

I have found that in museums you experience not only art but are often given the opportunity to experience and appreciate moments. As I moved through the modern wing I noticed a young woman speaking in French to a group of small children sitting on the floor gazing at a work by Jackson Pollock.

A minor disappointment, Hopper's "Nighthawks", one of my favorite pieces, is once again on loan.Tempering my slight dismay was that we had loaned it to a museum in Paris, securing my city's reputation as a repository of world class art.

Leaving the Nest - Dedicated to My Brother

One of the things I enjoy as fall moves to winter and the trees finally concede to the season dropping their last leaves are the birds nests that appear nestled in their branches. Hidden by the foliage of summer, as they are exposed they serve as a reminder and promise of the rebirth and eventual warmth of a new spring. Some are reused and new ones are constructed. Lined and padded with grass and leaves, sometimes lint or bits of paper, they create warm, safe, snug places to lay and hatch eggs and rear young.

I have seen a blanket made of down stretched over the nest of a goose. The mother sacrifices her own coat to serve the fragile lives developing inside the eggs it covers. I have watched as she turns each egg with her bill to ensure the correct formation of that small life. I have been warned away when the mother or drake feel that I have ventured too close to their painstakingly cared for treasures.

Parents nurture their young, helpless in their newborn, unfeathered state. Mothers ferry food to them inside themselves and, when the time comes, teach them to fly. Eventually, they spread their wings and leave the nest, independent and free.

Recently, my brother's youngest child moved out of the home he and her mother had created with her. Her departure was met with what seemed a mixture of sadness and depression. I have known other parents whose emotional experience was similar after the departure of their children., I have never raised a child. I cannot empathise, only sympathise with these feelings. Perhaps it is loneliness. Perhaps it is a feeling of no longer being needed by the one that has always needed you most. But when children have the strength, will and determination to leave the security of their childhood home and face the uncertainty that defines adulthood it means that as a parent you have done your job exceedingly well. You have provided your child with the education, tools and insight to face the next phase of their lives and all that it will present to them.

Children never stop needing their parents. They will return for advise and love or for their comfort during difficult periods. They will also return to share their joy during happy times. A true love met or the expectation of a new life. There is no greater teacher in the rearing of a child than those that have done it before.

Children never truly leave home. They move away, but they always carry their home with them. It is part of the foundation they use to build their own home. As their children grow and move away that home travels with them also. Although they may no longer live with you, your children are always at home.