Thanksgiving & The Days After ’15

On the whole, Thanksgiving outside was gray and rainy, but pleasantly warm for this time of the year. The days afterward were drier but much chillier, though not quite freezing.

Pictured: an all-too-common meal snapshot, in this case most of my Thanksgiving dinner. Note the artless presentation. I did that myself. I don’t remember what the plastic fork was doing there, but I will assert that we used metal utensils.
Thanksgiving chow '15The ham came from a warehouse store, while Lilly prepared the various starches, with Ann’s assistance. She combined four or five different cheeses for the macaroni and cheese. It isn’t Thanksgiving without that, she said, and it was the star attraction of the plate. For those who fret about such things, there was a green item on the menu, too: green beans, which didn’t make into the picture, but did make it into my stomach.

Once again, Martinelli’s sparkling cider was the main drink — original and cranberry/apple — though we also opened a bottle of wine we bought at a winery near Traverse City in 2007. I’d post the name of the wine, but that would involve going out to the refrigerator in the garage, where it’s now stored, and reading the label. It was a pretty good Riesling.

Some people shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s never been my ambition. My ambition is to do as close to nothing that day as possible. Days like that are very rare. This year I almost achieved it. Almost, but not quite.

Which reminds me of this exchange in Office Space.

Michael Bolton: You were supposed to come in on Saturday. What were you doing?

Peter Gibbons: Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.

On Saturday, we watched Vancouver Asahi, a Japanese movie on TV about the baseball team of that name, composed of Japanese-Canadian players during its heyday in the 1930s, when there used to be a Japantown in Vancouver. Not bad on the whole, though about 30 minutes too long. It also had the virtue of being about something I’d never heard of before.

After the movie ended, at about 11:30 in the evening, I went out on the deck and could see Orion to the south, parading across a nice clear sky. Never mind the solstice. Winter’s here.

Greater Tuna at Ford’s Theatre

Will Reagan-era Washington DC ever evoke the kind of nostalgia New York of various decades does, or London of the ’60s, or the once-removed nostalgia for Paris or Berlin of the ’20s? The Americans doesn’t really trade on nostalgia for the time, even though it’s set then. Who knows?

All I know is that I visited DC a number of times during the mid-1980s. During a late ’86 visit, I went to Ford’s Theatre for a performance of Greater Tuna.

FordsTheatreI don’t remember a lot about Greater Tuna, except that it was a somewhat dark, two-man farce about a fictional small town in Texas. According to Samuel French, which licenses the play, Greater Tuna was originally produced in 1981 in Austin by its authors, Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. The play’s stars, Williams and Sears, played all 20 characters, and Howard directed.

Greater Tuna was first presented Off Broadway at Circle in the Square in New York City on October 21, 1982. It ran for over a year Off Broadway, and “went on to tour major theatres all over America and spots overseas for the next 30 some years, and became one of the most produced plays in American theatre history,” notes Samuel French.

I think Joe Sears and Jaston Williams were still the two men doing all the parts in 1986, but I wouldn’t swear to it. All I have left is a ticket stub and a recollection of it being entertaining.

Ford’s Theatre, of course, has a doleful history of its own. The president’s box is still draped with flags, though it’s actually a 1960s reconstruction of the original, as is the entire theater space, with more changes made in a 2008 renovation. During the most recent renovation, the Washington Post ran an article containing a brief history of the place:

“Ford’s Theatre was a Baptist church until it was taken over in 1861 by entrepreneur John T. Ford. The venue was destroyed by fire the night of Dec. 30, 1862, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1863.

“After the assassination… when Ford sought to reopen for business, there was a public outcry. The government bought the theater from Ford and used it over the years as a museum and as an office and storage building.

“On the morning of June 9, 1893, the building was packed with 500 government clerks, occupying several floors of jury-rigged office space, when the interior collapsed, according to a Washington Post account the next day. Scores were killed and injured, and the theater’s already altered interior was destroyed.

The government rebuilt it again — and again used the building for storage. In the 1950s, the government decided to restore the building as a historic site and theater venue, and Ford’s reopened in 1968.”

It just occurred to me that I’ve visited three of the four sites of presidential assassinations: Ford’s Theatre, the National Gallery of Art’s West Building (built on the site of Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station where President Garfield was shot, though unmarked), and the Texas School Book Depository building. Guess that means I need to visit Buffalo.

More Moo Goo Gai Pan

Back again on November 29. A good Thanksgiving to all. The snow, which has been melting all day, ought to be gone by then, leaving cold mud. But snow will be back before long. Never mind the snows of yesteryear. There’s always plenty more this year.

Sand, as I’ve noted before, is good for adding traction to icy driveways and sidewalks. Something I’ve learned this year: playground sand isn’t what you want. At freezing temps it tents to stick together, which makes for lousy spreading. Tube sand, which I’ve long used, is the thing.

It’s been 40 years since the original broadcast of “Over the River and Through the Woods,” the episode of The Bob Newhart Show in which Emily’s out of town for Thanksgiving, so Bob spends the holiday with Howard and Jerry and Mr. Carlin watching a football game. They get blotto and order an excess of Moo Goo Gai Pan from a Chinese restaurant.

How much pretend-drunk comedy is there now? Not much, I think, though I don’t spend a lot of time watching sitcoms any more. I’ll leave it to others to tease out the social implications of that. It’s enough for me to note that there’s no equivalent of Foster Brooks on prime time that I know of. Then again, there’s not really any such thing as prime time any more.

Lilly at 18

It’s that time of year again.

Cake!Why the green flower? she asked. I’d had a green, yellow and red flower put into the design. I made up a metaphor on the spot: the traffic light metaphor of life. Some things you should absolutely do: green. Some things absolutely not: red. Some things you need to use your judgment and take into account circumstance and so on: yellow.

We added candles to the cake. The string of candles Lilly’s holding.

Ann & Lilly 11.19.15The string was made of some kind of flash paper. When you lit one end, the paper would be consumed quickly, leaving all of the candles burning. Nice effect.

Post-Thanksgiving Days of a Previous Decade

Sunday, Nov 22, 2015

Most years the first snow’s a light dusting, but this year full-blown winter precipitation started falling late on Friday and well into Saturday, leaving us with about a foot of wet, heavy snow. Wet probably because it was barely cold enough to freeze, but it did stick to every tree and bush. Turns out the official amount on Saturday — 11.2 inches at O’Hare, where the NWS takes its Chicago-area measurement — was the most for a November snowfall since 1895.

Nov 21, 2015Friday, Nov 24, 2006

Another major holiday come and gone. Now it’s Buy Nothing Day. So far, I’ve bought nothing today, unless you count electricity, natural gas, phone service, etc. I don’t think even the most dyed-in-the-wool believer in the “America as World Pig” model of global economics would shut off his utilities for the day after Thanksgiving.

I’m no purist when it comes to Buy Nothing Day, since I have a strong suspicion I’m going to invest in fried poultry in a few hours, to feed the whelps and my nephew Sam, who’s visiting from Cincinnati. No whelp he, since he’s 23.

Yesterday’s feast was reasonably conventional: big bird, smashed spuds, various breads, even that all-North American berry, cranberries. The only peculiarities involved Sam, who is peculiar in his eating habits and ate a species of Polish sausage instead of bird meat; and our choice of dessert: a pie of no sort, but instead cream puffs.

Lilly, who just turned 9, ate as heartily as the rest of us, but at about 9 pm last night threw everything up in the vicinity of the downstairs toilet. No one else here was afflicted in the same way, not yet. Such are the stuff of special holiday memories. She felt better this morning, fortunately. [But the virus wasn’t through with us.]

Wednesday, Nov 29, 2006

Early this morning, after I’d woken up once to hear the rain on the roof, I returned to the imaginal realm and dreamed of flying – not too common a variety of dream for me, but it happens occasionally. Flying as if I were a kite, tethered to a moving train far, far below through a broad prairie landscape. That was only a part of an elaborate, vivid dream, the likes of which I only have a few times a year. I have plenty of other dreams, of course, pleasant or anxious, but more pedestrian. (The Japanese verb associated with dreaming translates as “see.” I like that. I saw a dream last night.)

Friday, Dec 1, 2006

A foot of snow today, and you’d think that would quiet things down outside. It did, for a while, since the blanket of snow muffled the streets and closed the airports beginning a little after midnight. I was up briefly at 3 am or so and wished I could leave the windows open, since the traffic noise was gone. But as soon as the sun came up this morning, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr went the snowblowers. And traffic started again.

Wicker Park Details

There’s a junction of three major streets in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago at North, Damen and Milwaukee avenues that (I’ve read) is being called Six Corners, to the consternation of those who believe that the junction of Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues is the true Six Corners. I will note that the Irving Park-Cicero-Milwaukee Six Corners has been called that a lot longer than the North-Damen-Milwaukee Six Corners, but otherwise I don’t have a dog in that fight. Time will sort it out.

Near the North-Damen-Milwaukee intersection on Saturday I walked into a fire hydrant. The bruise on my right leg is still a little sore, but at least I didn’t tumble to the sidewalk. I wasn’t paying attention to the sidewalk, a foolish thing to do, because I was looking at some of the nearby buildings. Such as the former Noel State Bank, now a Walgreens at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Wicker Park, Nov 14, 2015The outside is stately (bankly?), but the interior — despite being a chain drug store — is gorgeous. A fine adaptive re-use that had a good design to work with.

At 1579 N Milwaukee Ave., is Chicago’s Flat Iron Building, which still seems to be an artists colony, in spite of articles saying that the gentrification of the neighborhood doomed that use.
Wicker Park, Nov 14, 2015This is 1954 W North Ave., a handsome building. Or buildings, it looks like two structures flush against each other, but I’m not sure.
Wicker Park, Nov 14, 2015From the vantage point of the Damen El Station platform, I took a look at the building that’s home to the Double Door, a well-known music venue in Wicker Park. I went there once ca. 1996 to see — who? The singer was a woman, and she spent part of the show bad-mouthing Tori Amos, for some reason; that’s what I remember.
Double DoorSeemed like an ordinary enough building-top. Then I noticed something a little odd.
T*REXSomeone has written T*REX! T*REX! T*REX! … near the top. Presumably from the roof. But why? An enthusiast for the band of that name? Or the prehistoric creature?

Return to Humboldt Park

Another place we went on Saturday — which I suspect will be the last warm Saturday of the year — was Humboldt Park, one of Chicago’s major parks. The last time I was there, summer was ending, but it was still summer. In mid-November, the park’s a different place, one of autumnal gray and brown and smidgens of green.

Humboldt Park Nov 14, 2105There are still a lot of birds around. Ducks and geese mostly, still foraging in the unfrozen waters.

Humboldt Park Nov 14, 2105Near the park’s Boat House is a dead tree refashioned into artwork: “Burst” by Mia Capodilupo (2014). A ex-locust tree plus hose, rope, extension cord, and fabric.

Humboldt Park Nov 14, 2105According to WTTW, it’s one of a number of such transformations citywide: “The Chicago Park District has teamed with a local sculptor’s group to turn trees that were condemned into public art. The stay of execution for the mighty elms, ash and locust trees is also an opportunity for artists to make a very public impression.”

Not far from “Burst” is a more traditional kind of park art, a statue of explorer Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt. I saw it last year but couldn’t make an image.

Felix Gorling did thisNote the globe behind him. There’s an iguana back there, too. WBEZ reports: “[Humboldt Park] was laid out in 1869. The statue arrived in 1892, the work of Felix Görling. It was paid for by German-born brewer Francis Dewes, who was also responsible for a flamboyant mansion on Wrightwood Avenue.

“When the statue was erected, the neighborhood around it was heavily German. The Poles later settled in, and for many years Humboldt Park was the site of the Polish Constitution Day Parade. Then the Poles moved on and were succeeded by the Puerto Ricans… One of the park’s roadways is now named for Luis Munoz Marin — the first elected governor of Puerto Rico.”

The 18th Street Station, Pink Line

En route to the National Museum of Mexican Art on Saturday, I passed through the 18th Street Station of the CTA’s Pink Line. A number of El stations feature public art, but 18th Street, which serves the Pilsen neighborhood, is lavishly decked out.

18th Street Station18th Street Station18th Street StationAccording to, which has detailed information about many aspects of Chicago’s elevated and subway system, the 18th Station “features two art installations contributed by members of the local Hispanic community, both installed under the auspices of the CTA’s Adopt-a-Station Program.”

The first is a mosaic mural on the exterior of the station on the east side of the entrance, installed soon after the station opened in the early 1990s (the current station replaced a earlier one dating from the 1890s). I didn’t see that mural this time, since I headed westward to visit the museum.

In 1998, local artist Francisco Mendoza and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (now the National Museum of Mexican Art), along with the city-run youth art program Gallery 37, created a second art installation at the station, notes “Art teacher Mendoza enlisted his students at Gallery 18, a satellite program of Gallery 37, along with anyone else in the neighborhood who could paint to create colorful murals throughout the station.”

That’s what I saw. Since CTA platforms now feature screens that estimate the arrival time of the next train — a very handy use of information tech, I believe — I had time to wander around the station and take pictures. Such as of the painted stairwells.

Stairs!More stairs!“Concentrated largely on the platforms and in the stairwells between the station house and platforms, the artwork covers any solid surfaces that could be utilized, including the lower panels on the side walls on the west platform and the full-height walls on the east platform under the platform canopy, and the walls, window and wall framing, and risers in the station stairwells.”

The station could look like an ordinary metal-and-concrete facility, but the painting makes it distinctive. It’s a good example of being someplace, rather than just anyplace.

The National Museum of Mexican Art’s 2015 Day of the Dead Exhibition

In January 1990, when I knew I was leaving Chicago and not sure I’d ever move back, I spent some time visiting local places I hadn’t gotten around to. That included a few smaller museums, such as the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, and what was then known as the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum. Now it’s the National Museum of Mexican Art, but the museum is still located in Harrison Park in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. I made it back there on Saturday for first time in 25 years.

Mainly I wanted to see the museum’s notable Día de los Muertos exhibit, which it mounts every October through December. Who can resist colorful skulls, in two and three dimensions?

Day of the Dead 2015Day of the Dead 2015But there was much more. “Come celebrate the Day of the Dead with the works of over 90 artists of Mexican descent from both sides of the border,” the museum web site notes. Among other works, “thirteen ofrendas and installations were created to remember distinguished artists and members of the community alike. Folk art, paintings, and sculptures comprise the largest annual exhibition of Day of the Dead in the U.S.”

The ofrenda (“offering”)  consists of objects arrayed on a ritual altar for the Day of the Dead, to honor someone who has died. The one that really caught my attention was for El Santo of Lucha Libre fame.
El SantoThe title of the ofrenda in full: “Santo in the World of the Dead: Altar to the Silver Masked Wrestler/Santo en el mundo de los muertos: ofrenda al enmascarado de plata,” by Juan Javier and Gabrielle Pescador of Michigan.

I had only the vaguest notion of El Santo, so I read more about him: Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (1917-1984), one of the biggest stars of Lucha Libre. It’s too bad that some of his many movies, dubbed clumsily in English, didn’t show up on Saturday afternoon TV when I was young. Such as Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro, a poster for which is part of the ofrenda. After all, we did get the likes of The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy on English-language TV in ’70s San Antonio.

Not to worry, in our time the original version of Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro is posted in its entirety on YouTube. If you watch it, and maybe a few other Santo clips, you might start getting YouTube commercials in Spanish, which I find easier to ignore.

(Something that made me smile from the Wiki entry on The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy: “The movie shows a notable lack of awareness of Mesoamerican civilizations…” There’s a shocker.)

Another large ofrenda was for a woman in a rather different walk of life, though a public persona all the same: Irene C. Hernandez (1916-1997), who was on the Cook County Board of Commissioners from 1974 to ’94.
Day of the Dead 2015The work was created by a number of artists, including students at Irene C. Hernandez Middle School in Chicago. A lot of skeletons have their parts to play.
Day of the Dead, 2015Other ofrendas and installations honored the likes of Anthony Quinn, Selena, Brooklyn artist Ray Abeyta, and notable Chicagoans like Soledad “Shirley” Velásquez. Considering that the theme is death, they’re remarkably life-affirming.

Mid-November Quietude

I was going to post pictures taken on the Champs-Élysées and at the Louvre about 21 years ago, but with word from France of the latest murderous barbarian outrage, recalling a pleasant November visit to Paris doesn’t seem right. Another time.

Here in northeastern Illinois this weekend, we enjoyed remarkably mild weather. The kind of afternoons during which you can sit in some comfort on your deck, should you be fortunate enough to have one, and eye the sun in the branches of the bare trees.

Nov 15, 2015Your dog, should you be fortunate enough to have one, joins you on the deck to watch for squirrels and rabbits and other intruders.

Payton, Nov 15, 2015Naturally it’s going to cool off dramatically soon. Winter wouldn’t be so tedious if there were occasional interludes like this in January and February, but that’s not how it works at this latitude.