A Poster, A Sign & A Lot of Bumper Stickers

Persistent rain starting last night and on through most of today. Mud season has started. But it also looks like the grass is greening.

Spotted on a telephone pole on Randolph St. on the near West Side of Chicago late last week. Looks like someone added the toothbrush mustache.

anti-Trump poster March 2017Spotted in Itasca, Ill., also last week, sometime after the presumed wedding. Glad that “Bubba” isn’t dead as a name.

Itasca Baptist Church 2017Spotted at a rest stop on I-57 between Champaign and Chicago.

Been There Bumper Stickers 2017I can’t quite make out all of the stickers, and there are more on the non-visible side of the van, but included in the destinations are the Kennedy Space Center, California, Nevada, Laughlin, NV, Key West, Roswell, NM, Wyoming, Mackinac Island (two), Naples, FL, Ventura, CA, Texas, the UP (more than one, including the 906 sticker), North Dakota, Piggly Wiggly, the Full Throttle Saloon (Sturgis), Route 66, Mississippi, Montana, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and a sticker that says, “There’s a place for all God’s creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.”

Alma Mater, UIUC

I took Lilly back to school on Sunday. I didn’t do quite as much of a walkabout on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus as I did in January, but I was determined to pause on the way out to see one thing: Alma Mater, a sculpture by Chicago’s own Lorado Taft.

Alma Mater UIUCAccording to UIHistories Project by Kalev Leetaru, “Unveiled on Alumni Day, June 11, 1929, the statue depicts ‘a benign and majestic woman in scholastic robes, who rises from her throne and advances a step with outstretched arms, a gesture of generously greeting her children.’ Behind her stand the twin figures of Labor and Learning, joining hands in a bronze incarnation of the University’s motto.”

This is Labor. The muscular man in the work duds.
Alma Mater UIUCLearning, in Classical garb. It would be more interesting if the costuming were reversed, since labor involves learning and learning involves labor, but never mind.
Alma Mater UIUC

Older pictures of the statue depict a green patina, acquired over time. During the 2010s restoration of the sculpture, that was stripped away, so presumably it now looks a lot like it did when new.

“Conceived in 1922, Alma Mater was cast in 1929 by the American Art Bronze Foundry and paid for by donations by the Alumni Fund and the classes of 1923-1929,” notes Leetaru. “It was crafted by Taft as ‘his gift to the University in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation.’ Alma Mater rests on a granite pedestal conceived by Charles Platt.

“The statue was originally placed directly behind the Auditorium, and at night spotlights cast twin shadows of Labor and Learning onto the rear wall of the Auditorium, making them truly larger than life. On August 22, 1962, the Alumni Association moved the sculpture to its present location in front of Altgeld.”

Altgeld being Altgeld Hall, named after the Illinois governor. There’s a bell in that tower, and I took this picture as it was ringing 4 o’clock on Sunday.

building behind Alma Mater UIUC“Completed in 1897, Altgeld Hall, originally known as the Library Building, was designed by Nathan Ricker and James McLaren White…” writes Leetaru. “From 1955 to the present, the Department of Mathematics and the Mathematics Library have called the building home.

“The building is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and the external stonework is pink limestone. The original pink hue may still be seen in the interior of the East entrance.”

Songbird Slough

Sometimes a name on a map is intriguing enough to inspire a visit to the place. So it was with Songbird Slough, a part of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Charming name. When we went on Friday afternoon, it was toward the end of a pleasantly warm day, the kind you get sometimes in March (but not too often).

The Forest Preserve District says that “the 393-acre preserve is a part of a large glacial kettle formation that is the low point for a 1,000-acre watershed that drains the surrounding urban area. Songbird Slough is a combination of natural and constructed wetlands, fishing ponds, restored prairies, and meadows.”

Still a little ahead of the greens of spring, but not a bad place for a stroll, especially in 70-degree temps.
Songbird Slough, DuPage County“This urban retreat serves as a nesting spot for numerous grassland and song birds, and is a great spot for wildlife viewing, especially during waterfowl migration season,” the forest preserve continues. Not that many highly visible birds around on Friday, but there were a few.
Songbird Slough DuPage CountyWe left at about 6 pm for a 20-minute or so drive home. By the time we got home, it was 10 or even 15 degrees cooler. The sudden drop was the beginning of a cold, wet, generally unpleasant winter-spring mix of a weekend.

Al Stewart at City Winery

Considering his longstanding love of wine, it seemed fitting that Al Stewart appeared at City Winery in Chicago last Thursday. I don’t share his oenophilia — I like the idea of wine more than wine itself — but I can appreciate an enthusiasm like that. Still, it didn’t matter to me exactly where he was playing. Some time ago, I decided to catch his shows whenever they were convenient to where I happened to be, and anywhere in the Chicago area is close enough.

City Winery is a relatively new place, taking its current form on the near West Side of Chicago only in 2012, and as such, it was a pioneering venue in that part of the city. Just before the music started, an announcer said, “City Winery’s not just a kitschy name. We actually make wine here. All those barrels in the back are filled with our wine, aging for your consumption.”

Carefully stowed barrels dominate the back of City Winery’s music room. The place also has a number of other rooms, including a large restaurant space forming the front of the building. All together, it’s a handsome interior space, characterized by brick walls and barrels and bottles, and the acoustics are good.

I’ve seen Stewart with a band, with sidemen, and by himself. This time, he had a band backing him, the young but talented Empty Pockets. They did a set before Stewart came out, including a fine version of “Fever.” The band’s relative youth caused Stewart to marvel at one point that he was being backed by musicians who weren’t born when the music they were playing came out, but who had the jam down pat anyway. That wouldn’t be quite so remarkable in a classical or jazz context, but I suppose it still is in popular music.

Though not a member of Empty Pockets, sax man (and flautist) Marc Macisso joined Stewart and the band for the concert too. He blew his sax like a man possessed, and did a fine job on the flute as well. On a number of Al Stewart songs, the sax is a defining sound, so it was good Macisso was on hand. He reminded me of the saxophonist who killed it with Stewart during his 1989 Park West concert, who might have been Phil Kenzie (who played on the record Stewart was promoting at the time), though I’m not sure.

The set list for the City Winery concert was different than any other of his that I’ve seen. After a handful of songs — “Sirens of Titan,” “Antarctica,” “Time Passages” — Stewart and the band played all of the songs from the album Year of the Cat in order.

The bonus was Stewart’s usual entertaining patter between the songs. “This brings me to Year of the Cat,” he said by way of introducing the songs. “It was a shock for me. I was an English folk singer playing in coffee bars, and all of the sudden people bought this thing, and I wasn’t sure why. I did begin on a very commercial note by writing a song about an English seafarer from 1591, Richard Grenville. This is a subject that most disco artists at the time were embracing.”

Stewart was being coy. If ever he did a polished commercial record, it was Year of the Cat (except maybe Last Days of the Century, which wasn’t as good). Alan Parsons produced Year, after all. The first song, “Lord Grenville,” does indeed mention Richard Grenville. He of “Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one.” I believe listening to the song in 1976 was the first time I’d ever heard of him.

About the next song — “On the Border,” a favorite of mine since I acquired the record 40 years ago — he said, “I thought we’d continue with mass popular appeal by doing a song about the Basque separatist movement, the crisis in Rhodesia and the fall of the British Empire, and amazingly this one actually made the top 40. I have no idea how that was possible. I can only assume the disk jockeys didn’t listen to the lyrics.”

For a long time I thought the song was about the Spanish Civil War, but I’ll defer to the songwriter. But it doesn’t really have to be about anything so specific.

Regarding “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” — my least favorite cut on the record — he said, “It has far too many words. If I’d known when I was 30 that I’d be singing it when I was 70, I’d have written half as many words.”

Stewart said that his favorite song on the album is “Flying Sorcery,” which was not top 40, but a fine tune all the same. “It concerns two lovers. I turned them into airplanes. They take off from the same airport but they get caught up in a fog bank and land at separate airports. Obviously that means they’re breaking up.”

I never quite took that from the song, but no matter. It has some wonderful lyrics, including, “You were taking off in Tiger Moths/Your wings against the brush-strokes of the day.” The brush-strokes of the day. What a way to describe the sky. It occurs to me that he’s done other songs with aeronautic images (not on Year), such as “The Immelman Turn” and “Fields of France.” (“When Lindy Comes to Town” talks about flight, too, but it’s a particular historic event.)

He mentioned some alternate lyrics to the song “Year of the Cat,” though not in as much detail as recorded on this Songfacts page, based on a 2015 performance. I think everyone was pretty glad that the final lyrics came out the way they did, including Stewart.

On the whole, Al Stewart was in fine fettle on Thursday. His voice is still clear and his guitar playing is impressively energetic for a man of 71. He also seems to enjoy himself thoroughly on stage, which must be why he still tours. Hope he’s got more years yet.

The Fulton Market District, Chicago

Last Thursday, late in the afternoon but before dark — Daytime Saving Time is good for something — I took a walk through parts of the the Fulton Market District. Like most urban neighborhoods, it’s a little fuzzy in definition, but roughly speaking the area is on the near West Side of Chicago, west of the Kennedy Expressway and a few blocks to the north and south of Randolph St., until you get to Ogden Ave.

The district is in the midst of a boom. Here are a few headlines about it just from 2017 in Curbed Chicago:

Bright two-bedroom Fulton Market timber loft lists for $475K

Fulton Market office project changes design, again

West Loop residents say five-story proposal looks ‘prison-like’

Ace Hotel in Fulton Market to open in the autumn

Rehab work begins on two older Fulton Market buildings

Another Fulton Market food distributer looks to sell-out to developers

Demolition to clear path for 170-room Fulton Market hotel

The area, formerly a distribution — food wholesalers, mainly — and light industrial district, is giving way to apartments, hotels, restaurants and entertainment. The pattern is a familiar one in Chicago and elsewhere.

West Randolph, looking east, back toward the Loop.
Randolph St ChicagoUmami Burger looked intriguing, but I didn’t stop there.

The corner of Randolph and Carpenter St. is home to a particularly striking building, the former Richters Food Products building, which dates from the early 1930s.
Richters Food Products building - Venue One 2017The exterior has been immaculately preserved. Forgotten Chicago says that “the architect was H. Peter Henschien, a noted and prolific Chicago-based designer of meat packing plants. The Tribune described the new building at the time of construction as being ‘of pleasing design.’ Bruno Richter had started the firm about ten years earlier in Jefferson Park, with the idea of ‘marketing sausage through extensive advertising.’ ”

Remarkably, Mr. Henschien’s Tribune obit from 1959 is online. A remarkable line from it: “He and his firm designed more than 300 packing plants in the United States and in Russia, Pakistan, Cairo, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Canada.” People have their niches, mostly unknown, or in his case, forgotten.

An update on the Forgotten Chicago post: the Richters Food Products is now occupied by Venue One, which “offers 25,000 square feet of customizable event and meeting space.” The construction crane in the picture doesn’t have anything to do with Venue One, except being nearby. It was merely one of the cranes rising over a number of other projects in the area.

My destination for the evening: City Winery, at Racine Ave. and Randolph.
City Winery Chicago 2017A cool venue indeed, though it’s a little hard to tell from this picture. More about it tomorrow.

New Product Thursday

Trader Joe’s is always good for some novelty or oddity. That’s the way that store does things. Lately I picked up a Trader Joe’s Quasar Bar, a 1.8 oz. candy bar, on impulse. There’s no indication on the packaging who actually makes the bar for the grocery store chain, but no doubt it’s one of the major confectioners, since it’s a high-quality bar.

Naturally it has an astronomical name. After all, there’s Mars and Milky Way and Starbursts and probably others I don’t know about. The verbiage on the package: “With whipped chocolate and rich caramel enrobed in dark chocolate.” Interesting choice of a verb, enrobed. A very Trader Joe’s touch.

The Quasar Bar’s compared to the Milky Way, and there’s something to that, but I thought of it more as the love child of a Milky Way Midnight Dark Chocolate and a 3 Musketeers. The combination works well. Not worth a trip to Trader Joe’s by itself, but a good impulse purchase if you’re there. More about it here, at an entire blog devoted to that grocery store.

Sad to say, Trader Joe’s Low Calorie Lemonade, in the 8 fl. oz. plastic bottle, isn’t nearly as good. It’s neither very sweet nor particularly tart. I prefer my lemonade on the tart side, but not too tart, though I can understand those who like it sweet. This lemonade tastes like lemon juice added to water.

At first I thought I hadn’t shaken it vigorously enough, but after a good shaking, it still tasted like lemon juice added to water. It might be made from organic, fair-traded, non-GMO, gluten-free lemons, but that doesn’t make it any good (actually, it only says organic).

On to Costco, where Yuriko picked up a 30 oz. package of Aussie Bites, a product of Best Express Foods, not of Australia, but Hayward, Calif. A Delicious Health Snack! the package promises.

Some ingredients are in large type on the package: rolled oats, dried apricots, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, honey, coconut, quinoa, chia seeds. In standard ingredient-label smaller type: all those, plus various kinds of sugar, butter, sea salt, baking soda, rice flour, etc. ZERO TRANS FATS is in all caps.

They’re essentially cookies, though not disk shaped, but more like small, densely packed muffins. Quite tasty, but also very filling. It’s taken us more than a month to eat most of them.

Afternoon Music Selections

Ann and I were in the living room yesterday, and I called up YouTube on the TV. It’s one of the things you can do with a modern TV and wifi. She wasn’t really paying attention, since she had her smaller electronic gizmo handy, so I decided to play “Telstar.” The video shows mostly unrelated space images, but never mind. I thought it might get her attention.

I was right. “What is that?” she asked. Or maybe it was, “What is that?” But I don’t think she really wanted an answer.

After it was over, naturally I had to play the Tornados’ “Robot,” whose Scopitone doesn’t look very good on a bigger screen. But the YouTube poster’s (in 2006!) description is apt: “Tornados rock the twang in a back-woods sci-fi robotic dance party! And then kiss girls!”

She wasn’t impressed by that, either.

If it had occurred to me, I would have dialed up “Trans-Europe Express” (English or German). It’s been 40 years this month since the album of that name was released. Of course I didn’t hear about it at the time, but in the early ’80s, and even then I had no idea that it had been received so well by critics, for what that’s worth. All I know is I’ve always liked it.

When I looked it up recently, I was surprised to learn that the Trans-Europe Express, as in the train system TEE, doesn’t exist any more. Probably because I confused it with the TGV, which is very much still around.

Or maybe I could have played Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France,” another fun tune from some other zone, or “Beatbox” by Art of Noise. If your children don’t think you’re just a little strange, you aren’t trying very hard.

Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pbh&b sandwich for a very modest price. At least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved to munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 42. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

A Flying Egg

At about 11:15 pm on Saturday, I was driving Ann home from a friend’s house, headed south on a four-lane street here in the northwest suburbs, in the lane closest to the curb on the passenger side. Traffic was light. Suddenly, we heard a loud THUMP from direction of the passenger side.

Immediately the driver’s thoughts — my thoughts, that is — turned to, what did I hit? But only a few seconds later Ann told me she saw egg on the window. Later, I determined that an egg had hit the door, probably just below the window. No damage, but some eggish goo was left behind, with a few bits of shell.

Eggs aren’t know to fly. Must have been a random act by some young wankers, wasting their parents’ eggs. Better than getting hit by a rock, I suppose, or something much worse. That hasn’t happened to me, luckily, but years ago someone unseen bombarded my car with a water balloon.

The Courtyards of Plaka, 1987

Ah, Greek food. A fine thing. I’ve had it in a number of places, including Sydney, but unfortunately not Greece. There was none to be found in San Antonio of the 1970s, nor Nashville of the early ’80s, or at least I made no effort to find it.

March20.1987 (2)So I never had any until sometime in the mid-80s, probably in Chicago. One of the things to do during visits to the city in those days was seek out various kinds of food you couldn’t find at home, relying on word-of-mouth or luck in those pre-look-it-up-on-your-electronic-box days, to get commentary from a crowd of strangers. Will future generations believe people used to live like that?

Based on online evidence, the Courtyards of Plaka seems to be closed, but I’m not entirely sure, and don’t feel like calling them unless I’m going there. In any case, 30 years ago was long enough ago that a lot of restaurants still gave away matches, rather than cards. Now I sometimes can’t find either.

I picked up some matches when I went with my friends Neal and Michelle, who lived in Chicago at the time. I just had moved there the month before. I don’t usually write anything on the matches or cards I find at restaurants, but for some reason I did that time. Maybe I should have more often.

March20.1987Can’t say that I remember much about that evening, though I’m sure we had a fine time. A short 1993 description of the restaurant in the Tribune said: “A lively place, especially once the live piano music gets underway. A handsome bar overlooks the stage-perfect for those who just stop in for a drink. The pretty, two-level dining room is awash in shades of terra cotta, with dark green accents; a series of white wooden slats suspended from the ceiling creates a canopy effect that makes you feel as though you’re eating outdoors.

“The menu lists a fair number of mezedes, the tapas-like tasting portions that lend themselves to grazing. There are also solid, sizable entrees: a pair of double lamb chops, a bit too chewy but quite tasty, and pair of expertly grilled, gently seasoned quail.”