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.”


Snow last night, first time it’s stuck in quite a while. But only a few inches, not like the East Coast.

This year the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Co., a nonprofit based in Hyde Park that does performances one weekend of the year at the University of Chicago’s handsome Mandell Hall, produced Iolanthe. I have fond memories of the company’s Yeomen of the Guard, which Lilly and I saw two years ago, so we all went on Friday (except Lilly, whose spring break hasn’t started yet).

img462Like last time, we ate at Salonica’s first. The face on the telephone pole is still down the street, on the way to the theater.

The show was just as much fun as Yeomen. More, since I knew some of the songs better, including everyone’s favorite lord-marching-trumpets-braying number, which saw a mellifluous chorus of lords spill out from the stage and into the aisles and back, and the renowned patter song about insomnia and the weird dreams of shallow and disturbed sleep.

According to The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian C. Bradley, parts of which are online, “[Gilbert] had, in fact, experimented with the metre later used for the nightmare song in a poem entitled ‘Sixty-Three and Sixty-Four,’ which appeared in Fun in 1864 and which began:

Oh, you who complain that the drawing’s insane, or too much for your noodles have found it.
But listen a minute, I’ll tell you what’s in it — completely explain and expound it.

An earlier poem by Gilbert, ‘The Return from My Berth,’ which appeared in Punch in October 1864, gives a more lurid account of a Channel crossing:

The big Channel steamer is rolling,
Frenchmen around me are bilious and fat
And prone on the floor are behaving unheedingly,
It’s a ‘sick transit,’ but never mind that!

Matthan Ring Black was in fine form with the patter, and the rest of his Lord Chancellor part. Everyone else did very well, but I was especially taken with Claire DiVizio, who did the Fairy Queen, and David Govertsen, who not only amused everyone with Private Willis’ single song, but stood perfectly still in the lobby in his bright red guard uniform as the audience filed in. Perhaps that’s a G&S tradition I don’t know about, but in any case he was there.

Private Willis also got the biggest laugh of the evening:

That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!

Of course, there’s Victorian context to that, but a modern one as well.

Yuriko liked it, and Ann, who’s developing a taste for musical theater, said she enjoyed the show a lot. I never had such a taste as a teenager, though I did (mostly) enjoy the successive senior plays put on at my high school toward the end of each school year, all of which happened to be musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, The Mikado, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story.

One more thing, which if I knew, I’d forgotten: Iolanthe apparently inspired Chief Justice William Rehnquist to add gold stripes to his robe in 1995. Guess he decided that a powdered wig as well would be a bit much.

Recent Wind Incidents

During most of the day yesterday, and especially late into the evening, brisk winds blew around here. I fell asleep listening to the strong wind, and while that can be a soothing sound, it’s much better if you’re in rental property.

In the morning, when calm air had returned, there was no visible damage. Some items outside on the deck had been moved around, and a few small branches had fallen. It all made me wonder: if the rotation of the Earth ultimately moves the atmosphere, how is it that the wind isn’t always like that? Or worse, like it is on the gas giants, with their perma-storms? What makes a calm day on any part of the Earth?

When returning from Texas Sunday before last, the wind was up as the plane came in for its landing at Midway, making one of the bumpier approaches I’ve experienced lately. About two minutes before touchdown, when even the flight attendants had buckled down, suddenly one of them got up, wetted a towel, and dashed past me — I was on row six or seven — and helped clean up a few rows back, where a woman had thrown up. Then the flight attendant, navigating her way as the plane bumped around, made it back to her seat for the landing. Expert moves, clearly.

On Sunday, February 19, a few days before we arrived in the city, a handful of tornados hit San Antonio. According to the Express-News on the 21st: “The National Weather Service confirmed late Monday morning an EF-1 strength tornado with 105 mph and a path length of 4.5 miles touched down on Linda Drive near the Quarry shopping center.”
That’s a few blocks from my mother’s house.

Fortunately, an EF-1 is a weak tornado, or I’d be writing a very different post. As it was, she lost power for a while, and it looked like a neighbor’s fence had been damaged, though it’s possible the fence had already partly fallen through neglect. Otherwise my mother’s house wasn’t damaged.

A few days after the hit, we noticed some damage to a small shopping center a few blocks north of her house — bits of missing signage, broken tree limbs and roof problems, mostly. Also, some workmen were taking down a damaged ornamental brick wall at a nearby apartment complex. Better to have no tornadoes, but if you have to have one, a weak one is what you want.

Winterlude ’17

Time for a winter hiatus. Back on about February 26, when it will still be winter, but at least with the prospect of a less winterish March to look forward to. Winter around here fades like it’s being tuned out by a dimmer switch — in the hands of a three-year-old, so the transition isn’t very smooth.

Before we saw the parade in Chinatown earlier this month, we walked by the Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch. It’s fairly new and I didn’t remember seeing it before.
Chicago Public Library Chinatown branchIt’s a nice piece of work. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building won a Library Building Award from the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association about a year ago. Being Sunday, it was closed, so we didn’t have a chance to go inside and look around.

Here’s something I saw not long ago when I happened to have a camera in my hand.
It was a drink machine. That it takes credit and debt cards isn’t so strange. Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a new one for me on a vending machine. But maybe I don’t see enough vending machines to notice. At least regular cash is still an option. What’s next, Bitcoin?

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

I ought to go to more parades. As long as the crowds aren’t impossible, they can be worth a few hours, and at a parade you’re participating in something that must be as old as urban civilization. Parades of some kind were surely features of life in Ur.

I’ve been to parades on the occasion of First Night, St. Patrick’s Day, Patriots Day (the Massachusetts holiday), San Jacinto Day, July 4, Halloween, and Veterans Day. I’ve seen them in honor of Puerto Rican Day, Indian Independence Day, and the first day of the MacKenzie, ND, County Fair. I took in a Democratic Party torchlight parade at which I saw candidate Michael Dukakis walk by. I’ve seen them in Japan, Indonesia and Disney World, or was it Land? I even saw one including dwarfs.

But never a parade for Chinese New Year. I had that in mind when I decided a while ago to go to Chicago’s Chinatown for its parade, provided it wasn’t bitterly cold, as it was last year. The parade this year was Sunday, February 5. A little late after the Chinese lunar new year, but close enough. Temps were above freezing.

The event drew a crowd.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeThat image is looking south down S. Wentworth Ave., from across W. Cermak Rd., through the Chinatown Gate. The crowd that way was very thick, too thick for comfort. So we found a spot on the south side of Cermak, just west of Wentworth. If we’d thought about it more, we would have stayed on the other side of Cermak, which was the sunny side of the street, but things weren’t too bad at our spot. Eventually we were able to stand right next to the barricade.

These are the kinds of things you want to see at a Chinese New Year parade. Dragons on sticks and bright colors.

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeAnd the likes of these guys.

The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

And colorful flags.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeWhat’s a Chinese New Year parade without the the Irish pipe band Shannon Rovers?
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade - Shannon RoversMuch of the procession included ordinary parade stuff, which a distinct Chinese-American aspect. I suspect Shannon Rovers, for their part, seldom miss an opportunity to be in a Chicago parade. I’ve seen them before, but not in a parade.

Among other groups that wandered by the viewing stand, and then our position to the west of it, were the Chicago Police — not the cops doing crowd control — and Fire departments, the American Legion, the FBI Chicago Division (?), the PRC Consulate General, Hyatt, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the Taiwanese Benevolent Association, the Taiwanese American Chamber of Commerce, Duen Feng Midwest High School Association, the Chinese Entrepreneur Organization, Chiu Quon Bakery, the Chinese-American Service League, and the Indianapolis Chinese Community Center, who brought their own dragons on sticks.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadePoliticos were on hand, mostly offering pablum from the viewing stand. Schools were well represented, including some by their bands.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeThen there was this fellow.
The 2017 Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year ParadeWonder how many parades a year that shoe is in.

The Move Up North, 1987

Thirty years ago, I packed up and moved to Chicago. Nothing like moving in late January to make you lose your taste for long-distance moving, but that didn’t stop me from packing up again three years later to move even further, again in the winter. And twice again in the 1990s.

Instead of writing in any detail about the move, I did a schematic in a notebook I used at the time as a diary. I did that occasionally.
Move to Chicago, Jan. 1987The move was fairly straightforward. Load up a rental truck in Nashville, unload at my new apartment in Andersonville in Chicago, take the truck back to Nashville, drive my car and whatever I hadn’t loaded back to Chicago. About 500 miles each way. I guess it was tiresome, but I was young.

Weather wasn’t a factor, except for one incident. While driving the empty truck back to Nashville — and in fact just inside Davidson County — I hit a patch of black ice. For a flash of a terrifying moment, the truck was swaying wildly. But I stayed on the road.

Lull-Time Entertainment

We opened our presents early on the morning of December 22, since Yuriko and Ann were off to Japan later that day. Christmas itself passed quietly, though we did prepare a nice dinner. As for New Year’s Eve, Lilly went out with friends — as you should do at 19 — while I stayed home with the dog, a more fitting evening for middle age.

In between those moments, work slacked off, and I enjoyed the lull. Among other things, Lilly and I watched various TV shows when she was home, such as episodes of Frasier (it holds up well) and the newer and considerably different, but also very funny Louie. I also had her watch the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

We saw an episode of Bob’s Burgers that involved a gingerbread house contest. Could those really exist? I asked myself later. Yes indeed. Just Google “gingerbread contest” or the like and you get many hits about various events, such as the 2016 National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, held just before Thanksgiving.

“It all began with a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members in 1992 as another way to celebrate the holiday season with no plans to continue the following year,” says the competition’s web site. “There was no possible way to know that more than two decades later The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition™ would be one of the nation’s most celebrated and competitive holiday events.”

We’ve tried to build those things before. We aren’t dedicated much to the task, so it usually ends up more like a gingerbread trailer park after a tornado.

On the evening before New Year’s Eve, Lilly and I went into the city to see The Christmas Schooner on stage at the Mercury Theater, a mid-sized Chicago venue on the North Side not affiliated with Orson Welles that I know of.

The play is a musical set in the 1880s, involving a German-immigrant ship captain in Manistique, Mich., who hits on the idea of shipping Christmas trees to Germans in Chicago. The trouble is, sailing on Lake Michigan in late November/early December is dangerous, especially in the days of small wooden vessels and no weather reports. Eventually the captain goes down with his ship but his widow and son figure out a way to keep the trade going. The story is a fictionalized account of the real Christmas tree trade between the UP and Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which claimed a number of ships and men, notably the Rouse Simmons, which went down with all hands in Lake Michigan in late 1912.

I’ve long been impressed by the level of talent involved in the Chicago theater, and The Christmas Schooner was no exception. The acting, singing and dancing — or rather, motions on the stage, not a lot of formal dancing — were all first rate. It reminded me that I need to see more live theater in the city, now that the logistics of parenthood isn’t quite as complicated as it used to be.

November Get-Together 1987

For a little while in the later ’80s, I took an interest in making black-and-white pictures. But not enough of an interest to pay for a higher-quality camera, so the results were usually mediocre.

Still, I documented a few moments I might have otherwise forgotten. Such as a get-together in my Chicago apartment on November 21, 1987, attended by a small knot of my friends. Such as Wendy and Susie, with Wendy blowing bubbles.


Barbara and Lee. The Period Clothing sign I found thrown away in Nashville after a resale shop near my apartment had closed. I brought it with me to Chicago.

nov21-87-2Becky. The door led to the back stairwell. People who wanted to smoke went out there. But I don’t think anyone there that day smoked.

nov21-87-3And Nate near one of my bookcases. I probably still have all those books, or almost all of them.

nov21-87-4I imagine we had a good time, but I don’t remember anything about the event. Seems like a long time ago. Because it was.

The Bridgeview Bank, Uptown

Back posting around October 30, when I might have seen another thing or two to write about, with any luck.

One more destination on this year’s Open House Chicago: the Bridgeview Bank Building in Uptown Chicago, originally known as Sheridan Trust & Savings and then the Uptown National Bank. It’s one of the taller buildings in the neighborhood. You enter the building on Broadway, into a small foyer. From there, a grand staircase leads to the second floor, which is mostly occupied by a resplendent former bank lobby.

Bridgeview Bank, Uptown Chicago

The building, and the lobby, is a Marshall & Fox design from 1924, and it’s ornate. And solid.

It occurred to me as I wandered around the marble and brass and ironwork of this sturdy structure that the FDIC probably helped kill off this kind of bank design. Before accounts were insured, a bank needed to look solid. The more solid, the better — at least as far as reassuring your customers was concerned. But if customers can’t lose their deposits, that consideration takes a back seat.

Just speculation. It’s also likely that the generation of bankers who came of age during the Depression (e.g., Milton Drysdale) considered such ornamentation frivolous spending. I should also note that the splendor of Sheridan Trust & Savings’ lobby didn’t save the bank during the Depression.

Never mind, Marshall & Fox did a stunning bank lobby. Here’s a closer look at the ceiling.

Bridgeview Bank, Uptown ChicagoThe tables where customers used to get ready for the tellers still sport some striking lamps. I want a couple of these at the colorless suburban banks I visit.
Sheridan Trust & Savings Uptown ChicagoThere are bank offices ringing the lobby, but otherwise the space isn’t used any more, certainly not for retail banking. Too bad; it should be used for something.

Down on the lower level is a vault — the very picture of a bank vault from another time.
Sheridan Trust & Savings Uptown ChicagoIt isn’t used for anything any more, either. I doubt that the bank would consider it, but maybe a hipster restaurant can go upstairs, along with a hipster bar in the vault.

Four Houses of Worship

A number of churches — and other houses of worship — were part of Open House Chicago. That’s one of the attractions of the event, as far as I’m concerned.

In Evanston, we visited First Presbyterian. It’s not just a church. It’s a Daniel Burnham church.

First Presbyterian, Evanston

The church’s web site says, “In July 1876 a new church building was dedicated after the original church burned down. However, this church only stood for 18 years. In February 1894, the second church burned to the ground [and maybe sank into the swamp]. The congregation met in a former roller rink while our current building was being constructed, at a cost of $80,000. Daniel H. Burnham, the famed architect who was the inspiration for Chicago’s lakefront, designed the new church.

“The church is constructed of Lemont limestone, with an interior finish of red oak and Georgian pine. The sanctuary is ninety by seventy-five feet, and with the balcony, seats eleven hundred persons.” A lovely sanctuary it is.
First Presbyterian EvanstonWith a lot of stained glass. This wall includes the Old Testament collection.

First Presbyterian, Evanston

In the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago is the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. I’m pretty sure we visited there ca. 1997 during a Japanese cultural festival (I remember the taiko drummers especially). Seems that there’s an new building on the site now, or newer anyway, built 10 years ago. The religious organization goes back much further, to when Japanese and Japanese-Americans forced off the West Coast resettled in Chicago.

A fine altar.

Buddhist Temple of ChicagoAnd a nice collection of wood panels. This one illustrates Gautama under the Bodhi Tree.

Buddhist Temple of Chicago

In the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, on the same street and the same block — Lunt Ave., near Ridge — are St. Jerome, a Catholic church, and the local HQ of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON Chicago).

Here’s St. Jerome, a century old this year, with its Italian Renaissance exterior. The architect was one Charles H. Prinderville.

St. Jerome, Chicago

Inside, an ornate Baroque sanctuary. At some point, the building was lengthened, becoming one of the longer church buildings I’ve seen lately.

St Jerome, Chicago interior

Practically across the street, the devotees of Krishna do what they do. Until 1980, the structure was a Masonic temple. Now inside you can see depictions of Sri Kishora, or the youthful Krishna, and Sri Kishori, or the youthful Radharani.

ISKCon Chicago

Then there’s this fellow.

ISKCon Chicago

That’s an awfully lifelike statue of Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), whom you might call a Vaishnavite Hindu missionary to the West. He seems to have done well with that.

I can’t resist one more thing: cutting and pasting his name here in Sanskrit (according to Wiki, anyway), just because I can: अभय चरणारविन्द भक्तिवेदान्त स्वामी प्रभुपाद