With Halloween just a few weeks away, there’s no better time to snap up a copy of this perfectly rendered Gothic ghost story. A young London lawyer travels to a remote corner of an eerie Englishmoor to settle the estate of a recently deceased client. Of course, circumstances require that he stay the night in the haunted house, isolated daily by the rising tide that renders the one road in and out impassable. He soon learns why villagers behave so strangely when they learn his destination, and then comes to wish he’d never set eyes on the mysterious woman in black. Dripping with creepy atmosphere, this old-fashioned supernatural tale will have you gleefully turning pages. I dare you to read it late at night.
Other than professional sports, I try to take advantage of all Chicago has to offer, from dining to neighborhood diversity, storefront theater, gallery shows, and public art. When it comes to live music, my focus tends toward the classical variety, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, choir and organ concerts, and season tickets for Lyric Opera (for the past 20 years!)
But when it comes to jazz and blues (Chicago’s own!) I’m something of a slacker. Thanks to the gumption of friends, I’m filling in the gaps with visits to local music venues made famous by the likes of The Green Mill (which I finally visited for the first time this year.) Last night, it was Andy’s Jazz Club for dinner and a couple of sets of a quartet led by a talented, and loud, trumpeter. (Probably not the best choice for any conversation.)
We were downtown and just a few blocks from where the real action was last night–the first annual Great Chicago Fire Festival, put on by one of my favorite theater companies, Redmoon. At about 6:30, crowds had already started to form along the Chicago River, between the Michigan Avenue and State Street bridges. I walked across the State Street bridge for a view of one of the floating buildings, due to alight at eight o’clock, when flaming cauldrons would be lowered from the bridges.
Unfortunately, the weather (a tremendous amount of rain fell over the previous day) and technical difficulties prevented the building bonfires to go off as scheduled, and in some cases at all. By all reports, the flames were minimal and the pyrotechnics mostly confined to the brief fireworks display that was originally to follow the buildings burning away to reveal surprises hidden inside. Sadly, with such a lengthy delay and pathetic payoff, many disappointed spectators left early, missing a parade of grass boats (kayaks) that sounded like quite something to see.
By the time I left the jazz club, the Fire Festival should have been wrapping up, however it had yet to burn. People were three-deep to the riverfront, and the bridge was packed with some standing on the metal railing dividing the pedestrian walkway from traffic. I couldn’t see a thing, nor was I willing (or able) to climb a tree, as some did, for a better view. Instead, we walked a few blocks over to Xoco and grabbed a churro snack–the best churros, anywhere, hands down–before beating the crowds home on the el.
I’m disappointed the event didn’t succeed and feel bad for all the volunteers who put in many hours to create the spectacle. The floating buildings certainly looked impressive (and so Redmoonesque) but the execution was obviously flawed. We needed Robin Hood with a flaming arrow to save the day or at least tarps covering the structures, preventing them from becoming waterlogged in the rain.
Hopefully the city will treat this as a dress rehearsal (albeit an expensive one) and make adjustments for next year. I’m sure the first Macy’s Day Parade didn’t go off without a few hitches. It was nice to see a cross-section of Chicago gathering together at the river, despite the unseasonable cold (there were snow flurries that morning!) Colorful buildings floating on the Chicago River, set off by the amazing cityscape around them, were definitely something to see; it would have really been something had the spectacle ignited as planned.
I just got home from my first live HD broadcast from the Met–La Cenerentola (Cinderella) and wow, I’m all in. The experience was amazing from start to finish. The principle cast (including the wonderful Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez) was top-notch, the staging creative and the live broadcast riveting, with fluid camerawork that puts you right on stage where the action is, both in front of and behind the curtain. I’m hooked and will definitely make a point of seeing more of these theatrical broadcasts. (I’ve already penciled-in the next season’s performances of The Merry Widow (with Renee Fleming) and Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (with my new fave, Joyce DiDonato.)
There’s an encore showing of La Cenerentola (which was DiDonato’s final performance of this signature role) on 5/14. Catch it if you can.
As a huge fan of the 1893 World’s Fair (also known as the Columbian Exposition), I made a special point of getting down to the Field Museum to see the exhibit Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. The Field owes its creation to the Exposition, absorbing a great number of exhibits, artifacts, and stuffed animals (many of which continue to be scientifically relevant) from the fair. Items from the museum’s “hidden collection” are now on display. They provide a glimpse of this important chapter in Chicago history, as well as the changing way specimens and non-Western cultures have been studied and presented to the public.
It’s quite something to walk among displays that amazed visitors to the Fair 120 years ago. So much about our knowledge of the world has changed, it’s hard to imagine how mind -blowing it must have been to see electric lights, meteorites, exotic animals and Eskimos for the first time. (Not to mention Cracker Jack and the Ferris Wheel.) With nearly all the physical reminders of the fair long gone (the Museum of Science and Industry is the only surviving building), it’s also quite something to walk among tangible reminders of the 1893 extravaganza.
This electrical contraptions (right) is thought to have been the switch that turned on the fair, but even today, scholars and scientists are unsure of how exactly it worked and what its function was.
Not to be missed in the gallery next door, is another new exhibit at the Field that’s sure to be popular with families this summer. The Machine Inside: Biomechanics is a fun and fascinating explanation of some of the most amazing tricks of nature. How does a toucan use his large bill for heating and cooling? Why doesn’t a woodpecker rattle its brain? How does a giraffe’s heart pump blood all the way up that neck? And what about the cheetah’s body allows it to fun so fast? Displays are clever and concise, breaking down information into easy-to-understand pieces, often with entertaining and educational interactive components.
While today isn’t our first day of sunny, warm temperatures or even the first appearance of spring color, something about the quality of the light, the chipper bird activity (robins are really going at it–watch out earthworms!) and a slight chill to the breeze, makes this feel like an honest-to-goodness, midwestern spring day.
I especially like this time of year; very “early days” spring, when Scilla carpets the just-turned green grass with a lovely complimentary blue and the faintest hint of yellow dots the forsythia bushes, but most trees and shrubs still cling to the brown tinges of winter. Something big is coming.
It’s hard to believe just two days ago the backyard looked like this, and I was scraping ice off the fountain.
I just launched a 20%-off sale on all matted prints and blank notecards offered on my photography sales site. Mothers Day is just around the corner. Don’t delay, as some images are in short supply.
Every year since 1993, I’ve compiled a list of favorite books read during the year. What started as an insert to my holiday cards evolved into this blog, and over two decades later, the tradition continues.
In putting together this year’s list, I’ve noticed that it’s very heavy in very recent releases (five titles from 2012 alone) and marks the first time I’ve had husband and wife writers make the list (Geraldine Brooks and one of my favorite authors, Tony Horwitz.)
So here, in no particular order, I am pleased to present my twenty-first annual recommended reading list. Happy reading!