Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City: Part I

For much of my life I have had the grave misfortune of living in my parents' American dream: the clean tidy life of the the suburb. In high school I vowed to never return to the "little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky." (This a folk song of the 60's I used to play on my folky wannabe guitar.) Unfortunately life played me a dirty trick, and that's exactly where I have been for the majority of my years. (But we'll rant on that another day.)

My point here is that whenever I get the chance, I reenergize with a trip to one extreme or the other--pristine country or the lights and crazy energy of the big city. I happen to live on the edge of farm country Indiana, but only an hour door to door with downtown Chicago, and that is where my siggy, Dave, and I spent a fine holiday weekend sucking in so much city energy we can live off the power of it for the rest of the month.

Our long weekend was based on a yearly work-related party that gives us an excuse to have to be in the heart of Mich Ave the first weekend of December. But the real fun has nothing to do with a stuffy dinner dance in a crazy commercial hotel. Really it's all about reconnecting with art and architecture, shopping beyond the mall, and bundling up and walking everywhere until we can't walk another step.

Nothing like a mug of hot wine to cozy up the out of doors

Fortunately our time in town coincided with some wonderful events. Arriving late morning on Friday, we checked in to our boutique hotel, a place that affords some personal attention and lovely extras (like a complementary wine hour), and headed off to stop No.1, the Christkindlemart. This is an open air German market (run by native Germans) where the main activity, if you are not buying carved wood tsotchkes and glass ornaments, is a lunch like this: hot melting chocolate soft pretzel for appetizer, steaming potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream, washed down with mugs of hot spiced wine. Barely noon, and all of Daley Plaza filled with calorie sated, tipsy international and American tourists, and workers on their lunch breaks (hopefully not drinking).

Beautiful paper lanterns help warm the spirit

Next stop, art supply heaven (for a girl from the land of Michael's), Blicks in person: ruling pen, black Procion dye, absorbent ground, jewelry pliers, a water brush with a tiny tip. Happy Hanukkah to me! The Chicago Architecture Foundation, which runs some fine boat tours in season, has a fabulous gift shop of all things architecture. Kept us busy looking for quite a while, but left with wallet unscathed, and just a coloring book of the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The famous lions of The Art Institute don't need funny hats to stay warm

Ahhh, the Art Institute, a formidable presence. You could spend days there exploring all the nooks and crannies, special exhibits and activities, but as a member, I feel no need to do more than say "Hi" to my faves: the Thorne miniature rooms decorated for the holidays, the magnificently restored and reinstalled Chagall's America Windows. We'd yet to see the new Modern Wing, and while less than impressed with the gallery offerings, sat upstairs in the lounge as the sun descended, soaking in caffeine and modern lines.

The Chicago faces of Millenium Park face off. These are actually a pair of   water spitting fountains in  the summer, which delight the children who play in the catch basin.

Cloud Gate (know as "The Bean") reflects the Michigan Avenue skyline
Heading North along Michigan Avenue just after sunset.

My handsome man overlooking the ice rink.

The walk back to the hotel necessarily deserved a detour through Millennium Park, which we rarely see in its nighttime glory.  For dinner, we finally crossed the river to eat at Bin 36, a lovely wine centric restaurant nestled behind the famous condo towers of Marina City, the House of Blues and the Hotel Sax. We sampled wine flights (Chianti and Beyond), shared some heavenly bison fillet on polenta, and finished with a cheese flight (Cows Through the Ages.)

The final scene, well that would be me in the hotel window seat, and my skyline sketch.  A perfect end to an amazing Day I.


  1. Hi Cheryl,

    I can so connect with your opening paragraph. I grew up in the middle of nowhere outside a small town in the UP of Michigan. I swore I would never live in the middle of nowhere again. Guess what, I live in the middle of nowhere between Lansing and Jackson and apparently I live in a dead zone. I can only get dialup or satellite internet.

    Love the pix of Chicago. The hubster and I usually take the train over and stay a couple of nights at least once a year.

    Happy Holidays,


  2. I bounced between the burbs and a dairy/truck farm. I always wanted to live on a farm of my own, but I am out in the middle of nowhere, in the desert of Washington state. I get to travel back to the farm of my youth and find my joy. I am so envious of your trip to the big city. I spent a week there while my hubby was in meeting and fell in love with it and Boston. I am so glad you had a wonderful time. Wishing you the merriest!

  3. What fun! I want absorbent ground too and will get some next time I go to Blick (or similar). Glad you got your city fill.

  4. I can't believe you mentioned the "Little Boxes on a Hillside" song! I sing this to myself frequently! I have the exact same feelings about suburb life. But it seems to me you have to really have determination to live outside a city or town. Suburb life makes certain things easier.
    ticky-tacky, ticky-tacky, ticky-tacky. Can't get it out of my mind!
    best, nadia