Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chicago, Kim and Ems Style: Part I

The loneliness in my apartment is always palpable after a visitor leaves. So much laughter and conversation bounces about the walls when I have company in town, making the contrasting silence of emptiness feel a bit jarring when I come home alone. Already, though, I am settling back into the quiet, wrapping it around me, biting into it with Debussy, as I sit and dream and write…

The weekend was lovely, as weekends with best friends typically are. Driving west on Addison Friday after work was a surprising treat, and proof once again that I have grown accustomed to my habitual haunts. I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly two years, and there’s so much I’ve never bothered to see, despite the fact that I am on a constant search for everything new and different. Addison took me by surprise as it was both beautiful and pleasantly traffic-light the whole drive west where I met Kim at the blue line stop.

Once I’d collected him (what a sight for sore eyes!), I chattered away practically the whole drive home, which is increasingly unusual for me these days. I suppose this is the biggest clue that I’m really and truly comfortable with you—we just start talking and before you know it, you can’t shut me up (yes, I know, shocking, right?). And from that point, the fabulous Chicago weekend was full-steam ahead!

We headed to Xoco for dinner, to which neither of us had ever been. Kim is definitely a bit of a foodie, and he was pretty keen on the idea of hitting up a Rick Bayless restaurant while in town, as was I, since everyone’s always talking about his spots. Of course, I couldn’t have planned the timing better if I’d tried—we walked in and Bayless was behind the counter. Kim had a mini freak-out before I even knew what was going on. I’ll be honest—I had no idea what Bayless looked like, so I was a tad confused at Kim’s frantic unzipping of his camera bag. When I asked what was going on, Kim said from the side of his mouth, “It’s f--ing Rick Bayless!”

Bayless only hung around for about five minutes more, leaving us plenty of time to examine the menu and shoot the shit before we ordered. We opted for the guacamole and tortilla chips, pork belly vermicelli for Kim, seafood caldos for me, and churros for desert. I’m not much of a soup fan, so it was unusual that I ordered the seafood caldos, but if you could have seen and smelled the soups, you wouldn’t have passed it up either. The food was amazing, but so was the company. It’s odd how your emotional appetite can satisfy your hunger, because we couldn’t finish a single dish we’d ordered. We laughed about it, pointing out how, if we’d been at our desks for lunch (or dinner), or otherwise eating alone, we’d have been able to scarf down the entire thing. Le sigh.


So, a little while after writing this entry, I came across this little gem at Huffington Post. Yep, that's Xoco!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Moments of Lovely

Pittsburgh may have the friendliest people in the U.S. I’m not joking, and yes, I have considered the South as well. Granted, I only spent a brief time in Pittsburgh this week, visiting one of my best friends from Ball State, but people in the city have that genuine Midwestern attitude (even though they’ll swear they are East Coast, NOT Midwest) with none of that large city “bother-me-not” mentality (probably because they are not a big city). Add to that the hilly landscape and industrious mind-set, and of course Wendy (wink, wink), and you’ve got a great little city. My visit there was a mix of relaxing, shopping, eating, and exploring Pittsburgh’s culture.

Duquesne Incline

There’s much about which I could write here. Pamela’s pancakes, the Andy Warhol museum, riding the Duquesne Incline… But, of everything, Phipps Conservatory left me nearly speechless. I could rave endlessly about the beauty, expanse, and outright whimsy of Phipps. It felt so magical, weaving in and out of seemingly limitless rooms of foliage and flowers, butterflies and glass art. I’m not even crazy about flowers the way my mom is, but I just couldn’t help but feel swept away. Of course, Wendy and I couldn’t resist the endless photo opportunities, either, and we posed in every little nook, amid cascading vines, on quaint bridges, and beside waterfalls. We stayed for a good part of Thursday afternoon, basking in the greenness and the wafting sweet scents.

Phipps Conservatory

When I look back on it, though, all of Thursday was rather enchanting. The whimsy of Phipps seemed to trickle on into the night. Wendy, Autumn, and I got all done up for a girls’ night out, complete with tapas and sangria at Ibiza. While dinner was lovely, and we had a nice time out on Carson Street, it was later that night (actually, make that Friday morning), when our evening took an unexpected twist. At about 3 a.m., Wendy, Autumn, and I found ourselves at an observation point at Mt. Washington, looking out over downtown Pittsburgh, all lit up against the black sky. Add to this the fact that I was dancing barefoot, with a sweet young Pennsylvania guy to classic jazz (streaming from his front shirt pocket where my phone, cued up to Pandora radio, was conveniently set), pausing every so often to absorb the cityscape before us. I love these kinds of unexpected moments--when Romance (and romance) just slips in, as though it were waiting in the wings all along. And even as the night ends, and everyone goes their separate ways, that unexpected moment of lovely still lingers in the early morning air.

Downtown Pittsburgh, 3 a.m. (Above)

One of Pitt's many yellow bridges

Maybe it’s the inspiration of Phipps's never-ending mazes of foliage, or the barefoot twirling overlooking night-time Pittsburgh, but I found my love for Chicago re-ignited as well. I had butterflies in my stomach, and lost all semblance of patience when my flight home began its descent over Chicago late Saturday afternoon. I had had my eyes closed, the airplane window “shade” pulled down, listening to my headphones. But as soon as I felt those lilts indicating that the plane was slowly losing altitude, my eyes popped wide open, I lifted the window shade, and I sat there with my foot bouncing, like a little kid, eagerly awaiting our landing at Midway.

It always feels so warm and fuzzy to return to the broad shoulders of Chi-town. Chicago, my love, I missed you! There's no place like home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Expensive, Confirmed by Huffington Post

Now, I'm always a bit ambivalent about these "Top Cities" articles, but whenever they talk about Chicago, I just can't help myself. This one doesn't surprise me one bit, though. The Huffington Post ranked Chicago #4 in the Top Eleven Most Expensive Cities in America.

You start to become at least a little complacent once you've lived in a city for awhile, but seriously, the high cost of rent, ten percent sales tax, and high cost of public transportation are rather crazy. Of course, my dollar doesn't stretch nearly as far here as it does elsewhere, but I still love my city.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Magazines, Music, and Paper-Making, Oh My!

It was a little geeky walking in the door. People dressed up in ridiculous paper-made robot costumes greeted us as we stepped in. Of course, a few steps beyond them, walking into a veritable maze of people and magazines, I completely geeked out, too.

On Friday evening, Liz, Matt, and I met up at the Printer's Row Ball at Columbia College. The lit dork in me was jumping up and down about going before we even got there. Stacks upon stacks of back issues of cool magazines? Posters and cool graphic design work? Photography and papermaking and broadsides? Please, count me in!

The event is held annually by Poetry Magazine, and GapersBlock.com usually has a presence (at least, I think they usually do). While, to me, the print presence was much stronger than the digital presence, I'm always happy to discover that there's such a plethora of local magazines. Gapers Block presented a slideshow of Chicago's online lit sites, but we either left before it or missed it while we were upstairs oohing and ahhing over the printing press demonstrations, and the really cool paper art exhibit (see picture). I honestly was surprised by the number of small publications coming out of Chicago that I'd never heard of. I grabbed magazine after magazine as we weaved in and out of heaping tables of back issues. (Not that all of the periodicals were local, of course.) I have visions of tearing them up and making some kind of Chicago-based art piece out of them (but I get these visions all the time, and usually I just get to busy, or opt to write instead).

So, the first floor had most of the magazines, as well as a music stage with a DJ spinning, and free drinks and appetizers at the far side. After moseying about for a bit, we headed up to the second floor. This was really the print-making floor. Several volunteers were working huge presses, and you could print out a piece of art if you wanted. In another room, about fifteen people crowded around tables filled with scraps of rubber and wooden blocks--they were making rubber stamps. Having had (nerd alert) a large rubber stamp collection as a kid, I was pretty excited. But our scissors were pretty awful, and all the good pieces of rubber were gone. So, I wound up with a failed attempt at a sun that looked akin to a kindergarten project.
Rubber stamp making

We wandered around looking at paper art and photography, and were on a rather fruitless search for the elevator when I noticed columns of paper discs suspeneded from the ceiling in one of the rooms. We went in and walked through the columns, and took pictures of them and each other in them for about fifteen minutes or so. It was a very relaxing and quite fascinating exhibit.
On the eighth floor, which wasn't much different from the first floor, only sized down, we saw people carrying huge bags of magazines around with them. I was having a difficult enough time just keeping hold of my stack of five, much less dragging a huge bag around everywhere. No offense, but those people just got a little too into it.
Row of bottles at Eleven City Diner

After making our way back downstairs, we went next door to Eleven City Diner, to which I'd never been before. I actually wasn't very hungry, but Liz and I split the Moshe Cristo sandwich. Okay, whoever decided to put a sandwich on French Toast was a genius! It was ham, roast turkey, and melted Swiss on Challah French Toast---mmmm, so delicious! Top that off with Wisconsin cheddar cheese fries, and I was one happy camper (who was trying not to think about the number of calories in the meal). Needless to say, I felt pretty good when we left for the train.