Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cats Who Know

I know this isn't exactly related to Chicago, but I had to post this because it was too cute to pass up - and also somewhat thought-provoking.

Let me give you a little background.  I went home to attend a function at my alma mater (the opening of a grand new campus center), my first visit since I moved to Chicago at the end of August.  On my last day I packed my things and took my suitcase down into the side hall, near the side door, where I intended to load it in the car so I could commence my journey back to Chicago.  Then I went back upstairs to get my messenger bag (with my computer and various other things in it).  When I came back downstairs to my suitcase, I saw this, on the right.

Now, I know the cat (William) missed me, because when I arrived a few days earlier, he was quite affectionate.  Now, the top of my suitcase is not simply a place you fall into - you've got to want to get up there, because it entails jumping up to a location you can't see from ground level.  And yet Will decided to jump up onto my suitcase.  Why?  Could it be because he didn't want me to leave?  (In any case, here's a picture with better light.)  Now, I know that psychologists insist that animals don't have emotions, are incapable of higher level thinking, don't have souls, etc.  But I can't help but wonder if Will is smarter than the scientists like to think.  Why else would he bother to get on top of my suitcase?
Debates aside, those of you who are animal lovers will be pleased to know that I plan to return in less than a month to celebrate Thanksgiving.

And so Will's sister Lucy doesn't feel shortchanged, here's a picture of her in full sprawl on the front hall floor.  Cute, no?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chicago Symphony Plays Sacher Torte

Miss Manners once wrote, in response to a reader query about pick-up lines, that the best way to invite someone out on a date was to announce with some surprise that one found oneself in possession of an extra ticket for the opera, and would madame (or monsieur) care to make use of it (in the company of the benefactor, of course)?

Well, Miss Manners never said if it worked for the symphony, but I nevertheless accepted the kind invitation from the gentleman and went.  Unfortunately for him, I'm dating someone else.  (!)

Now, I like to consider myself fairly well-informed when it comes to classical music, so I was a bit perturbed to realize, upon being informed that the concert was a performance of Bruckner's 4th Symphony, that I didn't know who Bruckner was.  To Wikipedia!  After reading a surprisingly well-written article (one keeps ones expectations of Wikipedia low as a precaution, and then is pleasantly surprised upon each visit to find that one is not the only literate person in the universe), I found out that Bruckner's first name was Anton, he was Austrian, he revised his works almost obsessively, and he was violently killed when one of his rivals smothered him beneath a gigantic Sacher torte.  (I made that last one up, but if I put it on Wikipedia, how long does it take until it becomes the Truth?)  Armed with these useful conversation starters, I hopped onto the Metra on a blustery October afternoon, rain threatening (but in the end failing) to come, and was soon deposited in downtown Chicago.

I met my friend for coffee (actually, he had tea, and I had hot chocolate, but who says "I met my friend for hot beverages"?) and was either hit on or patronized by the baristo - I still can't tell which - and then we strolled off to the symphony (2:00 performance, but it was general seating so we got there well in advance).  There was a coat check, and lots of red carpet.  And loads of middle-aged to older people.  Apparently I'm not the only youngish person who hadn't heard of Anton "Sacher Torte" Bruckner.  I snapped the picture above on my phone before I turned it off - I apologize for the blur, but it's the only one I got without peoples' heads in it.

Bruckner's 4th Symphony, as it turns out, is quite good.  There's a good balance between passionate,  plaintive, and playful, and it was quite enjoyable.  The Chicago Symphony played well too, though not well enough for me (or my companion) to give them a standing ovation, for which we received glares from some members of the audience and the first violinist (he could see us from the stage).  All in all, quite an enjoyable afternoon.

So, if Bruckner has a 4th Symphony, there must be three more, right?  It's time to give them a listen, and also time for a little audience participation, in the form of comments.  Have you, dear reader, ever heard any of Bruckner's works?  If so, what did you think of them?  If not, are you going to run off and check them out of the nearest library now that I've brought them up?  No?  Do you even like classical music?  How about Sacher torte?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Lies Beneath

Now that I'm living in the big city I can't help but think of all the things that go on around me that I don't know about.  That's the interesting part of living in a city.  For example, periodically I'll see an AT&T truck bopping around Hyde Park, and occasionally I'll see the men (always men) in the truck stop at a corner, get out, and wrench the cover off of a manhole.  (The metal kind in the street, not the kind in the pants - honestly, people!)  Then they go slithering down into the bowels of the city to do God only knows what to a fiber-optic cable.

Speaking of bowels, I sometimes smell, when walking somewhere, an odor which reminds me of...well, yeah.  Big city sewers, I guess.

Anyhow, although I know there are lots of things going on all around me, unbeknowst to me, to keep the city of Chicago running (well, I guess that's one word for it), but I seldom see evidence of it with my own eyes (save the AT&T men and their holes...).  But here, at the right, is something which piqued my interest about "what lies beneath."

What do you mean "what is that?"?

It's a street.  To be more exact, a cobblestone street.  To be even more exact, it's a bit of archaeology uncovered at the corner of 53rd and Kenwood during some roadwork.  That white object in the lower-left-hand corner - and the smaller one above it - are those little barrier things municipal services people use to block ones way.  That which is being blocked - only from one side, you'll note - is a patch of cobblestone street, uncovered during a road resurfacing project.  They've been doing patching work ever since I moved here (and probably were doing it before I got here too).  Seeing this bit of brick makes me wonder what Hyde Park was like back when cobblestone streets were commonplace.  It's entirely likely that this bit of street was laid before the University of Chicago was founded (1890).  Just imagine horse-drawn carriages clopping down 53rd Street, tree-lined avenues, sunshine, fresh air, the World's Fair...

The street has since been paved over.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

See the sun and the rain grow sapphires and rubies on ivory vines...

I was picking apart an orange - a fruit which I have only recently begun to eat in its natural state, since they're readily available at the produce market here in the neighborhood - and couldn't help but notice how much like jewels they are.  So I stuck a fork in one and held it up to the light on my table, and saw this.

Isn't it beautiful?  All those veins, and the luminous orange glow, and the little dark lump which is an orange seed, from whence more orange will spring, given time and effort...Also, if you don't focus too closely, it looks a bit like the sun is setting behind a giant wedge of orange.  In poetry - when I used to write poetry - I remember referring to the sun as an orange.  Fortunately, sun rays don't leave sticky residue on the countertop.

Speaking of fruit and poetry, here's an appropriate piece from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends:

The Garden
Ol' man Simon, planted a diamond,
Grew hisself a garden the likes of none.
Sprouts all growin', comin' up glowin',
Fruit of jewels all shinin' in the sun.
Colors of the rainbow,
See the sun and rain grow
Sapphires and rubieson ivory vines,
Grapes of jade, just
Ready for the squeezin' into green jade wine.
Pure gold corn there,
Blowin' in the warm air,
Ol' crow nibblin' on the amnythyst seeds.
In between the diamonds, ol' man Simon
Crawls about pullin' out platinum weeds.
Pink pearl berries,
All you can carry,
Put 'em in a bushel and
Haul 'em into town.
Up in the tree there's
Opal nuts and gold pears--
Hurry quick, grab a stick
And shake some down.
Take a silver tater,
Emerald tomater,
Fresh plump coral melons
Hangin' in reach.
Ol' man Simon,
Diggin' in his diamonds,
Stops and rests and dreams about

Is anyone else craving fruit?