Review: Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Morton Arboretum

Since it is summer, I try to be outside as much as possible. I love walking and sitting in the fresh air. I love feeling the warm, sometimes muggy air around me. One of my absolutely favorite parts of summer is the outdoor entertainment in the form of music and plays. In addition to seeing Oak Park Theater Festival’s Hamlet this week, we saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Morton Arboretum.

I’ve only been to Morton Arboretum a few times but it’s been quite lovely. It’s 1,700 acres of plants and trees with some lakes and other waterways. I’ve been in both the summer and the fall; it’s a different experience. However, it’s in Lisle, IL so it’s a bit of a haul from Chicago. I’m not sure if public transportation is possible.

This was the second year of the CSO at the Arboretum. Last year, they played songs composed by John Williams, which was amazing. I really dug hearing the themes of “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars” live. And it was truly breathtaking to listen to the “Theme to Superman” under the stars.

This year, we went again and it was amazing. It’s worth the trip out there. The concert was a series of Hungarian Dances by Brahms, “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26” by Max Bruch, and then the magnificent “New World Symphony” by Dvorak. The Hungarian Dances were alright; I wish they had decided to do Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances”, which I adore. Of the three works, I was rather impressed by the piece by Max Bruch. He’s not a composer I know very well but this violin concerto was incredible. The violist was simply masterful. The New World Symphony was amazing as always. I love the largo or the second part, which is rare for me. I prefer much faster paced pieces as a rule. But something about the slow melody (that builds) really resonates with me. And then the fourth part is truly the bees knees. I could listen to it forever.

Overall, it was really awe-inspiring to sit in a grassy field surrounded by trees listening to the orchestra. We got to sit and listen to magnificent music while a cool breeze blew and the clouds drifted by above us.

And another word: it’s so much nicer in terms of operations compared to Ravinia. I went a few times last summer to Ravinia and I’m taking a break. It’s so painful to get there and leave; it’s really discouraged me from going out there. But Morton Arboretum made it easy. We had to park fairly far away from the stage but there was a shuttle that took us to the concert and back with no fuss. No hour-long waits. We were in our car within 10 minutes of the concert ending. And on the trip home, I saw dark groves filled with lightning bugs. Brilliant. So yeah. It all makes me want to return next year.

That’s all!

Review: Hamlet

On Friday, we went to see Oak Park Theater Festival’s rendition of Hamlet. It’s Oak Park’s version of Shakespeare in the Park. Picnicking in the park while watching Shakespeare has to be one of the best things to do in the summer.

Anyway, I was really excited to see Hamlet because I’ve never seen it performed live before. For years, I had held out reading Hamlet because I felt that since it was such an important play, the only proper way was to see it live. Well, time passed. And then I missed it at the Chicago Shakespeare Company. Eventually I broke down and watched the Kenneth Branagh version. The movie was okay but Hamlet annoyed me incredibly. I went on to read Dan Carroll’s Stick Figure Hamlet, a stick figure comic of the unabridged play. It’s pretty freaking sweet.

I had never gone to the Oak Park Theater Festival before. I’d heard of it but it hadn’t really cemented in my mind as something to do until I heard they were doing 1920s Hamlet. So off we went (two tries because of a rain cancellation). And it was magnificent. The beginning was a bit rocky but it pulled itself together into a wonderful play. (Spoilers ahead)

The actor who played Hamlet made him into a more sympathetic character than Kenneth Branagh’s version. He decided to go the crazy route with him so it was entertaining to watch him border madness and cross it repeatedly. The actor who played Polonius was really impressive. In both the book and the movie, he’s really just an annoying buffoon. In this play, he was made into a silly but loveable character that I was genuinely sorry to see him go.

And I got some nice eye candy with the wonderful 1920s suits and dresses. But no spats. They did some updating of the script. For instance, characters had guns instead of swords. The final fight was a fistfight instead of a sword fight. The stage fighting was awesome and choreographed by Victor Allen Bayona.

One thing that struck me about the play was the power of words. There are so many scenes of storytelling: Ophelia talking about Hamlet’s actions, the Ghost talking about his death, Hamlet talking about his adventures on the high seas, Hamlet remembering the jester Yorick. And then there was the scene where Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading. Hamlet responds, “Words, words, words.” But they are more than words in Hamlet’s mind. Notably, right after the actor finishes his description of the death of Priam, Hamlet has this incredible monologue about how incredible that this man could feel so much for something that isn’t happening. The actor was shedding tears for Hecuba. Hamlet, on the other hand, couldn’t bring himself to say anything about his father’s murder.

And the words keep coming. Letters hold orders to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when they deliver them in England. And then we have the play itself, which makes us pity Ophelia, Polonius, and even Hamlet himself. This play is beyond mere “Words words words.” Words inspire action or inaction (in the case of Hamlet).

Anyway, go see Hamlet by July 15th.

That’s all!

Argentine Food

Now I’m going to talk about the land of empanadas. I adore Argentine food. As you may have guessed, I’m a huge fan of their empanadas. For those of you unfamiliar with it, empanadas are like stuffed meat pies. There are many different fillings from beef, chicken, BBQ varieties of meat, blue cheese, goat cheese, and many more. You can find them all over Latin America but I’m very partial to the ones in Argentina because they are baked. I’m not fond of fried food (French fries and fried plantains being exceptions).

So every trip to Buenos Aires has included several stops to empanada shops. On my first trip to Buenos Aires, while I was living there, I remember eating a Roquefort cheese empanada. I had gotten it fresh and forgot the cardinal rule about hot cheese: it’s really hot and gooey. So I burned my mouth, and got a huge grease stain on my only scarf, but it was totally worth it. My other fond memory was of this little restaurant named El Sanjuanino with lovely tiles in Recoleta. I remember having a three or four empanadas there. And the waiter made fun of me for ordering a Coke. (Something I only do when I’m overseas).

Two years ago, when I was in Buenos Aires, I was determined to have empanadas during my short time there. I was with a group so these things are made more complicated. But one night when we had free time, I asked the hotel for a nearby place. It was pouring at that point so the hotel recommended delivery. I couldn’t let myself do delivery to a hotel so I asked for directions. I walked there in sheets of rain during a magnificent thunderstorm. I found the little shop where I was the only customer (everyone else was doing takeout or delivery). I earned those empanadas.

So this trip was all about the empanadas. Any opportunity I had, I sought them out. I went back to El Sanjuanino for dinner of empanadas. I had a wonderful mozzarella and tomato one and a corn one. Very tasty but the service left something to be desired. I’d go back though.

On my last day, I went to a lunch place near Calle Florida. It was mostly an Italian restaurant but they also served empanadas. I got mine to go. It was impressive watching the man behind the counter handle all the different orders coming in over. He had to handle pizzas and empanadas to take away, delivery, and for in-house diners in numerous combinations. He reminded me a bit of the coal spirit, Kamaji, from Spirited Away. I ordered my beloved Roquefort with celery and two other meat based empanadas. I ate them standing up. It was perfect.

For those of you who want to try empanadas here in Chicago, 5411 Empanadas on Clark near Diversey is wonderful. They started as a food truck and opened a brick and mortar a few years ago. The Chicago Reader just named them the Best Food Truck of 2014. They are really good. My favorite is the goat cheese, bacon and date empanada. There is also Lito’s, further south on Clark. They are not Argentine and are fried but they can be good.

One of my newly discovered foods on this trip was octopus. I’ve tried it before but I had found it rather chewy and generally unpleasant. It wasn’t worth the effort. However, we went to Marcelo Restaurante, a nice Italian restaurant (mind you, Argentina had a lot of Italian immigrants), where we ordered octopus. It was incredible. I’m not sure what the style was, perhaps Mediterranean or Sicilian, but it was perfectly done. It was not chewy at all. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth like a great steak but it was damn close.

So finally I’ll get to the food that Argentina is known for: beef. This is the land of beef and leather. Some of the best steaks I’ve ever had were in Buenos Aires. Also, it’s not really a land of vegetables. At least in my experience. Sadly, I never had a truly magnificent steak on this trip. It wasn’t for lack of trying. But none of the steaks I had melted in my mouth. Or were able to be cut with a spoon. The closest was the steak at the Gaucho Fiesta that I previously mentioned. Just means I’ll have to go back.

Argentina is also known for its gelato. There are lots of gelato shops around the city and they are still popular during the winter. We found a shop near the hotel that we must have gone to at least three of the five nights we were there. I always got dulce de leche gelato. It was just the right amount of sweetness.

In addition to empanadas, my other favorite Argentine food is alfajores. An alfajor is composed of at least two cookies stuck together with a sweet substance, like dulce de leche or jam. They can be covered in chocolate or powdered sugar. They are magnificent. You can buy them with candy bars at kiosks, drugstores, and more. My favorite shop is named Havana that serves more upscale alfajores. I personally love their powdered sugar with jam one.

That’s all for now!

Peruvian Food

Back to our normal more impersonal blog posts…today I’m going to talk about food on my travels to Peru and Argentina. One of my favorite parts of traveling to Latin America (and generally anywhere) is trying their local cuisine. It started first as trying their soda and candy but now it has branched out to their specialties. First, I’ll talk about Peruvian food and then Argentine food.

In Peru, I had a mission. I wanted to try guinea pig and alpaca. These are both eaten there. In particular, guinea pig or cuy is a specialty there. During a tour of the Cusco Cathedral, I learned that they are eaten at very special occasions like weddings and Christmas. I recall reading about guinea pigs as food going as far back as the Incans. The guinea pigs there are supposed to be bigger than your pet sized on in the States. Now, I know some people have qualms about eating them but I didn’t. My rules about food are few. The most important is that the food has to be dead while I’m eating it. Except maybe oysters.

At the first restaurant, guinea pig was actually the most expensive dish on the menu. (At this time I didn’t know it was such a prized dish). So I demurred. But a few days later, we had dinner where guinea pig was in the menu (and it was not the most expensive dish). So here was my chance. And… it wasn’t really for me. People said it tasted like rabbit but I don’t think so. I don’t love rabbit but I do prefer it. Part of it was the bones; the other part of it was the taste. It didn’t do anything for me. But I’m glad I tried it.

On the other hand, I loved alpaca. It was an appetizer and it was thin slices of cold meat. But it was tasty. It was kinda like a fuller version of roast beef. I would have it again.

While I was really excited about trying guinea pig and alpaca, I was surprised by a few other dishes. This has been a theme of my trips for the past few years. I go to a country and become enamored of a food that I previously disliked or didn’t really think of trying. I have talked about it before, such as discovering lamb in Wales or green tea in Tokyo. It’s a nice bonus to our trips.

On this trip, I discovered that I really like trout. I had it throughout my time in Peru and it was spectacular. I don’t recall liking trout much here in the states. Or maybe I never got around to eating it. But in Peru, it was amazing. It was light and buttery. It wasn’t fishy at all. Of course, it may be because it was local river trout so it may not be the same here in the US. But I’ll willing to try it.

I was also surprised by the ceviche, which is raw fish with lime or lemon juice. I have liked ceviche in the past but I had a ceviche of raw tuna, which truly knocked my socks off.

And yes I tried a Pisco Sour. It’s like a Whiskey Sour but frothier. It wasn’t really my speed though. Alas!

I can’t wait to go back to Peru and try more tasty foods.

That’s all for now.

Engaging Adventure!

So I’m going to blog about my adventures on Sunday.

The day started with my boyfriend Scott returned from trapeze class. As we are about to leave to go to brunch, he got a phone call. He told me, “They’re handing out free Union Jacks outside. I’ve got to go and get one” and left. Since Scott is an Anglophile, this made sense. I was sorta puzzled because the British don’t usually hand out free flags but maybe it was their flag day or something.

But Scott didn’t come back. And then the buzzer rang. We weren’t expecting anyone and generally we don’t have a tremendous number of people who pop over. But I shrugged and went downstairs to find out who was there.

But there was only a note taped to the door.

It said in multi-colors:

Dear Ms. Shoenberger,

Bwahahaha! There were no free Union Jacks here, only trouble! For it is I, Le Capitain Francais! And I have kidnapped Scott to take away Britain’s greatest champion! Soon, hoards of Frenchmen shall cross the Chanel, and destroy the English monarchy! Unless…we French have a strange sense of honor. I give you one chance to recover Scott. I choose… the field of Adventure! Do you have courage (or do you have a carriage)? If so, a servant of mine will take you to the School of Circus and we shall begin! Follow the clues and you can find Scott! If not, Britain is doomed! Vive le France! – Le Capitain Francais

That horrible man! I was now on a mission to save my love and save England. And I was going to do come hell or high water. A French henchman in a striped shirt and moustache came out from the alley and asked, “Where do you want me to take you?” I told this nameless villain, who I would later dub Francoise, “Aloft.” It was the circus school nearby. Hopefully, I was correct and it wasn’t the one in Evanston.

So we drove there as the evil henchman cackled the entire time. When we got there, he told me: “You’ll find agents upstairs that may help you with the next clue.” So I ran upstairs to the main training room at Aloft. Our friend Julie ran up to me and said that a strange man came in and hid a flag on the other side of the tight wire. Her ankle was hurt so I had to do it. Luckily, my tight wire shoes happened to be there. I had no choice. It was cross the wire and save England. So I donned the shoes and walked the wire. At the end I found the flag. The Frenchman had so far kept his promises. Taped to the flag was the note:

To carry on with your adventure, you must go to the One Eyed Bookstore near the False Six Corners, and Find the Fat Detective who, if he lived here, would try to never leave the shop. Best, Le Capitain Francais

There was only one One-Eyed Bookstore I knew in Chicago. It was Myopic Bookstore in Wicker Park., our favorite bookshop. So we headed over to Wicker Park. Who was the Fat Detective? But then I recalled the training of my Mystery Master Homes and pieced it together that this Fat Detective was none other than: Nero Wolfe! So I ran into the basement where the mysteries were held. There I encountered French spies: Dan, Laura and Calliope, all dressed in a French manner! Traitors! Dan spoke some of the French language at me but the British immunization shot helped protect me from his words. I scanned the shelves for books by Rex Stout, author of Nero Wolfe mysteries, and there I found the next clue:

To Continue on your Adventure, go to the Old Chief of Police’s Irish Bar, for this is the place where many questions of John Tyler were asked. – Le Captain Francais (honh honh honh, trés French)

What could this place be? What place was known for its Chief of Police who may have had a perchance for musical instruments? And then it hit me: Chief O’Neil’s in Avondale. Coincidently, it was where Scott and I started courting. So we zoomed up there. In the lovely garden, I found Caitlin and Mike whose shocking betrayal of all things English was brutal. But the British flag I wore around my neck was a balm to their patriotic wound. I converted them back to the way of the crown. While I enjoyed a mimosa, I was given ten questions to answer:

  1. What city is known as the second city not because of its population, but because of it rebuilding itself after the fire of 1871? Chicago!
  2. This Mayor of Chicago was the second Mayor whose father also was Mayor of Chicago? Richard M. Daley
  3. This park was built by the above Mayor that was supposed to open at the time of its name, but instead opened four years later? Millennium Park
  4. This park was no small plan. Who do Chicago planners always quote when they say to make no small plans? Daniel Burnham
  5. Scott has been kidnapped by Le Capitain Francais. What in the world is he up to? You’ll just have to find out, won’t you?
  6. What was Scott’s favorite team name that he ever came up with while participating in your trivia night? Team Hubris
  7. Who is Scott’s Favorite Monarch, and who does Le Capitain Francais hate most in the world? Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
  8. This sculpture Scott thinks of as the Space Bean. What is its real name? Cloud Gate
  9. You can see everything in the Space Bean. Who built it? Anish Kapoor
  10. Space Bean is excellent for hiding things. Where do you think the next clue is hidden? Under it of course.

I answered the questions and managed to piece together the next clue. To the Loop!

Though they were former agents of France, Caitlin and Mike gave me a ride to the Loop so I could uncover the next part of this evil plan.

In Millennium Park, I made a beeline for the Bean. Underneath its shiny exterior reflecting the glorious city and people around it, I found Sharon and Jennie. I blessed them with the flag to remove the stain of their treachery. I received my next clue:

You don’t have to wade through Muddy Waters to take the #60 to Taylor Street. Walk south to Maxwell  to find the man who will listen but does not speak. Pull up a crate and sing him the blues.

Who could this silent man be? Where would the #60 take me? Well, only one way to find out. So I got on the next #60 bus with the blessing of Sharon and Jennie. After a thrilling bus ride, I got off at Taylor and Halsted and made my way to Maxwell. After a wrong turn on Maxwell, I suddenly encountered some wondrous Blues statues. The location was the site of the old Maxwell Street Market before UIC moved it. I saw a statue of a guitarist singing the blues and knew that this was my silent man. I sat down on a crate next to him and sang him the Kidnapped Boyfriend Blues. That’s when I noticed that his set list had the following:

Bluesman set list

June 22nd 2014

  1. Baby Please Don’t GO
  2. The Things I used TO Do
  3. Price and JOY
  4. The Good American YEE-Haw
  5. Chicken NOODLE Soup
  6. Come IN My Kitchen
  7. CHINA Woman
  8. Back O’TOWN Blues

Reading between the lines, I knew that I had to go to Chinatown to Joy Yee. At this location, the French agents shocked me again! It was Paul and Sarah! But a dose of the good British flag helped them recover their good senses.

So I went to Chinatown and found yet another agent at Joy-Yee! It was Christina! Again my heart fluttered with all these secret French agents! I had a choice to make! There was Bun A or Bun B. “Choose Wisely,” she told me. I looked at the buns and chose the one with sesame seeds on top since sesame seeds are my allies as a rule. I took a glorious bite (red bean buns are my favorite) and found a laminated clue.

If you want to find Scott, you must go to the bridge where Clarence Darrow’s ghost still walks!

This meant Hyde Park, my old stomping grounds, place of our first date, land of lost academic dreams. I had to prepare myself for the ensuing battle. We went down to Hyde Park and parked near the MSI. The bridge was located behind there in a lovely wooded area (there is also a wonderful Japanese garden). Beth, Josh and Sophie were waiting to me. Hath French villainy no limits! I was asked several questions. Possibly approximately three.

  1. What is your quest? To save Scott and the British empire
  2. What is the shape of a bridge? A parabola
  3. If you turned it 90 degrees, what shape would you have? Or What is the third letter of the alphabet? C

I knew that I had to find the other bridge to save Scott! As I ventured closer, I saw hula hooper in the distance. That was odd. Was it a coincidence or part of the scheme? Suddenly, the hula hooper noticed me! It was Helena! She was a French mime! She captured me in her hula hoop and swung me around and around. Oh no! I was trapped in her hula hoop of doom! And then Capitain Francais, formerly known as Danielle, jumped out of the bushes with a baguette! She tried to beat me with it. She even tried to force feed me the evil French bread. I feared for the safety of my beloved and the freedom of England!

But then help arrived! It was Jim the Impossible Man Priz! England’s champion! He first freed me from the evil mime trap and turned her own hula hoop prison into her own. He announced, “There is only one key and I have it!” She was trapped like a mime in a box! Then he challenged Capitain Francais, herself! They had an amazing acrobatic battle with flips and turns. It was rather spectacular. After a few moments of outrageous struggle and daring-do on part of Jim the Impossible Man Priz, he yelled, “I’ve got this covered. Save Scott.” I could see Scott down in the pond, tied up, standing on a cement break wall. This was for love and glory!

I ran down the steep muddy hill dodging the many plants. I had to take off my shoes since I needed my feet for climbing. I got on the black wrought iron fence, carefully placing my feet as I climbed across it. I had to avoid spikes on the gate. Eventually I found myself on the cement break wall. Water surrounded me on the left and right. The only way was forward.

I carefully made my way to Scott, covered in British flags. I was so happy to see him alive and well. Those French villains couldn’t keep him from me! Scott told me,” I’m tied up. Help untie my hands.” So I untied his hands and that’s when the song, “Sea of Love” by Cat Power, started playing.

He got down on one knee and took out a beautiful bow tie ring. He asked me, “Will you tie the knot?”

Yes, a thousand times yes.

And for those of you who don’t believe me, this is how it happened.

Cross my heart and swear it on the British flag.