Why I Wear Hats

As readers of my blog know, I’m very sensitive to the use of hats in everyday life. I have a hat obsession. I have been known on several occasions to put together entire outfits to match the hat. Actually, that tends to be the rule, not the exception. So when a friend asked innocently, “Who wears a hat these days?” I feel that I must make a personal statement about hats. I will dedicate this post to discussing why it is that I have become such a hat fanatic.

My love for all hats has its origins in the pragmatic. I am highly susceptible to the sun; I burn very easily and badly. If I’m not careful, I resemble a raccoon in the summer from the well-placed burns on my face. And there is the more recent turn of events where I discovered that I was allergic to certain types of sunscreen in a most inconvenient time and place. I digress. So in addition to copious amounts of sunscreen, I wore lots of straw hats as a kid. It was an easy solution to the hot glaring summer days. Hats would keep sun off my face a bit and keep my scalp from getting burnt. And since I am eternally forgetful, I ended up with a collection of hats since I would frequently forget one on holiday vacations.

At the same time, I always have been enamored of Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist. (An exhibition of his work is currently on at the Art Institute. ) As a kid, his works fascinated me. Unlike the other surrealists, his work didn’t frighten me. His paintings were fantastical but rooted in reality. I loved how he would take an everyday setting and then twist an element of it to make it disturbing and extraordinary. And I was always loved his bowler hat men.

Another factor is that I have always loved old movies. Many of my favorite movies are classics like Singing in the Rain, Bringing Up Baby, and many more. And I love the fashions, especially the hats. There is something about these movies that makes them so charming and delightful. Maybe I’m feeling nostalgia for an age I never lived. These movie worlds make things seem brighter and livelier, which I suppose was the point of movies. So my love of hats comes in part from this fondness for another day and time.

So one cold February, my now fiancé and I decided to go up to Hats Plus, a men’s hat store on West Irving Park. We had spent the day wandering Graceland Cemetery in the snow so it seemed like the thing to do. There, I purchased my first bowler hat. He’s the second from the left in the header photo. His name is George. I wear him a lot especially in the fall and spring. This was the beginning of the end for me. Wearing my bowler hat made me feel special. If it makes any sense, it made me feel like I was really me.

And then the other hats began coming into my life. I found them at vintage shops, garage sales, festivals, and people gave me wondrous hats. For me, hats really complete an outfit. I’m not saying that you can’t look nice without a hat; everyone has their own style. But for me, a well-paired hat really enhances ones’ outfits. Each hat makes me feel special. And I think it does the same for others. You have elevated your wardrobe up a notch.

And it’s fun to wear these incredible creations on your head. Many are wonderful pieces of art. Some of my hats are truly outrageous. I wore this hat this weekend that was wide and flat; I felt a little bit like I was wearing a lampshade and I loved it. Another hat has fantastical feathers. Each hat has its own particular personality and mood. As I mentioned before, I pair them with outfits, which makes me more creative. To me, hats are fun. They are the icing on the cake.

And to this day, I still wear hats to keep the sun off. In fact, I wear hats so much, I feel a bit naked without them.

So I’ll keep wearing my outrageous hats and avoiding the sun.

That’s all!


MCA Edition: Dil Pickle Club

When Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading, his response is “Words words words.” Well, words words words was the theme of this past weekend’s Museum of Contemporary Art festival. I only caught a section of it since I was at the Bughouse Square Debates but I had a great time. All over the museum and outside of the museum, there were different celebrations of words. Out front in the plaza, there were an array of plants, including herbs and flowers. I think if you wrote a note or a poem, you got to take a plant. I could be wrong (I’m not sure since I am Elisa the Destroyer of Living Green Things.) Inside, you could make a zine in the lobby or read zines. There were many other activities.

1001 Chicago Afternoons was participating up in the Isa Genzken Reading Room on the fourth floor. I’ve wanted to check out this project for a while and I was really happy that I could. It’s based on Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, which were a series of columns about Chicagoans and the city. The author Paul Dailing is attempting to recreate it 91 years later. It’s a wonderful project.

There were five total speakers but I only got to hear the last three. Studs would have loved it. I actually came in just in time to hear Paul Dailing speak himself about 26th and Cal or the Cook County Jail House. He wrote for newspapers so he would go there a lot. It was a piece about the experience of being there and a momentary interaction between a woman and her incarcerated lover. It was poignant and sweet. Then Oni Woods performed an apt poem about gentrification in Bronzeville. She gave a preface defining gentrification, going back to its root and its relation to the word gentry. Kari Lyderson gave a lyrical poem about the changing face of Pilsen. She had this amazing section where she talked about how Pilsen has had plastic surgery on its face but you can still see age on its neck, hands, knees, and legs.

Then it was time for the Dil Pickle Club, which was the reason I had come. Paul Durica of Pocket Guide to Hell put it on with the assistance of many others. The original Dil Pickle Club was situated not too far away from Bughouse Square. It had the same idea. It was a place where people of all different parts of life, political spectrum, and more would come together to hear talks, performances, and more. It was a place for free speech. Famous writes would go and attend. Mae West performed scenes from her play Sex while other Chicago luminaries gave talks and listened to others. The idea was that everyone was welcome from the young college students, housewives, hoboes, and famous writers and artists. The slogan was “Step High, Stoop Low, Leave Your Dignity Outside.”

Dil Pickle Club

Dil Pickle Club

The present day Dil Pickle Club focused on words. There was even a recreation of the famous door with the slogan. And the doorknob was from the original door! The event was started off by boisterous band “Environmental Encroachment” who marched around the lobby in steampunk/bunny ears. Society of Smallness began with a séance for prior denizens of the Dil Pickle Club. Bathhouse John even made an “appearance.”

Then it was a wonderful assortment of speakers who study and use language in different and creative ways. Hannah Christensen, PhD student of Old and Middle English at the University of Chicago, translated the famous slogan into Old or Middle English. It was quite neat. She talked about Old English and mentioned that there may even be a community that speaks Middle English in pockets in the US. Must investigate further.

Then Lisa Niziolek, a post-doctorate at the Field Museum, talked about oracle bones in the Shang Dynasty in China. I learned that the name of the diviner and the date was often put on the bones. Sometimes the end result of the prediction was put on too. So if the prophecy was that the harvest was going to be bad, there may be a later note that mentions how the harvest went. Then Alia Abiad, a Scripps National Spelling Bee finalist, was interviewed about spelling. She is a Spellerbity. Teehee. She even held her own little spelling bee for some of the audience members to spell some difficult and unfamiliar words!

Then Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, director and playwright of Commedia Beauregard Theater, talked about learning Klingon to put on the Klingon Christmas Carol. This was absolutely fascinating since I know little about Klingon. It’s apparently a full language and there are people who are fluent in it (though not many). He explained that an offhand comment at a meeting led to the play. Also, he had to edit the story to make it more likely to occur in Klingon Culture. Apparently, Scrooge is not a greedy man; instead, he is a cowardly, unhonorable man. I need to see this. Apparently, this will be the last year that it is done so it’s now (December) or never.

Then Donna Urlaub, freelance court reporter, talked about shorthand, which was fascinating. She gave a brief overview of how it works. It’s incomprehensible to the layperson. So cool. And to end the evening, Taylor Hokanson, an artist, talked about his eraser pink Sledgehammer Keyboard. It’s a giant rubber keyboard that you use a sledgehammer to use. It’s really cool. He wanted to see what people would say if they used this device. The first time he did it, he had kids spelling their names, profanity, and one person made a comment about George Bush. One person wrote, “I need deeelte key.” After the MCA show, I got to check it out and type, “Hammer mightier than the Pen.” It’s fun but hard to get words right. (I had a lot of mistakes).

That’s all for now!

Bughouse Square Debates

This weekend I attended the Bughouse Square Debates at Washington Square. In the early 20th century, Washington Square (Bughouse Square was its popular name) was a place of free speech. People from all different classes, view points, etc, would  give speeches on various topics. Heckling was part of it too.

Each year, Newberry Library celebrates this history with the Bughouse Square Debates in conjunction with their amazing book fair. There are four soapboxes; three have scheduled speakers that range from topics like food trucks, labor activism, homelessness, economic policy, etc. I think they get about 10 minutes a piece. The four soapbox is open so anyone who feels the need can go up and talk for five minutes. And heckling is still a part of it. The first time I went with my fiancé, I was totally taken aback by the heckling. It wasn’t something that happened at conferences and lectures that I had been too (though I do recall someone yelling at Henry Kissiniger). But heckling is an important part of Bughouse Square debates as long as it remains civil.

Two years, my fiancé and I had the opportunity to portray historical figures of Bughouse Square as it celebrated its 25th anniversary since its rebirth. I played Red Martha Biegler, a university graduate turned Marxist. She wrote for the Chicago Daily Socialist and was a frequent speaker at Bughouse about the evils of capitalism. She ran a boarding house and helped desperate people. However, she became destitute herself and became an inhabitant of a rooming house like the one she used to run. I was honored to play her for the 25th anniversary. I gave a speech called “On the Madness of Capitalism.” It was fun. I knew I should expect heckling and I did get heckled. It was a strange experience for me since I’ve never dealt with before. I went on with my speech but I should have responded back a bit more. Alas! My fiancé was Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, and gave a speech “About the Holy Bible.” It was a great day. Friends of ours did a snake oil salesman bit. Yellow Kid” Weil was selling the amazing “Doc Meriwether’s Miracle Cure-All Elixir!” Throughout the show, various people would come up with ailments and would be cured with the elixir. Of course, all these “people” were the same person but with an eye patch, cane, etc. It was great.

Bughouse Debate 2012

Bughouse Debate 2012

Last year, my fiancé and I moderated the Open Soapbox, which was exhilarating experience. It was interesting to watch the crowds ebb and flow. Some speakers were quite fascinating while others were frankly not. Spectators would get into it with the speakers, which was amazing. When things got a bit dull, people would wander off. It got a little hairy when someone had a racist conspiracy rant, but the tuba came in just in time to signal the end of the soapbox debates.The tuba is my spirit animal.

This year, I came as a spectator, which was fun. I gravitated towards the open soapbox since it was really hopping. This year, the Society of Smallness was moderating it with assistance from Paul Durica. They were really great. When I came, the microphone wasn’t working so they assisted one gentleman and his talk. He’d say a sentence and then 2-3 of them would repeat it louder so people could hear. I had fun just watching people interacting with each other. At one point, a speaker asked “What is the limit of my free speech here at Bughouse Square?” A heckler responded “5 minutes.” Classic.

That’s all for now!

Madlener House

Earlier this week when I was on a walk, I stumbled upon a new building in the Gold Coast. I was walking by one of those impressive buildings in the Gold Coast when I noticed the outrageous red wall paper with gold quatrefoils on the wall inside. I looked through the window and saw these weird bubble tops, which looked like display cases. Well, it turns out that in the middle of the Gold Coast, the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Study in the Fine Arts has an exhibition space. It’s called the Madlener House where they hold exhibitions three times a year.

According to the brief blurb on the website, the house was built in 1901-02 for Albert and Elsa Madlener. They were from Chicago families that came from Germany in the 19th century. Richard E. Schmidt and designer Hugh M. G. Garden built the house. The Foundation bought it in 1963 to preserve it. Inside, it has amazing details. The interior has some amazing wooden rooms. There are fireplace accents that are organic and ornate; they look like Louis Sullivan’s work but I think he inspired the artist. There are beautiful stained glass windows in yellows and white on the way upstairs. And there is the over the top red wallpaper with golden quatrefoils. It’s an interesting combination but it did catch my eye.

It’s currently showing an exhibition called “Everything Loose Will Land” curated by Sylvia Lavin. The name of the exhibition is based on a quotation from Frank Lloyd Wright: “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Countering his comment, the exhibition shows the new relationship between art and architecture in Los Angeles in the 1970s. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the exhibition but it had some interesting items. There was this amazing poster for Judy Chicago and her famous Dinner Party. There were also some works by Frank Gehry, the architect who designed the Pritzker band shell. HE did these wooden and fiberglass works in collaboration. Very interesting. And there were some interesting footage of 1970s Los Angeles that had some amazing scenes. I didn’t catch the name of the artist but he or she had a great eye. It seemed to be clips of daily life in Los Angeles like the highway or the streets. The best was footage of a car sales man walking a giant pig, a large cat, or holding a boa constrictor around his neck. I presume these clips were old footages of commercials. Unfortunately, the exhibition closes on Sunday the 26th but I’m glad to have learned about this new exhibition space in the city.

That’s all for now!


Summer Screenings and Dos Hermanos

The Chicago International Film Festival is one of those standup organizations in Chicago. Their October film festival is amazing; in 2013, they showed 125 films, 40 by new filmmakers. But not only do they hold this incredible film festival, they have a free program called “Summer Screenings” at the Cultural Center. From June until October, they screen a movie each week on Wednesday. The movies come from all over the world from Korea to Brazil. It’s a real treat. I’ve only been twice in the past five years so I need to try to see more films.

Last night, we went to see the 2010 Argentine film Dos Hermanos. It won the Silver Hugo for Best Ensemble at the 46th Chicago International Film Festival in 2010. It’s a character study of two siblings, a sister and brother, in their later years. They kinda hate each other but they can’t stay apart. It’s a funny film that crosses Argentine and Uruguayan borders.

The two siblings really are interesting characters. Susana, the sister, has no scruples at all. She does what she wants and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’ll use a wire hanger to scoop out the mail of the empty apartment next door to see what invitations they get. (At one point, she crashes a party at the Brazilian embassy for fun). She seems to live off of scams with real estate. She’s crass, bossy, and seems to relish in putting her brother down. On the other hand, Marcos, the brother, has been taking care of their demanding mother. He’s quiet and responsible. The movie looks at their strange relationship after the death of their mother. Marcos tries to embrace living in Uruguay; he joins a small theater group that is putting on Oedipux Rex. The siblings have such a strange relationship. In one scene, they are listening to their non-existent neighbors with glasses against the wall. They have an entire conversation of what they think they hear but it’s actually what they want to say to each other. It’s rather fascinating and endearing film without being sappy. You really love to hate Susanna and you develop a fondness for Marcos.

One thing about the film that made me very happy was how it reminded me of Argentina and Uruguay. I can’t put my finger on what it was that was so intrinsically Argentine but it felt like this was a place I knew intimately. The Uruguayan part dealt a lot with the mate, the famous tea of the Southern Cone. It’s often drunk from a gourd with a metal strainer straw called a bombilla. It’s not to my liking but I like the tea culture. When I went to Uruguay for the weekend while I was living in Argentina, one thing I noticed that was very different between the two countries was that Uruguayans seemed to carry their thermos and gourds around. Tea-time was truly any time. While the Argentines definitely drink their fill of mate, it wasn’t so portable. (This might be just Buenos Aires. I can’t attest to the rest of Argentina). It was neat to see Marcos embracing the Uruguayan way.

Also, the little town in Uruguay reminded me of the charming town Colonia. It was our first stop in Uruguay. It’s a nice town that was formerly used by smugglers. The Spanish empire tried to ban all trade between Viceroyalties. In other words, the Viceroyalty of Peru was not permitted to trade with the Viceroyalty of the Rio Plate (i.e. Argentina). So there were extensive smuggling routes and Colonia was part of it. It’s a beach town so there isn’t exactly a lot t o do there. But it was a swell place as a student. There was also this crazy restaurant where you can eat in an old car. It’s got a tiny table set for dinner. There’s another car that’s used as a giant planter. Oh nostalgia.

The film was well worth watching. One strength and weakness of the film was that I didn’t know what was going to happen next. It’s a strength because it’s a rare feat in films these days. However, the plot kinda went along its way at its own pace, which can be infuriating. But you felt that these were two breathing quirky individuals. And Susanna’s hats are pretty amazing.

So there are bunch more films from all over. Check the schedule and see what’s playing next: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/isp.html

That’s all!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

To continue my summer quest of enjoying all things outdoors, I am going to talk about theater in the park. This past weekend, we went to see Chicago Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of its “Theater in the Parks” program. It was a wonderful production under the clouds (it never got dark enough for stars). It’s a free program that travels all over the parks of Chicago so it’s probably playing in a park near you. This program is in its third year and I hope that it continues for many more.

The play was wonderful. It’s the tale of love, jealousy, and mischief. The production was set in Victorian or Edwardian eras where the men and women wore appropriate period outfits. It was worked as an interpretation of the story. You can totally see a Victorian father trying to force his daughter into a marriage that she doesn’t want.

For me, the best scenes were the ones with the four Athenian lovers. There was this amazing scene when Lysander and Demetrius are under a love spell over Helena and are fighting for her affection. She’s convinced that they are playing a cruel trick on her. Then Hermia comes in and confronts both Lysander and Helena over this new change in heart. Lysander and Demetrius are fighting over Helena; Helena is fighting with Hermia who is fighting with Lysander. Insults and love declarations are thrown. Hermia even chases after Helena. It’s just a brilliant scene in Shakespeare.

Also, there was a moment when the play perfectly converged with the outdoors. At point, Hermia wakes up and finds herself in the forest alone. At the moment that she realizes that she is alone, a distant bird cried. It really managed to enhance her own loneliness and fear. Thank you Beneficial G-ds of Theater and Universe.

The Mechanics are also pretty amazing and hilarious. They are the folks who plan to put on a terrible play for the Duke’s wedding. In particular, I was impressed by Alex Weisman’s portrayal of Bottom. He’s the mechanic who tries to play all the parts. He also is turned into a donkey. Mr. Weisman was fabulous as Bottom. He really managed to convey an insufferable actor who is so sure of his brilliance. While discussing the Mechanics with my fiancé, he commented, “Shakespeare didn’t really like actors, did he?” Good question. It was also interesting to see this theme of play within the play theme continue since we just saw Hamlet a few weeks ago. Are there other plays with plays within them?

The fairies were interesting…Oberon and Puck had horns. I feel like I’ve heard of horned fairies before but I can’t seem to recall. The fairies’ parts were my least favorite. Something about the tone did not sit well with me. However, the staging was lovely with the fairies. As the lovers wander through the wilderness, the fairies used green umbrellas with cut out holes in them to convey the wilderness. In fact, there was a lot of liberal use of umbrellas throughout the play. Umbrellas should be used more often.

So go forth and see Shakespeare in the Park.

That’s all!

Renaissance Faire

Yesterday, we went to Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This is my favorite activity in the summer. We go once a summer since it is a bit of a haul to get there. It’s got dress up, tasty food, live music, jousting, drama, and general mischief. I think I’ve gone for the past six years and I can’t wait to go again.

I have probably expounded on my love of playing dress up and Ren Faire is no exception. Since it is a Renaissance faire, generally Renaissance or Medieval garb is typical for costumes. Of course, most people don’t come in costume so don’t feel like you have to do it. Each weekend, there is a theme. We went on Steampunk weekend, but there is also pirate weekend, fantasy weekend, and more. People do take liberties with costumes. I saw Waldo from Where’s Waldo this week. But hey, costumes are costumes. It’s fun to see people’s creativity. One guy was a satyr; he had built a horse’s back that he attached to his body. It was rather incredible. Over the years, I’ve seen people build armor from beer boxes or even beer cans. Rather neat.

For Steampunk, it was especially neat since it’s an aesthetic that I adore. Also, I tend to use Victorian garb a lot more than Renaissance with the historical reenactments in Chicago. People had amazing brass contraptions and incredible animal companions. One woman had a giant stuffed octopus on her back. One guy had made a giant skull to wear as a hat. We wore our Steampunk outfits with our tea holsters. Always have to be ready for tea time.

I had a wonderful Maker moment. One vendor was selling leather pouches with whirling lights on them. Very neat but expensive. It was gratifying to look at it and realize that I could probably build something like that with my adventures with electronics. I’m going to up the ante. Huzzah!

But there’s definitely a lot more to Ren Faire than dress up. There are many shows throughout the day. You can follow Queen Elizabeth and her court around the park. There’s a story line there but I’ve only caught pieces of it. I think it goes all day. I love watching the incredibly elaborate costumes. We hung out briefly in the Noble’s glen and had some delightful interactions. This time a nobleman told me that my fiancé needed gentlemen lessons. Teehee.

Queen Elizabeth's Court

Queen Elizabeth’s Court

Other entertainment includes, Barely Balanced, an acrobatic group that have fun with knives. There’s Adam Winrich who does wonderful things with a whip that you can only imagine…by which I mean make music and light it on fire. In past years, there was a lovely silks act in a foresty glen. It’s fairly magical. It’s not Circo Cheapo but it’s still wondrous in the setting. I didn’t see it set up this year but there are appeared to be silks in a different part of the festival. Sadly, we did not see the act. There are also various musicians throughout the Faire.

Barely Balanced

Barely Balanced


And there are multiple jousts. It’s the whole deal. Men ride on horses in armor and battle each other. There are smaller competitions like skewering a ring with a lance. But they do try to knock each other off horses. It’s pretty sweet. And there are storylines that may be tied to the Queen’s. Honor and mischief all abound. The armor is critical to it. One year, we watched a horse buck off his knight who slammed into the wooden festival. Thank G-d for the armor. And to the actor’s credit, he played it off well, wandering around as if he were stunned. (I hope it was just an act).



There are also fun things to do besides watch shows. Our personal favorite is this jumping ride. You get put into a harness and you can jump up and down on a trampoline like thing. You get to fly rather high over the park. If you are not wearing a corset, you can even do flips high in the air. It’s the best thing in our humble opinion. There are also places where you can practice archery with bows or crossbows. Spectacularly, I managed to shoot a cross bolt straight away from me and managed to have it bounce back. I have skills. Also, you can ride an elephant or a camel. And there was a petting zoo in years past. And it had a lemur.

And there is tasty food. I love my chocolate covered banana and chocolate covered cheesecake. There are pasties, fish and chips, and so much more. And sassafras. Which is like root beer but better.

This time, we tried RenQuest. It’s a Renaissance LARP or Live Action Role Playing game. We were on a mission to figure out what was behind a plague in the Faire. We ran around talking to people, fulfilling tasks, and solving riddles and puzzles. It was pretty fun. It’s not my favorite thing at the Faire but we had enjoyed. The best part was when we had to distract the enemy so our rogue could steal an item. We asked to see their accounting books. Nothing gets them like accounting.

That’s Ren Faire in a nutshell. But you have to go to really appreciate it. Note that it’s not cheap. The vendors have amazing wares but they are expensive. But much of it is handmade. The booths aren’t cheap either (cost 3-10 dollars) but you can pick and choose.

Go and have fun. I can’t wait to go again next year.

That’s all!