Chicago Botanical Gardens

Pfui. Blasted! I’m bummed out. Why, you might ask? I was hoping to see Spike bloom.

For those of you who haven’t heard, for the past few weeks, Chicago has been waiting to see when a Titan Arum or Corpse Flower was set to bloom for 24-48 hours. And it was set to stink somewhere between Limburger cheese and a corpse. The Chicago Botanical Gardens were going to stay open until 2am the day it bloomed. Sadly, the Chicago Botanical Garden reported Saturday night that Spike’s not going to bloom. Not enough energy. Boo to this fall weather. Yeah, you fall weather.

I hadn’t set out to be obsessed with Spike. I had read reports of it with some interest but that was it. However, it so happened that we decided to go to the Chicago Botanical Gardens since I had never been. I’ve been to the parking lot because of Ravinia but that’s it.

I loved it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did. It’s a treasure and I can’t wait to go back. I’m even contemplating going out there for some awesome shots  in our wedding outfits after the wedding.

It all began by walking through the beautiful bridge onto a vista with a giant pond and weeping willows. Everything was humming with late summer joy. The lily pads were in full bloom with magenta and purple flowers. Monet surely would have painted these flowers.

Water Lillies

There was even a bonsai tree show. One exhibit was a tiny forest! Inside there was an exhibition of Japanese flower arrangements. Some arrangements had poems and sayings next to them. Here’s an illicit photo of one of my favorites. (Illicit since I missed the sign about not taking photos until after the fact).

Bonsai ForestFlower Arrangement

Then we found Spike in the greenhouse. When we visited him, he was already taller than me. He was also fairly wide too. He looked like something out of The Little Shop of Horrors. He was magnificent. And thus began the obsession. While I didn’t get to see Spike in his (her?) stinky glory, I’m pretty happy to have seen Spike. He really rocked my world for a little bit.

Spike!

Then we decided to go off to check the outdoor gardens. The rose garden was our first stop. We just missed the peak of the summer; the roses were on their way out. But there were many still in full bloom. One rose was the closest I’ve ever seen to a Tudor rose; well, it’s yellow and red. We also stopped by the English walled garden with its manicured hedges and little ponds.

Almost Tudor Rose

The best was the Japanese gardens. There are three gardens, two for people and one restricted to the Immortals (and staff). To get to the gardens, you have to cross a picturesque bridge. There was even a little Shinto house that you can look into. We couldn’t have chosen a better day to wander the gardens.

Island of the Immortals

And there’s a wonderful waterfall on a hill. You can wander up and down the hill with vistas of the Japanese gardens. Amazing.

I can’t wait to go back. I feel that I need to go several times of the year to see how it all changes. And see the next Titan Arum bloom.

That’s all for now!

Review: Moby Dick

This past weekend, we saw Lookingglass Theater’s production of Moby Dick. I’ve seen three productions there including Alice in Wonderland and this production was my favorite of the three. Moby Dick has gotten great reviews and has sold out all the remaining shows. It ends this week.

Moby Dick  is one of these books I never thought I’d read or even be interested in. But after conducting an interview with cartoonist and designer, Marnie Galloway, earlier this summer, I’ve been quite curious. She told me about how funny the book is. Then my coworker told me about a podcast of the Big Read that goes chapter by chapter with a different actor. The first chapter is read by Tilda Swinton. Stephen Fry and even Benedict Cumberbatch read chapters. So since then I’ve listening to it chapter by chapter. I’m only at chapter 46 but I’ve been enjoying it. The characters are fun, the descriptions are gorgeous. It’s an interesting tale and yeah, there’s humor. It’s dry but I like dry humor. I’m sorry that I didn’t finish it before the play but that’s okay. When it came to the play, I had read ⅓ of it.

I love lines like this: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

I dig it.

Lookingglass’ Moby Dick was great. It was engaging. While it was a longer play, 2.5 hours, I didn’t feel the time passing. I was always surprised when it was time for another intermission (there are two). They managed to combine circus and narrative in an excellent way. My fiance and I have talked about this problem. Most circus shows either try to be variety shows or have loose plots with circus intervals. That was my big issue with the two other shows at Lookingglass. I loved the Alice in Wonderland but it did feel a little disjointed. Here’s plot and now hula hoops! It was more pronounced with The Little Prince, which is one of my favorite books. It got rather tiresome at times, which is odd considering the theater’s desire to be whimsical and imaginative.

But Moby Dick managed the tension well. Characters frequently climbed up poles, hung from the rafters, etc. It worked well since the action mostly took place on a ship so naturally people climb on things. There was only one prolonged piece but it worked in the plot. I don’t want to reveal some of the inspired moments. You just have to experience them. Overall, I think they got a lot of the mood and setting right. They even managed to get in some of the asides that Ishmael takes the reader, which made me very happy. The acting was spot on; everyone was well cast. With this new mixture, I’m excited to see what Lookingglass has in mind for Treasure Island. Then again, it’s Mary Zimmerman’s production so it should be amazing.

So while Moby Dick is sold out, check out the free podcast. It’s pretty awesome.

http://www.mobydickbigread.com/

Review: Kurios

This past weekend, we checked out Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios at the United Center. I was super excited to see the show since I have enjoyed most of what I’ve seen from Cirque. I enjoyed Zarkana  in Vegas last year. With one major exception, namely the ill conceived Slapstick, their shows are always worth watching. The costumes are super fun, the sets are neat and they really do come up with some amazing visuals.

Kurios did not disappoint. It was a Steampunk theme to it. The subtitle was Cabinet of Curios so it had lots of strange creatures and jars filled with specimens. It did have a lovely bit where actors walked an invisible man on stage, with hat, shoes, and briefcase, which was simply lovely. There was a strange accordion man, a robotic woman, and a submarine man.

Mischief before the Show

The circus was the best part of the show, of course. I don’t want to give too much away but the best and most imaginative piece involved chair stacking. To give a hint, it was something out of Alice in Wonderland. It simply took our breathe away.

There was a really wondrous contortion act with three performers dancing on top of a giant brass colored hand (with a ring). I’m not a huge fan of contortion as a rule; I feel that most contortion acts are three poses and a lot of attitude. But this was beautiful and challenging. The three performers did amazing things with their bodies, sitting on themselves, basing their fellow performers on them in crazy poses. Very impressive.

We really enjoyed a wonderful trampoline act on a net with aquatic creatures. The net looked like the same netting that would be used for flying trapeze. Circus performers would bounce and spin in the air, or catch hanging clouds (yep, you read that right). They made it look so smooth and easy, which means that it is the result of 100 hours of practice (or more). One performer did an impressive job of acting like a fish out of water, wiggling in the air. So neat.

There was also a lovely strap act that started with Siamese twins. The twin part didn’t do a whole lot for me but the act itself was simply marvelous. There’s nothing quite like having someone soar in the air right above you! It gave the audience the feeling of flight!

The final act was also magnificent. It was a group acrobatics bit where the acrobats were flipping people up in the air and having them land on their arms. Or flip someone forward into someone else’s arms. There was so much that I had never seen before. My favorite bit was when they had a partial three high (there was a second base at the bottom – my fiance says it wasn’t a real three high), where they flipped a fourth person on top. So impressive!

There was also a puppet show, a improvised bicycle aerial act, and much more! That’s just a taste of Kurios. I would like to have had more circus and less atmospheric bits but it is worth checking out. I couldn’t help compare it with Cirque Mechanics from the Circus Festival. I think Cirque Mechanics was much more about circus while

That’s all for now!

Milwaukee County Zoo

This past weekend, we decided to take a little day trip up to Milwaukee, WI. It’s something that has become a tradition with my friends. We go up, usually to one cultural site, buy cheese, and then come home the same day. It’s a mini-vacation.

This time, we were going to check out the Milwaukee County Zoo. It’s a little outside of the city. I really liked it. There was a lot to see. It is definitely bigger than LPZ. I’m still deciding if I like Milwaukee Zoo better than Brookfield. One thing in its favor is the abundance of peacocks. Brookfield definitely has peacocks wandering around but Milwaukee had dozens. They’d lounge in exhibits of other animals, though they tended to stick to the vegetarian animals. They were shedding their feathers (mating season is over) so you can actually collect peacock feathers if you find them. Sadly, they were all claimed before we got there. But we got to see peachicks!!!

Peacocks!

And they have kangaroos. One had a joey in her pouch!!!

Kangaroos!

The animal houses are quite impressive. We really enjoyed the Ape house, which gave us a finer appreciation for these animals so like us. One bonobo baby was nursing at his mother. I’ve never seen that. There was an ape who had recently given birth. She kept her back to the glass, covering over her baby, protecting the wee one from our gaze. It was beautiful. Also, it appeared to be baby season at the zoo.

We also enjoyed the Small Animal House where we found a fennec fox licking a salt lick or something and all the lemurs. My friend and I disagree. Do lemurs look more like rodents or tiny dogs?

Fennec Fox

They had lots of bears. One habitat had several bears just hanging out. One hugged a giant tree and another laid on a hammock. It really felt like something out of a children’s cartoon.

Bear snuggle

One strange thing was that we saw a few habitats where carnivores were very close to prey. In other words, it didn’t look like there was much of a barrier between them. The polar bear was next to the sea lion habitat with very small walls between while there was a jaguar near the alpacas. We were a little confused at how that worked. Do they just keep the carnivores really well fed? Or is there something unseen keeping the one animal out of the other habitat? Curious.

There were also amusements like zip lining and sky lift chairs. We didn’t partake of them but they were available. I was also impressed that the food wasn’t terrible or crazy expensive. i got a sub that was comparable to Subway prices.

My only complaint is that adult admission is $14.50, not including parking. But you can park for free not too far away. I have come to realize how spoiled I am with free zoos. I always thought zoos were all free since I grew up near Lincoln Park Zoo. I am realizing how incredibly special that is.

Despite that, Milwaukee Zoo was a lot of fun. It was worth a trip.

Then we went to our tradition cheese place called the Wisconsin Cheese Market in downtown Milwaukee. We like it because it’s got lots of cheese and samples. That’s where I discovered the wonders of 5 year old cheddar. Nothing like it. So we went to town there and bought lots of cheese including cheese curds. Goodness, I love ‘em! I also got some fudge cheese, which is crazy. Tastes like fudge with some cheddar in it.

It was a fun trip. Can’t wait to go back for more mischief and cheese! Someday, I’ll make it to the Mars Cheese Castle. Someday.

That’s all for now!

Out of Site 2015

So it’s that time of the summer when one of my favorite events takes place: Out of Site. Out of Site or OoS is a series of public performance art in Wicker Park/West Town area founded by Carron Little. The Jury panel of Roberto Sifuentes, Kevin Sparrow and Carron Little curate the work. Artists come from all over the world to perform their work for Out of Site. It is in its 5th year; I’ve definitely talked about it previously. The catch phrase is perfect: “Do you believe in Wonder?” And yes, Out of Site delivers wonder.

Now the series is in the second week of 2015. The first series of performances took place in Wicker Park Fest, adding a little joy and art to the music/food festival on Milwaukee. Ballenarca, a group from Austin, TX, performed their amazing underwater puppet show. The main focus is a truck sized carnivorous whale whose eye ball and tongue feature as independent puppets. Eels, sharks, jellyfish and many other creatures float, interact, eat one another. And there’s a live band with a operatic singer. Because live music and art is amazing.  It’s quite lovely.

I actually saw the show twice: once at the festival and another rendition in the Julia de Burgos park next to the 606.  While they were the same fundamental shows, the different spaces and times of day impacted the meaning. The one at the Fest was in the middle of the afternoon with a predominantly older crowd while the other performance was in a playground with lots of kids and families at dusk. The darkness enhanced the performance, reinforcing that the show was taking place in the deep part of the ocean.

Ballenarca's puppet showBallernarca at night

There were several other pieces going on during the festival as well. Sheryl Oring’s  I Wish To Say was a lovely discourse about politics and participation. Five performers wore bright 1950s clothing in red, blue and white. Each had a typewriter set up in front. Members of the public were asked to dictate a letter to the president that the performers would type. At the end, you had the option to stamp and send it to the president. I really dug it. Yes, I dictated a letter to the president and mailed it. It was a great opportunity to think about what I wanted the president to know. It made me more of an active participant in our political society.

Sheryl Oring's This I Have to Say

The third piece was Duff Noris’ The Wisdom Box. He also performed it on the following Friday. It’s a one on one piece. The artist stood in the Polish Triangle with a box over his head with room for another head. The audience member would step up into the box. In this mirrored box, the artist would ask you a question and you would have a short but very pleasing conversation. It was a small moment of connection with a stranger. I really dug it.

Duff Noris' The Wisdom Box

The fourth piece that I saw was Jeremy Pauly’s “Composition in Decomposition.” The piece took place 7 to 9 in an outdoor space between two buildings on Milwaukee. There were several performers with reddish brown clay on their faces moving around the space. Some were against walls, others walked slowly, while others laid on the floor. One figure stood in a pool of wet clay. It was a piece that took time to draw you in as these figures lived out their silent movements. None appeared to react to one another. They each were alone in their world. Beautiful.

Jeremy Pauly’'s “Composition in Decomposition”

So that’s just what’s happened so far. We are in week 2 of Out of Site.

Check out the full schedule here: http://outofsitechicago.org/

Anthony Bourdain

Last week, I had the opportunity of seeing Anthony Bourdain live. I’ve been a fan of his since my parents randomly bought the audio version of A Cook’s Tour while driving me home from writing camp in Iowa. (Blessed memories). Since then I’ve read some of his books and watched some shows. I was keen to see him live.

My view of the stage

There’s a lot that can be said against him. He’s arrogant as well and often a jerk. I think if we knew each other personally, we’d hate each others guts. At the start of the live show, he spent the first half hour ranting against Guy Fieri and the Food Network, which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. He then spent another 15 minutes railing against the Food Network. Blegh.

However, I can’t forget that he (along with my best woman) changed the way I looked at food. Before the dynamic duo, I was a bit cautious about food. There were a lot of things I had no interest in trying like new meats, vegetables as a whole, etc. But then I heard him talk about food in a way that I had never experienced. There was wonder and adventure in just putting things in your mouth (food things!). I was hooked. Food was connection. Food was conversation. People will open up to you if you open yourself to their table. It’s beautiful. He (and my best friend) made me want to try everything in the world. The best quotation from last night was “Curiosity is my only virtue.” But what a virtue! Plus, his description of haggis (from that long ago car ride) still haunts me. I still haven’t been able to find it but that will change on the honeymoon to Scotland.

So I was going to see him if I could at the Auditorium. After the 30+ minute rant, he started talking about his philosophy about food and life. While I sometimes disagreed with his commentary, it was interesting. He did do his usual rant against vegetarians, sniffed at gluten sensitivity…but he really came alive during the Q&A. That’s when he talked about his travels, the individual shows he did. He bemoaned the fact that he has managed to screw up the show in Sicily twice (with a tern year gap between them). He talked about how he lost it when he was supposed to hunt octopus like the locals.  When they got to the waters, it was an active beach so he was suspicious that anything would live there. But he went into the water with his spear. When he was in the water, something dropped near his head. It was a dead octopus. He emerged from the water to find that a boat was chucking frozen octopus into the water. He was not pleased and ended the filming right then and there.

Bourdain also talked about how he can only go to Russia every five years since he can’t keep up with the drinking. He explained (with hyperbole?) that usually he’d have to drink 3-5 shots of vodka at breakfast, 11-13 at lunch and 17-19 at dinner. Damn.

So the show eventually picked up. Yes, I’ll see him again if he comes back to Chicago. I still think he’s an asshole but I do enjoy how he talks about food and communication between strangers.

That’s all for now!