Saturday, February 25, 2006

Combining "CHIC" & "EGO" ....

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[Pix 1: Sears Towers]

Chicago: Its not a political hub; not a financial capital, doesn’t have the glitz of Hollywood & is proudly not a sin-city ... However it’s a city of superlatives –highest, largest, biggest, busiest, first & even the fattest !!! This modest city has a lot to boast about .....

- The food-loving Chicagoans make for America’s “fattest” city - 2006
- The birthplace of “Deep-Dish” pizza
- Hosts world's largest free outdoor food festival “ The Taste of Chicago”
- It is also the birthplace of fast food giant - McDonalds, chewing gum giant -Wrigley’s & also cell phone giant Motorola
- Chicago stages world's biggest free blues, jazz and gospel festivals
- It has world’s busiest airport - O’Hare
- America’s most trafficked highway - Dan Ryan Expressway [I-90/I-94]
- Chicago is the birthplace of skyscrapers ...
- It has North America’s tallest building “Sears Tower”, [110 floors] and from its Sky-deck at 103rd floor; you can see all the way to neighboring states of Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin … 40 to 50 miles ...
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[Pix 2: John Hancock Towers]

- America’s highest indoor swimming pool is on the 44th floor of the “John Hancock Center”[100 floors]
- It is home to the largest building in the United States (excluding the Pentagon): the “Merchandise Mart" spread over 90 acres of floor space ...
- Highest steeple in the world – United Methodist Church
- “Buckingham Fountain” in Grant Park; is one of the world's largest fountains.
- “The Millennium Park “has one of worlds largest sculptures the "Cloud Gate”: 66 feet long and 33 feet wide.
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[Pix 3: Washington Library]

- World’s largest public library is located here … the “Harold Washington Library Center” … houses about 2 million books
- The “Art Institute”, has the largest collection of French Impressionist paintings outside of Paris, France
- “Chicago Cultural Center” has the largest Tiffney stained glass dome in the world
- “Shedd Aquarium” is the largest indoor aquarium in the world, home to beluga whales, eels, penguins & leaping dolphins
- Next door to the aquarium is the “Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum”; which is the first ever planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere

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[Pix 4: T-rex named Sue]

- The “Field Museum”; with 9 acres of exhibition space. In 1997 it purchased "Sue”, the world's largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus-Rex [T-Rex] skeleton ...
- Lincoln Park Zoo, just north of downtown, is the world's largest admission-free zoological garden
- Chicago made a $110-million investment to move an eight-lane freeway to create a "Museum Campus" connecting three world-class museums – [1] the Field Museum of Natural History, [2] the Adler Planetarium, and [3] the John G.Shedd Aquarium and Oceanarium.

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[Pix:5: Chicago riverside]

- Chicago also has the only river in the world that flow backwards. Engineers reversed the Chicago River in 1900 for sanitary purposes.
- Al Capone ... The street gangster ... made Chicago his home ...
- Hometown of Oprah Winfrey – the best talk-show hostess & also Jerry Springer – host of the worst talk show on TV
- Hometown of Hollywood biggies – Harrison Ford, John Cusack, Charlie Kaufmann, Jim Beluchi , Bill Murray …
- Chicago based firm – “ R.S. Owens and Company” makes The Oscar statues and thousands of awards and for everything from sports and corporate awards to music like the Emmys & the MTV awards,
- Movies filmed in Chicago …
I-Robot, Chicago, Untouchables, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Negotiator, The Fugitive, What Woman Want, American Beauty, Chain Reaction, When Harry met Sally, Sixteen Candles, Ocean’s 11 & 12; Home Alone- I, II & III; Barbershop, Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Bad Boys, A league of their own ...
Another interesting fact - Chicago also has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland!

* Chicago trivia continues below in ..... "The Windy City".....

The Windy City ...

Three terms / catchphrases frequently figure in any reference of the city of Chicago:
- The Great Fire – 1871
- The Columbian Exposition- 1893
- The Windy City

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The Great Fire: 1871
Any talk on Chicago’s history is divided into before & after The Great Fire.
The Great Fire of 1871, destroyed about 4 square miles of the city; killed about 250 people, made 100,000 homeless. It leveled about a third of the city; destroying about 17,450 buildings. The folklore has it that the fire was sparked by an errant kick from Kate O'Leary's COW!!! But the Chicagoans quickly started to rebuild the city ... and in just 6 weeks after the fire … construction of more than 300 buildings had already begun. And in 1893 Chicago had recovered well enough to host the 1893 World Columbian Exposition ...
[pix is ... a painting of "The Great Fire" in the Sears Tower]

The World Columbian Exposition: 1893
It was held to commemorate 400 years of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus [1493]. Chicago won the honor to celebrate this event over cities like New York, Washington D.C & St. Louis … More than 150 new buildings were made, in the classical Romanesque, Greek & renaissance architecture style … It earned the city a new nickname: “White City”; as most buildings had facade made of mixture of plaster & hemp called : “Staff” which was white in color.

The Windy City:
It is said that the name does not originate from the gusts of winds;
BUT according to historians...
the name originates from few local boosters (windbags), who went up and down the East Coast yelling about the wonders of Chicago ... So Chicago was dubbed the "Windy City" after its "windy" citizenry in the 1850s who boasted about the virtues of the city [A Chicago Daily News article from Sept. 22, 1969]

Origin of the name "Chicago" ...
The city gets its name from wild onion or garlic, which the native Potawatomi tribes called “Checagou” ...

Apart from “Windy City” and “White City” ...
Some other NICKNAMES .....
- The name "Second City" comes from Chicago's historical position as America's second largest city after New York. however now it’s America’s third largest city after New York City & Los Angeles.
- "Paris of the Prarie": Daniel Burnham had designed a visionary plan for a city in 1909 named the “Chicago Plan”. The city was nicknamed 'Paris on the Prairie' as the plan incorporated wide boulevards and parks ...
- The "Garden City" — After the motto on its seal "Urbs in Horto."; which is Latin for “city in a garden”.
- "Pride of the Rustbelt": for its once thriving heavy industries.
- "City of Big Shoulders" & "Hog Butcher to the World"

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HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders .......

( A poem by Carl Sandburg; about the city of Chicago - a tribute to the steelworkers and meat packers of the past)

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Monday, February 20, 2006

A Sad Farewell ...

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The 107 year old Berghoff Restaurant is closing down on the Feb. 28, 2006!
That is ... One week from now, a century old institution; will close down forever ...

I had thought about covering this topic later; but revised my decision for those few Chicago-residents ... who regularly visit this Blog [though never leave comments, but drop mails sometimes] ...There’s still one week left ...
Go, enjoy this place ... before it closes down forever ...

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Though I’ve lived in Chicago for only 4 years, and been to Berghoff just once; I still can very-well relate to the sad feeling of its closure. It’s name is woven in the fabric of Chicago culture … were father-n-son share their first beer together, were grown-ups meet with their old school-time friends, where people gather to chat idly on good ole days! Losing Berghoff is like losing a part of family-tradition, losing a symbol of grandparent’s days, losing the great eating experience in warm friendly atmosphere at unbelievably reasonable price … no garish lighting, no jarring music, no overpriced serving ... But delicious food and delirious beer in a delightful ambience!

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Its stone facade is beige colored with red-trimmings. There are rows of old-fashioned brass lanterns and the windows display collectibles like beer glasses, t-shirts, hats … Inside there is high ceiling, wooden paneling, beautiful chandeliers, and scores of frames pictures of old time Chicago. Its a family-run restaurant where the waiters still wear black jackets, white aprons and black bows!. No wonder it’s been a traditional stop for generations of food-loving Chicagoans.

# Berghoff was started by Herman Joseph Berghoff's in 1898 to showcase his Dortmunder-style beer.
He sold it for "A Nickel A Mug" and offered sandwiches for free.

# How it survived the “prohibition” years ????
[ Prohibition Years: 1920-33; when manufacture, import-export & sale of alcoholic beverages was declared illegal ]
By serving “near” -beer and soda-pop! Near-beer is malt beverages where the alcohol content is removed. However; as soon as America’s dry-spell ended, Mr. Berghoff went straight to the City-Hall and obtained Chicago liquor permit "No. 1". Thus restaurant became the first Chicago establishment to get liquor license after the prohibition ended in 1933; which is still on display in its dining room!

# It is said to have an ALL MALE clientele bar, till 1969 ... when a group of women from the “National Organization for Women” ... stormed in and demanded to be served drinks. And they were!!!

My friend and I ...
Been there very recently on Jan. 26, 2006!
What a hearty meal we had!!!
Just for $39 … we had everything: appetizers, main course, desserts, beer and coffee!
Here’s what we ordered:
- Chicken satay
- Grilled marinated Portobello mushroom
- Broiled, herb-marinated chicken breast, served with mashed potatoes & creamed spinach
- Butter-pecan ice-cream
- Berghoff root-beer
- Cappuccino coffee
Though that’s what we had, Berghoff offers quite a selection of food…

For the food-loving Chicagoans ...
There are different types of soups, garlic escargot, smoked salmon, a sausage plate of bratwurst and knockwurst, schnitzel, creamed herring, creamed spinach, salad options … and quality drinks, especially beer !!! Well Germans make for a large section of Chicago populations and are famously beer-lovers!!!
So before its too late … make it there …

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One big consolation ...
The restaurant is not closing down for some corporate takeover!
But, Herman Berghoff's 70-year-old grandson [ who now runs the place] and his wife decided to RETIRE and turn the business and the building over to their daughter Carlyn Berghoff's ... "Artistic Events" catering company .....
At least, It's all in the family ...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Minus 22 degree C ...


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Feb.18, 2006 ...
Mercury fell to below zero degree even without a snow-cover .....

For the record:
Temperature : - 8 to -10 degree F ...
[about -22 degree C]
And with wind-chill -12 to -15 degrees F ...
It's biting cold ....

Picture taken at 7am in the morning ...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Art Institute of Chicago ...

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I had long wanted to write on the Art Institute of Chicago; but now when I’ve decided to get down to writing; I am at a loss as to where to begin and what to cover:
- The history of the Institute
- The architectural beauty
- The huge collection of paintings, sculptures, textiles, photography …

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It’s always wise to cover what interests me …
I still remember how thrilled I was, the very first time I had stepped into this Institute, and seen the originals by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso! Apart from these and a few other names, I wonder if I knew much about artists and paintings. But since then; I started collecting information [more visits, books & Google] and today; I know much more … and … the more I learn; the more this place fascinates me …

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The main entrance is flanked by two bronze lion statues; created by Edward L. Kemey; and are there since the Institutes main building was constructed for the “Columbian Exposition” in 1893. The main structure has limestone façade is designed in “Beaux Art” style by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. There has been several renovations; major ones in 1957 and 1987. One thing that strikes real hard is the size of the place ... It‘s absolutely MASSIVE ... with 66,640 sq feet of gallery space!!!

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Apart from the structure’s architectural beauty, the art that it treasures is simply mind-blowing! It has huge collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists paintings and also an incredible collection of Medieval, Renaissance & Modern Art.
# In fact, it has the largest collection of French Impressionists paintings outside of Paris, France.
# Its Modern Art collection is said to be Third best in the world after MoMA [New York] and Center Pompidou [Paris].

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The Best known paintings are:
- American Gothic - Grant Wood
- Nighthawks – Edward Hopper
- The Old Guitarist – Pablo Picasso
- A Sunday Afternoon - Georges Seurat
- Haystacks – Claude Monet
- Paris Street, Rainy Day – Gustavo Callibotte
- The Bath – Mary Cassatt
- Excavations – William de Kooning

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There is a large place for temporary exhibitions; and it has deliberately placed at the far end of the museum; so that visitors have to traverse some of the it’s permanent exhibits
I’ve seen [only] two of the “special” temporary exhibits:
- The Art of Paul Gauguin
- Girodet: Romantic rebel [ is currently running]
Though photography of permanent collection is allowed [No flashes, No tripods & No video-camera]; but it’s not allowed in temporary exhibitions. So I don’t have any photograph of Girodet’s paintings.

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However, I’ve been the most interested in:
Impressionisms ...
Post - Impressionisms ...
some “… ISMS” ... in post Post-Impressionisms phase ...

and I’ve covered them separately or else this post would have become too unwieldy.

Some ... isms ...

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Some “ … isms” … in the POST "Post-Impressionism” phase:
In fact Post Impressionist led away from a “naturalist”- approach of Impressionisms towards MODERNISM … Modernism was a broad movement encompassing all avant-garde ..isms… of the first half of the 20th century. Although different modern-isms were often incompatible; they rejected the dominance of Academic or naturalism [Impressionism] … in favor of experimental art. Modern-isms explored different facets of art ...
- experiments with colors – Fauvism
- the nature of representation – Cubism
- the social role of art in a capitalist bourgeoisie society – Dadaism
- the unconscious - Surrealism
- explore state of mind – Expressionism
Most of these trends overlapped each-other.

[Top Right: “Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, 1910. By Pablo Picasso]

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The term Fauve means “Wild Beast”. Many modern artist use wild colors, but the term fauves applies to a small group of artists, mostly friends working in France between 1898 - 1910 .... Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Rouault ... The fauves were influenced by Van Gogh and Gauguin. They applied intense colors, with thick heavy brush strokes; straight from the tube to the canvas, without mixing or shading. The paintings often looked brightly patterned flat surface. The fauves were unconstrained by the actual color of their subject-matter; so trees could be painted orange, sky pink and face green. Shadow could be another color, so shadow of green grass could be navy blue. They greatly admired van Gogh, who said of his own work: “Instead of trying to render what I see before me, I use color in a completely arbitrary way to express myself powerfully''. Fauvism was the first movement of this modern period, in which color ruled supreme.
[ Left: Bathers by a River, 1909-1913-1916 Henri Matisse]

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Developed between 1908 -1912; Cubism was pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso; and is indebted to Cezanne’s use of “multiple viewpoints” in a single painting. Their subject matter was often highly conventional and usually drawn from still life tradition. Cubism is often described as a “conceptual approach” to painting… It’s used to describe shifting viewpoints. For example, we can look at a table while standing over it, underneath it, from the side … cubist wanted to capture all this. Different views of an object put this way cannot actually be seen in real life. Cubism violently shocked art circles, and its influence spread rapidly after that.
[Left: The Red Armchair, 1931 Pablo Picasso]

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Surrealism was founded in Paris by the poet the poet and critic André Breton, who published "The Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924. Surrealism, was a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely, that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in "an absolute reality, a surreality." Breton saw the unconscious as the origin of the imagination; drawing heavily from the theories of Sigmund Freud ...
[Left: Time-Transfixed” by Rene Magritte ]
features improbable elements like locomotive emerging from fireplace, clock and mirror without reflection.

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It emerged in different artistic circles in Europe in 1905-1920’s. It’s characterized by strong use of colors, distorted figures and sometimes abstraction. Most famous example is Edvard Munch’s painting “Scream”. Another is Wassily Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 30”. It looks like just splash of colors, but on closer examination we can see tanks and falling buildings.
[Left: Improvisation No. 30 Wassily Kandinsky]

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This movement developed in New York, immediately following the WW-II. It is also referred to as “The New York School”. It was the first exclusively American movement to gain international recognition. Abstract expressionists adopted this unique style of throwing paint on their canvases; from which the term “Action painting” is derived. Like Jackson Pollock poured commercial paint directly into his canvas with the help of a stick. This revolutionary act dispensed with traditional brush and easel and involved his entire body in the act of painting
[Left: Excavation, 1950 Willem de Kooning]

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Right: “The Key", 1946 By Jackson Pollock
Abstract Expressionism ...