Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Arts in Evanston

Last weekend was the Fountain Square Arts Festival in Evanston, our very near neighbor to the north (as in four doors and a cemetery north). The main downtown intersection of Sherman and Church is blocked off, and a host of artists show up to sell their work. It's a nice show (although I really do think that Waynesboro's Fall Foliage Festival Art Show has more variety and just as high quality--see posts for October 2006 for more info), but I really think they have too many photographers touting Kodachrome enlargements of Chicagoland points of interest. There was a lot of other stuff, too, but too many "local interest" photos on offer.

I snapped pictures of a couple of my favorite booths; you can see a detail of one of Aberant Art's works to the left, in all its Willendorfian splendor. This artist takes images from popular culture and art masterpieces and throws them together in amusing collages. Here's another one:

Some of the highlights of the show were the photographer with ultra-saturated photos of Chinese landscapes; the cool and rather creepy woodcuts of the late Marvin Hill (I bought one of his woodcut prints, Trinity of the Sea, several years ago at this self-same show); and the very cool Weener Ware, tiny pop culture images behind clear resin framed in bottle caps and made into jewelry. But the best in show for me were these whimisical objets d'art, fashioned from discarded "objets":

Aren't they cool?

Here are some more for your admiration:

And my favorite...

I just love the color; the flat, yet fluted "hat;" and, above all, the red shades. Alas, too much for my rather thin wallet.

And while we're on the subject of art and art shows, I never got around to posting a picture of the painting I bought at the Fall Foliage Festival show last October... and I promised to. Here it is, a lovely watercolor by Patsy Spilman:

I love the colors, and it reminds me of the banks of the little brooks one finds in my faraway Blue Ridge Mountains. It now hangs in the dining room, opposite the china cabinet and over the sideboard.

Evanston has lots of great festivals over the summer--coming up are the Ethnic Arts Festival in July, which I hope we can make, and the Lakeshore Arts Festival in August, which we will not make this year because we'll be in Marfa for Rachel and Chase's big ass party. And, of course, there are the fireworks on July 4th--just a few days away!

I'll close this post with another picture of the found objets. Look! One of them is waving! Or rising...

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cicada Attack!

Well, the cicada event is winding down, but they are still plenty loud out by where I work.

Our "campus" has a lot of acreage--the "back forty," as it's affectionately known around our parts--and there is a walking trail that winds through woods and meadows that has become prime cicada-watching territory. During the height of the invasion, you could stroll back on the trail and see them in the hundreds, maybe even the thousands, affixed to tree limbs and singing in a deafening cacophony. Since I didn't get back there with a camera until a few days ago, you'll have to take my word for it. By the time I took these pictures, the best was over:

Maybe the weirdest part about this is the assemblage of little cicada carcasses or husks or--I'm sure one of my biology major pals will have the correct word... Lee?--carapaces? clinging to leaves of bushes that are right next to bushes teeming with very much alive and chirping cicada hordes. Are the husks from their emergence? Or is that what happens to them when they die? At any rate, it's way cool.

The only real downside to these neato bugs is that they are not very good fliers. They bumble along, their flight paths seemingly random and arbitrary. And they tend to bump into things. Such as heads. And car windshields. Ah well.

As I said in my previous post about them... I'm going to miss them when they are gone. The world will seem so... well... quiet.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Adieu, Old Friend

Today, I had to retire a trusted old friend... our Melitta coffee grinder.

This little gadget did yeoman's service for me and, later, for Jeff and me, for more than 20 years. Purchased at Cole Hardware in San Francisco in 1986 to replace a Braun (my second in the space of about a year) that had bitten the dust, this little grinder kept going and going and going--through all the ups and downs that life threw at me in San Francisco, through the move to Chicago, through a move within Chicago to our present home...and was still grinding like crazy this morning when Jeff noticed that some of the copper wiring was showing through the cord. So, the motor never gave up the ghost, but the cord finally wore through.

Luckily, my great friend Barbara Lawson gave Jeff and me a coffee grinder (along with an espresso maker that wore out a while ago) 'way back when as a wedding present, and we still had it up on a shelf, just waiting for the day the Melitta ground its last.

Well, today is that day! Still... pretty good recommendation for a product nowadays, that it would last for more than 20 years!

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ah, the Caribbean!

For all the problems we had reaching the island, Grand Bahama and the Our Lucaya Resort were very nice places to spend a few days.

That's our hotel, Breaker's Cay, as taken from the beach. We were on the tenth floor (the top), but on the other side. No ocean view, but a nice view of the Port Lucaya International Marketplace and the marina from which both of our water adventures set out.

The marketplace had a number of small restaurants

and shops, and a thriving straw market where you could buy hats, beaded jewelry, straw bags, sarongs, t-shirts, etc. from the locals.

This is only one row of stalls--the straw market was located at either end of the complex, and consisted of three of four of these long buildings on each side. Let's just say that they saw me coming. I ended up buying three sarongs, a straw hat, and two ankle bracelets (the first of which was clapped on my ankle by "Big Mama"--hey, that's what she called herself!--who told me I HAD to get it to keep me safe from "stress an' de meegraine." How could I resist?).

The resort had a spa, and I treated myself to a heavenly hour-long pedicure, which included a special mud mask for the tootsies. Ahhh. I could get very used to treatment like that.

We went snorkeling at Treasure Reef, a few miles off shore. The reef was only about 10-15 feet deep at the point where the boat anchored, so we jumped off the back and spent a leisurely hour or so just floating face down, gazing at the beautiful fish browsing among the coral and sea fans. There were many little yellow and white fish with black stripes, some iridescent blue parrotfish, and some black fish with neon-blue stripes along their top and bottom fins. Those were the main characters. And I saw some shrimp scuttling on the floor of the reef. No sharks or barracuda or scary fish of any kind... although one of the snorklers said she saw a little jellyfish floating around.

I hadn't expected to like snorkeling so much. I though it would be fun and interesting, but I didn't think it would be so calming and mesmerizing. I definitely want to do it again sometime... maybe if we ever get to Hawai'i?

The highlight of the trip, though, was the dolphin encounter. This was incredibly expensive, but it was worth every single penny. If you ever get the chance to swim with dolphins, take it. Amazing.

First off, they are so sweet and friendly. And very amusing... and amused:

Our program had three parts. In the first part, we had a free swim with the dolphins. There were six humans and two dolphins in the lagoon. You are supposed to pet them:

And when you do, they will swim with you, dive with you, and "talk" to you.

I liked diving underwater with them, because you can hear their vocalizations. As one point, I laughed aloud underwater, which elicited a cackle from my cetaceous pal!

They are enormous, and so strong!

That's me, right behind the wall of splashing water!

The next phase of the program is directing the dolphins to do tricks. The trainer showed us four signals: One made them "sing," one made them clap, one made them splash you, and one made them spin around and "dance." Here's Jeff, signalling them to clap:

And here am I, splashing with one of them:

If you'll notice, the dolphins have a distinct splashing advantage over humans. We can only slap the water with our hands. They can spew it out of their mouths--for quite a distance!

In the last part of the program, the dolphins came up and gave us kisses:

And a big hug!

And then, as we all got out of the water to head back to the marina, they waved us good-bye!

Honey dolphins!

The island is still recovering from a severe hurricane that devastated it a few years ago. For all the charming, freshly painted island cottages to be seen,

there are homes that were boarded up before the storm and, seemingly, abandoned:

Here's hoping that these folks are just gathering the funds to fix their place up, as many were in the process of doing while we were there.

It is good to see the island bouncing back to its pre-storm glory.

The people are warm and friendly. The drinks are cool and effective. The beach has fine, white sand and the surf is as gentle as can be. And the flowers are plentiful and gorgeous.

And, as a parting gift, as we winged our way home in the cabin of, yes, an American Airlines wide-body (about three hours late, naturally), we were treated to a spectacular sunset. Fitting end to our Bahamas adventure.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Getting to Grand Bahama, or Why American Airlines Sucks

Last week, Jeff and I went to Our Lucaya Resort/Westin-Grand Bahama on an all-expenses paid trip--a reward to Jeff and a number of other of our work colleagues for a job well-done. The resort was lovely--a palm-shaded oasis from the stresses of the day-to-day work world:


But first, we had to GET there.

And, since our flight was booked on American Airlines, that was no simple feat.

A delay due to mechanical issues, I can live with. It happens. And I surely want the plane to be in tip-top mechanical order before I sit my kiester down in one of its cramp-inducing seats for a flight to anywhere. I can even forgive a delay that extends for four hours, ensuring that everyone with a connecting flight or a cruise to meet in Miami is hosed for the day. What I can't forgive is the perfect storm of ineptitude and rudeness that characterized nearly every single interaction or attempted interaction with an American Airlines employee throughout the more than 24 hours it took us to get to Freeport.

It all began in the line for security check, after we had obtained our boarding passes from a kiosk. I noticed that the time of departure on my pass had changed from 11 to 1. Hmmm. So had Jeff's. I did some quick math in my head--always taxing for someone as math-impaired as I--and even I could figure out that we wouldn't make our connection. What to do? Return to the long ticket line at the international counter? Or head to the gate and settle the matter there? Not one to tolerate long lines much, we decided to go to the gate.

Where there was no gate agent in evidence. The flight being, now, four hours in the future. (Yes, we're those goofballs who take them at their word when they say to arrive two hours early for your international flight.)

So, we go in search of one of the "Rebooking Centers" touted on big canvas banners strung over the throngs of travelers in H and K concourses. We go to H first.

No agent. Three red rotary desk phones. Not only are they not hooked up to a phone jack, the handsets are not even attached to the phones.


On to K concourse.

Where we find the same situation--almost. Here there is ONE operational phone, and line of folks waiting to use it. From the conspicuous way they are checking their watches and sighing, it appears that the person currently on the one phone has been there for, well, a while.

We try one of the red courtesy phones located at intervals along the concourse walls. Actually, we try just about every one we pass on our way back to L concourse, where our gate is. The convenient signs next to the phones instruct us to press "44," upon which we get a busy signal. Every single time.

Then we see it! A banner with an 800 number to call for rebooking, placed above an abandoned gate area. I guess it was just too logical to place these banners AT the completely useless "Rebooking Centers," huh? But, any port in a storm. I bite. I call. I learn that yes, there is a later flight to Freeport this evening, but it is booked solid. Hmmm. No doubt but all of those folks talking to booking agents and causing us to get a busy signal on every red courtesy phone in O'Hare have skunked us in our quest to sit on a Caribbean beach and sip rum-splashed girl-drinks this evening. The friendly phone agent can book us on the 11:35 out of Miami tomorrow morning, though. That's the best she can do. She can't promise anything about a hotel, but not to worry--our luggage will be waiting for us in Miami.


You win some, you lose some.

After a while, an agent shows up at L10 and starts fielding questions. Now, this gal was the one nice person we talked to during this whole ordeal. She told us that since it was a mechanical delay, it was American's fault. That meant they would foot the bill for the hotel, dinner, and breakfast in Miami. We settled in with magazines and books, and eventually we found ourselves winging our way to south Florida.

Where a fresh hell awaited.

We were told that a gate agent would meet us and lead us to the proper place for hotel and meal vouchers... but of course there was no one at the gate. People started lining up at the nearest counter, where a frazzled, harried employee--who obviously didn't sign up for combat duty--got trapped for a couple of hours trying to sort things out. By the time she got to us, she was snapping and spitting... but trying very hard not to. I actually felt kind of sorry for her. Until she informed us that gee! I was booked on the 11:35 tomorrow, but Jeff was not.


Oh, no problem. I've got him on standby.

That's when I turned into queen bitch of Cathy-World. Not ranting and raving, mind you. None of that. Slowly, with a measured voice just oozing barely suppressed rage and obvious disdain, I informed this woman that if she could not take care of this, I wanted to see her supervisor.

"She's busy," snapped the agent.


"Cowering in the back, leaving you to the pissed off victims of American Airlines' efficient and friendly service, huh?" I asked. And informed her that we were not budging until the problem was fixed.

Several phone calls later, she said she was sure he'd get on the flight, but she "pulled strings" to double book me on the 3:00 p.m. flight--the flight he WAS confirmed on--just in case he didn't. I got a boarding pass. Jeff got a standby pass. Well, I have to hand it to her, she did appear to be advocating for us with whatever tight-ass "tell them I can't do anything" type she managed to reach on these phone calls, if indeed there really WAS anyone on the other end. I wouldn't put anything past American Airlines.

We finally made our way to baggage claim, only to find that our bags were on their way to Freeport... at least, we hoped that was where they were headed.

That's when I yelled at the baggage claim guy. I'm not proud of that--after all, HE didn't personally send our bags winging to Grand Bahama--but I had HAD it.

Now... at the hotel, we found out that American Airlines regularly pays for around hundred guests per night--American Airlines refugees all. You would think that with such a track record, American Airlines would have a SYSTEM down for dealing with stuff like this. But obviously, they do not. The desk clerk at the hotel summed it up nicely: "That's why I never fly American Airlines. Ever."

By the way, the hotel gift shop was open until 11:00 p.m. nightly, doing a land-office business in underwear, socks, and Miami t-shirts, as well as deodorant, mouthwash, etc., etc. The hotel graciously provided us, the luggage-less, with toothbrushes and toothpaste packets. They had the drill down so well that they even had a special menu in the bar where American Airlines orphans could choose one of three voucher-worthy entrees. [sarcasm] Yum! [/sarcasm]

Fast forward to the next day, when we show up two and a half hours before our flight only to find that the line for international flights extends through a Disneyland-esque maze and out all the way down the hallway to the next terminal. Clearly, two hours is not going to be enough...we start to despair of ever getting to the Bahamas, and consider, seriously, just getting back on the next plane to Chicago and chucking the whole thing in. Then we overhear that there is another line for folks who don't have any baggage to check!

Oh joy! Because our bags are (supposedly) already in Freeport, we can go in the other line! Thank you Mr. Baggage Claim guy, and sorry--so sorry--I told you to go fuck yourself!

Now, it takes us some searching and some pestering of several o, so pleasant American Airlines passenger wranglers (let's just say Ilsa of the SS would be perfect for this job), but we soon find ourselves at the counter... and lo and behold... Jeff is confirmed on the flight!! Things are looking up.

At the gate, we meet Jeff's boss (who is also being honored on this trip) and her two daughters--her guests--who--get THIS!--THOUGHT they had been booked on the flight, but are now on the standby list themselves. Wonder of wonders, they DO get on--all three of them--and we wing our way over the azure Atlantic for the short hop to Grand Bahama. And wonder of wonders... our luggage IS waiting for us!

The day is lovely. A soft, cool breeze keeps the humidity down and the temperature balmy. We learn that tropical storm Barry made its way over Grand Bahama yesterday evening, right about the time our original flight was supposed to be en route from Miami. Apparently, it was scary. Scary Barry. The resort lost power for about three hours during the worst of the storm. And there we were, only a short jaunt away, high up in the Airport Marriott, steaming and stewing about the ineptitude and rudeness of American Airlines...

So, we got there. And, despite the travel day and a quarter from hell, we enjoyed ourselves once we arrived.

But that's fodder for the next post.

Labels: , , ,

Song of the Cicadas

Here in northern Illinois, we're in the midst of the emergence and relatively short life-cycle of the 17-year periodic cicadas, and all I can say is... DAMN! They are LOUD!

None (or too few to make any kind of impact) emerged in my neighborhood in the city, nor, it seems, along the Evanston lakefront, to our north. At least, I have not seen or, more to the point, heard, any in my recent perambulations. But in Glenview where I work?

Close your eyes and imagine the modulated clash of a hundred Theramins, turned to 11. Or, if you are a '50s creature feature buff, imagine the noise of the ants in Them, multiplied, say, a hundred times. You can hear them through the plate glass windows!

It's kind of scary and kind of fascinating and I think if I had to put up with it day and night it probably would be more than kind of crazy making. But you know, I'm going to miss it when those slow-moving bumbly bugs are gone!

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 01, 2007

More on Marfa...and a Barn Dance

The first evening Jeff and I were in Marfa, after we had enjoyed a tasty (but pricey) meal at Maiya's with Rachel, we hung out at Chase's new coffeehouse and chatted with some of the folks who make Marfa what it is. There was a silk-screen artist who had seen some of Jeff's cartoon-like line art and expressed an interest in making some of the pen-and-ink drawings into posters. There was a musician. There was (much to my delight!) Gina, one of the ladies behind a favorite blog of mine, Yarnbar. Sip, Sip, Knit. My kind of gal. We talked about Marfa, and about Rachel and Chase. They told us that they loved Rachel and Chase. And that Marfa was a magic place.

Then we made our way over the bar at the Paisano, where we met yet more folks who told us how much they loved Rachel and Chase. One couple, Daeryl and Steve, had just gotten married up in the cupola of the courthouse. They had been inspired by Rachel and Chase's wedding. Steve told us proudly about Daeryl's first horrifying glimpse of the stark beauty of West Texas, but how she warmed to the place quickly. And they all told us that Marfa was a magic place.

The next evening, as we tipped a few back at the bar at the Thunderbird Motel after an excellent meal at the Blue Javelina (pesto made with cilantro and pecans, anyone? mmmmm), we met another Steve, an artist from London, now living in Brooklyn, who came to Marfa on vacation and then found a way to come back to work on an art project. HE told us Marfa was a magic place.

And you know, it is. This realization finally hit us full force when we attended a local event, a "conversation" between Lawrence Weschler and Robert Irwin. In a town of a little more than 2,000 people, the venue--which easily held 300 or more--was standing room only. The crowd was appreciative and engaged. The conversation was mesmerizing. Would such an event held in Chicago at, say, the Newberry, bring in as large an audience? Something to ponder.

Anyway... besides the magic that surrounds and infuses Marfa, the one other thing that everyone seemed to be talking about was the Barn Dance, a soiree being tossed by Tigie, a woman who owns a ranch just outside of town. This event was a fund-raiser for the local library, and it attracted quite a turnout.

When we arrived, a quartet was performing old-timey tunes on banjo, guitars, and mandolin. When they were done, the main band took over--which also featured some of the players from the old-timey band.

Some of the members own the Brown Recluse Coffeehouse in Marfa (although word has it they are closing the sale of it), another is the editor of the local paper. Some of them play in a punk band as well. They did a variety of numbers, from country and western standards to Cajun and Zydeco to Reggae inspired oldies to Rock to everyone's favorite, "Waltz Across Texas."

Everyone moved and grooved,

including Rachel, and, despite appearances

everyone, young and old and in between, had a wonderful time.

Alas, the trip was over way too soon. We took a lingering look at the distant town from the kids' yard and turned our rental car north towards El Paso and a flight home to Chicago. We plan to be back in August, though, for more Marfa magic.

Next stop? Freeport, the Bahamas. Stay tuned.