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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Neil Gaiman's Xmas by 39 Degrees North

Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating! And a very Happy Weekend to the rest!  Despite being Jewish, I miss Christmas, and being in Israel, I feel unashamed at saying so. It’s like I don’t have to be vigilant in guarding my religious traditions by not celebrating others’. I made egg nog, and I found Christmas carols (love the #christmas tag-tuner), and we hung some fairy lights, and we ate a Bouche de Noel (French Yule Log Cake) and a Galette des Rois (Cake of the Kings – another French tradition).

AND these videos were the life of the party and made my week that much easier.  I think they capture the spirit.  If you have a few minutes, they’re intriguing or inspiring or hilarious.  Enjoy!

Neil Gaiman Christmas poem.  WOW:

Trouble with your Blackberry?

Yoga has been so underrepresented on Broadway:

PINA BAUSCH and WIM WENDERS (http://vimeo.com/17772908).  I cannot wait to see this:

Lovely:

Nursing home talent contest.  Hilarious!

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Hit “play” and keep reading.  Just do it.  I’m aiming for some atmosphere here.

Another Friday, another wine tasting.  The wine shop had a decent soundtrack. Sade always takes me back to the summer of 1997.  I had just graduated from high school, I was about to start my first year at the University of Chicago, and life was just buzzing.  I found a great summer job at the Rand McNally store at the mall.  A combination travel bookstore, map store, travel accessories and luggage store, and fancy travel-related gift store (expensive globes, paperweights, penknives with compasses, etc), it was kind of a perfect place for me to work.  My parents were gone half the summer, I had my own car, MTV still played awesome music videos, grunge still clung, nobody had heard of Britney, summer festivals and parades were on the agenda, and the weather was fine fine fine. Not a care in the world.

And Sade.

So much of retail is the same.  You end up standing around a lot.  Today’s wine tasting, included.  I remember three states of being while I was at work: 1) bored; 2) frustrated and ready to go home, and; 3) so busy I couldn’t keep up with the customers and demands.  The time was broken up evenly between the three.  The store’s CD player (a boom box on the floor in the back) alternated between the Best of the Police and Sade.  Perhaps we had some Enya, too.  I was thankful.  The summer before I had to deal with fitting lingerie on fat old ladies while listening to “smooth jazz” (Kenny G and his contemporaries).  I can safely say this is perhaps the one genre of music I really loathe.  But when I hear Sade, I’m transported to that store, the awesome collection books I got to devour, the globes to play with, the funky trinkets like airplane ear plugs and bizarre “hidden” money belts, the word and number and geometry games I would invent for myself when it was slow.  No – it transports me further.  I hear Sade and I can even feel the clothing I wore on me (khaki trousers and bright polo shirts – oh yes it was rather ugly and rather butch), the first diary I ever kept with the cover of Monet’s painting of the woman with a parasol on the hill with the blue skies behind her (I would write dozens and dozens of pages every day, at home, on coffee breaks and lunch, it felt so important somehow), my first NC-17 film (The Pillow Book), and the pennies, yes, probably the hundred or so pennies I tossed up with wishes, one every day, into a large pseudo-rococo fountain in the mall near the store.

My journal cover

And Sade.

And today.  And then.  What a difference.  What little has changed.  I remember my general state that summer being one of sheer excitement.  My “whole life was ahead of me.”  I knew that I would be going away to four years of incredible adventures in universityland.  And four years was an eternity.  As scared as teenagers can be.  As anxious as teenagers can be (and boy was I anxious – those were the days before I knew what panic attacks actually were).  Anything was possible.  And everything was certain.  Now, nothing is certain.  Four years of knowing where you’ll be as opposed to not knowing what each day will bring.  Not knowing what work I will have.  Not knowing where I’ll up and move to.  Not knowing.  And lots of worries about practical things – money, transportation, bills, chores, money, veterinarian appointments, dentist, money, parents, work, work, work, money. Jeez. Is this life?

The funny thing is, I’m still OK.  I’m very OK.  I’m calmer.  I’m dealing.  I am a healthier person.  But boy do I wish I had that certainty again.  Four years.  Sure, there was anxiety up the wazoo, big time.  Mood swings.  Depression.  Self-confidence in the toilet.  But the rapture! College, books, writing, art, travel, the future.  Absolutely certain of the fact that things were about to get better and better.  I’m healthy now.  But I want that optimism back.  The energy.  The certainty.  With my deeper understanding of and perspective on reality, is it possible?  Is this perception even real?

It was a good tasting.  Sold about 10 bottles, 5 of which were really gorgeous, expensive single vineyards.  I haven’t lost it.  If I love something, really love something, I can sell it.  But only if people want to buy it, that is.  Boy was it amazing when I discovered that.  I could sell guidebooks, suitcases, globes, almost anything in that store, because I loved almost everything in that store.  I gave restaurant tips for people going to Paris, for goodness sake.  At 18.

And Sade.

This is no ordinary love.  How ethereal.  How evocative of… a time and place that you feel you remember intimately, but only vaguely, like a dream, like a Mr Holland’s Opus Bill Clinton is Sexy Manhattan Project Priscilla Queen of the Desert  Blade Runner The Real World Milan Kundera Pearl Jam Wimbledon and Chocolate Carmina  Burana Silver Cigarette Case Sunrise on Lake Michigan Womyn’s Bookstore Rocky Horror Endless Cup of Coffee Tori Peppermint Tea Rainbow Melissa Atom Bomb 1984 Washington DC Shakespeare Picasso Posters The Tempest Names Project Angel Hair Pasta Kate Winslet Borders Books Volkswagen Indigo Camp Visit Words Words Words and Heat, kind of place.

No ordinary love. God. What is that?

But.

What love is ordinary?

Retail is limbo.

Christ in Limbo, after Hieronymus Bosch (16th century)

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Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining

It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States.  Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian.  Not so in the US.  Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)?  Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.

For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip.  Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately.  I think I gained a kilo or two while away.  Oh well.

I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text.  Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.

Chicago

  • Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling.  Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu.  I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup.  First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken.  Ugh.
  • IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this.  In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half.  There is nothing even remotely similar.  IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional.  Yes, it’s crap.  But it’s good crap.  Crap you miss.  Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets.  So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup.  At least the coffee is still…coffee.  And endlessly we drank.
  • Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas.  They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself.  Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems.  The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering.  And the pizza was crap.  I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners.  Enough said.  Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever.  Eduardo’s was never my favorite.  And I will never be going back after this.
  • The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed.  It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style.  But there used to be more choices.  They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously.  There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine.  Now, eh.  You order everything, and you don’t get to see it.  It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over.  I had a three-salad combo.  Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think).  They were pretty unremarkable.  Healthy-ish, though.  Filling.  Decent portion for “fast food.”  A good choice at the mall, I guess.
  • The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant.  My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers).  I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts.  That was heaven.  Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town.  We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting.  Don’t ask me why.  Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager.  He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)

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On Saturday I went to alumni weekend.  I nibbled dry pastries at an international brunch, listened to boring speeches at an award ceremony, schmoozed with staff at the alumni center, attended an “uncommon core” class on the nature of happiness, listened to the university president drone on like a highly polished politician, and drank really crappy wine at a “wine tasting.”  And I had a ball.

The University of Chicago glimmering green in the drizzle, gigantic swirling gray sky, stormy cobalt lake,  flagstones solid underfoot, dewy-eyed students on every corner.

I’ve developed an inferiority complex in the years since I graduated from college.  That, or we can call it low self-esteem.  It’s just that sometimes I have to pinch myself – I can’t believe that I was accepted to, studied at, and graduated from the University of Chicago.  Like that fact should somehow make me in awe of myself, except that these days, I usually can’t believe that it was me, that that’s where I learned and grew and blossomed and developed into myself.  Since my convocation, the memory of Chicago, the nostalgia, the mythos, have all increased to legendary proportions, so much so that although I dream of returning to graduate school, I’ve convinced myself that my alma mater would never take me back.  There’s a whole “paradise lost” phenomenon at work here.  Love and alienation.

No more.

On this visit, I felt welcome.  I felt at home.  The anticipated, “everyone has done more, seen more, accomplished more, made more than I have,” feeling never came.  In its stead a real sense of inspiration.  Thank goodness.  Inspiration to continue doing the difficult things I find important, and inspiration to change a lot of what is problematic with my life.  It sounds silly.  But thank god for alumni weekends.  I may still have a place in the world.

Thank you, Chicago.

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The Mad Dash

Whoever thinks life is more exciting and glamorous in the movies doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yesterday, I woke up less than two hours before my international flight.  That’s right.  Re-enacting the Home Alone racing scene was no picnic.  The frantic getting dressed picking up the first clothing I found on the floor, the not peeing, brushing teeth, or washing face, the frantic taxi ride screaming at the driver that I’d pay whatever fine he got if he was ticketed.  The stupid Israelis (I know, I know, I shouldn’t go there) who wouldn’t let me go in front of them and thus I was the last person to check in on the flight.  God!!! The running through the airport.  The catching myself in the mirror and nearly losing it.  Especially the, “I know I forgot something…” feeling that consumed me for hours…

Other joys along the way from Tel Aviv to Chicago:

  • Sitting next to a weird know-it-all with a world clock as a watch who when I asked what time is it when we landed said it was impossible it was 12:45 exactly in Frankfurt – that with the rotation of the planet no time zone was actually one hour different from the previous – and that his watch indicated it was 12: 17.  When I pointed out that I didn’t care what the actual scientific non-daylight-savings, non-regulated-by-time-zones time was, he got huffy.

Being targeted for random special treatment in Frankfurt, aka getting my bags ripped apart by complacent airport staff. Thanks.

  • After repacking and composing myself, same airport security staff seek me out again (while I was in duty free buying a snack), asked me if I spoke Hebrew (um, sh*t, yes…), and told me to come with them.  As it happens there was an Israeli woman who spoke not one word of English or any other language besides Hebrew.  She was tres young (20), religious, scared, recently married, and pregnant.  I was asked to translate everything, including figuring out an embarrassing episode involving her trying to sneak some sort of specialized religious ink on board (they wouldn’t allow it), and forced her to check it (in a tiny woman’s black leather clutch purse), sealing it shut with a mile of tape. 20 minutes of this. I was not compensated for my trouble. Can we say upgrade? Miles? A smile? Kindness, even…?

No. This was the most terrible international flight of my life, courtesy of the bitchiest flight attendants known to man.  I don’t want to sound ageist but, hell, these women were more than 60 years old, fat, tired, grumpy, and they treated us all like mean 4th grade teachers.  I’m not kidding.  They were literally seconds from retirement, and they didn’t care how much it showed.  I was embarrassed for the airline.  AMERICAN AIRLINES, if you must know.  My seatmate was appalled, as she thought American customer service was a matter of pride to us.  So has the world changed.  One lady in particular repeatedly scolded us for the armrest sticking out and bumping her cart, shot us dirty looks, was huffy when I hesitated with my drink choice, and at the very end when I was helping said prepubescent pregnant religious girl with her customs and homeland security forms, actually yelled at us to get in our seats, that we “should have thought about that earlier, now it’s too late.”  Thanks American.

Colon Cancer Cell - the kind she studies

  • Must mention my lovely seatmate. Match made in airline seat assignment heaven. We talked for much of the 9 hours. A brilliant young scientist attending the American Association of Clinical Oncology conference being held this weekend in Chicago.  She will make waves in this field.  We talked about everything, including her cancer research and my writing and relationships and the world and travel, and goodness I’ll regret it if I won’t see her again in my lifetime.  Which isn’t likely as we’re planning on having drinks on Monday.

The famous four in Memphis, December 1956

Upon disembarking, I hit my shin somehow on a seat corner or door edge.  It started swelling so quickly, it felt the size of a golf ball protruding from my leg in under 30 seconds.  Deep Vein Thrombosis flashed across my mind and as idiotic as it was, I spent the next half hour waiting for passport check in an utterly paranoid state, wondering what to do about the throbbing and whether or not it was going to kill me.  Right.

  • My parents met me at the airport (pleasant), got me ice for my leg at McDonald’s (thankfully), whisked me away downtown to a musical called The Million Dollar Quartet, a show that is spun around a real-life evening where Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all played together at Sun Studios, and which my dad swears is going to win the Tony. Despite exhaustion being what it is, the show was very entertaining, and by the time we got him, it was almost 24 hours since I began the ill-fated journey. Or not so ill-fated.

Now I’m just overwhelmed, tired, over-worked (time always ticks everywhere in the world and clients always email).  It’s good.  Work is good.  My head is just spinning more than I’d like.  And I’m still thinking, “what did I forget…I must have forgotten something….”  But the house I grew up in is here.  Huge, full of tchochkes, bursting with food (weird as it is – my mother offered me vacuum sealed guacamole from costco this morning, alongside a selection of 5 cheeses, a defrosted cake-loaf of some sort, and commercial “fresh” squeezed carrot juice that they buy every week).

Can’t help thinking of home, my sister, the cats, the beer olympics I missed last night, the birthdays I’ll be missing, my dear sweet friends who came over to see me off the other night.  No, no.  Let’s get this visit started.

Funnies for you:

Not Always Right: a website about crazy customers, recommended to me by my seatmate. Hilarious!

Home Alone in Hindi! Yes, that’s right. You don’t need to see the whole thing. When I was searching for the airport racing scene, this was the first one to pop up several times.

Who you gonna call? Check out Improv Everywhere’s latest mission.

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Our own personal Proustian Madeleines.  In this case, an Italian sandwich.

If we’re attuned to it, I think we all have these moments daily. A smell we notice while walking down the street, a new food at a cafe, someone’s perfume, laundry, kitchen. And BOOM — you’re instantly transported into a memory.  Sometimes the memory is unclear for me — I can’t pinpoint it, but I can usually assign a time period or location.  Late high school.  Sometime at summer camp.  Ireland.

And sometimes, you know exactly where and when that trigger takes you. That happened to me at lunch yesterday.  I was trying to get some work done at the Loveat on Yehuda HaLevi (after having an awesome haircut at Tomer Reshef, I have to mention — best place in Tel Aviv for curly hair — bar none).  Lunch isn’t cheap at Loveat, but it’s vaguely organic there (perhaps just the coffee), and with the larger sandwiches, you get your choice of side dish — I had a cup of split pea soup — a real treat compared to what you get at most cafes.

Loveat - I really like the atmosphere at this branch

My chicken panini (or gabetta, as they call them here — I’m pretty sure they mean ciabatta; panini would be far more appropriate as that refers to a sandwich often made of a ciabatta; whatever, it’s Israel) was incredible.  When I took the first bite, I was transported back to the 2rd floor coffee shop of the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago.  This cafe functioned on take out — basically, all the restaurants in the neighborhood brought their best takeaways — pad thai, pad seeyu, curry and rice, samosas, and tons and tons of sandwiches.  I was a vegetarian at the time, and I often got the roasted vegetable sandwich from Pizza Capri (it’s still on the menu!).  It was heaven: roasted red peppers, eggplant, perhaps zucchini, perhaps a slice of cheese, and tons and tons of garlic.  I can assert to the fact that it had peppers, eggplant, and garlic — the rest is a little hazy.

Although my Loveat gabetta had chicken, the rest of it was very much like my sandwich of yore.  The roasted red pepper I think was what took me back.  And why is this significant?  I almost lived in that building.  The theatre was on the 3rd floor, and I think I had 80% of my meals from that coffee shop.  I may have eaten more than 200 of those sandwiches over the course of 4 years.  When I had my internship at Steppenwolf Theatre, there was even a Pizza Capri across the street — and I ate it once or twice a week that whole summer.  The flavor and texture of that sandwich represents the blood, sweat, tears, and every ounce of passion I put into my undergraduate education.  It represents the grimy yet super-comfy theatre lounge I hung out at every day, where I ate half my meals, where I caught up and prepped before classes, where I piled onto ancient sofas with friends and collaboratively did the New York Times crossword, where I held weekly production meetings, where I memorized lines, where I read play after play after play, where I played snood and mac-brickout and checked my telnet email account on ancient computers, where I developed and fine-tuned proposals, where I planned my future and dreamed.

Reynolds Club 2nd floor coffee shop - much as I remember it

It’s almost ten years behind me now.  Seems like yesterday, and I can’t believe how far I’ve drifted from what that girl thought she’d be.  And that sandwich.  Do we go back and try to jump start what we used to love or thought we loved?  Is it pointless to try?  Is it too late?  I didn’t know it then, but it was the happiest time of my life.  Sure, I was miserable a lot.  But I was also challenged and busy and growing and trying and achieving and failing and was surrounded by some of the most interesting people I have yet known.  That sandwich yesterday highlighted my relatively isolated and somewhat stagnant state.

It’s time I announced my intentions: I want to go back into academia.  It will be very different this time.  Nostalgia will probably play a distracting and not-too-positive role in this.  But I’m doing it.  It will take time.  Part-time completion courses.  Maybe a second masters degree in order to get where I would like to be — an excellent doctoral program.  Not in theatre.  A social science/philosophy type course.  Life is horrible, complex, beautiful.  I study it anyway.  I want to be with people I can speak with, research with, and who have passion for these abstract and seemingly ridiculous and impractical notions.  Perhaps I’m sounding arrogant and idealistic here.  Probably.

Powerful sandwich, that. Wouldn’t you say?

A fantastic blog article – a picture-laden tour of the University of Chicago — with a particular focus on all its bizarre coffee shops (my fave was not focused on, however — although I am proud to say I frequented ALL of the ones featured).

Imaginative & refreshing cinnamon lemonade at Loveat

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