Archives for category: Chicago

Magnificent Mile Male 2Today is Earth Day. The fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, in fact. Today I had the opportunity to accompany Whirl, Matt and Mary on some field research as part of the Chicago Peregrine Program. I got to tag along and climb up high on of the urban cliff sides where these raptors have adapted to living. It was thrilling!

Over the last several years I have assisted my child bride with her research regarding the peregrine falcons in Chicago. This assistance has always been in an impromptu volunteer support capacity. And always from the ground. She would come back from stories of walking around the abandoned Uptown Theatre, or scaling a building setback 40 stories above Wacker Drive and I would feel a mild pang of jealousy. I want to do that! What made today’s trip special was that I was part of the official Field Museum crew visiting a new nest site on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. And I got to go where eagles soar! (Okay, maybe not eagles — sorry, Misfits — but falcons!)

The museum had received a report of a pair of falcons nesting on a building where they have never nested before. Last week Whirl and Mary visited the building briefly and confirmed the nest. Today we returned with two goals: identifying the birds from their legbands and judge the status of the scrape. The first goal is more difficult than you might imagine. The second goal required letting go of any debilitating fear of heights.

Whirl spends hundreds of hours every year confirming and reconfirming the identities of the various falcon pairs in the area. The legbands are small and it is ideal to get photographic evidence of the bands. That’s some tough photography. Action wildlife photography. Action wildlife photography in a battlezone. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit with that last description. But only a bit. Falcons aggressively defend their nest sites. And these birds are well-equipped to do some serious harm to the unprepared.

Magnificent Mile Female 2When building owners learn of their new tenants there is often a period of adjustment. Sometimes buildings wholeheartedly embrace them, like the Evanston Public Library or 1130 S. Michigan. They set up nestcams and enthusiastically provide activity reports. Other buildings are more reticent. And for good reason. The birds are loud. They are messy. They leave prey remains littered about the ground level. Their presence often restricts access to parts of the building. A couple years back, a pair nested on the construction scaffolding of a high rise development, effectively shutting down construction on that section of the building for the nesting season. And some people are just scared of birds. Hitchcock knew this; he made a powerful film about that psychological fear. — There is that aggressive behavior I mentioned earlier. The reactions of the building management and tenants at today’s site are a mix of all of the above. As a result the building has asked the Field Museum personnel to keep the exact location confidential for a while. So the best I can tell you is that the nest is up high on one of the buildings on North Michigan Avenue. If you’re shopping for your prom dress on the Magnificent Mile today, look up. You just might see them.

The Peregrine Falcon Program has been a rewarding project and I’ve been happy to be able to assist in small ways over the past several years: a photograph, or a sighting or an idea here and there. Today was particularly special for me as I got a chance to be part of the day-to-day aspect of the research in a way I hadn’t experienced before. And I thought it was an appropriate activity, given the date.

So that’s my Earth Day 2010. I was somewhere above the Mag Mile looking out over the city trying to take photographs of aggressive, uncooperative models in skimpy outfits and thinking to myself: so this is what it’s like to do a photo shoot with Tyra Banks.

Windy City Rollers All-StarsMy friend, Scorey Feldman, has been on me for several years to come out and see the Windy City Rollers compete. I’ve meant to do so on several occasions, but the opportunity always seemed to have passed by the time I remembered that I wanted to go. A few days ago, I learned that the last home game of the 2009 season was scheduled for Saturday. Again, I meant to tell Whirl about it and ask if she’d like to go. And I got sidetracked. (This is becoming something of a theme in my life. I should do something about that.) So yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the bout, I asked her and some of my friends if they’d like to go. Whirl agreed; my friends had other plans. But Smokes suggested I should call up Scorey and see if I couldn’t get a media pass to shoot the bout from the floor. So I did. And Scorey hooked me up with a photography pass and a media access pass.

The little part of my brain that operates as a photography assignment desk sent over the instructions to the other little part of my brain that is a wannabe sports shooter: go to UIC Pavilion and make photographs that will cause Strazz to weep. (My assignment desk mind has some incredibly high standards.)

Hoosier Mama and Varla VendettaThe night was a double header. Two bouts. The first bout pitted the Windy City Rollers development team Second Wind against the Brewcity Bruisers from Milwaukee. The second bout — the main event — was between the Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice and the Windy City Rollers All-Stars. The WCR All-Stars are the top-ranked team in the region and headed to the National Tournament in Philadelphia in November. The Wheels of Justice are one of the hardest hitting, physical teams in the nation.

So I had about an hour to try and get my act together on how to shoot this sport. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful. Gil Leora, the team photographer, suggested shooting positions and provided some very helpful advice on how to capture the action without becoming an accident of the action. Flash Hottie spent a lot of time with me explaining the rules, the strategy and highlighting some key players to watch. As I said, I’ve never been to a roller derby bout before. And now that I have been, I can state that I really had a great time. It’s a fun sport, with lots of action and strategy. Flash Hottie described it as a martial art mixed with athleticism. And while the redundancy of that statement amused me at the time, I think her irony was intentional. It doesn’t take itself terribly seriously.

Megan Formor 1The entire production is done by volunteers. None of the players or the support staff get paid for what they do. One of my co-workers, Tally Savalas, also works for the WCR as a statistician. He was amused to see me in attendance, and then further intrigued that I was there to shoot it.

As to the results of the bouts, the Second Wind lost a close-fought game against the girls from Milwaukee. The All-Stars game was extremely close for the first three quarters of the game until Varla Vendetta and Eva Dead broke it open and routed the Wheels of Justice 113-73. The breakout scoring all happened in the last twelve minutes due to hard-fought, physical play and some very speedy jammers.

And with that, the team is off to the Nationals.

If you get a chance, check it out!

Marina City, IBM Tower, Trump TowerIt is very difficult to live in Chicago and not recognize the name Daniel Burnham. We have Burnham Harbor, Hotel Burnham, Burnham Park. There is a yacht club and an elementary school named after him. His name is associated with a number of signature Chicago buildings: the Rookery, the Monadnock, and the Fischer Building are but a few that I particularly respect. Burnham led the team of architects and landscapers that put together the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. His efforts spearheaded the construction and successful operation of the White City — an event that brought Chicago back from the ashes of the devistating fire just over twenty years earlier.

And in 1909 Burnham and his co-author Edward H. Bennett published “The Plan of Chicago.” The plan was the first of its kind: a broad view of the city to organize its design, its look and its structure. The 1909 Plan of Chicago marked the birth of the field of city planning. If you live in the city, it is impossible not to be aware of the plan’s impact: the open lakefront, the grid progression of streets and arterial boulevards, the outer park structure, civic and cultural centers.

2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Burnham Plan. As such a number of exhibits and events have been developed to celebrate the Burnham Plan Centennial. One of these exhibits is the Chicago Model City, presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation in the Atrium Gallery of the Santa Fe Building, 224 South Michigan Avenue. The exhibit tells the stories behind the planning of Chicago and presents those whose decisions transformed Chicago.

LaSalle Street CanyonThe centerpiece of Chicago Model City is a 320 square-foot model of the Loop, Near North Side and Near South Side. It includes more than 1000 buildings. But the exhibit is more than just the breathtaking model. There are five sections to the exhibition: Global City, Connected City, Green City, Beautiful City and New City. For each of these themes the Foundation attempts to answer these four questions:

What did the planners see?
What did the planners imagine?
What was the plan?
What happened to the plan?

What is fascinating to me about this exhibition is how the presentation provides a much needed element of reflection upon the full meaning of Burnham’s often repeated quote: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Plans are good; plans are often necessary. Plans provide a framework of accessibility, understanding. Plans provide structure. The challenge that I find myself facing over and over again is to balance the benefits of planning against the vagaries of change. Flexibility, adaptability. Contention with the unforeseen. The survivability of plans once conceived and implemented in the world.

Soldier Field West ColonnadeAs tempted as I am to trot out a series of cliched statements about the benefits and detriments of plans or the lack thereof, I’m going to forego that tact. Instead I’m going to encourage you to visit Chicago Model City for yourself and allow the perspective of a hundred years of modern culture on a large scale to shape your own thoughts on the subject. I initially visited the exhibition to photograph it. I have collected several architectural photographs of Chicago over the years, and I was intrigued by the chance to try and capture these buildings in miniature. But as I reflect on the larger missions of both the Burnham Plan and the centennial I find more interesting, more personal perspectives than those gleaned solely through the camera lens.

Men C3 1The second annual Chicago Criterium ran today in Grant Park. The first race of the day, the Juniors race, started at 7:00 AM, so I trundled out of bed early and walked over to the park. Despite the smallness of the hour, this had a nice photographic benefit of allowing me to shoot in the warm morning light just after sunrise. Normally a Sunday morning at that hour is deserted downtown. The Starbucks by our house doesn’t get busy until at least a couple hours later. But today the Loop was busy already early in the morning.

Men C3 3Last year, I wrote about my experiences with the race. I reminisced about my experiences as a bicycle racer. What I did not mention was that I came to the Criterium without much of a plan. I just came to check it out and see what it was like. I used the excuse that I was going to take pictures to push me over there. But once I was there, I was somewhat at a loss. So I shot a lot of pictures of people I didn’t know and just soaked it all in. It was enlightening to me to be around bike racing again after so many years away from it.

When I posted the pictures I got a number of messages from people expressing interest in the photos or requesting permission to use them on other websites. So this year, I tucked a few of those names in my back pocket and made it a point to seek them out and say hello. One is the father of two boys ages 10 and 12 who are starting racing. Another is the skilled rider whose win in the Category 4s race last year advanced him to Category 3 where he’s raced successfully this year.

Men C3 7This gave my photography some direction. I sought these people out and tried to make interesting pictures of them in action. In effect I was my own photo desk: I gave myself a photo assignment and carried it out. Not that I have a particularly keen understanding of how that sort of assignment works in the real world, but I pretended. I also tried some other techniques. I tried to do some more panning shots. I tried to get a good shot of a start, and of a finish. I’m quite pleased with the results.

My only regret is that I decided to only bring one lens to the race. And it was the same telephoto lens I had brought last year. So I retread some ground, shooting similar shots from similar positions on the course. I wished I had brought my wide angle lens to try and get a different look of the race. I took notes as to what some of the other photographers were trying in hopes that next time I’ll come up with something new.

I had heard that last year’s Criterium was well-received by the cycling community. The announcers reiterated that fact more than once, that USA Cycling (formerly USCF) rated the Chicago Criterium the top criterium race in the nation last year. The rating was based on organization, the course, the schedule, the availability to transportation and a host of factors that might easily be used to demonstrate that Chicago is capable of hosting an Olympic-level cycling event. Several people I talked to expressed that they thought if Chicago were to win the Olympic bid we would see more interest in racing. And if Chicago lost the Olympic bid, they feared this may be the last year for the Criterium. I guess we’ll find out in October.

Dragon Boat Bow This morning Whirl and I took the El down to Chinatown to watch the Dragon Boat Races off Ping Tom Park. This was the ninth year for the Race. It’s presented by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District. We’ve never attended them before. It’s quite an event, and I had a fun time trying to capture some of the excitement with photographs.

I had a number of questions about the sport, how the tournament is structured. What the rules are. And several of the spectators were more than happy to explain what was happening. While most of the teams competing today were company teams put together to raise money for Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Culture and Diversity, I was intrigued to learn that there are professional Dragon Boat teams. And when we saw a couple of these teams take to the river, the difference in skill and technique was easy to discern. They knew what they were doing and were serious about doing it.

Flying MonkeyTeams were comprised of twenty one crewmen: eighteen paddlers, a drummer, a steersman and a flag puller. The tournament began with a series of matched time trials that fed into a seeded elimination bracket. The course was a 1000 yard strait stretch of the south branch of the Chicago River. A typical race lasted about a minute and a half. I was most intrigued by the flag puller. The flag puller is a special crew position aboard the dragon boat. The flag puller rides aboard near the decorated dragon head, out of the way of the drummer. The race is concluded when the flag puller successfully grabs the float flag at the finish line. The flag puller must not miss pulling the flag, otherwise the boat is disqualified. Fellow spectators told me that the flag puller position is called “the monkey.”

Ripped, Greg KotGreg Kot is joining Chuck Klosterman and Nathan Rabin at the DePaul Barnes and Nobel next week to talk about the role of music in their work and lives. I’m planning on attending for a number of reasons. Music is a topic I’m very interested in. Klosterman is an author I’ve come to enjoy a great deal over the past several years. And most coincidentally, Greg Kot is the music columnist for the Chicago Tribune where I work. But that’s not all. Kot’s latest book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music, chronicles the massive changes roiling through the music industry in the past fifteen years. Much of the book discusses the ways the Internet has changed music. But before that, Kot spends several chapters discussing the transformative effects of radio consolidation that gripped the industry in the 1990s: for example, the second chapter of Ripped details the practices of Clear Channel under the direction of Randy Michaels. Randy Michaels is now the current Chief Operating Officer of Tribune Company. Several other key Clear Channel executives were recruited to Tribune eighteen months ago when Tribune Company went private. Meet the new boss, indeed.

So we have a fascinating constellation of topics — personal, professional and accidental — that have come together in a book that has landed almost literally on my doorstep. And much of that, while interesting to me, says very little about the quality of research and attention Kot pays to the subject at hand. Still, I found this quote in a review of Ripped by David Thigpen, former Time music writer, particularly poignant:

Kot’s insider access and the chops honed as a music critic give this book a richness that makes it an indispensable survey of the turbulent turn-of-the-century music scene. Ironically, with the digital revolution also putting newspapers on notice, it’s unlikely the “wired” generation of legions of bedroom bloggers and earnest but unprofessional amateurs will soon produce a writer with the broad perspective and access it took to achieve this book.

Chicago Alefest Whirl and I spent most of the afternoon at Alefest Chicago. It was a beautiful day today, and it just did not seem right not to get outside and enjoy the afternoon. So at about 1:00 in the afternoon, after a leisurely morning cup of coffee, we made our way across Grant Park to the south lawn of Soldier Field. There we found almost fifty different exhibitors with over 150 different rare and craft-brewed beers, ales, lagers, pilsners and … well, my mind gets a little fuzzy if I try too terribly hard to remember them all. We spent four hours at the festival, enjoying ourselves and the delicious beverages that surrounded us. I was rather surprised at the turnout. I had expected, given the tradition of beer-drinking in Chicago, that the festival would have been crazy busy. It wasn’t. I mean, there were people there, but never more than the venue could handle. I never waited more than about 15-30 seconds to get a beer. I met some really friendly and well-educated craft brewers. And did I mention the tasty beer that surrounded us? There were many tasty beers.

Between the two of us, we had forty tickets with which to try various brews. I think we made it through thirty different types before discretion reminded us of its better half. I tried several pils and wheat beers, I found a brewery that made altbier in the style of Germany’s Ruhrgebiet. I tried a strangely refreshing beverage I might never have tried otherwise: a lemon radler from Austria. And most surprisingly of all, I discovered an importer of my all-time favorite beer: Jever Pils. I discovered Jever when I lived in Germany. When I returned to the United States I was saddened to learn Jever did not export outside of the country. Now they do. And I had one for the first time in 18 years. And it was good. It was very good.

The festival included a number of organizations and brewers supporting the craft brew hobby and businesses. If you have an interest in drinking, learning about or making hand-crafted, not mass-produced beer, this is the place to be.

What added a particular sentimental enjoyment for Whirl and me were the memories of our first weekend together. The weekend Whirl and I first met, we attended a similar beer festival in Portland, Oregon. The beer festival was (part of) our first date. It was quite fun to allow those memories to wash over us — accompanied by the warm memories of all the years in between.

motoFirst things first: Moto was great. I had a wonderful time. The food was delicious. The wines were paired with precision. The service was excellent. The room was cool. All around, great restaurant.

Second thing: Moto is not a restaurant. It’s an experience. What I mean by that is yes they serve food, and you might be tricked into trying to compare the whole thing to some of your other places to eat. Don’t. Moto is more than that — and in some ways less. For example there are a lot of things you cannot do at Moto. You cannot smoke. Moto is smoke free. You cannot use your cellphone. You cannot take flash photography. And your entire party must order the same thing. This last restriction is not nearly as onerous as it might initially sound because there are only two items on the menu. They are “ten” and “gtm”: the ten course tasting menu and the grand tasting menu of twenty courses respectively. In essence, you’re deciding how long of an experience you’re interested in having. They estimate the ten-course menu runs between two to three hours. The twenty course meal runs about double. We decided on the ten and it took about two and a half hours to complete.

I said that Moto was more than a restaurant. Here are a couple examples: almost all of the service staff are culinary school graduates. They also work on designing and preparing the dishes. They are smart, knowledgeable and have an admirably subtle sense of humor that comes out in the food they produce and the tableside introductions they present for each dish. The menu changes regularly and rapidly. The meal you have a week from now very well may be different than the one I enjoyed last night. Don’t worry about complications like dietary restrictions or allergies. Part of the reservation process and followed up durring the initial seating by the host is an interview to work out all of those pesky details. Armed with new information the chefs adapt the menu to the particular needs on these grounds. After all, it is in their interest to keep you from going into anaphylactic shock. Stephanie told them about her allergies to shellfish and milkfat and they adapted two of the ten dishes on our menu to accommodate.

Chef Homaro Cantu cooks using the principles of molecular gastronomy. From Wikipedia:

“Molecular gastronomy is a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. It pertains to the mechanisms behind the transformation of ingredients in cooking and the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general (from a scientific point of view).”

The result are dishes that often taste nothing like what they look like. We had a delicious canolli that was actually duck (in a consistency like chocolate): the powdered sugar one would expect on a canolli was powdered jalapeno, the chocolate drizzle was a 30-item mole sauce. Another example of this was the signature cubano pork sandwich shaped like a burning Cuban cigar (and served in the restaurant’s finest ash trays), tobacco leaves replaced by collared leaves, the cigar’s smoldering “ash” fashioned out of black and white sesame. By no means is every dish done this way, food that looks like other food. Many of the dishes were wholly original and unique. There was a yogurt parfait infused with apricot and then sliced in rounds. The apricot infusion formed a yellow smiley face on a white background. All of this was presented of a wide splash of raspberry and blueberry sauce and I swear it looked like a variation on the Comedian’s pin lying in a pool of blood before Rorschach picks it up. Our waiter said that it was not an intentional reference to Watchmen, but I thought the imagery was brilliant, regardless.

The whimsical approach is not limited to the food. I decided against the wine pairing, as I had a 3:00 am scheduled maintenance at work this morning and even 10 small glasses of wine would probably send me over the brink. Stephanie enjoyed the wines and I had a little sip of several of them to get the idea. I ordered a single drink before dinner: the Martini Library. The “library” consisted of eight plastic pipettes two each blue, green, and white and red. Each color was its own drink: a gin martini, a melon martini, a lemondrop and a cranberry margarita. The margarita was brand new on the menu last night. Somehow they managed to get crystals of salt suspended inside the drink inside the pipette for a full salt-on-the-glass margarita experience. The pipettes all sat inside an ice-filled glass to stay cold without getting watered down, and it was very fun to squeeze the individual tubes to get to the goodness inside.

We considered taking the camera to take some pictures, but eventually decided we would simply go and enjoy the experience as presented, without considering how we were going to record it. Many other people have decided the other way. There were a pair of Japanese women sitting next to us shooting away at every dish with a Canon 40D and some nice L glass. Many other people have done similarly and you can find lots of example pictures on Flickr of their experiences.

Each dish is an adventure, and none of what we ate last night was disappointing. I’m tempted to simply describe the place as: post-modern edible art.

When I got home and before I went to bed, I thanked Stephanie multiple times for taking me for my birthday. She gave me a unique and wonderful adventure. One of the many reasons I love her so much.

Thank you, babe!

Further reading:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/03/technology/circuits/03chef.html
http://www.kevineats.com/2009/05/moto-chicago-il.htm

The House on Mango Street, Sandra CisnerosThe Chicago Public Library’s Spring 2009 selection for One Book, One Chicago is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. In 1982, Cisneros received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She used the fellowship to travel to Europe and write about her childhood. She developed the book seemingly accidentally as a series of vignettes, “Fifty pages had been written but I still didn’t think of it as a novel. It was just a jar of buttons.” Poetry and narrative blend in the collection of little stories to create a vibrant picture of a rootless sense of home.

The back jacket cover reads:

Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero. Told in a series of vignettes — sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes deeply joyous — it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of The House on Mango Street.

Pay To Play, Elizabeth Brackett I feel I’ve been on a political roller-coaster this year in Illinois. I’m sure part of that has to do with my work at the political conventions last summer. Another factor you may have read about in the newspaper. And then there’s this story. The story about the Illinois governor arrested on on federal corruption charges last December. January 8th, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach the Governor 114–1. The Illinois Senate subsequently convicted and removed from the Governor from office on January 29, 2009. The Illinois Senate’s vote was unanimous: 59–0. To add insult to injury, the Illinois Senate also unanimously voted to bar the now-former Governor from holding any public office in the state of Illinois. Ever.

All of this raises the question: How did we get here? Veteran Chicago journalist Elizabeth Brackett attempts to explain in her book Pay to Play.

From the back cover:

In Pay to Play, Elizabeth Brackett uncovers new details as she goes behind the story of the first governor to be impeached by the Illinois legislature. All the time tracing the background of corruption in Illinois politics and its implications for state government executive branches across the country, she tells precisely how Blagojevich’s personal biography and his political upbringing paved the way for his reckless fall; what the dilemma of selecting replacement senators means for other states; what secrets the federal trial of the governor is likely to produce; why Roland Burris was selected for the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois; and how a man named Obama could emerge with integrity from the swill of this same political environment.