Two Weeks in Chicago: Part 2 (April 12th – April 19th)


“I’ll tell you where Roger lives…”

On Monday Morning, I took off the El Train at Fullerson Station(Red Line) and walked toward Peggy Notebaert Nature museum while constantly operating the camera. Later, I learned from Roger’s e-mail that I had passed by his house at that time. I have the photo featuring one of his neighbor’s dog, who seemed to be waiting for its master behind the front window.

  After enjoying those heavenly butterflies at Notebaert Museum(My friend Grace Wang should have been there for another ethereal entry on her blog), I saw the place behind the iron fence across W. Fullerton Ave. It was Alfred Caldwell Lily pool and Roger told me later that this is his favourite place. I came to know during re-visit on the next Monday that it had been closed for a while for preservation. But that did not stop me from taking some few shots. All I had to do was putting the camera through the iron fence…. and then click!

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

 Although Lincoln Park Conservatory is less showy than the one at Garfield Park, it has its own charm and soothing effect. And it was much more cheery than animals in the zoo nearby to me. I know, it was early morning, but the animals in the cages were a little depressing sights. Anyway, monkeys were cheerful as usual, and Gorilla family began another day. I just walked around the zoo in formal way and then visited another museum: Chicago Historical Society. I had a good time while informed about Chicago more than the El Train. And Moody Church across the street was another good sight.

 My second Tuesday in Chicago was wholly focused on Gold Coast. After taking pictures of Holy Name Cathedral and Medinah temple, I walked to 860-880 N. Lakeshore Dr. for appreciating Mies Van der Rohe’s Style. After Fourth Presbyterian Church, John Hancock Center, Archbishop Quigley, St. Benedict Flats, I proceeded to N. Astor St for observing beautiful houses of the rich and famous in the past. I wondered whether current recession also affected this place like any other places in Chicago, but I can’t remember seeing “For Sale” around that place.

860-880 N. Lakeshore Dr.

 International Museum of Surgical Science is next to the Polish embassy along N. Lakeshore Dr., which had many flowers on the front lawn for that recent tragedy. The Museum has many items associated with surgery from the past, but the most interesting is the ugliest. They have the collection of many stones from kidneys or gall bladders. After bored a little with old X-ray machines or surgical instruments, my eyes were lightened up just like any other students visiting there. Young or old, we never lose the interest on those freaky shows.

Museum of Contemporary Art

After encountering some good artworks inside Water Tower, I entered Museum of Contemporary Art for free. I could not find all of hidden artworks in the building, but the other works are interesting enough to appreciated for more than one minute. One of the most impressive works, created by New York Artist Alfredo Jaar, was just a bunch of tanks full of water in dark room and images of the Third world from several screens were reflected on the surface of the water in each tank. There was also interesting exhibition about Artist’s Studio, one of them was like the artistic version of “Paranormal Activity”. He just showed us nighttime at his studio with video camera. The message was clear; Nothing happens when he isn’t around, except the cat chasing the mouse. There is the artwork in the lobby which has been periodically changed by its creator. I took a picture of it for future comparison.

  The next stop was Navy Pier and my primary concern was Smith museum of Stained Glass Windows. Some of these stained glasses no longer belonged to their houses, but they are beautiful on their own with various styles. There were neat, ordered ones with Prairie style, and then there are decorative ones based on religious themes. Unlike lots of video games, these are indeed art. You can’t argue with that in front of masterful works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. What am I looking at, the painting or the window?

Smith museum of Stained Glass Windows

 The end of the journey, Ferris Wheel, was quite desolate in contrast. I took a ride and it was very windy and cold evening. But my photographer instinct prevailed over the weather, anyway. Click, Click, Click, Click…..

   With Chicago Cultural Center as the appetizer, I ate Art Institute of Chicago in full course on the next day. In case of the great hall of green and white marvel of Chicago Cultural Center, the emptiness of the space does not matter all. And that awesomely beautiful Tiffany stained glass dome are literally tour-de-force. In case of Art Institute of Chicago, I will give you only two advices. First, be careful of what you really want see, or you might get squirmed by tons of wonderful things to see. Second, if you will make a tour plan, be sure to make Contemporary Art after the 60’s section as the last stop. I still don’t know whether they are simply profound or simply profound, but they are easy to look around and your feet will be happy about that after long tour.

Tiffany stained glass dome of Chicago Cultural Center

  I was quite nervous about meeting Roger Ebert on Thursday. After tinkering with Wi-Fi at Harold Washington Library(I would be happy to die there), I walked to our meeting place, some building on E. Lake Street. My arrival time was around AM 11:45, and I anxiously turned the pages of Gene Siskel Center monthly leaflet while waiting for him at the entrance of the screening room.
  He finally appeared, followed by his nurse Milly, and then his energetic wife Chaz. I didn’t know what to do or what to say except being well-mannered and nice and muttering some words, but he gently led me to the screening room and we watched two movies in row. Thank God we had to hold our opinions about them among local critics. I was afraid we should discuss about them. Chaz told me later not to write about them before US release date and I agreed to that. Michael Phillips(the co-host of “At the Movies”) was also there and he looked less polished than on TV.

  After the screening was finished, Chaz introduced me to Steve Krause, the projectionist who would come to Ebertfest along with James Bond(No, his name is really Bond… James Bond). Like South Korea, the projection is sometimes horrible during screenings in US, especially in case of multiplex theaters. Maybe the screening room looked small, with Steve as your guy, you can watch the movie in the finest condition.
 Even after having a great time at IMAX theater of Navy Pier(we watched “Hubble 3D”), I was still at a loss. With Milly(thanks for Subway turkey sandwich!), I just silently and slowly followed Roger. Roger and I sat on the bench together, and I was still nervous. I even didn’t think of taking photos of us while concentrated on being polite. But Roger casually approached me with these notes and we talked about places I had been to in Chicago and I became more relaxed. We didn’t talk much, but he surely knew how to lead the conversation from an introverted person like me. 
 He was upset for a while about the screening of “Robin Hood”. He had wanted it as a surprise gift for me, but, alas, it was exclusive one for invited critics only. I quietly told him not to mind about that. I somehow knew that news was too good to be true. How could a nameless Korean, a petty amateur critic, watch it before its official screening at Cannes Film Festival?

 I should have told him he showed me far better thing: his house. My first impression was that I seemed to walk into a new art gallery waiting for the opening day. I smelt paint on the wall. I saw a big painting hung on the wall at the living room. I looked into the books stacked on the shelves. And I saw many photos. I recognized not only his family but also lots of people from them. He definitely remembers every one of them. Few minutes later, because I decided to change my train schedule, I was led to the basement, the workplace of Carol Iwata.

 Carol is Roger’s personal assistant who likes “The Devil Wears Prada” unlike Mr. and Mrs. Ebert. Her workplace is where my dream comes true; working hard while surrounded by lots of DVDs and books. That’s something a million of moviegoers will die for, or kill for. Carol belongs to that privileged class where the age of 55 means 35, and she helped me a lot at Marshall Field’s on Saturday. With a first-rate shopping expert, you don’t have to worry about the gifts for your parents. Quid pro quo, I gave some advice on recent Korean movies to her.

Gene Siskel Film Center

 Carol and I had a good time together with interesting movie “Home” at Gene Siskel film Center before dropping by Marshall Field’s. She also recommended me to go to Music Box Theater on N. Southport Ave. I visited there on Sunday, and had a tremendous time with 35 mm projection of “Ran”, and it was like watching the movie for the first time. The themes of the movie was more powerfully presented on the big screen. The organ play before the showings is a nice addition to this attractive theater with the interior of an antique style.

 After “Ran”, I stealthily hopped into screening room #2 for “A Prophet”. Even though I miss first 20-30 minutes, that was fine with me. That was my third watching, and my primary concern was audience reaction. In case of that bloody scene, many people cringed at the violence depicted on the screen and the lady in front of me even turned her head from it.

Music Box

 Let’s get back to Thursday evening. The theory of relativity was adamantly applied to Roger’s home just like any other places in the world. Soon he had to leave for “Robin Hood”. Fortunately, the screening would be held at AMC theater on E. Grand Ave., which I had been considering to go. After saying goodbye to Roger and Chaz at the elevator of AMC theater, I promptly went to watch “Hot Tub Time Machine”. A preposterous comedy movie, but laugh factor is quite high to be satisfied.

 The night life of Chicago had already begun when the movie was over, and I decided to go to Signature Lounge of John Hancock Center on sudden impulse. I was a bad customer who more cared about taking photos of Chicago at night than a glass of non-alcohol cocktail. I compensated for that misdemeanor later with expensive lunch during re-visit few days later(but I still could not stop my camera).

  While waiting for PM 11:30 Metra train at Ogilvie Station, I tried to have some talk with the other at the bar. But it was disaster. He was pretty much drunk and I had to listen to him while quietly sipping a bottle of Blue Moon. It was pretty much like losing virginity to some loser because I had not touched alcohol beside very few exceptions during 8 months. Did I really have to make an exception to the man like him?(but he seemed to be a nice Democrat guy, if he was sobered up)

At Night

 To make it worse, there was some small disaster associated with my bladder(damn beer!) while I tried to get into the apartment in Des Plaines. The levee was not broken down and it was not Katrina. Around 70% of fluid was safely led to Des Plaines Sewer system and I did more excellent hack of job than Brownie in removing the rest of them. I quickly removed soiled clothes and checked whether everything was all right beside that. I was relived that there was nothing to worry about…. except few suspicious drops on Roger’s yearbook with his autograph, the gift for Chong-Ah. I ended my day with operating washing machine and dryer machine while meditating on the comedy of embarrassment. I felt quite bad, but, as I predicted, I feel free to talk and laugh about that now. It becomes a hilarious ending for another day to be remembered in Chicago.

 During four days before Ebertfest mainly consisted of two things; Theater and Architecture tour. On Friday, after the bus tour including the visit to Robie House built by Frank Lloyd Wright and Crown Hall by Mies Van der Rohe, I watched two funny movies(“Date Night” and “Death at a Funeral”). Saturday morning provided the opportunity for Walking Tour by Chicago Architecture Foundation and Boat Tour by Shoreline in row. During my boat tour, there was no Vincent P. Falk on any bridge. Where was he? When I met him during the pizza party on the day before Ebertfest, I asked him and the answer was simple. It was cold and windy and it was before the tour season. My day was a sort of rain check day.

Steppenwolf Theater

 Sunday(April the 18th) evening was another special day. After shopping for my little brother(Nike and A & F), I took a taxi to Music Box theater. After watching two movies, I took the El train at Southport station and took off at North/Clybourn Station, and I arrived at Steppenwolf Theater on N. Halstead St. in time. It was my first time to watch Samuel Beckett’s play on the stage, and the play “Endgame” was beyond my expectation.
 William Peterson, with a little bit of John Malkovich’s mannerism(I could imagine Malkovich delivering the line “Can there be misery loftier than mine?”), was compelling as Hamm, and Ian Barford was an equal match as Clov. The time went fast with witty wordplays between two main characters accompanied by two minor characters, and we were all captivated by the powerful climax. It somehow resonated with “Synecdoche, New York”. If Charlie Kauffman had continued his story more, I think that huge set might have been crumbled into the set of Beckett’s play in the end: no escape but the bottom deep down there. Death is an inescapable truth in our life, regardless of whether we have led a good life or a bad one. That’s really depressing, but, with humor and insightful views on human nature, both works are moving in unconventional ways.

A Lunch at the Top

 After the lunch at Signature Lounge on April 19th, my last afternoon in Chicago was spent with another Chicago Architecture foundation walking tour. The theme of the tour was Modern Skyscrapers and I learned more about the 21th century buildings in Chicago. And dear Mies Van der Rohe was mentioned as frequently as Burnham in other architecture tours. One hour after the tour was finished, I went back to Des Plaines and began to prepare for Ebertfest and the departure on April 26th.

  In midst of all these places I went through, I sometimes observed people and the city itself. I took Metra with people going to work in the morning on weekdays and went back with these people agin in the evening. Baseball season commenced in the first week, so I could see many Cubs or Sox fans on the train during weekend. I was attentive to people having rush hour problem on Bus 20 on one rainy day or observed how bus drivers carefully managed wheelchair-bound people. I read Chicago Sun-Times(cheaper than Chicago Tribune, by the way) and I was curious about what’s going on violent areas of Chicago or recent troubles of Mayor Daley. And I witnessed the spring coming to this city and it was fascinating experience with those beautiful flowers.

 I know this sounds too conventional, but I have to say Chicago is a wonderful place to visit. How many cities in the world do we have where the public transportation makes you feel like floating around in a big, bright, and beautiful model? By the way, I found new favorite snack in US after chocolate raisin: Junior Mints.

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