A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about art

A Day In Chicago

The Pleasures of Sleeping In, The Chicago Institute of Art, Reflecting at Millennium Park, Miller's Pub, Business, and a Long Walk Home

rain 64 °F


It’s funny how most of my adventures begin by sleeping well past my alarm. A rare January thunderstorm rolled through last night, and I took time to appreciate it from the comfort of my bed. When my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m, I didn’t want to get up. I decided to catch the 8:40 am train to Chicago instead of an earlier one. I reset my alarm, and happily dozed off.

Moments later, my nieces started up their daily morning ruckus-not happy at all about having to go to school. Sleeping in is that much sweeter when your housemates have to get up while you lie in about in warm drowsy comfort.

An hour and a half later, my sister came into the room to inform me that, “It’s probably going to rain all day in Chicago, tomorrow is another day.”

She woke me out off a sound sleep. I grunted, and then sleepily told her, “I’ll think about it.” She left, and I wondered why I said that. I’ve learned that if I respond politely to people waking me up, they will go away. I looked at my clock and saw that I had failed to turn my alarm on after I had reset it. I was going to have to get up and get moving if I wanted to catch my train.

I ate a quick breakfast. My sister dropped me off at the train station, and I stepped aboard the Metra north line bound for Chicago.

I took a relaxed approach to Chicago. I walked east to the Chicago Institute of Art. I paid my admission and started wandering through paintings, photographs, statues, armor, antique furniture and the like.
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I enjoy a good piece of art.

I started to get weary and drowsy. This always happens when I visit a museum. Museums strictly regulate the air as not to disturb the paint. I’m a guy who thrives on fresh air, and museum air saps my will to remain upright. I decided to get some fresh air before I became an exhibit called, “Comatose Man on the Floor.”
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The cool air of Chicago revived me. I walked a short block north to Millennium Park. I sat down on a strategically placed bench near the buildings of changing faces.
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I walked across the park to “The Bean,” less commonly known as the “Cloud Gate.” I love the bean. Everyone loves the bean. It’s a great piece of art that brings a smile to the face. I doubt anyone ever walked up to the bean, and said, “I hate this thing.“ Instead, people walk up to it, grab their camera, strike a pose, and snap a picture. I’m no different.
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It was time to eat. I walked a block and a half to Miller’s Pub. I did my research the night before. I found this pub not only convenient and decently rated, but it had a great name. I kept it simple. I ate a great burger with two Dead Guy Ales.

Satiated, I went in search of a cup of coffee. On Jackson St. I stopped at Intelligencia Coffee Brewers. I ordered a medium roast and sat down at a table. I pulled my book out of my pack and began to read. I overheard the other patrons talking about business. I hate business. Business is designed to keep you busy for the wrong reasons. I peeked over my pages and saw that I was the only one reading a book. I try to lead by quiet example. Coffee tastes better with a book in hand.
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I finished my time in Chicago by walking through Union Station. It was a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to see the layout of the Amtrak station before I arrived there two days later to catch the train to New York City. It was a straightforward layout and I passed through to the west entrance. I walked outside and found these giant columns. I love symmetry.

I was satisfied with my day. Chicago is a great day trip. I boarded my train and listened to music until I arrived in Kenosha. “It was a dark and stormy night,” (to steal Snoopy’s line). I decided to walk home. It was a long walk in the rainy gloom. I passed by a cemetery, and I was struck by the darkness of the scene. It became my closing photograph.
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That’s all from the Midwest for now. I’m off to New York City.

Posted by Rhombus 07:17 Archived in USA Tagged art parks cities walking restaurants chicago museum sleep coffee Comments (1)

Forgotten Cemeteries

Visiting a Ghost Town Cemetery

overcast 65 °F

America isn’t an old country. That being said, America does have a lot of history packed into a short two hundred thirty five years. I was thinking about this today as I walked through an old cemetery near the grounds of the ghost town of Clifton, Michigan.
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This cemetery dates back to the copper mining boom of the mid to late 1800’s that swept through the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. I’ve always had a keen interest in ghost towns. I love walking among the ruins of old dilapidated buildings and wondering how and why people lived here, and what happened to them. The copper mining industry of western Michigan is long past. The mines are closed, but the history remains. The once booming towns have been reclaimed by the forest. The cemetery I walked through today has suffered the same fate.
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I walked down a narrow winding trail that snaked through the dark evergreen forest. I had to jump over downed trees that blocked the path, and slipped on the mud from the recent rains. I walked quietly thorough the woods trying not to make much noise. I feel that cemeteries should be quiet places, and I didn’t want to disturb the peace of a silent forest.
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I once visited the cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While walking through the hundreds of gravestones there, pondering this epic civil war battle, a family of tourists bumbled along right next to me. They were a mob, complete with squawking children running amok, loud parents dropping their snack food wrappers here and there, and generally disturbing the peace. They did a good job bothering me, and I was miffed about their disrespect for the place. To them, it could have been Disneyland; just another place to snap a picture of “Bobby” drinking coke and yelling near a statue… Sorry, I digress. The point being: Have some respect.
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So I walked softly when I entered the cemetery grounds. The trail narrowed to a footpath barely 10 inches wide and it rambled through the dark woods past the headstones that marked the graves of the people buried there. The lighting was good; a bright overcast that made the gray of the stonework contrast nicely with the lush green of the surrounding forest. There weren’t many headstones still intact. One hundred and forty years have past since some of these stones had been set, and the forest had reclaimed much of its old territory. Over the years, many of them have been knocked down, chipped, and broken.
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I was struck by the intricate scrollwork, and design of the stones. In my mind, the master stonemasons who designed and carved these stones were far superior to any design you see today. They are works of art, and the time and effort that was put into them is still evident. The stones have a haunting beauty to them; reminders of a forgotten time when this small ghost town was once important.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:14 Archived in USA Tagged art flowers gravestones photography forests cemeteries ghost-towns Comments (0)

Evenings on Eagle River Beach

On Appreciating Natural Sand Art, Where to Find It, and Exploring My Favorite Beach

sunny 58 °F

What I like most about the sculptures that wind and water create, is how temporary they are. Viewing the masterpieces that these simple earth elements produce can be as moving as appreciating any form of beautiful fine art put out by the artistic masters. However, one must have timing, as these treasures rarely last longer than a few hours. Nature allows for a brief gallery show, before it indifferently wipes the slate clean, and relentlessly begins its next piece. It’s as if Leonardo once completing “The Mona Lisa” hung it outside of his workshop for all to see, for an hour, or a day. Then calmly and quite unconcernedly walked out and scraped his canvas clean, dipping it into paint thinner. To follow with immediately beginning “The Last Supper” on the same canvas, and repeating this creation and destruction cycle forever. The wind and water are just as ruthless in their never-ending cycle of creating momentary beauty, only to strip it away back to nothing. Try painting with water on Bhuddic slate, no matter how fast you paint, and how gorgeous the scene, the beauty is only temporary. The water will eventually evaporate leaving you a blank canvas once again. Such is the way of nature.
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Sand is perhaps one of the best mediums for wind and water to work with, and definitely one of my favorites to photograph. Sand is a solid, yet when it congregates, it moves as a liquid. It’s so delicate, yet can take the harshest treatment without breaking down. It can easily be formed into a vast variety of shapes. Sand also allows for amazing contrast in the right lighting. It has good textures, and is perhaps felt best with bare feet. Beyond that, it is available in an unlimited supply.
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It strikes me that for how ferocious Natures forces treat its medium that the result looks as though the tenderest touch created them. They appear to be treated with such delicacy and fragility that the smallest of tremors from an oafish human can easily destroy them. To see an alternative view of what wind and water can do, check out my post I wrote last winter on Natural Ice Sculpture. The same elements are at play, only instead of sand as their medium, they use water.
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As I mentioned, timing is critical to viewing these masterpieces. It is also imperative to go in good lighting. Early morning, or late evening are often best, bringing out the subtle and delicate features of the scene and strongest contrast between shadow and light. The best time to go looking for this fleeting art is just after a strong storm, with strong winds, and rain. Be the first person on the beach in the morning, and keep an eye out. Look down, and walk carefully. If you can, leave the dog at home, as they are indifferent in their footsteps, as most humans are for that matter.
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The best places to find natural sand art are usually where large amounts of sand are found. My two favorites are sand dunes (see Northern Utah and Southern Idaho), and on the beach near a large body of water. I prefer the western shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan as my beach area of choice, specifically Eagle River beach. It has the right kind of sand that works well with water being sculpted into shape by the prevailing westerly winds off Lake Superior.
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I’ve been coming to this beach all of my life, but it’s been only lately that I started to appreciate the amazing beauty that can be found in just one small section of this beach. Every time I visit, it seems it has changed its landscape once again. It’s in not only the patterns and sculpture of sand that I am entranced. The sunsets, clouds, waves, water, air, and awesome power of the lake have me addicted and inspired. I never know what I’m going to see, from dramatic evening light bursting through the dark gray storm clouds, to the small objects that wash ashore finding that perfect spot to make a compelling composition for a photograph. This beach is in a continual state of change and flow, and a better metaphor for life, I can’t think of.
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On many of my jaunts, there is often one scene that stands above all others. It often doesn’t last long, usually as long as the fading sun will allow. I view it as my gift for the day. Not that I am deserving, but as I mentioned, these masterpieces are there for ALL to see-You just have to get out there and look for them. I attempt to absorb these moments in my memory and soul. They give me a strong connection to this place, and make for a pleasant memory while dealing with life’s more mundane requirements. When you catch me staring off into space while waiting in line or answering questions during a job interview, you can guess where I am: Lost among my priceless (and I mean that) collection of natural masterpieces.
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Photographer’s Note:
All of the photographs you see were collected on the same quarter mile section of beach, though taken on different days at different times. For me to walk this quarter mile section of beach, it often takes a couple of hours.
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Posted by Rhombus 08:49 Archived in USA Tagged beaches art sand photography lakeshore philosophy Comments (1)

On American Food and Self Guided Tours

Emma Jean's in Victorville and Exploring the Mission Inn

sunny 103 °F

The question I am asked the most by those visiting the United States for the first time is, “What is the best example of American food?” This is a very tough question to answer. All Americans, even Native Americans (who immigrated long before anyone else) are immigrants from another country. When people came over to settle, they brought recipes and cooking styles from the old country. In every state, there are ethnic pockets from one country or another, the descendants of the original immigrants. In these areas, you’ll find ethnic dishes as the signature food, and often they are the best choice for authentic food. However, is that American food? It is, in the fact that America is a medley of tastes and people. That to sample dishes from here or there is like eating a piece of American pie. Thing of it is, every piece of that pie will have a different taste, flavor, ingredient and cooking style that went into making it.

Another way to look answer the question is that American food is what Native American’s ate, and continue to eat. After all, they were here first. Where they live in the country, decided what food staples they ate. On the plains, they ate buffalo, and used every part of the animal for food, clothing, tools, and shelter. In the Pacific Northwest, they ate salmon. In the north woods of the upper Midwest, they ate deer, trout, and gathered seasonal berries. An interesting culinary vacation could focus strictly on traditional Native American foods.

I know when I’m eating at an all-American restaurant. It has a certain feel to it; often it serves simple foods, but well prepared, and offers that extra bit of love that makes good food great. Ambiance, décor, a good staff, and regulars (diners who show up everyday) are all important as well. If you can find this rare combination of good food, and good ambiance, you will probably consider the restaurant one of the better places you’ve eaten. The Otis Café has it (Otis, Oregon). The Trail Center Lodge has it (Gunflint Trail, MN). Emma Jean’s in Victorville, California definitely has it.

I want to describe the best (and possibly last) example of a classic American greasy spoon that I have ever had the pleasure of dining. They don’t make restaurants like this anymore, and visitors to Southern California would do well to dine at this timeless diner.
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Emma Jean’s is located on historic Route 66, that quintessential American road that “winds from Chicago to L.A.” Route 66 brings with it visions of a simpler time with classic cars, family vacations, drive-ins, quaint motor lodges, and the feeling that the ’America’ dream has been achieved. This roadside diner looks like it came from another era. The dining area is roughly thirty feet, by thirty feet holding four tables, and a long “L” shaped counter with room for about 20 people max. The wall and ceiling are painted white, and lit by long fluorescent tubes. The counter was made of Formica, and worn away in grayish circles from a lifetime of plates sliding on its surface. A clock hung on the wall with the numbers set opposite of normal, and indeed, the hands of it also rotated counterclockwise. It hung next to a large CASH ONLY! Sign. There were some original posters still hanging on the wall where they have been hanging for decades. The place was charming.

Two server’s ran the place, one friendly (it was her first day), and one was the boss, carrying a good-natured no nonsense demeanor, demanding “Whatcha want?” as she took your order. If you go, let her know it’s your first time eating there, and she’ll give you a smile.

We watched the short order cook ply his craft, and he was good. He grabbed orders, and then efficiently slapped down the hash on the hot metal griddle that has decades of flavor soaked into its surface. He split eggs, flipped the bacon, grilled onions, and dropped perfect circles of pancakes, set the toast going, while the order cooked. Then he plated, quickly scraped the griddle and ready again for the next order. He was a whirlwind of activity, and he was amazing to watch. He was surly looking, portly, and did his best to look annoyed, but I caught him smirking several times, as regulars would give him a hard time about him being “slow.” His name was Brian, and he made the famous house burger known appropriately as the “Brian Burger.” He told us, “If you can think it up, I’ll make it.” and the burgers he was making people for breakfast, looked damn good to me, and I’m a burger connoisseur. The next time I go, I’m getting a burger.

More regulars showed up and each greeted the staff with a nod to Brian, and a “good morning” to the servers. They didn’t need menus, and the waitress didn’t even ask what they wanted, a good sign a regular has entered the building. The clientele of Emma Jeans were all overweight. This was another good sign that this was a good place to eat. I was the skinniest person there, but if I lived in the area, I might just put on a few pounds of classic American fat. I had a delicious bacon and egg sandwich with fresh squeezed orange juice. I was stuffed. I asked my friend Mike how his chicken fried steak was, he had a glazed look on his face, and his mumbled response was, “It wounded me.” If he died from his food, I believe Mike would’ve died happy. We drove the hour back to Mike’s house, and both of us settled in for a long nap. This was another good sign that the food was good.

Emma Jean’s is an American Icon.
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Mike took me on another one of his unofficial tours, this time of the Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside, California. The Spanish Mission style hotel has been in business since 1876. The Mission Inn offers luxury lodging in a unique setting. As part of California’s state historical sites, it offers daily tours to tourists who want to explore this sprawling slice of opulent history. Not only does the Mission Inn cater to lodging, but it also can accommodate weddings, reunions, and other get together meetings in its many halls.
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Since we missed the daily tour, Mike and I went in, and went on a tour of our own. We gawked at all the amazing artwork, carvings, statues, paintings, architecture, stained glass windows, and fountains found throughout the grounds. We pretended that we were guests out to see the Mission Inn. I decided to put on an air of affluent, arrogant, boredom that I imagined the rich might wear when out in public in a classy place such as the Mission Inn. I know this is stereotyping rich people, and not fair at all. The truth is, all of the rich people I know are very down to earth, and approachable. I’m sure I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway, as I was wearing my stained Hanes white tee shirt, and taking pictures like my life depended on it. It was fun though, to pretend I was one of the Bostonian Cabots or Lowells, though I don’t think I acted the part very well.
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I really liked the center courtyard. Upon entering, a feeling of peace and serenity seemed to emanate from the courtyard bricks. The courtyard soothed guests like a cool oasis in the desert heat, accomplishing this with comfortable seating, a perfect choice of soft classical music played in surround sound, views of the upper levels swathed in flowers, statues, and interesting architecture. Birds seem to like this area as well, and songbirds would chime in from time to time from their perch in the trees. Tranquil comes to mind, a great place to lounge away the afternoon, forgetting that on the other side of the building was hot asphalt of traffic, deadlines, and hurry.
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Supposedly, there are catacombs that run underneath the mission. I’m fascinated by catacombs, even though I’ve never been in any before. We weren’t allowed to enter them however, as they were no longer open to the public. The Fire Marshall closed down that part of the tour, as they weren’t up to code. Bah! Mike told me a few stories about sneaking into them as a kid, which only fueled my curiosity, but it wasn’t to be.
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I enjoyed the “tour”, and someday if I find myself with actual currency to my name, I might just stay the night at the old Mission Inn.

Posted by Rhombus 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged art buildings photography lodging Comments (0)

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