July 12, 2017

A Portrait of CHICAGO


When the GPS navigation voice made us turn on Washington Street because our hotel would be on the right, I realized we were right in the heart of the city. While the valet waited for us to take our luggage from the car which we stopped almost chaotically in the middle of the busy street, I listened to the street musicians jazzing under the iconic green Marshall Field's Clock. Inside of an unassuming perfectly preserved Historic Building – typical office corridors with mahogany doors and trim, multicoloured marble walls, ceilings and floors, and an original ornate open elevator grill – a friendly smile from hotel receptionist welcomed us to the Loop. From the window of our tiny, but comfortable room, I was able to see the illuminating sign of the Historic Chicago Theatre in the bustling Theatre District. I felt that our weekend trip to the Windy City, the Working City, the Second City, the White City, whatever name you pick from the numerous nicknames given throughout the years, was going to be fabulous. And partially because it was the beginning of June and every local we met affirmed us that there was nothing like summer in Chicago – boats would be on the lake, festivals and concerts in the park and locals on the beach soaking up the short months of sunshine.  
I thought a lot of how to describe this wonderful, self-made, industrious American town that had surprisingly impressed me with its hospitality, unpretentiousness (perhaps realness), bold spirit and most of all its remarkable ART. What was that single word that defines it, that identifies the life that was happening there, that establishes Chicago like a place nowhere else among the metropolises of North America. And the word that came up first and most often to my mind was LIVEABLE. It is an adjective, of course, but derived from a verb and as a visitor I think it captures the vibes pretty well.
Chicago is a LIVEable city, a working city, and as one English Professor once said "an underdog city and a good place for an underdog to live". Frankly, I felt that from the first minute I put my feet on Washington Street, sort of inexplicably, but tangibly. Against my dislike to compare one city to another or one country to another, Chicago seemed to me more liveable than the city of New York, one of my all time favourite cities in the world, and more real than Miami, for example.
Despite all the beautiful signature clocks registering the time, Chicago happened rather slowly... like the gently moving Chicago River in the middle of downtown. Chicago happened less ostentatiously, but not less convincingly for a huge, yet life-sized city... like the great waters of lake Michigan which is as big as a sea, but it is still a lovely lake. Even the iconic 'L' trains passing over the river seemed to move slowly than any other trains in the world and I mean it as a compliment.
Chicago is a city of details. You might not get the big picture at first, but if you look up and look closely you will see the spectacular details that are everywhere and make the picture unforgettable. The wealth of innovative architecture rebuilt in record speed after the destruction of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and the museum collections as well as the outdoor public art (created by Miro, Picasso, Moor, Chagall and other prominent modern artists) is impressive and inspirational for every art lover.
Chicago also gives an impression of a city that stays true to itself, to its roots, to its communities, to its waterways. Diverse. Creative. Dichotomous. Strangely attractive. Modest.
Livable...
And I believe it will always be there waiting for my return with a glass of Rosé and a romantic Riverwalk view of the boats going by under the movable bridges...


Recommendations: 

STAY
The Alise Chicago
Housed in a landmark 1895 skyscraper, designed by the widely known architect Daniel Burnham, this elegant hotel is a short walk away from Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and all the major cultural institutions in the Loop. Personable and polished service. Pricey valet parking.  

EAT 
Giordano's  
Located in the heart of downtown, this cozy, a "Cheers"-like type restaurant, opened in 1974 by two Italian brothers immigrated to Chicago from a small town near Torino, serves the best, fresh from the oven, steaming hot, picture-perfect stuffed deep-dish pizza; the recipe is the same as the recipe of their Mama Giordano's double-crust, cheese stuffed pie which she used to serve on special occasions.
What a wonderful story it is, isn't it?      

Portillo's
For a Chicago-style hot dog: an all-beef frankfurter on a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped onion, relish, a dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt. Actually, where you go to try it seems to me less important than how you eat it – Do not put ketchup on a Chicago dog!

Toni Parisserie and Cafe 
Located in the Pittsfield Building, one of Chicago's finest 1920-era beautiful skyscrapers on Washington St, right off Michigan Avenue, it is a good choice for a French-style lunch with delicious macarons and pastries for a dessert.
Do not forget to wander into the lobby of Pittsfield and take delight in its gorgeous interior and coffered ceiling.

City Winery on The Riverwalk
With its wonderful location, nestled next to the water, this is a place for true relaxation on a summer evening with a glass of Rosé while people-watching. It offers Mediterranean-style dishes.

3 Arts Club Cafe
One of the highlights during our trip!
Located north of downtown in the Gold Coast Historic District, this place is really special. I suggest to take a walk and explore the charming, affluent neighbourhood. The restaurant inhabits a five-floor landmark building of 1914 which used to house young women studying music, drama and the visual art from where it has obtained the name Three Arts Club. Restored by Restoration Hardware, the Grand Courtyard with its historic fountain, window ceiling, gorgeous chandeliers and Heritage olive trees is nothing less than spectacular.

EXPLORE
Millenium Park
A place for art, music, architecture and landscape design, this big public park features:
Jay Pritzker Pavilion , designed by Frank Gehry for outdoor concerts;
Cloud Gate or The Bean, one of the largest sculptures in the world made from highly polished stainless steel plates by British artist Anish Kapoor that provides a distorted mirror of the city skyline;
Crown Fountain, an interactive video fountain inspired by the people of Chicago, whose faces appear via LED display on the 50-foot-tall glass block towers. Truly impressive!
Lure Garden, a leader in cutting-edge design and responsible gardening, the garden pays homage to the city's motto "Urbs in Horto", City in a Garden;

Buckingham Memorial Fountain
One of the largest in the world, this beautiful fountain is located in Grand Park close to The Bean and produces a major twenty-minute water display every hour; at sunset it is accompanied by music and colourful lights.

Willis (formerly Sears) Tower
The Chicago's tallest building, once the tallest building in the world, with its glass Skydeck puts you 1,353 feet over the city simply to experience the amazing 360 view spanning up to four states.

Architectural Boat Tour
A fantastic way to explore the architectural history of Chicago along all three branches of Chicago river.

Chicago Riverwalk
Stroll the scenic 1.25-mile pedestrian stretch on the Chicago River full of restaurants, places to just sit, public art exhibitions and boat rentals.

Theatre District 
Chicago owns a well established live theatre scene and many, many theatres in downtown. The famous Chicago Theatre, opened in 1921 is probably the most recognizable landmark of the city with its massive, vertical sign. It offers a variety of performances as well as a behind the scenes tour. The very popular musical Hamilton can be seen at The PrivateBank Theatre through January, 2018  

Chicago Cultural Centre 
A beaux art-style building that hosts a variety of free performances, events and exhibitions. Here you can see the spectacular world's largest stained glass Tiffany Dome.

The Chicago Picasso 
Perhaps the most iconic piece of public art, located at Daley Plaza, the untitled Picasso sculpture celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and you can even climb on it if you feel like doing so.

Abraham Lincoln "Return Visit" Sculpture 
A 25-foot-tall interesting bronze installation created by 86-year-old artist Seward Johnson, who also designed the well known big Marilyn Monroe statue, is located at Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue until the end of the year. It depicts Abraham Lincoln handing a copy of the Gettysburg Address to a modern-day man, with Lincoln gesturing to the window where he stayed the night before delivering the "all men are created equal" speech.  
 
Navy Pier
It is a 3,000-foot-long pier that reaches across lake Michigan and is full of restaurants, theatres, boats amusements, live performances and attractions. There is a tall ferris wheel, called Centennial Wheel, offering an amazing view of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Fireworks in the summer – Wednesday and Saturday nights.  

 Art Institution of Chicago
My favourite personal experience! I could easily spend my entire day contemplating all the masterpieces on the walls.   
The second largest museum in the country, the gallery is voted the best museum in the world for 2016 by TripAdvisor, based on an analysis of travellers' reviews. But even if it is not, the Art Institution of Chicago sure felt like a world-class art museum with its 300,000 pieces of art and the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Paris. It is like time travel with so much to see and so little time (especially if you are not a local). Do not forget to take a coffee break at one of the fine cafés in the museum. I enjoyed every bit of my visit there and can't wait to go back and explore more.


May 22, 2017

Spring, Tulips & Chocolate Cake



I blinked... and it was May again, pouring its aliveness over me...
I've been watching the group of yellow and red tulips in the corner of the back yard. And boy, they loooove the sunshine. Every morning when the warm spring sun touches their petals, they bring their bountiful colors to the world, fully open to the light until the evening twilight makes them calm down and relax in peace and fulfillment. I've been watching the white and pink tulips in the pitcher playing with the warmth in the room, making the known-like-the back-of-my-hand space cheer up. Spring isn't spring without tulips, is it?
I've been crossing the streets of the city witnessing the awakening of the apple trees, the magnificent display of the magnolia's fragrant blossoms followed by the dancing lilacs in the wind...
And I have been soaking it all up...
Passing trough the ordinary dailyness, you think your life is pretty normal, but you can't miss a little spring bulb blooming inside of your body filling it up with unexpected energy. You can't miss the sense of change penetrating the air with hope, promises and newness. Someone once said that "when the beautiful spring comes and nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also."
I found this to be true. But! What I also noticed is that we don't talk about the human soul very much anymore. We spend time writing emails, messages with emojis, posts on social media, and long resumes with our achievements and expertise abilities, but sharing with others our true soul is something more of us have forgotten how to do. With each person we meet dwells an inner life and we mostly see their outer flower – the blue eyes and the small nose, the title or perhaps political beliefs, the shyness or the brimming confidence. But by peeling the petals, within that flower resides the human soul. One that is timeless, that is Self, that is "a unique event in the history of the universe", that is what a person is and what he or she will always be. Inside every corolla is an ache to be heard. But how many of us today show a genuine interest in others? How many of us today have the time to listen to a stranger or even a friend trying to communicate something deep, something coming from his heart, something he believes in, or troubles him or fills him with joy? How many of us are listeners with no attachments to views, absolute knowledge and prejudices avoiding assumptions and judgments? There is so much noise out there every day – iPhones, iPods, podcasts, newsfeed, headlines, headphones – we can barely hear the voice of our own soul much less to find room for another voice. How many of us are comfortable with taking down the walls, opening up and sharing our souls as vulnerable, strong, appalled or joyous as they might be?
I recently found a new favorite quote "I hate small talk", someone unknown wrote. "I wanna talk about atoms, death, aliens, sex, magic, intellect, the meaning of life, faraway galaxies, the lies you've told, your flaws, your favourite scents, your childhood, what keeps you up night, your insecurity and fears...
I like people with depth, who speak emotion, a twisted mind. I don't want to know "what's up."  
Today, that is me.
I've had my own share of preoccupation with my thoughts, opinions and knowledge so that I was ignorant or easily irritated by someone trying to fill my space with unneeded information and emotions. Not any longer. I can see the treasure trove of wisdom, experiences and unique perspective that everyone is longing to express in one way or another. I want to talk about the soul. I am ready to listen. I want your soul to touch my soul... while we talk. I know that your Self will extend a hand to my Self to find my true voice by listening to the voice of my soul. I know this would be the most honest way to craft the most authentic version of myself. I am not taking the human connection for granted; in fact, I believe that sharing our soul with others reveals true humanity and beauty in being connected. Words and actions that emerge from our soul can bring love, compassion and kindness – the only cure for our broken world. We just have to open ourselves the same way the tulips in the spring open to the sun.


"We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. 
Meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; 
the wise silence; 
the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; 
the eternal One. 
And this deep power in which we exist, 
and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, 
is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, 
but the act of seeing and the thing seen, 
the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, 
are one. 
We see the world piece by piece, 
as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; 
but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, 
is the soul." 
                                                                                                                             Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Over-Soul", 1841




I baked this moist, creamy and rich in flavor Triple-Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake from a recipe from Souther Living Magazine – a keeper for every chocolate lover.



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