For breakfast, we once again opted for convenience: the Corner Bakery Café, right next to the Palmer House. (ID and vax pass required, though if we had done take-out we might have been able to avoid that.) One of the reasons Porter chose the Palmer House as our hotel was that it is right in the middle of most of what we planned to do. Our goal this morning, the Art Institute of Chicago, was only a short walk away.
We didn't go there directly, however, but stopped along the way at Millennium Park. (I only just discovered that link, which turns out to be somewhat depressing. First of all, it comes with a bright pink ad at the top for the COVID-19 vaccine. Then there's the list of prohibited items, including jackknives, pets, and suitcases. Chicago is weirder than I thought. For us, it was just a pleasant little city park with an arresting sculpture in the middle. No one asked for proof of vaccination, and we didn't even have to wear our masks. (But we sometimes did, for the warmth.)
On to the Art Institute! (ID, vax passes, and masks required.)
One great advantage of a large museum is that the art is diverse. The weird art and still weirder commentary is there, but it's avoidable. Our party split up here, for maximum flexibility.
The Art Institute hosts an impressive collection of masterworks. For me, one of the most fun was Van Gogh's Bedroom, chiefly because it meant we have now seen all three of Van Gogh's versions of the painting: one in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris (2007), the next at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (2018), and finally this one (2022).
Those of us who have spent time with Porter in museums expected we'd be there from opening until the museum closed, but as it happened we all ran out of energy at the same time, leaving the museum about an hour and a half early in favor of dinner and some rest before our big evening event: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert.
There wasn't as much rest as we had hoped. Did I mention that we were visiting Chicago in the middle of winter? And that on this night a big winter storm was hitting the Northeast? While we were supposed to be resting, we got the news that Faith's Sunday flight from Chicago to Boston had been cancelled. Ours to Orlando was still good, but we were not about to get on a plane and leave a thirteen-year-old behind to spend the night alone in the airport (or even in a hotel). We batted around several possible options, including one in which one of our choir ladies volunteered to give up her Orlando-bound seat to Faith, rent a car, and go visit her sister, who lived a mere four-hour drive from Chicago!
Cooler heads prevailed, however, and as the concert time approached, Faith's mom told us firmly, "Faith has been greatly looking forward to this concert, so go and enjoy it. We will take care of the problem." So off we went, once again on foot, as Symphony Center is only a short walk from the Palmer House. ID, vax pass, and yes, masks were once again the order of the day night. By now were were getting pretty good at the drill, and Faith's extra-large paperwork was still bringing smiles.
While Faith's dad worked on her problem, the four of us had our own work to do once we entered the concert hall. Twenty-four hours before our flight time was just 10 minutes before the start of the concert. Since we were flying Southwest, that meant we were checking in from our concert seats. That could have worked out very well—except that our seats were in a wireless dead zone and the four of us were soon seen scurrying around the lobby waving our phones and searching for a signal. (I found one near the restrooms.) Finally, it was "mission accomplished" for us, and more critically, for Faith, whose dad had found her a flight that went to Manchester, NH with a plane change in Baltimore. Not ideal, with the risk of the connecting flight being itself cancelled, but if Faith and her parents were comfortable with it, who were we to impose our fears on them? Just in time, we were able to settle down and enjoy the music of Vivaldi and Handel. (Click on program images to enlarge.)
Faith, Porter, and I had special seats—behind the orchestra. We were nearly close enough to read the players' music. Most of the musicians had standard sheet music, but the harpsichord player used an iPad with a foot pedal for turning pages.
Best of all was being directly opposite conductor Riccardo Muti and able to see his skill close-up. He did not use a baton, but did all his directing with his hands. Correction—he also used his face, and did not wear a mask. What he did was as far from "keeping the beat" as you can imagine. He sculpted the music. At times he didn't appear to conduct at all, letting the musicians do their work, adding just a small hand gesture here, an eyebrow twitch there. Absolutely fascinating.
We had come prepared for a cold, cold walk in bitter wind after the concert, but it really wasn't bad at all. A balmy 21 degrees and almost pleasant. The coldest temperature I saw during the whole trip was 12 degrees, and at that time I was snuggled warmly in bed.
We had earned our rest this day. The next would bring delight of a different sort.
We interrupt the story of our trip to Chicago to bring you something as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
S. D. Smith, author of the Green Ember books, wrote:
I’m never sure what to say when world events are so intense and the words of an ordinary children’s author from West Virginia on social media feel so unnecessary. “Stay in your lane,” I tell myself. ... So, while ordinary men kissed their wives and children and turned to fight to protect their homeland from invasion, I wrote. I wrote thousands and thousands of words—in private—on a story that I’ve been working on for many months with my son. I kept at it while a new war in Europe intensified and drew the attention of the world. ... Though it feels relatively unimportant, I think creating and sharing soul-forming stories is of great long-term value. My lane is an avenue that goes straight through the hearts of children God made and loves and intends for his kingdom of light. No small thing. It’s a good little lane. So I write on.
Composing choral anthems is John Rutter's "good little lane." It's no surprise that his response to the tragedy in the Ukraine was to write music. He has made his A Ukrainian Prayer available to choral directors for free, with the suggestion that they make a donation to a relief organization serving the Ukrainian people.
Our choir sang it in church today. Based on the comments we received afterwards, the congregation appreciated both Rutter's music and the fact that we sang it at this time. I'll admit that both the alto and the tenor parts were weaker at the beginning than they had been in rehearsal, due to the fact that the two of us were unexpectedly hit in the emotional solar plexus as we started to sing—and I'm told we weren't the only ones.
Here's not-our-choir, with Rutter conducting. The video starts at the beginning of the piece, but if you want you can go back to the beginning and hear Rutter's commentary. This is sung in Ukrainian; the literal translation is "Lord, protect Ukraine. Give us strength, faith, and hope, our Father. Amen." Our choir sang the English version.
As our own choir director said, "It's not every musician who can just round up 300 of his closest friends to try out his composition."
Bonus for those who know: See if you can spot the point where I did a double-take and discovered our grandson's secret life as an English chorister.
After getting squared away at the Palmer House, the next order of business was food. We had planned only one meal ahead of time, having made reservations for "Afternoon Tea & Samovar Service" at the famed Russian Tea Time restaurant. Pricey, but an experience not to be missed. (At the present time, it seems worth noting that the owners are Ukrainian.)
All Chicago restaurants require you to show a photo ID and proof of vaccination, which they scrutinize with exaggerated care. It makes me wonder whether there are undercover spies ready to pounce on the hapless restaurant owner who approaches the task too casually, or if the citizens themselves are eager to rat out a business they think is shirking its duty. Or maybe the culprit is bad eyesight: Our granddaughter's vaccination certificate was an 8.5x11 copy of the real thing, and its easy visibilty made the gatekeepers very happy.
Our next move was to take the train to the John Hancock Center, then ride the elevator to the 94th floor and the 360 Chicago observation deck. (ID and vax pass required, again.) Here's the view looking north.
The view itself was worth the visit, but the real reason we came was for the TILT, which tipped us over for an impressive view down the side of the building to the street below. One of us opted to skip the experience and was thus able to record it.
Here's an outside view from a STRUCTURE magazine article.
For dinner, we chose to eat at Hot Woks, Cool Sushi. It was not spectacular, but close to the hotel and enjoyable enough that we returned the following night. Except for Russian Tea Time, our focus this trip was not on food. My only regret was not having any pizza at all. How can one go to Chicago and not eat pizza? I guess we'll need to return.
Having been up at a morning hour closer to three than four, followed by a busy day, our idea of great night life was a good night's sleep. Who am I kidding? My idea of great night life is always a good night's sleep. :)
Saturday would be quite a full day as well.
Who would visit Chicago in the middle of winter?
There are plenty of reasons to visit Chicago, but the spark that inspired this particular trip was wanting to see our beloved former rector and to visit his new church in the Rogers Park area. But why in January? Let's just say that an expiring Southwest Airlines ticket had something to do with it.
Because of the pandemic, we were able to get a great deal at the beautiful Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago, the place where Porter had lived back when he was working in the city and IBM was paying the bills. Being able to get tickets for a baroque concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Riccardo Muti sealed the deal.
Lo and behold, there were two intrepid women from our church choir who chose to brave the weather and take advantage of Porter's travel-planning skills. Our thirteen-year-old niece from New Hampshire—who fears neither cold weather nor solo travelling—also chose to join us. We made a happy and compatible quintet for the adventure.
After meeting up at Midway Airport, we took the L downtown, being thankful for Porter's previous experience with the system. That trip began with a humbling experience for me. I had not yet learned that Chicago L drivers are prone to leaving their stations with substantial lurches and no regard for whether or not their passengers have actually found a seat. I was in the process of moving into one when suddenly I found myself flat on my back in the aisle. I consider my balance to be very good, and actually practice recovering from such jerking about when I can. In this case, however, I had neglected to take into consideration that the substantial backpack-suitcase I was carrying had altered my center of gravity. Boom—there I was, as helpless as a turtle and in noticeable pain. My fellow passengers came to my rescue, and very soon the physical pain was much less obvious than the embarrassment. I blessed our thrice-weekly water aerobics classes with their emphasis on strengthening exactly those muscles that had sprung immediately into play to protect my spine. It turned out to be two weeks before those muscles fully recovered, but outside of a little stiffness, the injury gave me no problems the rest of our trip.
Checking into the Palmer House went smoothly—almost. That's when I ran into a problem of a different sort: a crisis of conscience. We had been warned to bring masks and vaccination certificates with us, but were still shocked at the reality that met us in Chicago.
We could have gone straight to our rooms without showing our cards, but that was all. Attempting to sit in the lobby and talk while waiting for our restaurant reservation time provoked an immediate response from a lurking vulture hotel official, who demanded our papers and, after closely scrutinizing them, branded us with a wristband like those you get at some amusement parks. I was not amused. To begin with, I hate those things. I don't wear necklaces, bracelets, or any ring except for my wedding ring; frankly, that kind of constriction Freaks. Me. Out. I hope I never have to break the law, because I will not do well with handcuffs.
But that's just me; it has nothing to do with my conscience. That comes in because I strongly believe that the division of society into Vaccinated and Unvaccinated, along with discrimination against the latter, is immoral. I like to think that in Nazi Germany I would have been among the brave gentile German citizens who chose to wear the yellow star to demonstrate solidarity with their Jewish brothers. But in this case, I caved.
After about five minutes of torment trying to find a way out of the wrist band, I decided to pretend I had entered a foreign country, instead of another American city. After all, when we visited the Gambia I wore a long skirt every time I went out in public, out of respect for the local customs. And I never wear skirts. Foreign cultures often make one do things that seem unreasonable. Armed with that insight, I was able to manage the rest of the trip, even though everywhere else we went, with the notable exception of church, public transit, and outdoor spaces, required us to show our papers (proof of vaccination and photo ID). Porter found the experience unnervingly similar to his visit to East Berlin in the 1960's.
That's enough about the bad part. In all other ways, our Chicago experience was fantastic! (More to come.)
I've backed a few Kickstarter projects in my time, at the intersection of an interesting concept, a person or cause I'd like to support, and an affordable price. That's how my beloved Green Ember books began, though they've since moved on to more standard publishing.
That's not a one-way street. Brandon Sanderson—my eldest grandson's favorite author, whose books are prized by several others in our family, including me—has a current Kickstarter project going, even though he's multi, multi-published in the ordinary way.
But I don't think I'll be backing this one.
First, the lowest tier of support is $40, which is not exorbitant considering you get four e-books at that level, and $10 is a pretty standard price for his books on Kindle. But I can easily wait for a sale. I'm a fan, but nowhere near a FAN fan.
More importantly, Sanderson hardly needs my support. Even after deciding not to back the project, I've been checking in occasionally on the Kickstarter page for the amusement of watching the numbers climb. When I was a young child, I loved to watch the numbers grow on the gas pump as the tank filled, and I always rooted for a new record high. My parents didn't quite share my enthusiasm.
Sanderson's project is now the number one Kickstarter project of all time, and that by a huge margin.
I thought a million dollars was an ambitious goal, but apparently it had reached ten million before the first day was over.
Eighteen days into the campaign, I captured the following screenshot:
It will be much higher by the time I hit, "Publish." The pace has slowed a bit, but you can still watch the numbers grow in real time, even if it's now more of a 1950's gas pump pace than 2022.
More than 17,000 people have backed this project at the highest ($500) level.
How's that for an author most of you have never heard of?
Porter has been doing yeoman's work sorting through the information, misinformation, and distorted information available to us about the war in the Ukraine. I don't have the patience. But it is amusing, when it's not depressing, to listen to him watching the nightly news: "They're reporting as new something I heard about yesterday," and "that video is at least three days old."
In the process, he discovered Chris Cappy. He's an Iraq vet with an informative and entertaining style that goes so far as to make military history, weapons, strategy, and tactics interesting even to me. His updates on the war are—as far as in my ignorance I can tell—knowledgeable and fair, with a minimum of emotion and propaganda.
The following video (24 minutes) is a good example, which not only gives an update on the war (as of March 15), but makes a good case for why Big Tech's shutdown of Russian sources on social media is dangerous as well as insulting.
Remember 2019? Must have been at least a decade ago, right? Who'd have thought we could pack so much pandemic, riot, and war into two years.
Nonetheless, my post for March 16, 2019 is at least as appropriate now as it was then, so I'm repeating it.
Sandwiched between 3:14 (Pi Day) and 3:17 (St. Patrick's Day) is
3:16 (Greatest Love Day)
John 3:16, that is.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In honor of which I present this beautiful anthem, John Stainer's God So Loved the World. No, that's not our choir. But Porter and I have sung this many times and it's one of our favorites.
Are you a person who prays?
Are you praying for the Ukraine, its people, and its leaders? Good. They need it, obviously and desperately.
But are you also praying for Russia? Are you praying for Vladimir Putin and his advisors?
I can't speak for any other traditions of prayer, but for Christians our responsibility is crystal clear: In addition to other Biblical precedent, we have a direct command from Our Lord to love and pray for our enemies.
If that isn't good enough, consider that the Russian people didn't ask for this. If we rightly fear domination of the people of Ukraine by Putin and the Russian oligarchs, we know that the Russians have been living that life all along.
Our sanctions may convince Putin to withdraw his forces, or they may drive him into desperate actions and alliances that will come back to bite us hard. That's not clear yet. What is definite is that they have tanked the Russian economy, and the Russian people are heading into financial hardship of a kind that has passed out of the living memory of our own country.
If their suffering is not enough to convince you to pray for them, consider what happened in Germany after World War I, when the winners of that conflict made certain that the German economy would be completely devastated.
Have I convinced you to pray for the Russians? Now, how about President Putin? It is so easy to fear him, and to hate him!
For Christians, again the command is clear: we must love him, and pray for him. (We don't have to like him.) Regardless of how we feel about him, he is as valuable in the eyes of God as we are. And if, as we'd like to believe, he were less worthy of our prayers, that would only mean he needs them more.
But if that's not enough, we must pray for Putin for our own safety's sake. (Did you catch the nod to A Man for All Seasons?) He's a man in command of a large and powerful nation, with his finger on the nuclear button. We all know from experience how much damage the last two years of pandemic isolation have done to people's mental health. From all accounts, Putin has taken this isolation to an extreme. If he was unstable before, what of now?
What's more, in our collective response to his invasion of the Ukraine, we have been backing him into a corner with no way to save face. We seem determined to defeat him utterly and humiliate him, forgetting that cornered bears are exceedingly dangerous. Finding a win-win situation is not capitulation; it's wise diplomacy, and much more likely to lead to a lasting peace.
I don't know how this dangerous and tragic situation should properly be handled. I don't know if we are being Neville Chamberlains or if we are being driven by the fear of making his mistakes into making more disastrous mistakes of our own. I don't see a Winston Churchill on the horizon.
I do know that the one thing we can do is to pray. For the Ukraine, and for Russia. For NATO, for the European Union, and for all the world leaders who don't know what they're doing and are doing it very enthusiastically.
A lot of other subjects have been taking up my mind space, and my blog space, for a long time, so I was delighted when a friend shared this bit of mathematical fun with me. (22 minutes)
This interview with GiveSendGo co-founder, Jacob Wells was so uplifting I have to share it. I'd written about GiveSendGo briefly before, and what little I knew about it induced me to listen to the whole interview, despite it being nearly two hours long. The advantage of unedited interviews is that you get them uncensored; the disadvantage is that they are l-o-n-g. But this one does very well being played at 1.5x speed, as long as you're willing to overlook the fact that it makes everyone sound overly and artificially excited. While there are a couple of places where it is better to be watching, for the most part just listening is fine, so you can exercise, wash the dishes, or drive and enjoy it without feeling guilty.
Those who followed the Freedom Convoy story in Canada will appreciate information about the legal consequences for GiveSendGo of the Canadian government's threat to seize assets without benefit of court order, as well as the malicious hack they suffered and how they have responded. Others might find this tedious, but anyone can enjoy hearing about Wells' early life (he grew up in New Hampshire and has 11 siblings), his adventures testifying in front of a Canadian parlimentary committee, and the reasons why GiveSendGo does not discriminate against people or organizations (including the Church of Satan) as long as the projects involved do not violate a few minimal conditions (such as legality).
Rarely have I seen such a positive integration of a person's business, life, and faith. As I said: uplifting. I hope those of you who have time to listen enjoy it as much as I did.
As a child, I listened to 'way too many repetitions of Tom Lehrer's That Was the Year that Was album; consequently I've lately been afflicted by the following earworm: "So Long, Mom (A Song for WWIII)."
I almost didn't post it—not for reasons of sparing you the earworm, but because the war in the Ukraine is so heartbreaking. And frightening. We pray repeatedly and fervently for the Ukrainian people and their leaders, and for the Russian people and their leaders (because as Christians we don't have the option of praying only for our favorite teams). Not to mention prayers that this not lead to World War III.
But humor has a place in serious situations, and it was a serious situation—the height of the Cold War—when Lehrer wrote the song.
So long, Mom,
I'm off to drop the bomb,
So don't wait up for me.
But while you swelter
Down there in your shelter,
You can see me
On your TV.
While we're attacking frontally,
Watch Brinkally and Huntally,
The cities we have lost.
No need for you to miss a minute
Of the agonizing holocaust.
Who, in the 1960's, could have imagined the continuous real time coverage, the drone footage, the uploaded personal cell phone videos, and the satellite photos that make this war so "up close and personal"? Lehrer, now 93 years old, is almost certainly watching it himself. On a color television set.
It's "Museums on Us" weekend, and time to take a look at what might be new around town. Usually that means the Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Art. Sometimes they have lovely exhibits, and we might go back to take another look at some of what we saw last October.
But the museum websites and the descriptions of new exhibits are not inspiring this month. Here, from the Mennello's site, are a couple of paragraphs that could not possibly have been designed to draw us in.
Many of the artists presented here approach their creative practices conceptually and methodologically, as a means of researching, solving, expressing, and effectively visualizing increasingly complex theories and stylistic ideas across time and disciplines. They have drawn upon personal experience, art history, advances in science, and popular culture to create works that unify formal art theory with current understandings in fields including anthropology, biology, math, philosophy, physics, and psychology. Broadly, the themes explored by the artists fall into reobserving and reimagining of traditional subject matter and the emotional content imbued in still lifes, landscape, and the figure.
“The work ... presented in this exhibition challenges perceptions of language, identity, preservation, and adaptation in both real and hypothetical worlds,” said Katherine Page, curator of art and education, Mennello Museum. “I am especially interested in artistic production, as its contextualizing framework runs parallel to the scientific method that combines the decades-long history of science, printmaking, and modern and postmodern art developments. The artists here are researchers, observers, experimenters, and publishers. As publishers, they share their exciting results—renderings of creation, communication, and conceptualization with a public beyond traditional, specialized academic fields.”
I'm not picking on the Mennello in particular. This kind of verbiage abounds in art museums all over. I'm accustomed to dealing with technical language in other fields, and I grant that maybe this makes sense in the higher echelons of the art world, but to the hoi polloi like me it's more than incomprehensible: it sounds utterly irrational. Why would I want to spend time with art that "challenges perceptions of language, identity, preservation, and adaptation in both real and hypothetical worlds"? When I go to an art museum, I'm seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. Ordinary life is enough of a challenge for me.
When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong. — Buckminster Fuller
When we were in Chicago recently, our first meal was at the amazing Russian Tea Time restaurant. It was a special occasion; if we lived in Chicago, the expense would make our visits rare. But if I were there now, I'd make a point of taking in another of their wonderful Afternoon Teas. Whatever we may think of the recent actions of Vladimir Putin, it makes no sense to penalize our Russian neighbors. This is the letter we received from the owners of Russian Tea Time.
Dear RTT patrons and friends,
We are heartbroken by the recent news; our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected by this inhumane and despicable invasion. We do not support politics of the Russian government. We support human rights, freedom of speech, and fair democratic elections.
Украинцы (Ukrainians), the world is with you, the world is behind you. Stay strong, our hearts are with you!
The past two years have been so very hard on restaurants; they don't need any more grief.
Besides, you never know who it is you're actually affecting. The owners of our favorite place for sushi in Central Florida (now, alas, no longer in business) were Vietnamese, not Japanese.
The owners of Russian Tea Time are Ukrainian.
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