Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday You Old Wind Bag

This week Chicago celebrated it's 175th birthday and with that came list upon list of what makes our city great. There were guides to non tourist spots, tourist spots, historical greats, historical misses, and several bucket lists of can't miss activities. Quickly noting my own favorites, I realized that, with one exception, my entire life is experienced in the summer. Not terribly surprising, winters mean school and home and back again, with limited time to wander the city, and limited want as we are generally buried in snow and cold, this past winter excluded. Why do I love Chicago? Because every year we have a summer, and winter is all right too.

1. 23rd and Oakley, the original old Italian neighborhood, is a two block long strip of restaurants, with one market and one funeral parlor. We are partial to Bachanalia, and never miss Festa Pasta Vino, our official kick-off to summer in mid June. Some may go for the food, some for the Rat Pack Tribute Band but for me, it's all about the old men in dark shorts and black socks sitting along the sidewalk on scratchy mesh woven folding chairs. Some speak Italian, that is my amore.

2. Sitting at The Dock at Montrose Beach is a little bit like being on vacation: good food, excellent people watching, sand, water, fabulous beer selection, with children and seagulls everywhere.

3. Two years ago the Grant Park Music Festival kicked off the season with Vivaldi, on the last day of the school year, and I thought they were playing just for us. We spend many summer nights in the park with a picnic, amazing music, an equally amazing view, and Mary and Kate's somewhat modern dance interpretation of Mahler's Third. That's a perfect evening.

4. Perhaps because we spend so many months trapped inside, Chicagoans, like other northern climate counterparts, really love eating outside when the temperature creeps above 50 (we are also somewhat desperate). Most of our favorite places offer sidewalk seating or hidden patios (El Nuevo on Clark is our first choice) but I think the best way to dine al fresco is to take a picnic to the beach. The girls and I pick up sandwiches at Red Hen Bakery on Diversey and sit by the water, feeding the bread scraps to the ducks and sneaky geese who swoop in for their share.

5. Temperatures not considered, the Pilsen neighborhood is one of my favorites, but in the summer, when people are outside and the ice cream guys are on every corner, it's at the very top of the list. This place reeks of Chicago to me, even though it smells like tortillas and sounds like Mexico. We like to go to the park near the National Museum of Mexican Art, eat paletas de fresa from the old man with the ice cream cart bicycle, stop for tacos at El Fua (which used to be Abuelo's), watch softball and marvel at just how far away from Chicago we can be on the southwest side of the city. Also worth a stop, fresh tortillas from Nuevo Leon (and breakfast, lunch or dinner) and corn muffins from any panaderia.

6. After celebrating my Mexican heritage in the Pilsen, and my Italian heritage at Festa Pasta Vino, I succumb to my true self and spend the second weekend of July at the Irish American Heritage Center's summer festival. It's hot and sticky, full of people wearing every shade of green possible. There is wonderful music (our favorite, The Larkin and Moran Brothers), plenty of beer, fish and chips, and an impressive array of wood carvings reading "Men are like bagpipes-no sound comes from them until they're full". All other vendors sell big wool sweaters, lovely, but it's July in Chicago.

7. Even in the winter, when the wind is painfully cold, the view as you walk from the Adler Planetarium to the Shedd Aquarium is spectacular. Looking back at the city from that vantage point is exhilarating. Day or night it is both an energy boost and a calm presence, a reminder of how big things can be, and what a small part of the world you really are.

8. Wrigley Field, and everything near or around or having anything to do with baseball in the summer: Saturday afternoons when the Cubs are out of town on the patio at Murphy's, the fire station across the street after the game, standing on the platform at the Addison red line station, seeing the lights at the ballpark from our front yard, listening to crowd roar from our back porch, but first and foremost, being inside on a summer afternoon.

9. Wednesday summer mornings are taken, we make our plans around a trip to the Green City Market at the south end of Lincoln Park. There are crepes and fruit smoothies, guys playing the guitar, plenty of food to actually buy to bring home and cook, and, on most days, a quick trip across the street to check out the animals at the Farm in the Zoo. Miss this and life goes on: there is a wonderful market on Tuesday morning in Lincoln Square and a small but mighty market in Andersonville on Wednesday afternoons (and the tofu lady goes to that one).

10. And the one thing that I like to do, specific to winter and cold, is a carved in stone tradition for me: drinks at the Palm Court in the Drake Hotel at Christmas. That's it, nothing terribly unique or revolutionary, but a comforting ritual that often ends with dinner at Mario's. Merry Christmas.

11. The bus, that great smelly beast, the one who moves me around the city with little to no efficiency or order, that's my favorite. Jack's a train guy, he much prefers the straight and narrow route of the red line, but I like wandering on the bus, specifically the 36 Broadway at any time when everyone else should be at work.

Ironically, when I come to the end of my great Chicago list, I realize that one of the best things about Chicago is that I, after almost twenty years, still find myself quite lost occasionally (and that is not even taking into account my my udder befuddlement when faced with the suburbs). It seems that my very favorite thing about living here is that my list will never be complete, I'm never sure what I might find around the next corner.


Emm said...

What a lovely tribute to your city! I have a couple of friends in Chicago and would love to visit there one day. It seems like such an exciting city, full of culture.

matt~ said...

Hey, next time you want to use one of my photos, just ask.

northsidefour said...

Matt, my apologies, I do try and give credit, I must have missed your info when I found the photo. Please tell me which one and I'll add, or take it down all together.


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