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January 4th, 2009


Quill4

Day at the Museum

Posted on 2009.01.04 at 00:47
Current Mood: fullfull
Current Music: Morning Train - Sheena Easton
We went to the Chicago History Museum the other day. If you’ve been away, I should mention that it was known as the Chicago Historical Society up until 2006, when it underwent a massive remodeling which included the installation of some wonderful new permanent exhibits.

One thing that has not changed is that there are still certain areas that are used for substantial temporary exhibits. The one we saw this time around was an exhibit titled “Chic Chicago.” It displayed dozens of couture dresses with Chicago connections, going all the way back to the middle of the 19th century. One of the oldest and grandest items was a silk evening dress from 1861 that belonged to the wife of Cyrus McCormick. As you may know, he was the inventor of the McCormick Reaper and was one of the richest Americans of his time. The dress itself looked like something out of Scarlett O’Hara’s closet. Pretty much every famous designer of the past century and a half is represented, and the collection goes right up to the present day, including a stylish dress donated by Oprah Winfrey.

It should be fairly obvious that it was because of CC that I attended this. While this is an exhibit that I think most people could enjoy, I must say that attending it with someone like CC greatly enhanced the experience. It was like having my own personal tour guide to fill in the details and context of the various pieces on display. For those of you without access to such a person, there is helpful signage accompanying each of the dresses, as well as a lovely illustrated catalog of the exhibit for sale in the gift shop at a mere $30.

There are two reasons why I wanted to talk about this trip to the museum. The first was to specifically recommend the “Chic Chicago” exhibit. The second was to generally recommend the entire museum. Though I am not a native Chicagoan, most of my coworkers are. They could generally be characterized as very educated, aware individuals. Yet it never ceases to amaze me when I find that many of them have never visited the Chicago History Museum, and that’s just a crime.

It seems that when most people around here think of museums, they think of the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Nothing against those places; they are fabulous and I love them all. But the Chicago History Museum deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. It is far smaller than those other places; that’s certainly true. It isn’t in the Loop and it isn’t right on the lake, but being at the corner of North Clark and North Avenue, a few short blocks from the lake, puts it at a major, easy to find intersection. And let’s face it – Chicago is a city with a whole lot of dynamic history behind it.

Interesting side note – the original Chicago Historical Society was completely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. One of the items lost in the fire was the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln. But most of Chicago’s history as a city has occurred since the Great Fire, and the place is filled with remarkable artifacts, both large and small, documenting all of it. Here is one of my favorite large artifacts, added in 2006:

That’s an original Chicago L car, dating back to 1893. It was originally powered by a small steam locomotive, though the system was switched over to electric power in about 1898. That’s CC sitting in the car, by the way, wearing a hat of her own creation. And no, she does not date back that far.

Depending on how much you wanted to linger over specific exhibits, you could probably take in the entire museum in three hours or less. I’ve been there probably about a dozen times since 1992, and I never tire of the place. And by the way, I had intended to put in a link to the museum’s web site, but it appears to be down at present, since I’ve been unable to get to it from any browser on any computer, but if you’re interested, the site is www.chicagohistory.org.

QuillWe

The Political And The Personal

Posted on 2009.01.04 at 21:05
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: It Takes All Kinds to Make a World - Roger Miller
I’ve been moved to write this post as a reaction to the current violence occurring between Israel and Hamas. The connection will become more explicit further down the page.

* * *

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked by readers of this journal why I never take on the hot-button political issues of the day in my writings. After all, such topics are the raw fuel powering many widely read blogs. Well, I think it’s time I took another stab at addressing such questions.

First of all, I have nothing against politically-oriented blogs. As a matter of fact, I read several of them regularly. But it comes down to a question of what I feel moved to write about; that is, what matters to me, and what I want to explore through my own written words. Well, what matters to me are people, their emotions, and their perceptions; not broader political matters. Oh, I realize that politics matter – they affect all of us, whether we want them to or not. But my opinions about political matters are not what gets my creative juices flowing. Rather, I get revved up by direct, personal interaction with people, places, and things. After all, that is what we spend our lives doing, so I believe such things are far more central to our existence than the contemplation of national and international politics. On top of that is the fact that if I were to present myself as a political commentator, I would be putting myself out on the same playing field as a great many individuals for whom I have no respect; people who are naïve at best and slimy at worst. While I have friends who revel in such commentary, who like nothing better than to take on the rhetoric of political fools and villains, this is not the battlefield for me.

Here’s an imaginary example that might make my position clearer – if I ran into Mayor Daley by the deli counter at the supermarket, you can be sure that I’d write about it in this journal. I’d probably never talk about his politics or mine; I’d write about the man; that is, the man I ran into at the supermarket. I might compare that interaction to the public persona given to us over the airwaves, and I’d invite my readers to do the same. I’d talk about what he was buying and maybe even what he was wearing.

One simple reason for this approach is that it would permit me to tell you what I knew from first-hand experience. Not what I’d heard some clever pundit say; not what I’d read in someone’s editorial commentary; you don’t need to go to my blog to read such things. Better that I should simply relate what I myself had observed and discerned. By comparing those first-hand impressions with more general, public information, I would hope that a more three-dimensional portrait of the individual would begin to emerge. And maybe, just maybe, you’d find a slant here that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

So, as I mentioned at the outset, we come to the never-ending violence and institutionalized hatred that permeates so much of the Middle East. A more political blog might go into great detail on the subject, and might even take sides in terms of being for or against Israel’s actions. But you’re not at one of those blogs; you’re at my blog, so I will address the matter with something I directly experienced.

It was a couple of years ago during a performance of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. One gets very accustomed to performing for a wide variety of audience types – different, faiths, cultures, languages, etc. We’ve had audience members whose English was quite limited, and it always pleased me to see such people laughing and enjoying the show, because it told me we were tapping into something basic and powerful. On one particular night, we had a family – father, mother, and son – who identified themselves as Palestinian. There was no reason to doubt them. Frankly, they looked the part and sounded the part. They knew a fair amount of English, though it was obviously a (distant) second language for them.

They seemed to be having a good time until we reached the point in the show known as the International Medley. As part of that medley, we sing a couple verses of “Hava Nagila” and dance the Hora, which, as you are probably aware, is solidly Jewish in its ethnic identity. No sooner had the Hora begun when the Palestinian family jumped to their feet, gathered their things, and stalked out, never to return. They looked completely offended, as if someone had just dumped goat feces in their lasagna. They also looked as if every moment they had to listen to “Hava Nagila” was a painful eternity to their assaulted ears, and they could not get out of there fast enough. On their way out, they tersely informed one cast member that they were indeed quite offended that such a reference would be a part of our show.

I could not help feeling badly for them. Let me be clear about that – I did not feel badly that we had played “Hava Nagila.” I did not feel badly that they had heard “Hava Nagila.” I felt badly for them because they were offended at being subjected to anything of a Jewish nature, and I felt sorry for them that they could not let go of this for even a moment. Now I’m perfectly aware that many people would consider their actions to be understandable and even justifiable. Such people might be willing to spend hours telling me of the atrocities dealt to the Palestinians by the Jews. I am no stranger to this mind set, and I will not even attempt to argue with thousands of years of history. My point is this – these people were in Chicago. In America. In multi-cultural America. If they are going to spend time in this country, they must come to terms with the realities of American society. If they cannot do this, they are going to find it impossible to walk down most any busy street, for they will be assaulted constantly by people, symbols, and signs that will infuriate them. My primary hope is that they will stay here long enough to learn a little tolerance. Mind you, I don’t like the odds, but it is my hope for them. And all I can do is hope, for there seems no reason to think that I have any ability to affect their feelings in this matter.

This, then, is my way of addressing political matters here – by relating a moment from my own life and inviting readers to draw their own conclusions if they wish, though even the notion of drawing conclusions is completely optional. Sometimes, we are left not knowing what to think and can only shake our heads, remember the moment, and move on.


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