July 20, 2017

13 Hours: the Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team

Mention the word Benghazi and both liberals and conservatives bristle. Journalist Mitchell Zuckoff interviewed the private security personnel who were present on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya and has created a non-fiction account that is absolutely riveting.

Although the principal American consulate in Libya was in Tripoli, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was visiting the diplomatic Compound in the secondary city of Benghazi on September 11, 2012. A few blocks away was a CIA center called the Annex with highly trained security guards who were tasked with keeping Ambassador Stevens and other American officials safe.

We are given first hand accounts of the attacks on both the Compound and the Annex. The reader is placed in the midst of fire, smoke, bullets and bombs. The bravery of both private and governmental agents is awe-inspiring.

Your political view of the debacle may not change, but you will certainly know more about what American personnel face when working in countries hostile to the United States.

I have not seen the 2016 movie adaptation by filmmaker Michael Bay, which received mixed reviews, but the movie title and tag line does illuminate a major theme in the well-written book. “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. When everything went wrong six men had the courage to do what was right.”

Bastille Day on July 14th

Bastille Day is celebrated in France in much the same manner as our 4th of July in the United States. Fireworks, picnics and parades are part of both countries festivities for this patriotic holiday, but the French have some interesting customs I think we should adopt.
Petanques, boules or bocce are all names for the beloved game where the goal is to toss hollow metal balls as close as possible to the smaller wooden ball called a piglet or jack. Any backyard or park with a flat grass or dirt surface can be an instant petanques or bocce court. Many French Bastille parties feature endless rounds of this game that dates from the early 1900s. Luckily, I have found friends and neighbors in Chicago that play this game, too.

Firehouses throughout Paris and environs are filled with revelers enjoying beverages, dancing and music on July 13 and 14th. From 9 pm to 4 am, these festive Firemen’s balls raise money for the community’s fearless fire fighters while providing a blow-out of a party for Bastille celebrants. Cover charges and donations fill the Fire Department’s coffers.

How about talking Chicago firehouses into doing something similar on the 3rd of July? The fire fighters could regale party-goers with their favorite recipes, music and dance steps while raising money for the Chicago Fire Department!

Singing the national anthem and wearing red, white and blue are other things French and Americans share in July. To be honest, La Marseillaise is much easier to sing than The Star Spangled Banner! Vive la France!

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

My book-loving middle sister recommended Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, a delicious historical fiction about a woman who stands up to a spoiled heir who runs into their family horse and buggy with his new-fangled motor car.

Constance Kopp inadvertently begins to do detective work, learns how to handle a gun and uncovers crimes such as arson, kidnapping, assault, and even murder. The year 1914 vividly comes to life as we see the Kopp women, Constance, Norma and Fleurette battle not only thugs and bullies, but the restrictive roles placed upon women before World War I.

Amy Stewart’s writing reads like the best detective fiction yet the Kopp Sisters and their stories are based on fact. I see that Stewart has written two sequels to this rollicking read, Lady Cop Makes Trouble and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. I have to get copies, stat!

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, Caldwell Lily Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon at Lincoln Park Zoo

Having lived across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo for ten years, I got in the habit of frequently visiting the country’s oldest free urban zoo, sometimes daily.  New exhibits, refreshed settings and old favorites were the draw.

Kids playing around nature forms and next to a glass barrier with a black bear on the other side

New to me was the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, featuring North American animals to the right of you as you enter from Stockton. One is immediately struck by the visual layers in the exhibit. Tree tops with nesting herons are in the foreground. Red wolves can be seen in the next layer, behind a barrier, of course. A service dog-in-training in the people zone was being intently stared at by one wolf as I reconfirmed that there were at least two fences between them. A few steps more and one can see lumbering black bears with one snoozing in a glass observation portal the day we visited. Other creatures featured in the exhibit are the American beaver, the American kestrel, the American toad, Blanding’s and Eastern Box turtles along with the Eastern screech owl and the Hooded merganser. Inventive play structures add still another layer of interest for families. Any child would love this engaging area, but I can attest that adults will be charmed as well.


The Lincoln Park Zoo Waterfowl Lagoon also appears to be newly landscaped with Chilean flamingos matching the orange tiger lilies surrounding their area. A bridge and an overlook allow the viewer to admire the swan geese and a pair of snow white trumpeter swans. In 1868, New York’s Central Park Commissioners sent the Lincoln Park Zoo two swans and those graceful birds continue to be a big draw in the zoo. Native Illinois wildflowers and grasses complete the idyllic scene along with Ruddy ducks, Baikal teals and red-breasted mergansers. 

One of my favorite areas continues to be the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond. While you may exit into the zoo from the pond area, for entrance, you must go to Fullerton, south of the zoo. The Lincoln Park Conservancy is responsible for this serene setting with its Prairie-style rock structures, birds and diverse native plantings. If you meander upon the path that circles the pond, or sit in one of the pavilions to listen to birdsong and gaze at lily pads, you can forget that you are in the middle of a bustling big city. We were lucky enough to hear the big croak of a resident bull frog when exiting, as if he were giving us an exclamation point to our bucolic visit.

I frequent the Zoo less often since I moved out of that neighborhood but the occasional stop to the environs always introduces me to some new view of nature. A big thank you to the Auxillary Board of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Zoological Society for keeping this experience free to all!

Notes on the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

David Edelfelt, Elizabeth Doyle & Charles Troy at the Midwest Museum of American Art (a former downtown Elkhart bank)

As musical guests of Charles Troy in his two Cole Porter presentations this past weekend, David Edelfelt and I were introduced to the charms of Elkhart, Indiana and its Jazz Festival, celebrating its 30th year.

The entire downtown becomes one big block party with food concessions, an exhibit of vintage cars and music, music, everywhere. People lay claim to the outdoor row seating or bring lawn chairs to install themselves in front of two large outdoor stages, or they pop into clubs, churches and theaters to catch a great variety of jazz during the three day festival.

Elizabeth Doyle at the Midwest Museum of American Art during the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

The two programs we presented were Cole Porter and the Great Depression and Cole Porter’s Top Ten List Songs. Our connection to jazz was illustrating the provenance of Porter tunes that have become jazz standards. Hoosiers are justifiably proud of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael who hail from Indiana.

Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli and Ed Laub at the New Life Community Church during Elkhart’s 2017 Jazz Fest

We were able to catch some fantastic music when we weren’t engaged ourselves. Chicago trumpeter Bobby Lewis was regaling crowds outdoors with his 1988 Rhythmakers Revival Band. The Ed Laub Trio featured revered 91-year-old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, his son Martin, guitarist Gene Bertoncini and guitarist/vocalist Laub.

We ended Saturday evening hearing the Fat Babies, a tight 8-piece Chicago  band that specializes in 1920’s and 1930’s jazz charts. Audience members leapt to their feet at the end of this young band’s invigorating set.

We also had outstanding food at the Main street restaurant, 523. Their menu had something for everyone, including steaks and chops, seafood, burgers, salads and vegan fare. This establishment has big city tastes with seasoned wait staff and an interesting bar menu.

Seward Johnson’s “American Gothic” statues in Elkhart’s Central Park

David Edelfelt posing with Seward Johnson’s statue of Marilyn Monroe

Art lovers can admire 56 life-like statues by sculptor Seward Johnson, dotting Elkhart and environs. A giant replica of Grant Wood’s American Gothic in Elkhart’s Central Park was my favorite. Then again, I almost put money into the guitar case of a street musician until I realized he was inanimate.

I plan to return to see all 19 of the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail, having seen one downtown garden that used real flowers to fashion a patchwork pattern. There are also 22 hand-painted murals on buildings that continues the quilt theme throughout the city.

A visit to downtown Elkhart encompasses music, art, good food and fine fellowship.

Count me in for next year’s 31st Elkhart Jazz Fest.

www.elkhartjazzfestival.com

Seat Guru for better airline seat selection

Several singers and fans from Chicago are planning to join French singers in a conference called Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion in Paris on Sept 15, 16 and 17. http://www.chicagopariscabaretconnexion.org/program_join.php

While making travel arrangements, I ran across a very informative site, sponsored by Trip Advisor, called Seat Guru that details where seats are located on your selected flight.

You need merely note what type of plane your airline is using for your flight and then access a map of that particular plane to better inform you in your seat selection.

As a general rule, it is wise to avoid seats near lavatories and galleys due to congestion and, ahem, aromas. Likewise, what you gain in leg room by taking a seat behind a section wall, you will lose in no under seat storage in front of you. As you may have discovered, overhead bin storage can be filled if you board the plane after the initial onslaught of passengers.

The row in front of emergency exit seats should be avoided since their ability to recline may be limited or nil. Some people hate middle seats due to dickering with your aisle and window seat companions over arm rest rights, but I like the extra room under the seat in front of you.

Happy flying! Or at least have a bearable flight.
Liquor and chocolate may help.

https://www.seatguru.com/

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F. B. I. by David Grann

If your taste runs to historical non-fiction, consider Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and the previous bestselling author of The Lost City of Z.

A veritable “Reign of Terror” was waged on the Osage tribe in the 1920’s as wealthy members were bumped off for their money and “headrights.” Local law enforcement and courts in Oklahoma seemed unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the guilty parties.

Enter Tom White, a Western sheriff who was tasked by Edgar J. Hoover and his fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation with getting to the bottom of this rash of Indian deaths by poison, guns and bombs.

Just when you think the case is all wrapped up, Grann digs deeper to find more skullduggery. The book reads like a cross between precise journalistic writing and a thriller. Killer of the Flower Moon belongs on the shelf with other books about the West, Native American history and the FBI. Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.

Lonesome Losers of the Night at Theo Ubique

Put Theo Ubique’s excellent chamber revue, Lonesome Losers of the Night on your must-see theater list.

The songs of Jacques Brel burst onto the American scene with a Broadway revue called Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris which opened in 1968. Lyric writer and translator Arnie Johnston has taken on the task of translating Brel songs that are unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, as well as re-translating well-known Brel songs with lyrics that skew closer to the images in the original French versions.

A wonderful collaboration between Theo Ubique and Johnston began in 2006 with Songs of Love and War, the theater’s first Brel revue. This is the second go-round for Lonesome Losers which was previously produced by Theo Ubique in 2008-2009.

The new production features stunning ensemble singing, inventive choreography and blocking, a realistic set, plus the excellent music direction and piano skills of company member, Jeremy Ramey. Theo Ubique lynchpin, Fred Anzevino masterfully directs this 110 minute intermission-less revue. No words are needed as the singing actors segue from solos, duets, trios and quartet numbers. We are drawn into the drama of a seaport speakeasy as we observe the bartender, two sailors and a “girl for sale.” All four performers are skillful, but I was especially impressed with Randolph Johnson as the world-weary bartender and Jill Sesso as the provocative female of the cast.

A few of the songs may sound familiar but the lyrics will be fresh to your ears, such as Don’t Leave Me which is better known as Ne Me Quitte Pas/If You Go Away. Not all of the material is angst-laden, such as Beer, Rosa and the Song of Jacky, but neither is it a laugh riot with the second to last number being the thematically apt, Alone. Emotional depth is the raison-d’etre of this revue.

Cabaret theater like this usually flourishes in small venues such as Rogers Park’s No Exit, allowing the audience to enjoy food, and especially drink during the show. Word comes that the theater company will be moving to Evanston in the near future. Let us hope they recreate this intimate theater environment that requires no mikes and has the actors literally a breath away from their audience.

Get your Brel on before Theo Ubique’s marvelous production, Lonesome Losers of the Night closes on August 6, 2017.

http://www.theo-u.com/

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

http://www.gnod.com/

Parade at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL

Last night I saw a well-nigh perfect musical theater production of  Parade at Writers Theatre in Glencoe. The singing, acting, staging, choreography, costumes and pit band were all excellent.

For years, I have heard about this storied musical with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by famed playwright Alfred Uhry. The work itself reminds me of Floyd Collins with its intricate score and midnight dark topic. Parade has the added benefit of having an emotional apex in act two that alchemically turns bad events into a flowering of love and loyalty.

Leo Frank masterfully played by Patrick Andrews is a Jewish factory owner in Atlanta who is accused of murdering one of his female workers. Brianna Borger portrays his steadfast wife. Everyone in the cast turns in stellar performances but I was especially taken with servant turned chain gang tough Jonathan Butler-Duplessis and Kevin Gudahl as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey.

You might not get the chance to see Parade in the near future and certainly not in a such a stunning production. Director Gary Griffin has created stage magic at Writers Theatre.

This was the first time I had seen their new ultra-modern building and I literally fell in love with the exterior, the lobby and the main stage area. I will certainly be back for other productions.

Don’t let the parade pass you by! The show runs through July 9, 2017.

http://www.writerstheatre.org/calendar-tickets#6/2017