May 26, 2017

Riverwalk Extension Opening May 20, 2017

Whether you are visiting Chicago or are a longtime resident, you will want to find the time to check out the 1.25 mile River Walk that runs from Lake Michigan to Lake Street. The city has found a way to showcase our previously industrial-oriented Chicago River and make it an actual destination with food, leisure activities and delightful infrastructure design.
This hearkens back to architect/planner Daniel Burnham’s vision of riverside promenades along the Wacker Drive viaduct.

Architect Carol Ross Barney

One of the architectural brains behind the 21st century 15 year project is Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects who along with collaborative partners Sasaki Associates (MA), Alfred Benesch & Company and Jacobs Ryan Associates have created 8 distinct areas between the cross bridges, referred to as Boardwalk, Jetty, Water Plaza, River Theater, Cove, Marina plus two other areas east of Michigan Avenue.

Here is a great photo montage of Riverwalk at the Ross Barney Architects site: http://www.r-barc.com/projects/chicago-riverwalk/

I love the Water Plaza from LaSalle to Wells which features a zero-depth fountain and water jets with colored lights. Children were splashing away the day I visited. Equally impressive was the River Theater (Clark to LaSalle) which will seat hundreds for events or allow people to just hang out.  Imagine a production barge set up in front of the seating for concerts and theatrical events. Count me in!

This whole project gives me newfound architectural pride in the City of Big Shoulders.

Check out the events from 9 am to 9 pm for the Saturday, May 20 opening:

https://www.chicagoriverwalk.us/season-opening

Here is a blog post I did on the previous Riverwalk phase completed in 2015: http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/09/chicago-riverwalk-from-lasalle-to-lake-michigan/

“Paris,” French TV series on MHZ

Those wanting to improve their ear for current spoken French might enjoy Paris, a 2015 French tv series currently available on MHZ network. The first few minutes are confusing, but try to finish episode one of the six episode series. A seemingly random cast of characters will quirkily cross paths in the next 24 hours.

A woman who is a union rep for transportation workers will deal with her troubled husband, her transgender son/daughter, her soldier son and have a private meeting with the Prime Minister of France. The PM will deal with a runaway son, his distraught wife, his staff, his frenemy, the current Attorney General and political intrigue of all sorts. The Attorney General will inadvertently deal with his pregnant housekeeper, his journalist wife and the transgender son mentioned above. The pregnant housekeeper’s ex-con Muslim husband will get a job working at the funeral home owned by the brother-in-law of the female union rep.
You get the picture.  We are shown a kaleidoscope of people in Paris from working class, to wealthy and powerful along with very shady characters involved in strip joints, gambling, burglary and smuggling young women across the French border. All will become part of the woven tapestry that is Paris.

Every person depicted is somewhat an anti-hero with both good and bad qualities on display, but you will marvel at how the plot knits all of their lives together. In the process, you do get a sense of a day in the life of Paris, albeit a day that is transfused with love, crime, politics and high drama.

For a monthly fee, MHZ is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.  Here are some other articles I have written about MHZ, the streaming service that caters to lovers of European dramatic television programs.

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/03/mhz-is-now-streaming/

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/10/mhz-choice-launches-on-oct-20/

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling series on Hulu

I must admit that I have never read any Margaret Atwood but The Handmaid’s Tale which debuted as a novel in 1985 has been on my “to do” list for years. Now comes a tv series adaptation of the iconic book presented as a Hulu original.

Elizabeth Moss (Peggy on Mad Men) is extraordinary as June/Offred, a baby-making handmaid in a religiously fanatic society of a frightening fictional future.  We see flashbacks of her previous unfettered life as a wife and mother along with scenes of her current servitude in the household of The Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his barren but beautiful wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Her only reason for existence is to bear children for this upper crust couple.

Fellow handmaids include her revolutionary friend Emily played by Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) and Moira, her friend from her married days, portrayed by Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black) who seemingly escapes from this dystopian world, biblically called Gilead, but whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Having watched five of the ten episodes, I can say this is a finely-made mini-series with vivid costumes, artful cinematography, intelligent dialogue and masterful acting. New episodes premiere on the Hulu streaming platform on Wednesdays. You could say I have the series “book-marked.”

Nutshell and The Vegetarian: Literary classics?

Do you remember having to read assigned books as a student where you didn’t enjoy the experience but you felt like you’d read something important when finished? Ulysses? War and Peace? The Stranger? Two recent books definitely deserve the description of “Literary” with a capital L.
Hang Kang, a female South Korean writer has penned a slim novel called The Vegetarian. Told in three parts, the lead character, Yeong-hye suddenly decides to become vegetarian after having recurring and unsettling dreams about animals. Her husband and family take the news poorly, to say the least.
Her brother-in-law, a modern video artist becomes obsessed with having her be the model for his latest creation. Divorce, suicide and a mental institution are the way-stations on Yeong-hye’s descent. A Korean reviewer deemed this short work as “very extreme and bizarre.” Still, the writing is beautiful and the sub-text intriguing.
Much easier to read, but no less disturbing is Nutshell by Ian McEwan whose literary output includes Atonement, named Time magazine’s best novel of 2002. McEwan has taken the tale of Hamlet and told it from the point of view of a fetus in the present day. The unborn child overhears his mother and uncle plot the murder of his father. One layer of the brief novel is what the embryo experiences, but McEwan has the child tap into a universal consciousness that allows the author to ruminate on current culture and thought. The prose is spare and gorgeously crafted.
After these two “meaty” books, I mightily need some sorbet in the form of a light detective novel or a rom-com paperback.

Three Arts Club Cafe in the Restoration Hardware store

I fondly remember giving a concert in the old Three Arts Club in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Built in 1914 to house women involved in music, painting and theater, the brick building was the architectural work of the storied Holabird & Roche firm. With sadness, I heard that the club had been sold to developers in 2007.

Much to my relief, Restoration Hardware has created a five-story emporium that has left many of the architectural details intact. The courtyard houses a delightful restaurant called the Three Arts Cafe which kept the old fountain and features an all-weather glass ceiling that allows diners to be bathed in sunlight.

The food is as impressive as the setting with a curated menu including “seasonal ingredient-driven” recipes. The shaved vegetable salad was beautiful to look at and to eat with brightly colored root vegetables and baby greens dressed with finely chopped pecans and cider vinaigrette. For sheer gluttony, I ordered a side of bacon which was the thick-cut kind found in British cuisine. My luncheon partner ordered a bacon club sandwich which she endorsed by eating every morsel.

The menu is small but there are several items that entice me to make return visits such as the Truffled Grilled Cheese sandwich, the slow roasted chicken with garlic confit and the house-made chocolate chip cookies served warm out of the oven.

After lunch, we strolled the five floors of rooms decorated with Restoration Hardware furniture, lighting fixtures, accessories, bedding and even some articles of clothing. The top floor has two outdoor terraces which must be divine in the warmer months. The main floor has a Three Arts Club Pantry that sells scrumptious looking donuts and hot beverages.

A visit to this historic building is like a mini-vacation with excellent food and drink sampled before or after one peruses the five floors of tastefully decorated display rooms. I’m wondering if they would let me move in?

3artsclubcafe.com

Robert Harris: The Fear Index, Conclave

I first heard about former BBC reporter, Robert Harris because of his trilogy on ancient Roman history (Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator). World War II is another area of interest for Harris having written both non-fiction and fiction works set in that era.

The book that first snagged my interest was Conclave, a novel about the selection of a Catholic pope in Rome. He manages to make a thriller out of this religious ritual as he depicts the factions and candidates vying for power in the Vatican.

Next on my nightstand was Harris’ The Fear Index, so different in subject matter that I had to keep looking at the cover to make sure that it was the same author. A scientist who has invented an algorithm for a hedge fund sees his luxurious life in Geneva, Switzerland unravel. The reader enters the world of cutting edge computers and of high finance.

My husband just finished Pompei and says Harris’ fine writing, historical research and edge-of-your-seat pacing is also evident in this novel set in 79 AD. This writer could seemingly take any topic and make it exciting. Robert Harris may be one author whose entire catalogue will be on my “to read” list.

13 Reasons Why on Netflix

My hairdresser first mentioned this series on Netflix and I always check out what he recommends. Based on the popular 2007 novel, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey for the 13 episode Netflix series, I initially didn’t connect with the first few minutes of episode one. There were some stilted line readings by side characters and the high school setting seemed like an after-school special.

Then I fell in love with young male actor Dylan Minette (originally from Evansville, Indiana) who plays Clay Jensen, a square kid who knew Hannah Baker, a recent high school suicide. I was immediately sucked into the story through his eyes and ears as he listens to 13 tapes made by Hannah before she committed suicide. Each cassette is dedicated to someone who made her life miserable. I was hooked.

Katherine Langford, an Australian actress who auditioned for the part of Hannah over Skype, heartbreakingly depicts a beautiful, talented and troubled teen. Kate Walsh, Steven Weber and Brian d’Arcy James are a few of the actors who fill adult roles in the series, but it is the young thespians who steal the show; Christian Navarro playing the cryptic Tony Padilla; Alisha Boe as the promiscuous and rebellious Jessica Davis; Brandon Flynn and Justin Prentice playing jock-bullies Justin Foley and Bryce Walker, respectively.

This is not a show for the weak-kneed. Vivid re-enactments of rape and suicide had me yelling, “No, no, no…” Despite this warning, this limited series allows you into the current world of youth, social media and bullying. I have seen articles pro and con about allowing kids to watch these episodes. Certainly the issues of rape and suicide would have to be carefully discussed. I give this emotionally-charged series a guarded recommendation for those brave enough to go to dark and troubling places.

La Quercia Prosciutto Americano

If you like Prosciutto di Parma, you may want to try La Quercia, a cured pork meat product handcrafted in Iowa and billed as Prosciutto Americano.
The packaging proclaims that no nitrates or nitrites have been added, only those that occur naturally with sea salt. The pigs were raised without hormones or antibiotics on the Norwalk, Iowa farm of Herb and Kathy Eckhouse.

I found my 3 ounce package of the thinly sliced aged ham at the local Mariano’s in the deli case with salami and other refrigerated meat. Try wrapping a prosciutto slice around a Persian pickle or a wedge of ripe cantaloupe. Yum!

Consult La Quercia’s web site to find out if their Prosciutto Americano is sold at a grocery store near you. Iowa gives Parma a run for its money.

www.laquercia.us

Marilyn Maye, Cabaret Diva at 89

Cabaret aficionados may recognize the name, but Marilyn Maye needs to be more widely honored for her lengthy career and her indomitable ability to defy age as she turns 89 this month.

Born in Wichita, KS, she and her mother moved to Des Moines, IA for her teen years. While there, she met songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane who helped secure her own 15 minute radio show.
Chicago and Kansas City figure into her early performing career. She met Steve Allen who promptly invited her to be on his TV program, The Steve Allen Show. This led to her appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where she holds the impressive record of having sung on the show 76 times, more than any other singer.

Marilyn Maye in the 1960s

She had a handful of hit singles in the late 1960s, with the two stand-outs being Cabaret and Step To the Rear.

Her mid-career was not in the national spotlight, but she continued to perform in venues of all sorts. I caught her several times in Okoboji, Iowa where my parents had a summer home. No matter the locale, she brought verve, heart and a consummate professionalism to every performance.

The Mabel Mercer Foundation kicked her career back into overdrive in 2006 with an appearance at Lincoln Center. She has been the toast of New York and cabaret spots all over the country in the past ten plus years.

Her recording of “Too Late Now” by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane is included in the Smithsonian’s Best Compositions of the 20th Century. Chicago Cabaret Professionals bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award upon her in 2012 (I got to hand her the award.) She was inducted into the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City) as a Jazz Legend in 2015.

Along with her impressive performing schedule, she continues to conduct master classes and teaches privately in New York City and around the country. This octogenarian is proving that age is just a number –  if you have the talent and fortitude of Marilyn Maye. You keep singing, lady! And Happy Birthday.

http://www.marilynmaye.com/index.shtml

The future of eyeglasses

While the big tech companies are perfecting Virtual Reality glasses, I have been keeping my eye on what’s happening in everyday vision ware.

Omnifocal Glasses by an Israeli company called Deep Optics promises to allow us to see whatever distance we focus on with the use of a layer of transparent liquid crystal and electrical current. The glasses will ultimately change your prescription instantaneously with the help of sensors that track your pupils and determine what distance they are looking at. The company has not succeeded in packing all of this technology into simple glasses yet, but liquid crystal lenses are literally around the corner. http://www.deepoptics.com/do_site/

You can now pre-order the amazing Shima glasses by Laforge for $590. Imagine glasses that can give you directions, tell you how far you’ve walked and play your favorite music through an app on your smart phone. And these glasses have stylish frames, not the futuristic and bulky VR glasses that Google and other companies are designing.

https://www.laforgeoptical.com

Don’t laugh but many people ascribe to the idea that looking through lenses of specific colors have the ability to improve one’s function and mood. Blue may promote relaxation and calmness; orange is supposed increase social confidence and cheerfulness along with cancelling out the blue light of electronic devices; yellow encourages concentration and mental clarity and may additionally help with night time driving.

After a brief internet search, I find no glasses that can electronically give you a rainbow of color options. Yes, there are glasses that go from clear to shaded sunglasses, but for other colors, one must buy a regular pair with only one color of lens. Here is a site that will sell you those single color glasses and explains more about color therapy.
If you know of an electronic pair that allows the wearer to change the color of lens, please let me know!

http://www.colorglasses.com/

I might wait until I can purchase a pair of electronic glasses that have all of the above features, but there will undoubtedly be a company that can implant a sophisticated electronic device directly into my eyes.
And soon.
Who is with me in entering this brave and slightly terrifying new world?