September 19, 2020

Agora: South Grant Park Rust-Colored Statues

I was in the south Loop of Chicago and found myself drawn to another viewing of Polish sculptress Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work, “Agora,” in the south portion of Grant Park bordered by Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road.

The 106 headless and armless rust-colored statues evoke varied reactions. Some people have termed the installation, first installed by the Chicago District in 2006, as “ugly” and “depressing.” Abakanowicz grew up in Poland during WWII and had this to say about the figures in her large scale public installation: “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command.”

Agora is the Greek word for a public meeting place. As I walked through the figures and viewed them from different distances, I was struck that some statues face each other, while others are turned away. No matter what your reaction to the art work, it brings up ideas of democracy, community and differences of opinion.

Now that we are encouraged to limit our public gatherings, “Agora,” on permanent loan from the Polish Ministry of Culture, has new resonance. Small wonder since Chicago has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw.

Although public land was used for “Agora,” the sculptures were financed by private donors which included late actor Robin Williams. Fourteen years later, the statues seem right at home in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Acorn TV’s “Keeping Faith” on Amazon Prime

Your Amazon Prime membership allows you free access to Season 1 of “Keeping Faith,” a thriller carried by Acorn TV.

Filmed concurrently in Welsh and English, we meet Faith Howells, a lawyer whose husband leaves for work one morning and disappears. Not quite into thin air, however, as she finds out he was deeply enmeshed in legally representing the wrong sort of people.

Faith is played by British actress, Eve Myles who viewers may recognize from “Dr. Who” and “Torchwood.” She juggles caring for her three children, resuming to work at her husband’s family law firm and trying to figure out what happened to her husband and all of their money. Faith is under suspicion for his murder and surrounded by family members with their own deadly secrets.

You have until 9/30/2020 on Amazon Prime to view Season One of the absorbing series, “Keeping Faith.”

MHZ Choice TV: “Pièges,” “Capitaine Marleau” and “Grey Zone”

I have regularly mentioned MHZ Choice, a streaming service that features European television programming, but there are some new shows worth noting.

“Pièges,” a French, two-part thriller tips the hat to Alfred Hitchcock with an intricate murder plot and a dramatic music soundtrack.

On the lighter side is “Capitaine Marleau” starring Corinne Masiero as a French detective who can out-quirk Colombo and Monk combined. The clever plots, gorgeous scenery and Marleau’s oddball attire make this series the antidote for a stressful day.

A new show from Denmark, “Grey Zone,” shows great promise after having watched two episodes. Starring Birgitte Hjort Sorenson (whom you may have seen as a reporter in “Borgen,” or as a wildling leader in “Game of Thrones”) plays drone expert Victoria Rahbek who gets mixed up with kidnappers and terrorists. New episodes will be added weekly.

The MHZ service has programs in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Serbian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Flemish and Spanish. Some of my past favorite series on MHZ are “Beck” from Sweden, “Montalbano” from Italy, “Borgen” from Denmark, “Commissario Brunetti” from Germany, “Aber Bergen” from Norway and “Spiral” from France. And this is the short list!

As a side note, if you really want to support a streaming site, please try to avoid signing up for the service through Apple or Amazon. MHZ makes less money if you don’t buy it directly from them. Automatic monthly debits and easy cancellations can be instigated on the MHZ Choice web site.

Happy viewing. There is a free trial offer.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

Milkadamia and Macadamia Nuts

After finding out I was allergic to almonds, I needed to find another “milk” to whiten my morning tea. Enter “Milkadamia,” a nut milk made from macadamia nuts. I prefer the unsweetened version which gives a creaminess to hot beverages without the added sugar.

The product copy for “Milkadamia” is a hoot with the phrase “Moo is Moot” above the title. The product bills itself as vegan, dairy-free, lactose-free, soy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free and carrageenan-free. More clever phrases on the aseptic white and turquoise box include “Savor a superfood smoothie, melt into hot chocolate or bathe like Cleopatra.” That last suggestion is a bit over-the-top.

The indigenous nut to Australia was named by German-Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller in honor of John Macadam, a Scottish-Australian scientist in 1857. Macadamias have been grown in Hawaii since the 1880s, but South Africa now has become the world’s biggest producer in the past ten years.

Macadamias are 76% fat and quite caloric so easy does it on consumption. Please note that the nuts are toxic to dogs. Humans can enjoy this exotic nut with chocolate, in tarts, cookies and cakes. “Milkadamia” has become my official replacement for “moo juice.”

“Money Heist” on Netflix

As a general rule, heist plots bore me to tears, but after two different friends recommended “Money Heist” on Netflix, I decided to give the Spanish tv series a look-see.

Wow! Every episode contains action and just enough complexity to make the show interesting yet not confusing. A band of miscreants dressed in red jumpsuits and Salvador Dali masks, led by a man called “The Professor,” hold hostages in the Royal Mint of Spain while they print themselves millions in paper currency. In their minds, they are not really stealing from anyone.

The plot thickens with the introduction of the female official who is investigating the incident. She meets and falls for a handsome stranger who is none other than “The Professor” who has masterminded the heist.

Originally a hit tv show in Spain, Netflix obtained global streaming rights and reconfigured the length of episodes. There are currently four seasons on Netflix with a fifth and final season planned.

The program has also warranted a documentary called “Money Heist: The Phenomenon.” It seems the series has been a hit in several countries. You may want to jump on the “Money Heist” bandwagon and work on your Spanish, too! The original Spanish title is “La Casa de Papel,” which is “The House of Paper.” Expensive paper, indeed!

Two British mystery novels: “Maisie Dobbs” and “The Turn of the Key”

Jacqueline Winspear started a detective series in 2003 starring “Maisie Dobbs,” a female English private investigator and psychologist. We hear of Dobbs’ life from 1910 to 1929: her mother’s death when she is 14, her college years, her work as a nurse during WWI, her apprenticeship with famous French sleuth Maurice Blanche and finally the opening of her own detective agency.

Her first case investigating where a client’s wife goes every week, brings up painful memories of her own war-time romance.

Winspear says her interest in history and World War I, in particular, was due to her grandfather who suffered from shell shock in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. There are now 15 books in the series which include Dobbs’ cases through World War II.

Winspear won several prizes for her debut novel, “Maisie Dobbs,” including the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel, the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and made it to the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list.

Ruth Ware, another Brit who has made a name for herself in the mystery genre, is often billed as a psychological crime thriller author.

In “The Turn of the Key,” the reader is introduced to nanny Rowan Caine who is sitting in prison, awaiting trial for the murder of one of the children in her care.

Having received comparisons to Agatha Christie, Ware updates the spooky house setting by having it be a “smart home” with cameras everywhere, voice-controlled windows, door and lights and an out-of-town boss who indiscriminately starts talking to Rowan like a voice from out of the blue.

There is the requisite love interest, a poison garden and a plot twist. Ware wrote the book as a nod to “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, but the main characters are quite different.

Three of Ware’s books have been made into movies, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” “The Woman in Cabin 10” and “The Lying Game.”

Winspear is the more literary writer, but Ware knows how to spin a suspenseful tale. Both are worthy of the English crime literary club.

Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve

As the Lake Michigan shoreline in the city continues to be officially off-limits, I have explored other nature spots in the Chicago environs.

The Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve, with a Lake Forest address, provides visitors not only beach access, but several trail options. The first path I chose, the Lake Overlook Trail, took me past a lovely pond, allowed me to see Lake Michigan from a 70-foot high bluff and provided a photo op in front of a wondrously green ravine towards the north of the property.

The site brags that the Fort Sheridan preserve is a North American flyway for migratory birds with 236 species having been spotted in the park’s savanna, ravines and lakefront foliage.

On a future visit, I hope to explore the Parade Grounds Trail, the Fort Sheridan Cemetery which has gravestones dating back to 1890, and the surrounding Fort Sheridan Historic District which ceased being used by the military in 1993.

The property is interesting as a historical site, but free access to this stunning lakeside preserve is the real draw with hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, fishing, bird watching and picnicking being allowed.

Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve is open 6:30 am to sunset daily. Free visitor parking is near trail entrances.

This is the perfect get-away for city dwellers needing to commune with Lake Michigan. The forest, ravines and trails are a bonus.

https://www.lcfpd.org/fort-sheridan/

117 Sheridan Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045

“Les Miserables” drama series on PBS

I groaned when I saw yet another version of “Les Miserables” being promoted on Amazon Prime. (Season One of the 2018 PBS television series has been available for free in August for Prime members.)

Curiosity got the better of me and I found myself watching episode one of this mini-series adapted by Andrew Davies. I was instantly sucked into this fresh take on the Victor Hugo novel, in no small part due to actor Dominic West’s tour de force performance as criminal turned do-gooder, Jean Valjean. In color-blind casting, David Oyelowo is outstanding as Javert, the policeman who dogs Valjean for the duration of the story. Derek Jacobi, BBC thespian heavyweight, shines as Bishop Myriel, the cleric whose forgiveness and generosity changes Valjean’s path.

Without singing a blessed word, Lily Collins (daughter of English musician Phil Collins) is stunning and heartbreaking as the beleaguered Fantine. Olivia Colman and Adeel Akhtar are odiously entertaining as the greedy Thenardiers. David John Bradley, replete with wig, powdered face and fake beauty mark, villanously turns his grandson against his father who was an officer with Napoleon’s army.

Fine acting and superlative production standards make this worth viewing on the PBS Passport streaming service. Unless you can marathon watch it on Amazon Prime in the remaining hours before August closes. Ready, set, binge…

“Greyhound” on Apple+

Tom Hanks seems to play a lot of heroes, but “Greyhound” on Apple+ is special since he not only stars in this war movie, he wrote the screenplay, too. Based on the novel, “The Good Shepherd” by C. S. Forester, Hanks plays naval commander Ernest Krause on his first war-time command of a merchant ship convoy crossing the Atlantic.

A little backstory on my interest in this facet of WWII history. My father would reminisce about being an 18-year-old sailor who played the clarinet and saxophone for the Navy while on shore, but manned a gun when his ship was at sea. He told dramatic stories of being scared of Germans by air and water along with violent Atlantic storms. The movie does a good job of showing the menace of German submarines, in particular, referred to as U-boats. These underwater predators could be compared to the sharks in “Jaws.”

The movie does perhaps suffer from too much maritime dialogue, but Hanks and director Aaron Schneider do capture the fear and triumph felt by Commander Krause and his crew.

Due to the pandemic, “Greyhound” was never released theatrically, but was picked up by the Apple+ streaming service. One critic referred to this 91-minute feature as a “dad movie.” Why not see if you can get your history-minded pop or granddad to watch this with you?

“The Pioneers” by David McCullough

“The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West” by David McCullough

I have read almost all of historian David McCullough’s books (“1776,” “The Greater Journey,” “The Wright Brothers,” to name a few) so I was excited about his new work, “The Pioneers.” Two chapters in, I decided I was not sufficiently engaged enough to continue. The writing seemed to be merely a recitation of people who moved to the post-Revolutionary Northwest Territory, namely Ohio and environs.

Months later, “The Pioneers” became available on my audiobooks app and I decided to take another crack at the saga of men and women who pushed American civilization west. The book was able to keep my attention as an audio experience.

While McCullough writes about Manasseh Cutler and Revolutionary War veteran Rufus Putman, Puritans from New England and principals in the development of Ohio, of much more interest are mentions of personalities who have a connection to the Ohio Territory: “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, George Washington (an early investor), Charles Dickens, Aaron Burr, Lewis and Clark, John Quincy Adams and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The Ohio Company was forward thinking in many respects incorporating freedom of religion and education in new settlements. The founders were also abolitionists who wanted Ohio to be a non-slave state and kept it such, even as Thomas Jefferson unsuccessfully tried to insert some slave ownership exceptions in the by-laws of the Northwest Ordinance.

Native Americans are the adversaries in this narrative; I was definitely reading history through the eyes of an older white man, however brilliant he may be.

If you are interested in early American history however, “The Pioneers” may suit you, but it does not have the strong narrative that many of McCullough’s previous books possess. Reach for “The Great Bridge,” “The Johnstown Flood” or “John Adams” instead.