September 24, 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.

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.

117 Sheridan Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045

Wildflowers Riverside in Chicago

Rather than bemoan the fact I am not going to Italy, Scotland or Norway anytime soon, I have been finding delightful spots around Chicago and environs.

One of my favorite finds is a wildflower trail running along the north branch of the Chicago River from Montrose in Horner Park, on the west bank of the river going south to Irving Park. You can almost forget you are in the city as you revel in the river views while strolling amid natives plants both colorful and green.

At the beginning of the walk is a stone staircase leading down to water’s edge. This would be the perfect spot to launch a kayak or dingy or get a water-level river photo.

A couple of suggestions about when to visit this trail.
It is hot in this dense meadow so you may want to choose early morning or late afternoon for a hike. Likewise, you may want to avoid early evening when the bugs come out en masse. Social-distancing is difficult on the narrow path so you may opt for another time to visit if you see crowds of people entering the trail.

After the river trail deadends at Irving Park due to construction, there is a path that runs along the busy street so you can loop back around into Horner Park.

This walk-about goes on my list of favorite Chicago nature spots. I am slowly but surely checking out the many Chicago River amenities. Anybody want to rent a canoe with me?

Studio Gang Boathouse near Belmont and the Chicago River

My biking brother-in-law frequently touts the trails and parks around the Chicago River. This past weekend, I visited the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park on the north branch of the Chicago River near Belmont.

The Boathouse is actually two spectacular buildings with a dock area for launching non-motorized boats and 22,620-square-feet of training areas and boat storage. The Chicago Rowing Foundation and Chicago Park District partnered to create this space for human-powered boats.

Admiring the architecture, I had the sneaking suspicion this was a Jeanne Gang creation. Bingo. Studio Gang completed this structure in 2013. The striking zinc-and-slate-clad building won an American Institute of Architects award in 2016, citing “a wonderful relationship between building, river and the park where it sits.” I could not agree more.

Some of the Boathouse operations are on hiatus right now, but in normal times you can rent kayaks and canoes for use on the Chicago River.

I was also able to admire the Kerry Wood Cubs Field which is across the street from the Boathouse. A return visit is needed since my brother-in-law noted that I missed the Garden south of the Boathouse which has dirt jumps and trails for bikers. Who ever said there are no nature adventures in big cities?

The WMS Boathouse at Clark Park
Chicago Park District
3400 N. Rockwell Street
Chicago, IL 60618

Chicago Park Options

Ronan Park from Lawrence to Argyle on the Chicago River North Branch

While the 606 elevated path, Chicago River Walk and Lake Michigan bike trail will open this week with limitations, lakeside beaches and parks are still off limits. Millennium Park is allowing visitors with masks in groups of ten or less. It was noted that people may NOT touch the Bean.

If you need a park fix with a water view, consider the North Shore Channel Trail which runs along the North Branch of the Chicago River from Lawrence and Francisco avenues north to Green Bay Road and McCormick Boulevard in Evanston. Included in this seven-mile stretch is the new Lincoln Village Pedestrian Bridge at Devon.

Parkland around the Lincoln Park Zoo was recently filled with sunbathers, children playing, dog-walkers and outdoor diners. A really buff guy was also doing very vigorous calisthenics. People-watching can be better than a movie.

Evanston and other north shore suburbs have lakeside parks open to those needing a lake and greenery fix.

Never again will I take our Chicago lakefront and parks for granted!

Lake Michigan in more carefree days

Mon Ami Gabi French Restaurant in Lincoln Park and elsewhere

I wanted to do something special on my birthday so having a Lettuce Entertain You gift card from an adult student of mine really came in handy.

Mon Ami Gabi was my restaurant choice since I had a yen for French food. Some people are opting to use the outdoor patio in front of the venerable Belden Stratford apartment building (pictured above), but we chose to order carry-out and dine al fresco in the park next to Lincoln Park Zoo.

I ordered a filet mignon in a pepper and creme fraiche sauce along with side dishes of green pea and Leek mash and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Magnifique! I don’t eat beef that often, but this was a beautiful cut of meat. My husband wanted the hamburger with blue cheese on a brioche bun, paired with crispy frites. We polished off the meal with blueberry crumble à la mode and chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Surprisingly, the high quality vanilla ice cream stayed cold until we were ready for dessert. We brought our own silverware and napkins, so make sure you request those if you are not taking carry-out food directly to your home.

Most people do not realize there are five Mon Ami Gabi restaurants: the Chicago original named after beloved chef Gabino Sotelino, OakBrook IL, Reston VA, Bethesda MD and the Las Vegas Strip. The Vegas outpost is a favorite for locals and visitors alike with premium outdoor seating overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio Resort. The bottom photos are from a charming lunch I had at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.