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Sunday, June 25, in Port Washington, Wisconsin

Hi everyone. Sorry about the long delay (and the subsequent long letter). We spent two weeks in Chicago, and we finally have moved on, up the western coast of Lake Michigan. At the end of the last letter, Sammie and Jack had left for their train from Chicago and we were on our own. Here’s what we did for the rest of our Chicago visit.

On Wednesday, we bought transit passes, and went from one end of town to another to draw down our list of items we needed to purchase. We found ourselves near Manny’s Deli once more, and unlike our visit during the Sunday Maxwell Street Market, this time it was open for lunch. I had been wrong about the lack of ethnic diversity in its clientele; apparently a place as frenetic as that simply needs a day off each week. We sat at a table under photos of the staff feeding and hugging Barack Obama, and other similar photos with Bill Clinton.

The next morning, it was our plan to visit the Art Institute, but we were sidetracked as we strolled through the sprawling Millennium Park. Until not very long ago, this 24.5-acre land was occupied by some parkland, Illinois Central rail yards, and parking lots. It actually sits on top of a parking garage and a commuter rail station, making it officially the world’s largest roof garden. In fact, some of the structures inside the park are mainly constructed of Styrofoam to reduce the roof weight on the underground facility.

The Millennium Park development didn’t open until 2004, partly because the plans became more elaborate and the funding added significant private donations. Today’s park includes pavilions, restaurants, fountains, gardens, and spectacular public art. As we wandered by the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, I remembered an event I had designated as something for us to do.

I knew that the Grant Park Orchestra would have daytime outdoor rehearsals that were open to the public, but we hadn’t been drawn in until we walked by. About a hundred people were in attendance, with a full orchestra and chorus of nearly the same number aligned on the stage. We watched the soprano, tenor and baritone rehearse their solo segments. Because this was a rehearsal and not a performance, the musicians were in casual street clothes. It’s almost disconcerting (pun intended) to watch a woman who looked so approachable that she could be your cousin, who is wearing a cotton button-down shirt and a pair of jeans, singing in such a powerful manner.

By the time we were ready to leave the rehearsal, we decided to postpone our visit to the Art Institute. Instead, we returned to Michigan Avenue for more errands, and a lunch stop at The Purple Pig, a small-plates Mediterranean restaurant that is a collaboration between several local chef-restaurateurs.

We finally got a look at a photograph from the 30s, which explained to us where they’d found the land to build dozens of residential and office skyscrapers that overlook Lake Michigan. The whole area had been rail yards. We still hadn’t nailed down the multi-level road system, but we had figured it out enough so that we could get from one place to another without resorting to the salvation of taxis.

Though the waterfront had been abuzz ashore of our dock, there had so far, since Monday, been few entrants to the dock. This changed on Thursday evening, and the dock continued to get busier on Friday.

My research about visiting Chicago made it clear that chefs were a destination of their own. I wrote myself a map of places we could go for lunch that would find the widest variety of cuisines and chefs. On Friday, this plan took us to lunch at Blackbird. My plan usually leads me to prix-fixe meals, where I get the chance to experiment with cuisines at a more approachable price than dinner. But Art’s decision to order only a sandwich was a better judgment than mine.

My meal was complicated and delicious, a win in that sense, but the way that it apparently made business sense for the restaurant was to reduce the portions at or beyond proportionality in price. My Arctic char crudo appetizer (a ceviche) was beautiful and tasty, but it made up about one-quarter cup of food. I didn’t expect a bowlful, but a tablespoon would need only about two tries to pick up all of it. My monkfish main was no larger, with one halved French string bean artfully providing some height to a protein about the size of a hard-boiled egg. To add insult to injury, this dish was presented on a giant white plate. If this was a personal pizza, divided into sixteen slices, my entire lunch would have made up about one slice. Art’s sandwich, on the other hand, was generous, with a handful of potato chips and a tablespoon of German potato salad. I kept looking at his sides longingly and ended up eating most of both of them.

One the way back to the elevated train, we stopped in Metramart, a train terminal converted to a food hall. Somehow we got out with only a few scones in the backpack. It was all I could do to keep myself from eating another lunch.

Finally, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we’d been sidetracked the day before. It’s impossible to do the place justice in a paragraph, and there are many descriptions of the museum elsewhere, but the basics are that it contains about 300,000 works of art, that its collections contain more than 5,000 years of objects created by humans, and that much of the globe is represented. The Impressionist and post-Impressionist highlights include several of Monet’s Haystacks and some Water Lilies, Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge, and Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The American collection houses Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Chagall’s 1977 America Windows was presented as a gift for the bicentennial. Everywhere you turn, there’s something marvelous to see, even if you don’t know the work or even the artist.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers tours to survey the city’s buildings from lots of vantage points: walking, buses, the Loop elevated train, or the river. We chose a broad tour by bus to see the most we could see and learn about the many architectural styles represented. The three-and-a-half hour tour took us from end to end of the city and covered most of the phases of the city’s development, starting from the first cabin built in Chicago by the city’s first permanent resident, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. The marina where we were staying was at the mouth of the river and is named after him.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed about 2000 acres, creating the opportunity for the city to start over. You remember, as we all have learned, that Catherine O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern and started the blaze that killed hundreds and left 90,000 homeless. As it turned out, though the fire did start in that barn, the story was a fabrication by a newspaper reporter who wanted to make it colorful. Poor Mrs. O’Leary died heartbroken and falsely maligned. In 1997, the Chicago City Council voted to exonerate both the poor Mrs. O’Leary and her infamous cow.

We saw many buildings large, wide and tall by Daniel Burnham, who oversaw the construction of the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition in 1893, and was a defining part of Chicago’s architectural development. Our tour included a visit to the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright residence in the Prairie School style, the first uniquely American architectural style. We visited the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology to examine buildings from Mies van der Rohe, including Crown Hall, widely considered to be his finest work.

We stopped for lunch at the Park Café in Millennium Park on our way back to the boat, and were reminded that we hadn’t yet participated in the Chicago Blues Festival already underway. So back we went for a bit of the blues in the evening. This annual festival is free and crammed with acts for three days, including headliners in the evenings. Grant Park was so crowded on Saturday night that it was all we could do to find a spot to sit on the grass where we could get a view of the large screen transmitting what was on stage. The people on stage, when we could make them out, were little dots.

Summer weekends are filled with festivals, and the next day we returned to Randolph Street, where we’d already visited the Little Goat and Blackbird restaurants. A neighborhood food festival was in progress, although neither of these places were participating. But we did get to sample in street food form some of the dishes of restaurants on that street, including restaurants on my to-do list. After that, we returned to Michigan Avenue for no particular reason, and again the street was swarming with shoppers, on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

During the times we were onboard, Art hadn’t been resting. Besides his daily activities keeping spiders and dirt at bay outdoors, he had recalibrated the water tank meter, and he tried to replace a spotlight bulb. Unfortunately, while he was readying the mount for the bulb on deck, the tiny bulb itself rolled away from him and shattered. He ordered another one and finally got the job done when the new bulb arrived.

He also arranged for some work to be done while we were close to so many services in town. On one day, we performed a relay with two dock workers and ourselves, passing the salon couch cushions and two area rugs from the boat to a van owned by a cleaning service, who processed them in the marina parking lot and passed them back to us to dry and reconstruct the settee. The next day, a marine electronics specialist worked with us to figure out why our satellite television service was so temperamental. In the process, he discovered that the satellite box was originally mounted improperly, and we made sure that we at least rectified that problem when the system was put back together.

Nearly every night, Millennium Park offered something of interest in the outdoor shell. Some days the weather kept us away, or other plans that made our day too long. But we did get there one night to watch an amazing guitarist named Richard Thompson that we nearly remembered from the 60s band Fairport Convention. The shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, is a relatively recent addition to the park. When you sit in the stadium-style red seats, the artistic roof covering the stage looks like a giant stainless steel insect. Pipes welded in a geodesic mesh overhead structure produce a fantastic sound system. A huge screen behind the performers lets you watch as if you’re only a few rows away. This was helpful. Though we were in the front part of the audience (a group of thousands on a Monday night), Mr. Thompson looked like an ant in the distance even from us. On a different night, we watched a contemporary chamber music ensemble named eighth blackbird. The name, not the music, is in lower case. In many large cities, you can’t do much without money, but not in Chicago.

We devoted another day or two to errands around town, but we did manage to enjoy a festive Mexican lunch at Frontera Grill. A different day took us to Urban Belly, the mid-market Korean barbecue brainchild of Chef Bill Kim. But Chicago isn’t all chefs and glamorous cuisine, so we checked out the hot dog place Portillo’s. It’s a madhouse, with hundreds of hungry customers ordering from a counter line on one side of the large space, and picking up their orders by number on the other side. The crush at lunchtime was surprising, but handled systematically by a horde of kitchen and counter staff, including a dispatcher with a mic calling out number after number.

Every day we went out and explored; instead of striking sightseeing items from our to-do list, we kept thinking up new ones. We visited the Museum of Science and Industry, a stop worth making especially for the building itself, which was the Palace of Fine Arts from the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, designed by Daniel Burnham and among the few surviving structures from the Fair. It’s the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, and was filled on this summer weekday with a surprising number of visitors. We sampled most of the exhibits, and paid close attention to the rooms about trains (with a fantastic 1400 foot model train track with 20 trains running on it), weather, genetics, and the Omnimax movie about D-Day, just a few weeks after the event’s 70th anniversary.

The old Marshall Field building, now a Macy’s, was on our route to most of the public transit we were using, so we thought that we should visit that building in our rounds. The building dates from 1892 and is adorned with fantastic pillars inside and great clocks (more than seven tons each) outdoors. A 1907 ceiling of more than 1.6 million pieces is the largest example of Tiffany glass in the world.

More boat situations needed attention. One of the blinds in the main salon, a wonder of technology to draw down over a triangular window, had a drawstring break. The opposite and equal blind didn’t look so sturdy either, so we shipped them back to their manufacturer for repair.

One morning, I opened the freezer to check on something before a grocery trip. Everything inside there felt wet. Wet is not a good freezer feeling. I opened Art’s ice cream and found chocolate milk inside the carton. There was no doubt; the freezer was off.

It couldn’t have been too long. Art has his little portion of ice cream every night without fail. This is a man who knows when it’s too hard or too soft, like Goldilocks. It had obviously been fine the night before. He has said that it’s his way of checking on the freezer temperature. Oh, the sacrifices he makes to make sure that the thermostat is set.

The fact that the freezer light wasn’t coming on was a sign to him that there was no power at all to the box. We had plans for this Saturday afternoon and night and expected to leave the city with all its specialists the next day. Art looked around some more. And he found the problem, a bad connection in a wire that lives inside the cabinet where I keep all of the pots, pans, and trays. He fixed it and the compressor snapped back on immediately. Something must have bumped the connection as I moved stuff around in there the day before. I was really happy that I’d decided for very little reason to open the freezer in the morning. Had we not looked into it at that time, it might have been much too late to save the frozen food. Our plans for an evening out would have meant that there wouldn’t be an ice cream quality control process that night.

Our evening out was a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Even I know that this is a real treat if you happen to be near Chicago in baseball season. Even I know that the playoffs would be too late.

But we happen to have a niece-in-law, for lack of a better kinship term, who is part of the Cubs organization, and seeing her in her home habitat was part of the evening’s charm.

We took the subway very early to get to the stadium, but the train was crowded anyway with fans in blue shirts and blue caps. The game was delayed for rain for about two hours, but when it started, it was evident that these are not fair weather fans figuratively or literally. The stands were crowded. Even the stands that are not actually inside the stadium were crowded. They’re called Wrigley Rooftops, and they are the places atop various residential buildings outside of left field and right field. Once upon a time, people would simply gather on the rooftops and watch the games from a distance. Later, the building owners started to charge for admission. Now, many of the rooftops have bleachers installed, some on multiple levels.

The Cubs organization wasn’t pleased as the rooftop arrangements grew. They won a lawsuit filed in 2002 on the basis that charging for rooftop seating constituted piracy, and ended up settling with the building owners, who now pay a royalty of their ticket receipts in exchange for official endorsement. Yep, you can have the Cubs endorse you as a reseller, and maybe sell MLB merchandise from your broom closet. The Cubs are still trying to improve the stadium with additional seating, but the rooftop owners fight their plans, revision after revision.

But we sat in view of the famous ivy-covered walls, and watched the Cubs lose to Pittsburgh.

I’ll try to write a little more frequently and a little less extensively. Till the next time.

Love, Karen (and Art)