Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five-Day Road Trip to Chicago

It’s rare to find anyone that you really enjoy travelling with. It's rarer to find three such people. I am lucky to know three people who are not just easy to travel with, but are delightful and treasured friends of many years, and so, once again, the fabulous four hit the road for Chicago. Of course flying was considered but, with suggestions for locations of interest that could be experienced along the way, it was decided that we’d drive. The main purpose of the trip was to see the Tiffany glass exhibit at the Driehaus Museum. The only other time I was in Chicago was 2008. That was in middle of Hurricane Ike and for some reason I never found a decent place to eat. What we could only hope for this time was what we got: constant sunshine, mild temperatures, and the best food.

We set off from Toronto on Thursday morning, hitting the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts (above) by lunchtime. The Diego Rivera murals (above right), the Scarab Club (below), and so much more were very worth the trip.

Later that afternoon we visited a blog favourite, the Motawi Tileworks in Ann Arbor. We spent the night nearby after a very satisfying dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse. I'd never heard of it before, but by the time I'd finished googling it after dinner, I felt like the last person in the world to discover it. It's a national treasure and I'm so jealous that their monthly bacon box, or whatever it's called, can only be shipped to U.S. locations. That night I was catching up on Twitter and noted that the great film director John Sayles was visiting the Detroit area, specifically the University of Michigan, at a symposium about his work among other events that also included screenings and the opening of his archive. I gnashed my teeth that I had missed this by a day. His impressive entourage for the visit included his life/work partner Maggie Renzi and actor David Strathairn (secret boyfriend!).

The next morning, before hitting the road, we decided the only logical place to eat breakfast was back at Zingerman's where I had the best breakfast of my life. Onions, potato, bacon and asparagus were sauteed together before being topped by a beautiful egg, and accompanied by the best gluten-free bread I've yet tasted. I'm still thinking of this breakfast.

We hit the road and I pondered that there seem to be only three types of highway billboards in Michigan: churches, personal injury lawyers and sex stores. One after the other we were exhorted: Injured? Call us! Jesus Saves! 50,000 Square Feet of Sex Toys! We pondered why the "50,000 Square Feet" was important as as selling feature. So when a billboard suddenly popped up advertising the Kalamzazoo Institute of Art's exhibition of Tiffany glass, it kind of stood out - big time. This is the joy of a road trip... the surprises.


Kalamazoo was full of charming, clapboard houses and good people. The exhibit was excellent. It didn't just showcase stunning glass and jewellery, but also detailed the way Tiffany and his artisans worked and how the glass was treated and manipulated before being cut into different shapes.

By mid-day we were in Chicago. What a great city.

Our first stop was back at the 2nd Presbyterian Church that we first visited in 2008. There was a jumble sale in support of the church in progress and I picked up two lovely green platters made in Italy, for which they tried to charge me only a $1 each. Yeah. They got more than that. The volunteers were fantastic, taking us into the church and turning on the lights for us. Even the organist appeared and gave us an impromptu recital. Of course the main attraction was the stunning collection of Tiffany and Morris windows. The moment I stepped into the church my eyes got misty. These windows are so stunningly beautiful, and the church is so short of funds. They're trying hard to raise money to restore what they can, when they can. Oh, isn't there a sensitive millionnaire somewhere who'd like to save and restore these works of art? Below left you see up into a vaulted ceiling, and a small patch of restoration work in prrogress. Below right, patched carpet.


In the afternoon we arrived in Oak Park, revisited Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio and wandered the streets taking pictures of some of his other designed homes before realizing it had been a long time since breakfast at Zingerman's. In a pub in Oak Park that evening, I fell on a lamb shank like a slavering dog (well, not really, just kind of) and it was - again - delicious.

Tucked into my very comfy bed that night, I caught up on Twitter. John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, that fantastic director/producer partnership behind such great films, had visited the Diego Rivera murals the day after I had. Great minds... what can I say? ;)

Saturday started with perfection. Okay, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum isn't a home that William Morris would have loved, and normally a gilded age American home wouldn't be my sort of thing, but it happens to be the most beautiful home I've ever been in. My pictures don't do it justice. There isn't a square inch that isn't lovingly honed. There is the perfect balance between marble, wood and other materials. Just visit it. After a drool and some shopping in the giftstore (I indulged in every museum we visited), we headed off to the Loyola Museum of Art for an excellent and comprehensive Edward Gorey exhibit. Charming and whimsical. And I got a lovely print of my favourite Gorey illustration ever. It's just waiting to be mounted and hung. We had amazing burgers at Chef's Burger Bistro then headed off to Navy Pier for more of the Driehaus collection of Tiffany stained glass and more besides. Hot and tired after this, we did the only thing that you can do when you are hot and tired in a big city: find a cool, comfortable hotel bar. We escaped into the Bellwether Hotel where they took excellent care of us, serving us perfect tea and warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies with vanilla icecream. I think after that we could have handled anything. As it was all we had to do was step onto a boat for a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. Sailing under the first bridge and seeing those well-loved towers soaring above me surprisingly brought tears to my eyes. Our excellent tour guide shared her extensive knowledge and it was so good to sit and absorb for an hour or so. After that the two ladies of the party hit Nordstroms on a flying visit (I bought clothes!) before an evening of food and laughs.


I checked Twitter again that night. Well.. look who had visited Zingerman's that day and had also returned.... for gelato. I thought of titling this blog post "My Trip to Michigan with John Sayles" but thought that would be borderline creepy. Heh heh.

On Sunday morning we drove through Riverside, a community designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who knew what he was doing. We saw a FLLW property that is for sale and very decrepit. Hello? Millionnaires? We visited the Art Institute of Chicago as the contermporary wing hadn't been open last time we'd visited. We had lunch in the treed and scenic courtyard and then saw the Viviane Maier photographic exhibit at the stunning Harold Washington Library (you can see the top floor atrium below), and the equally impressive Palmer Hotel with its glamorous, palm-festooned lobby and the shimmering, mosaiced Chicago Cultural Centre. Seriously... a great city. One of our party hadn't seen the Bean so we went to play there and at the wonderful outdoor concert shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry. We then had to find dinner. The place we'd planned on eating at was closed, so TripAdvisor came to the rescue and we ate at State and Lake Chicago Tavern which is located... at State and Lake. Such good food. This is where my friend started with Coalminer's Poutines (which included guanciale and a fried egg) and continued for his main course to consume the Butcher's Bigger Brother's Beef Brisket Bacon Burger on a Bun, which give you an idea why he was feeling he'd overdone it at the end of the meal. My baked wings were incredible. The best I've ever had. My mouth is still watering. We then headed into the sumptuous Chicago State Theatre for Eddie Izzard's show, which he's touring around, titled Force Majeure. Izzard was stylish, witty, eclectic, and the huge crowd couldn't get enough of him. He was doing three nights in Chicago alone!

The next day was a slowish drive all the way home to Toronto with a lunch stop off in Okemos, MI to see some more FLLW. I don't dream of living in a FLLW home, but there is something I find endlessly fascinating about his work.

It was a splended five days in June.

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