Happy Halloween...

Phew! This has been a busy, busy month. I went on two trips, had a visit from an old friend, and frankly, haven't had time for much else. That's why I'm not doing a darned thing for Halloween this year. No costume, no party, no decorations, no themed treats, nothing.

All things considered, Halloween isn't even one of my favorite holidays, although many of the people in my life seem to love it. Maybe it's because I'm just not that into candy. I seem to remember Mom throwing away the remnants of my uneaten candy stash sometime around Christmas as a child, because I never got around to eating it all. Last year, the leftovers from my trick-or-treaters languished in a drawer for an embarrassingly long time. In high school, I was the first person in my circle of friends to recognize that I had gotten too old for trick-or-treating and give it up. I'll take baked goods over candy any day. I suppose I'm like the Ebeneezer Scrooge of Halloween.

However, this was not always the state of affairs. I used to get more into the Halloween spirit when I was a kid, especially because Mom always made it a special occasion. Mom was always really into Halloween, throwing Halloween parties, putting up seasonal decorations, assembling elaborate costumes for me, and she even volunteered to do a haunted house at my elementary school one year with some other moms. So, even if it's not my favorite holiday today, I thought it might be festive to look back on some memories of Halloweens past:

1992: As a child, I was always fascinated with ancient Egypt, which indirectly led me to my current career. My favorite museum in Chicago was the Field Museum, largely because of their interactive Egypt exhibit, in which you travel through a mock mastaba (the precursor to the pyramid) and engage in numerous activities such as drawing water using a reconstructed shaduf, and attempting to move a stone equal in size and shape to those used in the pyramids. My fascination with the Egypt exhibit fostered a life-long fascination with museums, and my personal favorite among my childhood Halloween costumes. Mom made every part of it from scratch, from sewing the dress, to attaching all the charms and gems to the collar, headband, and armbands. She also made all the decorations you see in the background, for the Halloween party we hosted that year.

1994: My love for musical theater goes back as far as I can remember, when Mom would play tapes from musicals like Les Miserables, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera in the car. I saw a live production of Les Miserables for the first time when I was merely five years old. Although Les Miserables still reigns as my favorite individual musical, I have a particular affinity for the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. It wasn't until I was nine, however, that I chose to be the Phantom as a Halloween costume. This particular ensemble was so successful that I used it, and components from it for several subsequent Halloweens.

1995: Not one of my best costumes ever, but this society maven ensemble makes an important point about Halloweens in Chicago: it is always cold and often rainy. This costume enabled some genius practicality: faux fur-trimmed gloves, and an actual mink stole that Mom found at a estate auction. In fact, I can't remember a year when winter coats and layering weren't involved in my trick-or-treating experience. Even this year, after a week of temperatures in the 50s and 60s, it fell into the 40s just in time for Halloween. Thankfully though, I was so busy not celebrating today, that the drop in temperature had no effect on me.

So, even though I'm not doing a thing to commemorate this holiday outside this blog post, I hope all the rest of you had a safe, and ghoulishly good time. Happy Halloween!


My Kind of Town...

After returning from Boston last week, I expressed my displeasure with the city on Facebook, prompting a response from an old college acquaintance who lives there now. We exchanged barbs about our respective cities of residence, and he challenged me to defend my assertion that Chicago is the greatest American city. Since I am quite passionate about my hometown, and work at an institution that advances knowledge of the city, I composed a rather lengthy essay on the perks of Chicago that effectively silenced his criticism. Since many of my readers here also live outside of the Chicagoland area, I thought I'd pass my thoughts along to all of you.

Chicago is great because of its...

Chicago is home to some of the greatest cultural institutions in the United States, and the world at large. The Art Institute has one of the foremost collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and American art in the world. With the recent opening of the Modern Wing, their Contemporary and Modern European collections have an incredible new showcase. Chicago is also home to numerous other world-class museums, including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry, not to mention the dozens of smaller institutions like the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago History Museum, the Dusable Museum of African American History, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Vietnam Veterans' Art Museum.

Chicago fosters a vibrant music, theater, and dance scene. Several recent productions, including Aida, and The Producers have chosen to premiere in Chicago before heading to Broadway. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera are among the country's best in their respective fields. Chicago is also home to a number of music festivals during the summer, such as Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, and the ongoing free summer concert series held in Millennium Park.

Numerous films have been set in, or filmed in Chicago. To name a few: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Risky Business, The Blues Brothers, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. And, I'm not really sure that it qualifies as culture, but Oprah lives and films here, and she's one of the most powerful women in America.

We have deep dish pizza. End of story.

Seriously though, Chicago is often pointed to as the rising star of the American culinary scene. The city is home to Alinea, often cited as one of the best restaurants in the world, much less the United States, and the restaurants of other James Beard Award-winning chefs such as Laurent Gras (L20) and Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican). Rick Bayless has all of his restaurants in Chicago. You can also find any ethnic food you might desire in one of Chicago's neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Pilsen (Mexican), Humbolt Park (Puerto Rican), Devon Street (Indian), Greektown, Little Italy, and others.

We also have Chicago-style hot dogs.

Lake Michigan
Our lake is so big, you can't even see the other side of it. We might as well live on the ocean. We have beaches. But we also get the benefits of being in the middle of the country, like being a major transportation hub, and reasonable flight times to the edges of the country.

Architecture, and Public Art
Chicagoans invented the skyscraper. We have the tallest one in the country
(although we were dumb enough to let them rename it the Willis Tower), and some particularly fetching exemplar such as the Tribune Tower and the Carbide & Carbon Building. The city boasts two phenomenal ceilings designed by Tiffany: the glass dome of the Chicago Cultural Center, and the mosaic ceiling in the old Marshall Field flagship store (now a Macy's.) The city is also home to public art furnished by some of the greatest artists in the world. Daley Plaza contains the famous Picasso statue, nearby is a statue by Joan Miro, and Millennium Park features the popular Crown Fountain designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plenza, along with Cloud Gate, which has become a symbol of the city, not to mention the new band shell designed by Frank Gehry.

I'll be the first to admit, I could care less about this aspect of Chicago. Still, we have two baseball teams with fanatical followings, a football team with a historic stadium, an occasionally decent hockey team, and what was once a legendary basketball team. We had Michael Jordan back in the day.

City Planning
Because our city burned to the ground in 1871, we were able to start fresh with modern theories of city planning. The vast majority of our streets run north/south and east/west. You'd have to be an idiot to get lost here. Older cities (like Boston) have a more idiosyncratic layout that is somewhat European in its sensibility. City planning also gave us our large swath of lakefront parks, collectively referred to as the city's front lawn.

Say what you will about Chicago politics, but you can't deny that they keep things interesting. Richard M. Daley is a legend. He may wield near dictatorial power over the city, but he gets things done. Time proclaimed him the best mayor of any major US city in 2005. We're also the hometown of President Obama, the most powerful politician in the world.

Sure, Chicago has its flaws. Every city does. No place is perfect. But I happen to think Chicago comes pretty close, and despite all my travels, I can't think of another place I'd rather put down roots for any extended period of time.


Just Barely PG...

Tonight, I was watching The Daily Show and sipping on a glass of chocolate milk, when a clip came up on the screen so ridiculous, so borderline obscene, that I very nearly ejected chocolate milk from my nose. It was definitely a close call.

I quickly navigated over to YouTube, where I discovered that I was clearly the last person to learn of this clip. It's already been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Still, I thought I'd pass it along, just in case you missed it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Shake Weight:


Weekend in New England - Day Three

Given all of the rain, nausea-inducing cab rides through the tortuous, congested streets, and enforced socializing with the slightly-less-than humble Ivy League alumni, I was relieved to find myself at the end of my time in Boston. Miraculously, the weather had cleared, so Dad and I started our morning with a pleasant walk through the Boston Commons. Proving once again that youth is wasted on the young, I discovered that Dad had never taken the time to walk through the Commons during his time in Boston, busy as he was with studying and classes. I'm glad that after thirty years of hard work, he now has the time to pause and admire the fall colors.

A sampling of the beautiful changing leaves in the Boston Commons.

Because I hadn't wanted to leave the East Coast without sampling some clam chowder, we had made a lunch reservation at Legal Sea Foods, a chain of restaurants whose original Cambridge location Dad had often patronized with his friends during his years at Harvard. We headed over to Long Wharf, home to one of the Legal Sea Foods locations and the Boston Aquarium, prompting the locals to joke that the food there is so fresh because they bring it straight from the aquarium. We got to the restaurant a little early for our reservation, so we took in some of the fresh sea air and strolled along the wharf.

Surely I must have seen the Atlantic Ocean before, but I can't remember it for the life of me.

The restaurant has since changed, but Dad was delighted to locate the place where he had his fateful interview with Newton Minow, who would ultimately inspire Dad to take a job with him at Sidley & Austin in Chicago. The rest, as they say, is history.

As it turned out, the food at Legal Sea Foods was actually a little too fresh for my liking -- the clam chowder was somewhat bland, and I was a little unsettled by the whole clams in my fried clams. Evidently, I'm too accustomed to seafood in its Midwestern incarnation. The experience was sort of par for the course considering the rest of our trip, but I was still happy that we made it out to the seaside, especially because it brought back so many fond memories for Dad of his encounter with destiny, and of his family's visit to Boston for his Harvard graduation, when he brought them to Long Wharf for dinner.

Ultimately, it doesn't much matter how much I enjoyed, or didn't enjoy Boston. When you love someone, you sometimes have to put their happiness before your own, and my accompanying him to his reunion made Dad very happy. As an oral historian, I find myself in the business of collecting stories from the past, and retracing Dad's years in law school drew out the kind of stories that he had never had the occasion to share before. When I think back to my grandfathers, and all the questions I never thought to ask, and the subsequent answers I'll never get to hear, I am all the more pleased to have this quality time to learn about my Dad.

Even so, I think it might be a while before I want to return to Boston.


Weekend in New England - Day Two

I might as well have been named Cassandra, because my sense of foreboding turned out to be fully realized on our only full day in Boston. We woke up to rain, which abated slightly during breakfast, such that it was merely drizzling by the time we headed out to tackle part of Boston's historic "Freedom Trail," which leads you past all of the city's significant colonial and revolutionary-era sights.

The Freedom Trail website says that it is paved in red brick. I wasn't exactly expecting a tiny stripe in the sidewalk...

Our first stop along the Trail (after leaving Boston Commons, a park that used to serve as the community grazing area for livestock) was the Granary Burial Ground, founded in 1660, and home to some of the heroes of the American Revolution, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. I was particularly interested in the funerary iconography of the graves, as I had never seen a cemetery dating back to such an early era of American history. Evidently, because the Puritans did not believe in religious icons, the tombs represent a idiosyncratic melange of secular death imagery, including bones, hourglasses (to mark the end of one's time on earth), and winged skulls known as "soul effigies," which were intended to symbolize the soul's ascent to heaven.

Two things I love in one photo: fall foliage, and crumbling old cemeteries. This was by far my favorite destination in our brief tour of Boston.

A pair of neat 18th century tombstones. The one on the top shows the popular "soul effigy" motif, which was by far the most prevalent in the cemetery, and the one beneath depicts a small hourglass at the bottom.

Dad and I with the 19th century marker that was dedicated to Paul Revere after it was deemed that his original, humble marker was not befitting of his iconic status in American history.

From the cemetery, we followed the Freedom Trail onward to see King's Church, an Anglican house of worship erected by the King of England for his soldiers and other colonial officials, which had to be carved out of a piece of public land as the Puritan Bostonians refused to allow the construction of an Anglican church in their fair hamlet. We then headed past the Old State House, where Boston's famous patriots debated the Stamp Tax and outside of which the Boston Massacre occurred, to Faneuil Hall.

Fanueil Hall, with its statue of Samuel Adams in front.

Although Fanueil Hall was originally constructed as a house of commerce (a purpose that it still fulfills today as the site of numerous tourist shops and food stalls), its historical legacy stems from its role as a meeting house during the Revolution. At Fanueil Hall, Bostonians protested the Stamp, Sugar, and Townshend Acts, Samuel Adams held a publicity stunt for the cause of independence by staging a funeral for the victims of the Boston Massacre, and the Sons of Liberty held a series of meetings which culminated in the Boston Tea Party.

By the time we had seen Fanueil Hall, the skies had opened up and unleashed a flood of torrential rain, so we were forced to abandon our sightseeing endeavor and head over to Harvard, where we were to attend a luncheon featuring guest speaker, Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren is a faculty member at Harvard Law School, but is better known as the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, which "review[s] the current state of financial markets and the regulatory system," and was created last year during the current global economic crisis. I had seen her previously on The Daily Show, so at least I was familiar with her work, and she was relatively interesting, even if the food at the event had been sitting out for an indeterminate amount of time, and was pretty horrendous.

Before setting out for another touristic effort, Dad also posed for the Class of 1979 group photo, where he was finally able to locate some of the friends with which he has kept in touch over the years. However, that moment of success was overshadowed by the failure of our attempt to see the Old North Church, site of Paul Revere's famous "one if by land, two if by sea," lantern display.

I could tell we were doomed when the taxi driver didn't seem to know what we were talking about when we asked for the Old North Church and asked for the address, which, of course, we were unable to provide. Dad told him it was in the North End, Boston's Little Italy neighborhood, so the cab driver dropped us off at the edge of it, leaving us completely lost, with only an incomplete map of the city featuring the Freedom Trail that I had printed off of Google Maps before we left Chicago. Several rounds of advice from directionally-challenged locals later, we finally found the structure. There, we were able to catch a brief lecture on the history of the church, which was mostly notable for the speaker who was in possession of a "wicked-awesome" Boston accent, and the fact that we got to sit in the unusual boxed-in pews, which were designed to keep out drafts during the bitter Massachusetts winters, and which cost families the equivalent of thousands of dollars to rent out for their private use.

It wasn't until we were able to find this statue of Paul Revere that Dad finally got oriented and we were able to figure out where we were. In the background is the famous steeple where the lanterns were hung.

Our final destination for the day brought us back to Cambridge for Dad's class dinner. The event was moderately more tolerable than the buffet of the previous evening, and it somewhat solidified my sense that the true silver lining in the entire experience has been the window that it has opened on Dad's life in a time before I was ever even a glimmer on the horizon. His friends recalled the famous Farrah Faucet poster prominently displayed on his dorm room wall, and with a great deal of camaraderie they discussed the various professors that had alternately inspired and frustrated them among other aspects of their shared experiences at Harvard. Given the confident, commanding presence my father has become, it was interesting to imagine him as an intimidated, nervous, young student fresh off the proverbial turnip truck. It has given me a greater respect for everything that he has accomplished in his life, and for that I am grateful, even if the majority of my Boston experience was not something I would care to repeat.

Dad with his law school pals, Mike Clark (left) and Ralph Canada (center).


Weekend in New England - Day One

Yet again I found myself on the road in the month of October, as Dad and I set forth for Boston to attend his thirtieth Harvard Law School reunion. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to this trip. Busy as I have been this month, with travel and house guests, I was sort of craving some down-time, but my daughterly duties beckoned.

Our first order of business in Boston was to find some lunch, but we managed to start off the trip on a bad foot when we discovered that the restaurant I had selected based on the recommendations of several Bostonian foodie publications was located in the same hotel where Barack Obama was in town and holding a fundraiser. The traffic trying to get there was a nightmare, and we couldn't even get within several blocks of the restaurant, a state of affairs that we were only able to ascertain once we had exited our taxi and gotten stranded in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. We ended up having to walk back to our hotel, and failed to locate an acceptable dining alternative along the entire mile-long walk.

Instead, we had to head over to Cambridge to register for the reunion, and catch the 4:00 tour of the Harvard campus. The cab ride over wasn't as long as we had anticipated, so we used some of our extra time to go see Dad's old dormitory, Ames Hall, where he lived all three years of his time at Harvard. Our luck changed somewhat when we found a girl exiting the building who was willing to let us in to see Dad's old floor, where we were able to locate his old room (and, coincidentally, the handsome young first-year student living there now, and his crew of above-average-looking friends.)

Ames Hall, and Dad in front of his old stomping grounds.

I'm not sure that the tour of the campus had the effect that Dad was hoping for: namely, that I would be struck with the beauty of Harvard and want to apply for graduate school there. Instead, I was mostly surprised to discover that Legally Blonde was not actually filmed at Harvard, such that the actual campus did not match the image I had built of it in my mind's eye. And while the colonial-style architecture was perfectly pleasant, and the copious trees were erupting into a vivid display of fall foliage, I couldn't help but think that the uniform, "collegiate gothic" buildings at Wash U were more to my liking.

Dad and I with the statue of John Harvard, which the tour guide says is the third most-photographed statue in the United States, despite the fact that Mr. Harvard was not the actual founder of the university (just its first major benefactor) and the man depicted in it isn't even John Harvard, of whom no portraits were ever made.

Our last stop for the evening was an alumni cocktail reception and buffet dinner, where we managed to find and socialize with one down-to-earth couple from Minnesota in spite of the oppressive cloud of smug that was hanging over the room. Particularly egregious was one female lawyer we spoke with who specializes in defending white collar criminals. Logically speaking, I know everyone deserves the right to a fair trial, but it is pretty difficult for me to muster any sympathy for people who defraud innocent people of their savings, or defraud investors in their companies, or cheat taxpayers out of money by manipulating the government. There are many lawyers out there fighting the good fight, assisting the disadvantaged and providing pro bono services to non-profits and so forth, but it is people like that woman who contribute to society's negative stereotypes concerning the legal profession.

By the time we left the dinner, it was already raining, the poor weather seemingly having followed us from Chicago. With a day full of showers in the forecast for Saturday, I could scarcely shake my sense of foreboding concerning the remainder of my time in Beantown.


The Rainbow Connection...

If the response I got on the photo I posted to Facebook of the Rainbow Cake is any indicator, people seem to be fascinated by this dessert. Its psychedelic array of hues is undeniably eye-catching, but I cannot take credit for its creation, despite seeing it splashed across the food blogosphere. Nope, it was entirely Katherine's idea, and she performed the vast majority of the work on it, while I sat nearby and sipped a beverage. I helped a bit with adding the food coloring, and loading the pans into the oven, but that's about it. Since I was the one who documented the process, however, I'll be the one passing it along to you.
Of course this is just an ordinary, unassuming cake, why wouldn't it be...

We started off with a boxed, white cake mix, although you could ostensibly make your own cake batter from scratch if you were so inclined, as long as it is a white cake, so as to not interfere with the food coloring. Prepare the mix according to package instructions.

I don't even want to think very hard about all the food coloring in this cake. Natural food enthusiasts the world over are probably dying a little bit on the inside.
Once the batter is done, you have a few options. You can either try to include all six colors in each layer, or divide your colors and put three colors in each layer. We opted for the latter technique, so that each color would be clearly defined. In the pictures we saw on the Internet, cakes that tried to get all six colors in each layer had too little of each color per layer for our liking.

You'll need to divide the batter into six containers (we used glass bowls so that they wouldn't stain.) However, you will need the most batter for the bottom layer, and the least batter for the top layer. Although I lost track of how much batter we used, I think it was close to 1 cup for the bottom color, 3/4 cup for the middle color, and 1/2 cup for the top color. What matters the most is that you are consistent with the measurements between the two layers of the cake; that is to say, you should have the same amount of batter for the top, middle, and bottom colors of each layer.

We used a combination of paste food coloring and liquid food coloring. The paste food coloring worked pretty well for every color except the red, which took a large amount of the paste and the liquid food coloring to achieve the desired vibrancy.

The batter kind of reminds me of Kandinsky's famous Farbstudie Quadrate.

Once you've mixed all your colors, pour the different batters one on top of the other, starting with your bottom color, so that it looks like a bullseye. You'll be tempted to mess with it and smooth things out, but you have to just let it be in order to obtain maximum definition between the layers. Bake according to the package directions.

A cross-section. My coworker, Kyle, called this, "The gayest cake I've ever seen."
If it had been up to me, I would have stacked the cakes so that the top cake would be upside down, but since this was Katherine's project, and she didn't want to trim the cakes, she went with the stacking configuration that she felt was most stable.

As for your frosting options, I think you absolutely must go with a neutral color. Half the fun of baking the Rainbow Cake is the surprised reaction of the people who are eating it, so the frosting should give no indicator of the party that lurks within. Just be careful to assemble a crowd of people who are not colorblind to consume this cake, otherwise you'll be depriving yourself of half the fun...


Old Friends - Part Two...

For the second part of her visit, Katherine and I focused our time primarily on cultural pursuits. On Monday, we headed over to the Art Institute so Katherine could see the new Modern Wing, and the re-housed collection of Indian and Southeast Asian Art. At this point, I've been to the Art Institute so many times that I really don't have much to say about it, other than that I rather enjoyed the transgressive feeling of being there when I should have been at work.

The Rock, Peter Blume. This has always been one of my favorite paintings in the American Art collection. It once hung at Falling Water, the famous home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

After meeting my Mom for lunch, we spent the balance of the day baking a Rainbow Cake, as per Katherine's request. The Rainbow Cake has been taking the Internet by storm, making the rounds on the forums at Something Awful (where Katherine first became aware of it), and on the food blog circuit (where I heard about it.) Since both of us like to bake, and Katherine loves all things colorful, it seemed like a natural fit. However, I feel like the process deserves its own post, so you'll just have to wait on it.

Taste the rainbow!

For her last day in Chicago, Katherine and I headed down to Pilsen to check out the yearly Día de los Muertos exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art, which had the added bonus of being free. First, we had an excellent, cost-effective lunch of tortas or Mexican-style sandwiches at Abuelo's Mexican Grill, a diminutive spot that I had seen mentioned in the Redeye's "2 for $20" column. If you're ever in Pilsen, I highly recommend it, and since it couldn't possibly be any closer to the Damen stop on the Pink Line, I'd even recommend making a special trip if you can.

Sadly, the National Museum of Mexican Art wasn't as interesting as I had hoped. I was expecting more 2-dimensional art, but the focus of the exhibit was the altars that are constructed in honor of the deceased for the holiday. The exhibit featured approximately twelve altars featuring different traditional components and contemporary interpretations of the holiday, and while it was informative, it just wasn't quite what I was hoping for.

We finished off Katherine's time in Chicago with another mini-reunion/dinner party, this time inviting her fellow Japanese major, Brad, over for a fall-appropriate dinner of pumpkin pasta with sausage, and, of course, rainbow cake. The cake was joyously vibrant, but some of the magic was lost on Brad, whom we were hoping to surprise with the secret interior of the cake, as we had forgotten that he is colorblind. You can't win 'em all.

Even if the last day of her visit didn't go quite as flawlessly as I had hoped, it was still great to have her around. It was amazing how quickly we fell into our old roles, as if all the time and distance had never elapsed. I'll probably never let go of my dream that someday we'll live near each other again, where we can hang out with regularly, but I can at least take heart in the fact that we now live on the same continent at least. With all of you as my witnesses, I'm going to make it my mission to not let another year and a half go by without seeing my friend again.


Old Friends - Part One...

Less than a week after my European vacation, I found myself taking additional time off from work, this time for a "staycation." After going more than a year and a half without seeing each other, my best friend from college, Katherine, was on her way to Chicago for a visit, and there was no way I was going to spend half of her visit at the office.

Since her arrival date was somewhat up in the air, I had tried not to plan much in the way of concrete plans for her first day. We ended up going to see Where The Wild Things Are, partly because I heartily approve of movies that do not depend on computer-generation for their special effects, and partly because I thought Katherine would appreciate the fact that it is a movie based on a children's book without pandering to children. The film is, by turns, joyously whimsical while simultaneously dark and brooding. It deals with themes like loneliness and despair, without providing any convenient, easily processed answers. I would probably not take children to see it, mostly because I think they wouldn't understand it (especially if the particularly inquisitive child sitting next to us was any indicator), and also because much of the characters' behavior in the film is not something I would want my children to model. Scenes like one in which Max, the protagonist, seeks to resolve the tension in the group of beasts by starting a massive brawl amongst them which only results in physical and emotional scarring, are more indicative of how people actually behave than how I would want to teach impressionable minds to behave.

I also prepared my famous caramelized onion pizza for dinner that evening, but by and large, the high points of the day could be found in the small traditions that we got to reenact from old times. For instance, we had late-night "girl talk" time over chocolate milk at the kitchen counter, just like we used to do when we lived together our senior year of college. It might be a small thing, but it is precisely that sort of quality time that I have missed the most since we moved to separate corners of the planet.

Sunday, however, was blocked out for bigger plans. We headed out to Richardson Farms in the far northern suburbs, home of the world's largest corn maze. Back during senior year, our entire group of friends had taken a day trip to go to the corn maze in Godfrey, Illinois, and that day has lived on as one of my favorite memories of my senior year. When I discovered that the world's largest corn maze was within driving distance of Chicago, my curiosity was piqued, and finding out that this year's theme was the life of Abraham Lincoln only crystallized my determination to visit it. Katherine's visit was exactly the impetus I needed.

It must have been a good year for corn; it was much taller than the maze we went to in Godfrey in 2007.

Due to the size of the maze (it has 11 miles of trails), they take a different approach than many other corn mazes, including the one we had visited in Godfrey. Instead of letting you loose in the maze to get lost and find your own way back as best you can, Richardson Farms gives you a map of the maze, and a punch card which you can stamp at one of about 25 checkpoints within the maze. You can find as many checkpoints as you wish (as far as we can tell, there was no concrete prize for locating them all, other than your own sense of satisfaction and accomplishment), but their main purpose is to help you orient yourself so that you don't have to spend the rest of your life in the maze. They also divide the maze into sections, the pattern of which symbolizes different eras in the life of Abraham Lincoln, such as his childhood, his career in Illinois, and his presidency. You can choose which sections you want to tackle, and there are exit points at each one so that you don't have to traverse all 11 miles of trails if you aren't so inclined.

Me and Katherine on a bridge between different sections of the maze.

I thought the maze was some good, clean, Midwestern fun, although I think Katherine preferred the sense of the unknown provided at the map-free Godfrey corn maze. We ultimately didn't spend all that long at Richardson Farms, despite spending time in all four sections of the Lincoln maze, because we had to hustle home to prepare dinner, as we had invited over Derek, one of our other friends from Wash U. I made some white bean and garlic soup, and the three of us caught up on each others' lives. Given how far flung our group of friends has become, I would say that any time you can amass at least three of us at any given time qualifies as a reunion in my book.


Honest Abe...

While I was across the pond, the museum opened not one, but two new temporary exhibitions: "Abraham Lincoln Transformed," and "Benito Juarez and the Making of Modern Mexico." Although I was not involved in the creation of either one, I strongly encourage everyone who's in the area to come check them out. For inspiration, I'm sharing an apropos comic from xkcd with all of you:


Continental Drifters - Day Eight

Sadly, the rain of the evening prior proved to be the harbinger I had feared. Hoping to fit in as much as possible before it started to rain, we headed first to the Asamkirche, considered by many to be a Baroque masterpiece (Munich is somewhat of a center for Baroque architecture) only to find it completely closed for renovations. Dejected, we pressed onward towards the Gothic spires of the Neues Rathaus, where a series of figurines seemed poised to move on the hour. Having seen many such clocks with moving displays all across Europe, and never having been near one near the time of a new hour, we were excited to finally catch a show. Alas, the church bells chimed, and the clock remained stationary.

One of the things I love about buildings in Central Europe are the quaint flower boxes full of vibrant red blooms, even if they weren't looking very vibrant on such a gloomy day.

We had decided to bear east down the Kaufingerstrasse (the main street through the old part of the city) and visit a number of small churches, but first we attempted to stop in at the Peterskirche, adjacent to the Rathaus. The sign on the door read that a mass had been held an hour earlier, so we entered thinking we would be safe, but the sermon was still in full swing as we struck out again.

We diligently headed down the Kaufingerstrasse, discovering, almost to comedic effect at this point, that the facades of Munich's landmark cathedral, theFrauenkirche, the Michaelskirche, and the Burgsaal (a Marian church), were all under restoration, and that they were saying the rosary at the last of these. We just couldn't catch a break!

The distinctive onion domes atop the spires of the Frauenkirche dominate the city skyline, making the church the symbol of the city.

At the Frauenkirche at least, I got to enjoy the interesting fragments of the original stained glass, which had been framed in cheaper plain glass after the majority of the originals were destroyed in World War II. The Burgsaal had a touching museum in the basement dedicated to Rupert Mayer, a Righteous Gentile and anti-Nazi activist who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987, and who is buried there. At that point, I was so frustrated by our day that I took a picture of the Baroque interior there even though they were still saying the rosary. Disrespectful, I know...

I'm probably going to hell for this photo...

From there, we decided to take a different approach, and headed over to the Viktualienmarkt, the outdoor central food market in Munich, to get a sense of how the locals live. It may have been drizzling slightly (it alternated between that and 97% humidity the entire day) but the brightly colored produce and aromatic early Christmas wreaths made of spices and dried flowers made for a nice reprieve from our frustrations. The jaunt through the market placed us back at the Peterskirche, so we did get a chance to scout it out after the mass had ended.

Scenes from the Viktualienmarkt.

Having assuaged some of our morning annoyance with some retail therapy, we stopped briefly back at the hotel to drop off our cargo before heading a scant block down the street to see the Residenz, palace of the Kings of Bavaria. I think Dad enjoyed the Baroque excesses of the Bavarian monarchs more than the more restrained appetites of the later Hapsburg rulers. He was particularly enamored of a room known as the "Antiquarium," which was filled with dozens upon dozens of busts of the Roman emperors. I, however, was more impressed with the intense religious devotion expressed by the Wittelsbachs, as expressed by their lavish personal chapels.

I'm pretty sure this is how Dad envisions heaven.

And this would be Mom's version of heaven -- an entire hall devoted to family portraits and the genealogy of the Wittelsbach family.

We finished our day of sightseeing at the Feldhernhalle, site of the police intervention that ended Hitler's failed "Beer Hall Putsch," and the Theatinerkirche, which was filled with incredibly detailed plaster ornamentation. At that point, I was mostly just happy that only a small portion of the exterior was covered up for repairs.

After all the gilding and marble we'd been looking at all day, it was nice to give my eyes a break with the monochromatic palette at the Theatinerkirche.

The saving grace of the day, and perhaps the entire experience in Munich, was our dinner, for which we were met by Mom's German pen pal, Julie. We ate at the famous Hofbrauhaus (although in the quieter upstairs restaurant space, instead of the raucous traditional beer hall portion) and had a very pleasant evening with them, although everyone was feeling Mom's absence acutely.

Jerzy, Julie, Me, and Dad at the Hofbrauhaus.

Meeting Julie and her husband was the perfect capstone to a great trip. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to see the world, and create these precious memories with my father (even if he does drive me crazy sometimes.) Now all that's left to do is start thinking about where we should head on our next adventure!


Continental Drifters - Day Seven

After a harrowing day of travel involving five hours on two different trains and a connection between our delayed train from Vienna to Salzburg and the train from Salzburg to Munich that totaled a whopping four minutes, we arrived at last at the last destination in our European foray. As it was already late in the afternoon, we were limited in our tourism options, but were determined not to let the day go by without at least seeing something, so we decided to take advantage of extended Thursday hours to check out the Pinakothek der Moderne.

Although Dad thought the museum channeled the inside of a prison, the Pinakothek der Moderne is often considered to be a masterpiece of contemporary architecture.

Part of a complex of several art museums focusing on different eras of art, the Pinakothek der Moderne focuses on "Classical Modernism" i.e. Picasso, Matisse, the great German Expressionists (including some fantastic pieces by Max Beckmann, one of my favorite artists), and the great Surrealists (with outstanding selections from Max Ernst, along with De Chirico and a smattering of Dali) and Contemporary Art, which Dad hated. I am somewhat ambivalent about contemporary art. I respect it's right to exist, even if I don't always understand it, and I occasionally enjoy it, such as some paintings by a Dutch artist that was new to me, Sigmar Polke.

Max Beckmann

Max Ernst

Sigmar Polke

We found more common ground in the Design section, where we took in some great twentieth century furniture and industrial design in what is considered to be one of the strongest design exhibitions in the world. We found particular delight in tracing the advancement of computer technologies. Humorously, with the rise of netbooks, we seem to have returned to the screen size of the earliest computers.

When we left the museum, it was pouring down rain, which, unfortunately, proved to be somewhat of an ominous sign of things to come for the remainder of our stay in Munich.


Continental Drifters - Day Six

With only a scant two full days to spend in Vienna, we crammed in enough tourism for several days to fill our travels here. The order of the day was to experience Vienna as a center of European art history, with a few concessions to Dad's interests. For the most part, however, since the previous day had been mostly about Dad and his interest in Baroque architecture, opulent palaces, and the Hapsburgs, today was mostly about me.

We started off the day at my top tourism destination in Vienna: the Hundertwasser Haus, a private apartment complex designed by Austrian artist-turned-architect, and all-around eccentric, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser believed that traditional, utilitarian architectural forms, with its flat surfaces and straight lines were stifling to mankind's inherent creativity, and therefore advocated the use of organic forms and lots of bright colors. He famously wrote, "Our true illiteracy is our inability to create."

Selected photos of the Hundertwasser Haus.

We then strolled over to the Kunsthaus Wien (the German spelling of Vienna), the museum that holds the majority of Hundertwasser's works in the numerous media he explored during his long career: painting, printing, weaving, drawing, sculpting, graphic design, and, of course, architecture. The museum portrays him as somewhat of a Renaissance man, but I think he was just more of a busy-body.

The Kunsthaus Wien.

After stopping at one of Dad's picks, the Karlskirche (which was both backlit by the sun on the exterior and under intensive interior renovation) we headed over to the Secession Building, an Art Nouveau structure erected as an exhibition place for works of the movement which no other museum would display at the time. My interest was particularly piqued by the splendid sphere of gilded laurel leaves crowning the roof. The exhibitions contained within weren't very interesting, aside from a notable mural by beloved Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.

The Secession Building bears the mantra, "To every age its art, and to art its freedom."

Despite Dad's propensity for claiming that I never let him have any breaks on vacation, we paused for a light lunch of sausages at a cafe in the Museumsquartier, a complex of several museums housed together. Our destination there was the Leopold Museum, home to the world's largest collection of Egon Schiele paintings. Considering my intense admiration of German Expressionism, the museum was an absolute must-see for me, and it fulfilled all of my expectations.

How much do I love Egon Schiele? A lot.

A fantastic painting by Klimt portraying life and death.

Having forced Dad to indulge my artistic sensibilities all day, I navigated our way to the tomb of Maria Theresa on his behalf. Dad had been wanting to see it since before we left, and although I was utterly underwhelmed by the tombs of all the Hapsburgs, I felt I owed him one. Similarly, we also visited the Rathaus, and the adjacent Burgtheater (the most prestigious performance space in Europe) on his insistence.

The Rauthaus, or Vienna's city hall.

After visiting the Rathaus, we took a break on an obliging park bench, where I noted this sign, which reads, "Are these your turds? 36 Euro Fine." Coincidentally, the word for "turds" is the same as the word for "sausages."

To close out our journey through art history, we ended our day at the Kunsthistorichesmuseum, where we saw numerous paintings that were more to Dad's liking. The Old Masters were all represented in spades: Raphael, Titian, Brugel the Elder, Brugel the Younger, Rembrandt, Reubens, Vermeer, the list goes on and on.

I think Dad liked the interior of the Kunsthistorichesmuseum better than the actual pieces contained within.

I'm a little fuzzy on my New Testament, but I'm pretty sure that getting kicked in the groin wasn't a part of the Passion.

And so it was with inspired minds that we ended our brief respite in Vienna, and pressed on to the end of our European sojourn in Munich.