Ain't Snow Thang...

I've always said that traditions are very important to me, but after a few recent experiences, I'm starting to question the wisdom of that belief. You see, today Justin and I schlepped downtown to see the Snow Days Festival, the annual Chicago snow sculpture competition that started in 2010. Even though there was practically no snow on the ground and they had to create all of the artwork using artificial snow, they still held the festival this year, and I was determined to see it again after missing it last year (it was held the same weekend as our move, and there was no way I could make time for both.)

When Snow Days first started, it was held in Grant Park, practically across the street from my old apartment, which made it convenient enough to lure me out into the cold for an outdoor event. I was seriously impressed that year with the quality of the sculptures, enough so that I traveled to Navy Pier the following year, when it relocated, even though I normally avoid that tourist trap of a destination like the plague. It was worth the trip that year as well, and I enjoyed sharing the experience with Justin, whom I had only been dating for a few months at the time. I had such positive experiences the first two years, that I was really bummed to miss Snow Days last year.

So when the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced the date for Snow Days this year, I made a point of scheduling it into our calendar. I wanted to go so badly that I even planned to make the trip when I found out that my parents would both be parking at their condo that weekend while they were out of town, and we would have to take public transportation unless we wanted to pay full-price to park in the Loop. I was that determined.

We decided to make an afternoon of the trip, and have lunch first in the city. I presented Justin with a few options: La Madia (my favorite, and I hadn't been in months), XOCO (Chef Rick Bayless' torta emporium), or Slurping Turtle, a ramen-focused hotspot that had made it onto a lot of "Best of 2012" lists and had a Bib Gourmand from Michelin to recommend it. Justin, when faced with many food options, has a tendency to skew Asian in his preferences, so he chose Slurping Turtle, and it ended up being the best decision we made all day.

Even though we had to wait quite a while for a table despite the fact that we had arrived pretty late in the lunch hour, the food was worth the inconvenience. It was certainly the best bowl of ramen I've had in Chicago, and possibly ever, since I don't think I actually ate ramen when I was in Japan in 2008. (How did I let that happen?) Plus, the portion size was so generous that Justin and I easily could have shared one bowl instead of each having our own, making it the perfect meal to fortify ourselves for our journey out into the cold.

However, our wonderful afternoon kind of fizzled out when we got to Navy Pier. The festival may have been crowded with spectators, but the quality of the artwork was nowhere near where it has been in the past. There were fewer sculptures in general, causing me to speculate whether artists had cancelled due to the lack of snowfall so far this year, and the sculptures that were there were lackluster, to say the least. They lacked the gravity-defying risks taken by artists of years past, and they were not nearly as detailed. There was an overall underwhelming lack of ambition on display, to be sure.

This is supposed to be a climatic battle between Batman and Jaws. Yes, you read that right.
The amateur contest, which pits teams from Chicago-area high schools against each other, boasted nearly as many entries as the professional competition, and the quality of the submissions didn't seem all that much lower. My favorite was a Lego mini-fig sculpted by a team from Lane Tech High School; in fact, despite some collapses in areas of the sculpture, it was one of my favorites of the day overall.

Of the professional sculptures, this one was my favorite, since I can't resist gargoyles or cathedrals.
Needless to say, we were both disappointed in the Snow Days Festival this year. The best part of our afternoon was our lunch, by far, but I didn't need to schlep downtown on the Red Line in the cold just to eat ramen. I could have waited to do that until the weather warmed up. 

Much as I like to observe traditions and build routines into my schedule, I think it might be time to let this one go. Though it pains me to say so, I think the same might be said about going to see the Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo each holiday season. The quality of the light display hasn't changed, but Justin's willingness to pay for parking has, and it's not really worth going if I have to squeeze in a visit in under thirty minutes. Traditions are nice, and create a wonderful sense of shared history and common experience, but they also need to stay relevant to the times. Looks like I'll be looking for some new traditions come next winter!

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