Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Art of De-Cluttering

Oak Park, Illinois just west of Chicago, is known for many things. One that residents are most proud of is their trove of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. A number of houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright are there and the Chicago Architecture Foundation (www.architecture.org) gives a tour of them. In addition, The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust (https://flwright.org/tours) has restored the home that he lived in with his first wife and six children. Guided tours of it are given to the public.

This week we took a tour and it was certainly worth the visit. I had to admire the design of the house. What I especially liked was its simplicity and lack of clutter. The large windows and skylights let in lots of light. The attention to every detail is amazing from the design of the furniture and murals to the light fixtures and objects on the shelves. Frank Lloyd Wright was an admirer of Japanese art in particular and there are several Japanese sculptures and paintings throughout the house. The influence of Asian design can be seen throughout. Although Frank Lloyd Wright was a collector of objects of art, paintings, and all things unusual and interesting, he was able to design places to put all of them. There are built-in shelves, cabinets, and closets all fitting in beautifully with his overall design. What is left is a feeling of space and clean lines amid an attention to detail that is stunning and beautiful.   

Looking out through windows onto the street

skylight in the dining room

Murals adorning one of the rooms

Inspired by this vision, I left the Frank Lloyd Wright House determined to go home and clean out more closets and shelves. The visit provided me with an ideal for which to strive in my attempt to de-clutter. That house was the gold standard to which I now aspire. Ever since the 2016 election, I’ve been cleaning out closets, emptying drawers and shelves, and shredding any papers that I no longer need. At first, the impetus was to have less to pack in case we have to move. 

Since starting this project, however, I have found some other benefits. I can actually walk in my bedroom walk-in closet. Everything is neatly where I left it. I freed up loads of space in my file cabinets and have room now for all my latest projects. My bookshelves have room for new books and I’m no longer tripping over boxes in the bedroom. I think I like this.

Now it’s onward to the next set of shelves. Next time people come to visit, I hope that they can see some open spaces. It may remind them of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Why I Participated in the Women's March 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee

My Chicago friends will ask me why I marched for women’s rights and social justice in Chattanooga. The short answer is that’s where we were when the 2018 Women’s March occurred. I wished that I was home in Chicago for this occasion, but I was glad that my husband and I marched in Chattanooga because it turned all the stereotypes I had of the South on their heads. We need to shake up our assumptions every so often to stay alive.

As we entered Coolidge Park, I told myself that I would be glad to march with the 100 to 200 people that would brave marching in this small (population about 175,000) Southern city. I told myself not to be afraid of the police or the bystanders who would be jeering at us.

We walked into the park where the warm- up rally was taking place. A singer revved us up covering Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T and then I turned around. People kept coming. They were old and young. They were predominantly white but there were some people of color, too. There were men and women. Everyone mingled comfortably.

Then we marched over the bridge into downtown and back over the bridge back to the park. The people kept coming – about 6,000 of them. I didn’t see any police. Nobody on the sidelines jeered. On the contrary, people in the crowds waved and many driving by honked signaling their support.

We talked to people who told us about Democratic women candidates who are running for office in areas where Democrats hadn’t run before. Some said they were in small minorities in their towns. The fact that all these people were there was testament that they were a much larger minority than I thought they were. Students told us they would definitely register to vote. A woman walked with her daughter and granddaughter in a stroller. She said, “I told her [her granddaughter] with tears in my eyes that by the time she went to school, we would have a different president.”

 I only hope that she is able to keep her promise because there was so much to march for.

 I marched to raise my voice to warn the current occupier of the White House that I won’t accept America becoming a Fascist state. I marched to demand respect for all Americans regardless of gender, ability level, skin color, origin, religious affiliation or lack thereof, or sexual orientation. Lastly, I marched to demand that we don’t give up. That we go to the polls in droves in November.

For the first time since November 8, 2016, I acted on these values with hope. When T. got elected, I thought that America was headed to Fascism and we would have to emigrate. For the first time, I’m hopeful that may not happen. If people who hadn’t marched before can march in Chattanooga and cities throughout America, maybe there is hope. Maybe America will regain its ideals. Maybe America can be America again. We all have to keep demanding it – Together.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

President Trump and the Plight of Refugees

Once again, President Trump has disgusted us and made us feel ashamed to be Americans. This time, it was his racist remarks about people from predominantly non-white countries. Why can’t we have more people from countries like Norway [a very white country], he asked.

A counter-point to Trump’s racism is the book A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux. I read this gem after it was suggested by a group on Goodreads endeavoring to read books from every country in the world.

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux is a young adult novel that has won literary prizes – the Prix Sorcieres in France and the Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book in the United States. Anne-Laure Bondoux is without a doubt deserving of these honors.

My horizons were expanded by reading her book and learning of the existence of Abkhazia tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains, a part of the former Soviet Union. It’s a place to which I’m sure I’ll never travel. Reading a book to learn about its inhabitants is the next best thing after visiting there, meeting Abakhazians here, or watching an episode of it on House Hunters International.

A Time of Miracles starts in 1992 shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Blaise Fortune aka Koumail, a seven- year old boy, is with his protector Gloria. In the face of war, they have fled their home determined to get to France where they are sure they’ll have a good, peaceful life imbued with Liberte, Egalite, et Fraternite.

Blaise has been told the story of his early life by Gloria so often that it has become a litany. She took him from the arms of his dying mother after a train wreck. His mother was a French citizen and so is he and thus, he is entitled to live in France. Blaise believes this story – to a point - but something always feels like it’s missing.

Gloria and Blaise travel together from refugee camp to refugee camp. They get involved with smugglers who take them on legs of their journey on the backs of trucks. They walk endlessly on their own, through forests and deserts. They survive malnutrition and many times are on the verge of starvation. The reader learns little of Abkhasia but much about the plight of all refuges everywhere trying to survive from pillar to post until they make it to safe havens.

I am glad that Anne-Laure Bondoux has written this book for teenagers and middle school students. Nevertheless, it’s a story that adults must know also. We all have to be aware of the plight of refugees. Only by knowing about what refugees experience will we understand how vital it is for all of us to do our best to prevent more people from joining their ranks. Read A Time of Miracles now. It tells a story that we all need to hear.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Revisiting A Dickensian Tale of Hard Times - Then and Now

As the play Hard Times For These Times opens at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, a character is asking his “betters” how he can acquire a divorce. He’s told that it’s not for “people like him” and basically, he has to suck it up and keep working for starvation wages. He is coerced into refraining from being active in a labor union organizing in the fictional Coketown.

From there, we view the life of the upper classes in mid-nineteenth century England and see how they interfaced with the poor and lower working classes to ruin and trample on any sense of dignity they may have had. I won’t provide any spoilers by telling you how the tale ended. You may decide to read Hard Times by Dickens or to go see the play at the Lookingglass Theatre. It was very artfully done using the circus as both a metaphor and a reality of what happens to peoples’ dreams.

After that, read the book Being and Homelessness – Notes From An Underground Artist by John H. Sibley. While Hard Times takes place in England in the 1850’s, John Sibley’s book is a memoir and treatise on homelessness that he published in 2011 about life in contemporary America. John Sibley is an artist and writer who found himself homeless in Chicago for a brief period of time. He was able to extricate himself from that state when someone offered him a good paying job. In his book, Sibley expounds on his ideas as an artist and human being reminding us that if someone is homeless, that is not the totality of who he is.

I was reminded of both books last night when my husband and I volunteered at the all-night homeless shelter run by Interfaith Action of Evanston. It opens on nights that the temperature goes below fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Its location moves among six faith-based organizations. Sad to say, it is difficult to find enough volunteers to keep it open every day of the year or even every day of the winter – which in the Chicago area usually lasts from December 1st to April 1st. Winters in Chicago can be brutally long and horrendously cold. I can’t think of anything worse than being homeless here in the winter.

I’ll never forget Illinois’ wonderful Senator Paul Simon addressing the Illinois NASW (National Association of Social Workers) about how in Dickens’ time, people asked, “How can England, the most powerful, wealthiest country on Earth allow this to happen [to its poor people]?”

Senator Simon went on to ask how we as Americans in modern times in the wealthiest country in history could allow the same thing to happen. How could we allow our fellow citizens to be homeless and/or food-insecure. Then he left us Illinois social workers to figure out how we could help to get America on a better track.

That question is just as pertinent now as it was years ago when Senator Simon addressed us. And so, I ask everyone of you Readers to ask yourselves the same question: How can we Americans allow this to happen? In 2018, I challenge us all to do something about it.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Warmth on a Chicago Winter Day

I’ve lived in the Chicago area since 1974. It’s a great place to live, but I’ve always felt it would be even better here if they put a retractable dome over the whole area so that we wouldn’t have to freeze through our long, frigid winters. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible, but the city of Chicago has found a partial solution. Since the 1960’s, they’ve been building, improving, and adding to a Pedway under about five miles of downtown Chicago. It’s a maze that they’ve made easier to navigate in the past few years by putting good signs along it's many paths. Prior to them putting up that signage, it was really easy to get lost there.

Helping us to navigate this maze, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) www.architecture.org has been giving a walking tour of the Pedway. We took this tour led by Ellen Shubart, CAF docent, who did a great job of shepherding us through this network of underground walkways.

The Pedway was constructed to help people get out of the cold and to connect all the transportation.
The tour begins in The State of Illinois Building, the James R. Thompson Center at 160 North LaSalle. This post-modern building was designed to depict the transparency of government. This was a concept of then governor James Thompson, for whom the building was named, - a fact I was unaware of prior to taking the tour. Four Illinois Governors have gone to prison since I moved here so I found that very humorous. It set a tone of levity for me for the rest of the tour.
Looking up toward the ceiling of the Thompson Center
Next, we went down to the Pedway and saw an entrance to the CTA [Subway]. One can walk on the Pedway from the Ogilvie commuter train Station to the blue and red lines of the subway to the South Shore Line commuter station without going outside. If someone is lucky and works in an office building with an entrance in the Pedway, he (she) can avoid going outside an entire day. How great is that!

The Pedway isn’t merely a walkway, however. Underground are various stores and restaurants and even a stained-glass exhibition. We were able to go to several buildings of interest either historically, architecturally, or currently. Thus, I learned how the County, City, and Court buildings are connected.

Then it was onward to the Cultural Center, the former central Chicago Public Library Building. This beautiful beaux arts building is a landmark and worth a visit by itself. Tours of the building are given Wednesday through Saturday at 1:15PM. In addition, the Cultural Center houses temporary art exhibits and lunchtime concerts each Wednesday at 12:15PM. All of these are free to the public.
Dome in the G.A.R. Hall

From there, we went east and entered through the Pedway to the Prudential Building, the Aon Building, and the Aqua Building designed by the famous architect Jeanne Gang. As we walked, we could see the progression of architecture in Chicago and the world through the decades. And best of all, on December 19th, we didn’t have to go outside at all to see any of them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Remembering Latkes and Another Fight for Freedom

Tonight, we Jews will celebrate the third night of Hanukah and remember that long ago victory for religious freedom. I’ll also remember our recent visit to the National Underground Railroad Center www.freedomcenter.org. in Cincinnati. It will be a great melding of two traditions.
view of Ohio River seen from the museum
Since Cincinnati was the first place on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line, across the Ohio River from Kentucky, it was the first place that runaway slaves came to in their pursuit of freedom. As such, it’s a perfect place for this museum to be housed. The museum’s permanent exhibit has a great mix of videos, still exhibits, and interactive exhibits allowing the visitor to experience this excruciating time in American history. It also includes exhibits of struggles for freedom going on today.

Right now, there are two temporary exhibits well worth the visit. One was an exhibit about slavery still being practiced now in 2017. The struggle for freedom never ends and it was good to be reminded of it. The exhibit includes discussion on human trafficking, children forced into grueling labor and unable to escape, as well as slavery being practiced today in the 21st century in Libya and other parts of North Africa. It is a shocking reminder that we can never become complacent and think that the fight for human dignity is won and done.

The other temporary exhibit – The Kinsey Collection of American Art & History - is very powerful. The exhibit will be there through April 2018.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey were able to amass an amazingly extensive collection of art, artifacts, and historical documents spanning 400 years of history. If you go to the exhibit, expect to spend two to three hours there. Bernard Kinsey primarily collected artifacts and documents while Shirley Kinsey found heretofore undiscovered African-American artists. Together, their collection is very comprehensive. There are copies of the Dred Scott decision, the Missouri Compromise, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery and displays of objects common in the daily lives of the slaves.

The exhibit of various African-American artists’ work is a great complement to the historic. I was taken by the expressions of anger and despair seen on the faces of the people in the pictures. That sense of emotional rawness is rarely seen and felt so realistic. At the same time, on view is the power people felt as well as they fought to be free.

The Kinseys were active in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s. They spent four decades gathering this amazing collection. It is an impressive life’s work. Together they have provided the public with an insight into the lives of slaves – those who fought for their own freedom and those who were able to reach safety and then helped others make it to safety as well. If you can’t get to Cincinnati to see this exhibit, look for it to arrive at a museum in your city and make a point to go see it. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Teatro Vista's Play "Fade" Resonates To Everyone

Teatro Vista www.teatrovista.org, housed at the Victory Gardens Theater www.victorygardens.org in Chicago, produced the masterful play Fade that explores class barriers and gender discrimination as they affect the Latino Community. While it’s about two Mexican-American characters, this play is universal. It was written by Tanya Saracho and directed by Sandra Marquez. The actors -Eddie Martinez and Sari Sanchez – do a great job of bringing the story to life.

Fade begins with Lucia starting her job as a script writer for a television show. Abel, the janitor, comes into her office to clean it. As they talk to each other, they discover that they are the only Latinos working at this television studio. This gives them a comfort level that launches a very unusual friendship. Although they are both Mexican-Americans, the difference in their socio-economic statuses soon becomes apparent. What ensues is drama at its finest. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to see this remarkable play which is playing through December 23rd.

Eddie Martinez and Sari Sanchez in scene
After every performance, some ensemble member stays for a talk back. The audience was ethnically diverse the night we were there making the discussion especially interesting. Does Lucia speak differently to Abel than she does on the phone to her college-educated colleagues? Do we all speak differently depending on who we’re talking to? Do we consciously change our speech patterns when addressing people from backgrounds other than our own?

The subject had piqued my interest since reading the very articulately written book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book is about an African-American teenager living in an inner-city neighborhood who has witnessed two of her best friends murdered by police. Afraid for her safety, her parents enroll her in a private school that is predominantly white and upper middle class. As Starr switches between her home neighborhood and her school, she consciously changes her speech patterns and the subjects she allows herself to discuss. This phenomenon has been referred to as “code switching”, an apt name for a frequent phenomenon in our multi-cultural, class-based society.

I have found myself code switching much more often since the 2016 election especially since the events in Charlottesville this past summer. While before I always felt safe as an American Jew able to say anything, that is no longer the case. I feel secure in Chicago and a few other parts of America and with the people I know. In other places, I find myself on guard wondering if the feelings expressed in Charlottesville have always been there. Staying at a hotel in Cincinnati where we visited our children, the hotel manager asked if we would return for Christmas. Hearing the slight southern inflection in his speech, I was put on guard. Instead of explaining that we were Jewish, didn’t celebrate Christmas, and besides our grandchildren had different winter break times, I just said, “I don’t think so.”

I wonder how often I will be code switching in the years ahead and how many others are doing it more frequently than they did before November 8, 2016. It makes Fade especially timely. If you have the chance, go see Fade. You won’t be disappointed.