Thursday, April 28, 2016

Traveling In Chicago - Touring In Our Own Backyard

        Years ago our cousin Naomi Rushakoff gave us the book Chicago’s Museum’s- A Complete Guide to the City’s Cultural Attractions by Victor J. Danilov. At that time, our lives were incredibly hectic. I thanked Naomi for the book and put it on the bookshelf never to be looked at again. A conversation with my son and daughter-in-law a few days ago about interesting yet obscure Chicago places reminded me of Chicago’s Museums and I decided to take a look at it.

         It’s entirely fitting that Naomi gave this book to us. She was a person of infinite enthusiasm for interesting activities and places both famous and obscure, near and far. When my children were growing up, they loved to visit her and her husband Bill because she would find fascinating places to take them that no one else would have thought of. Knowing Naomi, she probably read the book and got a few more local travel ideas. She never seemed to run out of them.

         In the desire to channel at least a bit of Naomi’s enthusiasm, I’ve made a goal of visiting many of the places featured in the book. The book was written in 1987 and updated in 1991. Since then, some places in it have been closed and others not mentioned in the book have been opened. All in all, however, Chicago's Museums is a good place to start getting travel suggestions. When traveling to foreign cities, it’s often interesting to go to some places less traveled. Why not do it in my own city?

         Since this past Sunday was a beautiful day with summery temperatures, we chose one of the outdoor attractions – North Park Village Nature Center. Although I had driven past the entrance countless times wondering what was inside, I had never actually been in there.

        The North Park Village Nature Center and Preserve, situated in the North Park Village complex, was originally the site of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. It was closed in 1974 due to the decline in cases of tuberculosis. Now the complex that is owned by the Chicago Park District is home to a senior housing complex, park district field house and gym, and a 46- acre nature area complete with trails and a nature center.

         It’s amazing that this site in the middle of a busy city neighborhood could be so tranquil. Such a large area set aside for nature is really a treasure. On the trail, we saw several deer, geese, and ducks. We were told that other animals have been sighted there at other times. We also saw that they are in the process of restoring the habitat. I’m sure if we go there several months from now, we’ll see even more. Now that we know it’s there, I’m sure we’ll be back. These are just some of the pictures that I took of the Nature Center. If you’re looking for a respite from the bustle of city life, this is definitely a place to go.

playground near the North Park Village Nature Center
duck pond

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Let's Talk At Lunch"

                   Can We Bridge the Racial Divide?

Yesterday I participated in a discussion run and sponsored by the Evanston YWCA ( at the Skokie Library entitled “Let’s Talk At Lunch.” The purpose of the discussion was to share our feelings about race relations and thus arrive at a better understanding among us. Whenever I attend any discussion on race, my instinctive reaction is usually, “Really? We did this in the ‘60’s. Why haven’t we solved it yet?” I’ve learned to keep that thought to myself, however, as I’m reminded almost daily how far America still has to travel to achieve a society free of racism. That said, I commend the YWCA for facilitating these discussions around town. Any efforts made to end racism are a step in the right direction.

One stark reminder of America’s endemic racism that we had recently is the current exhibit -30 Americans -at the Cincinnati Art Museum (

Cincinnati Art Museum
The exhibit is running through August 28th and is well worth seeing. The exhibit showcases the artwork of 30 African-American artists. What stands out at first glance is the diversity of their work. None of the artists’ works were in the same style as any other, reminding people viewing the exhibit that each artist and in fact, each African-American is an individual. The issue of stereotyping was treated by each artist in his or her own way. Other paintings were portraits and abstracts. 
Carrie Mae Weems on Stereotyping

Branded Head
When I thought we had seen the whole exhibit, we were directed to the last picture. As we walked into the, I looked and was speechless. In a bare room in which a circle of pointed Ku Klux Klan hats are sitting in a circle, another hangs from a noose reminiscent of lynchings. Once again, we’re reminded that the fight isn’t over. We left the exhibit breathless.

Duck, Duck, Noose

I’m sure this art exhibit was the catalyst for many discussions. If you need a to see something more light-hearted to decompress after seeing it, the Cincinnati Art Museum has many other exhibits, some permanent and some temporary. The museum is small compared to art museums in larger cities but it changes its exhibits frequently. Whenever we’re in Cincinnati, we visit the museum and always see something new there.

There’s always hope also that someday we will see a city or world without racism or other isms that artificially divide us. Until that day, it is good to see that efforts are being made to bring it about.  


Thursday, April 14, 2016

How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients"

That’s the title for the current play at the Trapdoor Theatre, one of our favorite Chicago theatre groups. They perform at 1655 W. Cortland in Chicago and were incorporated in 1994.The Trapdoor does an outstanding job of presenting Eastern European content plays in English. Each year, the group travels to an Eastern Europe country staying with theatre people there and getting rejuvenated with fresh ideas. Remarkably, all the actors have full-time day jobs and perform gratis. That considered, it’s remarkable what a fine acting job they do.

Many of Trapdoor’s plays have a similar style. Due to the repression the former Iron Curtain countries endured prior to 1989, their writers had to adapt, expressing their ideas in allegory, symbolism, fairy tales, fantasy, abstractions, and theatre of the absurd. Anything but what they really wanted to say was okay. It’s always a challenge figuring out what each of the elements in the play really represents.

Last week we saw “How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients.” This outstanding piece of theatre was written by Matei Visniec and directed by Zoltan Balazs. As the first scene opens, the writer Yuri Petrovski has been brought to the psychiatric hospital so that he can write a poetic account of the glories of Communism, its history, and its leaders. Will the patients be uplifted by his poetic writings or will the patients ensnarl him in their various pathologies? I leave it to you the audience to find out. The play will be performed through April 16th. If you live in the Chicago area, I suggest that you take it in. If you live elsewhere, watch for this play to be performed in your area.

All the Trapdoor Theatre’s plays have resonated with us even more since visiting Prague and other points in Eastern Europe. While there, we visited The Museum of Communism probably more aptly named The Museum of the Soviet Occupation of Czechoslovakia. A picture of a Russian nesting doll with huge fangs greets people with on the poster “Entrance to the Museum of Communism is Here.” The picture largely sums up the attitudes of these countries to that period of their history. 

Sometimes traveling elsewhere helps us to appreciate what we have here in the United States. We’re lucky to have never experienced what they have and I hope we never have to. Go see “How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients.” You’ll see what I mean. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chicago Rated 140 Out of 150 In Recreational Activities for Retirees. Really!

One of the things I love about traveling is coming home to Chicago and resuming all the activities that we do when we’re here. After all, that does take up the vast majority of our time. So I was really surprised when I read Dahleen Glanton’s column in the March 28th Chicago Tribune stating that had rated Chicago the 144th out of 150 of cities in the United States in desirability for retirees to live.’s four criteria were affordability, quality of life, health care, and availability of recreational activities. I got the quality of life part. As everyone knows, our winters are brutally long and painfully cold. As for affordability, I could understand that as well. Although Chicago is considerably less expensive than the cities on either coast, it’s more expensive than many other cities in the middle of the country.

What I’m having difficulty with is the rating of 140 out of 150 in availability of recreational activities. Granted, if your only avocations are climbing mountains and downhill skiing, Chicago isn’t for you. It’s flat as a pancake. For anything else, I have trouble imagining any place with more things to do.

One category was volunteer activities for retirees. Chicago and most suburbs have websites listing all the volunteer opportunities. One thing I’ve observed is that when you’re willing to provide help for free, there’s never a lack of choices. I know people volunteering at the museums as docents, in the schools, in any number of socially minded causes, in the parks, and in the arts. My husband, for example, has enjoyed being a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation giving walking tours of Chicago’s buildings. I’ve found my volunteer niche tutoring immigrants in English. There are many places throughout the Chicago area to do this 

In the arts, people living in Chicago are also blessed. We have many small and large theatre groups and music and dance venues as well. We belong to an organization The Saints that provides the opportunity to usher and volunteer at plays and other performances- there are over 100 venues- and then see the performance for free. It’s one of the best bargains in town. In the summer, the Chicago Civic Orchestra gives free concerts at Millenium Park. There are writers’ workshops at the libraries and other places.

As for classes, there are opportunities at the senior centers, park districts, community colleges, and some of the universities. Classes are available in everything from aerobics to Zen Buddhism. Some of the classes are for seniors only and some are for any adult. I love the variety that affords. Wallet hub was just using the amount of senior centers per capita as a measure.

I could go on and on about all the things there are to do here, but I have to go. I’m on my way to the Cultural Center to see a free art exhibit before meeting a friend for lunch. I have to get home in time because we’re ushering at a play tonight. I’ll talk to you about it later.