Thursday, May 26, 2016

Travel in Chicago - Skokie's 26th Annual Festival of Cultures

It was a beautiful day for traveling. The sun shone and the temperature was warm. Arriving at Skokie’s 26th Festival of Cultures, we were given “passports.” The inside pages listed the 36 communities participating this year. We were excited to get started. Here in our backyard every year, we can feel as though we are traveling around the world.

Skokie, a suburb adjacent to Chicago, has a population of about 70,000 people of which about 55% speak a first language other than English. Immigrants from all over the world live here and over 70 languages are spoken. Twenty-six years ago, the Skokie Public Library along with the Park District and other organizations initiated this festival. As the community was becoming multi-cultural, they felt it was important to not only tolerate diversity, but to embrace it. Every year since then, the community has been coming together to celebrate its diversity at this Festival of Cultures. After all, once we’ve watched each other’s dances, sang each other’s songs, heard one another’s music, and tasted each other’s food, it is impossible to be strangers.

At the main stage, we watched the Serbian-Macedonian Dancers.
Serbian-Macedonian Dancers

Making our way to the booths, we stopped and talked to people from Norway, Sweden, Cuba, Ireland, Bangladesh, Croatia, and Bulgaria. If we had been to people’s countries, they were excited to hear about our travels. If we had plans to visit, they asked us to come back next year and tell them about our trip. Children came by and had their visas stamped. It was a good day for travel for them as well.

At the Swedish booth

Bulgarian booth

After exploring the booths, we returned to the main stage. We listened to a band from West Africa, and watched dancers from India and Bulgaria. I took pictures of the performers and was glad to see that everyone in the audience regardless of their ethnicity took pictures of everyone else. I like to interpret that as success. With that in mind, we went home to eat Greek salad and keftedes. Next year we will return to talk to people from other countries around the world. Who knows who we’ll meet next time. 

West African Band

Bulgarian dancers

Indian dancers


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Traveling Chicago - Sunday at the Art Institute

If someone has only three hours to see Chicago and asks you what to do with those three hours, what would you suggest? The Art Institute , founded in 1879, would definitely be one of my top choices. You can't miss it. It's in downtown Chicago on Michigan Avenue and Adams. Victor J. Danilov lists the Art Institute as one of Chicago’s big three museums in his book Chicago’s Museums – A Complete Guide to the City’s Cultural Attractions. Without a doubt, the Art Institute deserves this billing. 

Our friends had just about three hours before having to head to the airport and they wanted to go to the Art Institute. It’s fun going with other people. Although one can see any type of art at the Art Institute, it is particularly noted for its Impressionist collection. We often gravitate to the Impressionists when we go there. When we have company, though, we ask our guests what they want to see. On another visit, friends asked to see the Asian paintings and that’s where we went. For the first time, I saw these paintings first instead of on my way out. I realized how beautiful this art was with its fine delicate lines. I promised myself that I would return to this section to admire it again and I have been there several times.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte
This Sunday our friends preferred the contemporary artists. We followed a path in that direction. The first painting that caught our eyes was the Gustave Caillebotte painting Paris Street;Rainy Day. We usually start at that room. This work always stands out as you enter it and it was good to see it again like seeing an old friend. After that, we took a different path toward the moderns.

As we walked on, we saw a large variety of art. DeKooning, Klee, Feininger, Miro, Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall just to name a few. It’s impossible to go to the Art Institute and be disappointed. Especially since the new wing was built, their collection is vast and has art to suit everyone's preferences. I look forward to going with other guests and discovering what art they like. It’s a great way to expand your ideas. In the meantime, here’s a peak into some of the paintings that we saw this time. 
White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall

Carnival in Arcueil by Lyonel Feininger

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Chicago Travel Part 2 - The Invisible Man Now At the Museum of Contemporary Art

Chicago’s Museums- A Complete Guide to the City’s Cultural Attractions was written in 1991. Few things stay the same. Some of the museums that Victor Danilov wrote about have since closed and others have opened that aren’t in his book. The Museum of Contemporary Art has moved and gotten more extensive since it was written. It’s now located on the near north side of Chicago at 220 E. Chicago Avenue.

The MCA started as a place to house temporary exhibits of contemporary art. It is still filling that mission housing painting, sculpture, and performing arts. It is the rehearsal space for Eighth Blackbird and we were lucky to get there in time to hear part of their practice. The museum has a theater where various performances are given.

A major retrospective show of Kerry James Marshall’s work is the MCA’s main art exhibit now and will be there through September 25th. I highly recommend that you see this exhibit. Kerry Marshall, an African-American artist, was born in 1955. The exhibit spans Mr. Marshall’s work from 1980 through the present. He believes in becoming versed in all schools of art so that one can adapt diverse ideas and use them to express one’s own. It’s fascinating to see how he blends these ideas producing a wide variety of work.

At the beginning of his career, Marshall’s tones were flat. Later on, his colors became more textured, the people less one-dimensional. For Marshall, black is a color. He has been a very prolific and versatile artist changing styles that he has done over the decades throughout his career.

As we took in the exhibit, many paintings stood out. In fact, they are all noticeable. Mr. Marshall riffed on The Invisible Man working on extra-large canvases so that they couldn’t possibly be ignored. Most of his paintings are anything but invisible. All the people in his paintings are African-American and in fact, race and Black identity is both the main theme and subtext of his works. His view is that by stereotyping all African-Americans to the point that we don’t see each African-American as an individual, white Americans have rendered individual black Americans invisible. By painting individual, diverse African-Americans in all kinds of settings, he turns the stereotypes on their heads. Go see this exhibit and let your perceptions and preconceived ideas be challenged.

Following is a sample of a few paintings you will see at the exhibit. There are many more worth viewing.                        



Thursday, May 5, 2016

What to Do in A World Made of Dust

And the war goes on. In Syria, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. Reading the newspaper today and most days reminds me of a quote I found at the beginning of Trinity by Leon Uris. “There is no present and no future, just the past happening over and over again now.” Trinity is a fictionalized history of the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Yet, the persistence of that seemingly never ending conflict bore many similarities to the conflicts in the Middle East.

Day after day, we read about the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Israel, Palestine and other parts of that region of the world wondering if perhaps the paper reran a previous issue. It seems to be always the same – more tragedies, more deaths that go on with nothing being resolved.  

It was against this backdrop that by chance, I came across A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi. This book was a great surprise. I picked it up from the Skokie Library paperback book sale shelf to take on a trip to Florida. Since I am pretty low-tech, this is how I get my travel reading material. Sometimes I end up reading things I'd never read otherwise and sometimes I read gems. This is one of them.

I had never heard of Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, but now that I've read A Girl Made of Dust, I will look for her other books. The backdrop of the book is Lebanon in the early 1980's during the war with Israel and several factions within Lebanon some of whom sided with Israel and some who fought against them. Ten-year old Ruba and her family spend their lives dodging bullets, bombs, and shrapnel as they try to survive, living their lives as normally as they possibly can. Her father suffers from PTSD due to a war experience and the whole family is thrown into chaos as a result.

Previously, Ruba’s village had been a mixed one of Muslims and Christians who got along with each other. Now most of the Muslims have been banished. Only Ruba’s friend Kareem remains there, subject to jeers and hatred from the other villagers. Without giving away the plot, I recommend this book. It will undoubtedly make you think twice before advocating getting America embroiled in any more wars in the Middle East.

The only good news in all this is that the conflict in Ireland finally did end when two women, one Catholic Mairead Corrigan Maguire and one Protestant Betty Williams Perkins led a movement to end those hostilities. That year, they were the much deserving winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. “There is no present and no future, only the past happening over and over again now.” When is it going to end?