Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lake Michigan (Aug 27 - Sep 8)

We spent a week in Racine. The asian carp situation was not resolved and in fact seemed to be heating up, so there was no push to leave immediately. We did some shopping by bus, Joe ordered a couple boat things since he could receive them at the local, eclectic pack & ship place (Common Scents) and I did some long over due indoor cleaning. (The outdoor cleaning is even longer over due, but it will probably wait until we're back home.) Late every afternoon at least one boat came by for dragon boat rowing practice. And then there were the two guys standing, paddling on those surf board things that tried to say the water temperature was "almost tropical." Right.
Downtown Racine is filled with lots of gallery type shops, and other shops with lots of interesting stuff, and some good restaurants. I'm sure you've seen city art contests that have a theme sculpture painted differently all around town. Racine chose Adirondack chairs for some reason. It's either called "Chair Today, Gone Tomorrow" or "Sunny and Chair." This carved one outside the art gallery won second place. On Sunday, we went to the art gallery and met the two women working there. They only charged half price since a large exhibit was not open yet. Then one decided to take a group of us up to their library which is filled with a donor's teapot collection. There must have been hundreds - some functional, some not. Some you'd never have described as a teapot! As we chatted with the docents, they said we really needed to go to the other gallery. They said it was closed on Monday, but they'd be working and would let us in. I asked if it was on a bus route and one of the women said yes, but that her husband could come pick us up! The next morning, Jim Wardrip came to the boat to get us. He was born and raised in Racine and had worked for the schools and the newspaper through the years and knew everything about Racine. Of course, with his sense of humor we thought we might have to do some fact checking! First, he took us to the Wind Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest and oldest on the Great Lakes. All along the way he pointed out interesting details. Many of the early houses were built in Bohemian Farmhouse style out of Cream City brick - cute houses with interesting brick detailing. We arrived at the art museum and he led our tour of the photography exhibits - being a former art teacher and a photographer himself. The museum is in an Italianate house that had been donated for that purpose. The gardens around the house were beautiful. While there we were given pieces of kringle to sample. Kringle is a pastry filled with fruit or nuts topped with icing - tasty! Jim said we couldn't come to Wisconsin without trying kringle. I later read that Racine is considered to be the most Danish city in the US. Who knew. We took Jim to lunch where he also made us try fried cheese curd - yes, we were in Wisconsin after all. I'll take the kringle any day.
After lunch Jim drove us around more of the city - we saw a Frank Lloyd Wright house in need of some tlc; the S. C. Johnson (wax) building also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and stopped at the former Racine College, which was built in the style of Oxford. The college's early claim to fame was that it was the football team that lost when the University of Michigan won its first game. We didn't find the plaque to confirm that. As it turned out, Jim knows Max who runs the current DeKoven Center that uses the old Racine College grounds and building.
Max took us on a tour which included the chapel - and war hero Billy Mitchell's name carved in the pew. Some of the grounds maintenance is done for credit by local college students.
Finally it was time to leave Racine and continue heading south. After an overnight stop in Waukegan, we headed for Chicago. It was a beautiful morning - about the calmest we'd seen the lake.
We'd been out for about an hour when we cruised into thick fog - visibility about 50 yards, maybe.
After about three mind-numbing hours, the fog began to lift just as we entered the harbor at Chicago. Our dockage at Burnham Harbor was right by Soldier Field and a bike ride north to the museums, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, etc. We joined the Chicago Architectural Foundation which gave us free or discounted tours. Our first was a walking tour of sculptures in the Loop. There were no open areas in the Loop until the mid-sixties, the first being created by the federal government among some Mies van der Rohe buildings. The sculpture is a Calder called Flamingo. Now builders are allowed to build higher if they leave some open space - which can be glass enclosed - on the site. Most contain sculptures or fountains. A Picasso in one square was his first large piece. Actually, he made a model about 4' tall. It needed to be enlarged to 50' tall and was wind tunnel tested. They found it need reinforcing or it would blow over. So they made the necessary changes and took it back to Picasso for approval. He actually said he thought it was better with the changes! Joe's favorite on the sculpture tour was a large Chagall mosaic, Four Seasons. Unfortunately, it did not stand up to the weather and a roof has been constructed over it. The supports really detract from the art. Also, there is a rainbow design on top of it, so people in the adjacent buildings had something nice to look down on, but it is obscured by the roof. Anytime we're docked over a weekend, Joe tries to make it to church. Chicago has some really old churches, but the most convenient to get to was Old St. Mary's. It's called old because the parish is old, but the building is not. The interior, however, is spectacular. There were several stained glass windows, but the one behind the altar was truly unique.
The next morning we took an architectural bus tour which took us by many landmarks, through Hyde Park, up Lakeshore Drive and down to the IIT Campus, mostly designed by Mies van der Rohe. The El runs right by the campus and some large areas had been considered unusable because of the noise. Using some interesting sound deadening techniques, they've actually built dormitories and a student center in the area. The El runs through a concrete reinforced tube above the student center. In the interior of the student center is the most attractively designed ramp/stairway we've ever seen.
Later that day we took the obligatory boat tour down the Chicago River - right through the city. Joe had debated about whether or not to take the boat that way or use the alternate route of the Calumet Sag Canal. Everyone said to take the tour even if you were going to cruise through because you'd be so busy driving you wouldn't be able to see anything. The buildings are incredible and the docent gave us so much information our heads were ready to explode. What a beautiful city it is!
The next day we got a late start - too much visiting with other loopers. Also Joe had to give a boat tour to a Chicago police officer who stopped by on the police boat. We biked up to Navy Pier to go to the stained glass museum. Navy Pier reminded me of a typical beach amusement park area, with the big Ferris wheel that is actually only about a third the size of the original at the Columbian Exposition. The Shakespeare Theater there definitely looked out of place. We found the building with the stained glass exhibit and were initially disappointed because the windows did not seem to be well displayed. As it turned out, though, there were several rooms - mostly filled with Tiffany's that were very well lit. Some were designed by Tiffany and some were designed by others but fabricated by the Tiffany Company. What we learned was that Tiffany revolutionized art glass. The glass was actually made with patterns to fit areas of the design - blue and white glass that looks like clouds in the sky, "draped" glass that looks like the folds of robes on the angels and other figures. Hard to explain, but incredible to look at! He also included landscapes and flowers in his subject matter, instead of just the traditional religious figures. On our way to and from places, we biked through the parks along the lakeshore. Flowers were everywhere, as well as sculptures and fountains. Of course, Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is one of the most famous. He also designed a snake like pedestrian bridge in the same area. The Bean (Cloud Gate) is also popular. The longer you look at it, the more amazing it seems. It is constructed of about 180 steel sheets which were assembled and polished on site. You can't find even a hint of a seam and the reflectivity is like a mirror. In another park we passed there was a sculpture composed of 106 torsos from about the waist down. It's called Agora. When we saw Flamingo on the tour, our guide pointed out that art had taken a turn to allow the viewer to interact with it - you could walk under it. Most of these newer sculptures are actually inviting the viewers to become part of the art. There's a fountain made of two columns of glass brick that have the faces of people projected on them. The water falling forms a skim pond for kids to play in. About every five minutes, water spews from the mouths of the faces and the kids go nuts in the spray. Even if you don't appreciate the art, it's so much fun to see the kids react to it. We had spent all of Labor Day weekend in Chicago, and could have easily filled up another week there, but the leaves seem to be starting to turn and - carp barrier or no - we needed to continue south. If you'd like to see more pictures, follow the link to our picasa albums: http://picasaweb.google.com/joseph.pica

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