Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Time is (not) on my side

After Day 1 back at work, I can categorically tell you that my holiday is officially over. I know, it kills me to even think about it.

I'm not quite sure where most of my holiday went of course, as I was very remiss in blogging all the dirty details. But I will give you an insight into the little memories I have been cherishing ever since my crazy house guest disappeared through airport security yesterday. [And now that I mention THAT, it will probably be easier if I work through the holiday in reverse.]

The day before J's departure was pretty much a write-off. The cold snap had come in and neither of us were feeling up to traipsing around the City doing any last-minute touristy stuff. We had wanted to do the Architecture Boat Cruise but had been otherwise occupied in the window of fine weather we had, and I guess it's fair to say we missed the proverbial boat.

Sunday morning we met up with Coco for brunch downtown at a cute place in the West Loop called Wishbone. We'd indulged in a little too much juice the night before and didn't feel up to eating much - but I am vowing to return for the crawfish cakes. [Just as an aside, I've decided that I don't care much for grits and even though it's only cornmeal, I prefer to eat it in usual polenta consistency so in future I will forgo it at brunch and save it for Italian cuisine instead.]

The Friday night was an art gallery exhibition for a Chicago-based Aussie group (and I'm this month's poster child on the website - can you believe it?). Anyway the indigenous art gallery was full of amazing and colourful works and I think we could declare the evening a success.

We did well to make it to the gallery on time actually because we'd just come back from an overnight visit to Milwaukee. A friend of mine lives up there but we were really motivated to go just for the excuse to get out of Chicago and see something else.

So we caught the Amtrak train from Chicago's Union Station and ended up in Downtown Milwaukee, a short taxi ride from our 4-star hotel, The Ambassador. Selected as much for its decor (art deco) as its location, The Ambassador was a perfect home base for our city exploration. We walked through the Marquette University district and arrived at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where we spent a happy day browsing the exhibits and the IMAX theater.

We should have given ourselves more time in Milwaukee of course. We hadn't anticipated the Museum's "Titanic" exhibit to be quite so engrossing. It really did just suck all our time away. And the post-museum drink at the cute wine & piano bar called Centanni could not have been more timely.

So you can see on a reverse reading of these adventures that my holiday wasn't entirely about resting and relaxation - we really did get out and do stuff. Which is probably why J's cold germs are rearing up and attacking me with a vengeance now. I'm dosing up on all kinds of pills and potions to stop the onslaught but I think that this is what happens when you stop moving.

Maybe I should invite another house guest to come and stay. Any takers?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I haven't got ball players, I've got girls!

Where are the Cubs?!
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

When I moved to Chicago in October 2005, the Chicago White Sox were playing in the World Series - a tournament they ended up winning. As I got more and more into baseball, I remained surprised that Chicago really does get divided by its baseball allegiances. In your heart of hearts, you can really be only a Cubs fan OR a Sox fan, not both.

And I am a Cubs fan - not just because I can see Wrigley Field from my living room window, but also because their fan base is amazing. All ages, all sizes, Wrigley Field really does become a microcosm of society during Cubs games - and it cracks me up.

Yesterday we called in to see my friend who works at the Cubs, as I needed to return some tickets to her. As a special surprise, she gave me and Jems a guided tour of the sacred ground. Mind you, it was just us and the ground crew there - so it was the quietest I've ever seen or heard Wrigley Field. But there is no denying that the stadium is amazing, and even Jem loved it. We got to sit in the dugout, stand on the bullpen where the players warm up, and we got to see the scoreboard up close and stand in the bleacher seats. It was an amazing way to appreciate the place, and I loved it.

If I couldn't take Jems to a ball game, at least I could take her to what has become my favourite ballpark.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The holiday coma

There is something icky about waking up to someone bashing on your front door, wanting to get in and remove window screens. And you feel even worse when you look at the clock and realise that all of this is happening at 3pm on a Thursday. Um, where did the time go? And HOW ON EARTH did I sleep so long?!

The sad thing is, I actually know the answer to both of those questions. And the answer is: SHOTS. Yes friends, I ignored every ounce of common sense in my body the other night and slammed two shots with Jems and our fellow barfly friends. Ugh. It was pretty messy (for me particularly) and we ended up removing ourselves from the bar when it closed at 4am.

In a twisted way, we both felt pretty cool for having such amazing staying power. The night actually started at 8pm at Marche, a gorgeous French restaurant in the West Loop which was celebrating its 15th Anniversary party that night. Burlesque dancers, cocktails, the whole bit. But we didn't stay very long because there were way too many people, and way too few appetiser trays.

Jumping in a cab, we flew to Old Town and had a quick pasta dinner at Topogigio - a place that me and Dr G have come to love. Our favourite bartender wasn't working, and the Obama/McCain debate was screening outside, so we sat inside instead. The pasta we scoffed was delicious, ditto the chocolate gelato and the limoncello digestif.

Ugh and then it seemed going to the Boystown bar was a good idea. Enough said...

But this morning we have emerged at a reasonable hour and actually have a full day of activities ahead. We're walking up to Wrigley Field, then brunch on Southport, then a walk through the neighbourhood before a pizza dinner tonight with Lex. And no shots. No matter how good the idea seems at the time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Be silent, be still

Chicago gave us such beautiful weather over the long weekend, it seems doubly unjust that it has now snatched it away again, leaving us with cool breezes and overcast skies. Still, that has been ideal weather for laying very still and recuperating after the late nights and early mornings of the last few days.

As it was yesterday I had to go into work for a few hours and then when I got home, I crashed on the sofa and slept until "The Simpsons" came on. I must have needed that sleep - and then some - because I had no trouble sleeping again when I went to bed that night. And given that Jems has not been feeling 100% anyway, all that fatigue went double for her.

The other night we went to see a screening of "Role Models" and met the star of the movie, Paul Rudd. In the manner of Troy McClure, you may remember Paul Rudd from such roles as Josh in "Clueless" or George in "Object of My Affection", or (as he reminded all of us in jest), his 15-episode stint as Phoebe's boyfriend on "Friends". And yes he really IS ultra good looking in real life. And he obligingly took photos with all the fans after the film, including me and Jems. Wahoo. So hot.

Today is a bit of a slower day and I'm not quite sure what we're planning to do. I wanted to go for a walk up to Wrigley Field and then around the neighbourhood but I guess we could do that any day really. A downtown restaurant is having its 15th anniversary with a special dinner tonight so maybe we'll call in and celebrate that; but again, I'm not sure. I guess this is the beauty of holidays, right? No real plans - and that just means that the adventures could go in any direction. I had better take the camera...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chop Chop in Chi-town

night view
Originally uploaded by koyochi.

Jems has been sleeping off her cold and jetlag the last couple of days, which left me and Kate alone with the shops on Broadway. Big mistake.

Yesterday we wandered into an artisinal cheese shop that I had always known was there but never been to, and we walked out with the stinkiest French cheeses you've ever smelled. I can't wait to devour it today because as everybody knows, the smellier the cheese, the tastier it is. And of course if we leave it in my fridge any longer, I'm going to have to move house to get away from the smell.

We had some down-time in the afternoon to watch "Sex and the City" (can you believe neither Kate nor I had watched it before?!) and then it was off to dinner at the Chicago Chop House - we all loved it. Jem's steak was as big as her head (and that's pretty big!). She didn't eat all of it but she gave it a really good shot. I think it was the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus that she had for starters that did her in. Mmm so delicious. I had a 10 oz. filet mignon and it was cooked to perfection. K's steak was enormous and there was no way she was going to finish it. So we wrapped up the leftovers and walked to a champagne bar, a few blocks from the restaurant.

I've loved Pops for Champagne for a long time and the girls enjoyed it too. By the time we got there it was after 11pm so not too many people were around. Still, the service was a little slow but we got what we needed in the end. The barman created Jems a champagne cocktail that wasn't on the menu and she really enjoyed it.

Because NoMi was closed for the night we jumped in a cab bound for Boystown and ended up at "Cocktail" to watch the very straight (but not very dressed) male dancers shake their money makers up on stage. On the walk home from Halsted we realised that I had left our steaks on the windowsill at the champagne bar. That hadn't occurred to any of us until then - classic. I am sure the cleaners have discovered worse surprises, but still...

And so today is Columbus Day, a holiday here in the US. We are sitting around in our pyjamas watching very bad TV - and none of us are all that hungry after a really great night out in Chicago.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The storm before the calm

The last couple of days have been a blur of frenetic activity. Cyclone Jems hit Chicago (very) late Wednesday night and it's been non-stop ever since.

Jem's plane got in at 11.05pm and I went out to O'Hare to greet her. I could hardly sit still. I was so eager to see her that I got to the Arrivals lounge exceptionally early so the only thing to do was buy a Starbucks - clearly not the best thing for my nervous excitement. I got talking to some ladies from Bermuda who had just arrived and were waiting for their hotel transfer bus to collect them. We had a good chat, all very civil, and then as they left one of them pressed a little pamphlet into my hand and urged me to read it when she was gone. Yes, she was a Bible freak. Always the ones you least suspect.

So Jems arrived, looking remarkably good for someone who had just spent 30 hours traveling the globe, working her way through customs, airport terminals, different airlines, different timezones, and screaming babies all suspended 30,000 feet in the air (which is EXACTLY where I usually like to send screaming babies). I convinced her that now that she was on MY turf, she could relax - no need to pay attention - just identify your luggage and follow me the rest of the way. I took her on the Blue Line as close to my house as we could get, and then we caught a cab the rest of the way. By the time we got back to my place and settled in for the night, there wasn't much night left -it was almost 2.30am. Getting up for work the next day was vicious.

While Jems snoozed away her jetlag and nursed a nasty cold back at home, I was stuck at work trying to get a bunch of stuff done before I could start my own holiday. To cut a long story short, I didn't get it ALL done - but I have come away from the office feeling quietly confident that the wheels will turn well enough in my absence, and I haven't left too much hanging for my colleagues to sort out.

Jems has scored a great new job back home and I was looking for a way to congratulate her on the exciting accomplishment. I needed look no further than "Dirty Dancing", the new Chicago theatre experience that actually had its world premiere in Australia. Indeed the show's producer is Australian, as is much of the cast & crew, including the guy who plays Johnny Castle - the role made famous by Patrick Swayze.

When I told Jems about the theatre tickets I'd bought her as a promotion celebration, she was pretty pleased, to say the least. We have been fans of that movie probably ever since it came out (and that's probably true actually, since the movie just celebrated its 20th Anniversary). I'm not sure if you would enjoy the theatre show if you didn't have a love affair with the movie. It's almost word-for-word accurate, and you can tell who the true fans are around the theatre. People at our performance last night were singing along, and everyone applauded when Johnny announced that "nobody puts Baby in a corner". Iconic line, and an appropriate crowd response. I think the actors even got a kick out of it. And the lift at the end during "I've Had The Time of My Life"? It brought the house down - easily the highlight of the show. But isn't it always?

So this weekend is the Chicago Marathon and for residents and tourists alike, Chicago has turned on some gorgeous weather. Katie is coming into town (last-minute decision to make use of some frequent flyer points) and we're all together until Tuesday morning. It's going to a whirlwind of Cyclone Jems and Hurricane Kate but I would not have this one any other way.

More news to come...