March 2006

After my recent trips to the Dead Zoo in Dublin and the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, it should come as no surprise that Gary and I visited the Field Museum of Natural History during our recent trip to Chicago. As much as my Arts and Humanities side loves art museums, my Inner Science Geek demands equal satisfaction, so it’s both natural and inevitable that Gary and I paid homage to all things scientific the day after we’d visited the Art Institute.

Before our adventure at the Field Museum could begin, however, Gary and I had to get there. After having mastered the basics of subway navigation on the way to see Blue Man Group on Sunday night, on Monday morning we went via subway to the appropriate stop…and then discovered that the free trolley mentioned in our tourbook doesn’t run in March. Walking the half mile from subway to museum wouldn’t normally have been a daunting prospect…but last Monday we discovered how the Windy City got her name, snapping a couple of hurried outdoor shots before allowing the wind to bustle us inside the museum proper.

Even on a windy day, the parklike plaza outside the Field Museum affords an impressive panoramic vista of the Chicago skyline (click on image for an enlarged version):

One of the Field Museum’s most famous exhibits is Sue, the world’s largest and most complete T. rex skeleton. Although Sue has a girl’s name, the creature’s gender is unknown: Sue is named for Sue Hendrickson, the person who discovered the skeleton…but referring to “Sue” as a she just comes naturally, like talking about a beloved car or boat. And Sue is beloved: not only do museum visitors flock to see and have their pictures taken next to her, Sue has her own website, a specialized museum shop, and a traveling exhibit featuring a full-size cast of her form. Everyone who visits the Field Museum, it seems, is just wild about Sue.

Truth be told, however, Sue is just one of many impressive exhibits at the Field Museum, and I’m not even sure she was my favorite one (just don’t let Sue overhear me saying that!) When Gary and I blew in from the cold, we were so distracted by the entrance hall’s impressive tableau of mounted elephants, we walked right past Sue without realizing who she was. Dinosaur bones fill one’s imagination with thoughts of how the earth looked long ago…and the sight of elephants makes me marvel at the fact that these huge, seemingly anachronistic creatures are still around: giants who manage to survive in a world that seems too small for them.

Gary and I took lots of pictures of Sue from various angles…but I think we took more pictures of these elephants, deciding after-the-fact who would blog which of our nearly identical shots. Whereas no one else in the Garden Restaurant was photographing their food, everyone with a digicam or photo-enabled cell phone was snapping pictures of Sue and the elephants beside her: if you’re planning to visit the Field Museum, you can start deciding now whether you want your picture taken by a dinosaur or by the elephants, then you can get in queue to get snapped next to some of the most photogenic faces in town.

I didn’t see anyone posing to have their pictures taken by the Field Museum’s pair of boobies: when it comes to comparing bones and boobies, apparently bones are more popularly photogenic. There seems to be something about enormous mounted creatures that brings out the little kid in many of us: although Gary and I can blame our blogs for the number of pictures we snapped of Sue and the elephants, we weren’t the only museum-goers (nor the only adults) who were snapping photo after photo from various angles. After all, you don’t see T. rex bones or stuffed elephants everyday, and it takes just the right angle (or an expansive panoramic shot) to see both at the same time. (Click on image for an enlarged version.)

    This is the sixth in a series of SynchroBlog posts Gary and I are writing about our recent trip to Chicago. For Gary’s photo-rich account of our trip to see Sue, click here. Click back tomorrow for our final SynchroBlog post about Chicago after dark.

If you’ve ever wondered how many cameras it takes to chronicle a meetup of bloggers, the picture above offers a partial answer: at least one per blogger, and then some. When Gary, Armand, and I met for lunch at the Art Institute’s Garden Restaurant in Chicago last weekend, we each pulled out our digicams to chronicle the event…and I pulled out my pencam to snap an image of our at-the-ready cameras.

If you are a normal (i.e. non-blogging) person, it probably seems absurd to chronicle every moment of one’s social life so obsessively. When our waiter at the Garden Restaurant, for example, brought our dishes to the table, all three of us reached for our cameras…and both our waiter and the folks at neighboring tables looked a bit bemused by our behavior. Why is it necessary to photograph one’s food by way of proof that three blog-buds met for lunch? Why is it necessary to immortalize an admittedly impressive dessert cart in digipixels? Has blogging so shortened our attention spans that we can no longer remember that which we haven’t photographed, written, and blogged about?

Whatever the reason why we three bloggers acted so strangely, the fact remains that we all acted similarly: we all reached for our cameras, we all aimed for our food and that impressive dessert cart, and not one of us looked quizzically at the others. Whatever the appeal of meeting other bloggers, I think this quiet understanding is one of the biggest attractions: where normal folks will look at you oddly for doing your bloggish thing, other bloggers will simply understand.

Although I can’t speak for Gary, Armand, or other photo-obsessive bloggers, I think one of the reasons I feel an almost compulsive need to photograph the things if not the faces involved in a bloggers’ meetup is a desire to prove that these Virtual Strangers actually exist. When I first met Fred First, for instance, casual acquaintances I’d met at a dinner party the night before were shocked and alarmed that I’d agree to meet some guy I’d encountered on the Internet. “What if he’s an axe-murderer?” they’d asked, and I countered with a nonsensical reply: “But I’ve seen pictures of his dog!” In my mind, Fred First wasn’t a Virtual Stranger: he was someone I’d gotten to know over time even if I’d never “really” met him. So when I have met blog-buds in the flesh, my compulsive itch to photograph the tangible things of said meetup has something to do with proving (to myself if no one else) that these seemingly imaginary online friends do indeed exist, our connection actually transpiring somewhere outside my own head.

In our mad shutter-snapping over lunch–and in our mutual portrait-shoot in the Art Institute’s sculpture gallery–Gary, Armand, and I probably looked like a zany cross between camera-happy tourists and crazed paparazzi stalking the latest celebrity. Ultimately, though, I’m not concerned what curious onlookers thought about our antics; instead, I’m glad to have connected an actual in-the-flesh person with the online persona I’ve grown to know over several years’ of blog-reading and email correspondence. Reading a favorite blog (especially one devoted to your favorite notebook obsession), you gradually feel like you know the person behind the pixels, so it’s something of a relief to verify that connection in real time.

Plus, it felt somehow right to ask Armand to pose for his very own fifteen minutes of fame given all the time he spends working behind the scenes keeping Moleskinerie running. Even photographers deserve a chance every now and then to put down their camera (if not their camera bag) in order to strike a pose of their own. So even if we took more photos than any sane person should, at the end of the day it was worth any wasted pixels to capture a single shot that reminds me of the face behind the blog.

    For more pictures of our mini bloggers’ meetup, see the bottom of this Moleskinerie post as well as Gary’s version of our photo-obsessive lunch. Tomorrow, Gary and I will share pictures of a very windy trip to Chicago’s Field Museum: stay tuned!

If I didn’t value veracity, I could spin you a tale about how Gary and I took a day from our Chicago getaway to get really away, flying from the modern-day Midwest to jolly old England and back. And I guess in a metaphorical sense, we did take a quick trip last Sunday, traveling in our imagination to places long ago and far away without physically leaving the Windy City.

Last Sunday, Gary and I visited Chicago’s Art Institute, where we visited the historically accurate Thorne miniature rooms. If I didn’t value veracity, I could try to fake you into thinking that the picture above is of an actual life-size room…but instead, it’s a photo I snapped through a glass window no larger than a cafeteria tray, the room inside being small enough to fit into a suitcase.

After having visited the Glass Flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, it was interesting to admire finely detailed artistry of a slightly different sort. Like Harvard’s Glass Flowers, the Art Institute’s collection of miniature rooms was funded by a patron with a vision. The 68 miniature rooms on display at the Art Institute were funded by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, who oversaw their construction between 1932 and 1940. Whereas the Glass Flowers left me amazed that miniscule plant details could be replicated in glass, the Thorne Room miniatures, built to a scale of one inch to one foot, impressed me with their fidelity to minute detail, with miniature tables being topped with tiny teapots, miniature sewing stands containing tiny stitched samplers, and miniature musical instruments being strung with tiny strings.

To give you a sense of the scale of the Thorne miniatures, here’s an angled shot where you can see Gary reflected in the glass case containing one of the replica rooms. The desk in this image is no more than three inches tall, the glass case containing it no wider than a foot. Photographing the Thorne miniatures was particularly challenging given the room’s low-light conditions: to create a realistic ambience, each of these miniscule rooms is lit by indirect light streaming through tiny windows and doors to create an illusion of natural light.

I’ve always loved miniatures and the imaginary worlds they capture. Examining a detailed dollhouse or model train set, I like to imagine myself as an even tinier person walking undetected through hidden rooms and corridors: it’s no accident, I think, that Gary and I this weekend watched the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with its fanciful tale of a secret world entered through a magical cabinet. When I was a child, I collected model horses: unable to have a horse or even dog of my own, I liked to imagine that lifeless figurines could, if I wished hard enough, come to life in some magical realm where only I had access.

In one sense, museums are a kind of secret world for grownups. Instead of encountering a fairy land through a magical wardrobe, grownups enter the doors and scale the staircases of museums in search of another world: here, you can imagine yourself in an ancient Greek courtyard; there, you can envision yourself in an impressive Japanese Buddha hall. Looking at art is better than walking in someone else’s shoes: looking at art is like taking on someone else’s eyes. How magical it is to see the world as Picasso or Rembrandt or Dali did!

Visiting museums in a city like Chicago feels like an inner exploration: after seeing the sights outside, venturing into a museum you seek the sights within. In my mind, viewing art is only partially a matter of looking what’s outside you, hanging there on the wall or standing alone in space; in my mind, the truest part of viewing art is the imaginary part, the secret world your spirit enters through a painting’s frame like a door. As such, I guess I see museums as cathedrals and art as icon: through the contemplative art of looking, museum-goers are transported from the mundane world of Chicago on a March day to some imaginary, Narnia-like world where miniature rooms are filled with living creatures and artists’ eyes live forever. In a word, museums are magical places where ideas are made tangible as things and the tangible stuff of stone, pigment, and canvas are spun into the stuff of dreams.

Considering the magic contained in the Art Institute, it’s no wonder they need not one but two lions to guard its entrance. Perhaps some imaginative eye would see this bronze beauty as being Aslan himself: perhaps after hours, long after museum-goers have gone home, these giant lions come to life, pacing the halls where lofty Ideas find miniature, hidden worlds that are just their size.

    This is the fourth in Gary’s and my series of SynchroBlog Chicago posts. For Gary’s post on the Art Institute, click here. Tomorrow, we’ll blog the details of our luncheon meetup with Armand of Moleskinerie acclaim: stay tuned!

One of the sights I looked forward to seeing when Gary and I visited Chicago last weekend was Millenium Park�s so-called Bean: Anish Kapoor‘s large reflective sculpture formally known as the Cloud Gate. Given Chicago�s picturesque skyline, it�s a shutterbug�s dream to encounter a large shiny surface that affords an eminently photographable fish-eye view of both buildings and passersby alike.

The Bean�s popularity among professional and amateur photographers is evident by the number of Cloud Gate images that appear on Uncommon Photographers, a Chicago-based blog specializing in photos of photographers. Like every other camera-wielding tourist who encounters the Bean, Gary and I were unable to resist its allure, snapping shot after shot of light and image glinting off its polished curves.

When current renovations on the bean-shaped Cloud Gate are complete, people will be able to walk underneath its curved inner surface, an opportunity for even more shutter-snapping moments. For now, though, the sculpture�s underbelly and lateral edges are skirted with plexiglass, chainlink, and obscuring tarps while workers smooth seams on its underside. Even with these non-photogenic accoutrements, though, on its ends the Bean looks like a giant balanced egg: a huge chrome oval laid by some exotic alien.

A night-time egg-end view of the Bean was my first impression of its shiny spectacle: on our first walk downtown upon arrival last weekend, Gary and I went in search of the Bean, not knowing exactly where in Millenium Park we�d find it but figuring we�d know it when we saw it. When seen at night and on the other side of a concrete barrier, the Bean startles you at first sight: even if you�re looking for the smooth curves of a large reflective surface, the gigantic glowing eggy-ness of the Bean at night seems other-worldly, like nothing on earth you�ve ever seen.

Both amateur and professional photographers are almost magically drawn to photographing the Bean…and therein lies some controversy. Due to copyright concerns, the Chicago Park District initially prohibited professional photographers from taking pictures of the Cloud Gate, arguing that profits from Bean-based images belong to its designer.

Interestingly, this photo-ban defined “professional photographers” as anyone who uses a tripod, and photographers of all stripes responded by posting over 1,300 images of the copyrighted sculpture. When Gary and I visited Millenium Park, there was a heavy Security presence both on foot and Segway scooters…but we weren’t asked to cease and desist with our shutter-snapping since I hadn’t brought a tripod and Gary used my head to steady his camera. (This arms-length self-portrait shows Gary using me as a human tripod, and you can see in Gary’s post a photo snapped from the top of my head while I shot that initial night-time shot above.) Given the number of photo-snapping tourists visiting the Bean last weekend–including one tripod-wielding photographer–it seems authorities have given up their attempt to deny the seemingly universal and irresistible urge to photograph the Chicago skyline as reflected in the Cloud Gate’s shiny contours.

The downtown skyline as reflected in the Bean is cool by night…

…and even cooler by day.

Even viewed through a chainlink fence and obstructed by renovation equipment, Millenium Park’s Bean and the views afforded by it are pretty magical.

    This is the third in Gary’s and my series of SynchroBlog posts on our long weekend in Chicago. For Gary’s perspective on the Cloud Gate sculpture, click here. Tomorrow, we’ll share our day-long exploration of the Art Institute: stay tuned!

Yes, it’s true: they really do dye the river green for Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago…and the party started last weekend, when this photo was taken. (For additional images, check out the photos Ken Ilio of Uncommon Photographers has posted here and here.)

At the risk of ruining everyone’s party, let me tell you that I’ve always hated Saint Patrick’s Day. I have nothing against actual Irish-American folks celebrating their heritage: my maternal grandfather was second-generation Irish, so there’s more than a touch of Celtic pride in my lineage. But when I was a child growing up in Ohio, I always hated the lip service I felt February’s Black History Month and March’s Saint Patrick’s Day gave to black and Irish folks, respectively. If African-American and Irish-American culture and history are truly important to American society, why do WASPs only spend an occasional day or (at best) month celebrating them?

When I was a child in Ohio, my elementary school teachers would “make everyone Irish” by adding an “O” in front of their surnames, like this sign hawking beer at “O’Ditka’s.” Maybe if you consume enough green beer, you’ll believe that the simple addition of an “O” will change a Polish guy into an Irish one…but if you’re a half Italian, quarter-Irish kid with a name like “DiSabato,” simply calling yourself “O’DiSabato” isn’t going to make your heritage any easier to understand.

If you’re truly Irish-American, I guess it’s fun to have an entire day to celebrate that heritage…but I find it borderline offensive to proclaim everyone Irish simply as a way of selling beer and shamrock-emblazoned souvenirs. If white folks were to celebrate Martin Luther King Day (or Black History Month) by pretending to be black, the African-American community would rightfully be outraged. If buttons saying “High-five me, I’m a homey” are racially insensitive, why isn’t anyone outraged that “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons and other Saint Patrick’s-themed swag are perpetuating the stereotype that being Irish is synonymous with being a drunken carouser?

In the days before abolition, escaped slave turned writer Frederick Douglass explained how savvy plantation owners prevented uprisings by observing a Christmas holiday during which slaves didn’t have to work and could drink and party to excess. Douglass claimed this overseer-approved bacchanalia vented hostile feelings among slaves by keeping them dumb, drunk, and happy: by throwing oppressed folks an annual bone, savvy plantation-owners kept their enslaved workers from rising up against their oppressors.

I suspect Saint Patrick’s Day has served a similar role in American culture. Traditionally, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day for working-class Irish (and their non-Irish peers) to feel good about their “roots,” and I suppose in theory that’s a good thing. But just as Valentine’s Day sells romantic love short by suggesting commitment equals store-bought cards and heart-shaped chocolates, America’s over-commercialized celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day whitewashes (or perhaps that would be greenwashes) a more complex history.

America hasn’t always “loved” her Irish-American citizens: although my Irish grandfather celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day with the best of them, he also told stories of the days when being second-generation Irish meant encountering “Irish Need Not Apply” signs when you went to look for a job and hearing whispers of “white nigger” when you turned to leave. By spending one day a year drinking green beer and kissing anything remotely “Irish,” Americans of all colors and ethnic backgrounds can feel good about Irish-American history even though a huge chunk of that history has been less-than-pretty. When’s the last time you saw a WASP wearing a button that said “Kiss me, I’m a white nigger”?

If you’re Irish-American and you truly enjoy the pats on the back (and the cheap green beer) that Saint Patrick’s Day bring, good for you. As for me, March 17th always makes me feel a bit embarrassed about being American: why can’t we reach a point where all ethnic backgrounds are equally embraced and none need special (and superficial) treatment? Being Irish-American, I suspect, is more than green-deep, but it’s useless trying to explain that to someone who’s drooling-drunk on the one day a year when such behavior is officially sanctioned. I guess the quarter of me that’s Irish (no initial O necessary) is of the fighting, not the drinking, kind.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Technology, so here is a shot of the space-agey Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millenium Park, where a state-of-the-art electronic sound system replicates the acoustics of an indoor performance space. With its curling petals of stainless steel, Pritzker Pavilion looks a bit like a landed spaceship, especially when viewed from the winding metal walkway of the BP Bridge.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion as seen from the BP Bridge

See Gary’s Photo Friday submission for another technological marvel from Chicago’s Millenium Park: one of the the towering video faces of Crown Fountain. Tomorrow Gary and I will share a slew of pictures of the nearby Cloud Gate sculpture (aka “the Bean”), so stay tuned…

Chicago, like any big city, is a place of the unusual and spectacular. Walking down Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile upon arrival on Saturday night, Gary and I found our necks stretched to the limit as we craned to see all the rush-hour sights: first a window display of designer doggy coats, then a pile of haute couture mannequin parts. It’s easy to slip into sensory overload when everything and everyone around you is both magnificent and fabulous, and deciding where to look next is made even more challenging by the throngs of people hurrying to and fro like braiding streams of water.

Plenty of average folks live in Chicago, but as a tourist my eye was drawn toward the exotic and spectacular: what things here are different from the things I’d see back home? In Keene, we have both shop-windows and mannequins, but folks in New Hampshire are more comfortable in the low couture of sweaters and jeans than the fancy fashions you see in the big city: in Keene, an occasional child might wear designer duds, but not dogs. As a tourist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that many if not most locals live a more spectacular life than you do at home, but I know this belief is misguided: looking back on my days living in a dingy basement apartment in Boston’s posh Beacon Hill, I know that the tourists rolling by in trolleys had no idea, really, what it was like to be an impoverished grad student living, working, and starving there.

On Sunday night, Gary and I took our quest for the unusual to the next level, taking an uptown train to see Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theatre. I’d seen the Blue Men years ago in Boston, so I knew what to expect from their high-energy, crowd-participatory performance. Like living mannequins, the Blue Men look like humans, but their silent expressiveness and innocent inquisitiveness makes them seem more alien than akin. By the end of an hour-and-a-half performance, you as an audience member feel like you’ve learned to think and interact a bit like a Blue Man: when I went up to Blue Man One to take an arms-length self-portrait, I didn’t say a word, instead pointing to my camera then to myself in a true Blue pantomime of “Pose with me, please.” My off-kilter picture taken, I then showed it silently to Mr. Blue, who patted me on the back: “Good job!” Why say anything when the tourist impulse toward shutter-snapping seems to be universal regardless of the color of your skin?

Gary’s interaction with Blue Man Group was a bit different from mine, though. Knowing it was his first in-person experience with all things Blue, I tried to give him some been-there pointers without giving away too many of the show’s surprises. Yes, the so-called “poncho zone” at the front of the theatre really does get messy. Yes, you really should tie a white strand of usher-distributed crepe paper around your head or neck: it will make sense later, and you’ll be glad you went along with the silliness. And whatever you do, don’t arrive to the show late unless you really, really like being humiliated.

As it turns out, I needn’t have made that third warning: we arrived at the theatre before crews had cleaned up from the previous performance, and Gary got his individual dose of public humiliation anyway. Instead of an opening act, Blue Man Group relies upon a pair of electronic marquees to entertain their assembled audience: in addition to leading the audience through a spoken oath to Not Take Pictures or Else, these marquees spotlight various otherwise anonymous audience members for particular notice. So in addition to congratulating one woman for allegedly winning the Pulitzer Prize and one man for supposedly helping to map the human genome, these devilish marquees asked one Gary Varner, “an average man of no particular significance,” to stand so the assembled crowd could repeatedly declare their love for him: “We love you, Gary!”

Blue Man Two has a particularly startled expression in his post-performance picture with the one and only Average Guy Gary, I think, because right before snapping it, I shouted, “This is Gary, and we all love him.” Rodney Dangerfield made an entire career out of being an average man who gets no respect, so we’ll see how Mr. Varner responds to being an average man who on Sunday night at least soaked in a mega-dose of true Blue love.

    This is Day Two of Gary’s and my experiment in SynchoBlogging this weekend’s Chicago trip. To read Gary’s account of his Blue Man Group lovefest—or to see the photo of a street musician he snapped in front of the Art Institute while another tourist stood next to him bemusedly fiddling with her digicam—click here. In our next SynchroBlog, Gary and I will share the obscene abundance of reflective pictures we snapped near Millenium Park’s Cloud Gate sculpture: stay tuned!

When a place-blogger travels, she faces the interesting challenge of using the same old tools of word and image to capture a place that is new and unusual to her. This past weekend, Gary and I traveled to Chicago: a place where he has lived previously but where I had never been. Visiting a new city with a former resident is like traveling with your own private tour guide, and I would have never thought to go strolling on Chicago�s Navy Pier on Tuesday morning had Gary not suggested it.

Blogging is (or at least can be) a highly personal, individualized phenomenon: your blog doesn�t look or sound like mine, and my blog doesn�t look or sound like anyone else�s. Pundits commonly talk about the political biases of the mainstream media�but what about the personal biases of an individual blogger? When you read posts by Blogger X, that version of the truth is necessarily filtered through Blogger X�s perspective, preferences, and blind spots. If memoir is a highly subjective genre (as the recent hoopla over James Frey�s Million Little Pieces indicates), then blogging is similarly slippery: my place-bloggish view of Chicago is going to be flavored by my personal preferences and marred by my own perceptive limitations. Most women visiting Chicago, for instance, would spend at least a day or more visiting the upscale shops on Michigan Avenue�s Magnificent Mile�but as for me, I snapped several pictures of shop-windows there and then spent infinitely more pixels capturing photos of towering buildings and the impressive Chicago skyline. If you rely upon my eyes to give you a view of a weekend in Chicago�or of a year in Keene, for that matter�you�re going to get a view that�s necessarily both incomplete and distorted, filtered through my own experience.

But, if you had two or more bloggers covering the same scene�walking the same beat and photographing the same sights�you at least could triangulate their experiences by comparing their individual takes on the same phenomenon: what did he see that she missed? Touring Chicago this weekend with Gary, I found myself re-visiting the novel phenomenon of dual photo-blogging: what do you do when two cameras are aimed at the same sights and sometimes one another? As Gary and I found when we visited New York City over a year ago, two pairs of eyes see more than one do�but often there�s significant overlap as Blogger A says �Look!� to Blogger B. So how do two wandering, blogging shutter-snappers avoid redundancy in their posts?

As we have in past journeys, this weekend Gary and I sometimes shot distinctly different images: I have more pictures of mannequins than Gary does, for instance. In other cases, though, we snapped image after image of the same sights, each of us burning an unspeakable number of digipixels, for example, on Millenium Park�s reflective �Bean,� which will be the subject for its own photo-rich future post.

As we debated how to allow ourselves our own writerly and photographic personalities as we each blogged the same places, Gary and I coined the term �SynchroBlogging� to describe what we plan to do with our impressions of this Chicago trip: over the next couple of days, Gary and I will post our individual impressions of the same sequence of sights, linking to each other�s posts so readers can compare our He Said/She Said perspective of the same phenomenon. If blogging is one way of sharing both place and personality, then the old adage of �the more, the merrier� should apply�although I�m not sure if the waiter who was flummoxed to find me, Gary, and Armand of Moleskinerie fame obsessively photographing our food, cameras, and an impressive dessert cart during Sunday�s lunchtime meet-up would agree (stay tuned for Syncho-Details about that).

It would take a team of bloggers, I�m sure, to capture Chicago in all its richness�already, after spending less than three whole days in the Windy City, I�m compiling a list of things to do and see next time. And while Gary, Armand, and I continue to stew the idea of an Elastic Band Tour, Gary�s vision of a cross-country road-trip of Moleskine fanatics, I�m coming to realize that it might take a busload of bloggers to capture the nuance and complexity of places near and far.

If nothing else, SynchroBlogging affords many opportunities for mutual humiliation as He and She post embarrassing photos and stories about one another: another coinage Gary and I have brainstormed is �blogmail,� the cyber-equivalent of blackmail where you threaten to post picture X if your companion makes good on his threat to post picture Y. In tomorrow�s post, I�ll tell you how Gary had his self-esteem boosted by a theatre of Blue Man Groupies�but in the meantime, you�ll have to enjoy this image of a tranquil moment Gary shared with a not-very-talkative Metal Man, notebook open as he readied to record every word of wisdom from a deeply grounded Chicagoan. (Click on the image for an enlarged version.) Some sights, I think, are simply begging to be blogged at least once if not repeatedly.

    For Gary�s version of our walk along Chicago�s Navy Pier, click here…and check back tomorrow for the juicy details of the love-fest Gary experienced at Sunday night�s performance of Blue Man Group.

Virginia creeper

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Red, so here’s a repeat of an image I showed you last September. When you’re an autumn leaf, you live and die by the motto “Better red than dead.”

As for me, I’m off for Ohio for Spring Break, where I’m going to wish a happy birthday to Gary followed by a weekend blog-meetup with Armand. Blogging will be unpredictably occasional while I’m wandering, so happy trails in the meantime.

Yesterday, a friend and I walked through the woods behind her house to visit a treehouse on a neighbor’s property.

It was one of those achingly sunny March days that makes you think spring is here…and yet this afternoon we’re supposed to get freezing rain. As L and I snaked through the woods behing her house, Reggie poked and sniffed behind us, trotting ahead occasionally to explore but never leaving my sight: what’s this, what’s that? The goal of our journey was to snap several pictures from inside the treehouse to share with L’s son, who had wanted to climb inside the last time he and L had hiked these woods, but they hadn’t permission from the owner to explore. Yesterday, L and I had permission to disturb the birds’ and squirrels’ nests that probably nestle inside this seldom-used structure: a sad little treehouse without a child to inhabit it.

How fitting that it was yesterday when I visited here, for this morning is gray and I’m hurried, bustling about with to-do’s (papers to grade, emails to answer) before heading off to discuss Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums with a morning class. Toward the end of The Dharma Bums, Ray Smith (Kerouac’s semi-fictionalized autobiographical narrator) finds his own treehouse: a cabin atop Desolation Peak, where he spends a summer in solitude watching for forest fires. Yesterday, the piney shade beckoned with its quiet contemplation; today, I descend to the hubbub of papers, students, and teaching. We all at times long for a spot in the shade to pause and reconnect, but only children and the child-like are given permission to stay there, a Secret Hideout shut against all adult intruders.

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