Three weeks at home was enough to get some, but not all, of the tasks on our list finished. The good news was that I fixed the hatchet handle, picked berries and made some more jam, and finished editing Wanderung 5 so that Monika could begin converting it to HTML. The bad news was that I never had time to work on the Firebird so that we could sell it, make a storage box for the trailer's drain elbow, fix the front door, or re-spoke the wheels on our bikes to straighten them out. I would like, of course, to blame the unexpected telecasts of the 2004 Olympic games from 12:30 to 4 p.m. every afternoon and again from 8 p.m. until midnight every night. That is a lot of hours that I could have been working instead of merely spectating, but really that was just an excuse. The Olympics were so gripping that we were only walking or biking every other day or so and didn't even have time to read any books in the evening like we usually do, if you can imagine that!
We also finished paying bills, dealing with government bureaucracies, having medical tests, and getting our prescriptions refilled so that we were good to go again. But our interlude of free time ran out when we had to get back to Chicago in time to see Martin in a play, we are parents after all, and so we started our return trip at 11 a.m. on Friday the 27th of August. Surprisingly, we had no backups anywhere and arrived at our hotel in Toledo without incident 8 hours later. That was early enough so that we could catch another evening of Olympic telecasts. Hurrah! I'm glad the Olympics are only every four years or else I might be in some slight danger of becoming a sports junky.
The next day the last 5 hours of the trip to Martin's place on the north side of Chicago went smoothly, and Martin had even saved a great parking space near Lake Shore Drive that would fit the truck! I was glad to park it and leave it there for the remainder of our visit although I had some qualms about leaving the bicycles and bottles of water, Gatorade, and root beer out in the open in the back of the truck. That afternoon Martin cooked a picnic lunch for us all that we carried on the bus to the Millennium Park near the downtown lakefront. In the park we found intriguing new sculptures including a huge, bean-shaped steel shell polished to a mirror surface. It gave fascinating reflections of us, the park, and the Chicago skyline depending on where exactly you were standing and how you were looking at it.
Another sculpture consisted of two large monoliths at either end of a very shallow reflecting pool. The monoliths were apparently made of some kind of glass block which could be illuminated from within to make pictures. The pictures beaming out from these monoliths consisted of faces of various people, and they seemed to be staring right at you. Even more disconcertingly, at one point when a picture of a person spitting was shown, a horizontal stream of water gushed out of the mouth! That startled us all, but the kids really enjoyed playing in the horizontal fountain plus splashing around in the reflecting pool.
The rain held off while we had our picnic dinner on the lawn in front of the concert pavilion, but then started pattering down while we toured the rest of the park. Across the street we wandered through a Latin Festival in Grant Park and listened to some salsa-type music. The beat was great but out of due consideration for the sensitivity of my son I restrained myself from dancing in the park.
We wanted to take in a (free) evening concert, and we passed the time before we could pick up the tickets by looking at a fascinating exhibit of family pictures from around the world taken by Uwe Orrem, a German I think. He spent 4 years of his life hitting all the continents except Antarctica and taking over 1,000 family portraits. Each portrait was annotated with information about the parents and children themselves, which made it all the more interesting. In some sense it was remarkable how similar the aspirations of the parents to have a better life for their children were across the cultures although clearly there were also wide cultural differences. The Moslem women, in particular, where either fully covered in the chador or completely banned from being in the picture by their husbands, reflecting the second class status of women in those cultures. I really had to tear myself away from these family portraits when the time for the concert rolled around.
Perhaps due to the rain, the concert was held in the underground concert hall underneath the park rather than outside on top where we had enjoyed our picnic. The concert consisted of two major pieces, "The Red Violin" and Mahler's 1st Symphony. The playing was, at least to my ear, excellent, and we enjoyed both pieces although they were very different. The Mahler symphony was in a traditional symphonic form with four movements, and recognizable themes and variations that made it easy to apprehend. It was certainly more predictable than "The Red Violin" piece. That was some kind of tone poem, but I simply could not connect any particular musical segment with its corresponding role in the story that inspired the piece. That was frustrating and certainly decreased my enjoyment of an otherwise interesting collection of musical segments. I was left wondering if there was some kind of a correspondence but I simply did not perceive it, or if the segments were originally composed in a sequence that did not follow the story line in any noticeable way.
When we walked back to the bus stop after the concert we noticed how cold it was getting. The bus stop was right across the street from the Chicago City Hall and the old Goodman Theater, and fortunately we didn't have to wait too long for the bus to carry us back to the north side. Since we hadn't seen Martin in a couple of months, we stayed up late chatting about his life before turning in for the night.
The next day we spent the morning wandering around the Lincoln Park Zoo, which had a new primate house. Gorillas were there, as you might expect, as well as mandrills, but I also saw some species of monkeys that were new to me. One of these had huge fluffy white fur (hair?) cascading down from its perch (think of a huge monkey colored like a skunk sitting in the crotch of a tree with a tail hanging down and you have a rough picture). Another monkey had pairs sitting huddled together on branches with their tails entwined below them, apparently asleep. Doggone cute, that; they looked for all the world like they should be in a Disney movie or on a Hallmark greeting card.
We also, of course, stopped by the tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses (rhinoceri?) before heading off for lunch, after which Martin had to leave for the matinee performance of the play he was in.
Figuring it was going to be a late night, we took a nap before taking a bus over to the Flatiron building for the evening performance. After a couple of false starts we found it in the smaller wedge-shaped building that is kitty corner from the landmark Flatiron building. The play was William Inge's "Glory in the Flower", a one-act ensemble kind of play set in a bar around 1947. It was presented by the Chicago Actors Studio thespian school that Martin had been participating in over the last year or so, and he had a supporting role.
We enjoyed the play very much and afterwards Martin drove us back to the apartment where we gathered our belongings and walked over to the truck. I was relieved and maybe a little surprised that none of our stuff had been touched despite sitting out in plain sight on a busy street for a day and a half. So we said good-bye to Martin, climbed in, and drove up to Burlington to stay with Lois a few days.
On this visit we ended up getting more exercise but less music and dancing than we typically do when we visit my sister! Since a real estate agent showed her home to a prospective buyer on Monday evening, we vacated the premises and spent the evening exercising in the Burlington health club where Lois is a member. Monika and Lois walked on the indoor track while I worked out on a treadmill with a built in fan. The fan was pretty important in keeping me cool so that I could very gradually up the pace to 4 miles an hour and the incline to 5 degrees. Together with a leisurely cool down period I put in a total of 50 minutes and felt like I had a good workout. We all gathered for a brief swim in the pool afterwards and closed out the evening by relaxing in the whirlpool.
Lois had to work at the Burlington Hospital gift shop the next morning, so we took the opportunity to try out the hiker-biker trail from Burlington to Waterford. The trail is a rails to trails conversion following the route of an old inter-urban electric train. Being an old railroad bed, the trail was mostly level and easy riding except that it was gravel rather than pavement. It seemed to me that gravel made me gear down one or two gears because of the increased rolling resistance. In any case, our route crossed over the Fox River several times and gave us nice views of the Wisconsin countryside. We rode out for a little less than an hour but didn't quite make it to Waterford before turning back. Thank goodness the day was, for August, relatively cool and we were riding in the morning so that Monika didn't overheat despite getting dog tired.
However, Monika continued to have problems with sore, tingling hands, and after the ride we shopped for some bicycle gloves with padded palms for her before we returned to the hospital to pick up Lois. That evening Lois's Band of Musick practiced in the basement and we spent the time sorting through old pictures from my father's and grandfather's photography studios, trying to figure out who everyone was. I suppose that when folks take pictures they seldom think of writing the name and age of the subject on the back because, after all, everyone in the family knows who it is. But let me tell you that once a few decades have passed, there jolly well might not be anybody left who knows the folks in the pictures and then people like us have to try to puzzle it out. However, I like photography and these were pictures of my family, so it was an interesting if occasionally frustrating way of putting in the rest of the evening.
Our last day at Lois's, we spent the morning looking at some condominiums she was thinking about purchasing. Her house would have to sell first, of course, but she was looking so that she could buy a condo that would suit her somewhere north of Burlington and south of Milwaukee. That afternoon I used the chain saw I had brought from Virginia to whack away at a 25-year-old accumulation of forest undergrowth. That was really rather fun in a destructive, noisy kind of way, which might be a guy thing. We also once again gathered our belongings to leave the following day. Betwixt and between all this activity, however, I had managed to take the propane tanks of the trailer into the coop store in Burlington to be filled. I found out, much to my surprise, that I would have been charged a different rate if I were using the propane to run a car than I was charged for using it in the RV. Basically, if they sold it for driving they had to add on a special tax for state highway use. It's the same basic idea as taxing fuel oil used in cars differently than home heating oil, but I just never knew they did that. Still, although the propane cost $15 for a 20 pound fill up per tank, I was glad to have them full for the upcoming trip through Canada. I knew that if I find propane cheaper in Canada I would rue the day, but I was operating under the "be prepared" motto.Copyright 2005 by Robert W. Holt and Elsbeth Monika Holt