gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Travel

Houston, TX

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I went to Houston last weekend for a good friend’s wedding and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, since people have told me that it’s not the nicest city. Granted there may be other factors that play into my favorable impression given that I was there with close friends and for a happy occasion, but there’s something about that southern hospitality that just feels so welcoming. I had a similar feeling when I visited Atlanta and New Orleans, so I think I just like the south. People seem so much more laid back and relaxed than in the Midwest, or at least more so than in Chicago. The weather at this time of the year was amazing, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be saying the same thing if I went there in August…

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The downtown has a sweet little park called Discovery Green, which was nice because it wasn’t crowded. It was so relaxing to have beautiful green space in the middle of a big city and not feel claustrophobic with lots of people around. The Museum District is convenient if you’re a museum-goer like I am because they are all clumped together and you can easily walk from one to another. Some of them are even free! Near the Museum District are Hermann Park and Rice University. Hermann Park is huge and it includes the Houston Zoo, which I wanted to go to but I definitely didn’t have enough time. I did make it to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has an impressively varied collection and is housed in a magnificent modern space. The art lover in me always wants to go to the primary art museum when I visit a new city. I also took a stroll around Rice University and I was blown away by how beautiful it is. It’s full of Romanesques architecture, which feels very Spanish-inspired and Mediterranean. The architecture, combined with the cypress trees scattered about, made me feel like I was in Italy. Speaking of trees, there were palm trees everywhere – something I’m definitely not used to seeing and I loved it!

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We had an authentic Mexican brunch at Chuchara in Midtown the morning after the wedding, which featured cuisine from Mexico City. I know it was authentic because the groom is from Mexico City and he had great recommendations of specific things to order. I got a Café de Olla (Mexican coffee with cinnamon and chocolate), which I loved! It also came in a really cute terra cotta pitcher that I wanted to take home with me.

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My friend explained that Midtown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Houston, which makes sense given its narrow streets. The restaurant is situated in what seems like a residential area, which gives it a very homey feel. This is the area that reminded me most of New Orleans.

My visit to Houston was a good introduction to Texas, with the help of a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide (my friend)!

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Open House Chicago 2017

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Open House Chicago is this wonderful annual two-day weekend event where about 200 sites around the city are open and free to the public. It takes place in October and I went for the first time this year. Although we’ve been blessed with beautiful weather fairly late into the Fall, the Open House weekend was cold and rainy. I did my research on all the sites that were of interest to me the week leading up to Open House and I a long double-sided list of sites I wanted to visit. Sadly I only made it to 8. The sites are all over the city and I mostly made it to the sites I wanted to see downtown and in Logan Square, since that’s where I live and they were very easy to get to. The thing about Chicago is that it’s a big city and it’s not the easiest to get to different neighborhoods without a car, especially if they’re far out from downtown. Chicago does have a good public transportation system, but if you have to transfer between L lines, it can take quite a long time to get to where you’re trying to go.

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My first stop was The Robey in Wicker Park, which is a new chic hipster hotel in the Northwest Tower at the six corners intersection. It houses a hotel, restaurant, a lounge/coffee shop, and two rooftop bars, one on the 6th floor and one on the 13th. The 6th floor rooftop even has a small pool (a very small pool) but both offer nice views of the city. And I loved the feel of the lounge/coffee shop on the 2nd floor. It’s definitely a cool place to bring a laptop and do some work, with a nice little view of Wicker Park.

Then I made my way downtown and my first stop was the London House, but due to the long line I just missed the cutoff to get in. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go there for a drink sometime to take in those sweeping views of the Chicago River and the magnificent mile. So then I went to the Hard Rock Hotel in the Art Deco Carbide & Carbon Building, which was beautiful, but not much of it was open for the tour.

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Carbide & Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel

Next was the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist designed by Harry Weese. The church is a prominent structure along the Chicago River with a unique circular Mid-century Modern design. The interior is laden with concrete supports and ceilings, Italian travertine walls, carpet, and velvet seats. Most of the building is taken up by an expansive semicircular room where their services take place, with a massive organ as its focal point.

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Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist

I made my way down LaSalle Street to City Hall where I got to sit in the room where the city council holds their meetings, which was a very cool experience! These meetings are open to the public and I wish I could go to one but they are always held while I’m at work. Then I went to the Federal Reserve Bank, which has a beautiful lobby and a money museum. I learned that it’s the oldest running Federal Reserve Bank in the country, which was surprising to me. I assumed the Federal Reserve Bank in New York would have been the first. The Wintrust Bank, which is right across the street, has an even more beautiful lobby if you ask me. It was truly stunning and I especially liked the Art Nouveau paintings in the frieze, lining the walls in the center of the lobby. I also got the see the vault in the basement, which was a bit eerie and smelled like old paper.

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Wintrust Bank

My last stop downtown was the Chicago Board of Trade building. It’s one of my favorite buildings in Chicago, but after being inside I have to say that I prefer it on the outside. The Art Deco lobby is very stylish, but it’s too dark and stark for me. It just doesn’t have a warm and inviting feeling; I found it to be cold and intimidating. The exterior, however, watches over the city with an earnest eye at the end of LaSalle Street. I always love when I’m on Wacker Drive and I look down LaSalle and see her comforting presence. The statue standing on top of the building is the goddess Ceres sculpted by John Storrs in the Art Deco style. I didn’t know this, but apparently the statue is faceless.

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Chicago Board of Trade

If the weather hadn’t been so blustery that day I might have made it to more sites in other neighborhoods. But it’s also hard to take everything in and appreciate it all, so maybe keeping the list of sites to see on the shorter side is the best course of action. There is always next year’s Open House to see more!

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen – Spring Green, WI

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My parents and I took a mini summer vacation a couple weeks ago to Spring Green, WI to see Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Taliesen. The complex consists of his home and studio, as well as some boarding residences for students in his architecture school. We like to see as many FLW houses as we can because my dad is an architect and teaches architecture, and my mom and I are art lovers. I also did an internship with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust in Chicago, so it’s always interesting for all of us. After having seen many of his homes in the Chicago area, what struck me about Taliesen was the beautiful setting in the hilly Wisconsin countryside. The integration between interior living space and the natural world that surrounds it outside, which is a central design concept for FLW, is very present at Taliesen. From the courtyard-like feel in front of the entrance to the house (perhaps inspired by his trip to Italy), to the wall of windows and doors opening out to a balcony on the other side of the house, which overlooks a series of hills, the beautiful Wisconsin countryside setting is very much felt both within and outside the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Asian influence also makes a statement in both the home and studio, as large Japanese silk tapestries take center stage on various walls. The room I liked the most was the living room because it felt so spacious with open space in the center of the room and built-in seating/benches along the walls around the periphery of the room. Apparently FLW had dinner parties every Friday night, complete with musical entertainment (for which he designed a music stand that could accommodate three musicians). He also designated a chair for his daughter who played the harp. His affinity for his daughter is also evident in her “little apartment” upstairs, which is accessed either through a lofty space above the bedroom he shared with his wife, or by its own separate staircase off the great room. The intention behind this was that she could perform puppet shows for him and his wife anytime she wanted.

There are different tours that one can take at Taliesen and the one we took was two hours long. Very comprehensive! We had a sweet and knowledgeable tour guide, but my favorite part may have been the resident cat who followed us around for part of the tour 🙂 I leave you with some wise words to live by from good ol’ FLW himself.

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“But the thing about a great beauty is that no matter its age or condition, it could still turn and give you that look and send the heart aflutter.”

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“I looked around at the stately villa, the murmuring fountains and, yes, even at the overgrown grass. Rome had its issues. The degradation was real. But the thing about a great beauty is that no matter its age or condition, it could still turn and give you that look and send the heart aflutter.”

I have to remind myself to admire the beauty in my surroundings, even if it’s not always initially apparent to me. I also have to be reminded to allow myself to be pleasantly surprised by the beauty that I might encounter unexpectedly. This New York Times article about Rome by Jason Horowitz resonates with me since I was born in Rome and lived there for the first eight years of my life. But I have to say, in disagreement with the author, I always found it beautiful and never wanted to leave. Rome was the best playground a child could ask for. But I will say, now that I live in Chicago, IL, I resonate with the author’s notion that we must seek to see the beauty even in the chaos or dilapidation that’s around us. I love Chicago as a city for all that it has to offer, but at the same time, the city just gets me down on a daily basis. Relying on public transportation for your commute isn’t easy, especially in the dead of winter. The hustle bustle lifestyle with everyone scurrying around in a hurry and forgetting to be nice to one another just isn’t for me. I find myself craving a much more laid-back kind of life. The architecture downtown juxtaposed next to Lake Michigan is beautiful, but other parts of the city that tourists don’t see where the average Chicagoean actually lives can be dirty and graffiti-stricken. So, faced with all this unpleasantness of city life, I often struggle to find the beauty that I once so admired about Chicago.

Horowitz’s evaluation of various neighborhoods in Rome as he searched for an apartment all over the city reminded me to try to appreciate the little intricacies and charms that each neighborhood of Chicago holds, especially since I don’t get to see them everyday. I like how different each neighborhood is and how diverse the city is. So maybe what I need to do, taking a lesson from Horowitz, is take the time to visit different neighborhoods, as he explored Rome, and experience each one for the unique things it has to offer. And maybe I just need to take a harder look at the small things in my everyday encounters with the city to remind myself what makes Chicago the beloved city that it is by so many.

 

 

A little voyage to Paris

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“Three Perfect Days in Paris” by Boyd Farrow

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I was on a plane last week, one of my least favorite places to be since flying makes me anxious, but this article about Paris that I came across in the Hemispheres magazine made it much more enjoyable. And although flying makes me nervous I have to say I love watching the landing as we’re approaching the destination and I don’t think it’s necessarily solely because I know I’ll soon be safely on the ground; it’s just such a cool view from up there. Anyway, I was completely engrossed in this article and the flight was more pleasant because of it. I went to Paris one summer when I was in high school and it is every bit as magical as Boyd Farrow recounts in his travelogue. It definitely transported me back to my visit there and makes me want to go back to go to some of the places he mentions. And how about the photographs…I especially like the one of the three Parisians basking in the light of their beautiful city. They look like characters from a French movie (Jules et Jim by François Truffaut,  The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolucci, and Band of Outsiders by Jean-Luc Godard come to mind). I’m just waiting for them to break into that infamous dance scene at the cafe in Band of Outsiders. 

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These are some of my favorite quotes from the article to give you a sampling of the delight that’s in store for you:

“I sit down with my giant cheese and watch as people file in and light votives or stealthily angle their phones for the ultimate shot: a selfie with Jesus.”

“By the time we leave, I’m so relaxed I hail a cab standing in the middle of the street. The driver looks terrified. Now, if I could only remember where I put my room key.”

“Everywhere here has a real community feel. You tend to keep an eye on your neighbors’ kids; you know your butcher, baker, and florist. In most big cities, people don’t live like that anymore.”

“In Jacques Genin’s showroom-size chocolate shop on lively Rue de Turenne, a loved-up couple agonizes over a chocolate display as if choosing an engagement ring. I’m agonizing too, over how many kirsch caramels I dare take from the sample jar.”

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And I just love the way the article ends, tying in the iconic kiss photograph by Robert Doisneau. So romantic…

“As I thread my way through the crowd, a young Frenchwoman bumps into me, spilling wine down my shirt. Being English, I apologize. She smiles, kisses my cheek, and disappears. Okay, so it’s not a Robert Doisneau moment, but it’s not a bad way to say goodnight to the city—the Eiffel Tower to the west, its sparkling light show reminding us that the clock has just struck 12.”

I’ll stop here so that you actually read the full article because it’s such a treat! Thank you, Boyd, for transporting us to the magic that is Paris.

 

Paris Can Wait

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Can Paris wait? I think most of us would agree it cannot. This consensus that I’m assuming is shared among those in the plot of the new movie starring Diane Lane, Paris Can Wait. Reminiscent of another travelogue starring Lane, the popular Under the Tuscan Sun, this genre really seems to suite her well. She is a classic beauty and there is a carefree, sexy ease about her that makes her the perfect travel companion, even if only through a screen. You hardly see any shots of Paris but at the very end because the movie traces the fragmented journey to Paris, but the places they stop along the way are points of interest in their own right. Lane’s trip to Paris is not with her husband, as one might imagine, but with her husband’s business partner who happens to be a Frenchman, played by Arnaud Viard. Need I say more about the fact that he’s a Frenchman and all the stereotypes that go along with that…he is charming, flirtatious, spontaneous, a womanizer, and let’s just admit, a little selfish. Despite all this, there is a genuine connection between him and Lane, which makes her feel appreciated and desired in a way that she hasn’t felt by her husband in a long time. Classic…

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The movie is full of scenes of delectable food and artistic shots of whatever Lane sees that she’d like to capture with her old school digital camera. She certainly does have an eye for composition of the unique things she comes across on her trip. There are sad moments as you learn more about Lane’s life, and there are funny moments as she saves the day when their car breaks down on the way to Paris. What I particularly liked was her relationship with her daughter (who we never actually see) because it reminds me of my relationship with my parents – we share the same name, we are both only children, and we are both very close to our parents.

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The movie definitely accomplishes evoking travel envy, as I left wanting to take a similar trip, even full of all the obstacles. I also love Lane’s summery linen outfit (seen in all three of these pictures), as well as her seductive evening dresses. Usually Paris can’t wait, but I suppose it can if it means going on a spontaneous adventure like this one.

Arthur Frommer on the healing power of traveling to Europe

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As often happens in my household, old papers, magazines, and brochures pop up because my mom is constantly going through things in an effort to downsize. I recently came across a travel magazine entitled “Planning Your Trip: Europe ’95.” That’s right, it’s from 1995. In it is an article by travel expert Arthur Frommer on his love for traveling to Europe because of its restorative power. I strongly identify with what he has to say, as I also find traveling to Europe rejuvenating, and just a few lines will give you a sense of why:

Some people take pills to restore their energy. I go to Europe. Some people go out dancing to lift their spirits; I go to Europe. To me, a week or so in the Old World is a restorative more powerful than any regiment of diet, medicine or exercise ever devised. It does me good to turn my back for a time on familiar scenes, and head for the gentler, slower, more traditional life of Europe. 

He goes on to talk about the old world charm, which more than simply being an endearing quality of Europe, actually truly connects us with history in a way that we cannot experience in the U.S. because of its young age compared to Europe – “This communing with the past – so much a part of the European travel experience – provides solace, and a sense of human connection and continuity that awes me.”

Featuring a picture of Café de Flore in Paris, one is reminded of the slowness of life in Europe and the afternoons spent at the café with an impeccable espresso or cappuccino and good conversation.

 

Cultural divides

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Over the past several months I’ve been conducting oral history interviews with Latino/a artists for one of my jobs. Some interesting and surprising conflicts have arisen that I definitely wasn’t expecting, and am even a bit bothered by. I consider myself a very open-minded person when it comes a variety of things like race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc., but what I’ve learned recently is that sometimes people can view this open-mindedness and willingness to engage with those who are different from us as a negative thing, and even a hostile thing.

To put things more concretely, I was speaking with a young Latina artist in Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood in Chicago, and she was bothered, insulted almost, by the fact that I wanted to explore the neighborhood, meet the locals, and try to have an authentic experience there. She proceeded to tell me that there was no way I could possibly have an authentic experience because I as was not Latina, I did not speak Spanish, and I did not grow up in the neighborhood. She said that the “authentic” experience I was seeking was clouded by any preconceived notions of what I thought her culture was about. She was frustrated that white people were visiting her neighborhood to see it for themselves and then trying to build it up because it was still affordable to do so. She opposed the gentrification process that was and still is happening in Pilsen, particularly in regards to the artist community. The artist community that Pilsen is now known for does not typically include the artists who have been living in Pilsen for decades. She felt as though these artists who have recently been moving into Pilsen are trying to replace the artists who were already there, and then pretending like they own the place. I can completely sympathize with the frustration with this kind of gentrification, but I do not think that someone who wants to explore a neighborhood and a culture with genuine interest should be lumped into the same category.

I countered all of this by arguing that not everyone who visits the neighborhood wants to replace what’s already there or try to change it. Some people are genuinely curious about other cultures, and not only curious but truly eager to learn more, engage with, and try to experience things with the locals. She was still insulted and offended by this proposition, insisting that there’s no way an outsider could have a genuine experience, precisely because he/she was an outsider.

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I left this encounter feeling so frustrated because I felt like she was prejudice against me, while I was not at all prejudice towards her. I was left feeling like there’s no way that two people who are fundamentally different from one another ethnically, which is out of their control, can come together and learn from one another. It was as if she encouraged segregation between cultures and as if she didn’t want to share her culture with anyone, nor learn about another’s culture. This was very frustrating to me because while I am a white American female, I was born in Europe and grew up there for the first eight years of my life. My mom has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to people from all over the world for many years, and I myself am now teaching ESL as well. I also volunteer at a non-profit that helps Spanish speakers with a variety of things, where I help with their citizenship classes. I have friends from diverse cultures, and in fact I prefer to surround myself with people who are different from me because I feel that there is so much to learn from them. I definitely have a genuine interest in exposing myself to different cultures and experiencing things as they do the best that I can. So I too was insulted by her for not understanding this genuine interest of mine in wanting to explore her neighborhood and do as the locals do.

Although frustrating, this was interesting perspective to be confronted by, which made me think more about what I was trying to accomplish by surrounding myself or exposing myself to other cultures. Despite her pessimism and unwillingness to accept me into her neighborhood, I’m still all about mixing cultures because there is truly so much learn.

An experiment with Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy

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As a Philosophy major as an undergrad, I read a little bit of Simone de Beauvoir, so when I saw this article about someone recounting their journey in her footsteps, I was definitely inspired. I’m not sure I could hike in the Alps for seven days in espadrilles…but this just proves how much of a badass she was. The author explains Beauvoir’s philosophy of not letting “her ideas succumb to reality” and that we can create what we want for ourselves and actually make it happen. She doesn’t agree with Beauvoir entirely in this respect, but she does acknowledge that it’s an interesting way of life to try for a short time:

It is a delusion to think that life has no wills but your own, or that you can thrive without the care and concern of others. But sometimes you can engineer a temporary condition, and produce a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance that uplifts you.

“Picture, if you will, Spain”

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To be a traveler  in the 21st century is to sometimes feel a sense of loss even before one leaves the house: The planet has been mapped with such an oppressive exactitude that it can often seem as if we’re living at a time when everything is knowable.

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This quote from a piece in the November issue of The New York Times Style Magazine struck me for its accuracy, but also its sadness. Social media, especially the rise of Instagram, allows people to snap and post pictures like it’s their job (myself included, I must say). While this gives individuals a great amount of creative freedom and allows their viewers to share in their experiences and see things they might not otherwise be able to see, it also robs people of having unique experiences of their own because they’ve already seen these amazing things and shared in your experience before having their own.