You think you know Grant Park, and then. . . .
I was leaving the park the other day when I noticed this amazing sign, positioned atop the Art Nouveau-style entrance to the Metra train station at Van Buren. Has it been there forever? Perhaps my readers can say. . . .
The Octophant, proclaimed here as “real and alive,” was ostensibly an “exhibition of the impossible” at the Century of Progress, a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1933.
The sad melange of the animal form, coupled with the 3-D exuberance of the sign, produced a powerful effect on me. I felt as though to descend into the Metra would be a venture into the surreal, a venture best undertaken by those far more stalwart and steady than me.
Click image to enlarge.
Click here for links to info on the COP.
Last time I walked by, the tree in front of the Dewes House was blooming, framing the caryatids. A swell address, originally built for a German brewer, it exudes baroque style, inside and out.
I’m glad these historical old mansions survive, but this one, however beautiful, stirs desolation in me. It needs a Kickstarter project to bring it new life–a period drama should be filmed inside it, concerning the original immigrant brewer (41 years of age when he popped for this place) and his family. I can almost see his restless daughters peering out at me!
Finding ways to live with vestiges of the past can be challenging. This house was put up for sale in January for $12.5 million, I believe. Even real-estate groupies admit that as a habitation it might be too much like living in a museum.
Creatures enjoying their place in creation.
One of the benefits of our cold late spring has been a profusion of bloom. These densely flowering trees line the bottom edge of Grant Park. (For a picture taken from a moving car, it’s not too bad.)
At this time of year, each fancy high-rise seems to be in competition with all others to be the most lovely. Gardeners are out daily primping the grounds, tweaking the seasonal shows they’ve dreamed up to show off the special structural elements of their property. This place on Oakdale near Sheridan makes beautiful use of its boxed-in site, dressing up what could be a dismal patch of neglected shade with these nice old native shrubs known as serviceberry.
The serviceberry has an unsensational flower, which nonetheless contributes to its beauty. If properly pruned, the serviceberry grows into a elegant small tree, and can be happy, as in this case, even in urban settings where it gets little light.
Smooth grey bark is one of the serviceberry’s chief glories. It looks great with dark evergreens and with ground-covers like vinca. Every year I look forward to seeing the tulips flowering under these trees.
Another tree I love looking at on Oakdale is this sour cherry. It is a standout specimen tree, whose colors pop against the backdrop of this old white rowhouse. Its buds form at the end of longish stems. They are a beautiful peachy pink color.
The tree has a spare open shape, so that the blossoms and fruit always stand out clearly, like ornaments hanging on a Christmas tree.
In the winter, the tree is covered with brilliant red cherries, which must be very sour, because they remain uneaten even as the tree begins another year.
Last weekend, a friend invited us up to a horse farm in Wisconsin to see a dressage competition. It was quite a drive–Chicago weekend traffic can be murder–but the weather was gorgeous (though still cold). The landscape, decked out in the delicate finery of spring, was lovely to behold.
I had never attended such an event. I was surprised at the tranquility of the scene. Seeing the horses and their riders, and walking the quiet paths whose fences bounded the long allées, made me wistful for the days before the automobile. My thoughts traveled back in time to the Impressionists Degas and Manet, who were fond of painting horses and racing scenes. It was great fun to be transported back imaginatively into that vanished world.
The south end of the Federal Plaza has recently seen an upgrade of the mechanical systems that lie beneath it. After being closed for more than a year, it has been replanted and is again open to the public.
I like to imagine what stood on this spot in other days. Before the squat black Mies van der Rohe post office was built, a grand old cruciform Federal Building, capped by a fancy dome, took up the whole block. It was destroyed to make way for the present complex in the 1960s.
The buildings ringing the site—the Clark-Adams, the Com-Ed Building, and the old Marquette—seem to get along well with their new neighbor, though. And the new plantings only enhance an already appealing scene.
This tableau with stuffed bears inside Bass Outdoor World is only one of its surreal features. I visited one of these stores for the first time the other day and found it an assault on my gentle sensibilities. A salesman proudly told me that the store contained $2 million worth of taxidermy. Across the US, there are 51 similar stores, with plans for many more in the offing.
What is Bass Outdoor World? It’s a colossal store selling gear for outdoor pastimes—camping and hiking, hunting and fishing. The stores are often on the fringe of metropolitan areas, along the highways that affluent people use to reach their vacations. The stores have huge parking lots, vast inventories. They are extravagantly materialistic, while seeming to worship the natural world.
The Bass Outdoor shop in Portage Indiana is a cavernous two-story building, with a rough-hewn timbered look under fluorescent lighting. It features a dizzying array of fishing gear, a showroom of expensive boats, and, upstairs, a hunters’ paradise with a sobering display of guns.
As the United States becomes more built up, our focus on the glories of outdoor life becomes more intense, too. There is a vast commercial market for roughing it, a market where you can buy fancy sights and expensive comfortable chairs from which to shoot deer. With enough expenditure, campsite conveniences rivaling the comforts of domestic life can be had.
Have you ever been to Bass Outdoor World?
The shop floor
Rods and reels
It was almost militantly beautiful over the weekend, though cold. Under the trees was one bohemian soul, lying on the grass, careless of the perfect order he was destroying, his gaze bent on the riot of bloom.
Peace and joy to the givers and protectors of life!
Photography and zoos create the illusion of a kinship between species, allowing affective (if one-sided) relationships to thrive. Under these conditions, we can say that we “love” lions—something a human would never say if meeting a lion face-to-face in the natural world!