Millennium Park & The Purple Pig

As we wandered the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago, we got a sneak peek at Millennium Park through the light filtering shades on the windows.  Millennium Park was part of a 1997 effort to revitalize the Chicago’s downtown core spearheaded by the mayor of the time, Richard M. Daley.  Industrial waste land formerly owned by the railway companies was purchased and converted into a 24.5 acre Beaux Arts Style park including hedge rows, gardens, public sculpture, fountains and even concert venues.

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A SNEAK PEEK AT MILLENNIUM PARK FROM THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE CHICAGO ART INSTITUTE

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The park boasts some rather unusual pieces of art.  The first structures we came upon were the pillars of the Crown Fountain video sculpture created by Juame Plensa.  Two 50 foot glass brick towers anchor each end of a black granite reflecting pool.  During the summer months, water cascades off of the top of the towers on three sides, but that isn’t the most impressive part of the structures.  Trip Pix 228

WATER CASCADES DOWN THREE SIDES OF EACH OF THE TOWERS OF THE CROWN FOUNTAIN

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Inside the fourth wall of the towers that face each other across the reflecting pool, are light emitting diodes that create a giant video screen that shows a face.  The faces in the videos are different on each tower, but both feature a person who blinks and smiles and ultimately … puckers their lips.

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THIS FACE IS 50 FEET TALL

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And then this happens!

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WATER STREAMS OUT OF THIS INTERACTIVE FOUNTAIN VIDEO INSTALLATION

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The scale of the installation is impressive, and the water spitting out of the video screen into the reflecting pond draws oohs and ahhs from all around.  It is rather fun, and you never know when the screens will come to life.

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There is a Canadian component to Millennium Park which is thanks to the work of well know Canadian architect Frank Gehry who designed a stylish and futuristic looking band shell for the Jay Pritzker Pavillion at the centre of the park.  The open grassy area beyond the stage has 4000 fixed seats and a lawn which can seat an additional 7000 people which comes in handy during the summer months when concerts are presented in the park.  The band shell was controversial as it contravened the initial intention of keeping the buildings in the park more naturalistic, so to avoid legal problems, the mayor declared the band shell a “work of art”, skirting the building regulations.  Extending from the sides of the field are giant steel beams which create a grid work over the entire grass area.

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THE BAND SHELL OF THE JAY PRITZKER PAVILLION IS A WONDER TO BEHOLD

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Probably one of the most famous of the installations in Millennium Park is “Cloud Gate”. This unique piece of interactive sculpture was unveiled in 2004 and was created by Anish Kapoor.  It cost 23 million dollars (the original estimate for the work was 6 million dollars) and is comprised of 168  highly polished reflective stainless steel plates which are welded together in such a way that the work appears to be seamless.  It is over 33 feet in height and 66 feet long.   It actually took us by surprise because of its size, and the sheer fun of interacting with the work.  In many ways it represents the best of interactive art, for the way you encounter the piece is on your own terms.  For us … the fun was approaching the piece from various angles and trying to locate where we were in the distorted curved reflections which included hundreds of other onlookers around us … the closer we got, the easier it was to spot us, but from far away … it is a true challenge.  It is like a live version of playing “Where’s Waldo”, but instead of Waldo, it was “Where’s Fenton & White”.

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FROM A DISTANCE CLOUD GATE LOOKS LIKE A GIANT SILVERY KIDNEY BEAN

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CAN YOU FIND US IN THIS SHOT?

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YOU CAN WALK THROUGH AN ARCHWAY TO THE UNDERSIDE OF THE SCULPTURE WHICH  HAS SEVERAL MIRRORED FOLDS WHICH MULTIPLY THE REFLECTIONS AND CURVE THEM BACK ON THEMSELVES.  THE BOTTOM OF THIS PHOTO IS MOST REPRESENTATIVE OF REALITY  … BUT THIS ENTIRE PHOTO IS ACTUALLY LOOKING UP INTO THE MIRRORED UNDERBELLY OF CLOUD GATE, SO EVERY IMAGE YOU SEE IS A REFLECTION.

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We could have spent more time wandering the park, but we were starting to get hungry and dusk was approaching, so we made our way to a restaurant we had read about that we wanted to try … The Purple Pig at 500 N. Michigan Avenue.

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SCOTT PREPARES TO TAKE ON THE PURPLE PIG

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The Purple Pig was busy.  We were truly lucky to get a table, and a few minutes after we sat down, there was a huge line-up.  The food, is, as one can imagine … pork based … so this will not appeal to those who do not eat meat.  The dishes are tapas, and we found the servings to be suitable in size and the food to be outstanding.  Cheese platters, finely seasoned olives, nuts, fresh breads, and other tantalizing side dishes are offered along with rich pates, unusual pork dishes and a good wine list.   This is a great place to go for a meal that can be a few dishes and a glass of wine, or a full night of several small courses, slowly savoured.

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A PARTIALLY EATEN CHEESE PLATTER WITH A BEEMSTER GOUDA, TOMME CRAYEUSE  AND A BAY BLUE CHEESE, SERVED WITH A SWEET GREEK CAVIAR SMEAR AND CRISPS.  ON THE RIGHT A  RICH PORK PATE WITH GLAZED BREAD, PAIRED WITH A DRY WHITE GEWURZTRAMINER.  WE WERE TOO FULL TO TRY THE SALT ROASTED BEETS WITH WHIPPED GOAT CHEESE AND PISTACHIO VINAIGRETTE.

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With full stomachs, we headed back to our hotel and re-packed our luggage …  for tomorrow would be the beginning of our grand train adventure across to San Francisco.  The following morning before we checked out of our hotel, we took a quick saunter 20 minutes north just to get a peek at another legendary place in Chicago … Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

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EXCITEMENT WAS RUNNING HIGH AS THE CUBS HAD MADE THE NEXT LEVEL OF THE PLAY-OFFS ON OUR FIRST NIGHT IN CHICAGO.

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ALTHOUGH WE COULDN’T GET INTO THE STADIUM, WE WERE ABLE TO SNEAK A PEEK THROUGH THE SIDE GATES AT THE FIELD.

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Prior to going to Chicago, we had been told by a co-worker of Pete’s to look for the brownstone buildings across from the field.  These buildings have roof-top seating that they sell during the baseball games.  The seating is owned by the buildings, so even if you rent or own a unit in the building, you still have to pay to see the game.  During the play-offs, you can only imagine how much these seats were going for.  The balconies on the roof look directly into the field with a clear unobstructed view, and from not much further away than the highest seats in the actual stadium.  Apparently, the field was attempting to put in a giant  video screen that would have blocked the view from the brownstone complexes. The owners of the buildings lobbied, and won the right to keep their prime viewing space (and additional income).  Thanks to Joan Burke for sharing this information, so we knew to take a look around at this amazing bit of entrepreneurial spirit.

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THIS BUILDING HAS PRIVATE RESIDENCES INSIDE, BUT THE TOP TWO BALCONIES ARE SEATS TO WATCH THE BALL GAME.

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As we finished circumnavigating the outside of the walls of the field, we were waved at by a gentleman in the back of a truck who noticed us taking pictures.  He was delivering bread for the upcoming game the following night.  He said … “Nobody ever takes pictures of the bread man.”  We promised him, we would not only take his picture, but also put it in our blog.  He was friendly and welcomed us to his city and was delighted that we were from Toronto, and then he got serious, and said, “So what part of town are you staying in?”  We replied that we were in Lakeview near Lincoln Park, and his smile returned, and he said, “Oh, that’s good … as long as you aren’t on the West Side.”  And this led to a strange observation about not only Chicago, but about being a tourist in a new city ….

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FINALLY … SOMEONE TOOK A PICTURE OF THE BREAD MAN.

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Pete and I budget, often a year in advance to save up the money to go away.  And when we go on our trips, we take in as much as we can, and sometimes spend more than we would at home … on a fine meal, or on a better glass of wine.  But seeing a city through the eyes of a tourist is only seeing a small part of any place you go.  The areas designed for tourists are shiny and clean and the poverty that exists is swept away.  Chicago, like all big cities has social challenges and poverty, and you sense through talking to people that for those that have money, Chicago is a fine place to live, but for those that don’t … it is difficult, and expensive and in some cases, even a bit dangerous.

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During our architecture tour, the docent talked about how he had grown up in Chicago, and how things were “much better now” and how it was a place that he could be proud of, but how that wasn’t always the case due to hard economic times.   And even then, as we travelled along the river, we encountered not only beautiful buildings, but also tent encampments of homeless people.  I didn’t take any pictures with people in them, but here is a picture of one of the tents.

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NOT EVERYONE IN CHICAGO CAN AFFORD A HOME, AND THIS TENT WON’T KEEP OUT THE COLD IN THE WINTER MONTHS.

On almost every street corner in the city, there was someone holding out a cup for change, and often as we walked around Chicago, we encountered people who asked where we were staying, and when we told them that we were in the Lincoln Park area, they smiled and said … “oh that’s fine … you’re nowhere near the West side”.  This same comment was echoed the following day. Apparently, a certain part of the West side is where those who have little money wind up … in an area of the city that even the locals don’t wish to go.  There is apparently violent crime connected to drug gangs, and prostitution, and … people struggling to make ends meet.  And reminders of these challenges are in evidence, even on the edge of Millennium Park.  It is legal to carry a gun in the state of Illinois if you are a licensed owner, but Chicago has tried to ban guns altogether to lower gun crime.  And in public places, they are strictly forbidden.

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THIS SIGN CAN BE SPOTTED ON PUBLIC BUILDINGS AND ON PARK ENTRANCES IN TOURIST AREAS.

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None of this is meant to imply that Chicago is  unsafe.  In fact, we never felt uneasy at all, but it made us fully aware that as a tourist who has the money to fly to a place, stay in a hotel and eat at restaurants … we are extremely privileged.   It was a sombre reminder that poverty is ever-present and challenges most places … even great cities like Chicago. Spending tourist dollars certainly helps the general economy, but as we passed near the Stan’s Donuts near our hotel, a man held out his cup, and with these thoughts in our heads, instead of tossing in a few coins … we pulled out a 5 dollar bill and wished him good fortune.  How easy it is as a tourist caught up in the excitement of the journey to forget to count one’s blessings … and how lucky we felt that we were able to take a trip like this.

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Tomorrow … All aboard with

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Fenton & White

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