Friday, April 25, 2008

drove to chicago, all things go, all things go

Okay, so I didn't really drive (though I did see Mayor Daley's name plastered everywhere). I flew instead. You didn't know I could fly, did you? Oh. Well, I can't. Not without some help, anyway.

I made the trip to Chicago last weekend in celebration of three things:
one: Passover
two: Having finished my thesis
three: Claireness
That's right, Claireness. You probably know that my bestest friend Claire moved to Chicago last August, and boy do I miss having her around. I felt a particularly acute lack of Claireness during the last month and a half, when my many all-night thesis-writing parties would have been both more accurately named and more enjoyable with Claire's company, like in the old days. Speaking of the old days, we used to eat a lot of Costa salads. I still do; in fact, after a long thesis-afternoon at the library, when I hadn't eaten since noon and I would probably be working until five or six in the morning, a stop at Costa on the way home was a frequent occurrence. Claire, unfortunately, lives far from any Costa restaurant, and, as she was lamenting this, I agreed to take her a Costa salad when I went to Chicago. So Vanessa and I stopped for lunch on the way to the airport, and I took the two salads (I didn't get to finish mine because I was running late--shocking, I know) in their lidded takeout containers, slipped each into a gallon-size ziploc bag, tied them both inside a plastic grocery bag for good measure, and put the bundle into a little backpack, one of my pieces of checked luggage. I knew that the dressing wouldn't make it through security, and I didn't want to risk the salads themselves, and besides, they would stay nice and cool in the cargo bin. I am pleased to report that they arrived intact (not, however, in one piece, as I mistakenly said to Claire) and delicious, though their aluminum pie-tin-like containers took a beating and the ziploc bags were a smart precaution.

Claire and her husband Joseph live in Hyde Park, near the University in south Chicago. The weather turned out to be gorgeous (not cold and rainy as was forecasted) while I was there, so we took many strolls around the beautiful neighborhood. The streets are lined with a plethora of blue mailboxes (whose scarcity in Provo I lament, especially in my current apartment where we have no outgoing mailbox), big and lovely shade trees that remind me of home, and beautiful old mansions. One afternoon while Claire stayed home thesising, Joseph and I visited the University's Oriental Institute Museum, where we saw, among other things, an enormous bull-man (weighing 40 tons) and an exhibit on the looting of Iraqi cultural artifacts. What boggles my mind is that we have good-quality photographs of looters at archaeological sites, and detailed data about how many looters visit which sites how often, and yet nobody seems to be able to stop them. Oh, and some of that loot falls into the hands of independent American collectors, who often donate items to American museums in exchange for a tax break.

We also stopped in a couple of used book stores, one rather dusty and confusing, the other more well-lit, more organized, and somewhat less dusty. A real highlight, though, was shopping at the wonderful little Hyde Park Produce store just around the corner from Claire & Joseph's apartment building. Avocados for 65 cents each, heirloom tomatoes, a wide selection of other fruits and vegetables, some of which I had never seen before, everything bright and fresh and inexpensive. Plus a full-service deli and a few aisles of basic to gourmet packaged and refrigerated items, and on weekends the nuns set up a table in a corner of the store where they sell homemade tarts and other pastries. If I lived near a store like that, I would cook far more often and I would eat much healthier. Just one of the reasons it's time for me to move to the city.

While I'm on the topic of food, I should mention the delectable bacon-blue-cheese burger that I devoured at Medici café (a favorite frequented by Claire, Joseph, and, they say, Obama). We also enjoyed a number of yummy homemade breakfasts (french toast, popovers, hootenanny/german pancake), as well as a do-it-yourself version of Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme, which I tried to replicate last night with slightly less success. The biggest tortillas I could find were still not big enough to wrap around a loaded tostada, so I had to be creative. The result was a bit less elegant, but still very yummy.

An account of my Chicago weekend would not be complete without a note on the Passover seder. Four years ago, I attended a Passover seder service organized by a professor of religion at BYU. That experience gave me some background in the traditions, but suffice it to say that a Passover seder with a bunch of Mormons differs significantly from one with a big Jewish family. For one thing, the former was far quieter, and more sober, in both senses of the word. Sharing the long table with a few dozen members of my brother-in-law Doug's extended family, I tried to follow in my copy of the Family Haggadah (which, on the pages opposite the actual service, suggests games and activities to get the whole family involved) what was being read by Doug's father at the other end of the table, but it seemed that the little kids were the only ones really paying attention. The adults were excited to see each other: only a few branches of the family live near Chicago, and the rest had come to town from Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, or California. So, many of them see each other only once a year at Passover. Noisy might be an understatement. Uncle Marty and Uncle Randy sang and danced and shouted at random intervals; Doug and Matt kept asking me what page we were on; Amy was busy chasing one-year-old Jack, who, still on west-coast time, was tired but happy; Uncle Dave chatted non-stop; Aunt Sharon was getting irritated at the noise and lack of cooperation; and eighty-year-old Aunt Edith was oblivious, no more confused by all this than by anything else. And for a delightfully bizarre touch, Maria had brought a set of finger puppets, each representing one of the ten plagues: a frog, a locust, a little guy with boils all over his face, an amorphous red blob with the label "blood," and you get the idea. I don't know who would have imagined that such a product would sell, but I must admit it was pretty amusing.

I think that some of the family thought it was a little strange that I wanted to attend their Passover seder and that I came all the way from Utah for it. Maybe that's partly because the event is normal to them: as Doug said, it's sort of like Thanksgiving, where the whole family gets together once a year to talk and laugh and eat. As an outsider, anyway, I thought it was great. The trip was totally worth it. Especially since I got to enjoy several days of Claireness, too.

It was a wonderful way to recover from a month and a half of sleepless thesis-writing before my defense on Wednesday (which I passed! yippee!), a much-needed escape from Utah valley and a very pleasant and relaxing weekend.

1 comment:

rantipoler said...

Hooray for the bull-man. Really, does it get any better than that?