I spent last weekend with Webb Chiles and his wife Carol in a leafy suburb outside Chicago. It was a short getaway that involved flying, my least favorite means of travel but the flights were easy and seemed to be over before they started much to my surprise. After I arrived I parked the rental car and such was the hospitality of my friend when I drove it back to the airport the Chevy Malibu barely took three quarters of a gallon to fill it. Three quarters of a gallon of gas that cost seventy cents more than here in the Keys, around $2:90, and it was a salutary reminder that though we think we live in an expensive place there are plenty of places with higher taxes and more driving and of course places that require that Keys anomaly: expensive winter clothing.
I don't know how it was but the weather for my day and two halves was well nigh perfect. A little rain while I slept, a little gray in the morning but fresh perfect sunny afternoons and on my last morning, Monday, we went for a walk Webb and I in fog. I really enjoyed that as it was a complete change. I saw green trees, brick homes of all descriptions and city traffic managing to keep moving and be polite at he same time, and the energy when I got home to Miami was completely stressed and unpleasant. Or perhaps it was all in my mind. Lake Michigan:
It was a soft gray nothingness looking out across a lake barely wide enough to contain a circumnavigator for half a day's sail heading East. Webb spoke of a sail he took across and back after he bought Gannet and my mind started boggling on the thought that the little 24 foot ultralight had spent two summers here s far from tidal waters and then completed a flawless circumnavigation and is still in fighting form ready to take on any body of water. Uncomfortable it may be for the rest of us, yet Gannet is a remarkable means of transport. Even I who enjoy my comforts might prefer a journey aboard rather than in those damned commercial planes.
Walking to dinner in town we passed many colorful flower beds of all descriptions, a feature of life in Chicago and surrounding communities apparently where summer is all too short and to be enjoyed. Wasn't I surprised to see a tropical fruit growing in its own cloche. Webb and Carol both were patient with my camera so I took a second to point it here as proof that pineapples do grow in higher latitudes. I hope it gets finished before the first frosts.
In between sightseeing and walking we ate and ate well, and talked and I slept the sleep of the just. It was a profoundly refreshing place to sleep, quiet and undisturbed. Webb, despite his recent rib injury was as active as ever and thus I had to put him to work and try out the man's infamous uncooked oatmeal. My very smart wife, when she heard of the experiment called it muesli, a Swiss invention.
I stood there trying to imagine myself in a small rolling cabin, the sound of waves sloshing against the hull, the horizon flipping and flopping this way and that. My imagination was helped by the videos you have too have probably watched of his latest journey, his sixth time around the world. The videos on YouTube as I have mentioned before, give the best possible idea of what it is actually like to sail a small boat a long way out of sight of land and if you get any romantic notions you should check them out. Webb's cold oatmeal breakfast is legendary and I have eaten it.
Uncooked oatmeal, protein powder and a mix of fruit, fresh or dried, nuts and milk. Contemplate and then taste. And be surprised because it tastes good. Because I have a sweet tooth I'd add sweetener and that highlights the beauty of this food inasmuch as it is very filling it also can be made with petty much any ingredients you have to hand. Aside from the basic oatmeal itself you need a liquid but that could even be water if that was all you had. Mine tasted fine and despite Webb offering to throw it out if I hated it I found it to be really good and I finished it. No cooking needed is a bonus. It has put commercial heated oatmeal into the shade. Curiously Webb didn't invent it, but got the recipe form a health conscious fellow sailor with whom he shared a transatlantic passage decades ago. A German of course as muesli is popular in those parts.
Sunday was a day devoted to being a tourist in a city that has its icons and respects it's history. Both Webb and Carol were kind enough to tell me they enjoyed being tourists in their current hometown and I understand that feeling as I do the same in Key West when I have visitors. However Carol works full time Monday through Friday and consuming her day off gave me pangs. Her work is far more all consuming and stressful than mine and I hesitate to say I'm enjoying working days but I am. We both look forward to the benefits of retirement which Webb has been enjoying already for far too many decades, the reprobate. No idea what was going on but I resisted Carol's suggestion we stand behind the man and make faces at the interviewer's camera:
Chicago is one giant flowerbed. They were everywhere.
Apparently they didn't make it in time for the turn of the century but it opened shortly thereafter and I had a grand time wandering through it my head swiveling like a country bumpkin on his first visit to the metropolis.
The pavilion is named for a Hyatt Hotel heir who presumably handed over the loot to get the over sized band shell built by 2004 and it is now a much appreciated free concert venue in the heart of Chicago. I thought it looked really cool and I hope I have caught some of that atmosphere.
Seen from a distance it curls in astonishing arcs over the abundant flower beds and trees:
They also have a wildflower garden in the middle of the park which created in my undoubtedly overheated imagination a city in an apocalypse. No it's not civilization collapsing it's actually Utopia, a place where nature can live and work in the middle of the city undisturbed by lawn mowers or shears.
And then there were young people voluntarily getting soaked on a warmish but not too hot afternoon:
Weird doesn't begin to describe these two huge faces overlooking the shallow pool. he photographs move slightly giving the faces of "ordinary Chicagoans" a strange Oz-like property.
And then they turn the fountains on.
It was entrancing, interactive Art in the park.
Cloud Gate Plaza they call it in the guides but The Bean makes a lot more sense.
You walk under the bean and get weird views in a form of endless wavy mirror images:
Carol mentioned this fancy outdoor seating area becomes an al fresco ice rink in winter. I stared at it appalled. Ice outside a freezer sounds unnatural.
I found downtown Chicago on very brief acquaintance to be civilized and pleasant. Phones keep heads down but the sidewalks were wide enough to make them easy to avoid. I want to go back in a hurry.
There are quite a few residentially challenged beggars on the sidewalks, but then again this is the principal tourist zone so this would be where they would go. But there are performers too and this lot were considerably more adept than Key West's sole bucket drummer on Duval Street who seems to generate more complaints than cash.
Crowds but not crowded:
Then there was the architectural river tour.