Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chicago - Art, brunch and kronuts in the snow

Chicago is not an obvious choice for a February vacation, not with its reputation for ungodly cold temperatures and biting wind.  We lucked out on Saturday -- the weatherman substituted steady snow for the arctic winds -- but it was still no day for strolling through the park.  So we headed to the Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute has famously good collections of art ranging from antiquity to modern and is a cornerstone of any good Chicago experience. Having visited the permanent collections on previous trips, we focused on a couple of the temporary exhibitions.
The principal draw was an exhibition dedicated to illuminating the influence the Greeks had on Egyptian art during the 300 years when Greeks ruled Egypt (from the fall of Alexander the Great to Cleopatra's famous suicide by snake bite).  It was a small exhibit but very well done.  Wall text did a good job of providing historical context (by the time the Greeks ruled, Egypt was already 3,000 years old) and religious context (most of the Egyptian art on display was religious in nature).  And individual labels provided enough interpretive explanation to help the viewer grasp the significance of what was happening from an art history/cultural perspective.
For example, here are two samples of bas reliefs depicting the head of a goddess.  The one on the left pre-dates the arrival of the Greeks; the other was created during the Greek period.  You can see the influence of the Greek taste for life-like representation (as opposed to a more stylized representation) and the more refined stonework.
What you can't see is that each feather on the bird atop the goddess's head is
etched out in super-fine detail.
Here's another example:
Take a look at this statuette before jumping below to read the accompanying plaque.
Does it remind you of anything?

After soaking up the Egyptian art (and vowing once again to visit Egypt sooner rather than later), we visited an exhibition of Hiroshige's winter scenes.  Hiroshige was a Japanese artist in the first half of the 19th Century.  He's famous for his wood-block prints; this exhibition focused on those depicting wintry scenes.  They were lovely in their simple but thoughtful evocation of winter life.  The overall impression was one of peaceful nature, but details showed the daily drama of ordinary human life. 

This print was one of my favorites.  There's a tiny figure of a
man carrying a burden across the precarious bridge, and the
boatmen rowing unaware below.
After the prints, we couldn't resist soaking up the saturated colors and fantastic shapes of Chagall's stained glass windows.

The windows form a tryptich dedicated to the theme of the arts. This portion depicts dance.

Amanda and I ducked out after the Chagalls to meet up with Vanessa and Stephen for lunch (you'll remember Vanessa from the Vietnam/Cambodia trip last summer).  It took us a minute to find a cab in the soupy mess of Chicago streets, but eventually we made it to Carriage House, a cute little place in the Wicker Park neighborhood that Vanessa had picked for us.


Although lunchtime by normal standards, I opted for a more brunch-like option . . .

Pullman french toast with caramelized bananas and sorghum whipped cream.
which I wouldn't normally follow with a sweet dessert consisting of fried dough, strawberry jelly and sugar -- but when Vanessa said that we were just around the corner from Alliance Bakery, and that they sold kronuts (so spelled to avoid trademark issues with the New York baker who invented the idea), we couldn't resist.  We got there just in time to get the last kronut of the day!

A kronut is basically flaky croissant dough that has been cut and fried
like a doughnut.  Tasty enough, but heavier and richer than expected.
I'd like to try one earlier in the day and without the jelly and cream.
It was great to see Vanessa and Stephen and to catch up on their adventures with work and fixing up their house and their (divergent) theories on whether couch pillows should or should not ever be allowed on Stephen's sofa.  And I enjoyed mixing my friend worlds a little bit more -- Amanda had met Vanessa once or twice before but had never met Stephen.  Turns out Stephen was an avid debater in high school, so once he learned that Amanda was the speech coach there ensued some of the most enthusiastically nerdy speech/debate-talk I've heard in a long time!  I guess that makes up for Vanessa's and my inside stories from Vietnam... :)

Vanessa, JJD, Amanda

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