Friday, August 29, 2008

And speaking of art . . .

Some of you know that I finished my Master's in urban planning this month, and as a reward, my parents sent me this amazing painting, almost identical to one I'd seen in a small gallery in their new hometown of Brunswick, Maine

This is actually a series of smaller paintings vertically assembled in a frame. All over the gallery--which is a converted Victorian house off Brunswick's main retail corridor--these smaller squares dot the walls, alongside landscape paintings, line drawings, pottery, and textile pieces woven from one of the four looms in what was formerly an upstairs bedroom. Handmade birdhouses greet visitors at the entrance.

I liked this piece because the squares gave off a quiet, moody quality, and the paint was layered thickly, like baked clay: sort of surprising to find in breezy, wooded Maine.

By the way, this is Caroline, the artist:

Caroline and several other artists create and exhibit their work at the Spindleworks Gallery, which is a working artists' space for developmentally disabled adults. It's a place hard not to fall in love with, with at least a dozen artists actively creating work dawn to dusk and an open-door policy to visitors, whether browsers, buyers, students, filmmakers, educators, locals, or tourists like me.
Here's the note my mother wrote on the back of the photo you see above, which was tucked in with the painting when I opened it:

"This is Caroline, the artist. The original piece you saw on your visit had been sold, so Caroline did this one especially for you. The bags behind her are also her designs. Such a talent! (as well as sweet and funny). Her dad builds the frames. I know you will find the perfect spot to hang your new piece of art."

And we did: between the two windows in our dining room, the sunniest room in the house.

Friday, August 22, 2008

5 Minutes

We interrupt this regularly scheduled post for an important hyperlink.

(It's been eons since I've seen my name in print, so I hope you'll forgive the self-promotion).

Thanks to Robyn for the images and opportunity!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Foghorn Leghorn

This little guy was our new neighbor for a while, and I was looking forward to blogging his story:

1) Next-door-neighbor Ron notices strange fluttering in alley

2) Ron surprised to see not a lost cat or squirrel, but a full-grown white rooster on the other end of said fluttering

3) Ron attempts, unsuccessfully, to catch stray rooster

4) Neighbor Moises steps in to help by tossing an empty cardboard box over rooster

5) Ron starts to take rooster home with dreams of a feathered housepet

6) Back-of-alley neighbor Caesar sees Ron with white rooster, and exclaims "Ohhh, I've wanted a rooster my entire life!"

7) Ron hands off rooster to Caesar, who makes a free-range home in his backyard

8) Rooster crows from daybreak to sunset, prompting a neighbor to say, "I think that rooster is confused."

9) Collective ire gives way to amusement, recognizing how much more pleasant it is to be awakened by a cockle-doodle-doo than by car alarms or honking horns

10) Rooster assumes neighborhood mascot status

Unfortunately, I can't blog that story so cheerfully anymore, because the rooster is suddenly MIA. I've already made my own private hierarchy of fates for our hapless beast of burden (cockfighting at the bottom, escape to a local farm at the pinnacle, a fine marinade somewhere in between). It's tough not to assume a bad lot.

For somebody who cursed that rooster's very existence at first, I sure do miss his bombastic racket. Be safe, feathered friend. It was nice knowing you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Best. Sidewalk Art. Ever.

I have to agree with the snail.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Morning People

Here was the scene Tuesday morning after Monday night's storms. A neighbor said it was the worst he'd seen in 40 years. People are still without power all over the city, and Com-Ed says it may be Friday before it's fully restored.

You can only imagine my delight, then, to find morning breaking like this, just 48 hours later:

I'm a consummate early riser. It's a rare miracle for me to sleep past 7am on the weekends, and more likely than not I'm facing the day as it breaks, which this time of year is just before 5:30. My tiptoeing down the stairs always seems to stir Inez, who doesn't mind an early walk before traffic gets in full swing.

There's a strange kind of fellowship that blooms in the underpopulated hours. Those who've worked the graveyard shift know it, as do the night owls who roll home during the wee hours.

Since we adoped Inez, I've gotten to know the early-morning regulars on our walking route: The other dogwalkers, of course (but only from a distance, since she hates her own kind), but also the maintenance guys at the nearby elementary school, who greet Inez with a daily scratch on the head. And there's my friend Mark, who runs by with his son Henry in a jogging stroller. And the chatty recovering alcoholic, who likes to take a morning smoke and muse over the increasing violence in the city ("The police can't help those kids. I can help them!" he'll say, pounding his shirtless chest).

But my favorite morning folk hero is the older Asian man from around the corner. He does a daily round of calisthenics, generally barefooted, at the local elementary school. His standard uniform consists of banana-yellow shorts and red suspenders. He's a gentleman who always greets me with a wide smile and a "Hi ma'am" followed by a more singsongy, "Hello baby!" to Inez. Sometimes he'll do jumping-jacks. Other days he walks a perfect square, over and over again, on a 10 X 20 concrete slab in front of the school's side entrance. No fancy gyms or paid trainers for him. There's plenty of good exercise available for free.

I've often wondered what it's like for him here. Our neighborhood has a pretty scarce Asian population. Census data puts the numbers at 1.3%, but even that may be inflated. His English faculties suggest a recent immigrant, or possibly a transplant from one of the city's Asian neighborhoods, where a sizable community sustains the native dialect.

He shares no language or customs with his neighbors, smiling at people who tend to scowl back, or passing boys in slouchy jeans as he sports those red suspenders. But you can't say he hasn't claimed his space. No embarrassment over sit-ups, no apologies for his air-punch repetitions. I wish I had a photo to share, but it just doesn't seem right to approach him and say, "Excuse me, sir, but do you mind if I take your picture doing your hamstring stretches on that bike rack?"

It's a wonderful life.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Girls Rock

We spent yesterday afternoon watching 17 bands. We weren't at Lollapalooza, no siree. We were at the Chicago Metro, where those 17 bands--populated by girls between 9 and 16 years old--played one original song each in the span of ninety minutes.

For those who've never seen a final performance of Girls Rock Camp, 1) try to remedy that as soon as possible, and 2) here's a short primer on how it works: Seasoned female musicians from the local rock scene volunteer as counselors, then coach the girls in learning to play instruments (many of them have never picked up a guitar, bass, or drumsticks), writing an original song, and coming up with a catchy band name -- all in a single week! At the end of that week the girls make their debut at the Metro, one of the premiere rock clubs in Chicago.

We went to last year's final performance because our friend Isabella was a camper. Here she is making her father proud by following his example on the drums.

We were so taken with the entire experience that this year we took our economic stimulus crappage and gave a scholarship to the camp. It was exciting to watch the show and know we'd helped one of those girls to find herself on stage.
These girls have an amazing spirit of perseverence. No matter what happens, the show must go on. They may miss their cues, forget their lyrics, or discover their instruments weren't plugged in, and you'll watch them work together to help their bandmates catch up, even if it means repeating a verse or coming up with an impromptu fill.

The looks range from grungy tomboy to pint-sized Madonna. I'm not enough of a poker face to hide which I prefer (but seriously, does a 10-year-old need all that make-up and lace to feel like a rock star? She's got a Fender in her hands, for criminy's sake).
They come up with names like Outlet, Hot Pink Streaks, the Electrolytes, the Mango Lassies, Allergic Reaction, and Contagious Love (of Chicken and Potatoes). A quick inventory of song titles includes 'Get Outta My Face,' 'Spitting Venom,' 'Dottie Dangerous,' 'Carlos the Watermelon,' and 'AHHHHH!'


I thought this entry might be a detour from my usual focus on the neighborhood, until I found out that our neighbor Tina, from just up the block, helped to coordinate this year's camp, and her daughter--who goes by the stage name Bubblegum Ferocious--was the lead singer of Mace, which certainly rocked the house.