Loving Chicago

Categories: Day Tripping, Do As The Locals Do, Featured
Contributing Diva: Angela Rocco DeCarlo

by Angela Rocco DeCarlo

chicago-skylineFlying low over the Chicago lakefront kindles pride and joy at once again returning home. I always think: Leonardo DaVinci would have given anything to be in my seat. Poor thing…he believed it was possible, but missed the chance by 400 years. First-time visitors to Chicago may be unprepared for the splendor seen from an airplane seat on the way to O’Hare. And that is nothing compared to the delights of Michigan Avenue and the sprawling museum campus along the lakefront with the Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium, Aquarium and the jewel in the tiara, the Art Institute of Chicago at Michigan and Monroe.

The breathtaking expanse of blue Lake Michigan waters cheek to jowl with sandy beaches, Navy Pier, all crowned with beautiful evocative skyscrapers is nothing short of thrilling, even for a native, currently living in exile in the shadow of Disneyland.

Having covered travel, with my column, The Business Traveler, and other articles, I’ve seen my share of cities in America and Europe…and in my view, none can compare to the visual beauty of Chicago’s combination of open skies, majestic buildings and startling quality of summer light, akin to what I recall from Italy’s Amalfi coast.

We always head for the Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan at Monroe, (valet parking, $25, Monroe entrance) to pay homage to the outstanding Impressionist painting collections, made possible by, among others, Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1849-1918, who had an eye for the emerging new painting style and acquired many which were ultimately given to the museum – lucky for us.

Mrs. Palmer, young wife of the millionaire merchant, was highly accomplished and devoted herself to women’s causes and advancing culture in the city following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The light-filled Impressionist gallery on the second floor, was missing two favorites – Renoir’s Two Sisters, often called On the Terrace, and Gustave Caillebotte’s spectacular Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) both were out on loan. But the remaining Monet water lilies, Houses of Parliament and wheat stacks are there to delight.

After the Impressionists I always hunt up the Wedgwood replica of the Portland Vase. The original 2,000 year old Roman cameo glass vase, was once owned by the 18th century Duchess of Portland. Her natural history collection of artifacts was the largest in England, complete with its own curator.

The original vase was shattered, but reassembled for the artists at the English Wedgwood factories in Stoke on Trent to create several copies. The craftsmanship of Wedgwood is world famous and much treasured. The original Portland Vase is in the British Museum, the Art Institute has one of the copies.

Visitors should see the Thorne Miniature Rooms in the lower level. The diorama illuminated rooms are set into the walls and depict furnishing styles from the late 13th century up to the 1930s. Young and old alike relish these 68 exquisitely detailed rooms.

Two special exhibits seen in early August were Edgar Degas – At the Track and On the Stage ;and Dionysos Unmasked. In the large Degas painting of a fallen jockey, the artist captures a defeat of the dangerous steeple chase races. In one painting a church steeple is seen in the distance. The wall placard instructs how the racing name, Steeple Chase came to be. It was the terminus for the race. Simple.

One of Degas’ sculptures, Little Ballerina, age 14, has a place of honor in the center of the gallery with backstage ballet paintings on the walls.

The Dionysos exhibit has a wide array of artifacts illuminating the cult of the god of wine and stage. Various images show merrymakers, some with a touch of mischief.

The spectacular 2,000 year old Alsdorf blue cameo depicts a Roman emperor and has been owned by emperors and European royalty. Italy is still famous for the continuing art of coral cameo crafting. The small town of Torre del Greco, near Sorrento/Naples, Italy, had several factories when I toured the area some years ago.

Chicago has much to offer the visitor. Take a ride on the Wendella boats which slide through the Chicago River locks, sort of a mini-Panama Canal experience. The River was permanently reversed in 1900 which saved the purity of Lake Michigan water – delicious. Thousands of deaths were avoided by this engineering achievement.

Many of the Chicago River engineers later were engaged for construction of the Panama Canal, 1903-1914, fulfilling President Teddy Roosevelt’s goal of connecting the two oceans – Atlantic and Pacific.

The architectural boat rides provides a unique view of Chicago’s
highly acclaimed skyscrapers. Don’t neglect a close up look at the Tribune Tower, which has genuine pieces of famous buildings from around the world in its facade.

Navy Pier is a destination for families with its Ferris Wheel, shops, restaurants and various boat rides. It once was a military venue, then a college and was later redeveloped into a “fun zone.” Don’t miss going to the top of the Hancock Building. Michigan Avenue, for a terrific view of everything.

Chicago has the great Lyric Opera, many theatrical venues and is the home of delicious deep dish pizza at a number of places – including Uno and Due’s and the spawn, Lou Malnati’s.

For the best of both worlds, we stay at a boutique-like Residence Inn Oak Brook, in our former neighborhood. It is close to expressways, and the acclaimed Oak Brook Shopping Center and dozens of first-rate restaurants. Hop on the Eisenhower Expressway and you are downtown in 25 minutes, traffic permitting.

I love Chicago. But I didn’t find it until it was shown to me through the eyes of a California transplant. Only then did I see its true beauty.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan, 60603

Wendella Boat Rides
Wrigley Building dock
400 N. Michigan Ave.
Residence Inn Oak Brook
790 Jorie Blvd.
Oak Brook, Il 60523
630-571 -1200
Angela Rocco DeCarlo, a former Chicago journalist, (Chicago Tribune) covers entertainment, travel, culture. She resides in Orange, CA.

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