Monday, August 28, 2006

Two big heartbreaks, and yet only an infinitesimal set of mourners - Chicago for you this week. I say infinitesimal, because, for one, Cubs’ fans are rather chronically doomed to let everyday, rinky-dink losses affect them, and secondly, Bubba was primarily adored by children. Steve Gatto must be gleaming, no doubt; but my cavil is that when you’re a Sosa or an O’Malley, it’s a known fact that even a sneeze or an arm twist could cost your team dearly, so why blame it on an abject curse? If Billy Sianis hadn’t taken his goat to that fated game in 1945, or say, if he’d cleansed the poor creature before he set foot in Wrigley Field, would the Cubs have been World Champions? As an earnest baseball freak, I’m not diffident in the least to admit that I sometimes shift focus from the crux to such wacky thoughts that traverse my mind; or to forewarn others to scurry and seal their tickets in advance for an upcoming game just to claim freebies.

And then there’s Bubba --- the first grouper in history to have fought cancer, and now he’s gone, leaving everyone at the Shedd Aquarium cold with his exhausted warmth. I have been reading so much about Bubba that I’ve come to stanchly believe in the power of love and perseverance. Life is really precious, but often, we thoughtlessly squander it to only realize much later that we’ve already driven it to atrophy. Like Tim Hansel said, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy.” Albeit through his sufferance, Bubba inspired several cancer patients, mostly children, and that in itself is one whale of an achievement for a lifetime. I am hopeless when it comes to bewailing and seldom know what the right thing to say is, but if Leslie Beth were to write him an elegy, I hope she’d say, “Sweet Bubba, as you glide and fly, through the oceans of your new-found sky, remember to stop and say good-bye.”

Well, on that note, I’d like to remind you of someone else that’s gearing up to say good-bye. The sun - and it makes me cringe to see him leave. Nearly rescinds my endeavor in this verse:

When summertime dawns
honeyed skies bleed
on thirsting lives

Gardens bask in the briskness
bearing their blossoms out,
as if in gratitude

Seas beckon the crescent
in dimpled laughter,
swelling with pride

No hazy obscurities,
nor gray clouds,
shall quell the Sun’s splendor

Even when darkness descends
and angst abounds
His stars rouse and light the depths.

But the stars don’t keep us warm on bleak, fall nights, worse on Windy City-style hyperborean ones. Which probably explains why people are incessantly bustling to make hay while the sun shines, as it were. Yet, it seems merely as if they were getting their skates on to ready for the wintry months.

Now that I belong to the mothers-of-hyperactive-tiny-tots brigade, I’m aware of what members of the clan usually do in the summer. And I’ve done most of it --- I’ve taken my little one to gardens, pools, zoos, and theme parks --- but the most imperative activity that stands out, is registering for winter classes at the park district. “How can they possibly stay locked indoors, just moping desolately, while it flurries?” is the oft-repeated question. Even though I found that some of the classes are worth signing up for, like ballet or something equally sensational (mostly for older kids) I wouldn’t think of paying a cloying Park District coach a hefty price just to throw in a few toys for a bunch of toddlers, only to stand and witness hair-splitting spats among them with no power to arbitrate and try to restore sanity. Building snowmen can be a fun way to tag as ‘Play Time,’ too, so I’ve resigned myself to this simple thought for now.

The one thing that remains highly uninflected all year round though, is the satiation of retail therapy. When April’s last snow-showers are kissing us farewell, it’s usually the itsy-bitsy polka-dot bikini that beckons (unless you’re a beer-belly sporting bub). And when all that ice cream has settled comfortably in the hungry haunches, and the sun is humming his swansong, people fleck the Magnificent Mile, garnering their wool and gifts, and embellishing it just enough to shame the holiday lights. As for me, I’m simply mulling Halloween costume ideas over a frozen yoghurt. And it’s not just the Oberweis cows that are beaming.

The hazels are at work, muzzling up the greens,
Forth and Towne’s got the Fall look all ready.
Go, stop the summer wind ‘fore it careens,
or hold your breath, till the harvest’s steady.

Monday, August 14, 2006

If you can maneuver your way about a city like Chicago, where there are exactly two kinds of everything, including seasons, namely winter and road repair, then all your exasperation notwithstanding, the city comes to grow on you. It has, on me. Where else could you stir out on a brutally muggy summer day, and find comfort in the winds that caress the Michigan? It is not simply that Chicagoans took a kink from the ostensible obloquy of “Windy City” and metamorphosed it into a positive streak - to them, Windy City is more about the upbeat lifestyle it offers and the verve it exudes, and less about their mistaken vanity, or more appropriately, airs.

Chicago is complicated, and controversial. Crusades of Cubs and Sox fans lurch the city incessantly. Just last year, a troop of Cubs’ fans, on making a sudden, divine discovery that it's the game they're really passionate about, made a halcyon shift of loyalties overnight to Camp White Sox, after it clinched the American League championship. That, after the Bambino curse, is perhaps the hottest potato to have baked in baseball fires. At any rate, if it’s big enough to make Tribune headlines, it’s big enough to keep the rumor mills at WrigleyVille churning. And just when the Daley and Blagojevich camps appear complacent, Daley paints the town red by hosting President Bush’s 60th birthday bash at Firehouse, and Blagojevich orders a pollution reduction initiative on the Dan Ryan.

For me, Chicago is defined by its outdoor cafes, art shows, jazz fests, and gardens, in the summer. Be it Camille’s Sidewalk Café, or the Corner Bakery, summer gilds sidewalk awnings with its warmth and radiance. The Taste of Chicago brings foodies from as far as California for a slice of the choicest cuisines. The Hotcakes Art Bus takes art lovers on an exclusive day-of-art tour in the city. Brown and Wilkes set Jazz on Jackson ablaze with their Windy City Jam; Redwalls, amongst other new-age bands, rock the Lollapaluza music fest. Morton Arboretum wears its plushest green to lure Chicagoans for an emerald-fresh panoply.

How do I get the skinny on the latest and greatest goings on, and valuable tidbits on the city’s glorious past? Well, I have a fetish for the Sunday Tribune Magazine, and likewise, when I’m in a rather fast-track mode, I turn into an eager MetroMix junkie. Just last week, I read about the great ‘amphicars,’ back in the 60s, in the ‘Flashback’ section of the magazine. I have since come to hopelessly wish I belonged to that era - how cool might it have been to ride in a snazzy convertible afloat in the Dells? Well, these are just a few of the flippancies that cross my mind on a lazy Sunday morning, when I’m sitting with my cuppa, flipping the pages of the mag (which, whimsically, transports me to a Cinderella world, where I see myself partake in every happening doodad around town), and wondering what to wear so that I don’t feel like a fool downtown. You see, the grand Michigan and the mighty Chicago river, not to mention the perdurable nimbus clouds that swathe Illinois skies, have this obsession about conniving against poor, diligent weathermen like Rick D’Maio. On a bright, 84F day (which feels like 94), when one is in the mood to flaunt some skin and tiptoe around Navy Pier in strappy AnneKliens, a sudden blast of chilly air might fleck one brazenly with gooseflesh, and worse, if one’s cruising down these water bodies, the torrent will come teeming down and drench the boats sloppily.

There’s something tenuously seductive about these city lights. They make me feel special; they imbrue me with an aura that won’t wipe off long after I’ve left them. Ambling down the swarming streets across Millennium Park, I find myself pouting and flicking strands of my hair modishly, wondering if Plensa’s magic lens would’ve done justice to my countenance. My daughter, like scores of other cheery toddlers, loves to drench in the spritz of the crown fountain and is absolutely fascinated by the gargoyle effect - she leaps everytime water gushes, so to speak, out of a person’s mouth. So I guess Plensa’s tribute is a blessing for all Chicagoans in the summer, whether they’re looking to enjoy the cool of the fountains, or to find a familiar face on the glass block, just so they can swank a little, and feel belonged.

And when I’m treading the Magnificent Mile, I get wooed by the nictating neons. I see starry-eyed tourists clocking in and out of trendy stores and bistros, and marvel at their vivacity, playing a guessing game with their liveries. I imagine myself on the cobblestone catwalk, in a frilly twill-top the manikin at Anne Fontaine’s sporting, or say, the pricey Agnes b Beret Maille tucked in the bag of a chic Japanese woman.

While all of this is purely for stoking up the Bohemian spirit, the indigenousness in me was revived last weekend at the World of Games, a daylong celebration of popular international games in Chicago communities. Before hitting the Indian segment of this event, I was envisaging burly Punjabi men toning their muscles and restlessly holding their fire, before shooing their opponents in Kabaddi. But what ensued was rather stupefying - now, one would hardly imagine svelte Brazilian women tussling with a group of well-toned Punjabi youngsters, rhythmically, to the sound of the traditional Punjabi ‘dholak,’ rather than competitively. So when the Capoiera ‘au’ met the Kabaddi ‘ho-hum,’ I realized that kabaddi too, like cricket, has the magical power of rousing a nationalistic spirit. Of course, I’m not ruling out the August 15th Parade on Devon Street, but if the tender coconut vendors decide to disband, I might just black out. Then again, if the forces conspire, even if coyly, I’ll be wet through, but just enough to tell the tale.

Sun-kissed skies smiling down
this ain’t just your ordinary town
Balle-balle, and tandoori at Vermillion,
Hot-house blues, and deep-dish at Lou’s
Oh won’t you come home, to Chicago?
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