Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hecho en Pilsen

Earlier this week, a friend and I spent a frosty, sunny afternoon in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen. We had lunch at Dusek's, a Michelin-starred restaurant named for the owner of the adjacent 100-year-old concert venue, Thalia Hall, the locus of what had predominantly been a Czech enclave about three miles southwest of Chicago's Loop. Over time, the area has become inhabited by Latino residents, mainly from Mexico. The cuisine at Dusek's reflected this reality and the chilaquiles was delicious. The restaurant has blended into the area, but not without controversy; its management was at the center of a firestorm recently (since resolved) for firing a Mexican-American dishwasher who had walked out as part of last months' A Day Without Immigrants restaurant workers' boycott.

Up and down 18th and 19th Streets, which form the core of Pilsen, you can find many traditional, long-term Mexican bakeries, restaurants, and stores. But newcomers in recent years have upset some long-term residents who have expressed their anger in the form of anti-gentrification graffiti. Bow Truss Coffee Roasters bore the brunt twice in 2015 and earlier this year, it closed all its locations for other business reasons. It is unclear if one thing led to the other.

Other relative newcomers, though, like the charming Modern Cooperative, Verdant Matter, The Spoke and Bird Bakehouse and Pilsen Community Books have not drawn the ire of the denizens; perhaps it's because many of these business were established by people living in the community?

Anchoring the western end of Pilsen, don't miss the always-free National Museum of Mexican Art, whose permanent collection is worth a visit on its own. Several current exhibitions are of interest - my favorite was Francisco Toledo's Hecho en CaSa, a tribute to the artist's Zapotec heritage and a marvel of copper, woven materials, and...large insects. Also worth seeing is Time to Get Ready: Fotografia Social, Chicago native Maria Varela's evocative 1960s black-and-white photographs taken while she actively participated in the Civil Rights movement in the South. Memoria Presente: An Artistic Journey opened March 24th.

It was fun to spot the Trump Loteria-style El Maligno decals placed strategically throughout Pilsen. I think that all residents agree on this designation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Breakfast in Paris + Miscellany

It's interesting how something we desire becomes even more desirable the harder it is to find. Breakfast in Paris (BiP), created by the 45-year-old Portland, Oregon-based Stash Tea Company, has quickly become my new favorite tea. It's a black tea, flavored with lavender, bergamot (the citrus fruit which gives Earl Grey its heavenly scent/flavor), and a dash of vanilla. If you are in a blah mood, you will get a boost; if you are in a good mood, it will get even better. I searched the company's web site to see which of my local "dealers" could provide this particular kind of tea; after some footwork, I learned that although some stores stock certain kinds of Stash Tea, BiP is not among those. So where did I try it originally, you ask? At my local train station. I have now been back there twice just to buy a handful of precious bags each time and each time I get a kick out of requesting a few bags of the Stash.

Elevated by BiP, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to hear a lecture on the Merce Cunningham exhibition currently on now through April 30th. In one of the rooms, you are surrounded by screens projecting a variety of dances from different periods of the modern dancer's career. It is magical and inspiring.

More BiP and a visit to the Cultural Center, where my favorite show on now through April 9th is 50 x 50 Invitational/ The Subject is Chicago: People, Places, Possibilities.  Fifty artists, one from each of Chicago's 50 wards, is represented in this exhibition. Some haunting photographs in the Coptic in Chicago series, a large gold-leaf with magnet piece, and the Modern David photo series.

Beware the ides of March tomorrow and Happy St. Patrick's Day~