Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chicago Day Three

Downtown Chicago is buzzing as this evening the Magic Mile parade and Christmas light event is in the offing. Knowing it would be packed and starting to slow down a bit, we opted for another trip to the Museum Campus (as it's called) and a visit to the Adler Planetarium. Much smaller than the two other museums we'd visited, this one was well laid out and quite informative. We got to play with planetary models, watch a couple of the shows and generally muss around.

By early afternoon we were tired and took ourselves to Millennium Park to watch the skaters. After a bit of holiday shopping for friends, we visited the Chicago Architectural Foundation to check on boat tours for Sunday. There are a lot of tours you can take in Chicago, some of which go out into the lake and others that go up the Chicago River. After finding out the info we needed, we crashed at the hotel and then went out for a fabulous Italian meal at the Italian Village. The wait was forty-five minutes, even at eight at night, but it was worth it. I've never had manicotti that literally melted in my mouth. Heaven. The same family has owned the place since 1927. Across from the hotel is a business that has been there for 151 years. Yeah, since 1857. Iwan Reis is a tobacconist and they have the most incredible supply of pipes and pipe tobacco. I loitered there, I admit it. What a wonderful smell.

Because we opted to rest we missed the Magic Mile festivities. Given our colds are still not quite resolved, we thought that best. A quiet evening of reading and recuperating proved to be perfect.

Tomorrow -- the boat tour! Did I mention it's barely going to hit 46 degrees? We Atlantans are in for a treat.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chicago Day Two

Day Two in Chicago found us feeling better. Having both acquired colds before our departure from Atlanta, by now we were over the worst. To take advantage of this improvement, we headed off to The Field Museum of Natural History. A few years back I was absolutely convinced that this museum, the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium had originally been part of the Exposition. It's only been in the last year or so that I realized my error (they weren't built until the 1930's). Given the grandeur of the buildings I suspect it was a realistic mistake.

The Field is HUGE. Even though we trudged and trudged for a good six hours, we didn't get to see all of it. We especially enjoyed Sue, the T-Rex (see above) and the other dinosaur displays (see below). When you look at the size of Sue and the nasty toothies on the meat eaters, it's pretty obvious humans weren't on the planet at this time, despite what The Creationists might believe. We'd have just been canapes. So I take the view that the seven days mentioned in the Bible were on the Almighty's clock, not ours. Why couldn't the creation of the planet and its life forms taken millions of years? Why would He be in a hurry? If you're The Supreme Being, why not do some experimentation? The point is we're here and that we have this incredible history behind us. Ignoring scientific fact doesn't make religion seem very intelligent, if you get my drift.
Other exhibits portrayed the rise of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures. It was interesting to see how native groups progressed from small settlements to big cities and what that meant in terms of safety, food supply and personal liberties. We definitely will be making a return visit next summer to try to see even more of the exhibits.

Have I mentioned how much I love this town???

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chicago Day One

The train trip to Chicago went very smoothly. As mentioned in the earlier post, we opted for bedrooms on both trains. Now lest you think these things are huge, they're not. They do include a shower inside the toilet stall, but there was no way that could happen logistically. However, sitting in a comfy seat and watching the world roll by is a very nice way to travel. Once the beds are folded down, let's just say you better not be claustrophobic. The first night it was hard to sleep. My bed was not comfortable and with an existing back problem, it made it worse. However, the second night we were "seasoned" and slept beautifully. We rec'd complimentary meals with the booking and I am happy to report that Amtrak's food was quite tasty. Yum. I think it would have been more fun if the trips had been longer and during more of the daylight hours. That way I could have enjoyed the scenery more. Train travel is definitely on our list of things to do in the future.

We had a brief layover in D.C. The DC train station was designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, a name that will crop up later in my posts. Burnham was one of the key Chicago architects in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Union Station (see above) is an example of his incredible work. Right now the station is decked out for Christmas and quite festive.

We were met by my good friend and traveling buddy Jean Marie Ward. JMW took us on a mini tour so my husband could get an idea of what the town felt like. Fortunately, she took pity on us as we were still suffering from our colds so there was walking, then resting. In the Capitol picture, if your eyesight is good, you'll pick out the reviewing stands being built for the Inauguration. We dined at an incredible restaurant that served succulent crab cakes resting on top of field greens topped with mango salsa. WOW. Then we were back on the train and on the way to Chicago. I admit, I took a nap after we boarded. I hadn't quite realized how run down I was before we reached DC.

We arrived at our hotel far too early for check-in and so we checked our bags with the friendly porter. The Silversmith Hotel is housed in a building designed by, no surprise, Daniel Burnham. It was created for the silver and jewelry trade and there are still a number of jewelers on the street. Our accommodations are as huge as the train car was compact. Two rooms, massive bathroom and it overlooks the "El" the elevated train system that runs Chicago's Loop. No doubt some might object to the noise of the El as it pulls out of the station below our window, but after the other trains we hardly noticed.

Burnham, along with his partner John Root, were involved in the design and execution of the World's Columbian Exposition (1893) . This fair was a wonder and if I could go back in time I'd be there in a flash. All that is left of the 600 acre Jackson Park complex, besides the park, is the building that now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. Originally serving as the Palace of Fine Arts, it was designed by Charles B. Atwood of New York. Unlike almost all of the fair buildings, which were of a temporary, yet ornate nature, this behemoth was permanent and fireproof because of the valuable art treasures it displayed during the fair. Atwood's design is classic Greek and at the time it cost $541,795 to build. The main part of the building is 320 x 500 foot but included two 120 x 200 foot wings. Fortunately this beauty is still with us, teasing us as to what the entire 600 acres of statues, massive buildings, ponds, fountains, etc. would have looked like. Like I said earlier -- give me a time machine and I'm there. According to those in the know, it took over THREE weeks to see every exhibit at the fair. Unreal.

We immediately set off like a local: we took the bus. A tourist pass got us on and off and it was a easy trip. We thoroughly enjoyed the museum, geeks that we are. Harold's favorite was the Pioneer Zephr (see the webpage link above.)

We took our evening meal at a pub up the street. I didn't realize how packed Chicago eating places could be at seven in the evening. It was like Friday or Saturday evening in Atlanta. We waited about a half an hour for a table, polished off a fine meal and a couple beers each. Then we crashed, literally and figuratively.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of Birthdays & Doing Something Cool

Birthdays are a mixed blessing. You can't celebrate one if you're dead, but it's still a day where you have to slow down long enough to go, "Hum, another year. How many more?" When I turned 45 I was in India. I'd spent the night before in intestinal distress, though certainly not because of the inattentiveness of our Indian hosts. They were fastidious about what we Westerners ate. The spices finally caught up with me so I did not come close to getting a good night's sleep as it became my birthday. I finally dozed off and at sometime after five in the morning the call to prayer began in the minaret nearby. On a loudspeaker. I lay in my bed thinking how cool it was that I was in here, on my forty-fifth year of life. That contuining desire To Do Something Cool on My Birthday is what inspired me to take a trip.

As you read this we are on an adventure. The house sitter in is place, the mail on hold, the luggage stowed and we're heading north. On. A. Train. I suspect at this point Stephen W. who posts comments to this blog just spit coffee all over his keyboard. Yes, we're on a train. Why? Well, why not?

Friends of ours have been waxing enthusiastic about the wonders of train travel for quite some time (Stephen included) so we decided to give it a try. In honor of my *mumble-mumble* birthday, we're taking Amtrak and in particular, the Crescent to Washington, DC. We have about a six hour layover so we're meeting my buddy and frequent roomie (Jean Marie Ward) who lives in a suburb of DC. I was last there in 1964 (when racial tensions were high) and the spouse has never been to the Nation's Capitol. Our brief layover is only going to allow time for a quick spin down by the Mall and some lunch, but I figure that will whet his appetite for a lengthier trip next year.

Later that afternoon we will board the Capitol Limited to Chicago. We're due to spend four full days in the Windy City and I'm looking forward to it. I hope to set a future Time Rovers book there, I adore the architecture and I want to hit the museums. And have a genuine Chicago hot dog. YUM.

It's about 13 hours to DC and then 17 to the Windy City so we reserved ourselves bedrooms on both trains because no matter how comfy a couch seat, they don't beat your own bed. We'll be on two different kinds of trains so it will be fun to compare them. I'll be sure and blog as we travel.

We finally end our trip in Iowa with the family and then back home via a plane to Atlanta. Husband has two weeks' vacation and he's so ready for this trip. I have to admit it, so am I.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proud to be an American

There are certain landmark moments in one's life. The election of JFK. His assassination. The death of RFK. The loss of Martin Luther King, Jr. The moon landing. 9/11. I remember them all very vividly.

Last night I witnessed another incredible American moment -- the election of Barack Obama as our next president. Now whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, this election has had considerable meaning to you. According to the numbers, 130 million Americans voted, the most to ever vote in a presidential election. Give yourself a High Five.

You went to the polls to tell Washington and the world what you wanted. This incredible nation is in turmoil. We have our soldiers dying on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our financial future is murky. Over 40 million of us do not have basic health insurance. We have slid so far away from the American ideal and the basic tenets of our Constitution. Now we, as a nation, have a chance to recapture what makes us grand.

I had hopes that this election would bring us a leader who might see beyond politics, who had vision, much like FDR did in 1932 during some of our nation's darkest hours. I do believe that our next president has that spark, that intelligence, that empathy to bring us out of this black moment and set us on a new path. He may not have the track record of Mr. McCain, but he has the good sense to seek sound advice, to weigh it and then move forward. The nation didn't need a maverick. It needs a statesman with deft hand at building consensus. Mr. Biden will serve as a bridge between our new leader and his fellows in Congress. That was something Ms. Palin would never have accomplished.

Now in the past I have always held John McCain in high regard. Something happened to him during the campaign that damaged his reputation in my eyes. I began to take notice of this campaign the moment he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Her narrow minded, Us vs. Them, provincial view of America was profoundly disturbing. Rather than being inclusive, she was divisive. Her knowledge of the world scene was woefully inadequate. Unfortunately, Mr. McCain went for the lowest common denominator who proceeded to question not only their challengers' patriotism, but mine.

So here's my advice for the governor. Go home to Alaska, Sarah. Learn something about this great country before you come back to run for 2012. Learn about the world. And know one thing for certain: people who don't agree with you aren't any less patriotic than those who do.

Last night I saw a glimpse of the Mr. McCain I once admired. He delivered a profoundly moving concession speech. It was full of honor, of love for this country. You regained a lot of respect, sir, and I thank you for that.

I'll admit it -- I haven't been very proud of my country in the last eight years. Some would say that is not being patriotic, but I disagree. That's honesty. We aren't always proud of our children when they make mistakes, but we still love them. I had never believed that an African-American could rise to such high office. The American ideal holds. Anyone can become president. This morning I can see lots of mothers eying their kids over the cereal bowl. "See?" they'll say. "You can do anything!" And those moms would be right.

Our citizens have spoken. What a remarkable testimony to this great and democratic nation. Let's heal the divide, roll up our sleeves and get the work done. That's what Americans do. We need to become that beacon of hope, like we once were.

G*d Bless America! And may G*d bless our new president and vice-president. They're going to need every bit of help they can get.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

World Fantasy

I went north, to Canada, and it was good. Calgary is a delightful city that reminded me a lot of Denver. They understand the concept of closing off streets during the day so we bipeds can wander around without fear of vehicular traffic. The shops were eclectic, ranging from the tourist places to the high end boutiques. And the food was nummy. The weather was very nice for Calgary this time of year and one of the surprises was this magnificent "clockwork" horse sculpture. So steampunk.

My advance scout for this trip was Jean Marie Ward who can scout with the best of them. She arrived a few days earlier and immediately began to map the environs. By the time I arrived Wed afternoon, she knew where to find the restaurants, the pubs and the shops. We grabbed a quick bite of food and then headed back to the hotel for the Hades Publications party. I'm published by Dragon Moon Press, which is a Hades imprint, so I was eager to be there. They served delightful munchies, had a cash bar and entertained us with The Plaid Tongued Devils. I've never seen a band that could mesh Roma, Klezmer, Middle Eastern and Celtic music like they did. It was a rousing time. Their fiddlers were incredible!

Now I'm usually pretty stupid after any plane trip and Wed noc was no exception. I've never met my publisher and have seen only one photo of her. So Jean Marie and I are chatting away while I enjoy some rum on the rocks and this lady walks up. I give her a smile and then turn back to Jean Marie. I look back and see this impish smile on the lady's face. Then I see her name tag. Gwen Gades. My publisher. I felt like an idiot. We hugged, repeatedly, and then starting catching on on all the stuff you don't put in an email.

Thursday morning was open for us so Jean Marie and I did some trekking around. I figured out how to get to my emails via the iPhone without roaming (Starbucks) and we bought some wine and champagne to celebrate the launch of my new book. I did make it on a panel (Adding Mystery to Your Fiction) which went very well. After some time signing at the Hades booth (lots of folks bought Sojourn) I popped off to lunch with the roomie, the publisher and Christine, a friend of Gwen's. We went to one of the highly recommended Chinese places and the food was awesome. Way too much of it.

Saturday involved a book launch party in the afternoon courtesy of Hades and that went very well. Lots of excellent chocolate. And to celebrate, Jean Marie, Maggie Bonham (her book Lachlei debuted this weekend) and new author Lizzy Shannon joined me for a trip to the James Joyce (pub) which Lizzy proclaimed to be truly Irish. She would know. She comes from Northern Ireland. So after some Irish Stew, lots of grand gabbing, a couple of pints and a quaff of Aberlour (single malt) and I headed for my room. And crashed. The rest of the evening was spent reading and relaxing.

Sunday involved more time at the booth, which was a kick. Lots of folks came over to talk to me about my panel (thank you programming coordinators for adding me to it, by the way) and to buy books. LOTS of books. I was thrilled to see so many readers coming back for the later books in the series or taking that brave first step with Sojourn.

Which leads me to Josh Langston. Mr. Langston was on both my planes from Atlanta to Calgary. I noted him because of the steel gray piping on his shirt. (What can I say?) We met again at the Hades party and then he surprised me with something so cool I still can't believe it. Josh and I had never met before, but he created a book trailer for Madman's Dance. It is awesome. What's even more awesome is that he'd never read the series! That's being remedied at the moment. So here's this gent who spent at least 14 hours of his life creating a book trailer for some author he's never met. What a lovely gesture. He's making a few changes to it as I type, especially since he read the first book over the weekend (I did warn him it was addictive). From what I gather there may be a book with Hades in his future. Wishing you all the best Josh! I'll be sure to post the trailer once it's available.

Coming home wasn't as much fun. Delta had screwed around with my reservations since I booked them last December. I think there were at last four or five schedule changes, many of which involving a number of hours later than the original booking. I checked in online Sunday night, but couldn't print a boarding pass without a printer. I called Northwest (they were code sharing the first flight out of Calgary) and verified I was confirmed. Fine and good. I arrived at the airport at 5:06 a.m. because it's Monday morning and I know that's always busy. To make this adventure as painless as possible for you, dear reader, here is the sequence of events.
1) Go to Delta counter. They can't check me in.
2) Try to find NWA counter. No can find. The counters change as needed per airline.
3) Back to Delta counter. They tell me NWA's counter doesn't open until about 6 a.m.
4) 5:45 and the NWA counter opens. Try to check in using kiosk. No good. Try again. Ditto. Reach representative who asks why I haven't checked in and then asks if I did it right (grrrr).
5) Return to Delta counter as NWA says I need a printed ticket. Delta rep says they've "closed out" the counter and they can't help me. Points to 800 number of my itinerary. "Call them."
6) 800 number is for flight status. Sigh. Call husband, get actual number.
7) Res line rep TICKETS the NWA flight. Apparently the ticket had never been issued even though I had a seat assignment. (oy!)
8) Stand in line (again). NWA takes pity on me and pulls me forward, prints the ticket and sends me into the long Customs & Immigration Line.

One hour later, after clearing US Customs (in Calgary!) I grabbed a sandwich and hotfooted it to the plane. I did snag an exit row seat with no one in the middle, so I spread out and read all the way home. Heaven.

And my final words?