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June 18, 2010

Today the Spy family played hooky and hopped an early train downtown to catch the end of the Matisse exhibit at the Art Institute.

With unusual efficiency, we actually made it to the train without sprinting or cursing loudly at the recalcitrant parking kiosk (although for the record, I did have to try three machines before I found one that would take my perfectly smooth dollar. I miss the honor box) or losing any shoes. We ran into one of our neighbors on the platform who was heading downtown for a day with her sister and also the father of one of the kids on AJ’s baseball team who was heading in to work (because that’s how early we got started. I know! I’m as surprised as you are!). Running into people you know everywhere you go is the blessing and the curse of living in a small town.

We settled into four facing seats and AJ and I played the alphabet game until we ran out of letters of the alphabet. Mr. Spy read the paper. The train was packed, although a minimum of drunken Cubs fans, thank God. Mostly it was full of people going to work and people who looked to be sightseeing. I mad the mistake of mentioning to AJ that since the train was so crowded, someone might want to sit next to him (to those unfamiliar with Chicago commuter trains, this almost never happens because the facing seats are so close that there is a comingling of the knees that is very awkward for total strangers). He spent the rest of the trip looking warily around for possible interlopers.

He was a little skittish in general this trip. It always takes him a little while to get used to the pace of the city, all the people, the way he has to watch us carefully lest we disappear around a corner and lose him. It makes him crabby, which makes us crabby. Combine that with the heat, and by the time we got to Millennium Park, we all needed a time out. We stopped to wade in the reflecting pool of theCrown Fountains, but it was, for some reason, dry. The fountains themselves were on, though, so we stuck our sweaty toes in the water at their base and headed up to the Lurie Garden, which was all in shades of purples with occasional splotches of orange and unusually gorgeous. Then we headed for the museum, by way of the Renzo Piano bridge. But even after stopping to admire the views of the city and the gardens, we were still at the museum’s door 15 minutes before opening. So were quite a few other people all of whom, like us, had assumed the museum opened at 10 rather than 10:30. After watching all the restless people pace around outside the door, the employees finally opened the door and in we flooded like a pack of hounds on the chase. We Spies are cheapskates and we had a free pass to the museum, which no doubt annoyed the woman behind us to no end. She was complaining bitterly about many things, including the fact that we’d gotten in front of her in line when lines from two different doors merged. I think the fact that I got in free added insult to her imagined injury.

We wandered through a few galleries of the modern wing, which is lovely and light and a place I could happily stay in all day, but we didn’t stay long. We rushed through the Impressionists and paid homage to Van Gogh’s room, stopped to admire a room full of chairs, wandered through early modern Europe and slowed down a little in the Asian sculpture room, if only because we saw a toddler rise up out of her stroller with joy and launch herself and an enormous, rotund sculpture of the Buddha. She was so utterly charming that even the guard standing three feet away didn’t shag her off immediately.

Eventually we got into line for the exhibit, which was very crowded. It was too crowded to read about how it was organized, which was too bad, because there were some intriguing categories. There were a number of paintings I’d never seen before and I wished I’d had more time and space to spend there, although I also find that I generally enjoy Matisse best without spending too much time on it. There were two things I found particularly interesting, neither of which, alas, is included in the website link above. The first was a large collection of very small sketches, often just faces, made with very few lines. Some looked cartoonish. Some looked almost childish, to the extent that had I found one alone, I might have accidentally tossed it out. But seeing them all together, they were also unmistakably Matisse. But the thing I really liked best was a pair of still lifes. The first one was in a realist style in a dark palette reminiscent of the Dutch masters of an earlier era. The second was a copy of the first, but done later and in Matisse’s more familiar style and color palette. They were so different, and yet they mapped direction onto one another. We all stood between them for quite a while, looking back and forth.

I had hoped to get AJ to the Greco-Roman exhibits to look for mythological characters, since we’re reading about the Trojan War. But he was pretty much done and we were all hungry, so we headed out and across the street to our favorite restaurant. Here we got to be cheapskates again, because my brother had given us a gift card to this place some time ago and we hadn’t yet used it. We all sat at the bar, where the bartender made AJ the fanciest grape soda I’ve ever seen and we all dined extremely well.

Afterwards, we hopped in a cab and headed up Michigan Avenue to Niketown. Now this is a place I generally avoid like the plague, but I thought AJ would like it and he had a gift card to spend, a bonus prize for being the highest fundraiser for his school’s charity project for the American Heart Association (thanks again to those of you who helped him out). I had been telling him about the half basketball court they had there. It was a pretty amazing place when it first opened. Alas, though, the basketball court is gone and it is a rather pedestrian store now. But AJ had fun examining all kinds of shoes and T-shirts. He ended up with a White Sox shirt and the promise to order shoes in his size (which they were completely out of) when we got home.

We headed back toward the river, stopping to watch some of the many street performers lining Michigan Avenue. His favorite was Silver Man, although he also liked the breakdancers. We were all a little perturbed by the woman wailing off-key ballads who started talking to her imagined crowd of admirers (no one was paying any attention to her) and then, when no one responded said peevishly, “What, do you all think I’m crazy or something?” Yes, lady. Yes we do. When we got to the bridge, Mr. Spy and I tried to persuade AJ to take the water taxi back to the train station, but he seemed very nervous about the idea, so we didn’t push it, choosing a regular cab instead. As we rode the train, the sky got blacker and blacker. By the time we got to the station two stops before us, the temperature had dropped from 95 to 72. At the station before ours, the skies opened and the wind howled. We headed to stand in the vestibule, but were driven back by the wind, which blew the rain halfway down the car when we opened the door. We walked down the train to get to the door that would be closest to the station and leapt out under the eave of the building. Mr. Spy bravely sprinted for the car, while AJ shook with terror, convinced there was going to be a tornado, and we huddled against the wall of the building trying to stay dry. Mr. Spy came back quickly, but soaked to the skin — he had to wring out his underwear when he got home.

But from the looks of it, we’d missed the worst of the storm. Trees and limbs were down everywhere. Roads were closed and those that were open were covered with debris. Fortunately, our house and yard seems to have come through okay. Although more storms are moving through.

The biggest wild card about the storm is AJ’s baseball game. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m. As of this evening, it was moved again to Saturday at 11. But given the torrential rain still coming down, I’d say there’s a good chance it might be postponed again. I’m hoping they’ll squeeze it in before AJ goes to college. Or before it starts raining something more serious like frogs.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending my evening running out into the storm with a pile of rocks and tossing them at the raccoons that were trying to take refuge by prying a grate off the house that was clearly installed to keep them out. But I feel kind of bad about it. I don’t want them destroying things, but I can’t blame them for trying. It’s not nice out there. But let me tell you, there’s nothing that makes you question your sanity like standing outside in the middle of a thunderstorm hurling rocks at something you can’t see. What, do you think I’m crazy or something? Wait. Don’t answer that.

One Comment leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    June 19, 2010 9:03 am

    Hee hee! No, not a bit crazy, she says to calm down the crazy woman throwing rocks on her roof.

    It’s funny about AJ’s city apprehension. My girls, despite spending their entire (aware) life in the country, seem to have city DNA inside them. They love being in the city. It seems to stir something inside them. Dusty loved Baltimore (the little she saw of it) instantly. It’s interesting to see. Red loves all the…everything about the city: tall buildings, colors, sounds, smells, people, graffitti, etc. They can’t get enough of it. I can totally understand AJ’s fear of losing one of you around a corner and I’m surprised my kids aren’t that way given they live amidst rolling pastures and forests. Nature trumps nurture, I guess.

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