August 31, 2003

Minnesota pictures

I’ve posted some photos from the Minneapolis leg of my recent trip over at imagestation (log in as adamguest/adamguest).

Home from Chicago

We’re back. It was a great trip, but it is good to be home.

On Thursday, we visited the Shedd Aquarium, one of three museums (along with the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium) that make up the “museum campus” on the lake, next to the newly mangled Soldier Field, where the Bears play. Soldier Field was a beautiful neoclassical stadium, but it was old–first built in 1924, and not much changed since, as far as I know. So it lacked the widgets and gewgaws of modern stadiums, a lack that somebody decided needed to be fixed. Whoever’s in charge was, to his credit, unwilling to tear down all of the old stadium, which is nice as these things go. What they wound up doing was keeping the neoclassical bits and dropping an enormous alien battlecruiser on top, which spills over the edges and dwarfs the original structure. The effect is bizarre.

I hadn’t visited the Shedd since I was a kid. It has expanded quite a bit, with two new exhibit areas. Getting into the original museum and the new areas is alarmingly expensive–$21 for out of towners, $14 for Chicago residents. We splurged, and we did enjoy ourselves, but not $21-worth.

After that, we went to my favorite place for stuffed pizza, Bacino’s, took a siesta, and went out to see the Magdalene Sisters (op cit).

Friday, Gwen, Lissy, and I went to the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, which was fascinating and unsettling. Lots of very old and beautifully crafted surgeon’s kits, which consisted largely of amputation tools, and in many cases, trephination tools. Medicine in the 1800s was surprising for the level of advancement in some areas, and the crudity in others. The museum building itself is quite amazing, modeled on the Petit Trianon and built for a Chicago socialite. After that, Gwen and I wandered downtown to ogle the buildings and for Gwen to try on more shoes. That night, we got together with the rest of the family for more pizza.

Saturday was our return date, but it was an evening flight, so we had some time to spend in town. We went over to Wicker Park, a neighborhood that was “transitional” at best when I lived in Chicago. Today it is a funky hipster neighborhood that butts up against un-transitioned areas. Milwaukee Avenue is notable for having one bad furniture store after another. But it also has a Fluevog store, and after having tried on countless shoes everywhere else we looked, Gwen finally found a pair she liked, and bought them. We wandered around the area some more, had coffee, marveled at a restaurant that serves fried twinkies, and pushed on for O’Hare. The security gantlet went smoothly, as did the flight.

It occurred to me that if I lived in Chicago, my life would be very different–I’d live in a different kind of place. My friends would be different sorts of people. I would do different things with my time. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Magdalene Sisters

Saw The Magdalene Sisters with Gwen and Lissy while in Chicago. The movie tells the story of Ireland’s magdalene asylums, a system of homes for wayward girls run by the Catholic church. A girl could be committed to one of these by a guardian for getting pregnant, being too pretty, or just being inconvenient. Once in, they could be locked in there indefinitely. They worked as indentured washerwomen, symbolically washing away their sins (real or invented by the nuns), and the nuns apparently had a tidy little laundry business going. For their part, the nuns treated the girls with anything from contempt to sadism. The closing credits inform us that the last asylum closed in 1996.

Watching this movie made me want to go out and throttle a nun. There’s so much about the story that is shocking: that this went on under everyone’s noses with (apparently) no great outcry. That organized religion could practice such institutional cruelty upon its own members. That the Catholic church had so much power in Ireland that the civil authorities didn’t stop what amounted to systematic kidnapping and enslavement. The storytelling in the movie is simple and understated–it doesn’t need to hit the viewer over the head with ham-fisted dialog to get the point across.

The day before we saw this movie, I took Gwen down the street where I had grown up. Half of the block was occupied by a Catholic-run hospital, and the nuns who worked their were widely despised in the neighborhood. An example of why: The street is very narrow, and parking is very tight on the block. One night, when I was little, there was a fire on the block. The hospital had an empty lot on the block, and the firemen wanted to tow some cars into the lot to gain better access to the fire scene. The nuns formed a human chain in front of the lot to prevent the firemen from doing so. The hospital is closed now.

Tip for the fashion industry

I know that this blog’s loyal readership includes many of the movers and shakers in the rag trade, who reverently respect my sartorial pronouncements–a subject on which, as those of you who know me will attest, I am eminently qualified to expound.

A conversation with Gwen and my sister Lissy got me thinking. Lissy recently stood up at a wedding, and was obliged to buy a plaid pink taffeta shmatte. Friends of Gwen are going to be standing up in several weddings each this year, with outlays for similar aesthetic crimes. Bridesmaid dresses are a stale joke. Most seem designed to make the bride look that much better by comparison. Bridal gowns are worn once, for obvious symbolic reasons. Bridesmaid dresses are also worn once, because they’re too ugly to wear any more.

Although it’ll sell less product, the fashion industry could do itself and women all over the country a favor by coming up with a standard bridesmaid’s dress design. Men have tuxedos; women should have the equivalent. Something black and simple that looks reasonably good on most women. Brides wanting to inject color into the ceremony could have the bridesmaids wear a certain kind of ribbon in their hair, corsage, or the like.