30 April 2009

Rereading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler

This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid growing up in New York City. E.L. Konigsburg tells the story of two suburban children who run away from home; their chosen refuge is the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As a child I took arts and crafts classes on Saturdays at the Met, and I judged it the most beautiful place in the world. The idea of living there just completely enchanted me. A home to get lost in! (As opposed to the snug 2-BR, 1-BA apartment I shared with my parents and older brother.) I still have a fondness for sprawling residences, with counterintuitive floorplans, expanses that seem to go on forever, and/or limited sightlines, so you can't quite tell where the next turn will take you.

So the book was a treasure to me when I first found it, and when I recently saw it still in print, I decided to get two copies: one for my niece in Washington Heights, and one for me.

Rereading it was more about remembering pleasure than experiencing it fresh. Of course I noticed the many discrepancies: the Met is no longer free (even when I first read the book, there was a suggested donation, as there is today), the restaurant has moved, and I believe security has been much enhanced. There is no Automat nearby (I'm not sure there was even when I was going there, in the mid-70s) and prices have increased significantly, for everything from bus rides to meals.

But the yearnings, enthusiasms, and achievements described still feel true, and I imagine my niece will have as good a time with it as I did.

29 April 2009


Since moving to Chicago, we have heard about this neighborhood, without a clear understanding of where it is, or what's so great about it. After a recent trip there, we feel very much enlightened. In the area of its commuter rail station, Ravenswood is characterized by repurposed warehouses containing artist studios, galleries, furniture retailers and wholesalers, design firms, and other businesses. Walking through the neighborhood, you feel like you're in a creative mecca. There's even a community art center, and a pizza place that's considered one of the best in the city.

One of those places that makes you feel lucky to live in Chicago.

28 April 2009

Architectural Artifacts

Victor and I had the opportunity to check this store out a couple of weeks ago and found a multi-story warehouse full of salvaged furniture, fixtures, and architectural remnants.

At Architectural Artifacts, you can purchase stained glass windows, dental cabinets, ice cream parlor benches, and opera house chandeliers. There is an abundance of hundred-year-old foosball tables, a smattering of stone statues (religious as well as secular), towers of old tiles. It's like a wonderfully eclectic museum, but you're permitted to touch.

We visited on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and found browsing there a perfect rainy-day activity. We look forward to bringing out-of-town guests there; somehow, though it's tucked away in Ravenswood, the store exudes a wonderfully urban atmosphere and energy--sophisticated, quirky, and downright strange.

American Violet

We got a free pass to see this movie a couple of weeks ago, based on a true story of a young Texas mother falsely arrested on drug charges. She is offered a plea bargain and is under a lot of pressure to take it (if she accepts the plea bargain, she gets to go home; otherwise, she has to stay in prison, and she's terrified that the estranged father of two of her girls will get custody of them). Her mother thinks she ought to take it, and her court-appointed attorney practically insists she take it. But she refuses, since she knows she's done nothing wrong.

The ACLU gets involved, and she agrees to be the lead plaintiff in a case brought against her county DA.

This movie is nothing fancy. It is a straightforward tale of a struggle against injustice, with excellent performances (including a terrific star turn by Nicole Beharie) and truly inspiring moments.

It is one of those movies that makes you feel things might turn out OK after all.

27 April 2009

The Queen

I think Stephen Frears may have made a movie or two that I didn't like, but not more than a couple. For me, he's one of the most reliable directors for movies that are emotionally involving as well as intellectually interesting. This movie addresses the crisis caused by the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the role that Tony Blair, the new British Prime Minister played in restoring relations between the British people and their queen.

Plus, it has corgis in it.

Excellent performances, particularly by Helen Mirren, who manages to dull her natural beauty while pumping up her natural queenliness--the result is a tremendously convincing impersonation of Elizabeth.

Plus, it has corgis.

Beautiful Young Things

This 2003 movie, written and directed by Stephen Fry is hard to get a handle on. You find yourself watching a lot of superficial young, rich, people cavort about(even those that aren't rich act like they're rich, so the effect is the same), and wondering why you should care.

I'm still not sure, but to my surprise, images and emotions from the movie lingered for a day or two.

More powerful than it seems.

The Professional

Does anyone not like Jean Reno? We first saw this movie years ago and I was delighted to see the DVD for sale recently for less than ten dollars (our threshold for movie purchases). We watched it last night for the first time in years, and were glad to find that it lived up to our memories--a really excellent, exciting, emotionally involving movie, with terrific performances from Reno, 12-year-old Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman (who is particularly scary and weird).