February 5, 2013

Food poisoning and a trip to Chicago don't mix very well.  In fact, it tends to put a bit of a damper on an adventure!  Fortunately, I had a terrific Saturday with my friend before I was felled and ended up spending the last two days in bed.  Enough on that topic!

Chicago was exhilarating, in part because of all the raw energy, edgy art and hustle and bustle of a major city, and in part because of the cold wind that swept inward from Lake Michigan and blew you around!  The downtown area has undergone quite a transformation in the last twenty years and you feel very safe walking around the Loop.  There are so many beautiful buildings that you can spend the day walking around (or being blown around) doing nothing but admiring the cityscape.  Here's an unusual peek at the skyline, as seen via reflection in the Cloud Gate Sculpture in Millenium Park, affectionately called The Bean by city residents.  I was standing across the street but was able to capture some of the reflected buildings.

In case you don't have a chance to visit Chicago very often, I thought I would share some of my weekend highlights with you this week.  Our hotel was part of the fun--we stayed in the magnificent old bastion of downtown Chicago--The Palmer House.

Here's a little history of this grand hotel--a story of romance and charm.  Chicago business magnate Potter Palmer was introduced to socialite and philanthropist Bertha Honore' by his former business partner, Marshall Field.  The introduction sparked a romance that led to perhaps one of the most extravagant wedding gifts of all time – a Grand Chicago Hotel destined to take it’s place among the most luxurious hotels in Chicago and the world. Tragically, just thirteen days after its grand opening on September 26, 1871, the Palmer House fell victim to the Great Chicago Fire. Determined to rebuild his luxury downtown Chicago hotel, the Palmer House namesake secured a $1.7 million loan – negotiated on his signature alone. On November 8, 1873, the new Palmer House welcomed its first guests, marking the opening of what would become the nation’s oldest continually operating hotel.

Shortly after befriending Claude Monet in France, Bertha Palmer began decorating the Palmer House with artistic treasures inspired by her French heritage, eventually accumulating the largest collection of impressionist art outside of France. The Palmer House was bedecked with garnet-draped chandeliers, Louis Comfort Tiffany masterpieces, and at its heart, a breathtaking ceiling fresco by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal, which was described by columnist George Will as "a wonderful protest of romance against the everydayness of life."
Photo courtesy of Ben Altman, Lobby ceiling (my ceiling picture was a little too dark)

Detail of lobby ceiling

By the turn of the century, the Palmer House had become Chicago’s liveliest social center, hosting a long list of prominent figures, from U.S. Presidents, to Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.  In 1933, the Palmer House’s Golden Empire Dining Room was converted into an entertainment epicenter, hosting legendary entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, as well as a little known pianist named Liberace.  All the room floors have gorgeous black and white pictures of these performers gracing their walls.  I didn't think to take any pictures of them, but I did take a few along the way to our room:

Waiting area by elevators...check out the peacock design in the carpet!

Famous Peacock Doors leading to hotel lobby, designed by Louis Tiffany
Hallway carpet leading to our room...peacock tails by day, but late at night it looks more like ghost eyes!!  Did I mention that the Palmer House has regular ghost sightings? 

Our bedroom...note the peacock themed designer pillows! 

Peacocks even in the bathroom!
 After all this peacock finery, I think the obvious choice for today's poem is:

Peacock Display

David Wagoner

He approaches her, trailing his whole fortune,
Perfectly cocksure, and suddenly spreads
The huge fan of his tail for her amazement.

Each turquoise and purple, black-horned, walleyed quill
Comes quivering forward, an amphitheatric shell
For his most fortunate audience: her alone.

He plumes himself. He shakes his brassily gold
Wings and rump in a dance, lifting his claws
Stiff-legged under the great bulge of his breast.

And she strolls calmly away, pecking and pausing,
Not watching him, astonished to discover
All these seeds spread just for her in the dirt.

Join me tomorrow on a tour of Chicago's beautiful Art Institue and a glimpse at some of its special exhibits!


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