02 September 2015

A celebration of trees: August: pathways

‘The road goes ever on’ wrote that master storyteller, J. R. R. Tolkein, ‘And I must follow, if I can, / Pursuing it with eager feet.’

Tolkein might have been writing about me, particularly when that road, pathway or trail leads me through a stand, a grove, a forest of trees. I simply can’t resist. I find a deep sense of peace and harmony walking beneath the towering giants of an ancient woodland, a feeling of infinity and life everlasting, a sense of humility in the face of Nature’s miracles. I am also curious – hugely and overwhelmingly curious to discover where the path leads. It’s a child’s curiosity that has continued to beguile and enchant me throughout my life.

So, for this month’s celebration of trees I’m sharing some of the pathways that have enticed me to follow them through the trees in the four weeks that have passed since I came to live in the Welsh capital city of Cardiff. This is a city of wonderfully large public parks and bounteous green spaces so I’m sure I’ll find many more such paths to explore in the months to come.

If you’re a tree lover like me, then you might like to check out my previous months’ celebrations of trees by clicking on the following links: January (one particular favourite), February (about lime avenues), March (on the subject of forests), April (about the greening of the trees in the British springtime), May (on the New Zealand pohutukawa), June (about some of Auckland’s most notable trees), and July (honouring ten wondrous trees from my international travels).

01 September 2015

Chicago: six horses and a cow

Imagine my surprise when, strolling down one of Chicago’s busiest inner-city avenues, I encountered a horse. And then another. And then not one but two horses standing close together. Not real horses, of course. These were life-size statues of horses, painted in bright and beautiful colours and designs.

These are the Horses of Honor, a commemoration of the more than 500 Chicago police officers who have lost their lives or been seriously injured in the line of duty since 1853. Local financial corporation Wintrust formed a partnership with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and together they commissioned a local manufacturer to make at least 75 of these horses, which were then designed and painted by local artists.

I only saw six of these charming horses but they have been installed in public places throughout the city. Various companies, organisations and individuals have sponsored the horses and that sponsorship money has gone to the Foundation to assist the families of Chicago’s fallen or catastrophically injured policemen and women.

Horses seem an appropriate animal to choose for such a scheme as they also pay tribute to the police officers of the Chicago Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit and their equine companions.

Horse at rear: Sponsor: AT&T. Artist: Jaime Foster. Honouring Patrolman Anthony N. Rizzato.
Horse closest to camera: Sponsors: Rock Band ‘Chicago’ and their manager Peter Schivarelli. Artist: Peter Bucks. Honouring P.O. Thomas E. Wortham IV.

Sponsor: Assurance Agency Ltd. Artist: Brittney Leeanne Williams. Honouring: Patrolman Edward L. Barron.

Sponsor: Zeller Realty Group. Artist: After School Matters. Honouring Sergeant Charles E. Eichhorst.

Sponsors: Roenigk Family Foundation, Guesthouse Hotel, and Inside Publications. Artist: Sheila Swann. Honouring P.O. Michael R. Bailey.

Sponsor: United Service Companies. Artist: Lori Murphy. Honouring Patrolman Terrence E. Loftus.

As well as my close encounters with these delightful horses, I also discovered a cow in downtown Chicago. That wasn’t what I’d call a close encounter as the cow was perhaps forty feet above me, fastened above the entrance to the rather chic Talbott Hotel.  
This was one of the cows from that now-famous herd, ‘Cows on Parade’, which went on to become an international phenomenon after first inhabiting the streets of Chicago back in the summer of 1999. Brainchild of Swiss artist Walter Knapp, who was influenced by a pride of lions on display in Zurich in 1986, ‘Cows on Parade’ debuted in Switzerland in 1998 and went on to be displayed in over fifty countries worldwide.

The concept has since taken off around the world and various countries have now had local artists, designers, celebrities paint, decorate, design cows, horses, sheep (and even eggs – remember the two blogs I wrote about New Zealand’s 2014 Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt here and here). 

Either the objects are sponsored or, at the end of their exhibitions, are auctioned off to raise money for a nominated local charity. Apparently, during its 12-year run ‘Cows on Parade’ raised more than US$20 million for charities around the world, so not only are these painted creatures a fabulous way for cities to attract tourists and for artists to showcase their talents but they are also creating positive change around the world through their enormous fundraising achievements. A perfect combination!

29 August 2015

Exploring the parks of downtown Chicago

Though I absolutely loved my Chicago river cruise, for me, the best way to explore a new city is on foot. Well, I am the Solitary Strider after all!

So, after getting the train down from Milwaukee, then a taxi to my hotel, I donned my walking shoes and headed north, to nearby Lincoln Park. What a lovely oasis of green and tranquillity on the edge of always bustling downtown Chicago!

Named, as you might guess after the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the park stretches for many miles on the shores of Lake Michigan. As well as a statue to the great man and another of General Ulysses S Grant, the park is home to the wild creatures of Lincoln Park Zoo and extensive wildflower meadows, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, several large ponds and a rowing canal, the Chicago History Museum and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, to name just a few of its attractions.

You could happily spend several days just in this one park. I spent that first delightful afternoon wandering its paths and trails, and then the next morning met a photographer friend there for a longer photo-meander and lunch.

That first day I returned to my hotel via the Lakefront Trail that runs along the edge of the city beaches, and is hugely popular with bikers and walkers alike. I hadn’t done any research on Chicago before my visit – sometimes I just like a city to surprise me – so I hadn’t realised there would be such wide sandy beaches on the lake edge so close to the downtown area and, as the weather during my visit was wonderfully sunny and very warm, and it was summer vacation for the local schools and universities, the beaches were thronged with folk swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, playing volleyball, and just generally chilling.

The walkway out to the lighthouse at North Avenue Beach was a great vantage point for taking photos
Oak Street Beach
Much of my last day in Chicago was spent wandering around Millennium Park, south of the downtown area and another huge area of gardens, sculptures and the incredible Art Institute of Chicago.   

Walking down North Michigan Avenue from the city, the first area of the park you encounter is the tree-lined Wrigley Square and the classical-inspired semi-circle of Doric columns that is the Millennium Monument. The monument looks old but is, in fact, a replica of an earlier peristyle that stood in this location from 1917 to 1953.

Almost everyone will recognise this next sculpture, I think. It is, of course, the Cloud Gate, or Bean, as it is affectionately known. I had certainly seen many photos of it but images really can’t convey the intrigue or fascination of this structure, the way reflections are so massively distorted and bounced back at the viewer. British artist Anish Kapoor drew his inspiration from liquid mercury but it reminded me of the Hall of Mirrors that used to be a popular fairground attraction, though with even more bizarre reflections. 

This next architectural marvel is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I heard music coming from this direction so went and joined the other folks sitting on the seats near the front. Turns out I was listening to a free rehearsal of Saint Saen's Piano Concerto no. 2 in G minor, with Andrew van Oeyen performing superbly on piano. I sat absolutely entranced for the next 30 minutes.

When the rehearsal was over, I found these amazing sculptures by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa, who had, ten years earlier, created the ‘Crown Fountain’ for Millennium Park (more on than below). The four new pieces, modelled on young girls, are monumental in size and in weight. The set of three, Paula’, ‘Laura’ and ‘Inez’, are made of cast iron, while ‘Awilda’ gleams in marble and resin.

'Look Into My Dreams, Awilda' by Jaume Plensa
'Paula', 'Laura' and 'Inez', head sculptures also by Jaume Plensa

As it was extremely hot the day I visited, the ‘Crown Fountain’ was proving a great hit with the local kids. The two 50-foot-high glass blocks not only spurt water into a shallow reflecting pool, but they also have images projected on them, images of a cross-section of 1000 Chicago residents who appear to spout water from their mouths.

The Buckingham Fountain is an entirely different, totally traditional type of fountain. This elaborate rococo construction dates from 1927 and sits slap bang in the middle of Grant Park which, to me, seemed just to be an extension of Millennium Park. I only saw this beautiful fountain during the daytime but, if you google the name, you’ll see it looks stunning when lit up at night.

Chicago delighted, amazed, intrigued, charmed and exhausted me! I walked miles and loved every minute of my time there. I will be back!