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February 2007 Archives

February 1, 2007

Starlight on Chicago


Author Denis Johnson opens his Tuesday night reading with a story. "I've really been looking forward to reading this in Chicago," he tells the audience packed in Social Sciences 122, holding up a sheaf of paper. His first play, Hellhound on My Trail, had its Midwest premiere at the Viaduct Theater in Chicago in 2002, he says. One year later, a worker cleaning the stage found a letter a character in the play read aloud.

"You should write more letters from this guy," the worker said. So Johnson, now in his fifties, wrote "The Starlight on Idaho," a short story told through a series of letters from Mark "Cass" Cassandra, in rehab for alcohol addiction, as Johnson was years ago. Intro over, Johnson begins to read.

"I'm considering these hooks in my heart," Cass writes to his father and his grandmother. "Right now I'm just filling my notebook with jazz and waiting for my handwriting to improve."

"Dear Pope John Paul," he writes, "Do you have two first names, or is Paul your last name?"

Johnson has a knack for the one-liner. "Dear Brother," another begins. "I'm sitting on my bed, hugging myself, trapped in the arms of a moron."

Often Johnson interrupts with a personal aside. When Cass's grandmother tells him, "You are surrounded by demons," Johnson confides, "This is my grandmother, by the way. Everything is verbatim."

Cass's rehab center, the Starlight Addiction Recovery Center, used to be a motel. "It's based on this rehab I was in when I was a kid that actually had been a motel," Johnson says. Prostitutes would sit on the bus-stop benches outside, he says, "while we were inside trying to get straightened out."

"I was only in there a short time," he continues. "I bolted, but I didn't stop at the bus stop. I kept going." The author of five novels, five books of poetry, five plays, and the short-story collection Jesus' Son, Johnson did just that.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photo: Denis Johnson reads in Social Sciences.

February 5, 2007

Folk jam

“This is a jam session—come on and sit down,” fiddler and accordionist Wilson Savoy called to a woman clutching her fiddle as she crept into the Ida Noyes library this past Saturday afternoon. The room was already packed: seven fiddlers, five guitarists, two accordionists, a pair of women strumming ukeleles, and another keeping time on a t’fer (triangle) joined the Louisiana band Pine Leaf Boys—Savoy is its lead accordionist—for a two-hour Cajun jam session. More than 60 others listened from the audience, most tapping their feet and a few leaping up, periodically, to dance. Shedding her apprehension, the fiddle-clutching woman made her way to an empty chair toward the front of the room and began to play. At the end of the song, a raucous Mardi Gras tune, Savoy looked up. “Any other requests?” he asked, after the applause died down.

Stretching past its scheduled 5 p.m. closing, the Cajun jam was part of the U of C’s 47th annual folk fest, a weekend-long event celebrating traditional American and international music. During two days of free workshops, visitors learned flatfooting and clogging, English or Scottish country dancing, Brazilian capoeira, Punjabi bhangra, and waltzing. Children flocked to a storytelling workshop, where Chicago artist and performer Judith Heineman enlisted their help recounting a tale about the origin of turtles’ cracked shells. Nearly 70 people crowded into a Saturday afternoon workshop to hear fiddler Heather Mullen and guitarist Jeff Lindblade play and discuss Irish music. Other workshops introduced visitors to bluegrass, klezmer, and blues music, sea shanties, shape-note singing, and Russian choir singing. Many people brought their own instruments, striking up impromptu jam sessions in the hallways, stairwells, and siderooms. Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday evening concerts gathered musicians from Chicago, the Midwest, the Gulf Coast, Appalachia, New York, and Eastern Europe.

On Sunday the Pine Leaf Boys reprised their jam-session performance, leading some 100 people during two hours of Cajun dancing.

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Photos (left to right): Dancers revel in Cajun tunes; Wilson Savoy plays his accordion; both young and old enjoy the music.

Photos by Dan Dry.

February 7, 2007

Murder at Doc


Dressed for the part of indie filmmakers in corduroy blazers and knit ski caps, eight members of the team behind Crime Fiction sat for a panel talk Tuesday night before the film's screening at Doc. The crew—five graduated from Chicago and three still attend—described a project that grew bigger than they expected, culminating in a 90-minute movie shot in high-definition that premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Director Will Slocombe, AB'06, told the audience of about 40—mostly members of the student filmmaking group Fire Escape Films—that the crew's "expectations were always lower than the results." All agreed that the strength of writer Jonathan Eliot's script was what got them so far. A PhD student in comparative literature, Eliot also plays the starring role—floundering novelist James Cooper, who kills his girlfriend and then writes a book about it.

During summer 2005 the crew shot 37 half-hour tapes in 18 days—a ratio of "realistically 5 or 6 to 1," according to Slocombe. That means 5-6 hours of tape for every hour of film. One audience member asked whether the crew made any money. They laughed and another audience member piped up, pointing to producer Jonathan Cowperthwait, '07. "I was that guy's roommate and I can tell you he didn't pay his bills. We almost got evicted because of it."

Fifteen minutes before the 9:30 showing, the audience formed a line that stretched out the theater doors and circled around the first floor of Ida Noyes. The film offered several Hyde Park and Chicago shots: 53rd and Kenwood, the University of Chicago Bookstore, Kimbark Liquors, Jackson Park, orange juice from the Medici Bakery, and City Hall.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photos: Producer Marc DeMoss, AB'03, composer David Bashwiner, producer Graham Ballou, AB'06, and producer Jonathan Cowperthwait, '07 (top); Cowperthwait, director Will Slocombe, writer Jonathan Eliot, and producer Ben Kolak, AB'06 (bottom).

February 9, 2007

In the ghetto


Until he finished writing Christians in the Warsaw Ghetto: An Epitaph for the Unremembered, Peter Dembowski thought about his subject every day: "If I didn't think about it, I had nightmares about it."

But when Dembowski, a distinguished-service professor emeritus in Romance languages & literatures, finished writing his 2005 book, he told the audience at this Wednesday's Divinity School community lunch, "the nightmares stopped."

A Warsaw native who participated in the city's uprising and was imprisoned by the Germans at Pawiak and Stalag XB Sandbostel, Dembowski wanted to tell the story of the 5,000 Christians of Jewish origin who lived in the Warsaw ghetto (whether recent converts or descendants of converts in generations past, they were Jewish under Nazi law). In describing what life was like for the Jewish Christians and how they were viewed by the ghetto's Jewish occupants, Dembowski drew upon archival materials—and his memories.

“I was there, I remember,” the professor said of his own interactions with the ghetto, but the question of memory “is very complicated. What you remember is the atmosphere, the fear. The emotions, which appear in the nightmares, are true."


Photo: "You didn't realize you were in the ghetto at first," said Peter Dembowski of life in the Warsaw ghetto. The Germans "did everything to instill in people the feeling of non-danger," of ordinary life.

February 12, 2007

A little afternoon music


The Mandel Hall audience awaiting Sunday afternoon’s University of Chicago Presents concert witnessed a pre-performance premiere: Shauna Quill’s first appearance as executive director of Chicago Presents. Quill comes to Chicago with experience as an artist manager (Pavarotti was a client), administrator (Aspen Music Festival and School), and consultant (one assignment: developing classical DVDs for Berlin label EuroArts).

Her first day on the job was February 1, Quill told the audience, and the past ten days had been "a baptism by fire—but a wonderful one.” The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, in the second year of a three-year University residency, had been busy. On Thursday, Quill said, some 3,000 Chicago schoolchildren came through Mandel Hall as part of the orchestra’s CONNECT musical-outreach program. On Saturday more children—and their parents—arrived for the orchestra’s annual family concert.

Now, the lights dimmed, and the orchestra didn’t disappoint. First it offered its own premiere, its first performance of Rautavaara’s Fiddlers (1952), a suite inspired by Northern European folk fiddling (though he originally wrote it for piano).

Violinist and orchestra director Steven Copes and violist Sabina Thatcher led the group through a mesmerizing peformance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. Shostakovich’s Chamber Sympony, Op. 73A—a 1946 piece that with its plaintive ending was denounced in Stalinist Russia—ended the program.


February 14, 2007

Questioning the other woman


Fifteen minutes behind schedule, Larisa Reznik, AM'05, an organizer for the conference Modernity’s Other? Studies on Jewish Women, stood up to begin the two-day event’s last symposium, which, she said, might provide “the sort of pseudo-closure that never really happens.”

The first speaker, Shulamit Gunders, an anthropologist recently retired from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, “came here because of my daughter,” she said. Her daughter's doctoral work is on Orthodox Jewish women, who, Gunders noted, face a dilemma today between the secular world’s increasing gender equality and traditional Orthodox limitations on women’s roles. Gunder's daughter, an Orthodox Jew, trained to be an advocate in the rabbinical courts but didn’t become one because her husband “thought it would be bad for her soul to hear all those divorcing couples.”

Speaking next, Paul Mendes-Flohr, professor of modern Jewish thought in the Divinity School, observed that the many spheres Jewish women occupy had become a recurring theme in the conference's previous talks. Such overlap, he argued, is not only a modern but also a “postmodern condition”: identities are shaped and reconfigured by religious, secular, cultural, and other factors. “We are hybrids and constantly rehybridated,” he said.

Reznik then took questions from the small group gathered in Swift Hall’s third-floor lecture room. One woman asked about the purpose of the question mark in the conference’s title. Another organizer, Sarah Imhoff, AM'05, answered from two seats down. “Jewish women aren’t publicly discussed as Jewish women. They’re always falling under someone else’s category.” The question mark, she said, was meant to ask, “In what sense is she the other?” It seemed that the conference—hosted by the Martin Marty Center and the Center for Gender Studies—had answered with another question. In the Jewish community, in the women’s community, and in greater society, Imhoff said, Jewish women are sometimes the other, and sometimes they are not.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photo: The poster for the Modernity's Other? conference.

February 15, 2007

Snow days

Tuesday and Wednesday were snowy, windy, and just plain miserable in Chicago, bringing a foot of snow to Midway Airport and gusts of 30–50 mph, according to the National Weather Service. On campus, Magazine photographer Dan Dry braved the sting to capture some classic moments.


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Row 1, left to right: On the main quads, faces hide as well as they can; students count the seconds until the bus arrives at Woodlawn and 57th; geese burrow in for a snack on the Midway.

Row 2: A burst of color brightens Hutch Courtyard; sidewalks yet unshoveled, pedestrians take to the street; sometimes German engineering is no match for Chicago weather.

Row 3: That's no backdrop: Hutch Court's a whiteout; This woman's face says it all: yuck.

Photos by Dan Dry.

February 19, 2007

Rockefeller illuminated

When campus is buried in snow, everyone could use a little color. Enlivening Rockefeller Chapel, artwork by Victoria Martin and Jessica Shapiro, MFA'06, is on display in conjunction with Cosmophilia, the Smart Museum's exhibition of Islamic art. According to the text accompanying Martin and Shapiro's work, the Islamic art chosen for Cosmophilia explores ornament through "writing, vegetal and arabesque forms, geometry, and figural imagery"—traits that inspired both artists.

It's clear how Martin's large oil-painted panels reflect that inspiration. All four integrate Koranic verses written in Arabic with English words and images of celestial objects, food, and body parts. Paradise depicts a giant, stylized pink pomegranate with the printed words "pomegranates and palm trees and fruit in both of them."

Shapiro's small mixed-media works are more intimate and much more abstract. Her pieces do, however, pick up the bright colors and patterns of Islamic art that can be seen in Martin's. From the hammock restless consists of rich red squares arranged on a black wash, intricately laced with decorative lines in pencil and ink.

In the late afternoon, the winter light illuminates the east transept where the artwork hangs. Two women with a noisy but cheerful baby peer upwards at Martin's bright panels. Later, three visitors from Chile explore the chapel, then head over to the Graduate School of Business. They want to see Milton Friedman's home turf.

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Martin's Seven Heavens hangs beneath stained glass windows; detail from Seven Heavens; Shapiro's From the hammock restless.

February 21, 2007



Nineteenth-century Romantics, who concocted the notion of artists as misunderstood loners, visionaries, and geniuses fated to lifelong suffering, also produced innumerable portraits to venerate the painters, writers, sculptors, and musicians they mythologized. In The Image as Homage: Portrait of the Artist, the Smart Museum assembles three dozen such works, some worshipful tributes to artistic ancestors, others affectionate gifts to friends.

Paul-Cesar Helleu, once famous for his paintings of beautiful women and Grand Central Station's astrological ceiling decoration, adopted James McNeill Whistler's drypoint method for an 1897 portrait of the American artist. In 1885 painter and lithographer Henri Fantin-Latour commemorated Les Miserables writer Victor Hugo with an image not of the man but of his grave, over which two robed figures mourn. Etcher Axel Herman Haig remembered John Dryden with an image of a couple transfixed before the poet's bust, which crowns his tomb at Westminster Abbey. Not long after he met Stephane Mallarme in 1891, painter Paul Gauguin paid tribute to the symbolist poet in a portrait that combined etching, drypoint, and engraving—a mixture so complicated that Gauguin had to seek technical advice from fellow artists. And 400 years after Albrecht Durer's death, Louis Corvath based his 1920 depiction of him on the Renaissance painter and engraver's own Self-Portrait at 28.

Curated by Smart Museum Mellon curator Anne Leonard, the exhibit runs through April 8.


Photos: Félix Vallotton, To Ibsen (A Ibsen), 1894, woodcut (top); Anders Zorn, Prince Paul Troubetzkoy I (sculpting a bust), 1908, etching.

February 23, 2007

The whisperers

By the time the lights dimmed in the Francis X. Kinahan Third Floor Theater 8 p.m. Wednesday, the cast of but i cd only whisper—professional actor Osiris Khepara, fourth-years E'lana Jordan and Jamil Barton, second-year Jacob Marshall, and first-years Aaron Rodriguez and Tamara Silverleaf—had already spent nearly three hours getting in costume, posing for photos, and running scenes. “Can I go over curtain call with them?” director Tiffany Trent asked stage manager Katherine Greenleaf, ’09, before the house opened. “You have two minutes,” responded Greenleaf as Trent showed the actors where to stand for final applause. Bows practiced, the cast rushed offstage just as the theater doors let in the full-house audience.

"I was always in pieces long as I could remember," recounted black Vietnam vet beau willie brown midway through the play, written by third-year Kristiana Colón. Inspired by Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the piece chronicles beau's emotional journey as he undergoes a psychological evaluation for a crime revealed to the audience late in the action.

Their scenes played, the cast bowed again—this time to a standing ovation from students, family, and other theatergoers.


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Photos (left to right): E'lana Jordan, '07, as crystal, the mother of beau's children; Jamil Barton, '07, plays beau's best friend, marvin; Aaron Rodriquez, '10, as psychologist drummond, restrains beau (Osiris Khepera) in a closing scene.

Photos by Dan Dry

February 26, 2007

Black like whom?


Leaning gingerly on his cane and warning his audience not to expect "politically correct" remarks, Harvard African American studies professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. took the Mandel Hall stage last Thursday evening to thunderous applause. He sat down facing Michael Dawson, U-High'68, a race and politics scholar who rejoined Chicago's faculty in 2005 after three years in Cambridge. "I've come to recruit him back to Harvard," Gates joked.

In fact the two had come to discuss African American identity and politics for an annual lecture arranged by Chicago's Organization of Black Students in memory of George E. Kent, who taught English at the University from 1970 to 1982 and became its first black tenured professor in humanities. During their hourlong conversation, Gates and Dawson talked about globalization, affirmative action, class divisions, and homophobia. Gates recalled his upbringing in West Virginia and his 1969 arrival at Yale as an undergraduate, and he showed a clip from his most recent PBS documentary about tracing Oprah Winfrey's genealogical roots. "PBS has never had more black people watching," he said, than the millions who tuned in for his two specials on African American genealogy. "Black people are looking for their ancestors."

First, though, Gates and Dawson brought up the topic of Barack Obama. Scolding African Americans who "set themselves up as the high priest of blackness," Gates called the debate over Obama's racial bona fides "totally spurrious—of course he's black." The fact that 35 million African Americans live in this country, he said, "means there are 35 million ways to be black."

Meanwhile, a false sense of unity affects African American class relations, Gates argued. Since 1968 the black middle class has quadrupled, but roughly 30 percent of African Americans remain below the poverty line. Both middle and underclass have become self-perpetuating though totally separate, creating what Gates called "a crisis of identity." Cultural phenomena like hip-hop music gives suburban blacks the illusion that all African Americans belong to the same class, which, Gates said, "lets the middle class off the hook for the underclass." The rest of American society will do little to help impoverished blacks unless more affluent blacks lead the way. "We have to redefine the problem," Gates said, "as one of race and class."


Photos: Henry Louis Gates Jr. (top) and Michael Dawson (bottom) spoke at Mandel Hall about the intertwined relationship between race and class in America.

February 27, 2007

Chocaholics convene

By 7:10 p.m., 30 students had gathered in Stuart Hall's basement, milling around a table covered with chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate almond bark, chocolate turtles, and chocolate lollipops. Waiting for the Culinary Club's chocolate study break to begin made them antsy.

Five minutes later, a club member raised her voice above the chatter. "You may take three chocolates apiece—and don't take more than one of the same kind." Members seemed worried about a free-for-all, but the students formed a neat line, choosing from white, milk, or dark chocolate confections and moose-, horse-, cow-, and cat-shaped lollipops all made by Old Town chocolate shop The Fudge Pot.

While most attendants then sat down, mouths full, a handful scanned the posted information sheets about chocolate's history, manufacturing process, and terminology, courtesy of the Field Museum's Chocolate Exhibition Web site.

When asked whose idea the study break was, the Culinary Club pointed to member Teresa Lim, '07. Lim said she organized the study break "because I like chocolate," before explaining that it was part of the club's winter sweets and desserts theme. Added another member, "Overall, it's just winter quarter and we thought chocolate would make people happy."

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Culinary Club members unveil the treats; students take their pick; some read up on chocolate.

About February 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in February 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2007 is the previous archive.

March 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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