« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

July 2009 Archives

July 2, 2009

Wingy city

Kim BerylKim Beryl sits on the closest thing to a throne the Taste of Chicago has to offer.

Perched on a red chair overseeing the action at the Harold’s Chicken #71 tent, Beryl is a 27-year veteran of the ten-day marathon of chicken-wing frying and hot-sauce drizzling. And there’s plenty of it in the Harold’s tent at Columbus and Congress: patrons squeeze their way to the water-coolers-turned-hot-sauce-containers and vendors ask loudly, "Who wants Harold’s?" The air is crowded with smells, with Oak Street Beach Café’s spicy wings just across the street.

“I love the Taste,” Beryl says. “The people, the energy it takes—it’s gruesome to the body, but it’s all worth it.”

The world’s largest food festival, now in its 29th year, kicked off Friday, and the city expects to attract more than 6 million people. Beryl, an assistant manager at Harold’s #71 at 2109 South Wabash Avenue, says this might be the slowest Taste she’s seen, but Harold’s and the 53 other food vendors still expect a lively crowd to brave the economic downturn, overcast weather, and hundreds of extra calories to enjoy the festivities.

At least it’s not 2004. That year, Beryl remembers, a rainstorm hit like no other the Taste had seen. But even nature’s best attempt to stop the festivities only added to them. “It almost washed us out,” she says with a laugh. “It rained so hard for so long that people were coming into the booth. With the electricity and the propane tanks it was kind of scary.”

Rain or shine, the Taste goes on, and it had better with all the chicken wings Harold’s has on hand. Beryl’s restaurant staff spent weeks preparing 300 cases of wings—200 wings per case—for the event. For the past 11 years she has organized the 25-member team that cooks up the stand’s wings, hush puppies, and okra. Most of the workers have returned from last year, Beryl said, and people as far as Ohio have come to work the Harold’s tent.

Harold’s typically isn’t at the top in terms of Taste sales—that honor usually goes to Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs—and the chicken wing is less iconic that the massive turkey leg that Manny’s Cafeteria has taken over this year. Still, Beryl is glad to be back for another year, watching over the greasy wings that have won the hearts of so many Hyde Parkers.

Jake Grubman, ‘11

July 6, 2009

Living the sweet, sweet dream

Admit it. You've fantasized about escaping your cubicle or late-night cram sessions, fleeing to Paris, and enrolling in one of the best culinary schools in the world to become a master patissier. C'est très romantique. Now meet your newest object of envy: Teresa Ging, AB'00, who in 2006 did just that. After earning a U of C degree in economics and statistics and spending six years in the fast-paced world of Chicago finance, she traded bonds for brioche and entered the patisserie program at Paris's famed Le Cordon Bleu. Today her bakery, Sugar Bliss cake boutique, helps to satisfy the Loop's sweet tooth with its signature cupcakes and—prepare yourselves—$1 frosting shots.

Pre–Sugar Bliss, Ging’s own sweet tooth was far from fulfilled by the Loop’s offerings. “I live in the Loop, and I used to work in the Loop,” she says. “And there was nowhere to buy cake.” So the seed was sown. After she moved back to Chicago in January 2007, she realized the “cupcake trend” might be lucrative, and she started testing recipes. After almost two years of proposing, planning, and building—as well as launching her own cupcake catering business in the meantime—Ging entered the retail sector in January: “It takes forever to open a store, with building it out, the permit process, everything.” In the next few weeks she will finally get an awning.

Now with a high-traffic location and 11 employees, she has a good system going. Pointing to a schedule with five everyday flavors and five that change daily, she tells us her daily routine. Prescoop the batter, made from all-natural ingredients, the day before; arrive at 6 a.m. to bake everything in the double-deck oven; whip up frosting to get the right texture; pipe the frosting on the cakes in Ging’s trademark flower blossom design; and place the cakes in the display cases for serving. And, since she keeps the day-to-day books, her finance background comes in handy: “I enjoy crunching numbers.” In just six months, she says, the store has seen some 30,000 customers. Looks like Ging wasn’t the only one on the hunt for cake downtown.

Ging says that her favorite cupcakes change—and with such a decadent menu, who can blame her?—but recommends chocolate coconut, chocolate hazelnut, chocolate peanut butter, and lemon coconut. These intrepid reporters sampled the chocolate milk chocolate and the black-and-white cupcakes, two of the bakery's most popular combos, as well as cream-cheese and cappuccino frosting shots. Everything we tasted made our Monday afternoon just a little bit sweeter. Now, whose birthday can we use as an excuse to order some for the office?

Elizabeth Chan and Ruth E. Kott, AM'07

Sugar Bliss is located at 115 North Wabash Street in Chicago. The bakery is open every day and delivers to many citywide locations Monday through Friday.

July 9, 2009

Herman Sinaiko is a rock star

“Sure I'll be a model,” Herman Sinaiko, beloved professor of humanities, e-mailed back when I asked if we could photograph him for a Core article on University of Chicago T-shirts. “But I need assurance that I will not be held financially responsible for any camera lenses that break taking my picture.”

No replacement lenses were necessary, and Sinaiko was just as charming in front of a camera as he is at the front of a classroom. But the Library's Special Collections Research Center has a small and rather random group of T-shirts, so unfortunately he ended up wearing a shirt that had nothing to do with him or his field of study. If only he had known, he said, he would have brought a shirt that some students had made a few years before.

“Herman Sinaiko is a Rock Star” began as a Facebook group set up by Rita Koganzon, AB’07, in 2005. At the time Koganzon was enrolled in the humanities sequence Greek Thought and Literature. The class was “incredible,” she says, “a demonstration of how to read texts closely and seriously by someone who also exemplified what it might be like to live a scholarly and thoughtful life.

“Sinaiko went very slowly and focused on the first chapter, or even the first lines, of whatever text we were reading—he said he had ‘a passion for beginnings,’” she says. “For instance, why does it matter that Herodotus is from Halicarnassus? What does it mean that he will record the great deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike? I was grateful to have been shaken out of my high school stupor and shown how to ask and answer such questions.”

Koganzon and another student in the class, David Kaye, AB’08, set up "Herman Sinaiko is a Rock Star" “around the time that Facebook fan groups for actual celebrities were proliferating,” she says. “We liked the idea of framing Sinaiko's awesomeness in celebrity terms.”

An early member was Anne Heminger, AB’08, who had chosen Sinaiko’s Greek Thought because it fit her schedule. Only later did she discover that Sinaiko, who has taught at Chicago since 1954, had been her mother’s master’s thesis adviser and that her step-grandmother had taken a class from him while studying for her doctorate.

Sinaiko is notorious for asking his students to think about topics that might or might not seem relevant to the text being discussed: “They weren’t crazy exactly,” says Kaye, “but definitely unpredictable.” During one class on Aristophenes’ The Clouds, Heminger and her neighbor Caitrin Nicol, AB’08, compiled a list of everything Sinaiko mentioned, from elephants and cell phones to dirty tricks and revenge. “This morning, I’m pretty sure he said, ‘What I’m asking you to think about is’ about 23 times,” Nicol wrote on the Facebook group’s discussion board.

"Feeling nostalgic” the following fall, Nicol says, she decided to make a T-shirt. “It’s certainly the case that all of us were in love with him,” says Kaye. He persuaded the News Office to lend him a high-resolution photograph for the front; for the back, Nichol and Heminger added a few of their all-time favorites to the Aristophenes topics list, such as “if dogs could vote.”

When the shirts arrived, Kaye, Nichol, Heminger and a few other students formed a phalanx outside Sinaiko’s new Greek Thought course. As it happened, says Nichol, “the day we crashed the class, the subject of discussion was a story from Herodotus on what it means to honor someone.”

“Sinaiko came rushing past us out of the Cobb elevator and into the classroom,” says Kaye. “He was completely oblivious to the students standing there with a huge picture of him on our T-shirts.”

“It was supposed to be such an epic moment, and it was so anticlimactic,” says Nichol. “But then he came back out and said, ‘Oh, it’s you guys!’ He was never very good with names. ‘You’re wearing my shirt! You’re wearing my face!’ It was classic Herman from start to finish.”

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

July 10, 2009

Picture perfect

David SchalliolDavid Schalliol, AM’04, a PhD student in sociology, has been photographing Chicago’s changing landscape since he came to the University in 2002 for graduate school. In 2000, combining his artistic interests with his academic ones, he launched Metroblossom, which uses photography, paintings, and text to explore the evolving relationship between the urban jungle and the natural world in which we develop it.

Managing editor of the Chicago blog Gapers Block, Schalliol also adds to his online photo library through his Metroblossom Flickr page. His photography will be featured in the Catherine Edelman Gallery's "Chicago Project III" exhibition, alongside other Chicago photographers, beginning today. He recently spoke to UChiBLOGo's Luke Fiedler, '10, via e-mail.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you end up in this exhibit?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI am part of the Catherine Edelman Gallery's Chicago Project, which is, in their words, "an online gallery devoted to new and established photographers in the Chicago area who we feel deserve recognition." Every two years the gallery puts together a show featuring some of the members of the project.
QandA_QDrop.jpgYou’ve lived all over the Midwest and are originally from Indianapolis. What is it about Chicago that makes it such an interesting subject for you? What are you trying to capture?
QandA_ADrop.jpgMy Chicago work is about transformation and social stratification. I often focus on buildings because they are particularly useful windows into understanding the historically layered nature of urban life.

As a teenager I would drive into Chicago from Indianapolis to visit museums and see punk shows. Among my clearest memories are those of the nearly solid wall of public housing that ran alongside 90/94 from 54th Street to 22nd Street: Robert Taylor, Stateway, Dearborn, Ickes, and Hilliard. On the north end, the wealth of the Loop was just a few blocks away, and on the south, Hyde Park and the parks that surround it were so very close. Documenting the rehabilitation and demolition of those buildings and their communities has been immensely fascinating. I hope my work casts a light on and contributes to the discourse surrounding these important policies.

QandA_QDrop.jpgYour Metroblossom account was just named among the “12 Superstars of Flickr” in the May/June issue of American Photo. What are your observations on how sharing contemporary photography have been reshaped?
QandA_ADrop.jpgObviously, I was excited about the way the American Photo piece turned out. The piece highlights the possibilities of virtual exhibition spaces like Flickr, particularly for individuals who aren't formally trained in photography and are seeking some feedback on their work (and wish to offer feedback to others). I see Web sites like Flickr and the fine-art community as complementary, but I think it is important to recognize there are important differences.
Portrait of Schalliol by Kara Elliott-Ortega, '10.

See Schalliol’s work on display at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, 300 West Superior Street. The opening reception is tonight from 5-8 p.m. Visit edelmangallery.com or call 312/266-2350 for more information.

July 14, 2009

Down and dirty

Giant backhoes are digging. Dump trucks are hauling away dirt. And if you peer through the chain-link fence and green scrim at the corner of 57th Street and Ellis Avenue, you’ll glimpse the sweeping oval foundation of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, scheduled for completion in early 2011.

Right now it’s just a big hole in the ground, but eventually the glass-domed library will hold 3.5 million volumes—and establish Chicago as the only top U.S. research university to house its entire library collection on campus. Last week UChiBLOGo's Elizabeth Station toured the site with Michael Natarus, senior project manager, who gave us the lowdown on construction.

QandA_QDrop.jpgSo how much dirt has to come out of this hole?

QandA_ADrop.jpg53,000 cubic yards of material, approximately. It’s anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 truckloads, if you take an average of 10 yards per truck.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhere will the 53,000 cubic yards of earth end up?

QandA_ADrop.jpgAll over the place. Most of the dumps are located on the South Side, within a half-hour radius of the University. Some of it they recycle—some of it is sand, which I’m sure they can use in other places.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow long will the excavation phase last?

QandA_ADrop.jpgWe’re scheduled to be completed by October 1. We dig out one level, then we do the tie-backs around the perimeter to support the wall, and then we dig the next level and do the tie-backs. There are four levels and about 310 tie-backs total. That’s what is taking so long.

QandA_QDrop.jpgAre there any environmental issues associated with digging around the place where scientists did the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThe Phase 1 Environmental Study determined that the site is clean, and we also did soil borings prior to the project start-up, which determined that there is no contamination.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHave you found any archeological treasures?

QandA_ADrop.jpgNo, nothing—no Indian burial sites or anything like that. But this used to be the site of Stagg Field, and we did find what appears to be an underground locker room, something with stairs leading up to the top, that was buried.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow does this project compare to others you’ve managed?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThe biggest challenge is that it’s a very unique structure. An underground storage facility for books with a glass dome on top—there’s nothing like this in the world, to my knowledge.

QandA_QDrop.jpgAre you looking forward to that final phase?

QandA_ADrop.jpgAbsolutely; it’s going to be the cool part. There’s so much progress that’s happening underground. When you walk by you say, ‘Jeez, they’re not doing anything.’ But there’s actually quite a bit of activity.


L-E-T-S-G-O, Let’s Go

Saturday morning on campus in late May before finals, and one of the few things stirring was the U of C cheer team. After gathering in Henry Crown Field House, the cheerleaders began an hours-long practice with a series of stretches, rolling out their ankles, touching their toes, sliding into splits.

Since cheerleading season ended in February, squad leaders Brittany Gordon and Denise Salinas have organized small-group workouts and more formal practices. This particular practice also served as an evaluation and introduction for two new members. While covering the cheer team for the Core last winter, I'd marveled at the squad’s hard work. This day's practice was no exception—the team moved from stretches to cheers to dance routines to stunts, stopping only for a few short water breaks.

After stretches, Gordon arranged the team in two parallel lines. “Now we’re going to go over basic motions,” she said. With her back to the group, she demonstrated a series of arm positions while Salinas called them out: “Low beam!” “High beam!” “T!” “K!” As the squad set the motions to a cheer—L-E-T-S-G-O, Come on Maroons, Let’s Go!—Gordon turned to watch and reminded her teammates to keep smiling: “During a game you have to be happy and continue cheering, no matter what happens. Practice how you perform.”

The team finished the day with stunt practice, starting with halfs—when a flyer is lifted to shoulder level and stands in a straddled position—and graduating to liberties—when a flyer balances on one leg supported by several bases. Falls were frequent, but so was encouragement. “I can’t do it,” said one flyer after several failed attempts. “Yes, you can,” her teammates replied. “Stick it!”

Katherine Muhlenkamp


July 15, 2009

Romancing the story

Gwyn Cready, AB'83, MBA'86, writes time-travel romances. Her latest, Seducing Mr. Darcy, is nominated for a RITA Award, the most prestigious accolade a romance novel can win. The awards ceremony is Saturday in Washington.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you think your education at Chicago has helped you with your writing career?

QandA_ADrop.jpgChicago taught me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to. And Amy Kass, AB'62, taught me the magic of a really good story.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you first get into writing romance novels?

QandA_ADrop.jpgI came to romance by way of romantic-comedy movies. Good, bad, or awful, I've seen them all—and dragged my beleaguered husband as well. But I became a writer to honor the memory of my sister, who died unexpectedly at 31. Claire was a hippie poet/photographer. I was a buttoned-up marketing executive. We couldn't have been more different. I'm sure Claire finds my transformation both remarkable and entertaining.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do you think is the most romantic Great Book?

QandA_ADrop.jpgHmm. Chicago's idea of a "Great Book" and mine are undoubtedly different. However, it would be hard to beat Pride and Prejudice on any list.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat misconception about romance novels do you think is most unfair?

QandA_ADrop.jpgImplicit in romances is the assertion that women's physical and emotional desires are important. Subversive? You bet. Hallelujah. You should also know that romances make up the largest segment of fiction. Thirty-three cents of every dollar spent on fiction is spent on romance. Among Americans who read, one in four read romance (and 10 percent of romance readers are men.) In the first quarter of 2009, when overall book sales declined 4 percent, booksellers report romance sales were up, and sales at Harlequin Enterprises were up 13.5 percent.

QandA_QDrop.jpgIs there anything autobiographical in your books?

QandA_ADrop.jpgHow can there not be? When Colin Firth finally writes his autobiography, all will be revealed.

Jake Grubman, '11

Book cover art and portrait courtesy Gwyn Cready.

July 16, 2009

Once more into the breach, dear friends

BoratIn the vast majority of College courses, the most anxiety-provoking assignment is the final paper. But in Consumerism and Popular Culture, taught by Chad Broughton, AM'97, PhD'01, that’s nothing compared to the Breaching Experiment.

In social psychology, a breaching experiment seeks to understand societal norms by deliberately breaching them. (The film Borat, for example, could be seen as one long breaching experiment.) For Broughton’s course, students choose to violate a norm that has to do with consumerism or commercial society—working alone, in a pair, or (for the particularly nervous) in a group. “Also,” Broughton advises on the assignment sheet, “please avoid arrest or getting you or me in big trouble (a little trouble is fine).”

Below are excerpts from three students’ write-ups of their breaching experiments.

Venti TMI, with ice

I didn’t really want to do this assignment and I’m sure the following write-up will reflect that. I worked with a partner, E., and she suggested that when somebody said, “Hi, how are you doing?” we should respond with TMI (too much information). After some discussion we decided the response should be, “Not good. I just found out I was pregnant and I have no idea who the father is.”
So I walked into the Starbucks in Bronzeville. I stepped up to the cash register, and the man working did not ask me how I was doing. I had to ask him how he was doing, and he finally asked how I was. I gave the agreed-upon response. The guy had a look of shock on his face. “You really have no idea who the father is?”
I said, “No clue, there are just a couple nights I can’t remember what happened.”
He paused a few seconds then asked, “You were drinking?”
I said, “Yeah. It was a party, I was having a good time and you know, one thing led to another.”
Then he asked, “But you know who was at the party right?”
I said, “I guess I should probably make a few phone calls.”
At this point I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I asked what they had going on in the decaf iced tea department, mentioning I should probably avoid caffeine given my current condition. I settled on a drink, he poured it, I left, and he followed me out. E. had left a minute before I did, and I think the man thought I was trying to distract him while my friend stole something from the store.

Tip off

The breaching experiment I decided on consisted of casually tipping two friends who had helped with small favors. One friend offered to accompany me on a trip to the grocery; on our way back, I acknowledged her company and slipped a dollar bill into her hand. Initially I was surprised when she played along and in an exaggerated, playful voice said, "Thank you," but when I revealed it as an experiment she admitted she had felt both confused and offended. The other friend, a roommate, lent me a key because I pretended to have lost mine. I put the key back in his hand scrunched up with a dollar bill, and to my amusement he immediately and vehemently refused as a puzzled look showed up on his face.
Evidently, I had breached an unspoken social norm—friendships are firmly altruistic. Each friendship is in a sense a tacit acknowledgment of narrow altruism in a wider, stranger world. It’s uncanny to break it.

The customer is always right

I went to a Jamba Juice store downtown and asked to order the unhealthiest smoothie on the menu. The Jamba Juice employee looked at me quizzically. “Our unhealthiest smoothie?” she asked, apparently unsure that she heard me correctly.
And then something completely unexpected happened. “Well, the Peanut Butter Moo’d is probably our unhealthiest smoothie,” she replied. “It’s got chocolate, peanut butter, and frozen yogurt.” And without further incident, she proceeded to make my smoothie.
My request violated social norms because I was choosing a food specifically because it was unhealthy. There were no other criteria. Although the average American eats a lot of unhealthy food, they do not usually choose food specifically because it is unhealthy.
But, after more thought, the reaction of the Jamba Juice employee made sense. American popular culture has enshrined the notion that the customer is always right. If I want an unhealthy smoothie, and Jamba Juice is capable of giving me an unhealthy smoothie, then it better happen!

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

July 17, 2009

Phoenix Pix: July 13-17, 2009

Free milkshakes

Graduate student Scott Wilbur, SM'08, enjoys a free shake from the C-Shop, given out as part of ORSCA's Bartlett Break Day.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

July 20, 2009

Making a home with eBay

If I’ve learned one thing over the past four or five weeks, it’s that keeping up an apartment is a lot of work. I moved off campus at the end of finals week in June, and more than month later, I finally have a bed. No more air mattress for me.

But I’m still short some items. Enter eBay. A quick perusal of the world’s digital flea market, and I’m well on my way to a complete apartment, school spirit included. Here’s a quick list of some of the best U of C–related items for sale on eBay, must-haves for any true Maroon.

Silver Spoon

The empty drawers in my kitchen sent me looking for the appropriate collegiate silverware. No spoon? No problem, says the “University of Chicago” search on eBay.

If I ever feel like I’m too far from Hull Gate, this sterling silver spoon features an embossed representation so that I can experience campus while eating my Honey Bunches of Oats.

If you look closely, you’ll see me lamenting my bio final at the Zoology Building on the right.

Blue Sky Painting

In the dorm I was fine with my “Rock of Love” and “Babar” posters. Now that I’m independent, I feel like my apartment needs more sophistication. Something like “Blue Sky” by Chinese artist K. Sing.

This bold view from the Midway is the perfect addition to any Chicago student’s living room, bedroom, or study. If a Chicago student buys this painting, it’ll also be just about the only blue sky he sees from October to April.

Fine Arts Books

I also decided to look for some fresh material to add to my bookcase. Thankfully, eBay has the National Art Society’s guide to the fine arts from 1907, edited by the University of Chicago’s own Edmund Buckley, professor of comparative religion.

A little pricey for a student, but hey, free shipping!

Girl Postcard

With all of this work to do around the apartment, I haven’t had time to write my parents in a while (actually, ever, because they live an hour away and both parties own telephones).

But the responsible student makes an effort to keep in touch, so I was thankful that eBay has a veritable cornucopia of postcards. This was my favorite find because of the woman’s daring fashion and also the catchy call for school spirit at the bottom.

Baseball Silk

I don’t know what to say about this item, because its uses are endless:

  • Dust cloth.
  • Bandana.
  • Wall decoration.
  • Reusable napkin.
  • Disposable napkin.

…And a great gift idea with the holidays just five months away.

Jake Grubman, '11

July 21, 2009

A Hyde Park mural, coming and going


Perched atop her scaffolding, paintbrush in hand, Olivia Gude leans toward her mural until her face is mere inches away from a weather-beaten portrait of a little girl. “What was that supposed to be?” She takes a step back, then looks again. Another step back. “Oh! That’s her hand!” she says, then zooms back in to continue painting. “It’s just so different when you look at it up close.”

While a passing glance at Gude’s 800-square-foot mural “Where We Come From…Where We’re Going” (1992) on the Metra underpass at 56th Street and Lake Park Avenue might suggest that everything is in order, a closer look reveals the effects of 16 years of Chicago weather.

So, with the help of funding from the Chicago Public Art Group and the National Endowment for the Arts, Gude, MFA’82, is touching up her painting, which captures part of Hyde Park’s oral history. In 1991 Gude stood at the same intersection, armed with a tape recorder and a camera, and asked passersby two questions: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? The mural combines portraits of these residents and excerpts from their answers, which ranged from annoyed to polite, simple to profound.

The questions behind the mural are similar to those that propel much of Gude’s work. Hyde Park was relatively diverse, but does occupying the same geographic space signify a real community? Were people reaching out and communicating beyond their racial or generational groups? The mural created a dialogue between the people who called Hyde Park home.

Back at that intersection for several weeks this summer, Gude also plans to update it with new images. “Oh yes,” she says, waving a paint-smeared hand toward the blank walls across the tracks. “I’m going to start interviewing people again and add a whole new section. You know, new times, new times….”

Looks like that dialogue with the neighborhood is ongoing.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

July 22, 2009

ROOF is on fire

The Wit's Jackie KooWalking west down Lake Street toward State, I know I’m nearing my “L” stop when I see a long line of dolled up 9-to-5ers whose first choice for happy hour is a hotel bar. (You know it’s really a hot spot when locals are actually eager to drink alongside out-of-towners.) Perched atop the Wit hotel, designed by Chicago-based architect Jackie Koo, AB’86, ROOF offers cocktails, Italian tapas such as fire-baked pizza, and panoramic views of the city. For a seat in either the sleek indoor lounge or outdoor patio areas, you’d better get there early—by 5:15 p.m. the place is packed.

One of Koo’s tasks in designing the Wit was to give the hotel’s restaurants an independent identity, distinct from the guest rooms. “The success of project,” she said during a guided Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of the hotel, “depends on the restaurants.” Because of the hotel's location, smack on the border of Chicago’s theater district, its restaurants—which also include State & Lake, featuring American food and an artisanal beer selection; and cibo matto, Italian fine dining—needed to stand on their own.

To do this, Koo split the Wit into two sections, connected but each with its own unique look: the first is a glassy structure that holds the lobby, the second-floor library, and guest rooms. The second, which looks like a concrete high-rise, houses the three restaurants and meeting rooms, as well as more guest rooms. “It would have been a waste to take this great intersection and make it only a rooms hotel," said Scott Greenberg, the Wit’s developer, who chanced upon the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour on his way to watch a movie in the hotel’s plush screening room. “Jackie figured out how to organize it.”

The hotel’s location has its pitfalls—the noise from the “L,” for one. To keep the sound of clanking tracks out of bedrooms, some of which offer a direct view of passengers waiting on the platforms, the windows are made of double-layered glass. So guests can sleep soundly until they are roused by the voice of President Obama, Harry Caray, or Mayor Daley for their wake-up calls.

Quiet as the rooms are, the hotel’s exterior is loud. A chartreuse lightening-bolt shape adorns the front of the building, bathing passersby in neon yellow light. And Koo “played with geometrics” when designing the facade, she said, a response to the theater marquees down State Street.

The Wit is just…fun. With rooms named after the wit-blessed Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill, a spa and yoga studio on the fifth floor, and Rubik’s Cubes on some bedside tables, the hotel creates an atmosphere, said Greenberg, that “reinforces the idea of humor, playfulness, and joy.”

Ruth E. Kott, AM’07

July 23, 2009

A marathon, not a sprint

Fucked Up perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival, 2009

A weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival

Fewer than three hours into the Pitchfork Music Festival this past weekend in Union Park, my friend Josh Nalven, ’10, already looked as if he had jumped rope in a sauna, fully clothed.

He had pushed through the crowd to the front of the main stage, sacrificing all regard for personal space to brave the near-riotous pit of devoted fans of the hardcore band Fucked Up. Watching from a safer distance, I could see the band’s hulking frontman, Damian Abraham, dive shirtless into this pit. Let’s just say Abraham has quite a belly and knows how to throw it around. Glad I’m not down there, I thought to myself.

“I was right there!” Josh later told the rest of our group. “Seriously close to the underarm region, dude.” He ran his fingers through a sweaty head of curls. “Amazing at the time, but now, perhaps not the best idea.”

One thing was clear—Josh needed to cool down. It was as good a reason as any to wander through the food tents.

With 40 bands packed onto three stages over the course of three days, it might not seem like there would be a lot of time to peruse the festival’s other offerings. But if, for example, you’re not interested in seeing Blitzen Trapper or Killer Whales during the 3 p.m. time slot, you might find yourself with an hour to kill. I haven’t heard of them either.

Although hardly a bargain, Pitchfork has a reputation for having some of the tastiest and fairest priced (i.e., only a slight rip-off) food selections. And whether you were a skinny indie vegan or a skinny indie carnivore, 15 Chicago vendors satisfied the mysteriously high metabolism of a slim and gangly gang of music lovers. I splurged on a chicken sausage cooked with apple and gouda cheese and an iced coffee horchata, with the damage coming out to $8.

Ponytail at the Pitchfork Music Festival, 2009There was much more to see, like the tent full of vinyl records, the arts and crafts fair, and the station where you could set a world record. The people-watching makes for a good time too. Wait—a “world-record station”?

Antics ensued as people ventured to set the fastest time for shaving one’s own mustache, fastest 52-card pick-up, or fastest kazoo performance of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” On Saturday, 48 people set the record for largest group of people to sing "Saturday in the Park" by the band Chicago. A free pair of shoes went to anyone with a record still standing by the end of the day.

Oh, I almost forgot—the music was great! At least, all that I was able to hear.

Toward the end of the Saturday lineup, I sat down to rest while the rapper Doom performed nearby. I felt my eyes getting heavy, and despite the thundering bass and the constant buzz of chatter around me, I did the impossible: power-napped through a performance.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

Fucked Up's Damian Abraham (top) while fans crowdsurf; Ponytail's Ken Seeno.

Photography by silverfuture (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). View silverfuture's Pitchfork Music Festival set on Flickr.

Phoenix Pix: July 20-24, 2009

Free milkshakes

Olivia Gude, MFA’82, touches up her 800-square-foot mural “Where We Come From…Where We’re Going” (1992) at 56th Street and Lake Park.

Photo by Luke Fiedler, '10.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

July 24, 2009

A morning at the fair

World's Columbian ExpositionWe’re standing at the steps of the Museum of Science and Industry, and Paul Durica, AM’06, is organizing his players like a nervous elementary-school choir director.

Grover Cleveland, you’re at the top. George Pullman, you’re next to Thomas and Bertha Palmer. And where are the Duke and Duchess of Veragua?

It’s the opening scene of Durica’s Working Man’s Guide to the World’s Columbian Exposition, a two-hour walking tour of the 1893 World’s Fair, part of Durica’s Pocket Guide to Hell Tours.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to look for. When Durica arrives, his blue marching-band jacket, complete with gold braid patterns and red tassels, announces him as our guide. Dressed as a Columbian Guard—a member of the fair’s security force—he assigns character roles to several tour-goers.

He instructs one woman to play a disgruntled Ida B. Wells and provides her with a sample of the antiracism pamphlets that Wells handed out in 1893. Later Durica notifies “Jane Addams” that her purse had been stolen, but—don’t worry—a Columbian Guard had retrieved it. I play Clarence Darrow for the post-fair segment, and Durica informs me that my ashes had been spread in the lagoons behind the museum.

Durica, a PhD student in English, makes the morning a pleasant stroll through the former fairground. He offers a detailed description of every aspect of the fair, from the 40,000 workers who labored for two years preparing the White City to the 264-foot Ferris Wheel to the economic turmoil of the 1890s that led to the mini-city’s quick demise when the fair ended.

The tour begins at the eastern steps of the museum and progresses through seven stops around the lagoons to the south. With a wealth of knowledge from his research at the Regenstein Library, Durica emphasizes the fair’s behind-the-scenes production, such as the construction of the massive Manufactures and Liberal Arts building and the failed plans for a revolutionary theater called the Spectatorium.

Durica has two more tours planned for August and September, one looking at jazz and blues on the South Side and the other uncovering the “secret history” of the University of Chicago. The tours are free, though the tips Durica accepts are well-earned.

Jake Grubman, ’11


July 28, 2009

Squash squad

METROsquash“What you see in front of you is a bunch of junk.”

Alex Sisto, ’11, states the obvious, even if the half-dozen seventh- and eighth-graders in front of him are hoping for some greater underlying significance to the boxes of empty Gatorade bottles and cereal boxes at the head of the table.

One man’s trash is a tutor’s arts-and-crafts material. Sisto and four other tutors supplied the materials they had gathered over the previous several weeks for “junk sculptures” at METROsquash, an after-school and summer program joining squash practice with academics and activities for elementary-school students from Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. Minutes after Sisto’s pronouncement, all hands are active, cutting up the plastic bottles and taping together pieces of cardboard into a model city.

“I don’t think they get a lot of chances to work with their hands and actually build things—a lot of it is just sitting in a desk all day,” says Sisto, a work-study tutor at METROsquash since last October, “so we like to give them a chance to be creative.”

Squash isn’t normally known for its popularity in the urban community, but METROsquash executive director David Kay, a former squash pro, says “squash is a great unifier—people from many different backgrounds can play, meet, and share common values.” In addition to squash practice and competition, the program offers students help with schoolwork, assistance in the search for high school options, and mentoring for the older students.

It was a light group for the summer program on junk-sculpture building day, but since it began in 2005, METROsquash has grown from ten fifth-grade students its first year to about 60 fourth-through-ninth-graders expected when its after-school segment begins in August. With a full-time staff of several work-study and Lab Schools tutors and dozens of other volunteers, METROsquash’s extended community includes about 150 people.

Operating out of the University Church and Henry Crown Fieldhouse, METROsquash partners with the University’s Athletics Department and Office of Civic Engagement, which provide court space and work-study tutors through the Neighborhood Schools Program. Kay calls the University “a critical partner” in helping develop the program, though he sees it as a two-way street.

“METROsquash sees itself as a bridge between the University and the community,” Kay says. “Squash is a really wonderful sport. It’s a great differentiator for students who are trying to get into a good school, and we hope to see our students one day soon, within the next few years, knocking on the door of the University of Chicago and submitting some very compelling applications.”

Jake Grubman, ’11


Of bookworms and squirrels

NewberrySquirrel.jpgI entered the Newberry Library expecting to see a few curious book-lovers and bargain-hunters. Instead, I saw squirrels.

At least that’s what the staff called the more than 8,000 people who attended the library’s 25th annual book fair last weekend, all searching for that rare first edition, fun bedtime story, or intriguing cookbook.

Stacks of cardboard boxes and brown paper bags awaited shoppers at the library’s entrance, and a side table called the “squirreling area” provided a home base for hauls too big to carry between the seven large rooms packed with tables full of used books.

After receiving my own bag, I was swept up in the quiet intensity that surrounded each table. Friendly fair volunteers corralled folks into lines that were deceptively peaceful. Much like while zigzagging through traffic, people masked impatience with just enough cooperation to get by, jumping at the first opportunity to speed ahead of a slow browser and resume digging.

And boy, were there lots of them: the Newberry received more than 100,000 donated books, to be resold at an average of $2 or $3, making it their largest annual fund-raiser.

I didn’t see a single uninteresting book: an illustrated atlas of Hawaii, a report on the Church of Scientology “from the inside by a non-member,” thousands of paperback romances with titles like Treasure’s Golden Dream and My Lord Stranger.

The fair also offered a small selection of donated CDs, records, and old magazines. It is a testament to the fair’s variety that fellow intern Jake Grubman, ’11, could walk away with both an old issue of Sports Illustrated and some Wu-Tang Clan albums.

I did some good squirreling myself, whittling down a shopping bag of books to a handful, eventually spending about $5. But that’s nothing compared to the woman ahead of me in the checkout line.

As she approached the counter, she pointed toward a group of eight brown bags and two cardboard boxes of books, all hers. It took three staff members to help move them all onto the counter. The unlucky elderly volunteer slowly raised himself out of his seat and looked in bewilderment at where to begin.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

Rise of the she-conomy

blogher.jpgSocial media guru Leslie Bradshaw, AB’04, spent last weekend in Chicago networking at BlogHer, the annual women-bloggers convention. Eighty-five tweets (#blogher09) and six swag bags later, Bradshaw—who has worked in online brand management using social technologies and communications since graduating—shares her observations on social media, marketing, and gender.

Nowadays companies are turning to the blogosphere and Twitterverse to reach their marketing goals, and the main demographic they’re targeting is females. Although I have observed this trend as a blogger, Twitterer, and through my job, never had it been so apparent to me than during BlogHer.

Terms of endorsement

Marketers covet positive reviews from female power-users within viral and social media outposts, and these women covet their products. An entire economy has formed around this relationship.

From beverage samples and leopard-print thumb drives to “love lotions” and vibrators, everyone at BlogHer went home with some sort of free swag to make them happy. If I were still taking classes from Stuart Michaels in the gender studies department, I would certainly have a write up on the implications of the last two items, informed by theories from Foucault, Freud, and Rubin, of course.

Rockin' in the free world

Aside from the happiness derived from getting stuff for free, these product placements and giveaways reflect a change. Many women control their household’s spending, and companies recognize women are social creatures who are likely to share their experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with their friends and family.

One of the reasons why I am fascinated by and enjoy participating in social media is because its users—especially the 9 million strong in the BlogHer community—are lowering barriers, whether they are geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic, or just purely asymmetries in information.

Save for tech daddies, such as CC Chapman and the Digital Dads, there is not an equal influx of male bloggers hyping products to other men. To borrow a term from Katty Kay while channeling a Steven Levitt-esque play on words and a James Carville delivery: “It’s womenomics, stupid.”

This might not be the next sexual revolution, but I’m happy to be recognized for my purchasing power, one free thumb drive at a time.—L.B.

Photos courtesy Leslie Bradshaw. View Bradshaw's complete BlogHer 2009 Flickr set, including images from her visit to the Quaker Oats booth (shown above) and free conference swag.

July 30, 2009

Go Stagg!

Amos Alonzo Stagg and his Monsters of the Midway

It's not quite tailgating season, but UChiBLOGo editors and Phoenix phanatix (hat tip to the Chicago Maroon's Tim Murphy, AB'09) are gearing up for this autumn's sweep of touchdowns thanks to new buzz about the Maroons' most famous coach: Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Today Sporting News ranked the football pioneer 40th on its list of the 50 greatest coaches of all time, and earlier this month Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel dedicated a column to his picks for all-time coaching legends. Of Stagg—the leader of the original "Monsters of the Midway" during Chicago's football heyday—and Pop Warner, Mandel writes: "As the sport's unofficial founding fathers, they're unquestionably legends."

We dug through our archives for Stagg stories and trolled the Web for fun UChicago football write-ups and photos to satisfy your pigskin fever. Here's to "the old man" and a winning fall season!


July 31, 2009

Phoenix Pix: July 27-31, 2009

Art Afternoons at the Smart Museum

Children create shape sculptures as part of the Smart Museum's free "Art Afternoons" program.

Photo by Erin L. Briggs, AM'09.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

About July 2009

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in July 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2009 is the previous archive.

August 2009 is the next archive.

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

Powered by
Movable Type 3.31