June 29, 2009

Andersonville Dalecarlian Horse - Chicago, IL

For years I have walked past a large painted sculpture of a horse in Andersonville and never had the slightest clue what it meant. But thanks to a very nice woman at the Swedish American Museum gift shop, I now know.

Throughout the shop and the museum, I had seen small, painted wooden horses. Curious, I asked her what they meant. She told me the Dalecarlian Horse (or Dalahäst in Swedish) was carved by Swedish men during the winter to pass the time. When they had finished, they would paint them bright colors and give them to the children to play with. Eventually, they become the national toy and a symbol for Sweden.

After Anna and I left the museum and started walking up the street for coffee, I saw the giant Dalecarlian Horse on the sidewalk. I was shocked! I had always known the statue was there, but like so many things I had simply forgotten about it and let my curiosity about its meaning dwindle away until it was nothing more than the occasional idle musing. Now, I finally understood what the horse on the corner meant. Like the Swedish flag on the water tower, it was a tribute to the heritage of Andersonville immigrants.

I've taken the image of the Dalecarlian Horse has a reminder not to let questions go unasked. Even if they may seem silly or inconsiquential, there may be an interesting story I would never know if I didn't bother to ask.

On a side note, I have since learned that while this is a large Dalecarlian horse it is not the largest. The world's largest Dalecarlian horse is actually made of concrete, not wood, and located in Avesta Municipality, Sweden. It is 13 meters (over 42 feet) tall and weighs 67 tons.


June 26, 2009

Swedish American Museum - Chicago, IL

I've done it again! I'm traveling too much and too fast for the blog to keep up! I'm currently in Katy, Texas with my friend Anna visiting her family, but still have so much more to tell about our time in Chicago. So I'll eventually get to our current adventures. In the mean time, I'll tell you a little more about our visit to the Windy City. (Fun fact: The windy city nickname has nothing to do with the weather, it is actually a reference to the blowhard politicians.)

When I lived in the Andersonville neighborhood, I used to walk by the Swedish American Museum several times a day but I never stopped to visit it. I always planned to eventually go inside, but after so many times I just kept walking past and sort of forgot it was there. Like the Swedish flag painted on the water tower or any number of roadside attractions, you get so used to seeing them everyday you just seem to stop seeing them. But on this visit, I was a tourist and after a lovely meal at Ann Sather, Anna and I decided to finally see the museum.

As we stepped out of the heat and into the cool museum, we were promptly shaken down by a little old lady with a think Swedish accent. She reminded us they requested donations. We asked if we could use a debit card since neither of us had any cash handy, but in a very stern yet grandmotherly voice she reminded us that the museum requested "donations." So our adventure began after we went to the ATM across the street and gave the little only lady our "donations."

The first floor features the special exhibit "Roundtrip: New York-Gotland" by Peter Åström, a Swedish-born artist who has been living in New York since the mid 1970s. According to the museum website, the exhibit "depicts his Swedish and American locations and lifestyles in the bustling city to the natural countryside." Truthfully, we didn't get it. I thought the paintings looked like they were done by a drunk five-year-old. Anna couldn't figure out why a crude drawing of a duck cost four figures. So we quickly moved on to the second floor, which was about Swedish immigration to Chicago and the prominent Swedes who helped to make the city, the country and the world great.

The exhibit begins by telling the story of Swedish immigration. People certainly didn't leave their homes to cross an ocean - they were driven there by hardship, crop failures and promises of a better life or at least a more fruitful struggle. The displays continue and follow the immigrants journey across the sea, the place they craved for themselves in American society, the traditions and heritage they maintained despite their diaspora and the amazing Swedes who changed Chicago, the country and the world. It would be impossible for me to tell every story I leaned in my visit or even convey even the smallest amount of knowledge I gained. There was simply too much. Instead I will offer the one story that moved me the most and encourage you to pay a visit to the museum yourself, should you ever get a chance.

The most fascinating exhibit was the room dedicated to the life of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish humanitarian and diplomat who worked from Hungary to save thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. He was asked to save as many lives as possible. In return, he was granted generous liberty and freedom with how he went about accomplishing his mission - essentially given license to do whatever it took such as bribing an official - to save lives. He issued "protective passports" to Jews in the country, though they were not legal the documents looked official and saved many from being sent to death camps. He rented 32 buildings, claiming they were covered by diplomatic immunity, and hid almost 10,000 people within them. Once, he even saved dozens of Jews already on a train headed for Auschwitz by handing out the protective passports while armed Nazis looked on, dumbfounded by his determination and bravado.

Though Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of lives, he was detained by the Soviet Union and never seen again. It is unclear when he actually died. The exhibit in the Swedish American Museum does not mention the controversy regarding his death year, whether it was in 1945 or in a Russian prison in 1957, only his great works. I was amazed reading the plaques in his honor and the numerous stories of his heroic acheivements. If you ever have an opportunity to visit the museum, I cannot encourage you enough to stop in this room and take your time examining all you can about this extraordinary Swedish man.

After a somber moment of reflection, Anna and I took the elevator up to the third floor to look at the children's museum. We considered making a visit but realized when we saw it that despite our child-like hearts, we were definitely too old to play there. Instead, we finished off our tour with a visit to the gift shop so we could buy our own Swedish toys.

It was a wonderful visit to a wonderful museum. My only regret is that I never went sooner, perhaps when I was living only a few steps away and might have been able to make more visits.


June 24, 2009

Guest Post at May's Machete

Today, I am guest posting on May's Machete! Read my post "Traveling America in Absence of American Values," where I discuss my philosophy of cultural relativism when it comes to being an educated vagabond traveling the country.

For those unfamiliar with May's Machete, it is written by the beautiful and brilliant May who shares her thoughts on the world and her personal life. (Fair warning: While my post doesn't contain anything naughty, some of May's posts do and are for adult audiences. You have been warned.) In her own words, she is "a feminist, geek, book-nerd, bisexual, ex-Baptist, pagan, vegetarian, Kansas City-raised cutie pie who's almost too darn smart for her own good." In my words she is a geeky goddess who deigns to bless us with her wisdom through the interwebs.

So after you read my guest post on May's Machete, stick around if you are eighteen years old or over to read the brilliance that is May!


June 22, 2009

Ann Sather Andersonville Restaurant - Chicago, IL

Whenever I go to Chicago, there is one and only one restaurant I must eat at - Ann Sather. It is the best breakfast/brunch restaurant in the city of Chicago and if anyone tells you otherwise then they are dirty, dirty liars.

Ann Sather is a Swedish restaurant founded over 60 years ago in Chicago, known for serving huge portions of the richest, most decadent food you have ever savored. It has four locations around the city, but I always prefer the one in Andersonville for two reasons. First, the neighborhood is known for its Swedish cultural presence so it feels right to go to a Swedish restaurant in that atmosphere. Second, it is MY Ann Sather. I lived in Andersonville and still feel like it is my restaurant in my neighborhood, even if I did move away a year ago.

On my first afternoon in the city, we decided to enjoy a late brunch/early lunch with a trip to the best Ann Sather in the city - my Ann Sather. Normally it would be impossible to decide what to eat - if you are ever in Chicago, I recommend multiple meals there so you can appreciate the full range of their menu. There are real Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberries, French Toast, Omelets, etc. and all of massive proportions. Seriously, I have never seen someone actually finish a meal at Ann Sather.

Anna and I settled on the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict (which were amazing!) but there is one item you simply must order if you eat at Ann Sather - the cinnamon rolls. They are the greatest cinnamon rolls ever tasted, ever baked, ever conceived of being baked! Two are in an order and each one is bigger than my fist. Order them as a meal, as a side, a la carte - whatever! Just make sure you taste the greatest cinammon roll you will ever have at Ann Sather Andersonville Restaurant in Chicago.


June 20, 2009

Chicago Midway International Airport - Chicago, IL

Friday, I boarded a direct flight from Kansas City International Airport to Midway Airport in Chicago at 5pm. I arrived almost five hours later. Why, you ask? How did a flight that shouldn't take more than an hour last that long?

At first everything seemed normal. I was settled in with my seat belt fastened, my tray in its upright and locked position. I was enthusiastically reading my copy of Dave Egger's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," which I am happy to say is heartbreaking, very funny and quite possibly genius (though I don't think it has been such a work of genius that I have staggered.) Then suddenly, the captain announced we were landed in St. Louis. I checked the time and it was 6:20pm. Yes, we should be landing right about now. But not in St. Louis. Why the hell are we in St. Louis.

People began frantically calling their loved one's from the airstrip to report this strange turn of events. But we had no answers. We were told the plane was refueling. But what does that mean? Is there something wrong with the plane? How could we run out of fuel? Why the HELL are we in St. Louis? Luckily, the very kind people at Southwest Airlines let us off the plane to get food. Well, other people got food. I quickly found the airport smoking lounge and began filling my lungs with that sweet, sweet nicotine as quickly as possible.

I made friends with some fellow wayward travelers and found some answers. Apparently, bad weather in Chicago had diverted a number of flights to this airport. I was among the lucky ones who were not missing their connecting flights. I met a speech therapist who was flying to Chicago to help plan a pregnant friend's baby shower. She had only moved to Kansas City a little while ago, to join her boyfriend after four months of long distance courtship. I met the head nurse of a hospital who was going to Chicago to see her daughter who had a futures trading internship. I met a couple who had been enjoying their in-flight drinks a little too much and had since decided they didn't care how long they were stranded in the airport as long as they could buy more liquor.

Then came that joyous announcement - our plane was reboarding! We had been cleared for takeoff! We were finally going to make it to Chicago! When I finally landed in Midway, I checked the time. Given when I had left my house to go to KCI and the time I landed in Chicago, it had taken me a little over seven hours. To drive to Chicago, would have taken eight and a half. So I'm not sure whether I made the best travel arrangements, but I did enjoy the opportunity to sit quietly and enjoy Dave Eggers.

Total Trip Time: 7 hours (including drive to the airport)
Total Distance Traveled: 500 miles
Soundtrack: "I Wanna Be Sedated" The Ramones


June 11, 2009

Road Trip Philosophy - Never Ride the L After Midnight

When I lived in Chicago, I had a love/hate relationship with public transportation. I loved that there was always a way to get around without a car. But it was also inconvinient, dangerous and took a lot longer to get where you were going. Most of these flaws were exacerbated by my own incompitence. There were times I rode an hour on a bus before realizing I was going the wrong way. There was also the time I discovered myself stranded when I learned the Purple Line stops running at a certain time and I would have to pay a ridiculous cab fare to get home.

But one rule I learned for certain: Never ride the L after midnight. For some reason when the clock strikes twelve, the L becomes a very scary place. During the day, criminal activities are largely limited to the illegal gambling games like three card monty - you know, the sort of things that never really hurt anybody and are actually entertaining to watch while you ride. But at night something happens where are the creepy, crazy people of the city seem to find their place on the L! There are the people openly smoking crack and dealing drugs, the skinheads on their way home from a bar (or crossburning, whichever) who decide to shout obscenities, the guy who tries to hit on you to impress his frat brothers not realized he got a little vomit on his Delta Iota Kappa sweatshirt, the underage drunk girls trying to keep their tops up and their miniskirts down, and of course the fatalist schizophrenic foretelling our "Doom!"

Riding the L back in the day with my lovely friend Bess

My worst experience on the L was late at night with my sister who had just come to visit me in Chicago for the first time. We were on the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line when a very inebriated man who probably hadn't washed in a month sat down next to me. I reminded my sister of public transportation rule number one: ignore everyone around you. So we pretended he wasn't there.

After a couple minutes though, a guy across from me kept trying to catch my eye. I finally gave up and made eye contact, then he pointed to the drunk man next to me. The drunk man next to me who was fondly my skirt. The drunk man next to me who having realized he was busted, decided to go for broke and try to fondle my thigh.

Needless to say, I jumped up and grabbed my sister to move us to different seats. A couple minutes later though, I peeked back over to the man to see if he was still there. He was. And he was...pleasuring himself. Needless to say, both my sister and I were permanently traumatized that the man who had been attempting to feel me up only moments ago had now decided to publicly....um, enjoy...himself.

I told you. Never ride the L after midnight. Or else a drunk and possibly homeless man will use you in ways you really wish you didn't know about.


June 10, 2009

Battle Line at Railroad Cut - Independence, Missouri

On my way home from the UN Peace Plaza, I saw this roadside marker and decided to stop. I always love these markers, though my knowledge of Civil War history isn't as good as I wish it were so I don't always understand the context of the markers. Still, I like the concept that I'm standing somewhere that someone else has stood before 200 years ago. I like the idea that a specific spot of geography can be so marked by a historical event that all this time later, maybe I can stand there and be some small part of that history, even if it is just the imprint of my sneakers on the grass.

This is what the marker says: "During the Battle of Independence on October 21 and 22, 1864, this was an unfinished railroad cut. As darkness approached on the 21st, the Confederates advancing from the east stopped here. Union troops withdrew to the Big Blue River during the night. The Confederate divisions of Marmaduke and Shelby and Price's wagon train advanced to Rock Creek and camped. On the 22nd Pleaston's Union cavalry pursued the Confederates through town and were confronted by Marmaduke's division. Fighting continued during the night as the Confederates withdrew to Byram's Ford on the Big Blue River."

Not everyone who has come to see this marker seems to have the same interest in history as I do. Someone was nice enough to graffiti "BARF" on the side with an arrow pointing away. I'm not quite sure what they meant by it. Maybe during a wild night out, someone pulled over by this spot and while their inebriated friend emptied the contents of his stomach and another friend was kind enough to alert us of this incident with graffiti. Or maybe some kid thought he was clever to deface a historical marker. Ooo, how punk!

Click here to see more photos!

Total Travel Distance: 18 miles
Total Trip Time: 30 minutes
Soundtrack: "I Bificus" Bif Naked


June 9, 2009

U.N. Peace Plaza - Indpendence, MO

Almost 64 years ago this month, President Truman returned to his hometown of Independence, Missouri to announced that the United States had signed the United Nations Charter. In honor of that event in American and world history, the United Nations Association of Greater Kansas City along with numerous supporters created the U.N. Peace Plaza.

Today, the site is often overshadowed by the nearby the Community of Christ Temple (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons). Their temple includes a giant spiral tower that often draws the eye away from the more modest Peace Plaza, but we will address their grandious form of faith in a later post.

The focal point is the bronze statue of a woman of a woman releasing a dove from her fingertips - the figure is absolutely lovely. The way she strains upwards and arches her back with her arms outstreached shows a complete openness, willingness and trustingness. To me that is the very image of peace: a world where a young woman is free to safely expand herself without worrying what might strike back. It is a graceful figure, masterfully designed and executed with a true artistic vision of what peace really means.

She stands on a dome, representing how the Earth looks from outer space. Another beautifully symbolic element of the design - that is showing how small and interconnected the world really is, if only we look at it from the right angle. Behind the statue and the dome are three flags representing the United States, the United Nations and the state of Missouri.

Around the altar are benches and bricks engraved with dedications as well as commemorative plaques. It is meant to serve as a meditative garden where people can contemplate "mankind's desire for planetary harmony." I was incredibly moved to discover that this site also serves as a memorial for the Peacekeeping Forces of the United Nations. Unfortunately, I could not stay long to contemplate. The sky was darkening and there was a wicked wind kicking up. Proof mother nature isn't always so peaceful either.

Click here to see more photos!

Total Distance Traveled: 20 miles
Total Trip Time: 45 minutes
Soundtrack: "Middle Cyclone" Neko Case


June 4, 2009

A Vigil for Dr. Tiller in South Park - Lawrence, KS

My travels over the last week have not been happy. On Sunday morning, the wonderful Dr. George Tiller was brutally assassinated in his church. The shock has been slowly fading but my sadness and anger are still strong. That evening, I attended a vigil in Lawrence. I have struggled whether or not to post about these experiences. I have said I would not make this blog an outlet for my personal beliefs - but this tragedy has been overwhelming and it is hard to seperate my grief from those political viewpoints that might generate controversy. So, to my readers, I ask you to understand. This is not an attempt to force any ideology on you, just a woman in mourning.

I met with my co-worker Holly to drive to Lawrence for a vigil. While we drove, we did not really speak. I was busy helping to plan actions for those in mourning, ways to release our collective and individual pains, on my phone while Holly helped to coordinate media responses. It was action that kept me together that day. From the time I woke up until I buckled my seatbelt I had been constantly typing at a keyboard, furiously trying to keep multiple websites flowing with information and trying to help others find answers. I still have no answers for myself.

We arrived in South Park of Lawrence and immediately set to work. Passing out candles and knotting white ribbons of rememberence around our forearms. We talked, struggling to find topics that would distract us from what had brought us together that night. At 8pm, around two hundred people had gathered to mourn the murder of Dr. Tiller.

Some spoke about him as a man, others about his work as a doctor and still others spoke about his legacy that inspired them to action. We quietly sang, we quietly cried, we quietly prayed and then at 8:45 we gave us searching for ways to express ourselves and stood for a moment of silence.

South Park was beautiful that night. That has become part of that tragedy. Like those faces of men, women and children of all ages and races lit by vigil candles, I will always remember standing in South Park that night. As the dark slowly came and our hearts ached with sadness.

Total Travel Time: 3.5 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 70 miles
Soundtrack: "We are a peaceful angry people and we are singing for our lives."