Monday, July 10, 2006

July 4th weekend in Chicago

This year, the Fourth of July fell on Tuesday, and we decided to spend the long weekend in Chicago, visiting our friends: Magda Fehema and Tawfik Sharkasi. They are very dear friends, and we hadn't seen them since they moved back to Chicago. The kids and I got to Ft. Wayne on Friday, picked up Hannu and continued on Saturday. Chicago is a nice city, very nice in fact. But what made it especially nice for us was really the company of M&T. They'd lived in Chicago before coming to Columbus in the early 90's, then Egypt for a few years, then France, and now back. They have two children: Nahil, works and lives in the DC area. Adam just got his BS in Mech. Eng. at Virginia Tech, and planning on continuing for an MS degree.

M&T are very pleasantly engaging, their company is enriching and stress free. Tawfik is VP for Research & Development at Wrigley, and a food scientist by training. I learned a lot about food from him, as it relates to my field of materials science. Prepared foods are basically "engineered materials," so we always have interesting cross-disciplinary conversations, often yielding "exotic" examples for my junior phase transformations class. The food lecture seems to "stick" to my students memory better than anything else in that class! lol lol

Magda, on the other hand, is the co-founder of the Tibra Foundation. She is very caring and very active in her community. She volunteers and participates in activities for different causes. Recently, she has been teaching immigrants, Somalis and Hispanics I believe. She is also creative and artistic, like her brother Abdelmutalib, and Tawfik who designed the Libyana logo. In short, Magda is a wonderful, caring, and loving person—Moody is lucky to have her for a Godmother.

Our hosts also have a good taste in music, and they usually have something interesting to share. This time, it was a set of CDs featuring Sufi music and poetry-song improvisations by al-Kindi Ensemble of a Syrian band of musicians and singers, including a Sheikh Habboush and a French artist named Julian Weis. This is a fantastic double CD set, both musically and poetically. You know, those Sufi guys got that "don't take things literally" cover, so they can get away with saying all kinds of taboos in poetry-- I mean, anything!

We spent all of our time in downtown Chicago, got to walk to some of the city's points of interest, and took lots of pictures! Some highlights are shown here, and if you click on any image, you'll get to the full set, where you can pick and see larger copies. To start with, here is a view from M&T's apartment, which overlooks Navy Pier and the harbor on Lake Michigan. All the pictures below were taken within walking distance from here.

They call it "the Bean" for its shape, but to me it looks like a drop of mercury. The Millenium Park structure captures part of the city skyline in the left image, and if you hide the bottom of the image (everything from my head down) it looks like the city is inside a bubble. From the side, it looks more like a kidney bean lying on its clefted belly. I was especially impressed by the engineering of the whole reflective surface-- a completely seamless mirror, even on close examination.

At the Millenium Park, they also have two huge towers facing each other, and spraying water on ecstatic kids gathered underneath. The tower displays Chicago faces that stare and blink, smile... then pucker up and spew water out of their mouths. The kids (and some grownups) loved it! On the right of this picture is Moody, Tala in the center, running away frantically from the water spray.

A famous section of downtown Chicago is a stretch of Michigan Avenue called the Magnificent Mile, from the Chicago River to Lake Michigan. The name was coined in a major rebuilding campaign of the city back in the late 40's. Overlooking Wrigley Square on Michigan Avenue, there is the famous buildings of Wrigley, the white one on the left, and the Chicago Tribune on the right in the above picture. Both were actually built in the 1920's. Wrigley, of chewing gum fame, is a name that has a strong association with the city, including its baseball tradition at Wrigley Field.

On the face of the Tribune building there is an interesting collection of "implants," you might say. In the stones of the building there are lots of small inlaid pieces, brought from famous structures all around the world, including the Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, even the World Trade Center, and... there is a little piece of marble from the city of Libda (Leptis Magna) in Libya. This city, about 60 miles east of Tripoli on the Med, is the birth place of Septimus Severus, who grew up there, then moved to Rome, became a Roman Empiror ca. 200 AD, and died in York, England.

Since we were staying downtown, we had no worries about driving or parking. We just walked everywhere, then we walked everwhere else! When we went to the Magnificent Mile, it was more like the magnificent eight miles! We walked a lot, but thanks to Hana's forethought, we took the wagon with us. As you can see from the pictures, it was not only handy but downright cozy at times!

The Cultural Center is a beautiful old building that's open freely to the public, and offering art exhibits, music shows, majestic ball rooms for holding functions, etc. For example, the city's Arab American Council held a function in the room with the high Tiffany stained-glass dome. We saw an auto-art exhibit that was interesting. We also saw a nice exhibit of wild looking clothes for creatures you might meet on Star Wars or some such place. Still, really interesting stuff. Of course, there was the one exhibit that showed a little too much culture for kids, if you know what I mean. I knew the risk when we entered the room and saw a flat TV on a wall, displaying a video of a woman in her underwear, peeling a layer of transparent plastic off her skin, which made her look like she was peeling off her own skin. By the end of the loop around that room, I was kinda racing the kids past some of the stuff on the walls. Fortunately, and quite surprisingly, neither of the kids asked any thing. My worst fear was reverberating in my head: "What's that, Dad?" I just moved them faster after Hana and Magda busted out laughing behind us. Man, that was close! Too close! What was it, you ask? If you must know, I'd say I didn't read the name of that work, but I imagine it was something totally Sufi!

Chicago has a lot of interesting political history and a rich ethnic makeup. For example, when Pope John Paul visited Chicago, I heard it is the largest "Polish city" in the world, with a larger Polish community than any city in Poland itself! It is also the place where the building in the left picture used to house the Medinah Temple of the Nation of Islam organization. Now that building is a Bloomingdale department store. Life goes on. It reminds me of the old Syria Mosque building (that used to be?) in Pittsburgh, which was a theater when I lived there, both buildings displaying a decorative Islamic/Arabic saying, "la ghalib illa Allah" repeated. It means, "No conquerer but Allah," as opposed to Bloomingdale's, you see! The picture on the right is just some stately looking dudes in town, dressed in proper attire... They could also be a bunch of lonely Canadians! (H: Actually, they were in front of the Freedom Museum, in Michigan Ave., inviting passersby to visit the museum.)

On Monday night we caught the fireworks on the lake from a 2nd floor terrace. Seen here is Saida, a friend and neighbor of M&T, living in the same building. She is Moroccan-American, and a woman about town, active in a civic body that advises the mayor on diversity. She and Magda met at an Arab American Council function in the Tiffany domed room above, before they discovered they lived in the same vertical neghborhood. Saida kindly took the Kids one evening, so Magda and Tawfik could treat us to a fantastic dinner at one of Chicago's fusion cuisine restaurants. What a friend.

Our friends did not make couscous, no bazeen, and no macroona. They didn't slaughter any unsuspecting lambs in our honor, noooooo. But they did take us to a Thai-Hawaiian fusion restaurant. My appetizer foamed! I thought to myself, "I need a blindfold." lol lol. I think all the rest of the food was from this planet, though. Actually, the foam was a white chocolate emulsion, but the entire meal was really out of this world. Thank you, Magda and Tawfik. Thank you, Saida.

Ironically, we spent most of July 4th on the highway, driving back all the way to Columbus with a little break in Ft. Wayne. It was the day to unwind happily. Good times were had by all. Even the kids were quite relaxed and happy for several days. It was good for them to see Americans like them on the 4th of July.

1 comment:

  1. the food eaten here in the us is exactly that...engineered materials!