Postcards from Chicago

For years, I’ve been searching for a Chicago flag patch for Kike. The white bar in the middle, flanked by two celestial bars and four crimson stars, flies everywhere in the Windy City (so, literally). Every souvenir shop, Etsy boutiques – nowhere – has this token that he collects from the far-flung African countries he works in or the other soldiers he encounters.

So, when he asked me to find one for the fourth summer running, I tried again, hopeful that I’d get lucky. My bags are packed and his birthday gift wrapped up – it’s just not the patch he asked for. Still, Chicago’s most prominent colors are always the Cubbie Blue up in Wrigleyville, the white caps on Lake Michgan and the red of traffic lights lit up all over downtown. Here’s my attempt to get Chicago framed using those colors.

The Way to Really Fly.

The L

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Seville Snapshots: Tourist Season

Now that it’s August, tourist season is in full spring in all of Spain. Most professions enjoy 30 days’ vacation, most often given during the eight month of the year. Unemployment temporarily dips as resorts brace for the huge wave of tourists looking to relax, eat and spend their soon-to-be-naught bonuses, most often on the beach.

For a place like Seville that relies on tourism, the season begins well before the heavy wooden floats are pulled out from dusty churches for Holy Week processions. Lending to Seville’s climate, springtime and its festivals and orange blossoms make it a popular destination.

I took this picture while walking to meet friends of mine who were visiting from London, Dave and Melissa. The weather was already well past comfortable, so we stuck to lots of (alcoholic) fluids, avoiding the harsh summer hours and ducking between buildings in El Centro as much as we could. We were surrounded by scores of other camera-carrying tourists, and I let myself be considered part of that group as I looked for new angles in Plaza del Triunfo.

Love taking shots? Been to Seville or Spain? I’m looking for travelers with a good eye to capture beautiful Spain and contribute to my weekly Snapshots section. Send your photos to sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name and a short description of the photo and look to be featured here!

Saturday in the Park: NYC’s Central Park

It took me 27 years to get to the Center of the World.

I came close on my first trip abroad, reaching Delphi’s “Belly Button of the World” by tourist bus, and Turkey seemed pretty close, too. But after two dozen countries under my belt, New York City finally got crossed off of my list.

I got a surprising number of responses in Spain at the fact that, for all of my other travels, NYC was a place I hadn’t explored. When my mother suggested a Girls (and one boyfriend) trip before a family wedding in Boston, my idea to spend the summer in Chicago was more than booked in my head.

Upon stretching our legs in La Guardia and picking up the key to our AirBnB apartment in Murray Hill, we had one destination – Central Park. I screwed my long-distance lens on and starting snapping away…at people.

Jugglers, breakdancers, lovers locking lips and fingers. I barely saw anything else but the people in Central Park.

Where’s your favorite spot to people watch?

Places with Encanto: Casa Hernanz Alpargateria

Calle de Toledo stretches from Madrid’s crowning Plaza Mayor all the way down a hill past La Latina’s churches and bars to the Glorieta de Toledo, where I first spent the night a weekend in Madrid. Alvaro and I hiked up and down that weekend as he took me to his favorite places for a caña-tapa.

I’ve spent countless days around the Plaza Mayor, snacking on bocadillos de calamares, browsing souvenir shops. In the quest to spend a few hours before the Novio came to meet me in Madrid, I climbed up Calle de Toledo, on my way to Mercado San Anton in Chueca. Remembering an article about shopping in Madrid, I was delighted to stumble across a Madrid institution, Casa Hernánz.

Wedged into a small workshop space just a block of Plaza Mayor, I peered in the windows showcasing the dozens of raffia-soled shoes, a popular folk style called espadrilles or alpargatas. Standing on my toes, I found a pair of beige ankle-strap sandals with a broad pink strap across the toes.

“You should take a picture to show at the mostrador,” the black-clad woman behind me said to her daughter. “This line is so long, you won’t even remember the style you want by the time you’re attended to. My company in line were two Americans with suitcases, a Crocs-wearing priest and an endless array of older madrileñas. I sighed and pulled out my smartphone, settling in for what was sure to be as long a wait as the bank.

The line inched along. To pass the time, I looked into the display windows immediately next to door which were lined with a rainbow of linos, the thin thread that used for the superior part of the shoe. The soles are made of esparto, a coarse, vegetable thread that is woven together and glued onto another thin rubber sole. The lino is then hand-sewn onto the sole, called the plantilla. This type of shoe is typical in many regional costumes, come in colors as diverse as salmon or turquoise, and are often made with ribbons that lace up the calf. I myself swear by them during the Feria, as they keep my feet cool during the long nights of dancing.

As I inched closer to the shop doors, the woman behind me tried sneaking in to sit on a long wooden bench opposite the counter, which stretched from one end of the workshop to the other. The priest put up his hand, a look of anger on his face. “Senora, I’ve been waiting in line all morning. Do. Not. Pass.”

She shrunk away, probably clutching a rosary, and cursed the priest. I couldn’t help but laugh. Now that I was within the door, straddling the hot street and the even hotter workshop, I was surrounded by shoes, fabrics and the plantillas, stuffed into bookshelves behind the counter. Some were bare, while others, separated according to size, already had the fabric attached. Shoes climbed up the wall, from finger-length baby sizes and on up. Even more styles than I’d seen outside were showcased in wire cases, and miles of different types of rope snaked across the counter. An old fashioned phone called in special orders por encargo and a woman attended to them, scribbling notes and measuring soles for whoever was on the other end of the line.

The priest was there for new alpargatas in a simple black style (good, throw those Crocs away, Padre!) and a white twisting cord for his robe. The two Americans opted for simple lace-up styles in royal blue, and I suddenly had Rosary Lady pushing me to the end of the counter.

The lady on the other side of the mostrador smirked at me. “Que querías?” I fumbled for the words, wishing I had snapped a shot of the sandals I’d been eyeing. I pointed to the baby shoes just behind me. “Um, my friend has a baby. He’s small. I want some of the shoes for him,” I managed.

“Well, how big is he? How old?” I can barely remember my own shoe size in Spanish, let alone Baby Jack’s, who I had never met. I got him Cubby Blue to make his parents happy and motioned to a white pair of strappy heels for my sister. When it came time to explain the ones I liked, she knew immediately and went to fetch them.

Phew.

In the end, my wide feet wouldn’t make it into the shoe, and I knew I couldn’t cram anything more into my bag. Between my sister’s tacones and little Jack’s shoes, I paid a mere 34€  - far less than the priest and his miles of cordón!

Casa Hernanz is located on Calle de Toledo, numbers 18-20, nestled just next to the sprawling Plaza Mayor. Hours are 9:00am -1:30pm and 4:30 – 8:00pm Monday through Friday, and Saturdays 10am – 2:00pm. Lines can get long, so be sure to arrive early. Products and services can be consulted on Casa Hernanz’s website.

I’m looking for ideas for two new categories for Sunshine and Siestas – Typical Espaneesh (think, the mid morning cafelito, carrito de compras or finquillo) and Places with Encanto. If you’ve got a place to suggest or are interested in guest blogging about it, leave me a message in the comments, or write me at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail . com.

My Chicago Soundtrack

I am a Chicago girl, born and bred. I love my all-beef Kosher hot dogs, had a Chicago Bulls three-peat T-shirt, sport a Jewel-Osco card in my wallet. Leaving the Windy City was a choice that almost never came to be, with a job offer on the table and plenty of young friends convincing me that my life was not in Spain.

But I chose to board the plane and to take my Chicago roots with me to Spain, preaching the Cubbie way of life and claiming that there are lakes the look like oceans in the middle of the Midwest. As Spain became more and more like home, I became increasingly proud of where my parents, grandparents and I come from.

Now that I’m back in Chicago for the month of August, every trip to the City of Broad Shoulders has my heart pumping out the songs that bring me back to the countless summers, bitter cold winter afternoons and rides along the rails of the L. Songs that remind me of seeing punk rock shows at the Metro, of childhood shopping trips on State, of what makes this city so damn great. Wikipedia lists over 400 songs about Chicago, and while “My Kind of Town” and “Sweet Home Chicago” would be obvious choices, mine are a little unexpected (and seriously throwback to my love of punk rock days. Lucky Boys Confusion, Fall Out Boy and The Dog and Everything CDs are still in my car!)

Kanye West – Homecoming

While I can’t say Kanye, like R. Kelly, is a favorite Chicago musician, this song echoes through my brain every time I fly in over Lake Michigan and the skyline, which stretches further than my window can hold.

Allister – Somewhere Down on Fullerton

Why I’ve never taken a madcap dash around Chicago like Allister does, this song was the first I ever crowdsurfed to at a show at House of Blues with my friend Amanda. It was her first visit to Chicago, just after our freshman year of college, and I remember the rush of feeling like I was going to get dropped while getting groped. I still have the shirt I bought that  night to commemorate a Chicago band playing to a Chicago crowd as only a great Chicago venue can allow.

Arranmore – Southside Irish

My family first came to America during the mass wave of immigration that gives America its heritage as the Land of the Free. Settling in Chicago, my Irish great-grandfather, who had owned a still-operational woolen mill in Foxford, County Mayo, worked as a tailor. I feel most proud of my Irish heritage, even though I’ve got Scottish, Welsh and German roots. As a kid, I participated in Irish parades around Chicagoland, so this Saint Paddy’s Day anthem reminds me of those mornings, the wind biting my pink cheeks, as we marched through the streets in the name of the Emerald Isle.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive

There have been countless times where I’ve speed down one of Chicago’s grandest avenues, Lake Shore Drive, as twilight was falling. Window open, wind on my face and the lights of the Loop in the rear-view mirror, those are the nights where summer is at its peak and I remember how fun being young is. This song, from the time when my parents were young, brings back summer memories of the Oak Street beach, drinks at Castaways and belting out whatever’s one the radio with girlfriends.

Alkaline Trio – I’m Dying Tomorrow 

I can’t say I remember who introduced me to the local band Alkaline Trio, but I love him for it. Among my favorites is “I’m Dying Tomorrow,” which ask the age-old question: Do I have any regrets?

The Loving Spoonful – Hot Town, Summer in the City

Now that I’ve made living in Spain a reality, I usually only get summers in Chicago. Fine by me, as the city is replete with festivals, concerts and events that play to its patchwork heritage – and one of the things I love best about it. What I love about this song is that it talks about the balance between night and day in Chicago, no unlike a summer in Seville: the days are long and scorching, while the nighttime relief is when everyone comes out to play. This city feels young.

Fall Out Boy – Chicago is So Two Years Ago

The first time I ever heard this song, I was packing up my dorm room freshman year to go home for the summer. “There’s a Light on in Chicago, and I know I should be home,” still rings true whenever I arrive home after a Spanish sojourn. Being able to come back to the place where I grew up helps keep me grounded when I’m away, knowing that there’s always a Portillo’s around the corner and that the Cubbies have still not won the World Series. Ahhh, home.

Hey, Chicago, whaddya say (Go, Cubs, Go was not in my list; too obvious)! What would be on your Chicago soundtrack? Leave me a message in the comments, or leave me a birthday note since I turn 27 today!

The Hardest Goodbye

Morgan almost never became our family dog. Nancy had her heart set on a black and brown furball that kept running into the sides of the cardboard box the half a dozen shih tzu puppies had been placed in. It was a dark evening outside of Rockford, Illinois, and my sister and I had finally convinced my parents to do the unthinkable: buy us a dog.

Nancy’s heart melted when we presented the puppy who would become a fifth member of our family: a floppy runt we would call Morgan.

Nearly 17 years later, my mom is sitting on the bed, staring off into space. I popped my head into her bedroom and ask if she’s ok. “Yeah…” she replies, voice wavering. “I’m just going to miss the sound of her little paws on the linoleum.”

Three hours later, we carried Morgan’s old lady body on her death march towards the car. Our first family dog was going to the Puppy Heaven in the sky, where she could run with all of her doggie buddies on a Cheerio-filled stomach.

Grow thick anodyne flowers

The anticipation of Christmas has always gotten to my sister, Margaret, and me. We discovered all of Nancy’s hiding places for our American Girl Doll gear before the ages of 10 and 7, respectively, and it didn’t take us long to find the correlation between Santa’s handwriting and our own mother’s. When something was out of stock, we got a Sunday Saver clipping of it in a box, making Christmas a week-long event.

There was no baby puppy waiting under Nancy’s prized Christmas Tree when the clock struck 7a.m. and Don’s bacon was already frying. Morgan would not be delivered until she’d been six weeks with her mother, making her arrival date December 28th, 1995.

Morgie Baby wasn’t the typical dog who chewed on your shoes and ran to greet you at the door: nothing was more important to her than her walks and her naps. She was so small, she could jump up on my dad’s hip while she was still a puppy and stake her claim. We had lots of ups and downs – failing puppy kindergarten, forgetting where to go to the toilet – and my mother even threatened to give her away when we would “forget” to walk her.

—–

“Morgie, I never wanted to give you away, don’t listen to your sister.” My mom’s head was right next to Morgan’s. The vet had just given her the medicine that would put her half to sleep, giving us some time to say goodbye. We’d spent the morning talking about Morgan memories as if we were pulling the machine’s plug on a loved one.

Not a week before, my mom had called me while at camp to tell me that she and my dad had made the decision to let her go. At nearly 17, she was blind, deaf and really confused, spending the entire day next to her food bowl so she wouldn’t get stepped on. My mom gingerly picked her up so I could learn how to properly hold her and pet her, and they’d long given up taking her for walks, instead just cleaning up after her messes in the house.

—–

Morgan always sensed I was leaving when she bumped into my luggage, strategically placed as close to the front door as possible. The pre-flight routine was always the same: “Ok, Morgie, gimme a kiss!” Morgan would sniff my cheek and then readjust on her ratty pillow, something that came with us from Rockford and had a place on the couch where the midmorning sun would reach her. It’s like she knew, and I always had the fear of never seeing her again creep into my heart. Even coaxing from family members never yielded so much as a single puppy kiss.

It’s alright; I’ve always been her least favorite.

—–

As the vet came in to administer the shot that would stop her little puppy heart, I cried. Saying goodbye to Morgan was something I’d become accustomed to during the five years I’d leave on a flight. In a way, I felt like this would put to rest my feelings of anxiety about going away for so long, even as I watch my family get older. Stoic has never been my thing, so we all were teary as the vet let us have ten minutes with her before collecting her little body.

“Morgan, now you’re up running with Teddy and your cousin Scooter and Quinceman in Doggy Heaven,” my mom cooed as she stroked her paws, something Morgan hated. It got me thinking about my own slice of Heaven and what might be on the other side. Red velvet cupcakes, for sure, and my dad’s potato salad.

—–

A week later, we’re still getting used to not having Morgan around. I would normally walk in right away and open the living room door to let her out; there’s no one using the backyard toilet anymore. My mom finally tossed out her ratty pillow that we brought with us from our house in Rockford, not being able to look at it anymore. Her food bowls are packed up and stowed away in the back of a closet.

We went to my grandparent’s house after we put her down. My cousins’ dog, Scooter, had to be put down earlier in the year, too, and my grandma told us that Aunt Doreen was still torn up about it.

“Well, we’re going to get another dog,” my mom affirmed, “Probably another shih tzu.” Having taught English for the last five years, I knew that using “going to” in the future was much more probable than using “will.”

I congratulated her on that usage and added, “She could never be as great as Morgan, but we’ll love her all the same.” Plus, we’ve got a whole lot of cans of wet dog food to go through.

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