October madness: Too much, too much

This is madness! Chicago Ideas Week. Open House Chicago. Chicago Humanities Festival. Chicago International Film Festival. SOFA Chicago. The Internet Cat Video Film Festival.*

How can all these fabulous activities be happening in one month? There are at least five or six other months in Chicago when timid tourists would not have to worry about snow, ice and temps below freezing. Why is all this stuff smashed into one month?

I tried but didn’t partake of everything. Here are a few things I liked recently; some weren’t even part of October Madness.

Walking the Mies staircase

At the Arts Club of Chicago, I walked up and down the iconic Mies staircase. I held my breath and appreciated every step. That was a special experience for an architecture aficionado. I attended a UIC event introducing the new dean of architecture, design and the arts. (I’m writing about that for Gapers Block, and here’s the link to that story.) The Arts Club was one of the Open House Chicago locations. (You can see an image of the staircase on the Arts Club’s Wikipedia page.)

A.T. Kearney’s Chicago office, where I worked for 20+ years, has a similar “floating staircase” linking the firm’s original four floors. I remember occasionally being able to watch the workers install the cables and stairs when it was being constructed in 1992. It is a stunning staircase and certainly the highlight of the firm’s beautifully designed office. It was meant to create spaces for casual and random meetings and enhance socializing among consultants. I didn’t realize at the time that the architect was surely influenced by the Mies design.

Jumping into The Pit at the Chicago Board of Trade

Pocket Guide to Hell tours performed a sterling reenactment of a scene from Frank Norris’ novel The Pit about commodities traders in Chicago in 1898. I’ve been gobbling up the novel on my Kindle in preparation. The performance was a 45-minute scene with costumed traders, authentic props, music and play-by-play announcing by Alex Keefe from WBEZ and two color commentators.  Bertolt Brecht even made an appearance to explain his interest in Chicago commodities trading and why he never finished that play. I previewed this in Gapers Block this week.

Hannah Arendt: A film made for discussion

Eichmann_in_Jerusalem_book_coverThe 2012 German film, Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, just finished a two-week run at the Siskel Film Center. Barbara Sukowa does a superb job portraying political theorist/philosopher Arendt in this docudrama. My book group had an intense discussion last year about Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which the film focuses on. Arendt asked The New Yorker to assign her to cover the 1961 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, captured in Argentina and taken to Israel for trial as a war criminal. Her coverage appeared in a series of articles in the magazine and then was adapted with minor changes for the 1963 book. The film uses actual trial footage of the defendant in his glass cage, the prosecutor and some of the witnesses along with Sukowa as Arendt viewing and reporting on the trial. (The image is the cover of the first edition.)

Her writing developed the concept of the “banality of evil.” She grievously offended much of the American Jewish community by describing Eichmann as an ordinary man, a bureaucrat concerned most with his own advancement, with no personal motives or imagination; he was following orders—the Nuremberg defense. He was banal, not even sinister, and incapable of thinking, she wrote. (Does that mean we are all capable of such horrendous acts?) A brief comment on the Jewish Councils ignited further controversy. She described a group of Jewish leaders who apparently were trying to work in the best interests of local Jews, but in effect collaborating with the Nazis.

The reaction to Arendt’s coverage, and her reaction to that, is the crux of the story. The film isn’t exactly subtle, but it poses some important questions. Questions that deserve discussion.

Wish I was in New York….

If I was in New York this month, I would be sure to see The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, showing at the New York Historical Society. The show presents more than 100 works from the original show in one long gallery. Some of the famous European pieces are included, such as Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) and Matisse’s Fauvist Blue Nude. A New York Times review describes how the American work on one wall seems to be very conservative in comparison to the more explosive nature of the Europeans’ on the opposite side. The show runs until February 23, so maybe I will see it after all. Just not in October.



* Really. A festival of cat videos. The first Internet Cat Video Film Festival was a smash hit when the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis inaugurated it last year. Thousands of people came to sit outside and watch cat videos for hours. The Chicago version was held October 19 at the Irish Heritage Center; a $10 ticket bought you an hour of cat videos. Much as I love kitties, I didn’t go. And I don’t have cats because I have allergies.