About the Town in April






By Philip Vidal


This monthly column always ends with the disclaimer “Dates, times, location and availability are subject to change.”

Wow, have things changed, and they keep changing!  A few days before my deadline, I hit the “Delete” key on the entire 2-page draft of my April column, which listed upcoming cultural events around Chicago.   Those events have all been cancelled or postponed.  Even our vocabulary has changed.  A month or so ago if you mentioned “social distancing,” “flatten the curve” or “shelter-in-place,” you would have been met with blank stares.

Like so many, I’ve thought about alternatives to attending events and dining out in restaurants.  I also have contacted friends who are normally socially active and asked what they will be doing.

My first thought was to tackle the dreaded “To Do” list, or the even more repugnant “Honey-Do” list, all those onerous things that need to be done but are inevitably postponed.   Go through the storage lockers? Polish the silver? Take up a hobby? Re-organize my sock drawer?  I don’t think so.

I’m not quite a Luddite, but I am a low-tech type of person.  I decided to pick-up the phone (I have several landlines, no less) and reconnect with friends and family.  No texting.  No emails.  I’ve tried it and it’s very satisfying.


Fellini’s La Doce Vita.


Speaking of low-tech, now is a good time to play some of my vintage (aka 1980s) vinyl or watch a DVD from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers or Federico Fellini boxed sets that I received as a Christmas gifts long ago. 

I have naturally resisted streaming, but that might open up a whole new world (or addiction).  Friends know that I love British history so haveg recommended that I sign-up for Netflix and watch the series “The Crown.”   I’ve never done it, but streaming movies and series on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, sundancenow.com, Vudu, YouTube, and the free WTTW/PBS Video App sounds like an attractive option.  I enjoy seeing movies at the theater, but that’s now not possible.  The Music Box Direct’s slogan is “Bringing the art house to your house.” It’s free for seven days at musicboxfilms.com/musicboxdirect


The Crown.


The Lyric Opera of Chicago, unfortunately, had to cancel its upcoming Ring cycle, but you can get still get your opera fix.  New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, the Paris Opera, and the Vienna State Opera are offering free streaming.

Can’t attend a Broadway or local play?  BroadwayHD is offering a free seven-day trial subscription. Tom Schroeder and Rand Harris told me that Theater Wit is offering remote viewing of its new play “Teenage Dick.” 


BroadwayHD: Hugh Jackman in Oklahoma.


If you need your sports fix, the NFL is offering free streaming of its past eleven seasons through May 31, and the NBA is offering free streaming of its 2019/2020 season through April 22.

I purchased a couple of Chicago-centric books a while ago, but haven’t had a chance to read them.  I want to read The Battle of Lincoln Park: Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago by Daniel Kay Hertz.  I also want to read Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, which was on the New York Times Book Review’s 10 best books of 2018. 

I recently received two books as very thoughtful gifts.  Knowing that I live in a Mies building, Ann Grube sent me Broken Glass: Mies van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight Over a Modern Masterpiece by Alex Beam about Farnsworth House.  Susanne Sedlmayer gave me Artists’ Letters: Leonardo da Vinci to David Hockney by Michael Bird.  It looks fascinating.   She’s reading Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend by Meryl Gordon.  Now that traditional book clubs are on hiatus, my friend Barbara Wing discovered an online book club, bookbrowse.com.  

Purchase a new book.  Support your local bookstore.  Now shuttered, they’re offering online ordering for home delivery, reduced shipping charges and (perhaps still) curbside pick-up.  I’d like to buy The Mirror and the Light, the last book in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, or Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown.  She was a maid of honor at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. 



A new book that’s on the top of my list is Chicago Apartments:   A Century and Beyond of Lakefront Luxury by Neil Harris with Teri J. Edelstein. It’s the updated edition of Harris’ book Chicago Apartments: A Century of Lakefront Luxury.  In my last column, I mentioned that I was excited to attend a talk, dinner, and book-signing in March to celebrate the release of their new book.  That event was canceled. [3/28/20:  The book to be released later].

I was signed up for a 10-week course entitled “Best Addressed: Notable Residential Streets in Chicago” through the Newberry Library, which was to begin on March 28.   Each week we were to walk around a Chicago neighborhood to learn about residential architecture, urban design and landmarks.  It’s been cancelled so I might take Neil Harris’ new book and stroll around town (adhering to social distancing guidelines) to see some of the luxury apartment buildings featured in his book.  Despite some stares from passers-by, I did something similar last summer.  I was embarrassed at my lack of knowledge outside my Near North Side neighborhood, so with the “AIA Guide to Chicago” in hand, I took my own architectural walking tour of Hyde Park.

Art museums might be closed, but Chicago is blessed with a spectacular collection of public outdoor art.  A quick walk (again, social distancing) up Dearborn Street downtown and you’ll pass a Calder, Chagall and a Picasso.  Incredible murals can be found all across Chicago on Glenwood in Rogers Park, along Hubbard street, in Humboldt Park, Pilsen and elsewhere.  Google Arts & Culture has virtual tours of museums and galleries all over the world.  You and the kids can explore the Art Institute of Chicago from home with the interactive JourneyMaker.  The Merit School of Music is offering virtual early childhood music classes.  

While bars and restaurants are closed, it’s important to support your local favorites. Buy a gift certificate. Order take-out, food delivery, or curbside pick-up.  Besides all of the usual food ordering and delivery outlets, there’s a new option in town, Dining at a Distance



My friend Sarah Ames is a terrific cook and hostess.  Although she won’t be hosting any dinner parties in the next few weeks, she’s going to cook random recipes from her many cookbooks, and she’s now using her dining room table for a huge jigsaw puzzle.  Comfort food that takes time to cook, like lentil soup, pot roast or tapioca pudding, can be the order of the day.   If your cooking skills are rusty, there’s help.   Sarah Stegner has a hotline (daily from 2-4 PM, 847-920-8437) to help and advise on cooking.  I loved her cooking when she was the chef at the formal restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago.  I’ve also enjoyed many a family brunch at Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook where she’s now chef. 



Scarfing down calorie-laden comfort food and staying sedentary at home is a bad combination.  My gym is closed so my personal trainer, Patrick Sheehan, recommended virtual training.  When I work out with him it’s sort-of virtual training anyway, because I virtually don’t do many of the things he tells me to do.

With the weather getting better and the days longer, I might instead exercise by going out for a walk, while maintaining social distancing, of course.  Although Chicago Park District fieldhouses and playgrounds are closed, Chicago’s magnificent parks are still open.  Likewise, at the Morton Arboretum, the buildings, Children’s Garden and Maze Garden are closed, but you can still enjoy the grounds.  Biking is great exercise and still allowed.  One of my favorite places to bike to is Adler Planetarium. The view of the skyline from there is magnificent.



A short distance from the Adler Planetarium is the Shedd Aquarium, also now closed.  A group of the Shedd’s penguins got to waddle and wander (under the supervision of their caretakers, of course) around a public-free Shedd.   So things indeed have changed.  We humans are sheltering-in-place and penguins, albeit for a short time, get to roam free.

Please stay healthy and safe.


Dates, times, location and availability are subject to change.”