9 things to like right now

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - Mary Sch­mich [email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @MarySch­mich

Here’s my lat­est list of 9 things I like, loosely pegged to the fes­tive, fran­tic weeks we call the hol­i­days.

1. Mil­len­nium Park: From the win­dows of the new Tri­bune of­fice at Pru­den­tial Plaza, we’re treated to one of the best hol­i­day views in Chicago: the city’s 60-foot Christ­mas tree tow­er­ing next to an ice skat­ing rink.

The tree is a Nor­way spruce, and in the win­try dark­ness it glows like a hol­i­day fan­tasy. Ev­ery time I see it I think: This is what the hol­i­days are sup­posed to look like.

The park is con­ve­niently close to down­town’s con­sumer frenzy but bliss­fully apart from it. You can even sing hol­i­day car­ols at The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) on three up­com­ing Fri­days and a Wed­nes­day. De­tails are here: https://bit.ly/2fJFHrf

2. The Chicago Ar­chi­tec­ture Cen­ter gift shop: Look­ing for Chicago­cen­tric hol­i­day cards? Fun yet taste­ful Chicago-themed gifts, like the $9.99 key chain with charms shaped like fa­mous sky­scrapers? This is the place.

The gift shop is in the cen­ter’s new home, which Tri­bune ar­chi­tec­ture critic Blair Kamin has called “the lat­est jewel in Chicago’s ar­chi­tec­tural crown.”

Ad­mis­sion to the cen­ter (111 E. Up­per Wacker Drive, over­look­ing the Chicago River) costs $12; tak­ing one of the ex­cel­lent city tours gets you free or dis­counted ad­mis­sion. But the gift shop is open to all, no charge. Not ev­ery­thing has a Chicago theme, by the way, and you can shop on­line.

3. A pleas­ant visit to re­new my li­cense: A few days ago, I went to the sec­re­tary of state’s fa­cil­ity in the Loop to re­new my driver’s li­cense. Re­mem­ber­ing a cou­ple of long-ago vis­its, I dreaded go­ing.

But the line moved quickly, the clerks were cheer­ful, and the new photo wasn’t ter­ri­ble. When I posted about my pleas­ant, ef­fi­cient visit on Face­book, dozens of peo­ple echoed the sen­ti­ment about other lo­cal li­cense fa­cil­i­ties.

In a world of bad news, it’s heart­en­ing to know that a bu­reau­cracy can change, and for the bet­ter.

4. Colec­tivo Cof­fee: Chicago roasts a lot of good cof­fee, so it feels hereti­cal to rec­om­mend a roaster from Mil­wau­kee. But since it opened its first Chicago cof­fee­house in 2017, Colec­tivo has won a lot of Chicago fans with first-rate cof­fee and its airy, col­or­ful, spa­cious cafes. It re­cently opened a third Chicago lo­ca­tion, in ad­di­tion to its Evanston site. Un­like a typ­i­cal cof­fee­house, it also serves beer.

5. “A Place to Call Home” This highly rated Aus­tralian TV se­ries has been dubbed “Down­ton Abbey Down Un­der.” Both shows fo­cus on the so­cial di­vi­sions be­tween the landed rich and the work­ing class, but “A Place to Call Home” is dif­fer­ent.

It’s more un­abashedly melo­dra­matic but I like it bet­ter, maybe be­cause the land­scape of New South Wales is less fa­mil­iar, and partly be­cause it wres­tles with more mod­ern ques­tions of re­li­gion and sex­u­al­ity. It be­gins shortly af­ter World War II, when an Aus­tralian nurse comes home to see her ail­ing mother, fol­low­ing years in Europe, where she had con­verted to Ju­daism and joined the Re­sis­tance. On the ship back home, she meets a wealthy fam­ily and …

I sub­scribed to Acorn TV to watch it, a bar­gain at $4.99 a month.

6. The nov­els of Domenico Starnone: I’d never heard of Starnone, an Ital­ian jour­nal­ist/screen­writer/nov­el­ist, un­til a cou­ple of years ago when it was sug­gested that he’s re­ally Elena Fer­rante, the pseudony­mous writer of the wildly pop­u­lar “Neapoli­tan” nov­els. Even if he’s not Fer­rante, the spec­u­la­tion goes, he’s mar­ried to the mysterious wo­man who is.

Who knows? What mat­ters is that his two re­cent nov­els, “Ties” and “Trick,” are com­pelling on their own.

“Trick” is about a man in his 70s who churl­ishly agrees to baby-sit his young grand­son for a few days; the en­counter forces him to con­front his wan­ing pow­ers. “Ties” is about a long and com­plex mar­riage. Both are trans­lated from Ital­ian to English by the Amer­i­can writer Jhumpa Lahiri. They’re short and emo­tion­ally as­tute, a shrewd mix of hu­mor and dread that keeps you read­ing.

7. A good side table: A lot of side ta­bles are too big, too fancy, too tacky, too heavy, too pricey. Af­ter a long quest, I chanced into the $99 Duke ac­cent table from Pottery Barn. It has a smooth cir­cu­lar metal top on a sim­ple metal base. It’s just big enough for a book or a cof­fee cup and light enough that you can eas­ily move it around. I was sur­prised to dis­cover it also works as a lap­top desk.

8. Good hol­i­day mu­sic: Good hol­i­day mu­sic is not an oxy­moron. The proof is these three al­bums I re­turn to ev­ery year:

“Go Tell It on the Moun­tain” by the Blind Boys of Al­abama. It’s a Grammy-win­ning gospel twist on mostly fa­mil­iar Christ­mas songs.

“A Dave Brubeck Christ­mas” by Dave Brubeck. The late, great jazz pi­anist of­fers a mel­low spin on fa­mil­iar tunes.

“Come Sun­day” by Hank Jones and Char­lie Haden. Jones, an­other late, great jazz pi­anist, joins bassist Haden on an al­bum that sneaks a cou­ple of Christ­mas tunes into a col­lec­tion of spir­i­tu­als that aren’t specif­i­cally for the hol­i­days but per­fectly fit the mood.

9. A good poem: Wen­dell Berry’s “Real Work” is about the psy­cho­log­i­cal work we’re called upon to do when we’re not sure what to do. It’s short, so copy­right won’t al­low us to print more than one line, but it’s a good line:

The mind that is not baf­fled is not em­ployed

ABEL URIBE/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Dozens of peo­ple skate dur­ing the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Mil­len­nium Park Ice Rink on Nov. 16.

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