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Heading out of Detroit around 1:45pm (scheduled time of departure was 1:30), not bad. Greek music blaring in the background, preferably George Dalaras, to calm road rage, packed to the brim for 2 ½ days, gas tank filled 2:00pm, the expected 4 ½ hour trip begins. It is imperative that you select a flexible well-matched couple to join you, in which case, the trip will pass by so quickly that you barely have time to finish a thought.
If you select a dinner destination, such as the Mansion Grill, in St. Joseph, Michigan, you can arrive in Chicago at approximately 7:30pm, having gained the hour that you piffled away eating and getting gas. The hotel selected for the weekend's activities was the elegant Drake Hotel at the corner of the Walton Place and Michigan Avenue, the foot of the Magnificent Mile.
Having stopped on the road for sustenance, it is time to explore, first the hotel's endless boutique area and then the surrounding area's local pub haunts, ultimately agreeing on the hotel's sports bar, Coq d' Or, entirely non-smoking, (it's a law in Chicago, yeah!), which also allowed the hockey fanatics in the party to catch up on the NHL playoff games. Surrounded by tartan opulence, and the vocal crooning of a Frank Sinatra wannabe at the piano, the group gravitated toward an extensive dessert list, crème Brule, peach frozen yogurt, apple pie ala mode and a scoop of vanilla fat free yogurt, for the diet conscious among them. With hockey statistics in hand, all retired eagerly awaiting the next day's festivities.
Up early to begin the "Chicago Tour," in fact, too early to head straight to the Grand Lux Café, a decision was made to "stroll up the avenue" window shopping. Stopping at Bloomingdale's coffee bar for a quick cup of java, and then on down the street, affectionately called the Magnificent Mile, or with less ardor by some in the company, the street with "needless mark up" (Neiman Marcus). Just before reaching the Water Tower, the group approached a church whose branches were trimmed with reams of vibrant blue-feathered pieces of fabric. The contrast was stunning! Through the arched Gothic Revival of the walkway, looking though the cloister, the camera's eye captured the blue of the trees and then, immediately behind the bound branches, the modern black and gold façade of the towering John Hancock Building, Chicago's tallest structure. Reverently entering the church, a docent met the group as they entered, he eagerly shared that they were now seated in the oldest surviving structure on Michigan Avenue north of the river, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, founded in 1871. He pointed out the appointments of the façade, built in 1921. The needlepoint tapestries, and sculpted woodcarvings were caressingly described. "The musical instruments of the guardian angels, representing harmony, the pews individually hone, signify that you enter as one and leave as a congregation." The leaves of blue, which had so captured their attention upon entering, had been carefully wrapped on the trees by the congregation to bring awareness to Chicago of its youngest victims of abuse and neglect, each leaf a reminder to protect these children so often forgotten. Slowly parting, they carefully captured in their mind's eye each nook and cranny of detail.
Continuing down Michigan they reached the corner of Ontario, just as a line began forming for entry to one of Chicago's most famous eateries, the Grand Lux Café. "Anything You Want To Eat, Anytime You Want It" At exactly 10:00am, a waiter led them to a window booth and described the extensive selections available. Dining on omelets and pancakes the group was once again fortified for their primary destination, Chicago's Hellenic Museum at the corner of Halsted and Adams immediately above the Greek Island's Restaurant in Chicago's bustling Greektown.
The Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center was founded in 1983 as a not for profit institution, opening its doors to the public in 1992. The exhibit, being featured, Nourishing Culture: Greek Immigrants and Food in Chicago, allows visitors to fully experience the traditions and culinary contributions of Greece's earliest immigrating families. It contains two fully reconstructed rooms replicating the late 40's and early 50's life in Chicago, a dining room and bedroom as well as, a corner booth at the EROS Café, complete with vinyl benches and chromed amenities. Waiting at the cash register was a life like replica of the once omnipresent matriarch hovering over her establishment with focused attentiveness. Also displayed are peddlers with their colorful wares still beckoning residents to make a purchase and a young man leisurely taking his "Turkeko café" at a backgammon-strewn table, his cap jauntily angled, denying the loneliness in his eyes. Pictures of crowded rooming houses, depict the meager beginnings available for this newest of Americans. A vintage grape press with wine straw wrapped containers and a display of "Tselemntis", cookbooks, attest to the immigrants connection to the past through their preservation of the Greek culinary and cultural experience. Detroiter's will be pleased to find among the wide array of displayed cookbooks, those from the Greek Annunciation Cathedral, the Joy of Greek Cooking, and the Hellenic Cuisine published by St. Constantine and Helen's Parent Group in the 1960's, both continue to be available for purchase and have made meaningful financial contribution to their communities.
Turning to the center of the exhibit, one is greeted by a video display of Hellenic cooking; the elderly authority reveling in her kitchen domain for the cameras, effectively guiding the viewer through the intricacies of making baklava.
The display concept and design were executed by Peggy Glowacki, Curator for the Hellenic Museum and a historian with an interest in the cultural construction of foodways. She is currently an archivist in the Special Collections Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her curatorial assistant was Stella Ress, a graduate student and a PhD candidate in the Public History Program at Loyola University.
Exiting the exhibit, guests can make purchases supporting the facility from a fully stocked bookstore, filled with "must have" titles. Education Manager, for Programming and Outreach, Vivian Haritos, advised that the museum was planning a major ground breaking late this year, for a permanent multi-story building located at the three major crossroads of Chicago's interstate intersections that connect the University of Illinois, Chicago campus and Jane Addams Hull House Museum and Greektown.
Laden with purchases,
and proud to be a newly supporting museum member, one exits to a now bustling
Adam's street, which runs through the heart of Greektown.
Quickly heading for a final stop prior to departure, Greektown Music and
Gifts, which hosts a huge selection of CD's, videos, and books direct
from Greece. Time running short, grabbing a waiting cab, the rush was
on to prepare for a Detroit area destination wedding, (that's right you
guessed it) in Chicago.