Category Archives: History

Around the Ville: Trains, Bikes and Atom Smashers

I’ve been tooling around the ‘Ville on my bepetalled cruiser, congratulating myself that I had the brains to insist on a bike with no gears to shift, a coaster break, and a saddle and handlebars that allow me to keep my seat on the seat . At last I can check out the landscape instead of the white line on the road, and, anyway,  I’ve never cared for skin-tight spandex on a hot day.

One of my favorite short rides — about five miles round trip — meanders along Batavia Road in the ‘Ville, then onto the Fermilab bike path for a short stretch of its considerable length. Today I remembered my camera, so come with me on my virtual bicycle built for two. I’ll let you squeeze the air horn if you remember to bring a bottle of water.

I want to show you a couple of charming gardens;both of them come right up to the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old rattan and petunias.

The next three pictures show you the “public garden” created by garden writer (and my colleague at The Village Chronicles) Shawna Coronado. It extends the length of three houses, along the easement between their back fences and the sidewalk. For tired bicyclists and walkers she provides two full-size park benches. This is about half way down the garden path.

A sweet little detail:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view — I love the lone ten foot tall sunflower at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And another:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedaling right along we come to the level crossing for the old EJ&E tracks, now the CN tracks. For thirty years I’ve been hearing trains in the night, and when I’m staying somewhere else I miss that low slow rumble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cross those tracks and you’re breathing the same air and biking the same path as a few hundred of smartest people on earth:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the gates. While the property is still open to runners and bicyclists, it’s been closed to non-authorized cars since 9/11. It’s enormous acreage, most of it pure prairie. It houses its own herd of bison (you can smell it downwind) and provides a sort of federal wilderness preserve and wetlands.

When the superconducting supercollider came to town, the locals redubbed it The Atom Smasher, not as alliterative, but more descriptive. And shorter.

Welcome to the home of the Top Quark.

 

 

 

 

Bring your bait and tackle — this is literally the first time I haven’t seen kids and grandpas fishing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A path-side sculpture. Or something. Any atomic scientists in the house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the pristine spell of the place, but beautiful and powerful in their own way are the miles and miles of enormous power towers. You need mucho megawatts to smash atoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s where I turned around tonight , a big white clapboard building, “Aspen East.” It’s a community center for employees, backed by tennis courts, volleyball courts, and picnic tables. I wonder if they hold keggers in there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was hot and muggy, and I’d forgotten my water bottle so I headed home. What I’ve shown you is a fraction of the Fermilab bike path — I was hoping to bring on the bison, the wild apple trees and Fermilab itself. Now that the collider in CERN is #1 Atom Smasher, Fermilab has lost some funding. It will be around for basic research, they say. Oh God, I hope so.

I biked back after about half an hour, only to wait as one of the longest freight trains in memory chugged by.

My street is unremarkable: lots of flags, driveway basketball hoops and nice people. I’ve shown you a tiny snapshot of Warrenville, close up, from behind my handlebars. When I get a lock and chain for my bike, I’ll take you to the library! Be still your hearts.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Body, Free, Growing things, History, Home, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Charlene’s Exterior Design

There’s nothing cheaper and more cheerful than having a neighbour who imagines charming seasonal decorations, executes them with originality and charm, and pulls all eyes from her neighbor’s house – the one with the overgrown garden and the peeling paint.

You’ve heard me write about the Simpsons. BigDale,Viet Nam marine, career cop and now the dude who cools the ring at Fermilab – Cerne needed him, bad. Little Dale, Warrenville’s own Indiana Jones, is now between Machu Picchu  and Easter Island. The gorgeous Christina, mother and florist. Then there’s Charlene, my confidante of what, Char? Thirty years in August?

Char, Big Dale’s “Bohunk Accountant,” a thrifty smart Bohemian girl. Char, the interior decorator, who’s done so much more with her house than we ever could. She keeps a freaking spotless house. She’s been my catsitter since before Lady Gaga was born. We can be holed up in wintry weather, then meet up at the mailbox and catch up. Big time.

She decorates the outside of her house for every holiday – Flag Day, Valentines Day, Christmas, She caught little girls cutting the plastic eggs off her shrubs this Easter, and they had no defense except “They so pretty.” Charlene tapped her invisible store of seasonal; stuff and handed the little girls a few eggs of their own, They returned the pilfered eggs.

Char is in 4th of July mode. You can’t see the other spread of bunting from this pic, on the north side of the fence, but I adore it. I notice a brand  new flag. And I love the details on the front porch. That’s what I love about her seasonal decorating: even at Christmastime, the real goodies are on the front porch to delight me, other friends and the UPS man.

When I ask where she picks up her props she says something like “Flea Market.” Or “Five for a dollar at TJMaxx.”  It’s weird – I never see her tying all those Easter eggs to her shrubs, or hanging the fresh bunting or running up a new flag – it always happens like magic.

 

Now for a few pix:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This tin basket is reimagined every other week, it seems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This stands to the right of the front door. I mean, where does she find this stuff?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patriotic cushions, patriotic kitty.

Thanks, Charlene for treating your neighbors with your charming, original decorations. I think you should go into business.

Um, here’s our pitiful, overgrown weedy take on the red white and blue:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So thank you, Char: you’re the ‘Ville’s Martha Simpson.

2 Comments

Filed under Free, History, Holidays, Home, How Cool is That?, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Things I Learned This Week

It was a weather week and an insomnia week. Weather: grey skies, nearby tornadoes, humidity and temps in the sixties. The low sixties. Insomnia: Asleep by four am, though I’d been twitching in bed since midnight, then bolt upright at nine. Five hours sleep  = Margaret, Zombie Empress from Hell.

It was an unproductive week. It was too wet to garden, my mind was too fuzzy to write, yadda yadda yadda. So, I’ll try to scrape my errant brain cells together and try to sum up the things that I learned this week. Or relearned this week.

I won’t spring for cable, but these two weeks tempts me, every darned year. Why? Wimbledon. I want to see every match on the outside courts, the white tennis costumes against the green grass, the passion and brilliance. I’ll get over it in a couple of weeks. But then the US Open will commence and I’ll have to hold serve and stay tough not to call some Godawful cable company.

I admire the writing of Elizabeth Berg, and I’ll write a full Library Card post about her. She can string together a plot with poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned that stabbing a half onion on a fork then dipping it in olive oil is a swell way to oil a grill.

I’ll never stop missing my daughter and son-in-law. Ever.

I just don’t understand people who want to retire to a rustic farmette. I love the ‘Ville and all, but I want to walk out my front door and stroll to a street scattered with shops, restaurants and businesses run by folks I’ll get to know.

My archaeologist next-door-neighbor, “Little” Dale Simpson, (honorary nephew) was climbing Machu Picchu two days ago. I reel with jealousy, and salute Dale for his passion, and, as we say, following his dream.

I might not ever be a Jeopardy champ, but I could come home with a few thousand bucks.

Basil is always, always, reliable grown from seed.

No news here, but let me tell you, editing another writer’s work isn’t a clinical affair.

Friday night cheeseburgers with grilled onions and a beer is Friday night comfort.

I need insomnia advice.

And NBC is broadcasting Wimbledon tomorrow!

12 Comments

Filed under Body, Books, Free, History, Into the Mystic, Library Card, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Friends Bearing Food

I’m not naturally nostalgic, but I miss the tradition of sharing food with neighbours and buddies. “Tradition” is too strong a word — perhaps I mean “custom.” 

Growing up, Mummy pressed a few brownies on a plate to my friends as they emerged from the basement after one of our high school Hearts fests. (You know, I’d love to have a gaggle of girlfriends who’d join me for cards and Fresca at four in the afternoon and fight about what music would hit the turntable.) Because one never returned an empty plate, I knew it would wing back home with a dozen of Mrs. Horne’s peanut butter cookies tucked under wax paper.

Nonna was the all-time greatest food gifter. As I dragged myself up the back stairs at 1208 W. Lexington  after a long day in high-end retail, I never knew what would be sitting on the steps. Chicken Cacciatore over polenta? Canned fruit suspended in Jello? Spaghetti and meatballs.? I understand her generosity now: We cook for two and we eat a lot of leftovers. Annunziata Rovai, God love her, cooked her own meals until she was over a hundred years old. Of course she wanted to share.

I’m thinking about all this stuff because a friend and neighbour walked through my open front door this afternoon and presented me with his Polynesian Skewers — pineapple, bacon, shrimp, chicken, peppers and bacon, right off the grill. I smiled: I knew Dale Simpson when he had his original front teeth.

 

 

 

Bacon on a skewer is brilliant. Little Dale, you brought them on a paper plate, so I can’t return it covered with cheesecake. But thanks, Kid, for , well — sharing.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Food, Free, History, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Four Generations of Wedding Headgear

I thought it was a beautiful wedding. The dress was lovely, the reading from Romans unfamiliar to me, the trees along the nave of the Abbey brilliant, the Bishop of London’s sermon first class, if you’re fond of sermons. The hymns were faves of mine, and I was thrilled to discover that the great liturgy of the Church of England hasn’t jettisoned my old buddy the Holy Ghost for that feel-good Holy Spirit.

And, oh the hats! For me, it was bittersweet, all that marvelous millinery, because, as I’ve mentioned, my head size approximates that of a teenaged hippo. I can’t buy a hat off the rack, and I won’t soon forget the mix of horror and hilarity when I proved it to my daughter last December. That simple knit cap worked itself north in four seconds then tumbled to the floor. Now, I’m sure many of the ladies in the Abbey had their toppers custom made, but we ladies in the ‘Ville are spending our cash at the gas station.

I thought the Duchess of Cambridge’s veil,( to say nothing of the Cartier tiara) was perfection. I know Kate doesn’t own an advanced degree, but she can sure pick out wedding headgear. A+ to you, Ma’am.

I haven’t pulled out the family albums recently, but I did yesterday. I present four generations of family brides, blushing and unveiled. But check out the trends, from 1918 to the present. (My apologies in advance: something funky’s going on with picture posting and spacing.)

The not-so beaming Annunziata Rovai — no one’s saying cheese in this pic! But I think the long sheer veil and the flower wreath tiara are classics.

Here is Patricia Sweeney Rovai, my beloved mother-in-law in 1940 or so. Her father-in-law, the glowering groom in the first picture, was by profession a ladies’ tailor, and once ran the bridal department at Bergdorf Goodman. He watched “They Died With their Boots On” five times because Pat wanted Olivia de Haviland’s  dress  and veil. He did a masterly job.

Toronto, 1950. My mother’s dress was almost medieval in its elegant simplicity, and I loved it.All those buttons! (I’d peek into the trunk where it was stored — I wasn’t at the wedding!)  But the veil’s kinda meh — sorry, Mummy. They were getting shorter.

St. Matthias Church, Westmount, Quebec. Here we are signing the registry, just like Kate and Wills  — we hired the Boy’s Choir too, just as they did. We’re talking a four inch veil here, added by the millinery ladies at Holt Renfrew, where I worked. The turban — allow me to brag — was one-of-a kind Yves St. Laurent couture, a gift from my boss, the couture buyer at Holts. Yep, the millinery ladies stretched it gently for two weeks, until it fit.

Los Angeles, 2005. No veil! No hat! Nothing but some beautiful baroque ringlets and random rosebuds. (She’s pictured here with the 1950 couple.)

So there you go friends: from long drifting and gossamer to virgin locks in four generations. Should we ever renew our vows, I’m wearing a fascinator.

6 Comments

Filed under Cool Japanese Stuff, Free, History

Spring in the ‘Ville. Again.

Spring in northern Illinois is a warmer version of spring in Quebec — three weeks earlier but just as maddening. We hit 84 one day, and a terrifying nighttime prairie thunderstorm later be were back in the thirties. T.S.  knew what he was talking about when he wrote that :

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

 

Well, April is also National Poetry Month.

But a couple of things on this April day made me breathe in the cool sunny air. As in every April, my daffodils are furling, along with some tulips and scilla. Heaven bless my bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thyme and tarragon are back too, and I suspect the oregano will surge as it gets warmer. Tomorrow I’ll move the tax forms and the sewing machine from the dining room table and center a pitcher bulging with daffodils and tulips.

Here’s another eternal sign of spring, from out my back door. This kid was kicking around a soccer ball with his big brother, his uncle, his Dad four years ago when he was two. He’s bigger now, but the grass verge futbol, which will continue until the snow falls, is a sign of spring as indelible as my crabapple tree leafing out, the cats twitching at the fresh birdsong, and the soft thunder of an EJ&E train rumbling through my open window.

4 Comments

Filed under Free, Growing things, History, Home, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Good Advice

This post isn’t about big life-changing good advice — I am zero qualified, as messy as my house, brain and life is. This is about non earthshaking advice that’s made my life better, from magazines sometimes, but mostly from people I know that are way smarter and together than I am. I love you and I thank you.

  1. The only color of mascara to buy is black.
  2. Keep your ginger in the freezer — it keeps perfectly, which doesn’t in the depths of a vegetable drawer.
  3. Argentinian Malbec is huge tasting and underpriced.
  4. Thank you, Delia Smith: To make insanely rich, flaky pastry, grate frozen butter into the flour. Trust me.
  5. Learn to pick up your pie dough on a rolling pin.
  6. Thank you, Jacques Pepin: Keep your whole chicken from bopping up above the poaching water by enclosing it in an upside down colander.
  7. From Mummy: Never ever buy an article of clothing unless you’re seriously mad for it. Then buy it, right away.
  8. From Nonna: You need to use a black pan to make pizza.
  9. From Dave: Drop the adverbs, push the narrative.
  10. Gulp water when you’re ascending or descending on a flight –it will keep your ears open.
  11. Pennies make awesome pie weights.
  12. Mummy: always make dessert. Every night
  13. You learn more from your children than they learn from you.
  14. Honor: Always wear sunscreen — at least in SoCal.
  15. Daddy: Cling to your intellectual life, your family life, your impeccable wardrobe, no matter how  grim life is.
  16. Keep up with your friends. Not only are they life connections, they offer love and advice.
  17. Studs Terkel: Take it easy, but take it.

I’d love to hear your advice, on any and every subject from lingerie to Life.

5 Comments

Filed under Free, History, Into the Mystic, Uncategorized