Missing Nora Ephron


everything is copy

I have been a fan of Nora Ephron’s work ever since reading Crazy Salad. She was funny and sophisticated and very hip, everything I was not as a confused and moody teenager growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When I still lived in Manhattan, I saw her on the Upper West Side once. She was holding hands with her best husband, Nicholas Pileggi, and they looked really happy; I behaved like a true New Yorker and didn’t fawn or ask for her autograph.

Like so many millions of other people, I was completely caught off guard and very sad when I heard the news of her death in 2012. I loved reading about how she had planned her memorial service down to the last detail, and provided copies of her favorite recipes to be given out to those in attendance. (I use her recipe for egg salad and it is a knockout.)

She was a great writer of books (I Feel Bad About My Neck) and screenplays (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle), a wonderful director (Julie & Julia), a devoted mother to Jacob and Max, and a maven of the first order. Her first marriage ended before children and her second marriage was the source of her greatest thrill (becoming a mother) and worst hurt (finding out her husband was having a very public affair while she was pregnant with her second child). But she directed her own story, made lemon meringue out of the bitterest lemons, and turned her soon to be ex-husband from a famous journalist into a humiliated punch line.

Success is the best revenge, and she succeeded by any measure. She found marital happiness with Pileggi, her third husband. When asked to write her autobiography in six words, she famously answered, “Secret to life, marry an Italian.” She seemingly had it all, except for–perversely–her health, but of course she hid that from almost everyone she knew. It was the one story whose ending she could not direct.

jacob headshot for the timesOne of her sons, Jacob, must have recognized the yearning her fans had for one more Nora fix, and he at least partially satisfied that desire with a long, heartfelt, and intimate portrait of his mother’s final days and the period leading up to her illness. It is a wonderful piece of writing. I read nearly all the letters in response to it and realized I was not alone, by far, in how much I admired her work and appreciated her son’s essay. He is a gifted writer.

Fortunately, Jacob felt compelled to probe more deeply. He developed and directed a documentary film about his mother entitled, Everything Is Copy. It is currently available on HBO and absolutely worth watching. The movie confirms what was evident to any student of her work: she was smart, ambitious, and witty. She made her own luck even when the world was falling apart around her. She did not give up. She made sure to control her own story. Better to have people laugh at something you wrote (where you can control the joke) than become the joke and have them laugh at you.

Bravo, Jacob. Great movie. Your mom would have loved it.



Visit the Custer Street Fair Today

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Just rolling along at the Custer Street Fair.

Soak up the sunshine, munch on fun snacks (more than 30 food vendors), take in the music and performances. Great people-watching. Street performers, face painters and balloon sculptors galore! Support over one hundred local businesses and peruse the wares of talented artists and craftspeople at the Custer Street Fair starting at the intersection of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.  All businesses open until 7PM tonight and some until 9PM.  An easy ride on the CTA direct to the Main Street stop on the Purple line.

And if you hear a weird flapping noise, keep your eyes peeled for this street performer. Totally different and very edgy.

Calling All Rail Buffs!

If you happen to take the Purple Line going south, stop and notice these enlarged mementos from the CTA of yesteryear.

1946 Chicago Rapid Transit Company Map.  The 4000 Series cars were featured on the cover.

1946 Chicago Rapid Transit Company Map. The 4000 Series cars were featured on the cover.

Main Street CTA Station, 1946, Charles E. Keevil photo, Walter R. Keevil Collection

(L) Enlarged version of child’s half fare ticket. (R) Main Street CTA Station, 1946, Charles E. Keevil photo, Walter R. Keevil Collection.

In 1908, the Northwestern Elevated Railroad extended “L” service into Evanston using tracks leased from the

Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. Within a few years’ time, the surface level tracks were placed on an embankment and the present-day Main Street station and platforms were placed in service.

In 1973, the Chicago Transit Authority’s venerable 4000-series rapid transit cars were retired after a half century of service. A total of 205 of these cars were built for the Chicago system over a several year period in the early 1920’s by the Cincinnati Car Company and saw service throughout the Chicago ‘L’ system.  After the last cars were retired from the Evanston rapid transit line in 1973, cars 4271 and 4272 were selected for preservation by the Chicago Transit Authority. In February 2014, these cars paused at Main for a photo.

Final Ride for 4000 Series Transit Cars, Bruce G. Moffat photo

Final Ride for 4000 Series Transit Cars, Bruce G. Moffat photo

Art and Architecture at Madlener House

A slight departure from the ‘only in Evanston’ theme…Visit the galleries of the historic Madlener House, an architectural gem and home for the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Study in Fine Arts. They have a terrific bookshop and library highlighting the work of the Foundation, in part the relationship between art, architecture, urbanism and design. The building is stunning and the staff is incredibly helpful. Admission is free, Wednesday to Saturday, 11AM-6PM, 4 West Burton Place in Chicago.

The Women of Duna

Arne and Mary Oldberg Park in downtown Evanston boasts the lovely, weatherbeaten equine statue, Duna, by Deborah Butterfield. This statute was given to Evanston by a donation from the Estate of Catherine Rassinier Stallings and installed May 15, 1998.

Catherine Rassinier was born in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. Although she was bright and eager to attend college, family circumstances intervened and she was unable to do so.  Undeterred, Catherine worked and saved her money.  She was a modern woman in every way: independent, confident, goal-oriented, thrifty and adventurous, traits she retained throughout her life. Shortly after World War II ended, she moved to Chicago, alone, and rented an apartment across from the Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Patriots Park

The city’s first public art project is a monument and flag pole honoring Evanston soldiers who gave their lives in the Spanish-American War, the Civil War and World War I.  In 1929 the Fort Dearborn Chapter (established in 1894) of the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned the work. Stephen Beames (1896-1969), an Indian-born, Canadian artist who studied, lived and worked in the United States, created it. He also taught at Rockford (IL) College until 1931, when he moved to California; later he made his living as a bookkeeper.

The small park is on a sliver of land at the intersection of Davis Street and Sheridan Road, perpendicular to Lake Michigan and the beachfront. Stop by for a closer look at this memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

A Movie Star in Our Midst

One of the first friends I made in Evanston was Bindy Bitterman, owner of Eureka! Antiques and Collectibles.  Both the store and Bindy were the subject of my first blog post.  To know Bindy is to love her. Bindy taught me about ephemera, introduced me to steampunk and regaled me with stories about Chicago and Evanston history. Little did I know she is also a movie star.

A newly released documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, is getting a lot of critical acclaim. The movie is about an odd Chicago-area nanny who photographed thousands of rolls of film, all of them never developed, hoarded them away, and the man who rescued them at auction and brought to the world’s attention a captivating body of work. The film’s website and Facebook pages brim with information about the collection, the movie and its reclusive subject. Bindy knew Vivian and participated in the movie, as this scene from the trailer shows.  

Scene from Finding Vivian Maier

Bindy Bitterman, a star in the making.

The movie is currently playing at Chicago’s Century Centre and Highland Park’s Renaissance Place. Bravo, Bindy!


Jewel by the Lake: The Mary and Leigh Block Museum


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Last week I took advantage of two wonderful programs at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum. Both were free, fascinating and one-time only events. They prove the Block’s amazing riches nestled right here in our community and accessible to … Continue reading

Evanston Lakeshore Fine Arts Festival

The 40th annual Evanston Lakeshore Arts Festival presented 140 talented artists the first weekend in August at Dawes Park (Sheridan Road at Church Street).  It was a gorgeous, sunny weekend and perfect conditions for browsing, buying, eating, listening to live bands, and just lolling around the lagoon.

Evanston 2013 Lakeshore Fine Arts FestivalEvanston 2013 Lakeshore Fine Arts Festival

I explored the festival late on Sunday afternoon and three artists in particular entranced me with their wares.  The first one, Gary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery, teaches at nearby Lillstreet Art Studio.  His intricately designed vessels are stunning, unique and functional, but what made me flip over Gary and his work was the wonderful signGary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery to parents posted prominently in his booth.

Pottery is so tactile, a wonderful duality of strength (after being fired in a kiln with temperatures of nearly 2000 degrees) and delicacy, it would not be unreasonable for anyone to be skittish when handling these pieces. But Gary’s philosophy and eagerness to introduce kids to art is so generous, he earned my respect immediately. The crescent-shaped items at the forefront of the photo below are rattles…fun and interesting to touch, with the added bonus of sound! Gary’s parents help out on show days; the next festival for them is in Barrington, IL in September and then a studio sale right before Thanksgiving.

Gary Jackson of Fire When Ready PotteryGary Jackson of Fire When Ready Pottery

Another artist I met was Natalya Sots, a ceramicist who lives in Schaumburg, IL. Her brightly colored works are elaborate with pattern, glazes and whimsical flourishes. Many of her pieces are functional, such as cups and butter dishes, and some are works of art only to be admired. All of them are beautiful.

Natalya Sots PotteryNatalya Sots PotteryNatalya Sots Pottery

The third artist whose work grabbed me was Sonia Kuhlmann of Eskay who makes beautiful handcrafted bags, wraps and assorted other items.  The yarn on this periwinkle wrap was luscious, so thick and cozy that I wanted to snuggle up with it right there.  Her bags are charming, a bit funky and very textural, with a sense of fun clearly evident in every design. Sonia is also happy to make customized purses if you don’t see the color or style you have in mind.

Sonia Kuhlmann of EskaySonia Kuhlmann of Eskay

Regretfully there were many artisans I did not have a chance to meet. The festival is always held the first weekend in August at Dawes Park, and is absolutely worth your time next year.  Mark your calendars, get your gift lists organized and save August 2-3, 2014.

Summer Jazz

Last evening I had the pleasure to attend a fabulous concert by the Northwestern University Summer Jazz Band, conducted by Christopher Madsen, in the Regenstein Recital Hall of the Bienen School of Music.  Wending my way through the construction detours, I had no idea what to expect about the venue, the quality of the performance or what the program included.  None of that mattered: the band is terrific.

Maestro Madsen led his 18-piece band through seven or eight pieces composed variously by Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Oliver Nelson, Jeff Jarvis, Ann Ronell and Sammy Nestico.  Madsen introduced each selection with a enough background information to help the unfamiliar listener appreciate the composition. (This was especially appreciated in advance of Ellington’s Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.) I watched Madsen as he guided his group through each composition; his easygoing nature, joy in his work and respect for his musicians was evident even to a novice. Most of the band members soloed at one point or another during the evening’s performance, and the audience of 200+ responded enthusiastically. The only downside was this community band only performs once a year–we are all forced to wait until then for more big band joy.  Northwestern University Summer Jazz Band