Saturday, December 22, 2007

I heard it through the grapevine

A cold prevented me from getting out last weekend. Had I managed to drag myself away from that comfortable couch, though, the Velvet Lounge would have certainly been the place to be.

Chicago vocalist Dee Alexander's star just continues rising. Stellar performances at Millennium Park, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival earlier this year only highlighted her skills and notoriety, which seem to be extending even beyond what we've heard from her in previous years. Now audience reports surfacing suggest that last Saturday's spectacular, especially, served to seal recent success. Here is a jazz virtuoso vocalist who truly understands intelligent creation of unique musical sound, and she was complemented by an all star collaboration to make what is said to have been an unforgettable evening, the kind of which may not soon be here witnessed again.

But don't just believe what I have to say. Judge for yourself. Check out the latest video posted by the Jazz Institute featuring her 2006 concert in Poland and discover why you won't want to miss her next big event.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

All I want for Christmas

Just in case you were shopping for me and didn't know what to buy, I thought I'd offer this suggestion.

It's a book. About a special place of play. Which, sadly, is no more. But one which brought so much joy to so many, including myself. From Arcadia Publishing, which offers a great plethora of items on Chicago's history and culture, it is entitled, simply, "Santa's Village."

Last year, when the last elf left, I wrote this soliloquy as a requiem. It's something I'd like to share now, again, in all the season's melancholic remembrance:

For decades Dundee, IL has hosted Santa. Not just at Christmastime, but all year round. He had his very own village... "Santa's Village"!

It started in 1959. Back in the heyday of good old fashioned family entertainment. Take the kids for a ride out to the country and visit an amusement park!

This place was unique. With decor resembling a North Pole Village, it was awash in pastels.

It was kind of small scale, really, with a relaxed feel. Not at all like the hyped up teenage adrenaline roars of the Six Flags parks which are so common today. You were, literally, spending a day with the family in a park. A park which had rides.

Innovative rides.

Sure, there were the bumper cars that everyone had. But their bumper car rides were made into a race.

Yes, they had a thing that you could twirl yourself dizzy in. It was the snowballs!

Indeed, they had a sky ride. It took you high above the train and forested trees beneath.

But, then, there were the things which not everyone else enjoyed. Like a fire engine. All the kiddies hopped aboard and sat in the front row (sideways) of it's several cars. The parents rode in the back! The truck would get going, siren blaring, aways down a path and as you chased the call which came in reporting a fire. You'd be prepared to fight it with all of your might. Now, when you got older, you realized that this was just a gas device on a timer which went out after a minute and a half. But as a young boy it was the coolest thing in the world to approach this big doll house sized house engulfed in flame. You'd grab your little hose (attached to the side of the truck's cars in front of each seat) and fire away as the water was turned on. Then everyone would extinguish the fire to the applause of the adults and the congratulations of the firetruck lady with the microphone.

Oh, you walk over to board a sleigh ride led by reindeer. And visit the petting zoo to feed the animals. Next, meet Santa. In the summer! There was even an ice skating rink.

In the 80s they added a marvelous water park. And there was a large picnicking area for company gatherings or just families who wanted to relax.

I hate to be cliche-ish, but they just don't make places like this anymore. It was wonderful. A part of my childhood. It ran at a pace which the world of today would be well guided to approach. Even the time at which the park closed evenings ("early dusk") had a genuineness to it which was just natural.

Santa's Village failed to open this Spring. Riddled with debt and no investment backing, a judge ordered it gone for good. Yesterday, what was left of the Village was sold at auction.

A few of the rides, at least, will last (somewhere) for others to share. Yet no longer will families have this wonderful environment to enjoy. Children will not make memories or longstanding value here ever again.

The loss is painful to endure. It's long but slow coming emblematic of a breakdown in our culture: an all too "grown up" world. We need places, as a people, such as this.

Gone (but not forgotten) is the place. The wonderful enchantment will never die!

Bye Bye Santa! We'll miss you.