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Red Stones And Cafes – No Vehicular Traffic

Haresh Shah

On October 1, 1995, Chicago Tribune ran a piece by their City Hall editor Robert Davis that screamed: The Daley Clan Thinks That Eating, Like Sex And Politics Should Be Carried Out Behind Closed Doors. Mayor Richard M. Daley had made it amply clear for years that he didn’t want Chicago to become another New York. The father, Richard J. Daley had banned outdoor food stands decades earlier and followed it up with orders to crack down on moving food carts on the grounds that they were unhealthy and dangerous to chasing children.!!

But there are laws and there are daring souls who defy them. When in the summer of 1968, I began to work at Time & Life magazines’ production offices in Chicago, my first taste of the  city’s all too famous  Vienna hotdogs – the long soft buns overflowing with  succulent tomatoes, onions, relish, ketchup, mustard and a couple of not so hot Italian peppers – came from a stand set up by the gas station on 22nd street near the Lake Shore Drive exit.  Certainly illegal then, but either it went unnoticed because of its off the beaten track location – or the streetwise stand owner was probably able to grease a few official palms – or both. When in a hurry it was our go to spot for a quick grub.

But yeah, come to think of it, back in the late Sixties, early Seventies and beyond, I knew of no other eating establishment in the long and wide city that offered a sidewalk seating. Except one – off what is now known as Viagra Triangle at the northern tip of State and Rush, sandwiched between East Elm and East Cedar streets. There was a hamburger joynt called Melvin B’s Truck Shop – which fronted the dilapidated and once crime infested rooming house called Cedar Hotel. They had the most sought after patio right off the sidewalk of N. State Street. Probably it was allowed or overlooked for it being on private property. I am not sure, if it was even an issue – but it sure was a pleasure to sit there and watch the world go by while savoring your sandwich and beer before with a hop skip and jump moving onto all night spots on the eastern end of Division Street.

The place still exists, albeit now there is a ritzy 200 room boutique hotel called Viceroy – a glittery eighteen story building sporting the mounted façade of the old Cedar Hotel. And Melvin B’s Truck Shop is replaced with equally as glittery restaurant and bar called Somerset. The Patio is still there, still buzzing with people. No longer the lone outdoor establishment. It’s now surrounded by dozens – that is every bar and restaurant on the triangle and the streets sprouting in and out of there – all sprawling and buzzing with hoards of their clients pretending sitting at a café in Montmartre in Paris.

And then there was Fricano’s on Halstead at Altgeld  – one of my most favorite restaurants that had a beautiful alfresco terrace on it’s second floor. There may have been a few hidden ones some place, but nothing that I was aware of.

When after having lived in Prague for nine years, which has so many if not exactly street side outdoor cafes – alfresco courthouses hidden inside huge buildings. And having experienced cities like Barcelona, Paris, Munich and Berlin, I was dreading the idea of coming back to live in the city with no cafes, let alone outdoor ones. Even though over my subsequent visits I should have realized, that was changing, and changing fast. When I retuned back to Chicago in 2006, there still weren’t many cafes or restaurants that offered outdoor sittings. I remember one: Pint, the Irish pub on Milwaukee. There may have been a few more, but because of the narrow sidewalks they seemed quite cramped. People seating on top of each other. Now practically  every eating and drinking establishment in the city has claimed as much outdoor space as possible. Most of them, still cramped and sparse.

None so spacious and airy as on Division Street. As if the street were originally conceived and created precisely to someday accommodate every store, restaurants and bars to have large outdoor areas. The first one on the stretch to take advantage of it was Letizia’s. She put up tables outside her bakery way back in the spring of 1999. Plus like in Prague, she also has a large courthouse garden in the back of the entire building.

And to think that almost up until then, outdoor cafes weren’t even allowed in the city of Chicago! I am not sure what finally made the younger Daley change his mind and the city started issuing outdoor cafes permits allowing them to expand on their sidewalks during the warm months. And most recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel extended it entire year!! Not too crazy! As cold as Chicago can get, when and if there happens to creep in a single day with the temps around 50 – (10 celsius!!), Chicagoans are known to grab those few sunrays even if they have to bundle up.

There is nothing on record that shows the official change of mind (heart?), except that I remember having read somewhere that it was during Richard J. Daley’s trip to Europe that he experienced outdoor cafes in Madrid, Spain and something clicked. He must have thought, these people sitting outside on sidewalks or the squares didn’t exactly look unhealthy. In fact they looked radiant and relaxed and happy. Or it is more likely that he must have realized how lucrative it could be for the city to collect fees for granting permits allowing them to serve food and beverages outside of their establishments. Currently it’s an average of $700.- per season per establishment. That’s a lot of moola when you add up!! For sure a smarter move than socking the Chicagoans with life long quadruple parking feesL

Whatever. Now every time I walk down Division Street, I can’t help but be amazed at how every single one of them  create their own unobtrusive and beautiful barricades around their spaces. Normally, the first ones to put up their plant stands are the twins Enoteca Roma and Letizia’s. I would notice Letizia’s husband Enzo Sorano first bringing out the posts from the storage as early as mid to end of April, or at very beginning of May. The next day there would be bags of soil and then I would see him planting fresh flowers, interspersed with mini evergreen cones. It basically signals the beginning of the new spring. Following their lead, the landscapers create an elaborate “square” in front of Folklore. And then you see Joe Dalton and his wife Yvonne putting their gardening skills to pretty up their space in front of Joe’s Wine Cellar. Within a month after that, flowers and potted plants begin to show up in front of every restaurant and bar starting with the western most Café Colao, to Guerrero’s, Teacher’s Lounge and Papa’s down the street at the corner of Maplewood. This continues on to Fat Pour, Via Carducci, Parlor and all the way down to Wood Street and beyond. A stretch of almost eight city blocks. The variety of colors and arrangements, potted plants and hanging planters – you would think there must be some sort of competition going on among the establishments of the street.

As I walk, I can’t help but think, what if…

The first one to reminisce about Division being the street covered with the cobble stones and the tram tracks, was recently retired Dr. R. Shah, who having associated with Saint Mary’s Hospital had been pounding the its pavements for decades. And then Warren Winiarski, remembering it very clearly to be then covered with shiny red paving stones – about the size of 4” x 6” in dimension and about 4” deep.’ In my imagination, I have it as the pedestrian zone sans any vehicular traffic. Like some of the great streets of Europe, such as Marienplatz in Munich, La Rambla in Barcelona, Staré Město and Celetna in Prague, and Kalverstraat in Amsterdam. I can also imagine Division Street to be tree covered boulevard – made possible by its sheer width. A median with a row of trees swaying is totally possible. And colorful clusters of people milling around, heads bopping from behind the landscaped barricades of different establishment all merged together like a Leroy Neiman painting. No cars wheezing by. Just you strolling leisurely and taking it all in. Am I getting carried away? Or am I echoing John Lennon’s ever so optimistic IMAGINE?

Most probably not in my lifetime, but maybe someday?

© 2019 Haresh Shah

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Glad You Stopped By

Haresh Shah

‘Where do you live now?’

‘In Humboldt Park.’ As I answer, I am fully expecting him to say either: huh, where’s that? Or, oh, Humboldt Park, isn’t that…?

Yeah, it’s /was predominantly Puerto Rican and yes there were and still are at times gang related crimes – mainly murders. And it’s a poor cousin and not as desirable as all too drummed up twins, Buck Town and Wicker Park.

Instead I hear him say: ‘Did you see the alligator?’

Oh yes! Our world famous alligator! I live just a stone’s throw away from the park and its prettiest lagoon, but the first I heard of this celebrity visitor was from my friend Ashka in Prague, who has visited and stayed with me several times in past years.

Today morning I have heard that there was an alligator in the lake in the park in Chicago. Interesting! I checked where exactly, and yes, Humboldt, exactly where i used to do my daily morning run workout 🙂 This message came on July 10. I briefly wondered and then promptly forgot about it. That is, until I began to reply her on July 16. I had to google it. And voila. Happy Ending. I watched the video of the alligator’s several days’ sojourn in our neighborhood, trapped in the waters of Humboldt Park lagoon.

Over those few days the story of the sighting of an alligator in middle of the city overshadowed the divisive politics of mud throwing anger and insults, it became the daily news headliner. The trapped alligator and its rescue put smiles not only on the faces of the local residents but whoever else following the story from around the world.

While Chicago can effortlessly clear a foot high snow with swift scoops of its army of snow removal trucks – the city was totally lost when faced with what to do with the presence of this 5’3” animal wandering around above and under the shallow waters of the Humboldt Park lagoon. The rescue came a few days later in the form of the bearded tall and lanky alligator catcher by the name Frank Robb, expressly imported from the swamps of St. Augustine, Florida. It took him scant thirty six hours and a simple fishing rod  to hook the animal weighing some thirty to forty pounds, now christened on social media Chance the Snapper, sounding like Chance the Rapper – the Chicago rapper who sings gospel and struggle of the urban life.

Hoards of national media gathered by the lagoon to witness Robb sliding out the gator from it’s temporary habitat – a heavy duty plastic storage box and lovingly holding it in the cradle of his arms. Even with the alligator’s mouth clapped shut and secured with heavy duty duct tape and a red bandana wrapped around his neck, he looked ever so adorable, if a bit scared finding himself in the middle of all the mayhem, a crowd of cheering onlookers and the journalists from all over. Disoriented, it had that sad ET go home look, making you want to reach out and touch it.

During the impromptu press conference with about a dozen microphones shoved in front of him, Robb looked amazed in the glow of his sudden celebrity. His well deserved fifteen minutes of fame. And humble at that, to the boot. Everybody’s got different blessings. This is my blessing, said Robb.

So grateful was the city of Chicago that it bestowed upon this hero of the moment the status of a VIP and had him throw the opening pitch at Chicago Cub’s baseball game. All decked up in the official Cubs regalia and all. The Cubs’ twitter feed said gratefully: Thank you to alligator expert Frank Robb, who safely and humanely captured the Humboldt Park Lagoon alligator, for joining us tonight! Not only that, the next morning, he was honored by the city by inviting him to turn on the Buckingham Fountain – the Chicago landmark in the Grand Park. A true folk hero.

But at the end of the day, the true winner was, up until now suffering from the negative image  and unappreciated Humboldt Park.  The park is named after Alexander von Humboldt – the German naturalist and geographer, known for his five volume work, Cosmos: Draft of a Physical Description of the World.  Ironically, though he did visit the United States once – his itinerary did not  include Chicago. The city is full of beautiful parks, but none as beautiful and as significant as Humboldt Park. It’s a key park of Chicago’s urban history with landscaped lush green patches that flank the city’s boulevard system incorporating wide avenues running right through the park. Designed and supervised by the Danish immigrant Jens Jensen, he extended the park’s lagoon into long and meandering prairie river. At the time, Prairie Style  was all the rage in the city’s architecture. Jensen hired Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin to design the impossible to miss the imposing and yet unpretentious Boat House fronting the lagoon. Just to name a few highlights: the park is also the home of several playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamonds and soccer fields as well as Humboldt Park Stables which now houses the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts, the Field House and the Refractory.

But for the residents, the most important are its trails, and tree covered open grounds for the families to get together over barbecues and picnic baskets. Summer weekends are filled with the sounds of Latin music blaring out of boom boxes of parked cars, often accompanied by live musicians and the onlookers suddenly breaking out in impromptu dancing. And believe it or not, it’s probably the best location in Chicago to watch the 4th of July fireworks – our own, being launched and lit from a dinghy in the lagoon.

True, because of the gang wars and generally high crime, the park had fallen into sort of a danger zone – but thanks to Chicago’s law enforcement, it’s now as safe as any major city of the world. And yet, what still lingers is a certain feeling of psychological discomfort among many of its residents. Today I am very comfortable walking the park and watching other people do the same is a big comfort. It’s totally pleasant and peaceful experience to watch a lone fisherman sitting at the edge of the lagoon, meditatively holding his fishing rod and waiting so patiently to feel the fish bite. And to watch clusters of Swans and Ducks and other water birds gliding upon the shiny surface of the lagoon is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, once stained, the image and the perception are not that easy to change – if at all.

But the arrival and the departure of this harmless and even lovable creature has done wonders for the city and the park. Now the people saw with their own eyes or on their television screens, how pretty and pleasant the park is. It cost the city more than thirty thousand dollars to capture the crocodile and bring the animal and locals to the safety. But that sum is peanuts when considering what it has done to alter the image of this truly beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. Something the city wouldn’t have been able to do even with a million dollar PR campaign. It put Humboldt Park on the map of the world.

© 2019 Haresh Shah

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Warren Winiarski – the Man of and from Wine

Haresh Shah

‘Not only did they have street cars, but Division Street was then covered with shiny red paving stones – about the size of 4” x 6” in dimension and about 4” deep,’ reminisces Warren Winiarski of the days when he was growing up in Chicago’s predominantly Polish neighborhood of Buck Town. When the trollies stopped running and were replaced by the busses, the task of removing the paving stones and the tram tracks was so daunting and expensive that the city just decided to cover them up with asphalt.

Born in October 1928, now 90, Warren remembers that there was Wieboldt department store on Milwaukee and there was a YMCA on Division and a restaurant called Lenard’s.

Our interview begins with him asking what is it that Division Street divides? The question almost everyone has asked and none has yet come up with a satisfactory answer. Warren speculates that if there was anything to divide, such as the extent of the Polish community that stretched between Division and Armitage, or maybe even as far north as Fullerton – then the logical street to divide it into north and south would be North Avenue that runs parallel to Division four blocks north.

‘And did you know why it’s called Buck Town?’

‘I really don’t. I have wondered about it though.’

‘It’s because in those days the area was prairieland and the residents kept “bucks” on their properties which they used for milk and cheese. It was easier to keep goats in the city than would have been cattle.’

The reason I am talking to Warren Winiarski is because on May 24, 1976 blind tasting in Paris of French and California wines, the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s Cabernet Sauvignon crafted by this Buck Town born and bred son of the Polish parents was judged to be #1 above best of Bordeaux. An incredible story of a local boy having made it big on to the world stage.

Of the event, late Robert Mondavi, the legendary Napa Valley icon said: Dramatic (wine) tasting sent shock waves all around the world. Even though it took a while for the tremors of the shock wave to be felt – that singular event swiftly put the California wines on map of the world. The waves made even bigger also because another California vintage, Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay created by Miljenko Grgić (Mike Grgich) topped the list of the whites.

The tasting was organized by Steven Spurrier – an Englishman who owned a small wine shop, Caves de la Madeleine in the arcade of Cité Berryer in the heart of the chic 8th arrondissement neighborhood of Paris, and Patricia Gallagher – an American young woman working with him. Even though there were whispers about California wines for some time now, no one ever thought much of them, let alone dreamt of pitting them against almighty French Bordeaux and Burgundies. Though Patricia and Steve had been flirting now for sometime with the idea of staging some sort of California wine tasting in France, neither of them really knew them that well either. So when in the summer of 1975 Patricia was visiting her sister in southern California, she suggested a trip to the wine country, to which Steve immediately agreed. He met up with her in San Francisco at the end of her vacation. Some appropriate introductions were made. The two of them visited several recommended California wineries and tasted their wines, and picked  two dozen bottles of assorted Chardonnays and Cabernets.

It wasn’t something  you shipped and risked bottles being broken or worst yet, have them stuck in the customs at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. But with a little help from a friend working for TWA and thanks to the airlines’ Wine Bridge program, transportation and the delivery went smooth. It was spring of 1976, just when America was poised to burst out in celebration of its bi-centennial independence day on the 4th of July. The timing couldn’t be more right.

Patricia had tried her best to interest and invite local journalists to the tasting – none of them showed up. That is: except Paris based Time magazine correspondent – a native Californian – George M. Taber. Taber decided to take a short stroll from Time’s nearby office to the Hotel Intercontinental, thinking: If, as expected, the French wines won, there would be no story. But you never know, and a wine tasting – where maybe I’d get a chance to try a few of the wines myself – seemed, at the very least, like a perfectly wonderful way to spend an otherwise slow afternoon.

George Taber’s story appeared as a single column in the Modern Living section of Time magazine’s issue dated June 7, 1976 that hit the stands on May 31. Two days later, The New York Times picked it up and ran two columns in their popular Wine Talk page.  Add to Time’s readership of two million to New York Times’ twenty and you have it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Astonishingly, both of the winning entries came from small California start ups. The winners Mike Grgich – the wine maker at Montelena and Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Cellars both apprenticed and worked with Lee Stewart of Souverain Cellars and Robert Mondavi of Robert Mondavi wineries during their formative years. Mike and I both went to public schools, says Warren. It has been said about the wine country that even though vintners’ may compete for the market shares, at personal level they are close knit congenial families. In case of Mike and Warren, not only did they sort of follow the same trajectories, they are also friends. Even though Warren no longer owns and runs Stag’s Leap Cellars, he still supplies them grapes that he grows on his Arcadia Vineyards, which in turn once belonged to Mike Grgich – the same one where the grapes of his winning Chardonnay were grown. Mike has now moved to Southern California, but Warren talks of him with fondness and how they have remained friends and remembers the winemaker’s winemaker, late André Tchelistcheff, we were not only friends but also teachers to each other.

Warren Winiarski’s father ran a livery business, whose hobby was to make fruit, honey and dandelion wine. Little Warren remembers pressing his ear to the “bubbling barrels” fermenting wines in his family’s basement. At the time, neither livery nor wine making is something Warren aspired to.  But he liked gardening in his family’s garden, growing carrots, lettuce, beets and tomatoes. He loved the soil and what it was capable of yielding.

But Warren, like most of us at that age, not knowing exactly what he eventually wanted of his life, chose not to go to Tuley High in the district but instead went to Lane Tech out of the district. Once graduated, he veered from studying forestry at Colorado A & M University to Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland – where he met his future wife Barbara Dvorak – and back to Chicago ending up at University of Chicago where he studied Political Science and Philosophy, leading him to doing research on Niccolò Machiavelli at he Croce Institute in Naples and then at University of Florence in Italy.

It was during his stint in Italy that he first experienced wine as a lifestyle beverage to be consumed with meals on daily basis. Even though he would return to University of Chicago and stay on for six years as a lecturer in the basic program of the Great Books studies, something deep inside him craved for simpler life. He flirted with the idea of leading some sort of agricultural life out and away from the city. In the end, his Italian experience with wine as a part of life style lead him to write to small wineries in California. Lee Stewart of Souverain wrote him back and offered him the job to be his number two. Without much a do, on August 1, 1964 he packed up his rickety Chevy station wagon, hitched to it a U-Haul trailer and with his wife Barbara and their two young kids, aged four years and eighteen months, headed West. Must be in his blood, because his family name Winiarski means someone or something “of wine” or “from wine” in Polish.

What was so unique about the Paris wine tasting was that none of the California vintners had any inkling as to when and where the tasting was taking place and whether theirs was one of the competing wines or there was even a competition. Or whether anyone cared! The French certainly didn’t. In his interview with Lane Tech High School’s newsletter, Warren says: I did not know that the tasting would be a beauty contest with French wines. (Normally) in the Paris tasting only one wine was tasted, evaluated and scored at a time.

As reported by George M. Taber in his Judgment of Paris, when Grgich heard the news of his Montelena Chardonnay winning, (he) still didn’t know what to do. So he started dancing around the winery shouting in his native Croatian, I am born again, I am born again! On that day, Warren was visiting his old family home in Chicago, and couldn’t be reached directly. Later when his wife Barbara called him from California with the news, he said simply, That’s nice. Ever so professorial!

No wonder that while still growing grapes at his new winery Arcadia, he continues to teach at St. John’s, the courses include Democracy in America, Aristotle’s Ethics and Machiavelli the Prince.

During our conversation, he tells me that Chicago is a great town, vital and full of energy. While he is reminiscing of what the neighborhood was like, I fill him in on how it has evolved even since I moved in here just a dozen years ago. I tell him about the bars and the restaurants scene and tell him about one of my most favorite restaurants on the strip, Via Carducci, and that he would be pleased to know that how the down home Joe’s Wine Cellar has become one of the most favorite spots for the local wine lovers. To which he says: it’s been a while since I have been back. When I come back to the town you can take me to your favorite restaurant and also to Joe’s Wine Cellar. And if you ever come back this way, I will take you around.

That’s a deal Warren. It would be an honor to show you around your old stomping grounds – so take me up on it. And you have certainly got me thinking about hoping a plane west to take you up on your offer!

© 2019 Haresh Shah

Illustrations                                                                                                                                      The Winning Wine Bottle – Courtesy Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars                                                    Warren Winiarski – Bob McClenahan / Courtesy Arcadia Vineyard


I would have not thought of writing this without having come across Judgement of Paris by George M. Taber. A fascinating history of wines that is a fast paced page turner. Thanks George!

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Flown in from the Global Skies

Haresh Shah

I can now report with a sigh of relief that Emily Book Gloekler, the new owner of One Strange Bird certainly isn’t chopped liver. In the short eight months since she has taken over, you can’t help but feel the new energy and enthusiasm in the products and the activities that defines this store as a different kind of place. Outwardly, the store is the same, the feeling of warm friendliness and ease that makes you want to pop in, browse and linger, remains the same. Most of the basic product categories are still the same, such as abundance of hand made greeting cards, coffee mugs and t-shirts. It is also filled with one of a kind artisanal jewelry and other lovingly hand crafted objet d’art as before. But there are more of all of them, and you see wider variety. Interestingly, the ex-owner Nicole Northway and the current Mama, Emily Gloekler both originally stem from the state of Missouri, and they both bring the down home mid-western sensitivities in their store and the products. Emily adds to that an international dimension. The difference between  winding down and starting anew is certainly palpable.

The store is the place for the people looking for something other than run of the mill commercial products. They are looking for something special, something personal and something unique for very special occasions and people in their lives. Gift is not just a gift – a well thought out personal gift is one step above. The store changes its focus for all the special days of the year, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year. Valentine’s Day, St’ Patrick’s, Easter and Mother’s Day. It amazes me to see how fast its window display and decor changes soon as one holiday segues into the other.

Emily comes back to her mid-western roots via an extended stay in Tanzania, someone who has not only traveled wide and far but has also lived in various countries.  Not yet forty, born and grown up in Prairie Village, Kansas, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Northern American University, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ten years later, she picked up her Master of Arts in International Development from the  University of Kent in Brussels, Belgium. Her professional trajectory include trading Foreign Exchange in Chicago, Microfinancing in Bangladesh, Kenya and Tanzania and then moving to global health, working for Population Services International, also in Tanzania.

What started it all is Emily becoming pregnant in 2012 with her now six year old daughter Evie. While on the maternity leave from her PSI job, on impulse she began making clothes for her yet unborn daughter. All the mothers and mothers to be around her loved what she created, so much so that at some point she acquired a sewing machine and hired help to meet the demand. She also started making hand crafted one of a kind jewelry and other artisanal stuff.

Instead of going back to work at the end of her maternity leave, she took off a year to expand her little cottage industry – now under her newly formed company Kipepeo (Butterfly in Kiswahili) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  When Evie was one year old, Emily’s relationship with her father was falling apart, resulting in her leaving him. Following her split and facing financial constraint, Emily went back to work for PSI. However, she continued to produce handmade designs and work part time at Kipepeo.

Three years later and still operating from home, it began to get a bit crowded between her workers and her customers constantly milling around. The brand and the concept had grown. It became apparent that she needed some sort of an outlet away from home – a pop up shop. Helen Espey Kelly – a close friend of hers owned a weaving company and offered space for her to be able to do just that. Not too long after, she realized that what was up until then a sideline, could well be viable as a full time venture and opened up Kipepeo retail shop at Slipway Shopping Center.

On the parallel track, even with Kipepeo up and running, her contentious relationship with Evie’s father had gotten down to an all time low, in which their daughter was becoming a pawn as they began to negotiate the terms of un-dearment. It got to the point where she no longer felt comfortable in that environment. Something needed to be done. Emily packed up her daughter and eight suitcases and moved back to the States on February 1, 2018. The reason Chicago because during her two plus years of stint working for the Foreign Exchange in the city, she had acquired a condo in Wicker Park, which she was renting out. She at least had a home to come back to.

While still in the process of getting settled and with Evie enrolled in school, Emily frequented the neighborhood stores – among them Paperish Mess and Komota, both in West Town on Chicago Avenue. And of course One Strange Bird on Division. Actually she walked past the store almost everyday while walking Evie to her school. One day she just called Nicole at OSB and asked her if she would be interested in carrying her jewelry. Nicole said sure – on consignment of course – even without asking to look at what she had. The store sold so much of Emily’s stuff that she would often hang out at the shop. Nicole mentioned too bad because she was soon closing the store and moving to Florida.

Ever so entrepreneurial, Emily wondered:

Instead of closing down, why don’t you sell the shop?

Why? Are you interested? Nicole asked.


And so they began to talk. The rest as the saying goes, is history. Emily promptly took over the shop as of August 1, 2018.

Since then Emily has put her heart and soul into the store. With her seductive granular voice and the smiles she welcomes every browser, perhaps also a buyer, putting them at ease, which also works to her benefit when she holds her BYOB craft evenings and sans BYOB kids’ camps. Other than being a shop for things different and unique, to borrow from it’s website: One Strange Bird is an event space/art studio that features a carefully curated selection of apparel, accessories, and gifts from local and national designers.  Not to mention featuring creations form her store and connections in Tanzania where she travels frequently and it has also resulted in her acquiring unique merchandise from her stop overs in Turkey. The art studio offers a welcoming environment. It’s the perfect place to express your creative side and unwind after a long work week. A wide variety of classes from terrarium building, painting, print making, and collage are offered. And they are fun!!! Additionally, the studio offers kid’s art summer camps, private events and parties.

The events bring out Emily’s skills as a teacher and an instructor and a group leader. She is natural in these varied roles. And this strange bird and single mother, if not exactly thriving yet, sure promises to do just that in not too far of a future.

◙                                                                                                                                                                © 2019 Haresh Shah                                                                                                                            ◙                                                                                                                                                                One Strange Bird, 2124 W. Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 -773 276 4420 /

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ONE STRANGE BIRD                                                                  

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And Torture Heals

Haresh Shah

It was New Year’s Eve some years ago when I had returned home after having had a Sushi dinner with some friends and had resigned to having a quiet evening, snuggling up with a book – maybe treat myself to a glass of wine. No such luck! Soon I hear a loud knocking on my door. It’s my neighbor Evan from across the hall. Off goes the book and my quiet evening. I join into the celebration. Soon it’s almost three in the morning. We are all happy drunk. Seeing the party is nowhere near about to end, and that I am fading, I say my final Happy New Year to everyone  and begin to back out. I have not far to go. Just before I exit, I am bookended by Tara and Hannah and am showered with squeezes and kisses, we love you so much and such, each clinging to one of my arms and pulling as if I were the rope in a tug of war. I am pleased with the hugs and kisses and all the fuss, but not quite steady on my feet. Neither are they. And then Tara lets go. Hannah and I fall. I have landed right next to her and hit the floor with the back of my upper arm. Ouch!  We get up and I stumble across the hall and into my bed.

The next morning I wake with aching in the muscles of my upper arm. I pop an Advil and don’t pay any attention to it. The days pass, I try Ben Gay, more pills– nada! The pain has actually intensified with time. Dr. Ajmani prescribes Aspercreme. Nope! How about Physical Therapy? I suggest.

Every so often – that is hundreds of times, I have walked past Accelerated Rehabilitation Center on Division  right across the street from Letizia’s. I walk in with the prescription. I end up buying a sleeveless t-shirt. Laura Novak nurses it back to near normal – with massaging the muscles and subjecting me to all sorts of what I have since come to call tortures. I return for my aching back, which doesn’t quite work. Eventually requiring me to agreeing to go through a surgery. I return back for post surgery rehabilitation. The place is now called Athletico Physical Therapy, and I am being treated by Scott Howard. When I leave after 20 sessions – I am feeling a whole lot better. He gives me a printout of several exercises that I can do at home. For the longest time, I can’t get rid of his daily command of two sets of fifteen. I hear his voice every morning when I begin to do my exercises, two sets of fifteen, two sets of fifteen, two sets of fifteen!!!


A year and a half later, I am back on the table – with some discomfort in my back – this time it’s Caitlin Regan. Her touch is softer and she normally orders two sets of ten with some exceptions, especially if happened to have mentioned even in passing about liking one exercise over others. Even though I define them as tortures and the therapists torturers, there is no denying that whatever initial pain you must endure, helps you eventually ease if not totally kill the larger pain for which you have subjected yourself to the physical therapy.

But it takes time – and patience. Not only on your part but more so on the part of the therapists. To cajole and coddle you – to keep you motivated. To keep you in motion for an entire hour for twenty or more sessions over a period of a month or two. Every day they treat between nine to thirteen  patients, with different parts of their limbs hurting. Aching back like mine – twisted ankle, broken leg, arthritic knees!!

How do they do it?

Compassion of course. But then I have often thought, what made them wanting to be a physical therapists in the first place?

Not only physically treating and guiding you, but the therapists are also subjected to multi-tasking. A rolling table and a laptop follow them while they are treating you, constantly inputting details of everything they administer to their patients, do manuals while continuously observing each patient on tables, asking assistants for help. Scurrying back and forth.

Once she acquired her bachelor’s degree in exercise science, when it came to choose a career, Caitlin wasn’t sure. First she considered studying Sports Marketing but then realizing there just weren’t enough jobs in the field, she ruled that out and then gave some thought to maybe becoming a vet. That too she ruled out considering how long it would take to graduate – not to speak of also how expensive. Physical Therapy was mentioned, not exactly but it somehow seemed related to sports and she felt it would be something I might like doing. She enrolled at University of Miami, one of the best schools in the country offering Physical Therapy curriculum. It would take only three years, including on site hands on training. She has been a therapist for last seven years and she really loves it.

When I asked Paul Sraders, the other therapist on site, a good question. When I started looking at career choices I wanted to do something where I can teach and help people. My family background is in medicine. My dad is a doctor and mom a nurse and I thought physical therapy is where I can do both. He promptly enrolled at UIC. Paul graduated two years ago and right out of college, joined Athletico, and is really enjoying what he does.

Whatever their reasons, I am glad they are there. And that they are a walking distance from me, right on Division. Even though it’s a part of a large regional chain, the Wicker Park location is a smaller of the facilities with only two full fledge therapists working with a couple of student trainees. It has a feel more of a neighborhood warmth and friendliness. Soon as you step in, you are not only greeted by Caitlin and Paul, but you’re also greeted with smiles by Jessica and Grace and currently also by Casey, making  you feel right at home and make you oblivious to the torture you’re about to be subjected – knowing that in the end, you will leave your therapy in a better shape then when you first checked in.

© 2019 Haresh Shah

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Athletico Physical Therapy 2143 West Division Street, Chicago, Ill. 60622 773 489 0347


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Simone & Nelson

Haresh Shah

He threw himself on me and for the first time I spoke his name. “Lewis!”

“Anne! I am so happy.”

He was naked, I was naked, and I felt no constraint; he couldn’t hurt me by looking at me, for he didn’t judge me, didn’t compare me. From head to toe, his hands were learning my body by heart. Again, I said, “I like your hands.”

“Do you like them?”

“All evening I’ve been wondering if I’d feel them on my body.’

“You’ll feel them all night long,” he said.

Simone de BeauvoirThe Mandarins

That’s the fictional version of the first night Simone de Beauvoir spent with Nelson Algren at his tiny apartment on 1523 West Wabansia, off Division in Chicago (since demolished to make room for Kennedy Expressway).

Just imagine, one of the French legends of the existentialist trio of the ‘50’s and the ‘60’s consisting of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, transplanted from the sophisticated Cafe Les Deux Magots  of Paris to what was becoming to be the seedy near north west side neighborhood of Chicago’s Division Street at the intersection of Ashland and Milwaukee avenues, popularly known as Polish Triangle, sitting with Algren and some of his friends in what she describes as a “dreary cafeteria”.

But Simone had fallen head over heels in love with this rogue American writer of down trodden and desperate of the underworld. The contrast couldn’t have been any starker – already acclaimed as the writer, philosopher and the bon vivant of Paris literati socialites  – who would go on to write the sensational and ground breaking The Second Sex –  (Le Deuxième Sexe) considered to be the beginning of the second wave of feminism. By then her prominence and popularity had reached the pinnacle not only in France and Europe but also across the Atlantic, that  soon after the end of the second World War, Simone was invited to give a series of lectures in the United States on her work and the philosophy. As excited and flattered as she was of the recognition and the invitation, she was still unsure and apprehensive about crossing the ocean and step into the unknown. She took her time. Actually several months before accepting the invitation after being repeatedly prodded by Sartre, Camus and their other friends.

During her brief visit to Chicago Simone had encountered Nelson for a day and they had parted with a perfunctory kiss. The one she remembered as she was on the train traveling to New Orleans. And while reading Algren’s book, she thinks of him and reminisces: It’s ridiculous! At my age!” But like virgin’s, my mouth still tingled. I had never kissed a man except those with whom I had slept; and each time that shadow of a kiss flashed through my mind, it seemed as if I was going to rediscover burning remembrance of love in the deepest recesses of my memory. “I will come back,” I said to myself decisively.

And come back she does. While she is still on her American tour. Just for “four days” and then stays for as many weeks. On their first day together Algren shows her around Chicago, including the County Jail and the Electric Chair. This is the night they leave her suitcase at the hotel room – come home and make love for the first time.

She returns to Paris and resumes her normal life. A little over a year later, she boards the plane in Paris and thinks: There is Chicago, I would once more rediscover myself in the body of a woman in love, a woman loved. It’s a long journey. The plane takes her to Athens and then to Shannon in Ireland and Azores and to Nova Scotia – finally landing at the Chicago Municipal Airport (later renamed Midway Airport after the Battle of Midway).

Not knowing when she would finally arrive, they have agreed that she would grab a cab from the airport. I am as much intrigued as I am fascinated imagining Simone de Beauvoir in the cab, cruising along north on Cicero Avenue, the cab turning right on Division and then she doesn’t remember the exact street address. It is when the red sign Schlitz flashes off a local tavern in front of her eyes – something she remembers having seen the time before and then she knows. Probably it was a different sign, but at the time, Schlitz Brewery and it’s “Tide House” were prominent on Division Street. Designated Landmark, the building still stands at the corner of North Wood and Division, complete with Schlitz belted globe at the center of its top gable, which is now the home of Mac’s American Pub.

That Simone would seek out Nelson Algren and show up at his doorstep, in itself must have thrown him off kilter and that the relationship would flourish and last for five straight years spanning from 1947 to 1951 is by any dint of imagination astounding. It would be Simone traveling to America  and staying with Nelson several months every year in Chicago and then his cottage on Miller Beach in Gary, Indiana.  During one of her visits, they together also traveled to Mexico and spent there several months. And of course their relationship took Nelson to Paris many a times. Not only was he warmly welcomed by, but Sartre even translated two of his books into French must have seemed to Nelson so out of his elements and bizarre that for a long time he probably didn’t even realize what hit him. Even after their amorous escapades ended in 1951, they would continue to write to each other up until 1965 is all so incredible.

Up until then, and even now, you couldn’t well think of Simone de Beauvoir without thinking of her exceptional life-long bond with Jean Paul Sartre – winner of the Nobel Prize in  Literature and one of the most prominent figures of the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology. More than or as much as their literary achievements, Beauvoir and Sartre will always be talked about for their “open relationship”. Never married to each other, they together challenged the socio-cultural norms they grew up with – considered monogamy to be bourgeois – they had multiple affairs and liaisons all through their lives, including Simone’s several dalliance with other women – all out in the open, and they would tell each other everything. And the ultimate bond between Sartre and Beauvoir was so solid and well defined that they together had purchased the neighboring plots and had willed eventually to be buried side by side – which they are in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.

Of course, it all must have bothered Nelson a lot, but Simone must have somehow managed to hold him in her thrall while herself continuing to be smitten by Nelson and yet never ever giving up her independence or leaving Sartre must have finally hit him hard. While Simone was an open book, in which she turned every experience, every liaison, every nuance into her writing – in which most of her writing is autobiographical somehow snuggly fitted into the frame of their existentialist philosophy. Her Prix Goncourt (the highest literary honor in France) winning The Mandarins prominently features Algren as the American writer Lewis Brogan, is dedicated to Nelson Algren.

There is nothing Algren has written tells us anything about himself. While you can tell from his books that he is a keen observer of people and their nuances and speech – in his narration there is never an “I”, probably with only exception of his prose poem, CHICAGO: City on the Make. When you look at his photos – the only expression you remember of his face is “brooding”. We can only speculate about what he might be thinking in his reticent professorial demeanor. In the end he was a product of America’s down home Midwest. Born in Detroit, Michigan and transplanted to Chicago as a child, underneath his macho and tough façade of which Simone has said he was not merely as tough as he would like you to think. And there you have it. His values by and large had to remain mid Western and mid-American middle class.  Or what his French lover and her life long partner had summed up to be, bourgeois.

Because what he would have of course liked was to have a conventional relationship and be married to Simone, her moving to Chicago and them living together happily ever after. But as his friend and writer Stuart McCarrell puts it: She knew it wouldn’t work. I don’t think it would have lasted six months if she had married him and moved to Chicago. It was utterly impractical what he wanted her to do – an everything or nothing proposition.

Finally realizing and even turning sour on his longest lasting love, Nelson began to feel that Simone sold him out by writing about their relationship and their sexual antics in minute detail, that during an interview he cried out: ‘procurers are more honest than philosophers. She must have taken notes every time we made love.’

No matter how their relationship eventually ended or didn’t, the story of Simone and Nelson’s  trans-Atlantic love affair has become as much a part of Chicago and it’s neighborhood as that of Hugh Hefner’s, and Carl Sandburg’s and Al Capone’s. Still fascinating after seventy years!

RELATED STORY                                                                                                                                NELSON ALGREN                                                                                                                                 The Man Who Put Division Street On Map Of The World                                     

© 2019 Haresh Shah

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The Man Who Put Division Street On Map Of The World

On the sunny Saturday of December 5, 1998, Chicago’s literati that included the legendry oral historian, television personality and journalist, Nelson Algren’s close friend and perhaps one of his biggest fans, Studs Terkel, the poet, playwright and the founder of Algren Committee, Stu McCarrell, mayor Richard M. Daley, the alderman Jesse Granato and the Polish leader Zygmund “Ziggy” Dyrkscz and a large group of the writer’s fans and friends got together on the Polish Triangle at the intersection of Ashland-Milwaukee and Division Streets. They had gathered for the dedication ceremony of the newly erected fountain named after the neighborhood’s rogue writer Nelson Algren, who had lived in the neighborhood for thirty five years and in his writing put the Division Street and its neighborhoods on map of the world.

This after the long battle and prolonged negotiations between the members of Nelson Algren Committee and the Polish Roman Catholic Union. Why?

Because as much as he had become an integral part of the neighborhood, the residents and the keepers of the local flame never really accepted him as their own. In what was then pre-dominantly poor blue collar Polish neighborhood, he was an outsider. And he wrote about downtrodden and desperate drug addicts, drunks, criminals, prostitutes and gamblers who also happened to be Polish and poor. Most of them of Jewish origin. Even though Algren himself was part Jewish on his mother’s side, and his first wife Amanda Kontowicz was Polish – the community felt that what he wrote was anti-Semitic and that his stories denigrated the local population in general.

So much so that the Polish Roman Catholic Union took the issue to then Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly and had his novel Never Come Morning banished from Chicago’s Public Libraries soon after it was published in 1942. And so it remained for more than twenty years. The animosity lingered even after two generations had turned over and most of the Poles had moved away from the neighborhood, leaving behind only a couple of remnants of its Polish identity. The Nelson Algren Committee faced a very strong and emotional resistance when it proposed and worked on memorializing their beloved author by naming after him what was and still is commonly known as the Polish Tringle. They hope to maybe someday even have his statue erected on the site, because that was the universe in which his characters from three of his books, The Man With The Golden Arm, Never Come Morning and Neon Wilderness inhabited. This had the Polish community up in the arms – totally horrified. They felt that would erase their history in the city. Thus ensued the struggle between two forces. Represented by Zygmund “Ziggy” Dyrkscz – the owner of Chopin Theatre, they argued that it was “their” territory and their identity in the city which is still often defined as containing of the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw.

Finally a compromise was reached and it was decided that the little plaza was to remain known as it always had been – the Polish Triangle which was considered and would remain the gate to the long stretch of Division Street aka Polish Broadway that extended all the way to Humboldt Boulevard. The fountain would be named after Nelson Algren. So the gathering of who’s who of Chicago. After the dedication ceremony everyone probably went to a nearby bar that Algren frequented or not, feeling stoked.

The irony is: though it was never officially named Polish Triangle with a street sign indicating as such. Whereas even though at the base of the fountain is engraved NELSON ALGREN FOUNTAIN in brass and it is also surrounded by a quote from his book Chicago: City on the Make, that reads: For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. And yet, no one I know knows of the significance of the fountain or has ever looked down at the inscription on the ground beneath it. For that matter, no one I know or lives around here has known or heard of Nelson Algren.

For that matter, up until about six months ago, even I had no idea who Nelson Algren was – other than he may have appeared as a blimp on the radar of my general knowledge of the world literature. And now I see him everywhere. Especially his presence is felt on, around and within the twelve blocks of Chicago’s Division Street.

The third floor of 1958 West Evergreen Avenue was home for Algren’s final eighteen years living in Chicago spanning from 1958 to 1976. It is marked as a building of distinction by Chicago Tribune. This stretch of Evergreen is granted honorary Nelson Algren Avenue sign.  Earlier he lived on 1523 Wabansia and 1815 West Division in an apartment above Millers Lumber Store, the place I used to frequent up until it was demolished some years ago  to make room for modern condos, never realizing that it used to be a home to the man of a certain literary distinction. What’s more, Frankie and Sophie Machine of The Man With The Golden Arm lived diagonally opposite, on 1860 West Division, the fictitious address that doesn’t exist, except in  Algren’s  imagination.

The writer’s writer, Earnest Hemingway proclaimed Nelson Algren to be the best American writer in the same breath along with William Faulkner. Algren won the National Book Award in 1950, a year before Faulkner won his, for considered to be his best novel, The Man With The Golden Arm. The book was made into the movie by Otto Preminger staring Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, and for which Sinatra was Oscar nominated for best actor. There are at least two coffee table photography books by Art Shay – his friend, fan and the photographer of Life magazine, filled with Algren himself traipsing around his nocturnal turf, as if following in the footsteps of the characters he had created.

And there is enough written about the man and his work, someone you would think is on a revival track, and yet other than a handful of hard core aficionados and the new converts like myself, he seems to have totally disappeared from the literary shelves. While you would have no problem finding titles of the books of his contemporaries – such as Faulkner, Hemingway and Studs Terkel, and most of all his French paramour Simone de Beauvoir, you would be hard pressed to find any of his titles on the shelves – except in used bookstores.

Algren had a love/hate relationship with Chicago, to whom he writes: I never pretended to love for something you were not, I never told you you smelled of anything but cheap cologne. I never told you you were anything but a loud old bag. Yet you’re still the doll of the world and I’m proud to have slept in your tireless arms. But eventually he must have felt disoriented with his love for the city that he couldn’t help but feel: No writer ever gave more to a city and got back less.

So when he got a magazine assignment in New York, he moved to New Jersey and then heartbroken never coming back to Chicago, he went on to live in Sag Harbor, Long Island, which is where he died of heart attack all alone, without a widow or descendants, hundreds and hundreds of miles from Chicago, Illinois, which had given him to the world and with whose underbelly he had been so long identified, mourned Kurt Vonnegut – one of his  literary friends and a fan.

But that’s not the end of the story of Nelson Algren I want to tell. So far I have successfully avoided telling you about his most tempestuous and long lasting trans-Atlantic relationship with the French writer, existential philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir. The one that has intrigued me and rest of the world the most. For that, stay tuned for the part two of Nelson Algren.

© 2019 Haresh Shah


AN IMPROBABLE LOVE STORY                                                                                          SIMONE & NELSON                                                                                                                              No two people can be more different than the “Frenchie”, the sophisticated feminist, the writer and the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and the toughie who not only wrote of the underworld but himself lived the life in the seediness under the neon lights, Nelson Algren.

My special thanks to Dana Jarmer for kindly passing on to me the letter size manila envelope stuffed with a major article and other relevant information on Nelson Algren which then lead me to other sources. (

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