Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Self-Indulgent Recap of 2013 (and the best of all the rest)

2013, for me, feels like it was a really good year.

I say this without any emphatic evidence, overt rationale, measurable successes or demonstrable self-improvement.

I did not land a terrific job, and while I am grateful for the 7 months I did work, a supposedly permanent job turned out to be temporary, an exciting freelance opportunity turned out to be fleeting & unfulfilling and the contract role I'm currently in doesn't offer much in the way of creative challenge or professional development.

I did not find true love, or at least it didn't find me.

I did not lose weight, even though I should have.

I did not write a book, play or movie, and really didn't create anything tangible. 

I did not move up in the world, or even increase my net worth, which likely still remains in the red.

On a personal and professional level, I experienced a number of disappointments, and don't mean to imply that 2013 was all a bowl of cherries. Or even Frosted Flakes.

I remained incredibly chagrined by the state of the world, including ongoing nonsense in Washington, and not at all coincidentally, on Wall Street. I believe the system might be irrevocably broken, and the employment marketplace--despite the misleading shrinking unemployment rate--remains in shambles.

I am pessimistic of anytime soon, if not ever, securing steady work that makes thorough use of my talents.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Heck, the only real highlight of a brutally dismal year in Chicago sports--the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, in exceedingly dramatic fashion--happened entirely while I was in Europe. Hence I didn't see a single minute of the Finals. (Live, that is; I subsequently watched the final 2 minutes.)

Still, as I sit here on New Year's Day, just two days removed from a medical test that revealed no issues of imminent concern but reiterated the need to shape up, and also--arising on the way to the hospital for said test--a car problem that required $736 for repairs I cannot name, I can't help but feel good about the past 12 months.

And with healthy cynicism ever-present, I am looking forward to what 2014 brings.

Before I get to travel and entertainment and culture and dining and this blog and whatever else I pursue to pretend my life has a purpose, let me start thanking the family and friends who truly comprise the highlight of this year...and all others.

I'll never be the person with the most friends, or even relatives with whom I'm close. But over the course of the year, I have gotten together with a number of relatives and at least a couple dozen different friends, some recent, some dating back 40 years.

All cherished. 

I have shared one-on-one meals with about 15 different people, several as part of my Chicago Dining World Tour "Sethnic dining" excursions (more on that below).

And I hosted seven Movie Nights, each attended by a good smattering of family & friends.

Plus I enjoyed using Facebook to share the articles I posted here, interact about music, movies and more, and offer the more-than-occasional inane comment.

Certainly, as this blog should convey, I derive plenty of pleasure and nourishment from entertainment, and over the past week I posted my picks for the Best Albums, Concerts, Plays, Musicals and Movies I enjoyed in 2013.

While I rue that there aren't more new musical artists who excited me, any year that sees the unexpected return of David Bowie and terrific concerts by Bruce Springsteen (who I saw at London's Wembley Stadium), The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam (at Wrigley Field), Leonard Cohen, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Bob Seger and more has to be considered a pretty good one.

I won't reiterate what I wrote in my Best of 2013 posts, but in addition to the genres I covered, I wanted to cite the following:

Television - I don't watch many of the most highly acclaimed shows--e.g. The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad (I started Season 1 and intend to watch more)--but my favorites were The Good Wife, Person of Interest and Orange is the New Black. HBO's documentary on Stephen Sondheim, Six by Sondheim, was absolutely terrific; I've long been a fan and still learned a lot.

Books - I only read 8 books in full during 2013, but enjoyed them all. These include Bruce (by Peter Carlin), Inferno (Dan Brown), Never Go Back (Lee Child), The Art Forger (B.A. Shapiro), Joyland (Stephen King), Trust Your Eyes (Linwood Barclay), Brilliance (Marcus Sakey) and likely my favorite, Six Years by Harlan Coben. (Links go to my reviews.)

Jazz - I love hearing great saxophonists, and tremendously enjoyed Chicago concerts by Ravi Coltrane and Joshua Redman. I also really liked the shows I saw while in Krakow, Poland, at the Harris Piano Jazz Bar and La Muniaka. And I wish I had gotten to Davenport, Iowa just a bit earlier so as to have heard more of Bix Lives, that city's annual tribute to native son Bix Beiderbecke.

Misc - I caught a good stand-up comedy show by Joel McHale of TV's The Soup and saw an excellent bluegrass performance by mandolin virtuoso Sienna Hull and her band.

In addition to large-scale rock concerts, I saw and sometimes even met personal favorites like Grant Hart, Ash, Willie Nile, Dave Davies and the best Beatles' cover band, American English.

I had the thrill of hearing Harry Belafonte speak in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., heard and met Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda, and may well be the only person to have my picture taken in 2013 with both him and My Big Fat Greek Wedding star Nia Vardalos, who spoke at the Skokie Public Library about safe adoption practices.

Among many outstanding theatrical performances I saw in 2013 were those by well-known stars such as Jimmy Smits, Rhea Perlman, Michael Shannon, John Mahoney, Chelcie Ross and Cathy Rigby, plus others of local and national stage renown.

Art and Museums - The Art Institute of Chicago had three excellent exhibitions this year, on Picasso, Fashion & Impressionism and Art & Appetite, while I also enjoyed the Museum of Science & Industry's Peanuts exhibit. On a smaller scale but also enjoyable, the Kenosha Public Museum also had a nice exhibit on Charlie Brown and friends.

Also quite a pleasant surprise was the Lake County Discovery Museum, including their vast postcard archives. And the Chicago History Museum had some worthwhile exhibits on a February visit.

I toured Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House in Chicago's Hyde Park, and his Stockman House in Mason City, Iowa, where I stayed in a marvelously-refurbished hotel he had designed, the Park Inn. Also in Iowa, I visited museums or attractions pertaining to Buddy Holly, John Wayne, Meredith Willson (The Music Man composer), Bob Feller, Herbert Hoover, puppeteer Bil Baird and others.

On my trip to Europe, I saw many other fabulous museums, including the National Gallery in London, the Belvedere, Kunsthistorisches and Secession Building in Vienna and the Museum of Modern Art inside the Pompidou Center in Paris. Plus numerous astonishing churches, palaces and more.

Sports - It was a rather dismal year for the Cubs and White Sox, but I got to 10 games between them, including at least one won by a walk-off homer. I didn't go to any Blackhawks games, but enjoyed watching them during their initial winning streak and then in the playoffs (until being in Europe kept me from seeing the Stanley Cup Finals.

I don't know if this counts as "Sports," but having not been able to attend a performance of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, I wandered up to Wadsworth to see the Tempel Lippizans.

Dining - I certainly had my share of good meals in 2013, many in service to my Chicago Dining World Tour blog series. All told I made it to 48 area representing different ethnic cuisines--actually more, but only wrote about one place per culture.

I still have a number of recaps to write and may explore a few more ethnicities in 2014, upon which point I'll post a summary of where I went with links to all. And a friend of mine is exploring how to turn my blog series into an e-Book.

But a few particularly terrific places that come to mind include Irazu (Costa Rican), Ay Ay Picante (Peruvian), Staropolska (Polish), Nonno Pino's (Italian), Ras Dashen (Ethiopian) and Jilly's (French).

Travel - In June, I went on a 2-week trip to Europe that included London, Krakow, Vienna, Budapest and Paris. It was pretty incredible, even a visit to the worst place in the history of mankind, Auschwitz.

It would take about 10 more paragraphs to sketch upon some of the highlights, and this piece is already long and pretentious enough. 

So you can see photos of my European vacation here, and if you really want to revisit my daily recaps, you can do so here (they start with this post on June 12).

In addition to Europe, I enjoyed getting to Kenosha, Milwaukee, Urbana--for Ebertfest, the first following Roger's death, which likely hit me hardest of all celebrity passings in 2013--and as mentioned above, multiple stops in Iowa.

You can read my recap of Iowa here, but in concluding this, as much for my own memory's sake as anything else, I'll mention that at the Surf Ballroom in Cedar Lake, IA, famous for being the venue last played by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, I met Richie Valens' sister, Connie. As in, I sat down at a table and she just happened to be at the same one.

It was that kind of year.

Hope you enjoyed it as well.

Here's to this one.

2013 by the numbers:

Movies seen: 143
Ticketed events (theater, concerts, sports, etc): 99
Photographs taken: 84,190
Blog posts written: 172 pageviews: 238,646

1 comment:

Ken said...


I admire your many cultural achievements during 2013 but moreso I admire your unquenchable joie de vivre. Thanks for once again showing us all that gratitude is the best attitude!