Aug 26, 2012

Hugh Laurie

For those of you not aware, Hugh Laurie has turned his career to music, and was in town to play the Park West theater. He plays with the same humor and passion as his earlier endeavors. This Englishman started a pretty decent career in British comedy series with his partner Stephen Fry in "A bit of Fry & Laurie", and teaming up with Rowan 'Mr. Bean' Atkinson in the classic "Blackadder" series. But in the U.S. he is probably best known for his Guinness book of records earning role as 'Dr. House'. In its heydays this made him an impressive $700,000 per episode, so he can now probably do more or less anything he feels like doing. And what he felt like was pursuing his life's passion of New Orleans jazz and Louisiana and Chicago blues.

He started with a caveat that he will probably f#*! up the performance, so that we better listen to the band, but look at him. He could very much apprehend the audience, comparing his actor-turned-musician to sitting on an airplane when the pilot comes on the PA system to announce he was doing pedicures up to 6 weeks ago but was now very excited to have passed the pilot exam and start his life's dream of flying. Hugh Laurie certainly has not lost his improv comedian skills, talking between songs like no other musician GABROEN saw before, and instantly incorporating reactions from the audience.

By the way, for those of you not aware, Hugh Laurie in real life is not Dr. House; he doesn't limp, he is not grumpy, and he is not a know-it-all. That was also his response to a woman in the audience shouting: "I love you, Dr. House".

By the way, for those of you not aware, an American concert audience is very different from a Dutch concert audience. In Holland people are very actively applauding and cheering, but no one shouts out words and everyone stays in their seats. In contrast, an American audience never sits still, continuously gets up to get drinks, answer calls, go pee, or whatever they do. Being Dutch, GABROEN doesn't walk around so doesn't really know whatever the rest of the audience does when walking around.  But an American audience also makes for a more interactive show, shouting out things at the performer in question that makes the show more dynamic and funny. Unless the performer in question is Van Morrison, who GABROEN saw in an Atlanta concert a couple of years ago, and who does not tolerate the audience drinking, making calls, taking pictures, talking, nothing, nada. By the way, for those of you not aware, Van Morrison does not say one single word himself in concerts.

So Hugh Laurie is very funny. We knew that from his 1980s and 90s shows that also aired on Dutch television, and we experienced it in this concert as well. He is also a pretty darn good jazz piano player, and his voice fits this genre well as long as the songs are more mellow.

It was nice to see this man pursue his dream, and I know many worse ways for a rich man to spend his money than reviving 1920s jazz and 1950s blues. This was his first gig in Chicago, sweet home Chicago, the home of the blues. He was clearly in awe and a little sentimental, as he grew up with the music from so many Chicago blues musicians, including his all time hero Muddy Waters. He even got emotional when Mud Morganfield, the eldest son of Muddy, joined the stage for two songs. Mud may have inherited the looks and voice of his dad, but certainly not the song-writing skills. All in all a great night out in sweet home Chicago.

Brewer City

Although we have visited Milwaukee before, those times we didn't really see anything more than the fabulous art museum, an instant design classic by Calatrava  (see the post MAM), or the Bead&Button Show. Being only an hour north of us, we decided to do another visit, but this time to explore the city. We started at a local bead store to stock up on much needed glass beads, delicas and pretty stones for various projects. This took a nice but substantial chunk of time, and left us hungry and late for lunch. Fortunately the historic Third Ward just south of downtown is buzzing with activity all day long, so we had no trouble finding a nice table on Water Buffalo's patio for a late lunch with some locally brewed beers.

Milwaukee has a large German immigrant population, who mad the city synonymous with beer, and gave it its nickname "Brewer City". In the 1850s it already had an average of one tavern per 40 residents, and it still boasts today to have the country's highest concentration of bars. It gives the city a pleasant vibe, and the beautiful afternoon weather during our trip made it even more lively.

The Third Ward looks a bit like what was done in the London Docklands or Amsterdam Western Harbor area, except for the brewery boat tours that moored off and on for a tasting at the local microbreweries, or for the powerboats returning with roaring engines from a trip on Lake Michigan.

The area is filled with warehouses that are converted to residential lofts or spaces for hip businesses and shops. So that meant browsing art shops, artsy clothing stores and make-up studios, and enjoying a Starbucks on the riverfront.

And although not a typical Milwaukee souvenir, how could we resist bringing home this little fella. His name is Koibito and he perfectly embodies the spirit of this funky water neighborhood. We will be returning....

Aug 19, 2012

Circus Pier

Chicago's Navy Pier extends 1000 meters into Lake Michigan right from the heart of downtown, and is more a peninsula than a pier. It was build in 1916 as a dock for freight ships and passengers steamers, as well as for a cooler location for entertainment in those days prior to air-conditioning. It turned into a huge naval training center in World War II (hence its current name), with more than 15,000 pilots practicing aircraft carrier take off and landing. It then became part of the University of Illinois campus, but since 20 years it has grown into Chicago's number one tourist attraction.
Friday night is clearly the night out for Navy Pier. Its original designer was architect Burnham, the great city planner and mastermind behind building skyscrapers on Chicago's marshy grounds. He was also the man behind Chicago's World Fair in 1893, the first event to feature a Ferris wheel, after Burnham wrote out a contest for any engineering feat that would make Chicago's fair the greatest ever by surpassing Paris' recently erected Eiffel Tower. So it is more than fitting that a large Ferris wheel is the primary attraction on today's pier.
Less fitting is that the main smell for the whole 1,000 meters is scale beer, that the main sound is the music blasting too loud from a speaker system, and that the entertainment is ..........., well entertainment. GABROEN came there for the entertainment as well, for a performance of Cirque Shanghai. Our Friday night 9pm show was actually their third show of the day, and we have deep respect for the sheer physical endurance of these performers and dare-devils. It was the well known formula of balancing acts, acrobatics, and juggling, but this group did go to pretty extreme levels:

  • How many Chinese can ride on one bicycle? -  10
  • With how many balls can you juggle under your legs and behind your back? - 3, then 4, then 5, 6, and even 7 balls
  • How many motorbikes can ride circles at top speed inside a 15 meter metal sphere? - 5 (!)
  • How many can do a handstand on top of balancing chairs? - 7 (!)

So it was a great night on the town, but perhaps the first and last time for GABROEN at Navy Pier. We'll take another sunset cruise out on the lake in a heartbeat (see the earlier post Last week's birthday)

Aug 16, 2012

Fun on Route 41

US Highway 41 seems to be running like an asphalted red thread through GABROEN's life in the United States. For our orientation visit, we stayed in an Atlanta hotel on Cobb Parkway, a.k.a. the local name for US-41, and we looked in amazement at the lack of esthetics in the collection of car dealerships and strip malls along this 8-lane stretch. Our very first house in the U.S. was off US-41, my first work place was off US-41, and our first vacation was to Florida, driving 600 miles south and back north either on or parallel to that very same US-41. And today, the largest part of my daily commute is along Skokie Valley Highway, a.k.a. the local name for, you guessed it......, again that very same US-41. The highway actually runs from Michigan north of us all the way down to Miami Beach.

So it was fitting that we were invited to a surprise party for NanC's birthday, on Chicago's Lincoln Avenue, a.k.a. US-41. Before the party started, GABROEN first explored the neighborhood of Lincoln Square, and enjoyed a bite and a 'flight' of Belgian-style beers from microbreweries around the country - probably none on US-41.

The party was at a somewhat obscure bar called Hidden Cove Lounge, with a defect neon palm tree sign - perhaps a reminiscent reminder of the final destination if you continue following that very road southbound. It brought additional meaning to the surprise party concept, because none of the guests were expecting this place to be the location for a party for the birthday girl. But it is actually the bar where NanC's daughter Jessica regularly performs with her band, and they were playing the roof off with their enthusiasm. And it was still a much bigger surprise for the birthday girl, who innocently entered under the palm tree sign for what she thought would be just a night with the band. NanC has been more and more explicit about her wish for a surprise party, so it was great to see that everyone was able to keep this a secret for her.

The band's enthusiasm was contagious, and it turned out to be great party. Nothing beats dancing to some golden oldies. Happy birthday, NanC!

Aug 5, 2012

All the beading ladies

In case you, GABROEN follower, had not yet realized: Gabri is contributing, both as an artist and as a fierce desert queen (see the posts in January about an awesome photoshoot in the Tucson desert, such as 'The no-name-will-do-it-justice experience') to the new book Contemporary Geometric Beadwork by Kate McKinnon and Jean Power. You can get a preview of the book on its Facebook page, and of course like them. Also, the mighty Jean Power posted the following on her blog about one of Gabri's pieces. Check it out, as well as other posts on - it's pretty funny!!

Beading With Friends

Today GABROEN went to Beading With Friends, a local club of bead artists that meets monthly in Highland Park. Gabri is a "long term" member, joining the moment we moved to Illinois, but today was Jeroen's first. When blogging about anything that was said, shared, disclosed or blurted out at these club gatherings, the names of other club members will be changed in order to protect their identity, and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Why putting these rules in place? Well, let me list, in no particular order, some of the topics that were discussed today:

  • velcro not being a useful tool in Puerto Vallarta;
  • one can never have too many bowling balls in one's garden;
  • three incestuous sisters;
  • olympic pee;
  • loving Dutch Babies for breakfast, with powdered sugar;
  • a party to celebrate someone's passing, or a surprise funeral;
  • an elderly woman kneeling down with a glass tabletop on her back, pretending she was a coffee table;
  • space poo, and where the heck it goes;
  • wishing for an "amazing raise" from the casket at one's own funeral, right around the third verse of "Amazing Grace";
I rest my case. Suffice it to say this is months worth of blogging material.

It is a lot of fun to spend your Sunday with crafty, crazy, nifty and witty minds. GABROEN is renewing its BWF membership. Thanks to all Bee Wee eFfers, in particular Nancy (as stated above, not her real name..........). See you next time.

Aug 1, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by –
And never knew.

A photo update on the " day of the dead" mask by Gabriella.
I'm half way! Do I scare you?