Saturday, December 26, 2015

Trip Back to the Old Neighborhood

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I wonder if this is just a Chicago area thing.
Melting pot of the world as Chicago is, one of the pots is the area west of the city that provided homes for Bohemian and Slovakian immigrants throughout the 20th century,  a heritage that Dear One claims as his own.  Cicero and Berwyn were enclaves of Czech and Slovak speaking people--and for some it is still called "The Old Neighborhood".

Each December for most of our marriage, we venture back to the old neighborhood for the express purpose of purchasing foods that Czech families like to eat at Christmas time.  Those special foods usually mean meat and bakery.
In the early years of our marriage--there were a couple of bakeries to which we made rounds.  Now there is just one.  Vsecky's on Cermak Road.  I remember when we would arrive and the shop had people spilling out on the street and pushing to take numbers from one of those red machines that always seems to be jammed.  Now you can usually walk right to the counter--but all the bohemian treats are still there-- kolache large and small (fruit filled dough thingies), hoska bread (kind of like panettone) rye bread in rounds the size of hub caps (with caraway seeds of course) and long rolls called rohlik, stuffed with sausage that look odd but are mighty tasty.


Sadly, the meat markets are gone these days.  I will not even try to spell the different types of sausages and sliced meats they used to sell.  They also sold homemade kraut and dumplings and gravy and of course pork roasts the size of a park bench.

But all is not lost.  The trip to the Old Neighborhood would not be complete with a lunch at The Bohemian Crystal of Westmont Illinois.   We arrived early--the place is huge and always jammed.  The menu would make any Czech grandma proud.  Pork, duck, dumplings of all kinds, VATS of gravy. stews. goulash--comfort food on steroids.  Eat lunch and maybe have a nap kind of food.  The owners are from Prague and all the servers are Czech is  Their First Language women. When we left an hour later, they were lined up out the door waiting for seats.  Without exaggeration--100 people waiting--for a Thursday lunch.


The old neighborhood still has its draw--thank heavens.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

When Lions Roar


It is always a treat when I come across a book that I can easily recommend--and When Lions Roar by Thomas Maier is just such a book.  It hits on all cylinders-- compelling biography about dysfunctional families, espionage real and imagined,  intimate affairs, troubled marriages, fortunes made and lost, careers with meteoric rise and fall  and solid easy to read history.  This book--in spite of being 600 pages plus--is quite a page turner.

When Lions Roar weaves two iconic historical families together through much of the 20th century--that of Winston Churchill and Joseph Kennedy.  It  was news to me how often these families intersected on so many fronts--politically, financially  and in the bedroom.  In their worlds, Winston and Joseph and several of their respective children, were ruthless in getting what they wanted in business and politics--and the collateral damage for all was difficulty in parenting and understanding their children,  fractured marriages, money troubles,  and for Joseph, serial and flagrant affairs and questionable business dealings.  For Winston, stress and ambition contributed to "the black dog" as he described his lifelong struggle with depression.

Author Maier has a most enjoyable writing style--developing  20th century history without ever bogging down in overly long paragraphs that you have to read several times to make them stick in your head.  Maier pulls no punches in describing each families shortcomings and laudatory as well as reprehensible behaviors.  Members of the Churchill and Kennedy families met and associated with FDR, Charles Lindberg, Marilyn Monroe,  Hitler and others--and Maier's research and footnoting are beyond thorough.

When Lion's Roar is interesting enough to be a good winter's read by the fire-- and is compelling and juicy enough to be a good beach read as well.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Friday, December 4, 2015

No More Dirty Paintings

I realize with the title of this posting--I may get some disappointed readers expecting a different topic.  This is about cleaning oil paintings--of G-rated subject matter.
For years, our bread and butter in the antique selling business has been selling oil paintings.  We comb over auction catalogues and estate sales and we buy oil paintings.  Many of the paintings have years of grime and soot and maybe  even smoke on them.  If they have been varnished then the varnish has turned brown and then grime gets impeded inside it.  Buying a reasonably priced painting at auction can then lead to a large bill to pay someone who has the knack to clean the gook off the painting.  Cleaning a painting  carefully can cost hundreds of dollars.
The local man we used to hire did fine work and was very reasonable.  But he has retired.  So for awhile now--Dear One and I have been limited in the types of paintings we have bought--focusing on already clean ones as we did not have anyone to do the work.  I called a Chicago area conservator for a painting we bought recently and was quoted 500-800 dollars for cleaning  a 16 by 20 painting.  Crazy.  More than crazy.

So what to do?

Clean our own paintings of course.   Why did I not think of this before?  After a little research and also talking to my antique dealer Dad, I have found out how to do it.  I am doing the
Antique Dealer Happy Dance.

The trick is in the solvent.  My Super Secret Find dissolves the grime, but does not harm the oil below.  Light agitation with small paint brush, dabbing up the schmootz with cotton pads--and decades of grime and smoke just wipe up.  There are different kinds of old varnish--and the removing of that takes Another Mystery Goop.  Now it can be a bit painstaking--but I have already cleaned three paintings--two for resale and one for keeps.  We are thrilled!  No painting is off limits now--and we can often "bottom fish" at auctions and find some gems that just need a cleaning.

We will steer clear of any paintings that are damaged--or have crackled painting.  A really thick impasto palette might prove difficult too--to get in the nooks and crannies.

This old antique dog has learned a new trick!


No More Concrete or Cast Iron Please

Dear One  and I spend many good hours wandering around looking for quirky things to sell.  There is nothing that makes a dealer smile more t...