Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

Some days it doesn’t take much – a comment, a picture -- to ignite old memories. Yesterday I read mention that today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Some of the clearest memories I have as a small boy are the walks from our home in Chicago straight down Jackson Boulevard to a large church I later came to know is the basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows. We didn’t go there on Sundays, for our church, Resurrection, was in the next parish over, but I knew it held special meaning for my mother. It was large, quiet, dim, and mostly empty when we would visit on days warm enough for a walk. My mother would light a candle, spend a few moments in reflection, and we would be off.

I now read that Our Lady of Sorrows is the patron saint of Slovakia, the Molise region of Italy, and the Congregation of Holy Cross order of Catholic priests, who, among other things, run the University of Notre Dame. Who knew?

In Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, Fr. George Lane writes that the church was raised to the status of basilica (one of only two in Chicago) by the Pope because the Sorrowful Mother Novena rite originated there in 1937 and subsequently spread all over the world. The building was built by the Servite friars "in pure Renaissance form" and completed in 1901 of Chicago common brick with a limestone fa├žade. Between two 200 foot towers, a great barrel-vaulted ceiling reaches 80 feet above the marble floor, and the beautiful main altar is made of white Carrara marble. The basilica features numerous original works of art and “perhaps the oldest working pipe organ Lyon & Healy ever installed.”

Richard Balsamo

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kent Chemical Laboratory at the University of Chicago

Bleary eyed, I would pack my books and papers for the day and leave Burton-Judson Courts to brave the wind gusting down the Midway Plaisance, then hustle through the Classics archway, past Bond Chapel, and across the main quad to Kent, pass through its heavy doors and on to its great octagonal lecture hall, for my first class of the day, early morning chemistry. And from an upper floor lab, as an overawed fresh undergraduate, I could wander down the hall and cross into its neighbor Jones Laboratory, and peer into the very small memorialized room where a weighable amount of plutonium was first isolated, a few months before man’s first controlled nuclear reaction was engineered in a squash court a block away.

Apparently I hadn’t had enough, for I returned the following year for an early morning class in organic chemistry, but, relievedly, from a room not so far away.

Kent Chemical Laboratory was designed by the University of Chicago’s first architect, Henry Ives Cobb, in his Chicago Gothic style and built of Indiana limestone in 1894. It anchors the north side of the main quad, alongside its close cousin Ryerson Physical Laboratory. Chicago Gothic doesn't get any better than these two.

Richard Balsamo

Related Post:
Ryerson Physical Laboratory – “The Most Beautiful University Building in the World”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Jerry Lewises & Their Telethon

Like a rock of certainty in torrrents of change, Jerry Lewis came out again this year to host his eponymous Telethon to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in its work to help and cure those with neuromuscular diseases. His 60th year, I think he said, appearing in telethons for MDA. Now old and frail, Lewis did his segments his usual way, filled with the usual, effective, it seems, bathos, 1950s-era quips, and self-adulatory riffs.

I have had many friends with MD and many friends dedicated to helping them. Many feel quite schizoid about Lewis, and one old friend even created a comedy sketch around it that might make the comedian in Lewis proud. It features Good Jerry, the man who works tirelessly to raise awareness and money, and Bad Jerry, the megalomaniac who uses the words “I” and “me” a million times in the 24-hour telethon and refers to everyone even remotely associated with the charity as “his”, as in “my kids” and “my doctors” and “my firemen”, all of whom are there to “help” Jerry win his fight against neuromuscular disease. It’s Bad Jerry’s mission, and we’re all just helpers, accessories to the great man’s work -- a touch of a creepy self-cult of personality on display. So for many, the love-hate relationship endures.

But what a sight it’s been. Good Jerry’s out there all year fundraising for a most worthwhile cause, and brings it all together once a year in a TV extravaganza. The show itself for years has featured mostly minor celebrities and not-yet-celebrities and never-will-be celebrities (now who’s that performer?) in a production that’s a parody of its former self but yet remains somewhat inexplicably compelling viewing for those with heart and an appreciation for live TV as it once was. Bad Jerry thinks the big story’s all about him.

So once again Good Jerry and Bad Jerry have teamed up for another show, in all their florid glory. I wonder if anyone under 50 years old who pauses the tuner on the channel for ten minutes has much of an idea who Lewis is, or can fathom the stale, stiff, and often anachronistic jokes: in his opening monologue, unhappy with the cameraman’s framing of him, Jerry quipped “I got this guy from the Third Reich” -- the 1950s/60s Nazi theme that Jewish comedians like himself or Rickles might quip to anyone who seems to be doing them some disservice; it’s old , stale, and perhaps unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with borscht belt-type comedy, but I, for one, love that style, at least now for nostalgic reasons even if most of the humor has long dried up, and I must admit a "Hey Lady!" now and then would still crack me up.

Though decades have passed, Good Jerry and Bad Jerry once again capture our attention, each in his own way, to goad us to help them help their kids, always plugging the “toll free numbers listed on the screen”. Now where’s that phone?

John M Greco