In Chicago, we savor every warm sunny day in September. Last gasps of summer happen all over the globe, of course, but in Chicago each day of warmth and sun is one we soak up and store within ourselves. Weâ€™re like Lionniâ€™s Frederick, who uses those rays to soothe his fellow mice during the bleak, cold months of winter.
Chicagoâ€™s motto is â€œcity in a gardenâ€ and in these last summer weekends we insist on the outdoors: eating meals or sharing cocktails in city gardens, sunning and reading on roof decks, swimming fast in open-air pools, biking or walking the lakefront.
Eight of us dined at Piccolo Sogno, 464 N. Halsted St., a newish restaurant in an old space that holds Chicago’s prettiest and most spacious garden, anchored by a huge Spanish sycamore. Strange how a place can be both achingly romantic, for a couple, and accommodating to a crowd.
Later we sat in a private garden, our friendsâ€™ good dog at my feet. Deborah pointed to a climbing vine with heart-shaped leaves. My young daughter and I had started that moon flower from seed in March, and Iâ€™d been giving the tiny sprouts as hostess gifts during the spring. There it was, grown as tall as their house. The next evening it bloomed, gleaming white against the dark.
I curled up in a comfy chair set to my gardenâ€™s one square of sunlight the next day, where I finished Henry Rothâ€™s â€œCall it Sleepâ€. What a day; what a book. Iâ€™d chugged along for hundreds of pages, wondering how Rothâ€™s simple tale would tie up. (Itâ€™s narrated by an overly-mothered boy whose father doubts his paternity). Wow. The climax is positively psychedelic; a cocktail of Whitman, Joyce, Ginsberg.
After another delicious dinner in a city garden — thanks Elaine and Dave! — I took our dog for his nightly walk. I passed an old home with a low-fenced yard open to the street. There, a group of friends sat at a red picnic table, lit by candles, enjoying dinner and a movie playing on an oversized screen. What a night; what a choice. â€œStranger than Fictionâ€, a wonderfully told life and love story — set in Chicago.