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Good friends made it easy to show off Chicago’s rich offerings of art, architecture, parks, museums and food this weekend. Affable and curious, they had ideas of what they wanted to see and experience while in town, but didn’t overdo it. With just a few hours left on Sunday, could they get to Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home in Oak Park?  Not quickly.

I tagged along to enjoy the architecture and gallery show at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. Once the city’s main public library, the block long structure holds, among other wonders, the world’s largest Tiffany dome. Mosaics of Favrile glass, mother of pearl and colored stone cover interior walls and arches. The room glows.

Another treat: formerly the library’s main reading room, the Sidney R. Yates Gallery is a red-walled salon with huge windows framed by carved silver-leaf surrounds. There through July 8, “Morbid Curiosity,” the collection of Richard Harris, is a display of art that depicts death, from Goya’s “the Disasters of War” to ceramic “Dance of Death” playing pieces, to a Dutch still life with a skull. My favorites: Victorian family portraits superimposed with skulls. Also a shiny red Venus, her veiled face revealing a skull.

For lunch, we headed to a new spot across the street. Toni Patisserie, 65 E. Washington St., feels like a piece of Paris broke loose and landed in the Loop. Tarts, cakes, sandwiches, tartines, salad, quiche are displayed in glass cases. Small marble tables make for an intimate meal. We had the day’s soup, tomato, and split a prosciutto and chevre tartine. We’ll be back.

A walk through Millennium Park still surprises. Then again, maybe I haven’t been paying attention. When I looked into “The Bean’s” underbelly I felt pulled into a giant vortex.

True, it’s winter, so the park’s gardens are brown, the symphony isn’t practicing, the Crown Fountain’s “gargoyles” don’t spurt water.

On to the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. How fun is it to show off the museum’s vast collection? Very. It’s like walking through Janson’s “History of Art.” Too, my friend wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms. There’s 68, each of them a time capsule of design and furnishings. I hadn’t visited in years. This time I stopped to learn about the craftsmen who created these marvelous rooms.

The next morning we strolled over to Lincoln Park Zoo’s Nature Boardwalk, a half mile walk that loops a recently refurbished pond and its marshy prairie.

Leaving the park we noticed Hotel Lincoln on the verge of opening, 1816 N. Clark Street. Shuttered for several years, its rebirth is cause for neighborhood joy.

Good guests leave great gifts: red and blue shot glasses and a tray from the 1967 Expo in Montreal. (Yes, Georgia: for Pythonga!) Also Lawrence Desautel’s new book of poetry, “Dancing with that Woman at Whiskey Woes,” which I’m savoring. (Beautiful cover, Ryan Arthurs.) Here’s a sample from it:

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The New York Times ran a breezy piece recently about summer reads aimed at women. I turned to it excitedly: I’m a girl, I love to read. Surely there’d be something on the list for me. Nope.

What to read during the summer? Do we really seek out “lighter” reads in the warmer months? I don’t.

512j2j57yjl2Here’s a list of books I love that are by, for or about women.

  • The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker, (Vintage, $15.95). Nothing and everything happens in this big read set in Osaka after World War Two. Clinging to ancient ways, two sisters try to place Yukiko in a proper, aristocratic marriage — increasingly difficult as she ages. Another sister brazenly takes on lovers. Lovely descriptions of various regions, and ways of life, in postwar Japan.
  • Anne Sexton: A Biography, by Diane Wood Middlebrook, (Vintage, $17.95). The poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was celebrated in her time for her confessional poetry. Middlebrook knows poetry and poets; her “reading” of Sexton’s poems is smart and digestible. This is a deeply affecting life story that reads more like a novel than the scholarly work that it is. (Recommended by my friend Jennifer.)
  • Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West, by Victoria Glendinning, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, buy used). Vita’s gardens, homes, marriage, lovers, and writings made her a legend in her own time (1892-1962). Virginia Wolff was among her lovers, and Vita’s Sissinghurst Castle is said to be the most visited garden in all of England. I didn’t want this book to end: what a life! (Pressed on me by my friend Suzanne, lent in a plastic bag, bound by a rubber band.)
  • The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Shine, (Picador, $14). An ensemble piece set on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. People, and dogs, get together, fall in love, and fall apart. A rich read, with a surprisingly sweet, and fitting, end.
  • The Great Man, by Kate Christensen, (Anchor, $14.95). A textured story of the women left behind after a famous artist’s death: his widow and their autistic son, his mistress and their twin daughters, and his sister, who’s also a painter. A window into the New York art world, and a rare depiction of older women. (Thanks, Jennifer, for recommending.)

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