Sunday, August 11, 2013

Solitary Exploration

     As I've started to travel more for auditions and such, I've learned how to become more comfortable exploring new places on my own. Luckily I'm a pretty introverted person, so solitude in general doesn't bother me. But there's something about being in a strange place that can make you feel alone in even the more bustling areas...

     When I had to fly to various regions of the country for graduate school auditions, I had my first taste of extended solo travel. It was liberating but weird at first. I remember feeling like the waitstaff at an Italian restaurant in North Carolina thought I was a pitiful, lonely girl with no friends. My server kept giving me concerned stares as she came to refill my water as if dining alone was a crime or something. By the time I got to Austin, Texas a few days later, I still felt odd eating at a sit down restaurant by myself, but I tried to exude more confidence about it. I'm sure I was quite a sight to see as I gobbled down sushi while reading Anna Karenina, a lone silent diner surrounded by chatty groups of college students at happy hour.

     I'd like to say that I've learned to overcome my self-consciousness about eating alone in public, but it's still there. As with many of my introverted tendencies, however, I've learned to cope with it. I'm more particular about the kinds of restaurants I choose when dining alone. Cafes and smaller venues are most comfortable. Bars with televisions can be nice if I don't have a book handy (or if I've just finished the book in my purse which happens sometimes). Something to read is never amiss, and it helps deter overly sympathetic servers from pestering you too much. I definitely appreciate when a server tries to talk to me when I'm alone, but after a bit, small talk makes me feel awkward. A book or magazine is a nice way to make it clear to the staff that you're friendly but not there to chat.
    I like to think that I've definitely gotten better about venturing out of my hotel (or in this case, my friend's apartment) and making an effort to discover new things. I'm often too fond of just curling up on the couch and watching trashy cable television. It's tempting to just relax, but in the end, I've realized that traveling is only worthwhile if you actually get out and experience the new places!
     One of my new goals with this blog is to be more persistent about documenting my travels. I've never been good at remembering to take pictures when I'm on a trip or at social events. This is partially because throughout high school and college I've always had a photographer friend, so while I became accustomed to having a camera lens in my face at any moment, I never took an active role in capturing those memories for myself. My two years in Duluth are relatively short on photographic evidence because there was no persistent shutterbug in my group of friends, and while some of us would make loud assertions that we would bring our cameras and take pictures at the next outing, it just never seemed to happen.

   So when I set out for downtown Chicago yesterday afternoon, I made a vow to pull out my cell phone and take some snapshots no matter how awkward I felt doing it. My first stop: Millennium Park.

This shot made me feel particularly like a sidewalk nuisance.
     It was a gorgeous day, so of course the park was crammed full of people and families in particular. I couldn't help but wander aimlessly and take in all the green beauty which was only enhanced by the sculptures and fountains.

It was a mad house at The Bean, complete with this bride and her unruly veil.

     Of course, I couldn't go to Millennium Park without the mandatory photo of The Bean. It was surrounded by hoards of enthusiastic cellphone photographers, however, so I opted for a more long distance shot. Sorry if you were hoping for a distorted Bean selfie....

   As soon as I entered the park, I caught a summer breeze off of Lake Michigan, and like a siren call, that scent of fresh water took over all my other desires. I had to get down by the lake! Perhaps Duluth has rubbed off on me more than I realized, because in that moment I had a profound longing for Lake Superior. I had no real agenda for the day, so I figured why not?

      The first thing that struck me about the harbor area in Chicago is that it felt so crowded and commercial. In Duluth, the shore felt much more natural and untamed.

      I just couldn't access the lake itself easily. There were so many boats tucked in next to each other, and so many people seemed to be enjoying their vessels without even taking them out for a ride. They just lounged on them a few mere feet from their neighbors. It seemed strange to me. How much fun could that really be?

     I longed to feel more connected to nature when I was by the lake, but I found myself surrounded by even stronger reminders that I was no longer in the land of "granola hipsters." I was by a Great Lake, but the culture of the harbor could not have been more contrasting. This was a big city, tourist centered harbor.
I didn't get too far on the bike path that runs along the shore, so I like to think that had I had the time to keep venturing north I would have discovered a more peaceful, accessible lake shore. Perhaps if I'm ambitious and have another day off, I will throw on a pair of tennis shoes and give it a try.
    There were, however, plenty of shady, grassy areas ideal for reading, and I managed to polish off the remainder of Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra as I overlooked the glassy blue waters. Ever the book worm, I will inevitably associate locations and trips with whatever literature I am reading at the time. (Prime example is the story I told earlier mentioning Anna Karenina.)

      As for the rest of my evening downtown, I spent it at a very cute production of  The Magic Flute by American Chamber Opera. If you're in the Chicago area, I recommend it. I believe it still runs through next weekend. Tickets and information are available here.

     I'm genuinely surprised at how long winded of a blogger I am. I was not expecting this to be such a lengthy entry. The intention was to showcase the photos, but it seems to have morphed into something else entirely.

     As my Chicago adventures continue, I encourage you to keep an eye here for more photos and updates about Chicago Summer Opera. I can't wait to share the experience with all of you as it progresses. So far I'm loving it. Also, my donation site is still open, so if any of you are feeling generous, your help would be greatly appreciated by this broke artist. Feel free to drop by and donate at the link below:

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