Consulates of the New Eastside

When they’re not battling global intrigue or issuing visas, which is most of the time, foreign consulates in the United States are promoting the interests and spreading the culture of the countries they represent. In Chicago, the New Eastside is home to the Midwestern diplomatic offices of Canada, France and the Czech Republic. We sat down with the Consuls General from each organization to find out what exactly they’re up to.

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Roy Norton, PhD, Consul General of Canada
180 N. Stetson · (312) 616-1860
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Besides inventing hockey, supplying the US with half of its oil and sending more visitors to America than the number of people who actually live there (many Canucks come more than once), Canada’s greatest foreign relations challenge, according to Consul General Roy Norton, is “getting noticed.”

“Americans, I think, have a pretty positive impression of Canada,” he says. “But we’re not top of mind.”

Culturally, Norton would prefer more time to “sit down and impress upon people why they should care about the relationship.” But politically, he deals in US trade and legislation to a greater degree than perhaps any Consul General in the country, mostly due to the volume of business between the Midwest and his homeland.

“Illinois sells more goods to Canada than (it does) to your next five best global customers put together,” he explains.

At that level, legislation can impact entire industries. The Farm Bill of 2008 introduced a measure called the “Country of Origin Labeling” that wreaked havoc on Canadian agricultural and meat producing interests because, according to Norton, it was discriminatory and illegal.

“We fought it for six years and we kept winning in the World Trade Organization,” he says. “The United States didn’t do anything.”

So Canada retaliated by “introducing tariffs on US agricultural exports to Canada in the amount of the losses,” which were in the billions, says Norton.

“It was a very uncharacteristically Canadian thing to do,” he admits. “But we said ‘enough of this, it’s just not fair.’”

After meeting with several Midwestern agribusiness leaders and members of Congress to “impress upon them why they should act to change and what would happen if they didn’t,” Norton helped get the law repealed in the Omnibus Appropriations last December.

There are no hard feelings. Norton is still a huge Chicago Cubs fan and Canadians continue to not only “love” Americans but also remain “fascinated” by them.

“Indeed,” he says, “Maybe we’re obsessed: the entrepreneurialism, the can-do spirit, ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

Among the Americans who have made a lasting impression on Norton is a former classmate from Harvard, where he studied Public Administration as a post-grad. The man was a law student who always struck him as “very sincere, intelligent and inquisitive” named Barack Obama.

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Vincent Floreani, Consul General of France
205 N. Michigan · (312) 327-5200

IMG_5771aThe nation of France inspires and provokes Americans by merely existing, much in the same way that the United States does to everyone else in the world. This similarity bonds the countries together like siblings, especially in Chicago, the sister-city of Paris. According to Vincent Floreani, the French Consul General, “We are at a highest point of very close relations on all topics.”

He mentions the recent Paris Agreement, which President Obama referred to as “the best chance we have” to protect the planet from climate change. He also praises the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” which was crafted in part by the permanent members of the UN.

But it is the American response to the recent tragedy in Paris, when more than a hundred people perished at the hands of violent extremists, that appears to move him most.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we received everywhere in the world,” he says. “But especially in the US. Mayor Emanuel came to the French consulate. It was so nice.”

Floreani helps to return the kindness by awarding the Legion of Honor medal to American military veterans in the Midwest who saw action in France. Last month, he met soldiers in Ohio. Next month, he’ll be in Kansas City.

“The French people remember that we were freed twice by American soldiers, in 1917 and 1944,” he says. “I meet them and say you are heroes, you came to France and risked your life for us. This is one of the most rewarding things I do.”

On the business end of his post, Floreani pushes French innovation that “many people don’t know about,” especially in the high-tech and automotive industries. “We have giants like Michellin and Valeo and Faurecia, which make automobile parts,” he says. “When you sit in an American car, there is one chance out of two that the seat you are on is made by a French manufacturer.”

This October marks the 20th anniversary of the Chicago – Paris sister city partnership. Floreani hopes to celebrate the occasion with an encore of 2015’s “A La Carte Chicago,” a weeklong feast of French cuisine in more than a hundred local restaurants complemented by wine tastings, speeches and cooking classes in the Alliance Française, the French cultural and learning center on Chicago Avenue.

For those who cannot wait that long, the second annual Good France / Goût de France event on March 21 will feature “1,000 chefs on all five continents” presenting a typical prix fixe French meal. Eleven of the participating restaurants will be located in the Midwest; seven will be in Chicago.

Given Floreani’s appreciation for Chicago — a “beautiful city” with excellent architecture and cuisine that he considers “very European” — the ambience will mix well with the meal.

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Borek Lizec, Consul General, Czech Republic
205 N. Michigan · (312) 861-1037

Generální konzulIn May 1918, 150,000 people filled the streets of Chicago to cheer for a visitor named Tomas Masaryk, who would become the first president of the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia by year’s end.

Roughly three decades later, the city would support another visiting Czechoslovakian President, Edvard Benes, who came to launch his campaign for Czech independence after the Nazi invasion of World War II.

The resulting bond between the Czech Republic and Chicago — the Sister City of Prague and historic center of Czech immigration — is incomparable.

According to Consul General Borek Lizec, “The largest Czech celebration of 2015 in the US was Prague Days Chicago.” Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the sisterhood between the two cities, the main theme of the festival was “celebrating Czech history in Chicago,” he explains.

The event featured a startling lineup of famous Americans who claim ancestry from the Bohemian and Moravian regions that constitute much of the Czech Republic. Kim Novac hosted the “Czech That Film” program. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and James Lovell made personalized YouTube invitations. Ray Kroc, Anton Cermak and George Halas were among the other notables honored.

The event also included a concert at Thalia Hall, the historic music venue modeled after the Prague Opera House and built in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, which was named after a town in the Czech Republic. Since the majority of the area’s current residents are of Mexican descent, the show was titled “Bohemian Past, Mexican Present” and included both Mexican and Czech artists and musicians.

The emphasis on the past does not reflect some Czech obsession with history; rather, it is a stage in the renaissance of self-determination that began in 1989, when the Czech people launched a protest against their Communist government. Their efforts initiated a non-violent transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution.

Lizet was a sixteen year-old student at the time. “My high school was the first high school to go on strike,” he says. “We refused to take classes. We went to Wenceslaus Square to take part in the protests.”

Among the speakers addressing the crowds was writer Václav Havel, who would soon be elected President of Czechoslovakia and, after the peaceful division of the Czechs and Slovacs, President of the Czech Republic.

In the 27 years since, according to the Consul General, it’s been all about moving forward for the ancient kingdom. “After the Velvet Revolution, to come back to the west was our greatest ambition,” he says.

Since the country’s traditional export is beer, their cultural journey westward has been well received by the United States. Leading brands include Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Czechvar, which also sponsored last year’s Czech days. The Czech Republic is also renowned for its decorative glass, which adorns the lobby of the Langham Hotel in River North.

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

 

Skating lessons in Millennium Park

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

The extraordinary outdoor ice-skating venues that offer New Eastsiders a festive way to keep active during the cold winter months are also equipped to help beginners stay upright on the slick, frozen ice. Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink offers free lessons for hockey and figure skating on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the winter.

Funded by a grant from McDonald’s Active Lifestyles Endowment and managed by the Millennium Park Foundation, the lessons start one hour before the rink opens: 11 a.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Po-An Tsai, a student at UIC, has been taking hockey lessons for the past two years. “They teach you to skate more powerfully, to turn and to stop,” he says. “Figure skaters learn to spin.”

Besides hockey and figure skating, beginners can simply use the lessons to increase their confidence.

According to Katy McKinnon, a coach and instructor through Ice Reach, a nonprofit outreach organization dedicated to promoting the participation and involvement in ice sports. One of the first things beginners are taught is how to fall and get up. Once they master those important skills, they can learn to skate.

“First, it’s marching, then pushing, and learning how to glide to pick up speed,” says McKinnon.

Ann Marie Shipstad is the Program Director of Ice Reach.  “We’ve been doing the (free Millennium Park) lessons for about five years now, and we are thrilled to be back every year,” says Shipstad.

Shipstad has a staff of professional instructors who also teach at various indoor ice rinks around the city and offer private lessons. For private or semi-private lessons, contact Shipstad at amshipstad@icereach.com.

The ice-skating lessons program will continue, weather permitting, until March 6. Skating is free and open to the public. Skate rental costs $12.

For hours and more information, visit www.millenniumpark.org.

Ice-skating lessons at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

SKATE003The extraordinary outdoor ice-skating venues that offer New Eastsiders a festive way to keep active during the cold winter months are also equipped to help beginners stay upright on the slick, frozen ice. Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink offers free lessons for hockey and figure skating on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the winter.

Funded by a grant from McDonald’s Active Lifestyles Endowment and managed by the Millennium Park Foundation, the lessons start one hour before the rink opens: 11 a.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Po-An Tsai, a student at UIC, has been taking hockey lessons for the past two years. “They teach you to skate more powerfully, to turn and to stop,” he says. “Figure skaters learn to spin.”

Besides hockey and figure skating, beginners can simply use the lessons to increase their confidence.

According to Katy McKinnon, a coach and instructor through Ice Reach, a nonprofit outreach organization dedicated to promoting the participation and involvement in ice sports. One of the first things beginners are taught is how to fall and get up. Once they master those important skills, they can learn to skate.

“First, it’s marching, then pushing, and learning how to glide to pick up speed,” says McKinnon.

Ann Marie Shipstad is the Program Director of Ice Reach.  “We’ve been doing the (free Millennium Park) lessons for about five years now, and we are thrilled to be back every year,” says Shipstad.

Shipstad has a staff of professional instructors who also teach at various indoor ice rinks around the city and offer private lessons. For private or semi-private lessons, contact Shipstad at amshipstad@icereach.com.

The ice-skating lessons program will continue, weather permitting, until March 6. Skating is free and open to the public. Skate rental costs $12.

For hours and more information, visit www.millenniumpark.org.

Looking ahead to 2016

Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

With the books closed on another year, here are a few of the things we’re looking forward to in 2016.

To celebrate Lollapalooza’s 25th birthday, Lollapalooza is excited to announce an additional full day of music programming for the 2016 edition in beautiful Grant Park, which will feature more than 170 musical performances over four days. “When the party can’t wait for the weekend, the movers and shakers make it happen on Thursday! So, we’ve put together an entire additional day of music to celebrate our milestone year. It’s going to be a fantastic party!” says Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza founder.

Lollapalooza 2016 will take place Thursday, July 28 through Sunday, July 31. Four-day General Admission tickets will be available for $335 and single-day General Admission tickets will be available for $120 beginning Spring 2016.

Once again, the second city is the first choice for the NFL Draft. For the second consecutive year, Chicago will host the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28-30 at Grant Park and the Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University. Last year more than 200,000 fans from across the country participated in the draft festivities in Chicago, including the highly popular Draft Town, a free, three-day outdoor interactive fan football festival in Grant Park. The event covered almost a million square feet of the park with concessions, activities and fan caves for
each NFL team.

Real Estate Developments

As 2016 gets underway, completion is nearing for MILA, the bkL-designed, 41-story, 402-unit rental apartment tower at 200 North Michigan Avenue. The tower anchors the corner of Michigan Avenue and Lake Street, from which the project derives its name. MILA is designed to be LEED Silver certified, with availability and pre-leasing details coming in Spring 2016. The location positions the tower in a key spot along “The Cultural Mile”, an evolving stretch of Michigan Avenue south of the bridge which has seen a number of new projects alongside Grant Park, Millennium Park, and the Art Institute, including the London House Hotel – set to open in Spring 2016 – to the north of MILA.

Changes are also coming to State Street spaces. Hungry movie buffs now have a new option with a newly opened dine-in AMC theater in the Block 37 shops…Office Depot is out, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th is in at the heart of the State Street shopping district. Saks Off Fifth, the retailer’s discount chain, is opening a store at 6 S. State St., in the space that Office Depot occupied before closing its doors. The new store, which is set to open this spring, would be the sixth in the Chicago area for Saks Off 5th… New York-based Tishman and AXA Real Estate Investment Managers, bought the Amalgamated Bank headquarters at 100 and 112 S. State St. from Amalgamated Bank, which is vacating space and moving to a Loop office tower, the buyer and seller confirmed. The developer is seeking a single retailer to fill up to 50,000 square feet, said Tishman Realty President David Rothenberg, making it the largest block of retail space on the Loop shopping strip.

Celebrations and Events

Put on something green and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago with parades, events, and a trip to an Irish pub. March begins with the Irish Film Festival and continues through the month. This year, St. Patrick’s Day falls on Thursday, March 17. The downtown celebration occurs Saturday, March 12, beginning with the dyeing of the Chicago River at 9 a.m. and continuing in Grant Park with a parade at noon—starting from Balbo and Columbus Dr.

Spring Planting Day

Soon the first signs of spring in the city will lift spirits as the Park at Lakeshore East is transformed from an arctic tundra to a verdant oasis. Each year, thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the six-acre park becomes a lush, fragrant flower and garden show in what some residents consider an extension of their own backyards.

Volunteering at Open Books

By Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering are tremendous. The right match can help you find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and even improve your mental and physical health.

Open Books, a Chicago literacy nonprofit, operates a spacious, bright, and colorfully decorated bookstore in the Loop, featuring more than 50,000 books, nearly all of which are used and all of them donated.  All book sales help support Open Books’ instructional programs, which reach more than 5,000 students each year.

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Student wearing the Open Books pencil costume. Photo: Olga Ivanidi

Volunteers support everything at Open Books, and the organization in turn rewards its volunteers with enrichment opportunities and appreciation events. The level of enthusiasm is palpable, and anyone with a passion for reading who wishes to share their love of books will immediately feel at home. Since starting as a volunteer with Open Books over two years ago I have helped organize events to raise awareness and support the expansion of literacy programming in Chicago.

However, my most rewarding and fun connection with Open Books comes during the school year, with my participation in Creative Writing Workshops. These writing field trips, hosted at Open Books headquarters are from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., are a chance for 3rd-12th grade students to develop their writing skills in a meaningful way. Each volunteer works within a small group of children to discuss texts and write their own prose and poetry. At the end of the session, the students have an opportunity to perform what they have written in front of the classroom – all while wearing a pretty awesome pencil costume.

To learn more and get involved: Open Books, 651 W. Lake Street, (312) 475-1355, www.open-books.org.

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