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Sad because your summer travels failed to include a distant getaway? Time to dust off your backpack and get a taste of foreign culture with one of these eight local classes. Wander among a world-famous collection of French impressionist paintings, practice Buddhism with a former monk, take a trek that shows you the forest and the trees, or simply escape with a date for a night of making sushi. No passport necessary—and when done, you can contemplate your exotic discoveries in the comfort of your own home.
The Buddha’s Path
John Cianciosi feels blessed to be teaching The Essentials of Buddhism in Plain English at the Theosophical Society in America. After all, as he explains, “it’s very difficult to recycle an ex-monk.” The author of The Meditative Path (Quest Books), the Italian-born Cianciosi was ordained a Buddhist monk in Thailand in 1972 by the Venerable Ajahn Chah. Twenty-three years later, Cianciosi left the Australian monastery he had founded (administrative duties left little time for his spiritual quest), and he eventually settled here in 1996.
Now Cianciosi, who also teaches at the College of DuPage, is on a mission to demystify Buddhism and reveal its practical essentials. “When the Buddha taught,” Cianciosi says, “he taught in the language that the people spoke at the time.” That methodology informs Cianciosi’s six-week course, which begins by revealing the Buddha’s human side. “For me,” he says, “the most inspiring thing about the Buddha is that he was a human being and not a god. Yet he was able to free his mind from all greed, hatred, and ignorance and realize a happiness that was unshakable.”
For the remainder of the course, Cianciosi examines and explains Buddhist teachings with an eye toward helping students train their minds so they might find their own path toward inner peace. “The Buddha left us a clear description of how we as human beings can work toward enlightenment,” he says. “He proved that this is actually the potential of every human being.”
Offered by the Theosophical Society in America. Meets Saturdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m., from September 18th to October 23rd at the Theosophical Society in America, 1926 N. Main St., Wheaton. $80 ($65 for members), or $15 per class. 630-668-1571.
Whether you have been yearning to speak Italian since reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love or you simply want to properly order a plate of bruschetta—swap in a hard k for the ch sound—the best place to start is Basic Italian 1, a course offered by Italidea at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. Established here 15 years ago, Italidea doesn’t just teach the language; it also steeps students in Italian culture and conversation under the guidance of native Italian speakers with degrees from Italian universities.
Daniele Manni, who will teach the ten-week class this fall, studied the philosophy of language at the University of Rome and earned a certificate in teaching Italian as a second language. “We work closely with the institute not only to create our course offerings but to incorporate their cultural events as part of the learning,” he says. This means students can augment their studies by immersing themselves in Italian movies and art exhibitions.
Still, communication remains at the core of the course. Students begin speaking Italian immediately, practicing real-life interactions in pairs, in small groups, and as a class. By the end of the session, they should be at ease introducing themselves, greeting one another, asking for information, and answering questions about everyday life. For those wishing to become more proficient, Italidea offers advanced Italian language and cultural courses, including classes on Dante and Italian pop music. Serious students can earn a CILS certification, the Italian language certificate recognized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Offered by the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. Meets Mondays or Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., or Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., from October 11th to December 18th at the Italian Cultural Institute, 500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1405. $330. 312-832-4053.
Ask Helen Pierce to name her favorite tree and she can’t commit to just one. No surprise there. An instructor at the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum since 1977, Pierce can choose from among 4,100 species of trees. Luckily, she gets to pick 20 each season for her quarterly course Around the World in 80 Trees.
Held outdoors, the class provides students the opportunity to discover native and non-native trees as they walk (and drive) with Pierce through the arboretum’s varied landscapes. “This fall, we will look at the coffee tree, beeches, several species of oaks, maples, and the beautiful fall foliage of elms,” Pierce says. (Two new types of elms contending for a place on this fall’s list are the accolade and the triumph, hybrids bred by the arboretum’s George Ware to resist Dutch elm disease.) “We will spend time noticing the different characteristics of the trees, their age, and where they came from,” she explains.
Pierce also plans to include several exotic species, including the deciduous Chinese ginkgo and the katsura, an ornamental tree from Japan. To underscore its beauty, Pierce shares a quotation from the horticulturist Michael Dirr, who wrote: “If I could use only one tree, [the katsura] would be my first tree; it is overwhelming in its overall attractiveness.”
As Pierce ponders Dirr’s comment, it seems for a moment as if she wants to fully embrace his sentiment. But that impulse vanishes when a more familiar tree springs to mind. “Another favorite of mine,” she says, “is the white oak, the state tree of Illinois.” Maybe keeping the list to 20 trees will take some doing after all.
Offered each season by the Morton Arboretum. Fall session meets Saturday, October 16th, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the Morton Arboretum Thornhill Education Center, 4100 Illinois Rte. 53, Lisle. $21 (members $14). 630-719-2468.
Roll with It
Spend a little time with Dirk Fucik, the owner of Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop, and he will convince you that fish is easier to prepare than you might think—especially when it comes to sushi. “There’s no such thing as bad sushi,” he insists, “if the ingredients are good.”
Many students sign up for Basic Sushi—the most popular of the shop’s many cooking classes—because they love sushi but have no clue how to prepare it. “They’re just scared to roll,” says Fucik, “which is why we like to do it in an uncomplicated, hands-on, average-Joe kind of way.” He also likes to have a lot of fun in the BYO class, which takes place in the evening and draws mostly couples.
The class begins with students gathering at a big table in the center of the store, where they enjoy homemade miso soup and ginger tuna salad. While they eat, Fucik shares the history of sushi, explains wasabi, massago, and other ingredients, and shares tips for picking the freshest and best fish for sushi. Each student is given a kit with all the fixings and tools to prepare five maki rolls and two nigiri rolls, among them a tuna roll and a salmon mango roll.
Once the rolling begins, Fucik circulates, offering pointers and advice. (The most common problem he encounters? Students putting too much rice in a roll.) He acknowledges that the two-hour session tends to run long because everyone is usually having too good a time to call it a night—which is probably to be expected in a class with the motto “Eat what you roll and roll what you eat.”
Offered by Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop. Meets Tuesday, October 5th, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop, 2070 N. Clybourn Ave. $75. 773-404-3475.
Illustration: Ted McGrathEdit Module