• Tag Archives Chicago
  • Who Are We?

    Spring                                                      Planting Moon

    Hard to believe we move out of spring and into Beltane, the start of the Celtic summer or growing season, this week.  We’ve only just got our cold weather crops in the ground.  Fortunately for the cold weather crops temps are gonna drop again and rains will come in the plenties.

    Finished reading a wonderful book by Nelson Algren, Chicago on the Make.  This 1951 work renders a picture of Chicago from its underbelly, sympathetically.  The writing reaches out from the page, grabs you by the lapel (if you have a lapel) and says, pay attention to this!  It’s important.  But also beautiful in the way a tractor coated with mud after a day in the field is beautiful, beautiful in the way a darkened coal miners face is to wife and children that night.  Quick to read, long to forget.

    Started another by Jack Cash, Mind of the South.  This 1941 book, of which I was unaware, gets credit for nailing much about the south in an honest, intelligent analysis.  The version I’m reading is a 50 year anniversary edition with a wonderful introduction, but no change to the main body of the text.  Cash committed suicide six months after its publication.

    Considering Chicago, as I have been for the trip I’d intended to take there in May, and now picking up Mind of the South, has left me wondering, again, about how to express the unique culture of the American Midwest, the Heartland of the world’s hegemon (for a few more months at least).  This is my culture, the one that has shaped me, in ways often invisible to my own eye.  What is our lederhosen and gingerbread cottage molding?  What is our calligraphy, poetry and painting style?  What is our wiener schnitzel?  Our chicory coffee and beignets?  How do we drive, compared to the biggest always wins philosophy of Mexico City?  What do we want for our children?  Ourselves?  What dreams propel us?  What fears haunt us?  Who are we?

  • Falling in Love

    Imbolc                                                                 Valentine Moon

    “I really fell in love with that part of the world,” says Cynthia Hopkins of the Arctic, where she journeyed with other artists in 2010. “I also fell in love with the boat we were on.”  author of This Clement World opening at the Guthrie

    My promiscuity.  I shamelessly fall in love over and over again when I travel.  Bangkok’s quirky Chinatown, especially on the weekend with all those restaurants set up on the sidewalks and folks walking in the densely trafficked street.  Angkor in all its viney, scorpion infested, land-mined Hindu strangeness.  Inverness and its smoky river, walking there with Kate.  Why do we ever have to leave?  That little restaurant, Crispie’s was it, just down from the Internazionale in Rome.  The Ringstrasse in Vienna.  The left bank in Paris.

    (oh, yeah, Romania.  A more recent love.)

    Then there was Ushuaia, that frowsy scamp of a town as far south as you can get in the Americas.  And, god, just before her, those Chilean fjords.  Let me off the boat.  Give me a small house, an internet connection and forget about me until, well, forever.  Montevideo, too.  Friendly, beefy, colorful.  Old world European with a Latin twist.

    I suppose I’d have to mention those old, first loves, too.  Chicago, city of roast beef sandwiches, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, Hyde Park.  D.C. and all its power, its monuments and museums.  And yes, like so many before me, I had a brief fling with San Francisco, but she’s so expensive, a real high-maintenance gal.

    Of course, there are a few I keep, stable-like, harems of places that I visit like a ghost Sultan, flitting in and out, but always returning for one more time.  Lake Superior, especially the true north shore, the part in Ontario.  The Georgian bay of Lake Huron.  Those rocky mountains lying just at the limits of my home turf here in the U.S.  All majesty and purple.

    Savannah and Charleston, yes.  The south is a guilty pleasure, that one with the dark desires, visited always with an eye to the road back north.  New Orleans, oh yes.  Dark queen of the south.  I’m sure I could return to the Okefenokee swamp.  And I confess to two trips to Red Cloud, Nebraska.  Those Grand Tetons.  Yes.  Cody, Wyoming. Yes.  Ely and the north woods.  Yes.

    You see, I’m the tramp really.  Letting my heart go, letting it all go.  Loving this place and that.  I’m easy, I guess.

  • Does It Play To or With Our Cult of Celebrity?

    Mid-Summer                                                                    Waxing Honey Flow Moon

    So.  Attended a political meeting in the morning, came  home, took a long nap, got up and put Helmsman varnish on the honey supers, six, then went up and watched some TV after a conversation with Mark and Kate.

    Today had one weird announcement.  This statue of Marilyn Monroe in Chicago.  Only time will tell if it is really in as bad a taste as it seems to be.  Not sure quite what to think of it.  Guess I’d have to see it in person.  No, I would have to see it in person.

    What’s good.  It’s a famous image, made bigger than lifesize in a believable way.  It’s either saucy or sexist, or both.  It puts the whole 1950’s/1960’s era right there, in the midst of 21st century Chicago.  It’s pop art, I suppose.  It is a joyous image, a woman apparently secure in her sexuality and having fun.  It is a heroine sized sculpture, a monumental tip of the hat to Marilyn, a complex figure for 1960’s era boys and girls.

    What’s bad.  It invites the pictures I’ve already seen posted of men standing between her legs and looking up.  Of course, that’s on the men, yes, but still.  It draws us into a stereotypical display of woman as object, as object of desire, of silly non-chalance as an antidote for prurience. (which, come to think of it, maybe it is.)   It plays to our cult of the celebrity. (or, does it play with our cult of celebrity?)

    If you’ve seen it, I’m interested in what you thought.

  • Quite a Yarn

    Fall                                Waning Back to School Moon

    October 5th, 2010 Union Station, Chicago, Room 4, Car 0730

    Last night I found a Korean restaurant just off State Street in Lafayette. I ordered the Duk Man Guk, a spicy soup with egg, pot stickers, seasoned beef and sliced rice balls. After a quick glance over to t he young woman across the way who looked Korean and had ordered the same thing, I used the long spoon. The owner brought me another dish of kimchee after I finished off the first one fast. She seemed pleased I liked it. There were only Asian students eating there, just off the Purdue campus.

    The Hilton Garden Inn had nowhere near the character of the Western Hotel at Camp Chesterfield, but it did have an internet connection. I finished some work I had to stop when I moved into the 19th century over the weekend.

    This morning it was up at 6:30 am, shower, pack and walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Wabash to the Amtrak section just at its end. A lovely slice of Back to School moon hung in the dark blue sky while we huddled together in the morning coolness waiting for the train to come around the bend. A young man of 2 or 3 years screamed and hollered. He did not want to go on the train. His mom said he thought it was too big.

    It wasn’t.

    Three hours later we rolled into Union Station. Backwards. Don’t know why.2010-10-05_0323

    Wandered around Chicago for a while, just looking, admiring building facades, enjoying the skyscrapers, blending in with the busy and the distracted. I decided to head down to Printer’s Row, the South Loop, hoping I could pick up a jazz related gift for 88.5 listening wife. There are jazz joints down there. No joy. All closed up at 10:45.

    Having missed breakfast I went into an Italian restaurant and had an early lunch.

    After lunch I discovered a fancy yarn shop and found a good gift for Kate. She’s a textiles and yarn artist, so I bought her some merino wool yarn. It’s a beautiful multi-colored pattern, 1800 feet worth. Seems like a lot to me.

    Back to the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station and now on the train.  Heading north.

  • The Great Wheel in the City

    Fall                               Waning Back to School Moon

    How can city dwellers, big city dwellers, stay in touch with the natural cycles, with the rhythms of the Great Wheel?  This was on my mind yesterday as I walked around the loop.  There are, of course, the occasional plantings decorating outdoor cafes, the greenery of Grant Park and Millennium Park, even a lushly planted median on the boulevard of Michigan Avenue, yet these seem like captive specimens, botanical exhibits in a zoo for denizens of concrete, stone, metal and glass.

    When I went out for a walk this morning, wandering down Jewelers Row, out to Michigan Avenue and down to State Street, building facades began to show themselves.  Here there were floral inspired Prairie School designs.  There were viny elements in tile and plaster ascending the column of a building.

    At 30 Michigan Avenue an idea began to form.  There on a frieze perched above a  soulless slab of polished marble that defined a Walgreens were small medallions punctuated by a familiar face, the Greenman.  He looked like this one.  There were four, separated by the flowery medallions.  After that, the plant inspired architectural design appeared, as if by magic.  For those who have eyes to see, let them see.

    In a flash I realized what I dislike so much about Modernist architecture.  It does not acknowledge the real context in which it exists.  This Bauhaus influence attempted to rid the world of the Greenmen, the vines, the flowers, the sinuous riverine shapes that the late 19th and early 20th century architects considered essential.

    And they were essential.  Why?  In our cities we put on a brave front, raising  our forests of buildings that shade out the sun, paving over the earth so trucks and cars can move about with ease.  Tunneling electricity so even the night cannot dominate us.

    We still need to eat. Our lives depend on the vast unbuilt land where the primary things that spring from the earth are corn stalks and wheat fronds.  Where animals may outnumber humans and the humans work with and for the plants.

    We still need to breathe.  The lungs of mother earth, the circulatory system that cleans our air consists in large part of trees.  The forests lie outside our urban boundaries, though they do join their city cousins in their work.

    We still need to drink.  Fresh water comes from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers either far away from city centers or buried deep beneath them.  Care for the source of our drinking water means  caring for those ends of the earth from which it comes.

    Thus, it is not an idle question to wonder how we connect with the Great Wheel, with the changes of season and the growing of food, the cleansing of water and air.

    The design motifs inspired by green leafy beings recognized that dependence and writ its continuing message on the walls of the buildings which we use and which we see each day.  They inspire us and help us recall mother nature in  her beyond the city state.

    There was. too, another reminder.  I looked down Washington from Wabash and my gaze carried up the  building led me to a patch of blue sky.  There was the moon, a half moon, the Back to School moon, framed by buildings with leaves and greenmen and flowers.  These are enough.

    One thing more.  Remember Ozymandias, King of Kings.  Recall the ruins of Babylon, Xi’ang, Epheseus, Athens.  Cities do not last.  Nature reclaims them all at some point.  What seems so permanent, so imposing, so there only awaits its end.  Which will come, sooner or later.

  • Stories Straight from the Shoulder

    Fall                                           Waning Back to School Moon

    Writing bounces up off city streets, whizzes down from building tops and comes straight from the shoulder of each person on the street.  Each person walks by trailing a life time of stories, agony, love, joy, despair, fear, exultation.  I can feel them as I wander these streets of Chicago, these stories.  They make a walk thick with meaning and feeling, so many stories walking past each other, not knowing the narrative of the other.  We are a universe, those of us walking here on Wabash Avenue under the el.

    Each building has a story, too.  The ambition of the people who conceived it, the gritty world of those who built it and the disconnected worlds of those who inhabit it.   Theodore Dreiser found a compelling story in the elevated railroads and the tycoon who built them  The Haymarket riot.  Saul Alinsky.  Rockefeller and the founding of the University of Chicago.

    No wonder stories fall off the trees here like ripe fruit.

    I’ve not had enough time here.  I need a week, maybe two, a chance to slow down and make my pace synch with the city, not feel rushed by the train, by getting here and there, having those movements compressed by the demands of travel on, headed somewhere else.

  • A Baroque Morning

    Fall                                 Waning Back to School Moon

    Down to Ada’s Deli this am for fried matzo and egg with onions and lox.  My mystery guest (Kate’s retirement gift) told me her kids loved fried matzo with syrup.  Hmm…not with lox and onions for this gentile.

    We had a spirited hour long discussion.  Very high energy, Deb is.  Her fiance deals in the secondary metals market, aluminum.  She’s in favor of retirement, wants to travel with her new love.  She used to live in Hyde Park and brightened when I said we could have met at Jimmie’s.  Gonna be good, I know for sure.

    When we finished, I walked out on Wabash to Washington.  Orthodox Jewish men here with black satchels.  Jeweler’s Row.  Up Washington to Michigan Avenue, south a block of Michigan and over to the Art Institute.  Great weather and I considered just heading into Grant Park, but the Institute was right there.

    Wandered in the European Art before 1900, finding many Baroque paintings, some wonderful Renaissance works, too.  Overall, our collection compares well, not in quantity but in quality.  Baroque is a propaganda art form like Socialist Realism; the Roman Catholic church wanted to counter the rising tide of the Protestant Reformation.  One branch of that counter reformation effort emphasized images that spoke of particularly Catholic themes, at least as the Catholic church saw it:  forgiveness, assumption of Mary, saints, crucifixion scenes.

    They were lucky that some of the very best painters in the Western tradition came to the task with energy and invention.  Many well known names were Baroque painters:  Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Poussin, Rubens and Vermeer.

    The Baroque painters select the climactic moment to depict. They use rich, deep colors, often lots of shadow. wanting to arouse emotion, a commitment of faith in the religious insistence.

    Religious painting does not exhaust Baroque themes, however.  Our own Lucretia by Rembrandt is a Baroque work that features a historical them from Roman history.

    These are wonderful paintings, romantic in a sense, calling the viewer to participate, to feel, to decide.  Glad I had the chance to see more examples here in Chicago.

  • The Silversmith

    Fall                                     Waning Back to School Moon

    Room 901, the Silversmith Hotel, Chicago  on Jeweler’s Row

    The sun had just slipped below the horizon as we approached downtown Chicago.  Red fire glinted off the window walls of the many new skyscrapers in this, the home of the skyscrapers.  As the train slid toward Union Station, I felt the city cloak itself around me.  I was back.

    I love this city.  It was, my first.  My first big city.  I came here when I was 12 with a United Methodist Church see-it tour.  We visited the Chapel in the Sky, the Pacific Garden Mission and saw a lot of the poorer areas of Chicago.

    This is Sister Carrie’s city.  The city of the Titan, The Genius.  The city of Big Shoulders where the fog creeps in on little cat’s feet.  This is an American city, a Midwestern city built on stockyards and the commodity exchange, a collecting point for agricultural goods from the farms of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska.

    The steel mills of Gary used to light up the southern tip of Lake Michigan, you could see them glowing like a peek into the infernal regions.  They glowed red with the heat of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.  A day now gone by.

    The el encloses the loop and rattles just 7 floors below my hotel room here at the arts and craft decorated Silversmith.  This is a boutique hotel very near the Chicago Art Institute.

    I have an appointment in Ada’s Deli, the restaurant here, at 10 tomorrow, then I’m off the Art Institute.