Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Kind of Town

We were in Chicago briefly this weekend: a quick trip up Friday afternoon and then back home Saturday evening. Warren sits on the board of KV 265 and had an all-day board retreat to attend. I tagged along, making a beeline for the public library when the retreat started.

I had not looked forward to this trip. I am struggling with the treatment regimen for my myeloma, and all I could see was a large energy drain. As I confessed to Warren, admitting I was not eagerly anticipating a trip to Chicago was the closest thing I could think of to blasphemy. When have I ever not enjoyed, loved, and embraced Chicago?

We left behind a snow-blown Ohio and soon found ourselves on dry roads as we sliced across Indiana. Small glimpses along the road stick in my mind: the half dozen horses, Belgians by the looks of them, standing heads down, tails to the blowing snow; twenty or so deer pawing at a snow-laced field.

It has been years—decades—since I have come into Chicago at night, let alone in the winter. The Skyway loomed up in the dark, its fairy lights strung out in the dusk. We dropped down onto Stony Island, flashed past the Museum of Science and Industry, and were suddenly on Lake Shore Drive with the city opening up before us.

My heart lifted. How could it not? I spent two of my college years in this city, I made one of the most important friendships of my life here when Katrina and I were assigned to one another as roommates. That other self from that other time is also threaded through me.

It was Chicago and I was back.

We stayed in the downtown in the condo of another board member 34 floors above the city. I spent Friday evening drifting from one view through the wraparound windows to the next to watch the play of lights against the night. In the morning, I got out of bed early to watch the sun rise over an icy Lake Michigan.

I slipped away just as the retreat started and headed to the library. Down Randolph, through Millennium Park, past the Bean, down Michigan Avenue, and left on Jackson to the library.

Chicago is a wonderfully walkable city. It has great street fabric, it is full of superb architecture, and there are little details everywhere that catch the eye. Many of those details are architectural: a frieze two-thirds of the way up a facade, ornate terra cotta detailing topping a building.

Some of the details are human: the young teenage girl turning first one and then another pirouette in unselfconscious delight at the Bean, the young cellists rehearsing in the front room of the New Music School, oblivious to passersby on Michigan Avenue. There were skaters at Millennium Park, below the Bean; there were two Chicago police on bike patrol, despite the chill temperatures.

The El rumbled by in the Loop, adding to the sounds of the city.

I have a good friend, one with whom I have shared many design and architectural adventures over the years. He has often spoken with disdain for large cities. "Why would I want to go to one?" he will say, incredulous when he announces a vacation and I innocently ask, "oh, are you going to [name the city] when you're there?" My friend gives every indication that he would rather ingest shards of glass than visit a city. Other than a brief visit to Oak Park to see the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, I do not believe he has ever set foot in Chicago.

I don't try to persuade my friend or his wife (who will also raise her voice at least two octaves at the mention of a city) otherwise. But what one gives up by avoiding all cities, especially a city like Chicago! Yes, it is noisy and crowded. It can be expensive or dangerous if you are not paying attention. But it is rich in detail and exciting at every turn. Here is a medallion detail on rusticated stone, here are skaters in the heart of downtown, here is a girl turning pirouettes in the sunshine of a winter day.

1 comment:

see you there! said...

Glad you enjoyed the trip even though you had a reluctant start. I have visited Chicago three times (work related back in the day). I loved every minute of it. Then again, I do like big cities. I think they contain so much energy.