Chicago Surprise

Chicago is a funny place.  One minute it’s the greatest city in the world, and the next minute you’d give up a kidney to be on the first plane out.  A lot of it has to do with weather.  Ok, most of it has to do with the weather.  But even on the worst days of the year, we must, must, remember why we love this fair city.

I was talking with a friend the other day about Chicagoans.  We think that there is a certain amount of masochism about them.  Or at least we think that they like to complain.  Years and years have Chicagoans endured tough winters, corrupt politics, defective transportation systems, among other things.  But they never move.  They frequently re-elect incumbents.  They choose between messing up the alignment in their cars on account of the potholes and waiting for eons for a CTA bus in the cold.  Why, oh why, do we put up with all this?  Because we like to talk about it.  We reserve the right to gripe.  Whatchagonnado?

Oh, for heavens sake, why oh why do I live here when day after day I wake up to a gray gray sky and a steady temperature in the low 30s.  I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.  Yesterday morning hit me particularly bad.  It’s not just the monotony of it.  We need the sun.  Vitamin D deficiencies take their toll, and I am a victim. Yes, I will take some cheese with my whine.

Despite these feelings, however, Chicago has yet a few tricks up its sleeves. Yesterday after church I went to Chinatown to get some bubble tea.  A few weeks ago I was also here for the Chinese New Year.  It struck me on that day how fortunate we are in Chicago.  At any moment we could be minutes away from so many exotic experiences it is hard to conceive the possibilities. If someone comes to visit me, say, just for a weekend, I could give them a culinary tour of the world.  Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Swedish–you name it, we will find it, and it will be delicious.  After we eat, we could go see a concert of practically any music you could imagine.  I attended an event last year at the International Music Festival that was so fabulous I wondered why the place wasn’t more packed than it was.  Apparently I really like Swedish Polkas.  Who knew?

Chicago is full of gems, but you really just have to look past the gray exterior and brave the frequency and duration of Jack Frost nipping at your nose.  It doesn’t take too much digging to find great beauty.  Yesterday I was reminded of one of the most beautiful sights Chicago has, namely the Chicago Cultural Center.  Beautiful both externally and internally, this wonderful ex-Chicago Public Library now houses art galleries and musical groups and shows them off almost always completely free of charge.  Yesterday I went there to find a quiet spot, a place to journal without spending any money.  When I climbed the mosaic lined steps to the beautiful (and newly refurbished) domed room at the top of the stairs I discovered I was just in time for a concert given by a classical ensemble.  I happily seated myself in a chair towards the back and delighted myself with my journal and the melodious harmonies of Mendelssohn, Gershwin, and others.  Afterward, I wandered the beautiful hallways into various rooms full of art work.  My favorite display was an exhibit of nature photography by Jon W. Balke.  I highly recommend you look up some of his work.  He studied with Ansel Adams and you can tell.  I left inspired.

I had some more time to kill after I left the Cultural Center, so where better to go than across the street to the Bean?  You know, some modern art I don’t think I will ever appreciate.  Other works are sheer genius though I can explain why.  The Bean in Millennium Park is the latter.  If you don’t know what it is, The Bean is an enormous, stainless steal sculpture in the shape of a bean.  A strange concept, but I love it, and so does everyone.  Just like you shouldn’t have to explain why squirt guns are fun on a hot day, I see no reason to explain the bean.  It’s just awesome.  It’s reflective surface delights visitors because, not only is the Chicago architecture showed off in its mirror, young and old adore the marvelous optical illusions displayed in the contours of the bean.  I walked underneath, as I usually do.  What was unusual about this visit, though, was just as I walked underneath, I had, though for only a few moments, the whole bean all to myself.  This has never happened before as normally everyone crams underneath to catch a glimpse of themselves reflected a bajillion times over.  But yesterday I experienced an anomoly, and I loved it.  I stood directly under the center and spun around in circles.

Bean Innards

When I lived in New York, I remember hearing a joke:

How can you tell if someone is a real New Yorker?  They have never been to the top of the Empire State Building.

If this is true, I always thought, this is a shame.  What’s sad is that it likely is true for many people, and not just those living in New York.  We frequently forget that exploration need not require a trip further than out our own door.  (I know, that sounds like something Mr. Rogers would say…) Now that I’m living in Chicago again, and living on the north side where I have better access to more of what Chicago has to offer, I hope to make many more discoveries.  Stay tuned.

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