Heckuva town

Firstly, let me make a few choice corrections:

A) I did have a ‘Chicago Dog’, in that I had a bite of Arminas’s. Chili and cheese topping is not Chicago style. I repeat, not Chicago style. Can you stop breaking my fingers now, please?
B) The Water Tower mentioned in the last post was actually supposed to be the John Hancock tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world. The Water Towers, plural, are twin stone edifices that lie near the the base of it. They were some of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

With that in mind, allow me to upload the two best pictures from near the top of that place.

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I hope that was worth the wait.

Today I headed in with the company of another forumite, Ketar, to visit and tour the expansive Art Institute of Chicago, an encyclopedic museum that has almost every type of thing you can think of on display at some juncture or another. Famous pieces include Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Nighthawks, American Gothic, and among others, a smattering of Seurat (including the famous park scene), Goya, Monet, and Picasso. In addition to this is a formidable modern art wing. It is, I hope you will appreciate, somewhat near-impossible to start quantifying art in terms of inadequate and misshapen words. The museum is about one million square feet in terms of area, took four and half hours to comprehensively – though not quite exhaustively – browse, and I can’t even guess at how many items it holds. There’s really only one thing you can do, and that’s see it for yourself.

I took the CTA (read: subway) to the Museum, which allowed me to a little more of the city at street level, and afterwards I ambled through Millenium Park and the Cloud Bridge (read: SHINY BEAN), then up the Magnificent Mile. More on that in a second. First, photos:

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Chicago really is a city that has grown and grown on me. When I first saw a picture of it from the air, it seemed like a dizzying, uniform metropolis, a ball of clay flung at high speed into the earth. It sprawled out in every direction in regimented blocks, and I was apprehensive about just exactly what its feel would be – was it going to prove a soulless, scrappy place, a wordless commuting cabal?

The answer is no, of course not, shut up. Chicago is a wonderful city on the cusp of history and modernity, with enough roots to give it some serious character and enough grip on the moment to be a lively, vibrant place. The buildings alone here are really very lovely; often built in individuated styles out of dense red brickwork, they’re a pleasure to wander around. They feel pleasingly solid in comparison to, say, LA’s concrete-and-breezeblock asthetic. The larger edifices downtown are full of condominiums, towering business skyscrapers, the still-fresh glass of the new Trump Tower, and the dark bristling gothic spike of the Tribune paper. I walked past that building earlier, and it’s quite fascinating. In the wall near street level are embedded bricks from other institutions, from a piece of Abraham Lincoln’s house to a coarse grey block from one of the Scotch-English battlefields. One only needs to read up on the history of the paper and its powerful owners for even more pause for thought, but that is an exercise I shall leave to you.

This is the second stop on my journey where I can imagine living were I to live in America. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Right from the very earliest stirrings of my consciousness with regards to the states, I always figured I would be a Northeast person. Again, I couldn’t fully explain why. Perhaps the mystery will be solved in New York, which Chicago has somehow made more real, a warm-up act for the main event.

I’ll leave you with some more photos of the place that, over the past few days, I have developed a real fondness for.

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4 Responses to “Heckuva town”


  1. 1 Verr 22/09/2009 at 4:12 pm

    Glad you enjoyed Chicago like I said you would. It feels good to be right.

  2. 2 Renée 23/09/2009 at 6:08 pm

    Chili and cheese hot dogs are better than Chicago dogs. The end.

    • 3 Ketar 26/09/2009 at 1:24 pm

      A chili and cheese dog has to be made with something like Merkt’s cheddar rather than the usual fake cheese sauce most places would use to be considered anything other than an abomination. Even then, it does not approach a Chicago dog. That said, I probably go for a chili dog (no cheese) rather than a Chicago dog 1 of every 3 times I go for a dog, heh.

      And I’m glad Flippy enjoyed Chicago as well – I talked with him a bit about how they consciously strove for something of the feel of a major European city when designing Chicago, and while not everything in the Burnham Plan was followed, those efforts play a large part in my love of Chicago.

  3. 4 D 26/09/2009 at 5:49 pm

    Glad you saw the “Bean” – I should have spent the extra day going up to Chicago to see it. Extended grid-like street patterns like those in the Tower photos remind me of Miami and LA – town planning at it smost extreme…


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