Posts Tagged 'Chicago'

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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All things go, all things go

Greetings from the Windy City! The Windy City is mighty pretty but they ain’t got what we got no siree No stop that.

I arrived in Chicago on the evening of the 19th, to find Arminas and Mavis, my former PAX compatriots, waiting outside the station. My first impression of the city is that it reminded me of Batman’s fictional Gotham – and then Arminas gently explained to me that that was pretty much because it was based on Chicago. Score one for team obvious.

It was already pretty dark by the time we were there, but for Arminas the night was but young! Our first stop was to feed me, not unlike the piranha plant from Pet Shop Of Horrors, as my diet that day had been pop tarts, beef jerky and a twix. I was ravenous, and Chicago of course had just the answer: deep dish pizza. We stopped off at the apartment and then walked to a nearby place that rustled up what looked like some sort of industrial accident, so thick and goopy was the topping. It proved, however, rather tasty. Not quite as tasty, perhaps, as the Italian/New York style with the wide thin base and the flavoursome toppings (great, now I want a pizza), but the flipside was that it absolutely fills you up. It reminded me a great deal of the old ‘doorstops’ of bread the miners used to take with them, and shares the same culinary ethos as cornish pasties: this is work food.

Out hunger duly sated, we moved on to the far more pressing issue of our thirst. It was quite a night. We probably drank between us enough to poleaxe a medium-sized cow, and hopped through four or five locations, all with their individual characters. My favourite would be hard to call: we visited a very classy little cocktail place where I had something with a lot of gin and blackcurrent in it, which I really liked a great deal for its faintly elitist, hipster atmosphere, but then we also visited a wall.

Well, okay, there was a door in the wall, inset so that one can barely see it – a casual observer might not even notice the well-worn handle sticking out of the graffiti’d brickwork. Through that door is a curtain. Then, another curtain. Just as one is wondering why there are 12-foot velvet drapes hanging from the ceiling, it all becomes clear as they emerge into The Violet Hour, a trendy and intimate bar that has a very special heritage.

Violet Hour runs, you see, in an imitation of the old-fashioned speakeasys, a hangover (pardon the pun) of the prohibition era that saw the rise of organized gangs. The speakeasys, for anyone not in the know, is where all the moonshine or illegal liquor was quietly siphoned into the grateful livers of the poor, suppressed, thirsty populace. The high-backed chairs, dim lighting and secretive feel of the place (and I am told there are others, with secret callsigns and hidden doors) are a great throwback to the character of the time without becoming kitschy.

I had something with more gin in it.

Today, after thankfully somehow not actually getting drunk the prior evening, we headed into the city with special guest MichaelLC, who dropped by to visit. We went and ate at a place staffed exclusively by ex-con’s called Felony Frank’s (nope, not kidding), where I had one of the famous Chicago hot dogs, which was pretty nice with chili and cheese. After a swift detour back to the apartment to reorganize ourselves, we went on into town, though sadly Mavis had to say his goodbyes at this point.

Chicago is a bustling, slightly imposing city with a very ‘east coast’ feel to it. Which is odd, because I’ve not seen anything on the east coast but Philadelphia, so that must be cultural informants talking. I suppose it’s marked by a faster pace of life, grimmer weather, and a slightly more worn-down feeling, in major part due to the age of the buildings, which here are practically museum pieces compared to other cities I’ve visited. I like the place, however.

We spent quite a lot of today just walking around the town, though we wandered out to the end of the pier and ducked into a few unexpected places, mostly due to the sudden and precipitous rainstorm that swept in from the north. I had failed my English test and forgotten my umbrella. A terrible thing to do.

We ended the day by going to the top of the Water Tower, which is not actually a water tower but a skyscraper with a restaurant-cum-viewing deck at the top, much like Tower 42 in London. And I did get some absolutely lovely pictures, the rain that misted up the streets being coloured a delicate roseate by a suffused sun… but Macs are horrible evil things that are designed to be as difficult as possible to work with because they try and do everything for you. So those pictures – and more – will come tomorrow.


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