Part One: Chicago is Not New York

What to make of a diminished thing? I just returned from four full days in Chicago: the home of American architecture, the culinary avant-garde, the blues and deep dish pizza. The city has left me scratching my head. I should love everything about Chicago, but it left me cold and without any sense of adventure. Do not misunderstand me – I ate at some spectacular restaurants, heard some killin’ blues, chased Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses through Oak Park, and stayed at a very good hotel – but I felt like I was completely disconnected from the culture that produced these art forms and that the gods were now dead.

One of the first places we visited was the Oak Park area of Chicago, which is about forty-five minutes out of the downtown core by transit train. We had ridden into town on a similar CTA train, so we knew things would be safe enough albeit loud from cellphone swearing and street-talk. Oak Park is much like any established area that holds the money to build mansions. The architecture shifts between colonial-style houses to the Prairie-style of Wright, and they are all meticulously landscaped and painted in evocative accents that befit the designs. The weather was warm as we walked through the main areas of the district. I will admit to dragging V. into the Hemmingway Museum at the end of the afternoon. It was brutal as a museum of any real value, but I felt that it might offer just a glimpse of something Hemmingway-esque.  The closest we came was an antique typewriter, which was more prop than relating to Hemmingway, himself. Still, we made out way through the weak, bedraggled exhibit which cost twenty dollars. At least I was able to  take away a nice typewriter photograph.

Our first Frank Lloyd Wright house on our walk is shown in the preceding image. For the remainder of the walk I decided to make a vain attempt at shooting with the Hasselblad camera to gain some experience with it and see how it feels to shoot with. I had to use V.’s light meter readings from her camera, which I knew might not be accurate for film, but it was a good effort and will let me gauge proper exposure for later trips. What did I think of Wright’s architecture? I like the geometric shapes and the lines are unmistakably his. Light would be a major issue though as there was a dark, weighty feel to the interiors. I can appreciate the style, but would choose something different for my own home.

I fell in love with this shot of a tree coming into first blossom against the front of the FLW house paint. It is the type of photograph that I would frame and hang for decorating a Zen-style room. If I had seen any cherry trees in Japan, then I would have liked them to look like this. I have to admit that Chicago had the best collection of fire hydrants that I have seen in a major city. It makes sense, as it would have undoubtedly been one of the first major city’s to need them after their great fire in 1871. The prize one had to be the one directly in front of Hemmingway’s birthplace with its cracked paint and rust patina.

Another highlight for us was our daily doses of $4 cupcakes from Sugar Bliss, a local cupcake boutique. $4 is a lot for a cupcake, but these were the best I had ever had. I think we had a total of six between the two of us. How can you not love a shop that does just one thing and does it to perfection? Yes, we were near sugar shock every morning, but they made me smile with butter icing on my lips. I just wish that there had been more places like Sugar Bliss in the city, but there just were not.

Last photo for this entry had to be one I took of a Spitfire plane in the Midway airport. Over the next few blog entries I am going to reflect on my experiences in Chicago because it was still a great journey wherein we were able to experience some things that may have changed how I view the world. I will talk a bit about the dining experiences at Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea – perhaps an evolution of culinary style has never been clearer than after eating at these to mecca of food. There was a night of blues at Buddy Guy’s bar, and some designer fashion thoughts after visiting Ralph Lauren’s boutique. There should be a series of Hasselblad photos of the city landscape and some Frank Lloyd Wright houses to consider. I also have to complain about the insane regulations at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was more strict than Homeland Security and forced us to leave without passing the entrance. Maybe that is why I wanted to end this entry with the star; it reminds me of Captain America’s shield and the irony of a United States so afraid of the outside world that it has reduced its own freedoms to classifying umbrellas as dangerous weapons at art galleries.

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