3 December 2013
I’ve Been to the Windy City – But I Wasn’t Blown Away
Perhaps I’m getting blasé as I get older - or perhaps I’ve been watching too many American films - but my recent visit to The States for Thanksgiving was nowhere near as exciting as I might have imagined. Thirty years ago any trip outside the country would have been an event to take note of – but today we are so used to foreign travel that it takes something really special to draw us out of our comfort zone. And Chicago wasn’t it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went. I was visiting family and that in itself justified the journey, but I wanted more. There were plenty of potential attractions – the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and skyscrapers as tall as you’ll find anywhere in the world. We bought City Passes and visited them all - but were they the real Chicago? Were these the places stalked by Al Capone and Elliott Ness? Is this really where the likes of Muddy Waters played the blues? I can find great museums in London and tall buildings in New York. What I was looking for was something that was unique to Chicago and I struggled to find it.
There were highlights. The Bean (http://abt.cm/1eSaYhS) is well worth looking at and I take my hat off to Anish Kapoor for producing a memorable piece of modern art – and that’s not something I say very often. It really does invite you to wonder at its concept and at its construction so you can’t fail to be engaged by it.
The Art Institute has a very extensive collection and I found a painting I would so liked to have taken away with me. ‘Mrs Darrow’ by Mainerre Dawson (http://bit.ly/1cWkoqh) is a portrait done in an abstract and cubist style. The link I have provided is the best reproduction I can find and I’m afraid it doesn’t do it justice. You really have to stand in front of it to appreciate the warmth of the colours and the sympathetic treatment of the subject. It made me want to know much more about Mrs Darrow and who she was. I was even tempted to invent something about her myself.
U505 ( http://bit.ly/1atUqaM ) was definitely a stand-out moment. The link doesn’t show it but this is a real German Uboat housed inside the Museum. That alone would make it notable and to be confronted by a full-size ship as you walk into the hall is breathtaking. But then this is America where everything is done on a massive scale and this is a Museum that has full-size aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling. That said, I think it was the human story that accompanied this exhibit that made it special. Well worth a visit.
So am I finally convincing myself of the merits of Chicago? Not really. As I indicated, as wondrous as these things may be, they could readily be found somewhere else. Beyond that, the Windy City remained surprisingly quiet. I don’t recall hearing a single police siren during the ten days I was there and there was certainly no frenetic car chase in the narrow spaces beneath the ‘L’ (Chicago’s elevated railway). So much for the influence of TV and the unwarranted expectations it gives rise to.
Although what I might reasonably have anticipated was some form of celebration around the Thanksgiving event itself and the build-up to Christmas. I was disappointed to find little of either. While I thoroughly enjoyed our turkey and trimmings (the food was great and so was the company), the fact is that of the six us sitting down to our Thanksgiving meal (3 Brits, 2 Germans and a Mexican), none of us were actually American. I guessed we were doing the right thing, but as to what the rest of the country was up to, I hadn’t a clue. If their much vaunted appetite for Christmas was anything to go by, not a lot. Other than a poster advertising an hour with Darlene Love prior to the switching on of the lights on the tree in Daley Plaza and a radio station which played nothing but Christmas music (and an hour of that is quite enough) I saw next to nothing by way of preparation. There are more Christmas lights in York than there were in Chicago.
But hey, I shouldn’t complain – I didn’t get shot, I didn’t get arrested and I had a great time with my family. But as for Chicago, I now have a better understanding of those strange song lyrics. You know the ones I mean? ‘Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town’. Because ‘toddling’ was about as much as it could manage.
Did I miss a trick? If there’s something extraordinary about Chicago you think I should know about, I’d be delighted to hear it. Leave me your comment in the box provided and I’ll share it if I can.