Chicago, Day 2: Art and Boxing

Picasso's Dy’s class starts at 9, so she has to be there close to 8am (?!). She dropped me off at the Main Street station in Downer’s Grove. There’s an express that goes striaght to Union Station in the Loop, and the last one is around 8, so maybe it’s a good thing my wife is psychotic…

Downer’s Grove is a quaint town. Much nicer than the pointless boring sprawl of Darien, there’s a little avenue with shops and cafes. There must be a college nearby, because in the coffee shops (notably the local “Caribou Coffee”) there are a ton of students studying and checking each other out.

The coffee stand in the train station was definitely a commuter stop. The tough-looking butch woman was brisk and efficient, and their espresso machine has been broken for weeks; it’s a business tuned to specific things like drip coffee and minimal interaction.

In a spare moment I asked

BRAIN: is the Chocolate Monkey espresso drink was made with real monkey?
COFFEE LADY: I sure hope not?
BRAIN: Oh, are you a vegetarian?
COFFEE LADY: No, I just like monkeys.

Just outside Union Station (there is a Cinnabon inside! Woot or something) I quickly looked at the map. The station is just outside The Loop, the downtown area and financial district, and one must cross the canal to get there. I looked down Adams in both directions and saw a break in one direction, so I walked that way.

After about ten blocks of Greek restaurants, I realized I had chosen poorly. I did get to walk by the orphanarium though; “Mercy House” is the beneficiary of some big boxing match coming up. Boxing is big here I think. I like the name “Mercy House,” it sounds like a S&M shop.

There is a shuttered candy factory here. However I smell chocolate. So maybe it just moved? The locals didn’t seem to know where it was, nor have ever wondered where the smell was coming from…

Finally got back to the Loop. Even though it’s been more than ten years, some stuff is coming back to me. My favorite “el” station is Quincy, because it has a little shelter, entirely done in wood. It looks the most “period” of the stations, like you could take it to the World’s Fair.

There are way too many Dunkin’ Donuts around Chicago. Also, there are basically no bathrooms in these fast food places here. Makes me appreciate California more; especially with a bladder full of crappy train station coffee. No bathrooms in the Barnes and Noble cafe either. There’s a college behind B&N, but you need a student ID to get into the bathroom. You know, I can’t remember what I did… maybe I peed in the street and blacked it out.

Finally I got to my intended destination – The Art Institute. I had tried to go here with my family in the early 1990s; my mother was always taking us to art museums. We were in a hotel in The Loop and getting ready to go, when the lights went out. I think I was in the shower. After about twenty seconds, the lights came back on. How odd! As we were getting finished getting dressed, the lights went out again. A knock came on the door, and apparently the entire hotel was down and the guests to be evacuated. We and every other guest in the hotel walked eleven floors down the stairwell in the dark with bellboys holding flashlights.

When we got to the street, it was complete mayhem; I really enjoyed it. The streets were jammed with cars and confused people, the entire Loop was without power. Every person from every building was on the street trying to escape. Mounted police rode by, columns of cops in riot gear marched around. Businessmen in suits stood on the street, surrounded by a lot of non-portable computers, attempting to pile them all into cabs. Since all the power was out, many thought there would soon be looting, and thus the protective attitude towards the computers…

Chicago has an underground tunnel system, used in the olden days to for example transport goods from the docks to restaurant kitchens in the Loop. When the city was wired for electricity, the cables were run in those tunnels. Some of the tunnels run fairly close to the canal… A worker had messed up and smashed something heavy into a wall of the canal, flooding the tunnels. Thus to avoid frying the city they shut all the power down. “The Loop Flood.”

So the point of this: The Art Institute is in The Loop. So it was closed, and I didn’t get to see it for fifteen years. But! Today was the day, so I got in.

The Art Institute is pretty awesome. Nighthawks was not there… turns out they had loaned it to another museum. American Gothic was there, as well as Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. Something kind of freaky about that painting- if you look at it at an angle you can see the image of a woman which must have been a previous painting.

Richard Misrach “On the Beach” was there- it’s a lot of very large photographs of ocean and/or beach, with tiny people figures in them. The blurb called it “post Apocalyptic” which seemed odd. Maybe the insignificance of the people in the frame? The only thing “post Apocalyptic” and water reminds me of is if global warming kicked in and the entire earth was covered in tropical ocean, like in “Waterworld.”

Dali’s Invention of Monsters was there, and was awesome. Seeing Dali’s work in person is definitely worth it; the paintings have a depth which you don’t get on a screen or in a print.

10th century Iranian bowlI saw “Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection,” and my favorites were the ones where you can’t quite make out the motif is actually something written in Arabic. White bowls with a black irregular ring in the center… look closely and you’ll see the knots painted into it are the distinguishing marks for letters. 10th century.

Also notable on this visit: a small ukiyo-e gallery, and a “tactile exhibit” where you can feel the sculptures. You don’t really get to know a sculture unless you can feel it… the little nuances like the furrows of a brow, or a tensed muscle next to a nose.

After the Art Instititute I walked down State… police began shutting down the street. After my previous experience in The Loop I was prepared for another disaster and was filled with a sense of deja vu. I walked into Blick Art Materials and asked –

BRAIN: Hey there. Do you know what’s going on outside?
BRAIN: Well… what is it then.
ART STUDENT: Oh. Yeah, they’re shutting down the street.

And that is why America is doomed. Anyway it turned out there was a parade about to start for the World Boxing Championships.

I went to Atwood’s Cafe, a restaurant named for the architect, and had a lamb burger and a Bloody Mary. I sat next to two middle-aged women who talked like Fran Drescher and who apparently work in the carpet business.

By the time I was done the parade was in effect. I watched what I imagine were Turkish-Americans waving a giant flag and stepped into Macy’s.

This Macy’s was once Marshall Field’s. They serve afternoon tea on the 7th floor, and also still have the venerable Frango candy at the top floor. Frango isn’t very good, for the record… in the industry most of their pieces are called “whips,” which are basically flavored trans-fat covered in substandard chocolate. I obviously don’t recommend it.

In the basement of Macy’s was this odd “Flea Market” where they were selling random garage-sale crap. For example old fishing poles, suits of armor, lawn bowling balls, sets of dominos… you get the picture.

So that was Monday.

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