Some thoughts about Chicago

When I was in Chicago last month for my brother-in-law’s wedding celebration, we walked up Magnificent Mile, crossed over the Chicago River, and headed to Millennium Park. Of course it was windy – Chicago is known as the Windy City, and this day lived up to the reputation.

The following photo is the skyline reflected in a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, entitled Cloud Gate. My friends in Chicago tell me everyone calls it the bean.

Taken with my cell phone, this photo is of the underbelly of Cloud Gate. The little specs are the reflections of all the people walking underneath. Looking at the photo, I’m reminded of a microcosm, with the tiny people being enveloped by a mother ship or a cosmic space mama.

I hadn’t been to Chicago in decades, not since I was a young girl, when I lived in Arlington Heights, a town about thirty minutes outside the city by train, on the north side. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Chicago, Barack Obama’s home is in Hyde Park, a neighborhood inside the city, to the south.

It’s interesting to note that Barack Obama fell in love with a woman whose family had deep roots in the south side of Chicago. In a PBS documentary, Barack says that he admired the sense of belonging he discovered through his wife Michelle’s family; he realized through his relationship with her that belonging to a place was an aspect of his life he lacked, and needed to develop.

Sometimes I ask myself how someone finds the courage, or the confidence to embark on a path such as becoming the president of the United States. I wouldn’t want that job, especially not now, although Barack seems born for it. But that’s a reduction of the facts, to say he was born with the ability, the desire, the self-assurance and the courage to take up the challenge of running the United States.

Obviously he’s gifted with intelligence, but the judgment, wisdom, and confidence had to be either learned or instilled in him. He gives a lot of credit to his grandmother, and to his wife Michelle, but I wonder, after my recent visit to Chicago, if living in such a powerful, thunderously strong city as Chicago might have also contributed to his drive to reach the White House.

Snapshot of the Wrigley Building, on Miracle Mile in Chicago

Illinois poet Carl Sandburg,(1878-1967), wrote a poem called Chicago, which many American children used read in school. It exudes the wild male energy of the city.

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987), wrote Chicago’s Congo, in which he paints the city as a larger than life woman.

Chicago is an overgrown woman
wearing her skyscrapers

And in 1967 Marge Piercy published Visiting a dead man on a summer day, in which the narrator speaks to Louis Sullivan, one of the most celebrated architects of the first skyscrapers of Chicago, while sitting on his grave. In the second stanza the narrator says,

The waste of a good man
bleeds the future that’s come
in Chicago, in flat America,
where the poor still bleed from the teeth,

We are all influenced by our environments, and in Barack Obama’s case, I would wager the power of the city, combined with the poverty of many of the people, spurred him on to use his intelligence and wisdom to, dare I say it, save the world.

15 thoughts on “Some thoughts about Chicago

  1. Dave says:

    I’ve gone through Chicago several times on Greyhound, and there’s always a hush that comes over the bus when the city looms into view. That doesn’t happen for, say, Indianapolis.


  2. christine says:

    Dale, I was blown away this time by the sheer expanse and number of the buildings, especially as one approaches the Chicago River along Miracle Mile. The power of Chicago, the strength, was so heavy and vibrant at the same time. The message the city seemed to send out was much different than what I’ve felt in New York. It was so totally massive.

    Dave, that’s interesting, what you noticed. I’ve never passed through Chicago on a bus, but I can imagine that reaction.


  3. Jo says:

    Well if I end up in Toronto, it’s only a hop skip and a jump! Love your second photo… a kooky chandelier. Interesting post, coincidentally I watched a doc about Roddy Doyle recently and part of it was filmed in Chicago, the city really impressed me and I made a mental note to visit one day.


  4. christine says:

    Hi, Jo, yes, Chicago is a force of nature, or at least of humanity.
    You might like to read Devil the the White City, a scary but interesting look at the time period of the Chicago world’s fair at the turn of the century.


  5. Deb says:

    I have to say those are amazing phone-photos! I think you are onto a place making a person. It is a worthy thesis, with many who would agree. I’ve only been to Chicago once, but want to go again. Chicago has much to recommend itself, much of it of historical and cultural significance. And now it has Obama to recommend it (and Michelle, who I am smitten with.)

    (Did you read the relatively recent CNF favorite “The Devil in the White City?” intriguing.)


  6. christine says:

    Deb, I have read Devil in the White City, a chilling book. I love architecture and landscape design, so it was interesting from that perspective too. Thanks for the link.

    Annamari, I like how you called my post a collage. Now I have something to call my disorganized ramblings!

    Thanks for reading Michelle. In fact, all the sharing you do on your site prompted me to add the poems,*smile*


  7. ybonesy says:

    I’ve never been but it’s one US city I’d love to visit. I have friends there now (besides Barack–ha!) so may be a possibility in the future.

    I wanted to say, your cell phone shots are fabulous! I love the way they stretch. Adds so much to the image of you and your family wandering about the city.

    Also wanted to say that it makes a lot of sense to me how Michelle Obama’s family and deep roots would have seemed so attractive to a man who as a child moved, what was it, 15 times? We seek what we don’t have.


  8. paisley says:

    your perception of one being sculpted by the space that they inhabit is right on.. each area of the country has its own strengths weaknesses,, and essentially its own flavor,, and the sponge that is the human psyche does indeed come away with a residual effect,, something that remains with them even when they move on… very perceptive,, nicely written and well thought out article.. i really enjoyed reading something of this nature from you christine…


  9. christine says:

    yb, I feel like Barack is a friend too! It’s like that, maybe, because we both helped out with his campaign. His campaign was very empowering for me.

    Your avatar on this site looks like a nipple! Is that rude of me to say? I like it though, nice colors.

    Paisley, glad you liked the post. I write essays periodically, not just poems!


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