Monday, January 28, 2013

A Quick Trip to the Blustery City

Can one get frostbite in less than 5 minutes?

That was the question I would have typed into my smart phone, as I trudged the ice-glazed streets of Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, had my fingers still been working at that stage. But one hand had frozen into a claw, gripping my rolling suitcase, and the other was hiding in my pocket, trying to talk some sense to my brain ("No I won't come out, damn it. It's pretty clear I'd freeze! Why risk it to type?"). Instead, I ducked into a cafe and stood in a corner, hoping nobody would ask me to purchase something. Of course, the opposite happened; a kindly barrista, seeing my shivering form, called out "Oh hon, you thaw out. No need to buy anything, just get warm."

Cold and kindness were two of the touchstones of this recent trip, one that made me rethink that old bit of travel advice "go in the off season". Frankly, I so dreaded going out, that I did a lot less in Chi-Town than I usually do when I head, well, anywhere.

Luckily, I had my own, cozy and warm apartment through AirBnB ($65/night!), which my charming host Jonathan had stocked with snacks, sodas, breakfast stuff and even beer and vodka. No need to head out if hunger or existential, vodka-needing angst, struck And if that weren't enough, he invited me up for drinks and I spent a lovely second evening meeting his 20-something friends and swapping travel tales.

Of course, I did venture out...a bit. Having visited the Art Institute, The Field Museum and other Chicago bold name attractions on other trips, I decided to go a bit off the beaten path and head to the less-visited Chicago History Museum.What an unexpected treat! Chicago has a very distinct personality, it's a manly city but one that's also highly creative. And at this fine, highly interactive, wonderfully curated museum, you understood how the city got its moxie. Everything from the Great Fire to the race riots of the '60's to the many innovations that came out of the city (both Lincoln Logs and the Pill were created here) are explored at the museum in a way that's quite compelling and only a hair overwhelming.

Best reason to go right now: the exquisite photos of Vivian Maier's are on display. Never heard of her? You will in the coming years. She was a total unknown until 2009, when photos of hers that were rescued from an abandoned storage locker were posted on the internet. Maier, who worked as a nanny in Chicago all her life, never tried to display her work herself and had passed away by the time her work started gaining acclaim.  But the photos are Diane Arbus like in their intensity and humanity, and capture the Windy City of the 1960's and 1970's quite vividly.

My second sightseeing venture was somewhat of a bust: I signed up for one of the Chicago Architecture Foundations Tours, its Elevated Chicago experience, assuming that we'd be ensconsed in a nice, warm train, looking at architecture through the windows. Nope! The tour was about the development and architecture of the El itself, so we hung out on street corners looking up, or on platforms gazing down, always in the windiest spots of the Windy City. I made it halfway through that tour before, feeling a waspish stinging in my hands and toes, I had to bale out. Sad to do so, as the tale our guide was weaving was a compelling one, all about the corruption and characters that shaped the city. But had I stayed...well, I might not be able to type this today!

I must finish up with a shout out to all the great cheap eats I had while in town, so thanks to Bel 50 for the terrific waffle sandwiches (that's right, waffles filled with delicacies like burrata, smoked salmon or short ribs); to Au Cheval for the fab, foodie bar food (duck's heart gravy over hash!); and Little Goat for the amazing tempura fried potatoes.

Hopefully I'll have time later in the week to blog about the silliest meal of my stay (perhaps of my life). Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this made me miss Chicago. Silliest meal, though ... can't be Wiener's Circle. Maybe Kitsch'n?