… interesting and useful … – David Gibson (dbpg@*.net)
CHICAGO, A visit to
Icono Clast and Girlfriend
We changed 'planes in Denver for an uneventful trip to get to the BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota, hotel with time enough to go to a nearby mall to dance a bit.
………We had some trouble finding a place to go. A query to a very muscular and handsome bald-atop but pony-tail'd man resulted in her gaily skipping along, hand cupped in his arm, as he led us to a place where he told the gatekeepers “They're with me” and showed us the venue's various rooms. At a bar told the tender to “Put them on my tab” before disappearing. We have no idea who he was nor why he lavished such great courtesy and generosity upon us. We were a cheap date, though, she having a juice and I a non-alcoholic beer.
………We were in Bloomington to attend a gathering of her family, the result of a wedding, that proved to be quite pleasant. Even though we were near MINNEAPOLIS for two nights, we never got to see any of the town. I was quite disappointed but in a position where I had to go along with the situation presented without complaint so I did. It wasn't hard. Everyone was very nice and everything was quite pleasant.

Sunday morning we hit The Road from Bloomington through WISCONSIN in a comfortable back seat facing CHICAGO.
………It's a different world back there. Oh, there are rolling hills but they're quite small. They're just large enough to keep ‘expansive’ out of view descriptions but not large enough to have much character. Hither and yon were silos, barns, cows, houses, horses, corn, and unidentified, possibly sugar beet, crops. For most of the more than 400 miles we saw nothing but ribbons of first-class asphalt and veils of tiny little small trees just big enough to hide their secrets.
………The front seat passenger was one of her sisters, the driver the sister's husband. They proved to be extremely gracious and generous hosts to their home town of Chicago even though they live in RIVERSIDE, a Frederich Law Ohlmstead-designed sub-urb of 8900 people that's really a park with lovely, highly varied and interesting, houses imposed upon it. The horizontal plane is like a cartoon: no straight lines. It is said that even some long-time residents get lost in there.
………A knock on the door was from a petitioner soliciting signatures to keep the gas-powered street lights. Everyone signed it.
………That night's dinner was at a Bohemian restaurant. It was very inexpensive. Because the food was unknown to us San Franciscans, we found it, uhhh, interesting.
Our first day started with an architectural tour from the NAVY PIER on the Chicago River. We chose the lower deck to escape the Sun's rays but not the heat and humidity. Although there were many well-placed speakers, most of what we heard sounded mumbled, mangled, and muddled. Much of what came through ungarbled I had to “translate” to the beautiful and elegant Brazilian woman seated next to us.
………At the end of the tour I was furious because we had basically just had a boat ride for which I had absolutely no use. We learned next to nothing, deriving so little benefit from the trip that my rage caused me to send her to complain to someone. He proved to be the tour guide who cheerfully said “Oh, I turned the volume down” and that really set me off. She dragged me away before the cops did. [“Isn't that a bit of an exaggeration?” she asked. “Yeah. So. What's yer point?”] A proper business would have offered totake us on the next tour or offer a refund. It is not a proper business.
………We sauntered over to the MAGNIFICENT MILE of Michigan Avenue for an afternoon stroll. The first thing that caught my eye was an adult toy store that I knew from catalogues. That was fun.
………We stopped in to see the lobbies of several buildings including the Chicago Tribune and Wrigleys. At the WATER TOWER was an exhibit of photographs of Chicagoans including Studs Terkel, Hugh Hefner, and Sally Rand. We really enjoyed it.
………We knew about Chicago's Deep Dish Pizza and had been told to also have a hot dog. There were no vendors on Michigan Avenue but a transit worker directed us "two blocks". It was a walk-in place, not a stand, but the hot dog we had was delicious. On return to the Avenue, we thanked the transit worker and told him where we'd gone. He was delighted, enthusiastic handshakes and backpats all around.
………We came across a barber-shop attired Chicago Jazz quartette playing on the wide sidewalk. When we stopped to listen, the leader announced “courtesy of the City of Chicago”, took a step toward us and broadly gestured as he said “Dancing's allowed”. “HehHe” chuckled I into her ear. “He knoweth not to whom he spake.” As they concluded the number they were playing, I dramatically removed the light jacket I was wearing and threw it aside a plant and equally dramatically directed her to remove her jacket and purse. The timing was good. I requested “a shuffle beat around 120” that did not cause a blink. They chose the Prima chart of Just a Gigolo and, when they saw we could hit the breaks, threw in a few extras. It was as good a dance as the circumstances allowed. We didn't draw an audience but the quartette was very appreciative of us as were we of them.
………Trying to do our hosts a favor by taking a bus to get close to home, we followed the directions of a local cop. Well, the directions were wrong, we learned after a 90-minute bus ride, but we got to see a bit of Chicago's CHINATOWN and pass through a couple of Chinese and Mexican neighborhoods.
………Dinner was a lovely in-home affair.

The next day was absolutely thrilling for it was spent at the ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO . We saw little more than the Expressionists and Surrealists but Wow! I doubt that I've ever seen so many Monets in one place. There was Sunday on Grande Jette by Seurat, Van Gogh's beautiful self portrait and his astounding bedroom scene as well as several other works. Degas was represented by the largest of his statuettes I've ever seen and a couple of paintings, too. Several paintings by Gaugin, of whom I'm not a fan, but one painting that I really liked. Of course there were Picassos and Dalís (aren't there always?). And many, many others each of whom you would recognize. I was surprised that I'd previously seen so many of the paintings but, then, they do travel.
………One of my favorite Surrealists is Yves Tanguy. The first of his paintings I ever saw, Second Thoughts, was when a child. I'd since seen very few of his works as they're spread all over the place. I think I saw one in Paris, one in New York, and two in Washington. The Art Institute has at least five including one large screen.
………Toward the end of our time there, I reälized that we'd not seen Grant Wood's American Gothic. While making a mad dash to see it, we were stopped by works by Tamayo, Rivera, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, Giaccometti sculptures, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Chagall's stained glass and other works. But we did get there.

[A sunny afternoon in VIENNA I encountered a sidewalk sandwich board saying “Art Exhibit” with an arrow indicating an opening in a fence. I went through and was immediately stunned by a large black sculpture of an enormously breasted, powerfully-built Black woman with her hands behind her back having just broken the chains that bound her wrists. Thirty some-odd years later, I saw her at the Hirschhorn(sp). On the grand stairway at the Art Institute of Chicago is a small torso that looks identical in all but scale.
………[That garden also had the first Giaccometti I ever saw, his Diogenes. And there were stained glass windows by Chagall that were on their way to Israel.
………[I still don't know what that garden exhibit was all about but it sure seems to have been an important one. It was indisputably memorable. I wish I knew more about it. Do you know how that might be done? I could determine the approximate date.]

………Dinner was a quite-good ersatz Mexican buffet at a very pleasant golf club founded about 120 years before our visit.
………After dinner, we borrowed one of the household cars to go to see the BUCKINGHAM FOUNTAIN, a large one reminiscent of the Magic Fountain. We arrived for the end of the show. Another started but was almost immediately shut off because there were so few of us there. We had a pleasant 45-minute wait for the day's last show. The speakers blared forth with America The Beautiful (I think) followed by an outstanding Gershwin medley to conclude with a rousing Stars and Stripes Forever. It was very nice.
………We ended the day with a visit to the Drake Hotel's lovely lobby.

On the way to Frank Lloyd Wright's OAK PARK home, we saw an open door at the CHENEY HOUSE, a 1913 effort by Charles E. White, Jr, so I dropped in. People preparing for an event greeted me and let me wander whither I chose in the lovely and historic home set in a formal garden. The 1970 Survey of Historic Buildings in Oak Park described it as a “simplified rectilinear design of first rank in architectural quality, significance, and originality”.

The tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright home was excellent and very informative. Being in Oak Park, where many of his earliest residential efforts can be seen, made it quite special.
………In addition to the in-house tour, one can take a talking wand to tour the neighborhood seeing about a dozen Wright wrought works.
………The UNITY TEMPLE absolutely stunned me. We sat in the Temple for quite a long while as I couldn't believe that it was completed in 1908, seven years before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the last great event of Century XIX.
………I sat there squinting m'eyes and scrunching my body and trying ever-so-hard to bend m'mind into seeing with 1908 eyes. I fidgeted in this row and that, high and low, left and Wright. I can't imagine how that room, “among the most important of Century XX”, looked to people born in the 1830s-1890s, sitting in that room in 1908.
………To the people of Oak Park, I was told, it wasn't such a big deal as they lived among Wright's works. Well, I just can't believe that. I mean, that was a time when public buildings were Greek/Roman Revivals, Beaux Arts, and perhaps an Art Deco brick or two. In San Francisco, we were building Victorians and Queen Anns and Edwardians and our magnificent Beaux Arts Civic Center was only on Daniel Burnham's sketch pad, his 1904 dream never realized. The fashions of men and women, in 1908, were similar to what they'd been during the Civil War and weren't to undergo a major change for at least another decade. Wright incorporated nary a suggestion, that I could see, of anything that had come before in Western architecture. I was just plain gaga, enthralled, thrilled, speechless, incredulous. 1908! Shee-it! 1908! Damn! 1908! Whew! 1908!

[When we returned to civilization, we paid a visit to what was built as V.C.Morris Company's retail outlet on Maiden Lane, now a commercial gallery. It precedes Manhattan's Guggenheim by a few years but is clearly a predecessor. It was there that I saw a man pumping the hand of a black-hatted other thanking him for saving his life. The thankee was obviously puzzled by the thanker who went on to say that he was in the Imperial Hotel when the 'quake hit.]

The CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER is another glorious building with an interior similar to those found at the Library of Congress and San Francisco's Main Post Office. We just loved it. We were there to visit the MUSEUM OF BROADCAST COMMUNICATIONS that might not be much fun for people born after 1950 but was a trip down mem'ry lane for us, a revisit to the days when families sat together listening to the sounds coming from an AM-only console: music, news, sit-coms, comics, mysteries, dramas, etc. One can open the door to Fibber McGee's closet and get the expected result. One can enter Jack Benny's safe with an unexpected, but totally appropriate, result.
………It was fun for us and we highly recommend it. Whether younger people will enjoy it we cannot say but it does have general historical value as the early days of television featured the same programs and performers as the late days of radio, many of them as well known today as they were sixty years ago..
………MARSHALL FIELD has a lovely Louis Comfort Tiffany dome that we hadn't known existed and were thrilled to see even though I wouldn't call it one of his better works.

From there, I took the elevated train to the airport. En route, I had the pleasure of an aerial view of many neighborhoods and interesting structures.
………At the airport, I took the hotel's van to move in for the next few days of dancing and competitions at the Mid-America Just Dance Swing Dance Championships. She went home with her sister. They joined me for dinner and dancing at the hotel's bar Sunday evening.

A full and satisfying too-short trip — September 6-16, 2002.