Being A Tourist In My Own City

I love Chicago. I love this city at any time of the year, but especially in summer. It is a challenging task to talk me into going somewhere in summer. I like being here, and I do not mind the heat at all. There are so many things that only happen in summer, and summer is so short!

One of the reasons why I like summer in Chicago so much is that I can blend with the crowd of tourists from all over the world, and to take pictures of the same buildings for one hundredth and first time.

For example, to take pictures of mounted police

On Friday I took a half-day off, Boris came to the city by 12-30, and we headed to a quick lunch in the Pret, and then to the Art Institute.

This year the Nichols Bridgeway was closed way too often, for all sorts of events, like Pokemon Go! (I am trying very hard not to comment on the worth of these events, did you notice?!) This Friday it was opened, and so we’ve entered the Art Institute that way.

The city view from the Bridgeway
I am being a tourist
Continue reading “Being A Tourist In My Own City”

Is Using Public Spaces A Privilege?

Yesterday, I read a comment on Instagram about the homeless people gathering in the Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The past several weeks had been extremely hot. During the most scorching days, I would walk out of the office with a big water bottle and a stack of paper cups, so that if I saw somebody on the street, I would be able to give them a drink of water before urging to go inside.

Thankfully, I barely saw anybody – people were smart to find refuge in multiple public spaces, and I am so glad they did. Fortunately, public libraries in the big cities have always been dubbed as day shelters, both in extreme cold and extreme heat. And after seeing a movie Cooked , I could not be more thankful for that.

I am struggling to write anything else on the subject. I can’t wrap my head around this cruel comment about homeless people “contaminating” the beautiful building. Why do some people think that if they are “more presentable”, or pay more taxes, they are “more valuable” for society and thus are entitled to access public spaces more than others? When I commented that I am glad that people are in the library, not outside, I’ve got a reply that there are shelters. This statement sounded for me no better than segregation, when some people “deserve” to be at certain places, while others don’t.

Later the same day I was at the Open Door Shelter of the Night Ministry, where I volunteer regularly cooking with the youth. And after the meal was washed away (everybody loved my baked salmon), we had a great conversation. There were some young people whom I met previously, and also one more young man with whom I never talked before. I was so impressed by his intelligence and the dignity he carried himself. It just happened that we got into discussing racial profiling and stereotypes. I do not start this type of conversation by myself when I am in the ODS, but funny enough he said something to which I’ve reacted – this is a generalization! He laughed, and we continued talking.

As an immigrant, I did have my share of prejudgements towards me, and I learned half – not to pay attention, half – to accept it as a fact of life. And I have tremendous respect for people who do not become upset or bitter when they are faced with prejudgement and maintain the sense of their worth and self-respect.

I was walking back to the CTA station with the sense that this day was worth living:)

Cooked: Survival By ZIP Code

In these super-hot July days, when the temperature climbs to the 100s, I’ve attended the screening of the documentary Cooked: Survival By The ZIP Code. I watched it on Monday, unfortunately almost the only screening without any public discussion as a follow-up. That was my only option to see it, and I am happy I went, but boy, how much you want to discuss this movie after the final acknowledgments appear on the screen!

From the Siskel center website:

Inspired by Eric Klineberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Helfand (BLUE VINYL) takes a hard, personal, and often quirky look at the inequity of natural disaster, beginning with her family’s own experience of Hurricane Sandy. She ultimately zeroes in on Chicago’s shockingly inadequate response to the deadly July 1995 heatwave, during which the city morgue overflowed with the sudden deaths of 726 citizens, largely the elderly and people of color from the city’s impoverished South and West Side. This audacious look at natural disaster American-style starts with the stark premise that a zip code can be an accurate predictor of life or death when nature unleashes its worst. With increasing frequency and force, climate change sets the agenda for hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and such, but systemic neglect, deep poverty, and political expediency have already drawn the line between the survivors and the doomed, even before disaster strikes.

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2018) | Official Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

I do not even know how to describe this movie. It could very well become trivial – who does not talk about the predominantly black impoverished neighborhoods. Yet the evidence is striking. The footage of the news coverage back from 1995. Mayor Daley statement: “That’s why we love Chicago.” The refrigerator trucks storing the bodies awaiting autopsy outside the city hospitals. The life expectancy numbers – sixteen years difference between the North and the South.

The director takes a broader approach and poses very pointed questions to the officials: why we can’t address the issue preventively, before a disaster strikes? She also links the heatwave casualties with the overall state of the neighborhoods: the absence of affordable health care, inability to pay electric bills, the food deserts. If fact, one of the most striking episodes is the one in the mobile grocery store when the workers on the bus are trying to convince a teen to eat an apple – for the first time in his life!

The movie calls for action, and I can’t imagine anybody dismissing it’ s message.

Small Town Chicago v.2

Friday happened to be a FannieMay day. I was picking up the River Cruise tickets for my friend, and when passing a FannieMay store at the corner of Michigan and Waker saw a large sign in the shop window:

I’ve entered the store and looked around. There were all sorts of sweet activities going on. You could taste local coffees with FannieMay chocolates; you could see how the famous FannieMay turtles are being made:

Continue reading “Small Town Chicago v.2”

Small Town Chicago…

It was an interesting day on Tuesday when I felt that the whole world had collapsed in one single point :).

I was on a mission to show the best Chicago has to offer; my friend’s Dad was visiting Chicago for the first time. As it always happens, I can’t let somebody else showing our beautiful city to the visitors – what if they will do it a wrong way?!

I took them to the Chicago Fine Arts Building – one of the tourist attractions, which is severely underrated. I love to show it to the visitors, because they can’t believe such a lovely place is right here, in the very center of the city, and they would never know it exists. Showing the ancient man-operated elevator is one of my favorite attractions: you press the elevator button, but what this button really does, it rings the bell, which signals the elevator operator to bring it down. Then you ask to bring you to the very top floor and start your descent down, touring each level on your way.

On one of the floors we’ve entered the Sheet Music store, and I was walking around, showing my guests the selection, and talking to one of the store associates. And then another associate called: Excuse me, are you Henrietta? I’ve turned around, puzzled, because I could not recognize him, and he continued: I used to come to your Postgres meetups!

That was just mind-bowing! I’v replied to him, laughingly: That is wrong! That’s from the other part of my life! And he was: I am so sorry for the intrusion, but you know, this is the other part of my life as well! I take music lessons here, and also help in this store. I said – it’s alright, it just feels not real, when different parts of my world come together.

Then a couple of floors lower we stopped at the Dial, the new used books store, which has replaced the old one, “with the cat.” I love the space, and the owners as well, so we’ve entered and walked around. And when we were about to exit, I thanked the owner, and told him, how I am glad they’ve opened this store, how much I like everything about it, and that my sone has written an article about it

— My son’s name is Igor, do you remember him?

— Of cause! I know him! He’s great!

And after we’ve exited the building, we went for dinner to the Gage, the reservation and all arrangements were made by Vlad, who in his own words “knows a couple of people there.” I wonder, whether there is any at all establishment in Chicago, where Vlad does not know “somebody.” In any case, my usual “it’s good to be Vlad’s Mom” moment followed. There was a bottle of wine from Vlad delivered to our table, and a couple of people stopped by with the questions, “Do you remember me? We met at Vlad’s house.”

… When people ask me, why I still live in Palatine and do not move to the city, one of the first things I tell is that “everybody knows me there, and everybody still remembers I am Vlad’s Mom!” I guess it’s close to becoming true in Chicago 🙂