I heart Chi-Town

I visited Chicago for the first time when I was thirteen years old.  My grandmother and mom took me over Thanksgiving so I could see the painted windows of the Magnificent Mile during the holidays.  I experienced a lot of firsts during that long weekend – my first high heels, my first plate of scallops,my first taxi, my first after-dinner hot drink (tea, which I poured both cream and lemon into and then watched as the cream curdled – I drank it anyway). We bought beautiful clothes on that trip – clothes in bright colors, fun costume jewelry, unusual shoes. I remember more than anything  else being fascinated by the revolving doors of the department stores and the elegant women who came in and out of them in a haze of perfume  and leather.  On that trip, my mom bought a costly bottle of Georgia Red perfume and whenever she wore it I was transported back to my four days in the Drake Hotel, shopping on the mile, seeing plays and eating late night suppers (we don’t eat, we dine) my grandma always liked to say. From the moment the bellhop opened my taxi cab door I fell in love with Chicago and dreamt of moving to the city on the lake. 

When I returned to Alpena I wore one of my brand new outfits to school, multi-colored leggings and a warm purple sweater. My math teacher told me in front of the entire class I looked like a Polish fishing lure. While even four days ago that would have cut me to my core, possibly even made me cry, my time in Chicago gave me the smallest of confidences and the ability to realize that out there, in the world, people wore more than flannel shirts and carhart jackets, they dined at restaurants a la carte, in fact there was a whole other world where my outfit was fabulous, and I knew it. And I felt sorry for my math teacher.

Since my first trip I have visited Chicago numerous times – twice more with my mother for museums and plays and shopping, and each time it is wonderful, a couple of other times for work, but mostly to visit my friends and family who have moved to the city, of which there are many, and I now know Chicago is so much more than Lakeshore Drive and the mile – it is vintage clothing stores, small parks, Indian food, late-night movies, performance art, used book stores, tea shops and baseball – through visits with my friends and visits with my family I know Chicago more and love it better.

In Chicago, too, some of my easiest relationships live. There is J., my roommate from my second year of college, and her husband, A., and their apartment in Ukrainian Village where I spend at least one weekend a year. We stay up all night drinking and then spend the days in our pajamams drinking coffee, never running out of conversation. At some point we always manage to dress and visit some restaurant or another in Wicker Park but the point of my visits with J. and A. aren’t so much about the food (although it helps) as it is about the talk.  

My cousin SA lives here, too. We are about nine months apart in age and he has always felt like more of a brother than a cousin. Last weekend he met us for dinner in Wicker Park and spent the day with S. – my cousin is one of those people who opens up his entire world to you with no inhibitions, so much so you really don’t want to leave it.

And then, of course, there is my best friend M. – my best friend since the fifth grade. I am writing this from her apartment where I am spending four nights because she and her husband will soon be moving back to Michigan for graduate school. For the first time in twelve years we will again live in the same city and while we are giddy about that fact we are also taking the city very seriously, this weekend. We are touring, in fact. Because there are all sorts of things you don’t do when you actually live somewhere fabulous and when it’s time to say goodbye to someplace as phenomenol as Chicago, suddenly you want to go to the zoo.

I have friends from graduate school who live here as well, one of whom I met up with for lunch earlier this week. CW and I picked up as though we were both back in Pittsburgh searching for decent burritos.

The first time I visited Chicago, I fell for its opulence – for FAO Schwartz, for Lawry’s – for The Phantom of the Opera. Now when I visit I fall into the arms of so many people who love me it’s almost hard to breath.

The Chicagoans I know and love are extremely different folks, and yet they all back Barack Obama and talk about him as though, you know, they are single-handedly responsible for his very existence.  If you need to get somewhere in the city they will carefully explain to you that Chicago is on a grid, and everything runs north, south, east or west, as though this is a sufficient explanation when you ask for directions. If you need further instructions they will sigh, and tell you to take the blue line, and you will, and it will get you where you need to go as you study your map and realize, hey, the city is on a grid! Not hard at all!

I’ve played around occasionally with the idea of moving here – I like the way the vibrancy of the city collides with the flat midwest landscape, and I like the food tremendously.  Thirteen year old me probably wonders why I don’t just move here right now – escape the suburbs, find an apartment and start strutting down the avenue. But, I don’t know…if I lived here…I couldn’t visit,  and it is my biannual visits with people I love in a city I worship that provides solace for my soul and reminds me of who I hope to be.  I like the escapism this city provides, and don’t really want to suddenly become irritated by the thousand small things living in a place creates.  For me, a visit here is highly restorative and I’m not sure I could find such comfort anywhere but in the city on the lake, so close to home and also, sovery far away.

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11 Responses to I heart Chi-Town

  1. Katie says:

    This has nothing to do with Chicago, other than confirming that you have a knack for writing descriptively and memoiresque about cities.

    So, I visited the City Park Grill in Petoskey over the weekend. They actually state on their menu that Hemingway ate there. It was explained to me that he really only spent a blip of his life in Northern Michigan, but the locals hang on very tightly to that. Is that how the Hemingway ties into your memoirs? I might as well tell you I’m illiterate now, but I never got that before. 🙂

  2. Emily says:

    I love Chicago, too. Fabulous, fabulous city!

  3. litlove says:

    My husband has been to Chicago and loves it – alas I’ve never been but I now long to! And I love what you said about you mum’s Georgio perfume. The first perfumerie I ever visited as a child of 11, the shopkeeper sprayed Anais Anais on my wrist and I fell asleep that night smelling it and dreaming of a tantalising adult world.

  4. Stefanie says:

    You make me want to pack up and take a trip to Chicago. Beautiful post.

  5. Kerryn says:

    I think I love Chi-Town too and I haven’t even been there. Lovely post.

    But, I think you can live in a city that you love and still visit. Occasionally, D and I ignore that we live in our city, jump on a tram and go somewhere new to us or even just revisit places we’ve been before. We discover new layers, new sights, new places and are reminded that no matter how long we live here, we will never get tired of all our city offers. Mind you, we didn’t realise that until we moved away and missed it…

  6. nicolemarie says:

    this is really a beautiful post. I’ve been to Chicago once and I thought that it was a lovely city. I prefer the Big Apple, but that’s just where I’m from. So much of what you’ve written could be applied to how I feel about NYC.

    thanks for sharing such wonderful words.

  7. Dorothy W. says:

    I know a bit of Chicago, but not nearly enough — you make me want to go back!

  8. Kim says:

    So have you ever condsidered being a travel writer?I’ve always wanted to check out Chicago but now I really really want to!

  9. Courtney says:

    Katie – Hemingway spent his summers in northern Michigan as a child and returned after WWI – but it’s only a small portion of how it fits into my manuscript…I’ll fill you in in person. Love the Park city grill!

    Emily – yes, it is!

    Litlove – I would definitely recommend a visit here at least once – I think it’s a city you would really enjoy!

    Stefanie – pack your bags and come this weekend…it’s the book expo!

    Kerryn – you make a good point…if I DO ever move to Chicago I can still “visit” it.

    Nicole – I’ve never been to NYC but I think when I do visit I will love it as well! I’m looking forward to my first visit there!

    Dorothy – as I told Stefanie – come now – it’s book expo weekend!

    Kim – LOL, haven’t yet thought about that, I have to say. I think you and mark should definitely plan a trip here!

  10. Cam says:

    Great post about Chicago. Your post, and the comment from NicoleMarie has made me think about the differences between Chicago and New York. I love both, but I think that Chicago seems more real to me somehow. While I could live in either and enjoy it, I think Chicago seems like a place I’d be more likely to call home. Maybe because I’m a Midwesterner?

    One thing Chi-town has over NYC is all those miles of beautiful lakefront, right downtown. I am skeptical that anyone with a soul would not say ‘Wow!’ upon first seeing Lake Michigan from Lake Shore Drive.

    Loved your reaction to that teacher. A laugh-track comment, no doubt, but what a horrible thing for a teacher to say in front of the class!

  11. Andi says:

    What a delicious post! It sounds like you feel about Chicago much the same as I do about Dallas. I always lived just far enough outside it and visited just little enough that it was a treat. It felt like home, but it was still alien in some deliriously heady way that made it so much freakin’ fun.

    I’m glad you’re having a wonderful time, and Chicago is high atop my “cities to visit” list.

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