Portraits of Chicago #1

So begins my days of frantically wandering around the full expanse of Chicago alone, and nights of socialising. Sugar, fat, and 12 miles of walking a day will either kill me or keep me alive well into my hundreds.


Most platforms from El stops give good views across the neighbourhood. Andersonville felt like real America, the first time that I had properly had been to real America. Even when I was in Florida when I was eleven, Orlando, Kissimee and surrounds felt like an extension of a theme park that someone had created to give tourists an approximation of what America is.

As Norah’s ex-boyfriend put it: most countries (and their people) defy or subvert your expectations in some way. America and Americans are exactly like you imagine, only moreso.


Quincy: my favourite of the stations. Sold in the guidebook as being “Victorian”. It may come from the 19th century but it certainly isn’t British Victorian.


Business at the bottom, salvation at the top. My favourite least favourite church. Never a Methodist.

The Loop and Streeterville have some of the most overwhelming skyscrapers in the world and give you a veritable history of the skyscraper in a square mile. Where Dubai (never been) is a city that has sprung up over the last twenty years based on sudden new oil money, Chicago has gradually built up over a century and a half, with new buildings continuing to be added year on year. Jeanne Gang, SOM and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill have been building recently, and more is to come. Outside of these two districts, the city is much lower in density. Urban sprawl will likely lead to high rises becoming more widespread in the future, but for now, this is one of my favourite cityscapes in the world.


If you visit only one “museum” make it the Chicago Architecture Foundation, complete with an architectural model of The Loop. It cost a lot of money. Architectural models do. Looking at this model helped me to plan the rest of the day.



Future president? So gaudy that you can’t help but love/hate it. The laws of what you can put on buildings changed after the unveiling of this mostronsity.


Modernist corncobs. The apartments are apparently very generous. I don’t feel safe for the cars.

lincoln view.JPG

The walk to Lincoln Park view (that I took) takes you past Oz Park with its numerous homage to the great Wizard story, and along some of the more attractive neighbourhoods in the city. The low density of much of Chicago leads to choice views from all directions.


Chicago will ever be both third biggest city in the country and typical midwestern town, though the latter element is on the slow decline, much as urban dwelling is becoming the more typical living situation worldwide.


Easter isn’t a national holiday in the US, but people sure do love their Easter wreaths. Maybe door adornments are the passion moreso than the sacrifice of the Lord.


Robie House: the first of many Frank Lloyd Wrights that I saw. We weren’t sure exactly where on the road it was, but once you come across it there is no doubting. I travelled furthest south of Norah and her friends. Tourists often see more of a city than inhabitants. We have the time to spend full weeks exploring. The bus south smelled of weed. People were friendly, but cagey. They could smell the “other” on me. Travelling through the badlands of the nearer southside, it suddenly opens up to the suburban academic dream of the University of Chicago, which does a good impression of being much older than it really is. Much like the rest of America. I didn’t visit Obama’s old house.


Americans are more openly religious than the English, or at least the religious ones are. I came across quite a number of religious people in my travels. American Christianity is very much an American Christianity. Its foundation as a religious colony still lives on, even as atheism and agnosticism grows. The most attractive churches, as usual, are Catholic or Episcopalian, but the Pentecostal is better attended, and by those who are doing it out of compulsion rather than guilt.


The beer barons of Wicker Park, further evidence of the melting pot of America and the chequered criminal history of Chicago. Wicker Park, West Town and Logan Square are all too cool for me, but to pass through in an hour is a satisfactory way to spend time. The Ukrainian village is supposedly the neighbourhood on the rise. If by this they mean barren and lifeless so the hipsters are eyeing it up, this is likely true.


Bicycle parking is a good indicator of the trendiness of an area. I am a cyclist, but I do not have a hipster bike. Or a jean jacket and lock which can be used as a gun.


People are quick to find their neighbourhoods. People are above and beyond friendly. It all feels safe. It all feels welcoming. Norah fell in love within a weekend. For a big, modern city, it is welcoming and homely unlike any other. Ah the sweet Midwest.



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