It was like drinking another big shot after emptying lots of bottles. I had been walking around the streets of Chicago during two weeks before Ebertfest and it will be remembered as one of the grandest moments in my life along with Ebertfest. Chicago provided me a lot of things including these dazzling skyscrapers and I had tried to capture my experience with my digital camera. And then, I meet Roger Ebert and other kindest people of the world: His wife Chaz, his assistant Carol Iwata, Nate Kohn, dear Mary Susan Britt, who has been generous to me since having contacted me through e-mail in early March, and other wonderful people of Ebertfest and, above all, far-flung correspondents.
But I think I have to talk about my two-week experience in Chicago first. On April 5th, I woke up in early morning at my home. My parents took me to the bus station by their car and I dozed for 3 hours in the airport bus to Inchon International Airport.
I arrived in the airport around AM 6:30 and the departure was easier than I thought. Thanks to electronic passport, I didn’t need to prepare tourist visa at all. Only mistake was shaving cream can, which was immediately confiscated by the Airport custom(I had to do shaving with soap instead for last three weeks). After two hours, I sat on economy class seat in the plane to Narita International Airport, where I transferred to the other plane to O’Hare International Airport.
During these 16 hours of travel, I began to envy the lifestyle depicted in “Up in the Air”. Maybe it is hollow and lonely, but you will not care about that after enduring grueling hours of economy class travel. I wanted my luggages as small as possible, but, unfortunately, that was impossible. My mom had me to bring one box of Korean food(23kg) to her friend’s family. She also wanted me to deliver other goods, so my suitcase is near full and quite heavy even without the box.
It was impossible for me to sleep in the plane. I even took drastic measures like alcohol(one glass of gin tonic), but I miserably failed. So, I had to do something else while being awake. After throughly checking my tour plan with Lonely Planet guidebook, I decided to watch “Up in the Air” despite my dislike of watching movies on the plane.
O’Hare International Airport. You leave at the morning, you pass through the night, and then you arrive at the same morning of the same day. Just before the arrival, the small screen on the back of the seat showed a distorted view of the outside. Because of the sunlight, it was just like looking Chicago and its neighbourhood right before massive nuclear blast.
After making a phone call, I had to wait for the daughter of my mon’s friend, Chong-ah, about one hour at Terminal 5. She arrived with her daughter in kindergarten age by her car. I looked at a wide, alien world with the detachment caused by long-distance flight while sitting on the front seat next to her. I calmy responded to few questions from her and observed Des Plaines, peaceful suburban area. Day or night, Des Plaines is always a good resting place after dizzy urban activities.
Their apartment building in question is on E. Washington Street, which is about 10 minutes of walking from the Metra station. I didn’t stayed in their home; I stayed in the other home in the other apartment building next to theirs. The owner is some Korean Grandmother who has a Polish American son-in-law. Her daughter’s family recently moved to other apartment in neighborhood, and she welcomed me with two cartoons of eggs, one cartoon of orange juice, and one load of bread in her refrigerator.
She usually wakes up early in the morning and goes to her daughter’s home for taking care of her grandchildren(Both of their parents worked in Chicago). Thanks to her, I could take Metra train to Chicago as early as AM 6:56. She is sometimes annoying, but she is a nice old lady. I sensed she needed someone to live with and talk with.
It was around lunchtime when I unpacked my luggages and prepared for the first day of the tour. Chong-Ah brought me to some Vietnamese Restaurant near the station, and we enjoyed delicious noodles. I quickly learned how to use the Metra trains. I acquired the timetable and bought 10-pass ticket, and the rest was easy.
I have to confess that I was nervous a lot while Willis Tower(formerly Sears Tower) was approaching in my view. Even though I had Lonely Planet in my leather bag, I thought about the worst situations and tried to be careful. However, it seems preparation is usually futile in real situation. I lost my ways in the Loop sometimes and was ripped off $2 by some beggar in front of Chicago Cultural Center on E. Washington St.
Nevertheless, the adaptation process immediately started and I began to enjoy the streets of Chicago. With architecture and sculpture tour course base on my guide book, I walked around a lot while taking lots of pictures. While I devoured the works of Burnham & Root, Alder & Sullivan, and other delicate buildings, I fell in love with that simplicity of Ludwig Mies Van der Lohe style shown in several buildings including Chicago Federal Center and Kluczynski Building.
I was amused by funny artworks among modern buildings. Alexander Calder(a good friend of Mies Van der Lohe) Sculpture named Flamingo provides impressive contrast. Surrounded by three huge skyscrapers, Miro’s Chicago looks like a dwarf but it holds its own place well. It gave the chance for nice photos to amateur like me. In case of Picasso at Daley Plaza, I was lucky to capture several children having fun with it on my camera. I wished I could have joined them, but I’m 27, you know.
My tour continued and many buildings passed before my eyes. In next week, I joined in the walking tour for these buildings such as Rookery or Marquette building with other tourists and went inside of several buildings. People who built these buildings cared not only about exterior but also about interior(those days were before the era of air conditioning and electronic light). Thanks to excellent guides of Chicago Architecture tour guide, their painstaking efforts meld with their visions were clearly shown to us.
I finished the tour of that day with Willis Tower(The observatory just gives you what you have expected, and that’s all). After going back to Des Plaines by Metra, I underestimated how hard to walk around Chicago and it was the first one of many underestimations I made during this tour. I was exhausted and more exhausted after sorting out photos of the day. I did not have energy for writing, so my photos became the journal of my experience. I am not there in photos, but they can show how I saw and felt about Chicago, one of the most post-modern cities in the world where the old and the new get along with each other well.
The next day began with sore feet. I had forgot to buy sneakers the day before and I kept walking on shoes for a long time. This was the first day I got accustomed to CTA transportation system.
I’m usually fond of public transportation system, especially the subway. Only thing required is knowing exactly where you wants to go. Chicago Bus system is far more intricate than the El Train system to understand, so I depended on improvisations in case of using CTA buses; Find the bus station with the map, and then quickly deduce which bus I should take, with a little help from th guide book. I had to be careful lest my identity as the tourist should be exposed. Chicago is a safe place, but, after having ripped off by the beggar in aggressive manner a day before, I became more cautious.
When I went in DuSable Museum of African American History, there were high school kids visiting this place. Who were they? I was curious about it, but I couldn’t ask. I was too shy for that. I shot their school bus and I found one clue on the right side of the bus later. “Latino Express”.
DuSable Museum is as respectable as it can be. I was a little sad to know that no photography is allowed. I focused on several works of ancient African Art while reminded again then Africa is really diverse continent. To me, Harold Washington exhibition is a little creepy despite while serving its educational purpose well. Probably because of my aversion to these taking mannequins, I think. They are as unnatural as CGI characters in Zemeski’s recent animations.
After checking several places in the University of Chicago, I visited Smart Museum and I bought my first lunch in Chicago at its cafe: Salad and a bottle of spiced tea. Photography is limited, so I chose to photograph a funny artwork on the wall at Cafe. While looking around several interesting artworks by Jean Arp and Henry Moore, I was particularly amused by one Korean Calligraphy among museum’s collections. By the way, there is the special exhibition called “The Darker Side of Light” for lesser-known artworks from the 19th impressionism period. I recommend it to you if you’re living in Chicago. It will be continued until June 10th.
I went to Museum of Science and Industry by Bus 55. Here came another underestimation of mine. So many good things literally whirled before my eyes that my brain became numb sometimes, even though most exhibitions mainly target children with fresh minds. U-boat! Spacecraft! The production process of daily products! Huge city model! Avalanche! Tornado! And, this is my favourite, Human Body Slices(Did they inspire one sequence from “The Cell”?)! It was quite overwhelming. And I was destined to use that word more than often later for other places in Chicago. And my feet were screaming as usual. Okay, I’ve got to buy sneakers….. then I forgot again while trying to catch Metra train as early as possible. My dinner at Ogilvie Transportation Center was first trial on fast food chains in Chicago. It was burrito from Taco Bell.
Day 3, April 7th, was another long trial for my poor feet in shoes. I gave up finding entrance of Rosehill Cemetery after several trials and following frustrations, and walked down all the way through N. Clark street. After buying cherry pastry from that famous Swedish bakery, I walked down to Swedish-American Museum center, my first ethnic culture museum in Chicago. It is more like an Ikea museum at first, but there are many things worthwhile to see if you’re interested in the history of immigrants. Oh, and the staff are very nice. I tried to give them $5 instead of $3 because I didn’t possess a dollar bills, but she said it was okay not to pay. Thankfully, other worker brought changes and everybody was happy.
At Graceland cemetery, the small steel shaft rivetting the band to my wristwatch was suddenly loosed off and got lost, so I had to put the watch in the pocket for three weeks. It seemed like the omen of bad luck, but Graceland is a very comfortable place for my feet. I found that waking on lawn rather then on pavement was more easy for them, and I could appreciate the tombstones of many famous Chicago people in relaxed mode. Among so many tombstones with classic designs for people like Palmer or Marshall, Mies Van der Rohe’s tombstone is as practical and simple as his buildings.
After managing to find pretty Alta Vista Terrace and empty(except employees) Wrigley field, I took the El Train and left at North/Clybourn Station. After misadventure with Bus 72(I was on wrong side!), I finally came to Damen Station and quickly swept the area: St. Mary of Angels Church on N. Hermitage Ave., Flat Iron Building on N. Damen Ave. and W. North Ave., Wicker park, and Nelson Algren House nearby.
I was in a hurry. I ran down N. Milwaukee Ave. instead of waiting for the bus, and I was soaked with sweat when I waited for someone to open the door of Polish Museum. They were busy with the preparation for the special exhibition to come, but I could look around the museum. The staff were cordial and gave me postcards of Polish Posters in the 30’s for free.
I walked down N. Noble St. while observing high school activities nearby. With Bus 66 along W. Chicago Ave., I went to the final target of the day: Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art and two churches nearby. Mission of the day was accomplished before PM 5:00, but I failed to buy sneakers again. I went to Marshall Field’s but didn’t know what to do. At least, I took photos of gorgeous interior while wandering around.
The agony resumed on the next day with lots of walking. At UIC/Halsted station(Blue Line), Highway 290 and Willis Tower and other tall buildings of the loop makes an excellent sight for photography. But not University of Illinois at Chicago. Some buildings are ugly, and they are not even impressively ugly; they are just plain ugly. I have seen several sidewalks and roadworks in bad condition in Chicago, but the worst ones are more cheerful than these buildings of UIC. According to my friend Omer Mozaffar, it was more worse than that years ago. I can’t imagine how awful it was. It is amazing that students here are lively. Let’s say it is the another triumph of human spirit.
Well, at least, UIC has some nice spots like Jane Addams-Hull House Museum or some modern building across S. Halsted St. After learning a lot about the accomplishments of Jane Addams and her colleagues from the museum, I immediately took Bus 8 and left before W. 18th St. I had expected to find galleries opened around noon, but they were mostly closed. While walking around the city, I could sense bad economical situation in US here and there from big, desperate rent signs here and there(“Rent It and You Will Own It Someday!”). The gallery areas seemed to be no exception. When I visited West Loop Galleries later in the afternoon or River North Galleries several days later, I experienced similar bareness and coldness. They didn’t care about me because I was not a potential customer.
Nevertheless, Mexican Fine Arts of Museum is an invigorating place in this cold time. It has ancient artworks of Mexican cultures as well as the paintings of famous Mexican artists and American artists influenced by them. I came to be familiar with the Day of the Dead through Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano”, and I learned about it more from this exemplary museum.
After dropping by Hellenic Museum & Cultural Center and Old St. Patrick Church across Highway 94, I had some time for visiting Garfield Park Conservatory. In less then one hour, I swiftly covered most of areas with my eyes and digital camera. Fern Room vividly creates prehistoric Chicago, and Desert house provides some wacky amusement. Many young visitors have probably giggled over one of cactuses. All the staff have to do is putting the rubber on it.
Finally, I bought sneakers at Marshall Field’s. There were two interesting incidents before and after that, respectively. First, I had a suspicious encounter with young African Americans at Conservatory-Central Park Dr. Station(Green line). And then, by the mistake with $20 and $10 bill, I lost $10 from Marshall Field’s. Moreover, on the next day, I had to give $10 bill to another beggar on N. Michigan Ave because I didn’t have $5 or $1 bills. I was simultaneously amused and perplexed by this series of misfortunes. Anyway, I became more careful about this $20-$10 problem and always kept the changes for these cup-holding people on the streets. But I had always been generous to street musicians. At least, they don’t beg; they just play, and my $1 was always ready for them.
With sneakers, everything became a lot more easier on Friday. After haunting photography exhibition by Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann showing devastated real estate business of US at Museum of Modern Photography, I had no trouble with walking around Printers Row, where I looked closely into some classy bookstore before business time. I went around Chinatown with mild level of interest as an Asian tourist(Chinese museum was temporarily closed due to a fire incident) and visited National Vietnam Veteran Museum.
In case of Prairie Avenue Historic District nearby, I met a very memorable guide named Allen at John J. Glassner House. He has been fallen in love with this inwardly beautiful house. The house has warm, sunny interior hidden in plain surface of granites. He has actually met last member of the Glassners, and he amused us with interesting stories behind the house. He can answer anything and passionately talk about meticulous restoration process based on photos taken by Glassner’s Son. In case of Henly B. Clarke House, I was solely guided by kind lady whom I forgot to ask her name. Unlike Glassner house, this house is the recreation rather than the restoration in most cases, but the house is still compelling to look around. I asked her about the hygiene in the past. She kindly explained, and I still don’t want time machine even if it is an A-class hot tub. People tend to forget that the world before the 20th Century was not so clean compared to our time.
The rest of afternoon was spent at Millenium Park. After checking everything worthwhile to be on camera(again, there were many), I observed the film crew and actors working in front of the Bean for a long time. For one sequence, they tried several different approaches and actors and extras were patiently ready for the cue on the position of each own like “Truman Show”. I saw Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan(I saw her again in Ebertfest) while reading Roger’s reviews on Chicago Sun-Times on the bench. I occasionally shot them whenever they were closer, but the results were not satisfying at all. Shooting took more than an hour; I hope the movie will be far more interesting than what I observed on that sunny but windy day.
You can’t enjoy everything of Museum Campus in one day. As soon as I walked into the main hall of Field Museum of Natural History, I automatically changed my schedule and spent whole Saturday afternoon in this gigantic encyclopedia. I met Sue, that famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, and that was just the start. I luckily came across the tour guide and he showed me and other visitors which ones we had to appreciate in limited time. From him, I came to know that the meteorite is not covered by the insurance(an article in the contract is clear about that) and the best option is to call Field Museum.
Sunday was for Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium next to Field Musuem. There were lots of photos taken outside as well as inside in my laptop. Wide and turquoise Michigan Lake is perfect match for never-boring Chicago skylines over there. And there are so many cool things inside these three buildings that I had to utter “Excuse me” or “Sorry” several times for my photographs.