vendredi 30 mars 2012

Chicago is my kind of town


Give me liberty or give me death!

Had we gone to Chicago the weekend before, we would have had sunny 80° weather. As it was, we got temps in the upper 50's and 60's and lots of sun, except for Sunday, which started out gloriously; then the John Hancock Tower suddenly disappeared as a thick, wet fog rolled in while we were lunching/brunching at Gibson's, where actual Blackhawks players come for pre-game dining. No kidding! We saw the stars Walt had just skated with (that's another story). Anyway, the fog rolled in on little cat feet, to quote a renowned poet who was talking about another foggy city, and that was okay because Chicago looks lovely wrapped in fog. And let me tell you, there is something eerie about going up to the top of the John Hancock building and looking out at thick fog. We did that too. Then Walt and his cousins went off to see the Blackhawks play and meet THE Bobby Hull and THE Tony Esposito (that's part of the other story), and my friend Linda from Toronto and I walked the Magnificent Mile, snapping photos and ducking into shops and generally just looking at people and buildings. This is not an original observation, but let me just say that Chicago is a paradise for those who like urban architecture and outdoor art. Everyone has heard of the great Chicago fire of 1871, after which the city basically arose from the ashes. This seems to have led to an outburst of creativity and innovation that makes Chicago one of the most visually stunning American cities I have ever seen. The great thing is seeing so many different architectural styles cohabiting without competing for attention. They seem to blend into a seemless and somehow harmonious whole.

I just had to photograph this Nathan Hale statue, which is a replica of Bela Lyon Pratt's 1912 statue on the campus of Yale University. It was erected by the Chicago Tribune and stands in a small courtyard in front of the low-rise addition to the north of the Tribune Tower. In this bronze sculpture, Hale is about to be executed. The addition, incidentally, is modeled after the Rouen Cathédrale's Tour de Beurre, which was built starting in 1488. Why is it called the Tour de Beurre (Butter Tower), I wondered. Well, here's the answer: It is named for the tax levied on people for the right to eat butter during Lent. Let them eat butter! So French, n'est-ce pas?

The Tribune Tower, at 435 North Michigan Avenue, was built in the early 1920's. It is a fantastic example of neo-Gothic design, with flying buttresses and everything. The arched entrance is carved with figures from Aesop's fables, and gargoyles grace the facade. But what most intrigued me were the rocks and bricks embedded here and there in the facade, all of them marked to indicate where they were carried to the US from by Tribune correspondents stationed abroad. For some reason, they reminded me of the cobblestone streets of La Rochelle, which are partially fabricated from the ballast of ships coming back from across the Atlantic. In fact, the early French settlers in Canada set sail from La Rochelle (including the founders of Montreal). I learned these things quite by accident one day when I lived in La Rochelle, as I was scurrying to the outdoor market and fell into conversation with a little old man who ended up taking me on an impromptu tour of the secret treasures of La Rochelle. By the way, the photo on my masthead, of the tree and the sea and the distant sailboats, was taken in La Rochelle.

Speaking of treasures, just next to the Chicago Tribune building is a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe. It almost looks like something you would find in Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum or Andy Warhol's factory. Look at all these people! Are they trying to get a look at Marilyn's crotch or get away from it? Hard to tell.


Marilyn, stuck forever in that dress


Remnants of the fog that came in on little cat feet