An American Journal: Day 23 (Chicago)

I got a chance to sleep in a little longer this morning as Mari had to be up early for a photo shoot for her college magazine. The magazine had interviewed Mari on her path after college and wanted some decent photos to go with the interview. So while Mari let the photographer, the stylist, the organiser, and two assistants work to capture her best side, I slowly made my way from the bed to the kitchen table and a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

By the time the crew had finished with Mari, the morning had reached its end. It was time for another one of those painful goodbyes that you become so familiar with, as Mari’s mom Wendy had to make the long drive back to Springfield. Lingering hugs between Mari and her mom marked the end of their time together and watching her go brought back many memories of having to do the same thing with my parents. It’s the sadder side of living abroad and it doesn’t get easier the more often you have to do it.

We took a little time to gather ourselves from a turbulent morning before starting on our next mission into the heart of Chicago. Mari’s friend Liam is a member of the Art Institute of Chicago and had offered to take us in for free as his guests, this was a huge treat for us as it would otherwise have put a hefty dent in our wallets. We set our gps and jumped on the Blue Line of Chicago’s ‘L’ train, which is an elevated train that extends from the west side of Chicago through the central loop of the city and all the way to O’Hare airport. The train station was different to anything I was familiar with, situated in the middle of a busy highway with the smell of candy drifting in from a nearby factory, it made for a memorable entrance to my Chicago train experience.

The Art Institute is massive and covers almost almost 100,000 squared feet of land. We met up with Liam at the west entrance which takes you into the modern wing. While I was intrigued by what I’d be seeing, I definitely wasn’t as excited as I should have been. We made our way through the modern wing where countless recognisable names stood printed next to pieces of art that were sometimes plain or odd, but mostly captivating and intriguing. Each piece was a chance for Mari and Liam to catch up, or an opportunity to wonder at the thought and intention of some of the artists.

After we’d taken our fill of the modern wing, we retreated to a ‘member’s only’ cafe where we took a break with free coffee and blackberry tea. We said our goodbyes to Liam with the intention of catching up again the following evening, and set out for Mari’s favourite era of the art, the impressionists. Here again I had to check my previous lack of enthusiasm as recognising some of the art and seeing it up close was a well worth the tired legs. In stark contrast to the modernists it was moving to be up close to some of the recognisable paintings which were so carefully stacked with detail. It helped that Mari was so excited by it all. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she ogled over the ‘fine brush strokes’ and ‘intentional use of colour’.

Our lunch was made up of hot meatball sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes from a chain restaurant outside the museum called Potbelly Sandwich Works. It was still novel to me how we had never been too far from good food or good beer the entire time we’d been in the States.

With our bellies full we wobbled back out onto the streets of Chicago where the sun was keeping the chill out of a breeze that had picked up in the afternoon. It was a short walk from here to the biggest tourist attraction of the city, Millenium Park. The park is full of beautiful sculptures and structures which parallel the feel of the city itself. There are fountains, gardens and a large amphitheater where concerts are held, but what captured our attention was the famous Bean. Tourists crowded around the sculpture, which is officially known as Cloud Gate. The structure is made from stainless steel and offers up some great photo opportunities with it’s reflective properties. Though it was built with 168 steel plates, the Bean doesn’t show any seams, which makes it impressive to admire.

We walked the park a little more before the sun started to dip behind the tall Chicago skyline and left the wing with a little more bite. We head home for a dinner of spicy chicken wings, blue cheese sauce and waffle fries and called an end to my first proper experience of the city of Chicago.


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