Thursday, March 18, 2010


With a population of more than 2.8 million, Chicago is the third most populated city of U.S., after New York and Los Angeles.  Founded in 1837 and Located at the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago is the geopolitical and transportation center and the hub of mid America.  Despite the changing economic landscape, Chicago has retained its influence and prosperity as it had successfully developed into a global financial and business center.

Chicago is well-known by its nickname of “Windy City” although the data suggests that the average annual speed of wind in Chicago is not particularly high: it is 10.3 mph compared to Boston’s 12.4 mph.  It is true however that there is a significant wind tunnel effect when you walk around its street grid and you could encounter sudden gust of wind anytime in the year, especially in winter. 

When in Chicago, there are a few must-dos and must-sees.  On top of my list is the Art Institute of Chicago that is associated with the famous School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the second largest art museum of America, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.   It has a huge and exquisite collection of arts from all over the world and is best known for its French Impressionist and Post-impressionist collections, among others.  
Prominently at display in the museum is its most treasured collection - the large and important (approximately 7x10 ft) iconic painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat, see photo at right.  It took Seurat two years (1884-1886) to complete the work, with which he started the Neo-Impressionism movement and demonstrated the application of scientific theory of perception and optical laws to create harmony and emotion (as opposed to colors blended on canvas).  It is an astonishing work that captured the park atmosphere of congregating classes of French people when frozen in time with a single distinct motion by a little girl.

100 from away in the next room, there is the 1877 painting Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte (see photo at right).  It is an unusual pioneering photo-realistic work with which Gaillebotte delivered the effect of focal length and depth of field in photography.  The blinding brightness of hidden sun in a rainy day cannot be mistaken as pedestrians moving in all directions at this busy intersection.

Then there is the Pablo Picasso’s 1903 The Old Guitarist during his “Blue Period”.  I just cannot comprehend how a 23 years young man can see and touch the human soul so deeply with simple colors and a broken body.  According to the Wikipedia article, the painting had inspired Paul McCartney, a member of the Beatles, to write a song (click to here to hear the story and the song) and poet Wallace Stevens to write a poem.  Since I can’t do either, I bought a poster and planned to hang it up in our living room.  If I stare at it long enough, perhaps muse would come?

Similarly, literature can inspire painters as well.  A good example is Eugène Delacroix’s 1826 paining Combat of the Giaour and the Hassan that was inspired by the important romantic Orientalism poem The Giaour of Lord Byron in 1813.  700 lines of poetry was transformed into a 25x30 inch space where love, betrayal, and revenge was about to be settled in the last strike.

The Institute has an excellent collection of American Modernism works.  The most popular and easily recognized would include Edward Hopper’s 1942 Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s 1930 American Gothic.  The collection of Chinese arts is not nearly as impressive as Museum of Modern Art in New York but there is an interesting large statue of Bodhisattva from Tang Dynasty more than 1200 years ago.  Rarely you see such statues in the pondering position.  Above are just few highlights and the best way to appreciate the arts is to spend a day at this fantastic museum.

North of the Institute of Art in Chicago is the Millennium Park that is a section of the larger 319 acres Grant Park, named after the American Civil War General and United States President Ulysses S. Grant.  This is the very place where before the midnight of November 4, 2008, President Obama gave his victory speech of the presidential election to 250,000 people, many with tearing eyes.  There are several intriguing sculptures and facilities in Millennium Park.  The most exciting and popular is no doubtedly the Cloud Gate, a three-story, 110-ton reflective steel sculpture by the India-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor.  With its mirror like surface, one can see a distorted oneself, the skyline, the sky a small distance away from it (see photo below on left). What is more amazing is you can literally interact with it and become a part of it, that would explain its popularity.  The photos below in the center and right give you some ideas about what it is like when you touch it and when you are in the center beneath it.  

Few hundred feet northeast of it, there is a serpent like curvy pedestrian bridge designed by the award-winning architect Frank Gehry.  Continuing on east a little bit, one reaches the shore of Lake Michigan and gets an incredible panoramic view of the lake and Chicago skyline, see photo below.


When you look at the skyline of Chicago, you will quickly realize that you are at a special place – the landscape of the city center is an art itself.  Indeed, with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed almost all the buildings of the downtown, Chicago School of architects wrote the history of modern architectures by designing and building skyscrapers with steel frames and glasses from ashes.  Till today, Chicago architecture remains a tall benchmark for major cities of the world.  For more information, see the Wikipedia entry Architecture of Chicago and the references thereof.  A city architecture walking tour is rewarding.  Along the way, you will also see many wonderful public arts and monuments that are not frequently seen in American cities.

Like all major cities in U.S., Chicago has many ethnic neighborhood including Little Italy, Greek town, Chinatown, etc.  If you ride on the Red Line of Chicago trains heading north, you can reach the Argyle station (see photo to the right with the special roof) where Little Vietnam is located at.  The area was initially a “new” Chinatown but the demography changed as a result of post-Vietnam war immigration.  Within few blocks of the station, there are numerous shops, restaurants offering authentic Vietnamese (and some Chinese) food and goods.  I had my lunch at Pho Xe Tang , the best pho I ever had in U.S.!

Another important ethnic group of Chicago is Irish-Americans who have been very active in politics.  A case in point, Irish-Americans Richard Daley father and son together have served as Chicago Mayor for 42 out of the last 60 years!   When we were in Chicago last weekend, there happened to be celebrations for St Patrick’s Day including a parade and the dyeing of the Chicago River.  Look at the photos below, have you ever seen any river that looks as green?  There were many "green" people walking around with fabulous head pieces. 

One shouldn’t leave Chicago without a taste of the Chicago Blues.  Personally, I am not crazy about it.  But I do like very much the early Saturday Night Live crew such as the nutty late John Beluhsi and Dan Ackroyd and their 1980 movie The Blues Brothers in which they performed quite a few Chicago blues.  Here is one of them. Click Everybody Needs Somebody to Love to watch this YouTube video of the incredible performance by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd in the movie. 

Talk to you soon!

1 comment:

Raemin said...

Isn't Chicago called the windy city because the politicians back in the day blew a lot of "wind"??