My wife hasn’t been in Canada on her birthday in over a decade, as she always travels on this very special day. I can think of worse traditions, especially since I usually reap the travel benefits. But it’s a tricky habit to maintain if you live in Vancouver, as your options for quick, cheap non-Canadian travel are quite limited. I love Portland, but I can only handle the company of bearded hippies for so long, especially considering that I live on Main Street.
And so this year we headed to Chicago. It’s a city that both of us have wanted to visit for years. I’m pleased to report that the town didn’t disappoint and that its reputation as one of the true great cities in the world is well deserved. But we knew that going in. Cities like Chicago don’t show up over night, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city more in touch with its history, its culture, and its people, than Chicago. Let me break it down for you:
Really good food:
When one thinks of Chicago food, it’s Chicago dogs and deep-dish pizza that come to mind, and while the former isn’t much more than a random collection of condiments, the latter is truly an epic experience. For our pie, we settled on Pequod’s, a north side dive with claims of having the best pizza in Illinois. Calling what Pequod’s serves pizza is like calling WWII a little spat between friends. Our fantastic meal was more like a battle to be won than it was simple sustenance.
Chicago isn’t just meat and cheese though. The city has one of the largest Latino populations in the United States, and we found that affordable casual haunts like Rick Bayless’ XOCO, and Paul Kahan’s Big Star reflect that culture admirably.
Music stuff that I dragged my wife to:
Chicago is usually known for its connection to the blues, but when I think of the city, I think of jazz; specifically the avant-garde, afro-centric brand of jazz as performed by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians since its inception in1965. And so I dragged my wife to see the A.A.C.M.’s Great Black Music Ensemble play at the South Side Community Art Center. This version of the G.B.M.E. had seven members in it, which sadly was more than double the size of the audience. The concert itself was a testament to post-Coltrane American jazz, with the adventurous nature of the music carefully cushioned in the traditions of post WWII-era jazz and blues. It was a truly unique experience for someone who doesn’t live there, but it appears as if the A.A.C.M. seems to have been forgotten by the citizens of Chicago.
Cultural stuff that my wife dragged me to:
For an art novice like myself, The Art Institute of Chicago is overwhelming. Getting to see iconic pieces like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, or Grant Wood’s American Gothic up close and personal was quite an experience for me, and it was nice to be able to go to an art gallery where every exhibit didn’t have the words “Emily” or “Carr” in the title. Art is everywhere in Chicago, from public art projects like the Chicago Picasso and Anish Kapoor’s Magic Bean, to the beautiful street art inspired by the Latino community in the Pilsen neighborhood.
Chicago is as diverse as you would expect a city of its size to be. The blending of cultures that is inherent in large cities seems even more pronounced here. Any city that has the largest German heritage parade outside of Germany, and the largest Mexican Independence Day parade outside of Mexico, on the exact same day, would have to be a diverse place to live (we chose Mexico – I get enough schnitzel at my parents house), and the town is definitely a better place for it.
Chicago is a city that wears its heart on its sleeve, and the pride that its citizens have in its culture, history, and art is not only obvious, but welcome.