by Barbara D’Amato
“A GRAHAM POWELL THANK YOU!”
Thanks to Graham Powell of Crimespot for all his support to the blogging community.
A few years ago I picked up two wonderful crime writers, Margaret Maron and P. M. Carlson, at Midway Airport and drove them to my place in downtown Chicago. It was evening and I brought them up along the lake shore, past downtown, with the lake on the east and the city on the west. There were lighted boats in the harbor and the lighted skyline on the other side. One of my friends had never been to Chicago before and she said, “Why, it looks like Rio!”
I find that people who have never visited here expect steel mills, grit, and stockyards. It isn’t like that. The steel mills are mostly south, the stockyards closed years ago. The grit—well, that depends. There is some. However, I took a friend from New York to dinner in Greek Town on Halsted Street, not the cleanest part of the city. When we got out of the car, she said, “Why, it looks like it’s just been swept.” It didn’t to me. These things are relative.
At any rate, I was thinking after reading Sean’s post [Dec. 15] what a great walking town Chicago is. Walking is my favorite exercise, because it’s never boring. And Chicago is never boring. I walk Michigan Avenue a lot. I’m not interested in the pricey clothing stores or shoe stores where the shoes cost about as much as a trip to Cancun. The shopping gene seems to have skipped me. I walk to look, listen, and people-watch. You can go several blocks hearing every language spoken except English. There were people playing Peruvian wind instruments in Water Tower Park today. A child and her grandfather playing violins in front of the Borders store. And a woman came toward me—tall, striding along, elegant in a calf-length black leather coat and shoes [I mean, SHOES!] talking vivaciously, her cell-phone hand to her ear. And no cell phone. There was a Chicago cop eating an ice cream cone. A little boy carrying a baby pig—unless it was a cane nudo.
Chicago is a smorgasbord. There are Picasso, Chagall, Calder and Dubuffet street sculptures. There’s the Art Institute. The Oriental Institute. Blues clubs. The Symphony. The International Museum of Surgical Science. Plus, food, food, food. Chicago is an eating town. Thai? Ethiopian? Soul? Korean? Brazilian? Russian? Tuscan? Guatemalan? We’ve got ‘em and a hundred more. It’s a city of ethnic neighborhoods and all the neighborhoods have restaurants.
Don’t worry. I’m getting to the point of all this.
If I have friends coming to visit Chicago and they ask what to see and do, what do I tell them?
Architecture boat tours. More than anything else, with the exception of gangsters, Chicago is famous for its architecture. Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe. Daniel Burnham. Frank Lloyd Wright. There are wonderful land-based architecture tours, too, and the interiors of the buildings are well worth seeing. But for the sweep of the city, the diversity and grandeur, take a boat tour. Most are running spring through late fall, but a few go all winter.
Now my question: If you have friends coming to Chicago for the first time, what do you tell them to see or do? What is your favorite Chicago thing?