Sunday, November 28, 2010
My Home Is Far Away
Roving correspondent here, with a report from Chicago.
My grandparents, whom I loved so much and still miss, although they have been dead and gone lo, these many years, were of the generation that embraced the concept of the chain restaurant, and found particularly attractive the notion that no matter where you were--Omaha, Nebraska, or Oceanside, California--if you went to a Bob's Big Boy, well, you were sure to get the same burger and fries.
Predictably, and probably partly in reaction to having eaten so many of those damn burgers, I hate chain restaurants. But I see the allure. When you travel, when you are a long ways from home, you do feel a sense of disorientation. I also feel this sense on holidays, that the world is a different place from the one I am used to.
I was in Chicago on business last week, that beautiful city, and it was a magical trip. (Even the traveling itself was fascinating. I met a sexagenarian businesswoman who wore intimidating jewelry and long grey dreads, and who owned 7 El Pollo Locos and 9 Burger Kings, and man! Did she have some stories to tell! Although I steered the conversation away from politics, because you can imagine how someone whose wealth came from the sweat of others over her grills feels about being compelled to provide health care for those others.)
The disorientation is part of the magic, it stirs everything up, like shaking a snow globe, it's good. And yet, when you retire for the evening, whether it be in your luxury hotel overlooking the skyline or in the spare bedroom at your friend's brick house two doors down from Codger Corner (where all the homeowners are septuagenarians, and a story about the neighbors frequently begins with "My neighbor was trying to get his wife's wheelchair out of the house/into the car/out of the car/onto the sidewalk"), you lie in bed and have that strange feeling of not being quite sure who you are.
This is where the art comes in. (I apologize for the lengthy setup.) I stayed with a friend in Chicago, and when she asked what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to see as much art as possible, and have as much fun as possible. My friend took me at my word. On Friday night, we drove around the suburbs and looked at Frank Lloyd Wright houses. On Saturday, we went on the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio tour, and then--as if that weren't enough--we went to the Art Institute of Chicago.
I've been thinking about this since my return, how to describe the sense of walking into that beautiful house and beautiful studio, and feeling so completely at home in this place where everything is designed and ordered with precise and elegant intention. And of walking through those galleries and falling in love with the haunting Têtes-paysage, 1928 (Francis Picabia), and the angular, vivid Kandinskys. Chagall's America Windows. I still don't quite know how to describe this sense that art gives you of being absolutely at home where you are at that moment. And that the world, some appearances to the contrary and in spite of the struggles (to secure health care for the poor, for example), really is a beautiful place.
P.S. Title from Dawn Powell's My Home Is Far Away. If you don't know of her, she is a wonderful early 20th century American writer who--here it comes, the story of women artists from time immemorial--was overshadowed by the men. In Dawn Powell's case, the men were Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Although Powell is just as great. Some might say better.
P.P.S. Great photos of Chicago here.