blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tall buildings and a river in reverse

I am writing this on the Prairie View station platform, on another mild and sunny morning; although a gale is forecast for later today, no sign of it yet. Yesterday I sat here too, and caught the same Metra train to Union Station, an hour's ride away through suburbs that went from leafy (with fountains) to industrial (with worn out, brick warehouses). Around O'Hare airport it's just wasteland, criss-crossed with wide and busy toll roads. Nothing there to comfort the soul, other than the prospect of a quick getaway.

A bascule bridge in Chicago
Adams Street
I walked into downtown Chicago across one of its identical metal bridges, the Adams Street Bridge. Most of them are bascule bridges, so I learned later. In the city core, because the streets are at right angles or parallel to one another, it's impossible to lose one's way. The city has had this grid system from the start, since the 1830s. I could see the Art Institute many blocks ahead, and on either side of me, like cliffs with vertical and horizontal striations, the tall buildings. The Willis Tower, one of the first I passed, is in fact the tallest building in North America, some 110 storeys high with masts even above that. It will sway in the winds we're going to get this evening. I have no desire to go up it.

Fellow passengers on the Metra train
On the train, now. The ticket collector, wearing a uniform with a smart peaked cap, gave me a discount, letting me pretend I'd boarded the train one zone further in. He warned the passengers that no one, "living or not", must remain on the train at the terminus or they'd be arrested.

Tall weeds and prairie grasses grow in the disused spaces between the carparks and pylons. If I try hard, I can just about imagine the prairies as they used to be before settlers intervened, where the buffalo roamed and the Canada geese came and went. We're passing a ballroom dancing studio, an iHop restaurant in a shopping plaza, a beauty parlour and a dog grooming place, the posters reading: We buy scrap metal, Blue Cross of Illinois--siempre contigo!, Banquets.

In Chicago, by Lake Michigan
I spent yesterday morning walking along the deserted lake front, all vending outlets and WCs closed for the season and nobody sitting on the park benches. I walked by yacht clubs and empty marinas and saw cargo ships on the horizon beyond the lighthouses. It was sunny, bright and warm. Then I turned onto the Chicago Riverwalk under the bridges and along the east bank of the river which used to flow the other way until 1900, when engineers took it in hand and dealt with the sewage problem
by digging a canal to connect the river's south branch to the Des Plaines River and, ultimately, to the Mississippi River. Because the canal was deeper than the river, gravity pulled lake water into it-- thereby reversing the river's natural flow and keeping Lake Michigan clean.
(From a Chicago Architecture Foundation leaflet)
I'd been wondering where Chicago's name came from and found the answer on a pictorial plaque under one of the bridges. It seems to be the French corruption of an Algonquin word, shikaakwa, which means stinky onion. Plants of that name used to grow here in profusion. Louis Jolliet and company, from Quebec, were the explorers who discovered this area on their way back from the Mississippi, so many nearby place names are French: Les Plaines, Des Moines, Lafayette and so on. If it hadn't been for General Wolfe, this would all be l'Amérique Française now.

The Trump Tower
Chicagoans crossing DuSable bridge
After lunch at a branch of The Corner Bakery, a sort of up-market Tim Hortons, near the Trump Tower (yes, it is owned by that Mr. Trump), I went for a river cruise organised by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, buying my ticket below the DuSable Bridge as recommended by my American friend Rosemary, which turned out to be well worthwhile, the lecturer at the mike aboard the First Lady being a really excellent guide. She told us about the land reclamation operations along the river, still in progress as we could see, to lengthen and broaden Chicago's new Riverwalk. Mostly though, she taught us about the buildings, their history, size and architectural details, what their façades were made of (terracotta, concrete, glass, metal, brick ... the attempt at a building faced with Carrara marble didn't work in this climate), who designed or converted them, who owned them.

Reclamation work in progress to lengthen the Riverwalk

Steps up from the Riverwalk
Here follow some more of my pictures:

The Chicago Tribune Building, Historic Revival style

A skyscraper in modern style

333 West Wacker Drive, the curve of the building echoing a curve in the river

AMA Plaza Building and "Aqua" behind it,
with its wave-like balconies

One of the old warehouses that's been attractively "converted"
Some of the people who live in Chicago don't have such prestigious accommodations, of course. Some of them appear to live in tents on the river bank. What happens to them in winter I dread to think.

Unofficial Chicago homes: tents among the trees

Monday, November 9, 2015

Visiting Chicago

I'm starting to type this post in the US departures lounge at Ottawa airport where, officially speaking, we're already in the States. Chris has his usual training course materials with him because he'll be giving a course about the safe use of embedded software to the employees of a company that makes feeding tubes for hospitals. It's much the same course as the one he gives to companies who make computer systems for cars, railway signals, or industrial robots; the variety lies in the applications.

Coming through the security checks today we were pleased to see a security man whom we knew, a Rockcliffe Flying Club member. Ottawa airport is quiet today, like the Rideau Centre; Mondays seem to be a good day for travelling, and the weather's fine.

This post is being written on a new laptop that Chris persuaded me to buy -- it's a Chromebook that usually connects to all things Google, but when I'm offline, as I am now (in the air over Carleton Place, having taken off a few minutes ago) I can continue to add words. Only the additions can't be saved until I'm back online. The advantage of having a laptop on my travels is that the keyboard is far easier to use than the a tablet screen. The disadvantage is that a laptop is heavier.

Our hotel is going to be in the town of Lincolnshire -- to a Brit that sounds like a contradiction in terms -- quite a distance from downtown Chicago, but apparently I can take the stopping, $7 Metra train from Prairie View and reach Union Station that way. Union Station is very central. We shall see, tomorrow probably, how well that works. I shall pretend to be a Chicago city girl commuting into work, but when I get there, I'll wander around at leisure.

... This flight is going very fast. I wandered away from this page, did some work on another, looked up, looked down, looked out again through the window, and we are already on the western side of Lake Huron. Chris flew in this direction with his boss in PTN last month on their way to some meetings in Detroit. It took them the best part of a day, on that occasion, and luckily they too had excellent weather for it. By all accounts the flights by Hobbs-Air were much more fun than the meetings. The weather's good today too, which meant that after all we could have taken our own plane, although it would have meant a long journey in limited daylight.

... Continued in the evening, the weather still clear and crisp. We have been for a half hour walk in the neighbourhood which is mostly prosperous business premises set among wide roads in expansive, manicured landscapes, each with its obligatory duckpond, reminding me of the Hangzhou CBD, though without the footpaths. We're on the edge of a locality known as Buffalo Grove, although the buffaloes are long gone, and the groves, such as they are, colourful in an autumnal kind of way, are artificially planted. On the other side of Half Day Drive are detached houses of a vast size.

There's an elegant steak restaurant s, called Sullivan's, on the other side of the surrounding carpark opposite the hotel, where we ate this evening. That was an excellent meal, meticulously prepared and presented. I did like the mustard and lemon flavoured creamed potatoes and am a little tipsy after the Chardonnay, but to dine there every evening or would be overspending.