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

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