Sweet Home Chicago

bean-small.jpgSo right after paying tribute to one of the many wonderful aspects of Bay Area living, I spent an incredible week at home in Chicago for my brother’s second wedding ceremony (one more to go!). While I was certain that my love for San Francisco ran deep, I must confess that this last week rekindled an old flame. Granted, my visit was during one of those big family gatherings where I was immersed in nothing but gushing & unwavering love… But even if it’s a result of slightly surreal circumstances, I’ve realized that Chicago is and will always be my first love.

The people. While Chicago proper is about three times the size of San Francisco, it has more of a small-town feel. It could be that Chicago is not a city of transplants in the way of SF and New York. Maybe it’s that the pace of life is a little slower and the value of friends & family seems more widely embraced. But without a doubt, it’s in large part due to the quality of the people. Chicagoans are warm and unpretentious and delighted to spend time chatting with strangers for no reason other than their gregarious nature. And while the midwest in general lacks the diversity of the coasts, Chicago is a celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity. The most prominent example of this diversity may be the number of ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago: Little Italy, Chinatown, Devon (the South Asian hub), and Pilsen to name a few. My personal favorite illustration, however, was during this last trip when I was negotiating the price on some pre-wedding shopping at Regal Sarees with Jose, the (fluently) Gujarati-speaking Mexican American. :-)

The weather. I can hear some of you out there gasping in disbelief, but I actually like Chicago weather. I do seriously hate the cold and aside from maybe the first snowfall of the season or the lighting of the Christmas tree in Daley Plaza, I cringe at the thought of Chicago winters. But. Boy oh boy do I love the warmer months… No city comes to life in the spring like one that’s been weathered by months of sub-zero wind chills. The dampening of the air, the warm nights, the fresh smell of rain clouds before a torrential downpour… and lightning! And while global warming seems to be taking its toll on Chicago summers, the city is a non-stop festival of music, food, and culture during these months. Tourists flock by the thousands to enjoy The Taste, The Blues Festival, the numerous world-class museums while residents take a break to soak in the sun at a number of city beaches.

The architecture. I’ve seen it a thousand times, but everytime I catch a glimpse (especially the westward view when crossing the river off of Lakeshore Drive) of the Chicago skyline, I fall in love. The city is a living testament to man’s ability to create beauty through form and function. Every towering structure is a work of art with it’s own unique story (take the architecture tour!). And if the architecture isn’t enough, the city is dotted with sculptures and murals by the likes of Picasso, Chagall, and most recently Anish Kapoor, the genius behind Cloud Gate (partially depicted in my photo above). My all-time favorite public art exhibit was Cows on Parade, unfortunately not a permanent fixture.

The fun. I still have many wonderful friends in Chicago, and my experience there is largely driven by these relationships. But a visit to Chicago will never leave one restless… With the many museums, parks, piers, tours, and shops, Chicago has exciting options for every visitor. And for the young at heart, the nightlife might be the piece de resistance… live music halls, chic lounges, cozy bars, and bass-thumping clubs (each with their own character) keep the fun going till the wee hours of the night. I’ve never been to an establishment in Chicago that I didn’t enjoy. In fact I am more often than not pleasantly surprised by the ambiance at random neighborhood bars… there’s something different and interesting behind each door.

The progression. Mayor Richard M. Daley is adored by his constituents and for good reason. Everytime I visit Chicago I’m impressed by the degree of progress the city has made since my last visit. Daley has done an incredible job cleaning up the city, inviting artists to add more interesting visuals throughout, improving the city infrastructure, and making Chicago more tourist-friendly. During this last visit I was proud to see the CTA running hybrid buses… And probably the most amusing sign of advancement (or early adoption) is depicted below – Millenium Park Patrol on a Segway!


2 Responses to “Sweet Home Chicago”

  1. 1 Sunil April 5, 2007 at 12:03 am

    Well said – just wait till Chicago wins the bid for the 2016 Olympics!

  2. 2 Adam April 23, 2007 at 1:35 am

    Hey Seema,

    I totally agree with you about Chicago! I’m from Southern California (blech!), but spent eight years in the midwest (four at Northwestern University, another four at Indiana University)… and I gotta say, I miss the midwest charms! Yes, as you noted, the winters are AWFUL, but the springs… and the genuine warmth of the people… and the (more) affordable food and housing.

    I now live in San Francisco, and while this city has charms of its own, if I didn’t love my job and the people I work with, I’d skeedaddle either back to the midwest or to Seattle or to somewhere in Europe in a heartbeat to get out of this overpriced, pretentious area :|

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