Sunday, March 12, 2006

from chicago: my people?

About time. Outside, there’s this:

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In the seventies, sunny skies. Spring fever hits me. It is hard to move from couch to chair. Finally I get it together and set out. In the afternoon.

Some thirty years ago I spent many hours visiting homes and bingo halls in and around Wicker Park, a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Chicago. I was trying then to get a feel for the decaying and disintegrating Polish community. It had been a sad place really. Signs of Polishness had been replaced by check cashing outlets and resale clothing shops.

Today I went back to these streets. With good reason. I’d been hearing that Wicker Park and the adjacent Bucktown are Chicago’s neighborhoods of choice these days. For people like me, who have great feelings of ambivalence about urban gentrification (loving it, hating it, hating it, enjoying it), Wicker Park rules: it has a mixture of ethnicities, old stores and seedy bars, along with quirky boutiques and big time chefs doing their thing at refreshingly simple-looking eating haunts.

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Here you find old mansions in various states of repair – many showing off intricate porches, but hiding interiors packed with a little known history. Some say Ignacy Paderewski banged at the piano here in the early 1900s. Poles done good. Some of them anyway. They’re back now, those ubiquitous Chicago Poles. I hear the language. It is spoken by construction workers spiffin up the place for others.

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My walking companions know that when the sun gets that glow of a finished day, it is time to sit down, face the street, sip wine and watch people go by. It’s as important to do that as anything else that may mark a day.

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Returning to Evanston, I have again put distance (block-wise if not otherwise) between myself and the Poles who keep choosing this city as their own.

Late at night, we go to the Stained Glass Wine Bar and Bistro, I study the menu and pick foods that reflect Chicago’s special melange of infusions and influences: prepared by chef Hernandez, it is a lovely sea food plate, with fresh peas and pierogi at the side.

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