Despite the long, cold winter and the short rainy spring Chicago can be a phenomenal place to be be. Yesterday was just such a time.
It had been raining for sooo many days that I had just ordered my do-it-yourself arc building kit. (You never can be too careful.) But Saturday the sun was shining and it was warmer than expected. I awoke, stood outside for a moment and knew that I needed to be on my bike. I rode a muscle straining 30 miles and while the air was cool the warm of the sun made for a lovely ride. (Yes I used the word lovely. I may be a guy but I know lovely when I see it and am not afraid to say so.)
A short nap while waiting for my wife to come home brought me back to life and we headed into the City. It was the opening of the new wing of the Art Institute. But in Chicago, such an event is not some stuffy museum opening for the well to do, art snob crowd but an opportunity for all the City’s people to party.
It helps to know the geography of the area in order to grasp how expansive this moment was. From a north-south perspective the Art Institute is smack dab in the middle of the city. It is, however on the far east side of downtown specifically on the east side of Michigan avenue. On the west side of the street there are office buildings and retail establishments but on the east side is pure entertainment.
Immediately east of the museum is Grant Park and to the east of Grant Park is The Lake. This section of Grant Park houses a band shell that until recently was the centerpiece for all major festivals, several concerts and The Taste Of Chicago. It is the home of Buckingham Fountain and a beautiful rose garden.
But because that was not enough free and special space for the City of Chicago, another park was built immediately north of the Art Institute. This is Millennium Park. Whether or not it is financially worth the hundreds of millions put into it, aesthetically it is worth every cent. It is a place for people of every race, religion, social and economic status as well as every tonsorial and clothing affinity. More on Millennium Park in another post.
While normally The Art Institute and the two great parks on its borders are separated by streets, on this day the street were closed to traffic so it became one big stage for a Chicago day. We met my wife’s former college roommate, my friend, and regular Art Institute goer in Millennium Park. She had been there for the formal opening at 10 am and had just been enjoying the day.
Admission was free today and the retail giant Target was hosting the opening. Outside the entrance they sponsered a stage that featured dance and music during the day. Target was providing snacks and bottled water. We started by touring part of the new wing. The stage had Jewish Klezmer music when we entered the museum and gospel music as we came out.
The new wing is great space to enjoy art. Now I am not knowledgeable about art or its history but I can appreciate it. This was open space where you could get very close to the paintings and sculptures. The sections meandered from once to the other. There are manny great works by many great artists. And yet as wonderful as the art was, the sunshine called us outside. In this new wing there was a rooftop area to eat, to sit, to be.
From there we went back out to the stage and caught the last part of the gospel choir. As we absorbed the high energy and spirituality of the music, a typical Chicago festival moment spontaneously combusted. Several rows back from the stage an African American couple were dancing some lively, intricate steps. Just as they stopped a middle aged, overweight white guy asked them to teach him the step. They did. An young, Asian guy jumped into the line on the other side of the couple and before you know it two more people joined in and the line danced until the music stopped. Hugs and handshakes all around.
The color and sex of the participants was irrelevant at that moment in time. I only mention them because you need to know in order to understand how much that race and sex did not matter. These were just people in the same place at the same time having a whole lot of fun.
We spent the next hour or so in Millennium Park enjoying ice cream and people watching. I love people watching. The older man in the kilt and the ugly sweater talking to anyone and everyone. Couple of all ages strolling through the park. Many stopping to enjoy the tulips. Taking pictures. The man trying to get his infant to walk to her mom, holding at first just her hands and then giving up, going with the flow and carrying the girl to where her mom was waiting to scoop her up in her arms. The woman with the tiara surrounded by friends (birthday, engagement or oddly likes to wear tiaras in public–your guess.)
I reget not having a camera. The sights and sounds were too numerous to write down. I have shared but a small sample.
Snow, what snow. We have short memories once the sun comes out to play.
This is why we live in Chicago.