Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chicago Chronicles--- Part II

I so loved the mist crawling in....

At the Milennium Park, the seamless structure designed by an Indian architect (or so I think)

Navy Pier, an amusement park, near Lake Michigan

Yes We Can and Obama mania was everywhere, from the streets to the souvenir shops.

From the observatory atop Sears Towers.

Where was I now? Ah, that lone window, those thoughts of people in my distant country...

I was rather stuck by the utter lack of public phones, or maybe I was just in too posh a locality to find one.

The first morning after the conference was lazy, a long night's sleep. Jet lag had hit big time then and even I, who is famous for being able to fall asleep just about anywhere, would be wide awake all night and end up with a monstrous headache every morning. Maybe that is what a hangover feels like...(now I wouldn't know why I thought that here).
The previous evening, from one of those fancy malls, I had bought a book on walking around Chicago. Dressed like a bear, very uncomfortably, I passed through North Michigan Avenue (take Bangalore's Brigade Road, stretch it several more miles, add a broader road and more high end brands, that the Avenue for you). A rough route in mind and a vague destination, to Millennium Park, there I was, passing by lanes and side roads.

I have the map in hand, but here in India, we ask people and they all tell us, even if they don't know! And so I ask and draw some strange looks. I pass through all those names we all grew up seeing on Star Movies...Bloomingdales, Harley Davidson, Starbucks. It isn't very hard to feel like I'm still watching one of those movies now, you know that kind of I-am-an-observer feeling. Like any other city, Chicago has its not so shiny backlanes, where there are junkyards and grease and dirt. I pass that too, a little too quickly. The water that I saw from my room up above, Lake Michigan, is close by now and I freeze some more.

The weather is better that day, but still cold. All smiles, I step gingerly into the Jane Addams Memorial Park, suddenly all quiet, lonely benches, empty paths and just so beautiful. Its still very very cold but I cannot resist sitting there. There is the skyline of downtown Chicago, all those tall glass buildings and the nice drive. Just like Queen's Necklace, Mumbai. The snow is in some places dirty, its been a day since it snowed. Its even melting slowly. But the trees are red, barren even, the ground is a beautiful white. I so love it. I try to photograph my footprints, find myself a discreet corner overlooking the lake and wrote this.

It feels very liberating to be there, the city, a country for me to find and explore. At a distance is Navy Pier and I reluctantly leave the park, it was getting too cold for comfort. The Pier is an amusement park, closed for the winter though. The place just goes on and on, first toy stalls and souvenir shops and candy bars and coffee. There is a Santa Claus! I get my picture taken too! Its so much fun to feel like a kid, I tell you! :-)

Its a long walk, through more shops and a greenhouse and a lovely stained glass museum to the end of the pier. There is a board which has the distance of various cities painted on it. Delhi is all of 7,000 odd miles. That's a moment I remember I felt so far away. Some 7,000 odd miles plus some more, maybe around 10,000 plus kilometres from home! Eek! It was rather overwhelming.

I look at my watch and its just 4 pm, but its rather dark already, quite disorienting. I take the public bus to look for Millennium Park. I must say this, even at the risk of being thoroughly racial, I was scared inside the bus then. Scared about all those typical Americans, just scared about being there at that moment. I walk around a bit, it starts to drizzle lightly. I turn a corner and just then, I see mist creeping in. Ah, I am all better now.

I finally reach Millennium Park, but then, suddenly, its time to go. I am to stay with a friend's sister in the suburbs. Taking the Metra is another experience, a girl helps me by lending her phone to make a call (and I revert all my earlier thoughts). A 45 minute ride and I am at Prospect Heights, a very beautiful suburb with, just like those movies again, long houses and cars in front and sidewalks and snow and more cars and shops with neon lights. Its a cozy house, a good time, and great Indian food I have there.

Next day I head to Sears Towers, still one of the tallest buildings in the world, with 103 floors. The 360-degree view is beautiful. And then the Millennium Park with its oh-so-cute bubble or whatever it is called designed by Anish Kapoor. I take lots of pictures, peep over the skating rink, walk walk and walk some more all over the place, East Huron Street, Illinois Street, fancy names. I don't lose my way, I largely stick to the avenues I know.

(Insert: On the way to an international journalists' dinner hosted by GE on the second evening, we pass through Harpo Studios, the place where Oprah Winfrey shoots her show. Yeah!)

The next two days go by then. Temperature dips to -13 degree C one day and I use that day to shop for souvenirs. Ah, the taxi driver who takes me to a mall is busy talking on the phone about his divorce and finding a new girl friend. Highly entertaining! The malls are nice, like any other. I try to buy the iPhone, they wouldn't sell me one without a connection. But you can get unlocked ones there too. Ha, India is not the only place for your Burma Bazaars! I buy the usual trappings, chocolates, watches, perfumes, jewellery, others that I know I will never use...

The day I am to leave, it snows very heavily again. Back to the airport, a hateful time as always. I meet some Gujarati shopkeepers with a predictable American twang, eat some donuts, get bored out of my wits.

At O'Hare you need to remove your shoes too during security check! I mean, come on!!

Its been a great trip, I know me more. I know the limits I will go, I know more now, what I can do, what I won't. I know I love travel. I also know that beneath the clean roads and the busy people and all that, I don't really like American life much, for several reasons

The things that travelling teaches you!!

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