Blog 4: “I would prefer not to” (an Analysis of Bartleby the Scrivener)

By Jonathan Vander Molen

             As part of our studies in Chicago, we read the short story Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville. It is a tale about a man called Bartleby who experiences a bout of melancholy so deep and pervasive that it eventually becomes the death of him. Any requests made of him are met with the response “I would prefer not to.” He would prefer not to work, prefer not to move, and prefer not to eat by the story’s end. Not only did our class read the story, but we also saw a black box theater production of Bartleby the Scrivener. I personally enjoyed both the story and the play, mainly because I could identify with the main character Bartleby.

On a personal note, I experienced a bout of major depression in my recent life. It so strongly interfered with my daily life that I was prescribed medication to help me feel like my normal self. But I remember feeling things during that depressive period that mirrored the feelings Bartleby had during his story. For example, I felt an overwhelming sense of apathy that came over me. Activities that used to be enjoyable suddenly became dull and tedious. I can see how Bartleby could descend into a state of complete indifference with the world.

But this essay isn’t about me (let’s be serious, who would want to listen to the whines and complaints of a depressed person); this essay is an analysis of Bartleby. There are many ways to interpret the character besides the obvious. Bartleby was created by Herman Melville as an “author avatar” to express his dejected feelings; he had experienced a period of failure in publishing successful books for quite some time. But Bartleby could be interpreted as a religious allegory: an individual who abstains from worldliness for religious penitence. Parts of the story remind me of Paul’s road to Damascus in the bible where for three days he neither ate nor drank. Bartleby could also represent the pure melancholy aspect of all humanity and the hardships it places on society as a whole.

One of the main principles explored in this story is the limits of brotherly love and companionship in generating happiness. The narrator makes numerous attempts to help Bartleby, but his generosity is refused on every occasion. The narrator offers monetary compensation and even offers to let Bartleby move into the narrator’s home for a while, just so he’ll have somewhere to stay instead of living in his office. Bartleby responds to every offer with “I would prefer not to.” In my personal experience, the friendship from peers won’t always alleviate a state of severe melancholy. For Bartleby, melancholy has shaped his outlook on life into a state of indifference. No matter what the narrator does, he will be unable to reach Bartleby.

Blog 3: What is art? V.4

By Jonathan Vander Molen

            Earlier this week, we visited the contemporary art museum with a selection of hundreds of modern art pieces. One particular piece stood out to me. Parker, Nicki, and I stood around a sculpture that consisted of stacked cardboard boxes. The boxes were just ordinary packages that used to contain computers or other electronics. The only distinguishing part of the boxes was that they came from different nations. While we three viewed the sculpture, we struck up a discussion about what constitutes art. We didn’t reach a clear consensus, but we did bring up a number of points about the nature of art and creation.

I realized that we were engaging in a debate that has lasted centuries. What is art? And what not art? For in this discussion lies the process of cultural creation and the progress of a nation. Not only does art serve to entertain people, but it serves to express the general sentiment of a nation. Following World War I there was a surge in bleak portrayals of life in German expressionism. American art following World War II was optimistic and ventured into new experimental forms of expression. But whose sentiment is being represented through art? The people’s? The government’s? The elites that patronize the artists?

Art, in its simplest form, is a product of human creation with the sole purpose of provoking an aesthetic response in the viewer. The tricky part is always defining what constitutes  an “aesthetic response.” Aesthetics ties in with eliciting a certain emotion, whether it is joy, sorrow, or disgust. Generally good art provokes a strong response in the viewer and bad art generates indifference. Some consider certain movies artistic or aesthetically pleasing; but can movies be considered art if their primary purpose is to entertain the viewer? And what about paintings that were created to communicate a specific message (such as propaganda posters), but are then heralded as works of art long after their creation?

What media and what subject matter can be considered art? The pivotal sculpture titled Fountain by Marcel Duchamp was simply a urinal that the artist signed. The sculpture wasn’t meant to elicit a specific aesthetic response; it was meant to question what constitutes  art. Fountain broadens the range of what could be immortalized in an artist’s creation. If common household items can be considered art,  then why not garbage? If garbage cah be considered art, then why not nothing? Surprisingly, artists have used blank wall space in a museum and sold it as art.

When it comes to experimental modern art pieces, some are created to be aesthetically pleasing to the artist’s own taste, with no regard to the thoughts or feelings of the audience. In these cases, the artist’s definition of art is different from the mainstream perceptions. In conclusion, I would say that it is up to each individual to determine what is art.

Blog 2: Plato’s Cave 2.0

 

By Jonathan Vander Molen


In class this week, the professor explained to us about the allegory of Plato’s Cave. The original description from Plato’s Republic goes a little something like this:

Imagine a group of human beings living in an underground cave. Here they have been from their childhood, and they have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move and can only see before them. Above and behind them a fire blazes at a distance, casting light on the wall before the prisoners. In front of the fire, marionette players cast the shadows of shapes and figures on the wall, so all the prisoners see are the vague illusions of everyday objects, whether   vessels, statues, animals, or  persons. Some of the figures are talking, and others silent. To the prisoners, truth is nothing but the shadows of these images. When one prisoner is liberated, he turns around and goes to the open mouth of the cave. At first, he is blinded by the outside light, but as his eyes adjust to the glare, he sees the vibrant colors of real life. He compares the figures of reality to the shadows he saw on the wall, and concludes that the shadows are merely falsehoods. He remembers his fellow prisoners and takes pity on their miserable existence, for who would want to live life believing that shadows are the truth and reality a mere falsehood? The enlightened man ventures back into the cave and tells the prisoners about his glorious finds. He isn’t well received. Venturing up into the light and acquiring a new form of sight requires considerable effort. Sometimes it is easier to stick to the status quo of delusion rather than admit that one’s perceptions are wrong. So the prisoners vow to put the liberated man to death rather than be led out of the cave.

Though I fully understand the allegory, my classmates often seem baffled by the concept, especially my high school classmates. Shadows on the wall of a cave? How can anyone think that’s real? And what does this whole cave thing have to do with anything? I understand that Plato used the Cave to represent philosophical enlightenment. The cave is the world of sight on earth, the light of the fire is the sun, and the journey upward is the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world. Metaphysical thought about nature and reality is the only way a person can understand the vague concepts of virtue, beauty, and justice. A person who understands this line of thought can apply it to the real world and have a meaningful, fulfilling life. Of course this is all according to Plato’s line of thought. But to bring it into perspective for my modern peers, I’ve taken the liberty to create a modernized version of Plato’s Cave.

Imagine you’re sitting in a movie theater along with dozens of other theater goers just like yourself. You’ve been there for as long as you can remember, and it is all that you’ve ever known. You and your peers are chained to your seats so that you can’t move or look around. The images on the movie screen fill your vision, and a projector shows every possible scene and situation imaginable. It’s a comedy, drama, horror story, romance, tragedy, and adventure all at the same time. You see images of trees, birds, the sun, and all sorts of things. Eventually, one of the theatergoers breaks free from his chains and makes his way to the exit at the back of the theater. He steps outdoors into the dazzling midday sun. It takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust from the darkness of the movie theater, but as he looks around, he sees real trees, real birds, and the real sun outdoors. He thinks of his peers stuck in the theater’s false reality and vows to free them. When he ventures back into the gloom inside the theater and tries to tell them about their misguided reality, he is met with hostility. I mean, come on! You’re trying to enjoy the best movie ever, and this bozo is blabbering on about sunshine and birds and other such nonsense. The crowd boos and tosses popcorn at the liberated man, driving him away.

Blog 1: The Activist

By Jonathan Vander Molen


“Death to NATO!”

“We want Peace!”

“End the fucking war!”

Chants and cries rose from the street below me. I looked out at the marching protesters passing outside the hostel. People of all shapes, sizes, races, and genders vented their frustrations at the NATO summit taking place in Chicago. Police lined the crowd, making sure nothing got out of hand. I could see a few protesters making threatening gestures at the police as if provoking a confrontation, something of which I wanted no part.

“Protesters again?” asked Parker, my roommate and friend.

“Yep, they’re mad about something related to NATO.

“I can imagine a movie being made about the struggles of a single protester.”

“What would it be called?” I thought for a moment, “Wait, I’ve got it. The Activist.”

“So what’s it going to be about?”

“Well…” I paused, unsure what to say. But I blurted out the first plot that came to mind. “It’s about a man who lives a comfortable, wealthy lifestyle as a strict conformist by day. But when night descends, he transforms into ‘The Activist’–a radical protester that is fighting the corporate and political machine. The conformist part of him doesn’t know he’s the Activist. When he finds out about his secret double life, he must balance his life between the conformist part of himself and the activist part of himself.”

“Interesting,” said Parker, nodding his head. “So who is this man? Let’s break him down even further.”

“Ok, he works as an executive at a wealthy corporation. He is very polished, proper, and never steps out of line. He lives in a gated suburban community. He has a wife and two kids– a boy and a girl. He would also have a dog.”

“Of course he would…”

“The Activist would be the complete opposite. He’s coarse, grungy looking, and has no inhibitions. He leaves his gated community at night and goes to the local university to hang out with pot heads and prostitutes on Greek row. There, he preaches about the evils of corporations and leads a movement to stop one particular corporation from building a polluting factory next to a local river.”

“But the corporation is the same one he works at by day.”

“Exactly. Heck, he’s even the executive that is leading this new construction project. So when his Conformist side finds out that he and the Activist are one and the same, he must make the decision about stopping the factory construction and possibly losing his job, or going ahead and building the damn thing and further angering his Activist side.”

“Interesting, but the Activist will need a love interest. How about he falls in love with a prostitute?”

“Who is surprisingly perceptive about the nature of society and humanity.”

“And she’s an independent, headstrong woman.”

“Everything his Conformist wife isn’t.”

We paused for a moment.“Who would play the lead?” asked Parker.

“Probably Dustin Hoffman.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’m just thinking of how he’s such a versatile actor, so he’ll be the best lead.”

“He just doesn’t seem to fit that Executive role.”

“Then make it Martin Sheen, from Wall Street.”

“Yeah, I can see him playing the executive, but the activist?”

“He needs to morph into another person.” I stopped and thought for a moment. My face lit up as an epiphany struck me. “He’ll morph into Charlie Sheen when he becomes the Activist. He’s a wildcard and a maverick. It’s perfect!”

“Yes!” laughed Parker, “A guy with tiger blood would be a perfect protester.”

“We’d have a Jekyll and Hyde dynamic going there…”

I was about to continue, when I heard a loud shout from the streets.

“NATO is a Terrorist organization!”

I stopped and looked out the window again. Protesters still filed down the streets, still waved banners and still shook their fists. I realized that this was no laughing matter. No quirky comedy that’ll be resolved in 90 minutes, with everyone going home by the very end. These were real people with real grievances, and they felt so strongly about injustice that they were willing to take them to the streets of Chicago and brave the possibility of arrest. I wasn’t sure if they were crazy or noble for taking their grievances to the streets. Parker and I said nothing as we watched the protesters eventually disappear, taking their rage to another part of town.

 

 

 

 

 

Day-By-Day: Directions and Photographs

Day-by Day:  Directions & Photographs

 

Dear Class,

When you return to Chicago—and you undoubtedly will return now that you have discovered how to navigate its many treasured venues–you might find it useful to see exactly which routes we followed on our numerous field trips. This will also serve as a sort of diary of our travels.  Included are photographs from each of the listed days.

 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Directions to hostel:

1.  Depart Nashville on Southwest # 2572.

2.  Arrive Midway Airport, Chicago.

3.  Take Orange Line to Harold Washington Library Stop

4.  Walk south on State Street one block.

5.  Turn left at Congress Parkway. 

6.  Walk east toward Wabash.  Hostelling International  is at 24 East Congress Parkway.

 Directions to Hemingway Archives at Oak Park (834 Lake St.) :

1.  Take Orange Line to Clark & Lake.

2.  Transfer to Green Line.  Take Green Line toward Harlem.

3.  Exit Oak Park.

4.  As you leave the train station, turn right and walk up Oak Park Avenue until you come to Lake Street. Cross the street.

5.  Walk up Lake Street until you come to 834, the Oak Park Public Library.  The Hemingway Archives are on the third floor.

Prof. Crouther, Fiona, Sydney, Nicki , & Parker at Hemingway Archives

 Directions to  Hemingway Museum (200 N. Oak Park Ave.) :

1.  From Oak Park Public Library, walk back down Lake Street to Oak Park Ave. Cross the street.

2.  Turn left on Oak Park Ave.and walk until you come to 200.

 Directions to Hemingway Birthplace House (339 N. Oak Park Ave.) :

 1.  From the Hemingway Museum, cross the street.

2.  Turn right and walk up Oak Park Avenue until you come to 339 N. Oak Park Ave.

Class at Hemingway's Birthplace Home

 

 Directions back to Chicago and The Grand Lux Café (600 N. Michigan Ave):

1.  From Oak Park take the Green Line.  There are two Green Lines—one  toward Ashland/ 63rd and one toward Cottage Grove.  Either one will work.

2.  Exit at State & Lake.

3.  Transfer to Red Line toward Howard.

4.  Exit at Grand.

5.  As you leave the station, turn right and walk to Michigan Ave., which is several blocks away.  As you near Michigan, you will need to go inside a walkway and walk up some stairs, since Michigan is an elevated street.

6.  Turn left on Michigan and walk to Ontario.

7.  Turn left on Ontario and walk ½ block until you come to the entrance of The Grand Lux on your left.  You enter the restaurant on Ontario, but it actually overlooks Michigan Ave.  The address is 600 N. Michigan Ave.

Class at The Grand Lux

 Directions from The Grand Lux back to the hostel:

 1.  As you leave the restaurant, turn right on Ontario and turn right again on Michigan Ave.

2.  It’s pleasant in the evening to walk up Michigan Ave.and observe this vibrant city at night.

3.  If you walk up as far as the Art Institute, you can then turn right on Adams and walk one block to the “L” station.

4.  Take the Pink Line to the H.W. Library stop.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Directions to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (875 Lake St., Oak Park) :

1.  Follow directions above for getting to Oak Park

2.  As you exit the Oak Park train station, turn right and walk up Oak Park Ave.

3.  At Lake St., turn left and walk to 875.

Prof. Crouther at Unity Temple

 Directions to the First United Church (848 Lake St.)

1.  This former Congregational Church that the Hemingway family attended is directly across the street from the UnityTemple

 Directions for Frank Lloyd Wright Walking Tour

1.  From The First United Church, facing Lake St., turn right and walk until you come to Forest Ave.  Turn right.

2.  Walk up Forest Ave.  You will immediately identify the Wright-designed homes.

 

 Directions to Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio (951 Chicago Ave.)

1.  Continue walking up Forest Ave.until you come to Chicago Ave.The Wright home and studio are on your right—at the corner of Forest & Chicago Ave.

 Directions to the Hemingway Boyhood Home (600 N. Kenilworth)

1.  From the Wright home & studio, facing Chicago Ave., turn right and walk until you see an elementary school on the left. 

2.  Cross the street and walk through the schoolyard.

3.  You are now on Kenilworth.  The house is at the corner of Kenilworth & Iowa. Hemingway’s bedroom was the middle one at the top.

 Directions back to Chicago:

1.  From Hemingway’s boyhood home, turn right on Iowa.

2.  Walk until you come to Oak Park Ave.

3.  Turn right on Oak Park Ave.and walk until you come to the train station.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Directions to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (5757 Woodlawn Ave):

1.  On the train station side of State & Van Buren, take the # 6 Jackson Park Express Bus.

2.  Exit at Stony Island Ave.& 57th St.

3.  Walk six blocks west on 57thSt. to Woodlawn Ave.

4.  Turn left on Woodlawn and walk to Robie House.  It is on the corner of Woodlawn and 58th St. 

Discovering that the Robie House was closed because of the NATO Summit, we went to the Oriental Institute Museum, part of the University of Chicago. We returned to the Robie House on Friday, May 25th .

Directions to Oriental Institute Museum (1155 E. 58th St.) :

1.  From Robie House, walk diagonally across Woodlawn.  Then walk up 58th street to 1155, on your left.

Class at Oriental Museum of University of Chicago

Directions to the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum:

1.  Although we had no time to visit this museum, it is located at the corner of Ellis and 56th Street.

Directions from hostel to Navy Pier and Shoreline Cruise:

1.  At the State & H.W. Library stop, take the # 29 bus to Navy Pier.

Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan

 

 

Sunday, May  20, 2012

 

Because the Art Institute was closed for the NATO Summit, we chose to go to the Museum of Science & Industry. We re-scheduled the Art Institute for Wednesday, May 23rd.

NATO protesters outside hostel

 Directions to the Museum of Science & Industry (57 St. & Lake Shore Dr.):

1. Take the # 6 Jackson Park Express Bus at State & Van Buren.

2.  Exit at 57th &Lake Shore Dr.   

Police bicycle patrol outside hostel

Monday, May 21, 2012

Directions to Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S. Michigan Ave.)

1.  From hostel, walk east to Michigan Ave. 

2.  Turn left and walk to 224.

Directions to Architectural River Cruise (Navy Pier)

1.  At the State & H.W. Library stop, take the # 29 bus to Navy Pier.

Nicki & Jonathan on architectural tour up Chicago River

 

Sydney, Nicki, Fiona, & Allison preparing supper at hostel

 

 Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Directions to Contemporary Art Museum (220 E. Chicago Ave.)

1.  Take Red Line to Chicago stop.

2.  Then take # 66 bus east to Museum.  It is one block east ofMichigan Ave.

Class at the Contemporary Art Museum

 

Directions from Contemporary Art Museum to Navy Pier (sailing on the Windy–tall ship– & attending the Shakespeare Theatre) :

1.  Continue to take # 66 bus.

Fiona hoisting the sail

 

Amy and her long-lost cousin (Kaitlen Osburn)

Directions from Navy Pier to hostel:

 1.  Take # 29 bus.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Directions to The Art Institute (111 S. Michigan Ave at Adams St.)

1.  Walk outside hostel.  Turn left.  Walk toMichigan Ave.  Cross to other side.

2.  Turn left.  Walk until you come to the Art Institute

Chicago teachers on strike outside hostel

 Directions from the hostel to the Second City Comedy Club (1616 N. Wells)

1. At H.W. Library, take Purple Line north toward Linden.  6 stops.  (See note below)

2.  Exit Sedgwick station.

3.  Once outside, turn left and walk north on N. Sedgwick St.

4.  Turn right on W. North Ave.

5.  Walk several blocks down North Ave until you come to Wells St.

6.  Turn left and cross North Ave.  The club is on your left about halfway down the block at 1616 N. Wells.

Waiting for the train

 Directions from Second City Comedy Club back to hostel:

1.  The Purple Line is an express line for rush hours in the morning and evening.  To return to hostel, take Brown Line.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Directions to Jane Addams-Hull House (800 S. Halsted at the University of Illinois–Chicago):

1.  From hostel facing Congress, turn left and walk to Michigan Ave. Cross street.

2.  At Stop # 4725 on Congress, take # 7 bus toward Central .

3.  Go eleven stops.  At Harrison  & Halsted (Stop # 206), exit and turn left.

4.  Walk to 800 S. Halsted. Total = 22 minutes.

Class at Addams-Hull House

Directions from Jane Addams-Hull House to Student Center:

1.  For lunch, go next door to the University of Illinois Chicago Student Center food court.

Directions to The Plant from Addams-Hull House:

1.  At Halsted & Polk, Stop # 4639, which is right in front of the University of Illinois Chicago Student Center (next door to the Addams-Hull House), take the # 8 bus.

2.  Go 14 stops.  Exit at the Halsted Orange Line Station.

3.  Take Orange Line toward Midway.  Go one stop.  Exit Ashland.

4.  Take # 9 bus toward 95th St. It is in the second lane in front of the building, Stop # 14476.

5.  Exit 46th Street & Ashland (Stop # 6079).

6.  Cross street to left and walk several blocks to 1400 West 46th St.  Look for a wind turbine.  Total = 33 minutes.

Our guide Shelby on the rooftop garden of The Plant

Friday, May 25, 2012

 

Directions to Robie House (see May 19th)

The Robie House

Directions to Hutchinson Commons from Robie House:

1.  From Robie House, cross Woodlawn and turn right.

2.  At 57th Street, turn left and walk 1½ blocks to Hutchinson Commons of the University of Chicago.  It is on your left.

3.  The food court is inside.  Walk up some short steps, make an immediate right toward the restroom signs, and look for the food court area on your left.

Dining at Hutchinson Commons, the University of Chicago

Directions from Hutchinson Commons to the DuSable Museum of African-American History (740 East 56th Place):

1.  Go  left on 57th Street.  Walk for 15 minutes until you come to Cottage Grove.  The DuSable Museum will be in front of you.

Directions from the DuSable Museum to the hostel:

1. Across 57th Street at Stop # 15164, take the # 4 bus back to Michigan & Congress.  Then walk to the hostel.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Directions to Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon Dr. in Lincoln Park):

1.  At the H.W. Library Station, take the Brown Line toward Kimball.

2.  Exit at Diversey.

3.  At Stop # 11028, take the # 76 bus east to the Nature Museum.

Class outside Nature Museum

Directions from Notebaert Nature Museum to Lincoln Park Zoo:

1.  As you leave the Nature Museum, turn right and walk down Cannon St.to the zoo.

Directions from the Lincoln Park Zoo to North Ave. Beach:

1.  You can depart from the zoo’s main entrance, turn right, and walk about a mile to reach North Beach.

Parker, Jonathan, Fiona, Nicki, & Amy at North Ave Beach

 Directions from North Ave. Beach to hostel:

1.  During summertime, you can take the # 72 bus from the beach to the Sedgwick Station, then take the Brown Line back to the hostel.

Another Beach:

1.  A more secluded beach is the Hollywood Beach, which is north of the North Ave. Beach.  Take the Red Line to Bryn Mawr Station.  Then walk down Bryn Mawr St.to the beach.

 Sunday, May 27, 2012

 

 Directions to Willis Tower (Sears Tower—233 S. Wacker Dr.):

1.  Take the Orange Line toward Midway.

2.  Exit Quincy.

3.  Walk down Quincy St.to WillisTower.

Amy & Allison waiting for train

 

View from Willis Tower

 

Lunch at Panera's

Directions to Greenhouse Theatre (2257 N. Lincoln Ave.):

1.  Take Brown Line toward Kimball .

2.  Go 10 stops.  Exit Fullerton.

3.  Once outside, turn left and walk east on Fullerton until you reach Lincoln, which runs at a diagonal.

4.  Turn right onto Lincoln and walk to 2257.  Total walk = 10 minutes.

Directions to John Hancock Building (875 N. Michigan Ave.):

1.  Walk to Congress & Wabash. Cross street.  On Congress side at Stop # 17255, take # 147 bus toward Howard Station.

2.  Exit Michigan & Delaware.  Walk to 875.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Directions to Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.):

1.  Option # 1—Take Orange Line toward Midway.

2.  Exit at Roosevelt.

3.  Then cross street and take # 146 bus east to aquarium.

1.  Option # 2—At State & Van Buren take # 146 bus

Class at Shedd Aquarium

Directions to Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.):

1.  It is next door to the Shedd Aquarium.

Directions from Museum Campus to hostel:

1.  Take # 146 bus.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Directions from hostel to Midway:

1.  At H.W. Library, take Orange Line to Midway.

 

 

 

Finding a Sense of Place in Chicago

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders


The above is the introductory stanza of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” published in 1914. The poem presents Chicago as something beastly in nature, something that is constantly having to work against the odds. In its earlier days, Chicago was no doubt a very industrial city. In many ways the city remains an industrial powerhouse, but factories do not have the same presence today as they did in the past. The Windy City was also “building, breaking, and rebuilding” as it grew, having to recreate itself after the Great Chicago Fire. Rebuilding the city required the cooperative efforts of designers, planners, builders, and other laborers. As a result, Chicago has a very rich history that continues to shape it .
Today, however, Chicago is not viewed as the “City of the Big Shoulders” as Sandburg describes it. There is still an industrial part of the city, part of which we saw when touring The Plant. There is so much more to this city, though, than the industries that call it home. The old is being replaced with the new – it is ever-changing. Chicago is the home of myriad cultures and cultural experiences. There is so much to see, feel, touch, taste, and hear!
Sightseeing is indeed a significant aspect of living in Chicago. There is so much history on every street – just looking at the details on the buildings hints at a deeper story. We’ve been lucky to have taken several architectural tours, learning about broader trends in architecture, such as Beaux-Arts, Art Deco, and Modern, as well specific influences in Chicagoan architecture, like Frank Lloyd Wright.
Chicago, of course, also has its magnificent parks, showcasing not only plants but also many attractins, sculptures by various artists, and the designs of reknowned landscape architects. Throughout the trip we have been able to visit the Lincoln, Grant, and Millennium Parks, all of which have their own unique features. Likewise, the views of Lake Michigan are glorious, as is seeing the town all lit up for miles at night. There is beauty to found most everywhere, be it natural or man-made.
There are many other signature sensory experiences that give Chicago its character. Everyone, for example, is compelled to taste a Chicago hot dog and some deep-dish Chicago pizza while here. They are indeed delectable! Likewise, Chicago has a thriving Jazz scene. I’ve yet to go to listen to Jazz while here, but simply from learning how many music venues there are around here, it is clear that jazz has a niche in this city. Even the un-orchestrated sounds here make Chicago special. From hubbub on the streets to the crashing of waves on the beach, one gains a sense of the area. One mustn’t forget another signature sensory experience of Chicago – the wind! The feel of the wind constantly brushing against us makes us realize how apt the nickname, “Windy City,” is.

There is so much that one can do while in a place as rich in culture as Chicago. There is a reason why one finds people here from all over the world. It is a place that showcases some of the greatest achievements of our society, and it welcomes us to experience Chicago and all it has to offer.

 

Architecture the Wright Way

Over the past week and a half, I have been keeping track of some of my favorite places and experiences while in Chicago. It’s hard to say what was my absolute favorite thing, as our plans have included such a diverse array of activities. Thus, I will focus on our Frank Lloyd Wright tours, as this was what I was most looking forward to on this trip. I have admired his work for many years, so seeing some of his creations in real life was a bit of a dream come true for me.
I was first introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright in elementary school. My sister and I had a tendency to plow through the book collections at the local library, and once we decided to look at the books on architecture and home décor. We checked out one about Frank Lloyd Wright, mainly because we liked looking at all of the pictures of homes. My siblings and I all have creative bents and enjoy making things with our hands, and we soon latched on to designing our own homes. Instead of having traditional sketchbooks, we tended to sit around instead designing homes on graph paper. For quite some time I wanted to be an architect. I no longer want to be one, but I still have an appreciation for it, and would love to design my own home sometime. I have developed an admiration for architecture done the “Wright” way, and it has been my goal for years to tour some of his houses and public buildings in real life.
A couple of years ago, I got a chance to tour the Zeigler house, which is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kentucky. It’s located in Frankfort and is made in Wright’s Prairie style, which sharply contrasts with neighboring Victorian-style homes. It features overhanging rooftops, cantilevered floors, horizontal lines, geometric stained-glass designs reflecting natural landscapes, and a hidden front door. The Ziegler home has been restored by the family that lives there now, and they have maintained the original features of the house. I fully enjoyed touring the house, and my appreciation for Frank Lloyd Wright heightened. I decided that I would try to tour some of his other creations and learn more about him.
I got this chance to see many more of his works on this Chicago trip. We walked past several FLW homes when we were in Oak Park. We also got to tour the interior of his home and studio, the Robie House, and the Unity Temple. During our first few days, we toured Wright’s home in Oak Park, which he began to design at the mere age of 22! The house was gorgeous and featured so many custom designs – in the furniture, in the wood, in the glass, in the ceilings… it was clear that his home was an architectural masterpiece. I also spent quite a while in the gift shop there, admiring how Wright’s signature architectural style was put to use in all sorts of ways.

We also got to tour the Unity Temple, which has an interesting history and is one of Wright’s most notable buildings. In 1905, Oak Park’s Unitarian Universalist temple was struck by lightning and burned down, and Wright put himself forward to design a new structure. His original design was within the church’s budget, but was unlike any other church. He broke nearly every convention and rule of Western religious architecture and paved the way to modern architecture, using a revolutionary cubist design without a steeple or front entrance. Instead, it featured a lobby lined with glass doors and two wings, utilizing natural light and tones. It was among the first monumental buildings to be comprised entirely of poured-in-place, exposed concrete. Later on the trip we toured the Robie house, whose unusual Prairie style was not well-received originally. The Robie family only got to live there for a short while, and the home was at one time divided into dorms. We didn’t get to see the entire house, but it was clear that restoring it was still in progress.
Seeing these buildings has definitely been an enriching experience for me. It has deepened my appreciation for the great architect. I have certainly seen pictures of the places that we toured, but looking at pictures doesn’t measure up to seeing the buildings in real life. They have a certain character about them that photographs can’t quite capture. The stories of the people who used these homes and buildings are just as interesting, including the biography of Wright himself. It is clear, when seeing his masterpieces, why he is still so highly regarded and influential today.

 

Penguins, Whales, and Eels — Oh My!

A Beluga Whale

On Monday, our last full day to do things as a group, we traveled by public transportation to the Shedd Aquarium. I love aquariums and all the aquatic creatures housed within, and I think at age seven I entertained the idea of being a marine biologist and getting to swim with dolphins and sea turtles every day. I was excited to be able to start the day off looking at all the colourful and playful animals, and compiled a list for our group of the five best things to see at the Aquarium.

 

For me, the Beluga whales topped the list. I easily spent half an hour plastered to the glass in front of their tank (once I made my way through a crowd of small children and strollers, all of whom seemed to be covered in some form of ketchup and food crumbs) and just stood and watched. The Beluga whale really has a sort of awkward shape :  when it is stretched out, swimming in a straight line, it appears long and graceful, and then it does a flip and bulges out in a strange direction, rolling over on itself. Its cute little head also does not look like a typical whale head (think sperm whale), but looks more like a mix between a dolphin and a whale. They are playful creatures and seemed to enjoy swimming along the glass right in front of us, and then circling around the tank after each other. I regret that we were not able to attend the aquatic show, where I am sure they had the Belugas and the other dolphins do all sorts of delightful things. I did get to see the keeper feeding the dolphins, though.

Another exhibit that I was looking forward to was the Penguin exhibit. From a little bit of research, I discovered that the Shedd Aquarium houses two types of penguins– Rockhopper and Magellanic. The Rockhopper gets its name from the way it hops from rock to rock (who’d have thought?) and they have the crazy yellow eyebrows that stick out a couple of inches from their faces. The Rockhoppers weren’t in the water at all when I

A Rockhopper Penguin

was there, though. They left that to the Magellanic penguins, who were as happy as could be bobbing back and forth in their pool. I learned from the keeper that the penguins were entering their breeding season, and that one penguin was already nesting — it looked a little constipated to me, but who knows?

There were several other interesting and intriguing exhibits: a large one showcasing jellyfish, sea otters and river otters, fish

Moray Eel

A large Jellyfish

from all over the world, stingrays, bonnet-head sharks, giant crabs, snakes, poisonous dart frogs, a giant Pacific octopus, and starfish. I only wish that the aquarium had been a little less crowded (due to the fact that it was Memorial day), and that I had been allowed to play with the otters and the dolphins. Despite that, the Aquarium was an impressive institution, and well-worth a second visit, if I should ever return to Chicago.

A rare Blue Iguana -- very solemn up close

two turtles chillin' on a log

Looking Back

Yesterday, May 27, 2012, we visited the Willis (Sears) Tower and the John Hancock Observatory, both of which claim to offer spectacular views of Chicago from on high. To get different views, we went to one in the morning and the other at night, and wow, what a change! Now I am a city girl through and through. I adore the hustle and bustle of the city, day or night, but the view by night is the epitome of beauty to me. Gazing down at the dark waters of Lake Michigan, the gleam of the sky-high buildings punctuated by green parks and spaces, and the millions of lights was dazzling. Disregarding the physical beauty they possess, cities foster such creativity and diversity too. In the past few days, I feel that our group has had a chance to tap into what Chicago offers and have grown through our experiences. To wrap-up my experience during the colloquium, I’d like to end with a few random thoughts about the trip.

As Nicki discussed in her last blog, our group came to Chicago knowing very little about each other. In fact, I’d only met everyone once before we departed. Yet our group has grown together quite nicely and provided each other with insight we wouldn’t have had, had any member been replaced. Being students with all different majors and life experience has helped us to have different perspectives on each of our field trips. For instance, Parker is well-versed in science and directed us towards the best exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry. Nicki, as an agriculture major, brought the Plant and various agricultural aspects of the city to our attention. Each person provided a new outlook on our activities and helped me to notice things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

It’s also really amazing to think about what we’ve accomplished in just under two weeks. Sure, we’ve had long days and I must admit it’s all beginning to catch up with me, but it’s been worth it. To quickly recount what we’ve done:

Day 1: Hemingway
Prior to the trip I knew nothing about Hemingway beyond the depiction of him in Midnight in Paris (which it seems was fairly accurate). Now I can certainly say I know something of Hemingway’s life and works. Of his short stories we read, my favorite was “The Killers.”

Day 2: Frank Lloyd Wright
After having learned about Frank Lloyd Wright and seen several of his buildings, I see his influence everywhere! The impact he had on modern architecture and the city of Chicago is astounding. I’m particularly enamored by his use of geometric shapes, especially in the light fixtures. Stunning!

 

Day 3: Oriental Museum, Navy Pier
The Robie House was unexpectedly closed, but we discovered the nearby Oriental Museum, before making a trip to Navy Pier for the first time.

Day 4: The Museum of Science and Industry
We had planned to go to the Art Institute, but it too was closed, so the Museum of Science and Industry it was. There we saw baby chicks hatching and wondered where they were sent following their hatching, sat on cows in the farm section, and toured a captured German submarine. I was surprised at how big it was, seeing as it belonged to an age when submarines were first being built for use in war. It was further developed than I’d expected.

Day 5: Architecture Day
The weather was incredibly cold and windy this day and reminded me of one of the very few reasons I would not want to live in Chicago. However, the architecture we saw was incredible. We learned about the two types of foundations and frames used and how to recognize them, along with a lot of history about the architects and buildings.

Day 6: Museum of Contemporary Art, Tall Ship Windy, and Timon of Athens
                I briefly discussed the Museum of Contemporary Art in a previous post, but overall I loved the exhibits, particularly “Democracy.” The messages held within those pieces were powerful, touching on subjects of war, discrimination by race, gender, sexuality, etc, and the call for equality. The ride on the Tall Ship was enjoyable. Allison and I got to be members of the pirate crew and hoist up a sail. We had just a bit of difficulty… That night was Timon of Athens, a Shakespeare play I hadn’t heard of previously and that is seldom performed. I was impressed by this production – the director’s choice to set it in modern day, the technical elements, and the quality of the actors.

Day 7: Art Institute of Chicago and The Second City
I touched on both of these excursions in earlier blogs, but this was perhaps my favorite day of the trip. The array of styles and works at the Art Institute was impressive and inspiring. And, as I’ve already detailed, The Second City was phenomenal.

Day 8: Jane Addams Hull House, the Plant
The Jane Addams Hull House gave a lot of insight into an immigrant’s life in Chicago, with accounts of various tenants of the house. Jane Addams herself was a very interesting woman, ahead of her time, and considered “dangerous” for it – a sad testament to society then. The Plant was less finished than I had anticipated it being, but sounds very promising. I’ll be interested to see how it’s developed in five or so years.

Day 9: Frank Llloyd Wright’s Robie House, DuSable Museum, White Sox game
I wasn’t as impressed with the Robie House or DuSable Museum as other places we visited. As beautiful as the Robie House is, it isn’t yet fully restored and we could only tour a small portion of it. The DuSable Museum seemed lacking in its exhibits and didn’t give tribute to many of the accomplished African-Americans from Chicago. Allison, Amy, Nicki, Parker and I went to a White Sox game that night. It was the first full baseball game I’d ever attended, and certainly my first Major League game. The Sox won and the fireworks afterwards were gorgeous.

Day 10: Nature Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, North Avenue Beach
The Nature Museum was aimed at a younger audience, but I enjoyed seeing the specimens they had there, especially in the butterfly house. Lincoln Park Zoo had a number of animals to offer. My favorites were probably the lions and other big cats. North Avenue Beach is quite pretty, but unfortunately the wind did not allow us the enjoy it.

Day 11: Willis Tower, Bartleby the Scrivener, John Hancock Observatory
I would advise anyone visiting the city to go to the John Hancock Observatory at night. It really is a breathtaking view.

Day 12: Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum
We saw and learned about all sorts of aquatic life, most notably the jellyfish and beluga whales. At the Field Museum I spent most of my time exploring the section on evolution. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between current plants and animals and past ones.

It’s been a whirlwind introduction to Chicago over these past few days. I’ve learned so much about the rich history of the city and its many contributions to the world. Along the way, I’ve learned about myself and peers as well, and I believe these experiences have helped us to develop as individuals.

City Faces

Parker Ballentine

City Faces

As my travels in the city of Chicago draw to a close, I begin to think of the many things that I will think on fondly when I return to my home. The Museum of Science and Industry was most certainly my favorite place, and it was wonderful to dine on authentic Chicago pizza for the second time in my life. However, I believe that I will best remember the people. This, of course, includes my fellow group members. Even though I am a normally introverted person, over the last two weeks I would consider myself a friend to each of my group members as well as my professors. However, when I refer to the most memorable people, it is not only my group members that will be remembered.

As a self-described “country person,” I am not accustomed to being around large groups of people in an urban environment. Every time I stay in an urban setting, it takes a while for my mind to adjust to the city mentality. My normally laid-back, rural mindset must suddenly speed up. I can no longer meander when I walk from one place to another. I must walk with purpose as the city folk do. I must, in essence, become an urbanite in some small fashion.

This change in my personal habits leads me to think back upon the many people that I have seen as I passed from one location to the next. While on my trip, I have been surrounded by people. In fact, I cannot think of an instance when I have been truly by myself. Yet when I observed the people around me, they were seemingly alone. This occurred most often while using public transportation. Each individual on the bus or train would not usually speak any more than necessary or even acknowledge their fellow passengers. Even though they were physically surrounded by people, it was as if every person was an island unto himself or herself. Being an introvert myself, this observation did not bother me at first. When I turned it over in my mind, I realized how pitiable this really was.

Behind every face was a story that was not being told. Interestingly enough, the only people that were willing to tell their stories were the homeless that walked the streets in search of help from kindly strangers. As a result of various conversations with these people, I now feel as if am more familiar personally with the destitute people of Chicago than I am with anyone else in the city.

As a species, we do a great deal to admire ourselves. We laud great authors like Hemingway or great warriors like Genghis Khan. This is only to be expected. These men and women lived lives of the extraordinary. However, I believe that now and again we must also contemplate the ordinary and thankless struggle that everyone makes simply to survive. We must remember than everyone has a story to tell. As I end my journey, I will remember the faces of this city and wish that I had known the stories that lay behind them.