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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Friday
Oct122012

« In Which We Move Further Towards It »

Extravagance

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Chicago’s beaches are not real and so, given the choice, I instead spent the afternoon walking a little further. Today is the last day of summer, unofficially. The heat won’t yet end, but responsibilities will begin to pile up. The ability to do nothing and have that be okay is diminishing. Heat welcomes you outside, forces you to see others, to face the world. I feel most insecure in the winter because the extended time indoors welcomes checking: the mirror, the internet … I know the world moves on. 

I walked in my neighborhood and then in the Gold Coast. Later, I stuck to the West Loop, a neighborhood beautiful and empty. It is during long walks in which I remember anecdotes and recommendations and reviews. I had a copy of Monocle Mediterraneo, collected essays by Marguerite Duras, and this tiny orange notebook in my tote bag. I wanted to go to the French Market and try every flavor of aioli and ketchup at the Belgian frites stand. That was one thing I remembered. The store was closed. 

Being alone sometimes facilitates a self-centeredness that borders on inconsiderateness. I forgot about the holiday as a moment of rest for many, not just myself. What I wanted was for things to fall into place just because I wanted, I desired. That was enough. I kept walking. 

The West Loop is full of shadows and shade. It is easy to feel alone, feel miniscule by the buildings. But it is even more possible to be alone, literally. The West Loop is a neighborhood built before life was here. It is a neighborhood of expectation. They expected money and bodies. But quietness begets quietness. If I were to live here, would I abandon the streets just as my neighbors would? Living is for inside. Living is for condos and lofts. It is for hardwood floors and exposed brick, rehabilitation and refurbishing. They don’t live on the sidewalks. 

I sat on a curb and thought to tweet, “I am lost in the West Loop.” Instead, I wrote about how there is no grass in the West Loop, only Astroturf. Nothing grows from the ground. It is artificial. It is perfected. It is green

Two years ago, my friend Barrett and I ate delicious Vietnamese cuisine in the dim room that is Saigon Sisters. The restaurant is right off of the Clinton stop on Lake Street. It was a long and late dinner. I took a cab ride home and the car raced down the expressway, only giving glimpses of the city from a distance. I liked to take a look back during those cab rides to the suburbs. Employment was bleak. The city was a moment, a place to move around and through. It was not permanent. It was not mine.

Today I walked by Province and Sepia and Prosecco. I saw the Sears Tower from a distance. I saw Au Cheval and Carnivale and newly-planted greenery. On the side of Grange Hall Burger Bar is a field of weeds, a crumbling brick facade, a Banksy. I looked back because this was all I could do. Everything was closed and would re-open that evening for a few hours before closing again. The streets would feel alive, but the bodies would be from Wicker Park, from Bronzeville, from Lakeview. It would not be the West Loop. It would be of transitory moments. It would be of right then and nothing more.

+

I am remembering that my main desire to live in a city was to live downtown. I wanted to live amongst the biggest buildings in the world. Their strength and power and beauty were my idea of urbanity. But it is unrealistic to want that and to have that. What most defines this city is something that I can’t be a part of. Commuting to work downtown is not the same thing. I am in a rush to begin the day. In the late afternoon, a rush to escape the office. The time spent between train and skyscraper is one of panic and worry. I am inside the building before I even realize I am there. 

I had an early appointment downtown and once that was done, I decided to spend the next few minutes walking near the lake, near the river, between the buildings that cast shadows. There is something to be said for feeling so small, for feeling so compact underneath greatness. I am never more aware of myself than when I am downtown. The minutes quickly turned into three hours and I began to remember why I love it here so much, even though that love has changed and dissipated and is challenged.

Downtown and River North and the Gold Coast and the South Loop are accessible through public transportation, but that doesn’t change the fact that accessibility is more than just “the getting there.” These parts of the city are the parts that we talk about when we talk about its energy. These parts are the parts that we show visitors and tourists and strangers when we talk about what Chicago can accomplish. But if I were a teen living on the West Side or the South Side, would I feel these parts are as much mine as they are for the people in charge? Would I feel they are as much mine as they are for the people who brush in and out of the city in a matter of days? 

As a teenager, I used to take the Green Line train in from Oak Park to attend a special college-bound program for “gifted” minority students. I didn’t recognize it then as I do now. I didn’t think about the discrepancies in living in the city. It takes many years and many active thoughts in consideration of all parts of the city to get to that place. Back then, downtown felt as much mine as it did for the people living in the city. That greatness was accessible. That greatness was attainable. That greatness was my expected reality.

The Green Line is elevated above ground providing perfect views of the skyline and perfect views of the crumbling infrastructure of a part of the city ignored since the late 60s. As a young girl, I would take the train downtown with my family and my mother would say, “It looked just the same when we finally moved out of here.” She was talking not of our move out of the city but her move out of this part of the city as a young teen. It looked just the same. 

I walked to the Merchandise Mart and stood outside of Gilt Bar and Bavette’s. Around the corner from both restaurants is Doughnut Vault. The last time I was here, a line ran down and around the block. Once we made it inside of the minuscule shop, I was astounded to hear the people in front of me order boxes and boxes of doughnuts. 

“I’ll have one of everything.”

“I’ll have three of everything.”

“Give me everything you have right now … and a coffee to go.”

The excess made me uncomfortable. I planned on purchasing one doughnut for myself and one for my sister who lived half a mile away. But when I got to the counter, I said, “Two vanilla glazed … and two chocolate glazed … no make that three of both.” I didn’t need that much, but felt compelled to make the extravagant purchases at $3 per doughnut because this luxe and indulgent part of the city did not feel like my own. I wanted it, even if I could not yet admit it. 

Yesterday there was no line and so I walked inside and ordered just one treat.

“Just one?” the girl behind the counter asked as Outkast played in the background.

This was an indulgent departure, a moment that most in the city could not take. But also, it was just something for me, not for anyone else. It did not ground me to the city, to what it means to be a part of the city. I am still figuring that out, but I do know the buildings downtown (so fierce, so massive) mean something critical to me. I have claimed them as my own even if others can not. I recognize the privilege in wanting to be a part of this greatness, of knowing that it can possibly be mine. Everyone can’t want for that. But also, most Chicagoans don’t want it at all. That is not their city. That is not what they want to come home to.

“Yep. Just one!” I said. That was all I needed.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. You can find her tumblr here and he twitter here. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about tumblr.

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