‘visiting Chicago last week, I ended up with a free weekend and a rental car: a chance to go and do whatever I wanted. I spun through the suburbs, looked at my old residences, did a little necessity shopping, and dropped through a local Greek festival. It was empty and cheerless, overpriced food and windswept tables, piped in music and trucked in pastries.
The next day, I turned south to enjoy the crowds at Navy Pier and the lakefront Jazz Festival. The music and the people were wonderful, and, afterwards, there was time for a dip into one of the ethnic neighborhoods to prowl for a little, authentic restaurant and drinks in a dark and moody bar.
Reflecting back, these are things that I seldom did as a student, living on the north side of the city with roommates from New York, all more city-savvy than suburban-me. Reflecting on the day, I think I probably missed out on a lot of what the city had to offer, preferring to stick to closer, safer wanderings.
I think that living in older, smaller European cities has given my confidence a boost: I certainly see beyond the superficial grime and traffic to the possibilities of city life and the joy of finding little gems tucked away in side streets. I’ll make time to attend events and to hop a train across town to try a restaurant. I don’t look over my shoulder at night, and I don’t fear high-brow museum exhibitions by day.
And there’s always the thrill of unexpected discovery: giant blow-up Dutch beer exhibitions, for example.
I do enjoy the country-mouse side of my life as well, but I find that the suburban simulations of ethnic events and culinary venues to be superficial and sterile compared to their urban cousins. It’s not just that Italian restaurants are only vaguely reminiscent of Italy, it’s that Poppa Pizza is a pale shadow of 40-year old Al’s Italian Kitchen.
It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t more adventurous when I had the chance, years ago. Now, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.