Sure, Chicago deserves a tome, an epic, but I got only three days & nights in, based on poet’s economy, & no help at all from call-outs made to acquaintances there, including one teaches creative writing or journalism or academicism at the University, who couldn’t bother responding, even though he’d published my work in his journal a few years back, & sent along a check for forty dollars he could afford, or the woman, kind enough to at least write back, but no, she couldn’t show me around the Art Institute of Chicago, where she teaches ceramics, because of a show of her own to prepare for, & way too busy for marginality. No problem.
Damn, on the first night & second day the Fidelity building stared me down, down to it’s glass-windowed first floor, where Dow Jones Averages streamed for all & no one to see on either side of cement plazas. Oppressive architecture. Mean, money-driven architecture looking down, down on all, what tourists, & impoverished at the same Time? Felt like going across the Chicago River & kicking Fidelity in the shins. Instead, I turned the other cheek (not before telling her I thought Christ would whip these bastards out of the temple Chicago, no, no architecture should have been allowed in after the ’68 Democratic Convention, when Eugene McCarthy for President draped my old Ford Galaxie Bud London gave me outright, then placed RFK’s over that, & what does one put on Bobby’s after that? No, this monied architecture, damn this monied architecture was killing me in the first hours of my visit there, contemplating what exactly it must do to poorest residents kept at bay from the top down?).
I went the other way. Found the cornerstone for the Chicago Public Library, with date, 1896, if I’m not mistaken, but wasn’t really, anymore: now Chicago Cultural Center, which you know means more tourist center, & found my directions to the Palmer House Hotel Lobby Bar Saiyid recommended, & began to get lifted up by straddling the active subway El down Wabash Ave., & had a good exchange with the bartender there, but when she asked what I’d decided on, I’d decided to move on to the Art Institute on my own, 10:30 after all, preferring not to have alcohol on my breath, when attempting to convince the powers that cannot be at the desk I should be allowed in with poet’s discount as I am at the Met & Neue Gallery in NYC. Standing in line before the museum opened, met Brent Glass, former director of the History Museum in DC. I think he may have been more intrigued by my plot/ploy to scoot through, than the fact Rauschenberg agreed to design the cover of my book, Of DC, but then again, I’m not in the business of impressing people, am I? (Unless, maybe to make a living wage against the monied architecture!! Remember reading three floors down in the Library of the National Gallery of Art, Dennis Hollier’s analysis of Bataille’s oeuvre in, Against Architecture, learning there & then the associations of buildings & power!!) No, no, they’d have none of that here in Chicago, although I did get the senior discount Brent said he’d have to wait another four months for.
Yes, this is no epic, & no, this is no tome, & while lifted up higher than high by walking under the El at the same Time the train passes by overhead making me cover my ears & imagine the opening scenes of Last Tango, where Brando covers his own ears & swears on his way to the apartment in the Passy section of Paris. (France, I’m headed to that century housed by Art Institute holdings practically matching those of Musée d'Orsay’s Degas, van Goghs, Gauguins, & especially Seurat’s La Grand Jatte, which I’ll seek out soon after entering & paying (reluctantly) the fee.
Straight to the sole reason for this trip in the first place La Grande Jatte won't disappoint in the least. Despite the fact that even though I’m only one of three people in front of this very large masterpiece, & have stood in five different places in front of it already, (this one position for less than a minute,) a woman sidles up next to me saying, “Could you scoot over a bit?” “Pardon me?” “Could you scoot over a bit?” “WHY?” I ask without taking eyes off the painting & only slightly distracted from thoughts on & impressions of the piece she has no answer for, adding as I did in no uncertain terms, through already watery eyes of joy in the thing transporting me out of Chicago & 97 degree heat down the then perspective of a cool French river, “I, too, have waited all my life to stand in front of this painting.” Oh, how rude a poet can be. Can’t he be? She disappears. Soon I see a dragonfly, or butterfly at eye level just above where sun lands on the grass & shade from trees almost meet. I tell a guard that I have found a dragonfly or a butterfly, “Where, in the painting?” she asks, “Yes,” wondering if she’d already determined which it is. I show her. She smiles the smile of vast divisions of recognition. Can she do some investigation for me via one of the curators? Oh, she says, they come through here All The Time, but glancing at her watch, not before 11:00, which speaks reams, doesn't it [?], what with my thinking curators at the NGA almost never walked through their galleries during daytime hours, & here she, black, better be here on time early & dressed in that black uniform like the rest of HER colleagues, or else, but curators, oh ya, they can saunter in at 11:00, banker’s hours.
So see van Gogh’s The Drinkers painted in the last year of his life, so finely primitive*, almost African!! So see his Bedroom I’ve seen another version of from Amsterdam before. So see Toulouse-Lautrec’s, At the Moulin Rouge, where the best part, the grand green & white mask of the stage singer, Mary Milton, which image was actually cut out by Lautrec's dealer in order to better try to sell the painting. I could see where the long excision was repaired, the bizarre mask absolute best part of the piece!! OK, so I saunter on back to La Grande Jatte, where I see a mother & her two kids in awe. I let them look, long & hard & chatty, then say, “I found a dragonfly, or butterfly in there earlier.” She looks, astonished. “Where?” I point. Ask what does she think it is, adding at first I saw a dragonfly, then butterfly, & she says, “A hybrid, perhaps,” which may not be far off until her young son says, “It’s a butterfly!” I smile, & look down, nodding, saying, “I think kids can be experts, I’ll take your word for it,” & walk off.
Some time after I check out Renoir's German acrobats cradling oranges with four dropped on the stage floor; an incredible poster for Jockey Club Sardines (what with our heading to the French restaurant tonight, La Sardine, I’d only wished she could have been with me to witness genuine coincidence); Goya’s adding levity from Los Proverbios, Heavier than a Dead Donkey, or his etching done while court painter, Neither More, nor Less, depicting a MONKEY painting a DONKEY!!
At some point, I see the guard again & tell her about not needing anything other than a ten-year-old’s expertise, & how he judged it: butterfly. “Oh, I didn’t know you were still on the floor, I saw the curator, & & & that’s what he said.” Needless to say, coincidences being what they are, & kids hanging on to early unforgettable experiences, like all of mine, I saw her & her two kids, related what the guard told me after telling her about the ten-year-old, who corrected me as nine, that the curator only confirmed what he’d already known. ‘Yes!!’ he gave a clenched fist punch forward & up in the air, I hope stays with him all his days.
Brief Addendum: After dining at the Tapas restaurant her cabbie suggested on the first night, we returned on the last night, sat at the bar, asked the bartender if he’d worked Saturday, it being Tuesday = “No.” We ordered from the small-plate menu, then at about the ¾ point in the meal on La Salle, a block over from the Blues club we headed toward on Clark, Chicago Blue, I told Gregorio how on Saturday, at the end of the meal we ordered two $5 Solera Oloroso Sherries, & that, having worked as staff writers for the Quarterly Review of Wines for seven years, we knew the glasses held Muscat wine, not sherry. He looked, astonished. Said the waiter (we’d mentioned his name) knew better than to do that, knowing as they all did, they had no Solera Oloroso sherry. Before we left, however, Gregorio opened a bottle of aged Fino, the owner’s favorite, & poured glass after glass, (for free, for us) priming us for the show Linsey Alexander would kick ass at all night long over at Chicago Blue on Clark Street.
*Primitive, as Olson saw the word importantly as “prime,” “first.”