Friday, October 30, 2015

Coffee with Patti

"It's not so easy writing about nothing." So begins Patti Smith's haunting, melancholy memoir, M Train. It's easy to feel as though you are swimming through her words, with simultaneous warm and cold currents, alternating between joy and sadness. This book put me into a dreamy, trance-like state that I've only ever gotten from reading W. G. Sebald. In any case, it certainly did not feel like nothing to me.

I kept wishing I had run into Patti at one of the cafes she frequented. [When I lived in New York, this was certainly within the realm of the possible; I often saw famous people.] I wished I could have sat down with her at the now-closed Cafe 'Ina or at Caffe Dante. However, I would not have been able to match her cup for cup of the Joe she seemingly drinks by the gallons (!), and I'm pretty sure that if I had seen her, I would have left her to her solitude. But man, what a conversation I had with her in my head. For one thing, I would have loved to discuss the importance of photographing totemic objects, e.g. Virginia Woolf's cane, Roberto Bolano's chair, and her own table and chair at Cafe 'Ina.

Perhaps I'll do a Patti Smith road trip, following in her pilgrimage footsteps to the sites of her beloved writers and other artists. Starting in NYC, then moving to Veracruz (a city William Burroughs told her produced the best coffee in the world) and perhaps Mexico City, then Berlin to Cafe Pasternak, and on to Zak's place on Rockaway Beach (before Hurricane Sandy swallowed it up in 2012). Then to London (where I wouldn't necessarily binge on detective dramas as she did, though I understand the impulse), Tokyo, Detroit, Los Angeles, Tangier, Buenos Aires. What a trip that would be, coffee or not! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Appreciating Chicago Architecture

After a meeting in the historic Rookery yesterday, I visited the Chicago Cultural Center (a magnificent space, site of the original Chicago Public Library and home to the world's largest Tiffany dome), one of the participating venues participating in the Chicago Architecture Biennial (October 3, 2015 - January 3, 2016).  Here were some of the highlights for me: "Architecture is Everywhere," by Son Fujimoto Architects (Tokyo); "Indo Pacific Atlas," by University of Technology Sydney academics and students; All(Zone)/Bangkok's "Light House: The Art of Living Lightly" (in which a light-as-air dwelling installed in an abandoned parking garage is shown being lived in - not as terrifying as it sounds); Amanda Williams' brightly-painted, melancholic South Side structures in her work, "Color(ed" Theory";  Polis Station, Chicago architect Jeanne Gang's vision for a more community-immersed police station; and from Milan, Italy, "The Flying Gardeners" Bosco Verticale.

I walked north on Michigan Avenue, passing many familiar Art Deco structures (the Carbide and Carbon Building and the recently-renovated 333 North Michigan Building), then crossed the Chicago River, passing the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower (recently put up for sale!). The latter's facade contains embedded stones from structures around the world and I never fail to find a new one I missed on previous viewings.

On my walk, I struck up a conversation with a D.C.-based consultant in town for a conference. He told me that Chicago seemed different now than in 2005, when he last visited - specifically that he noticed more homeless people and that the character of the city had changed. The consultant continued that D.C. (a city I lived in off and on for seven years) had also changed. We talked about what it was that defined a city - was it the people, the buildings, or some combination?

My penultimate destination was the Museum of Contemporary Art, a decidedly modern building compared to those I mentioned above, but another venue participating in the Architecture Biennial. More compelling for me than the related exhibitions, however, was the music that lured me to the 3rd floor. From September 2015 to June 16, the MCA is hosting the contemporary classical ensemble, eighth blackbird. I listened to a rehearsal and observed how they interacted and responded to each other.

Finally, I headed to one of my favorite places - The Fine Arts Building - to inquire about possible residential space. Since 1898, the building has rented studios and work spaces to musicians, dancers, and visual artists. At the management office, I was told that at that very moment, they were in discussions about the feasibility of converting some of the commercial spaces into living quarters. I hope they do. It is one thing to walk by all these buildings for most of your life; living in one would be another thing altogether.