American Sabbatical 010: 9/9-10/96

Chicago Redux

Day one we found Hull House, where Peggy’s mother’s people worked as volunteers and where Leo went for milk and cookies. While Peggy did the history teacher stuff I drove around trying to find parking. This is a mystery beyond my comprehension. Cityfolk must use some kind of automated space finder. Every time I pulled into a no parking space a metercop hove up alongside wearing an evil grin. I began to notice that everyone had a cellphone on their hip, like this is the new equalizer on the wild frontier. Maybe they call ahead for parking. The whole security club, alarm, cellphone ritual looks very chic, I have to admit. All the personal squeaks, beeps and clunks are most impressive.

After circling the hoods for an hour I found Peggy waiting at the curb, all happyfaced, and we scootched back to the loop and Lincoln Park, intending to do the Art Institute. But we got painting in the park under a blazing sun, became weak and dizzy from craning our necks at the tall towers, and decided to slide north along the lake to find a place to cool our foots. North of the city is where all the swank money piles up alongshore, and it’s some spiffy, me sons. But between the manses there are lots of little parks And boocoo lakeside access for the likes of we. Our informants tell us that it was Mayor Daley who made all the access in Chicago, all the green spots. Another argument for pure pragmatic politics. Chicago is full of beautiful nooks, great spreads of flowers, and a democratic feel. And the lake is a tropical green with a deep chop running before a northerly breeze. Windsurfers in the combers, rollerbladers on the walkways, a continuous crust of athleticism runs along the lake shore.
We paused for refreshment, then wandered off into the northern burbs trying to find Joe’s Condo. Enroot we paused for a moment’s silence at the Bahai temple in Evanston. An architectural treasure, this 9-sided dome of white traceries lifts up out of the fatuous burbs into the city of God. Bahai deserves a better fate than the curse of the ayatollahs. It is precisely this sort of world Unitarianism that might rescue us from sectarian strife. Then, the UN doesn’t get much praise these days either.

Bahai Sketch (Bryce)

The temple reinforms us that we can make sacred spaces by act of man, through devotion. We haven’t sought out many high holy places east of the Mississip. We didn’t seek out the place where the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, and postponed the serpent mounds of Chillicothe, but it was good to find a hole in the sky in darkest Evanston.

Then we eased back into the stream. Rush hour traffic everywhere is the same, if you wondered: nobody is happy with lost tourists in the wrong lane. We ended up at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, as if magnetized. All old swabbies are drawn back to bootcamp at 50 by the chips installed in their heads when they were first committed. Ah the ambiance of military bases...

(Memo #10)


Who? Americans followers of Bahaism

What? great house of worship for Bahai religion

Where ? Evanston, Illinois

When? begun by Baha Ullah in 19th century Iran

How? teachings of the Bab, Bahau'llah, and his soon Abdul Baha bahai

Topics: religion, new religions, new religions in America (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Christian Scientists, Scientologists).

Questions: Who are the Bahai? What do they believe? Why have they been persecuted in Iran?

After going to see Hull House, we drove up Lake Shore Drive into the Chicago burbs. On and on until we came to the fantastic Bahai house of faith, the center of Bahaism in North America. It is a nine-sided tower, very similar in detailing to the Taj Mahal to which it has been compared. Elaborate "lace-like" carving and arches that go up and up to a final dome. Unlike the Taj which is a tomb, this is a house of prayer. All nine sides have elaborate formal walled gardens; every other one has a babbling fountain. The main entrance is up several long and wide flights of steps from the south. There are tall windows on all nine sides. In the main space there are lines of seats in each bay - it seems oriented east, but there were also banks of chairs running in other directions. In each of the nine sides about a third of the way up, there is a saying from the founder of the religion, the Iranian Bahau’llah who lived in the 1800s. Bahai is a fairly new religion as the world goes. The space was huge and filled with light from the surrounding windows with views of the gardens through them all and Lake Michigan off to the east a few hundred yards. Definitely a holy place.

Bahai Temple

Down the stairs and under the major space is an exhibit center. A series of beautiful quilts set out some of the major beliefs of Bahai. A short film emphasized that it is a world religion dedicated to equality of races and genders, peace and brotherhood and international understanding. Bahai accepts the major figures of Judaism and Christianity and Islam (Abraham and Mohammed and Jesus and others) and - of course- Bahau’llah as the latest in the line of prophets. There was a map showing major Bahai centers around the world. They claim it has a following in a huge number of countries (only Christianity has more). The religion now centers in Israel

There was a second exhibit showing the evidence of persecution. In the last two decades, Bahau’llah’s house is Iran was totally destroyed by the Ayatollah’s forces, several hundred Bahais were tortured and murdered, thousands lost homes and fled Iran. It showed resolutions on behalf of the Bahai from the US Congress, the UN, and other countries. The words of the US Constitution (Amendment 1) and quotes from Jefferson and Washington on behalf of freedom of religion were displayed as well. There were also facts about earlier persecutions, specifically in Iran. Why is Bahai such a threat?? This display was in such contrast to the serenity and beauty of the religious sanctuary overhead.

Temple Tracery
I found myself wanting to know more about Bahai. I know who and where it started. There was information on the people who introduced it to the USA. It would be fascinating to know more. Especially why it seems to threaten Iran’s clerics so.

9/10 (continued).. Chicago.

We backed up slowly and spun rubber to Joe’s. For those who don’t remember, Joe D was in my class at Andover, easily the most jovial member, who ended up in the catalog sales biz, doing consulting for the likes of LL of Freeport, from the vantage of Lake Bluffs. Joe marks the third stop in a row where guys in biz are dealing with team management and the rigors of reorganization.

Joe says that the corporate economy is changing rapidly toward consensus team management as the old hierarchies dissolve. The heroic era of bossism is over, it seems. This is a song we’re hearing everywhere: Clinton and Angus King politics, team teaching, and now in biz. Tom raves about the joys of his team in Michigan, Joe says that what he likes best in life is the people he works with, and Josh is helping a company in Calgary get their teams together. Where is all the gloom of the Satanic Mills? Hang on for a paradigm shift.

Bryce's Chicago

On the personal side, Joe is going through a bitter divorce where his second wife is taking him to the cleaners, and he had a few words to say about feminist justice. He is camped in a condo with Military brass and med school internists, along with the two cats (he got custody). One is a male Maine Coon who hunts a wide territory and brings home birds and burrs for Joe’s approval, while the other is a house roaming female who is a deadeye bug snatcher. Who will get custody of the kitty litter when the split is adjudicated is anyone’s guess. Joe says that living alone means that whatever you put down stays there until you move it, and that it’s strange to live in a static world.

We went out for Thai food into mall-land, where more of everything is available to buy than you could ever imagine. We beat back the consumer titillations reaching into our pockets.

Next morning we had to be in Hyde Park at 6:15 to connect with our wayward mail, so we got to commute into Chi from both north and south with the morning rush. Watched the new moon rise out of the lake over Winnetka. Got lost going through downtown, of course, and cruised the predawn across questionable neighborhoods, amazed at the wide aves and sense of spaciousness even in the ghetto.

Robie House
Which jaunt reminds me that we walked around the Robie House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, yesterday, and applauded his sense of the horizontal in this flatland. Later on we saw numerous Prairie Style homes in the Northern suburbs, clearly offspring of the great Lloyd. Watching famous architecture creep out into the vernacular give me the grins. But back to the morning scuffle.

We got our mail at Klara's house, and streamed back to the loop with the northbound mob in time to see the sun rise ruddy out of Lake Michigan, and find street parking by the Museum. The day before a meterperson had left a note that our registration was expired, so I was particularly leery of minor violations. Chi seems very heavily policed, for what that’s worth. But we had 3 1/2 hours til the museum opened, so a foot-tour was in order. We asked a local where good chow was to be had, and had a cheap breakfast looking out at a Calder Sculpture. A flock of pigeons were feeding around the arching orange thing, then wheeling up in a double spiraled touse, periodically, to some music only they could hear. It reminded me of the description of the vast flock of pigeons the settlers encountered. They reportedly fed in a continuous rolling wave. The birds in the back flew over those in front to settle, and no bird jumped until those behind had passed over, regardless of the available feed. Are the flocking patterns of urban pidge a remnant of a group feeding pattern, or some variation thereof?

The flocking patterns of Chicagoans, on the other wing, seems less flurried than that of the eastern genera. While not exactly strolling, the morning pace of commutus Chicagous seems much less harried than that in New York. Faces less anguished, smiles more frequent, common courtesies in evidence. My prejudices about the fundamental nastiness of the urban animal are at grave risk.

As penance we went out and drew the Calder and browsed Michigan Avenue. Wandered into the Architectural Society Bldg. (or some such) where there was a lobby display of design ideas. Some gooduns. A bannister of recycled turnings (chair backs, table legs, etc.) a la Louise of Rockland. Just the ticket for our stairwell. And a farm site house, but with barn dimensions and a silo tower. We thought of the Torberts’ new house to be, to replace their old farm that burned flat this year. If they use a barn motif to solve the site/utility conundra, maybe they can build a barn that looks like a house. I can see goats on the porch now.

Calder (Bryce)

In an art supply store I finally managed to solve the two-handed watercolor problem, and think I’ve nearly perfected the mobile kit. By the end of this journey we may have figured out how to juggle two lifestyles inside a Festiva.


Chicago Park (Peggy)
Eventually the art museum opened, and what a disappointment. First, their American collection was closed, then we began to scratch our heads about how the rest of the collection was hung. Apparently it’s done by donor. Imagine ten rooms done by different Isabel Stewart Gardiners. Familiar icons lumped with utterly forgettable out-takes, or, best of all, the donor’s own paintings. The only cohesion in any room (although they did tend to period) was the taste of the collector. This may be the best argument against personal collections as museum donations. After the masterful exhibitions in Cleveland, and their happy sense of space and conviviality, it was surprising to encounter a snooty manner and such jarring conjunctions. Not that there weren’t some fabulous paintings, but you can’t see the famous ones through their familiarity, and the rest seemed a hodgepodge.
For me the real treasure at the Institute was the octet of Remingtons in the basement hallway to the cafeteria. Totally unremarked in the guide, an O-by-the-way next to the bathrooms, these paintings are a knock-out. Of course they are JUST illustrations, and the fact that they absolutely capture the essence of cultural confrontation in the west is just a hohum to the critics. The palpable tension of mountain men trading with the natives for peltry, the ritual eloquence of an Indian parley, a cavalry ambush: all done in dramatic monochromes of umber. POW. Here are the pictures it took Devoto a thousand pages to paint.

So we go into the “Court Cafeteria”, and after we’ve paid we discover that you can only get into the courtyard if you go to the “Garden Restaurant” (more expensive, with waiters, of course). When I point out the lack of precision in naming, and the discourtesy to strangers, I’m met with a rude rebuff from the staff, who don’t look happy anywhere in the building. How different museums can be. LOOK AT ME, I’m important seemed to be the message here. We retreated to Lake Bluffs for pasta. EAT.EAT. Joe’s warm and jolly company sent us to bed with our humor restored.

Peggy's Chicago

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