American Sabbatical 010: 9/9-10/96
Day one we found Hull House, where Peggys mothers 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
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 its 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 Joes Condo. Enroot we paused for a moments
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 doesnt 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 havent sought out many high holy
places east of the Mississip. We didnt 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...
Sept. 9 - COMMUNITY - BAHAI
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, Jehovahs 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 Bahaullah 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.
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- Bahaullah 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
There was a second exhibit showing the evidence of persecution. In the last two decades, Bahaullahs house is Iran was totally destroyed by the Ayatollahs 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.
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 Irans clerics so.
9/10 (continued).. Chicago.
We backed up slowly and spun rubber to Joes. For those who dont 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 were
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.
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 Joes 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 anyones guess. Joe says that living alone means that whatever you put down stays there until you move it, and that its 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.
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 thats 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.
In an art supply store I finally managed to solve the two-handed watercolor problem, and think Ive 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
its 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 donors 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 werent some fabulous paintings,
but you cant see the famous ones through their familiarity, and
the rest seemed a hodgepodge.
So we go into the Court Cafeteria, and after weve 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, Im met with a rude rebuff from the staff, who dont
look happy anywhere in the building. How different museums can
be. LOOK AT ME, Im important seemed to be the message here. We
retreated to Lake Bluffs for pasta. EAT.EAT. Joes warm and jolly
company sent us to bed with our humor restored.