This month I have been in San Francisco and New Orleans. I am in Chicago now, confident, industrial and a really big city, and I will be in Houston next weekend. I am having a spectacular U.S. tour and I had not planned on this. Cincinnatti is next, but that is in June.
When I was in San Francisco I wanted to move there, but when I got to New Orleans I changed my mind. I now want to move to Chicago although everyone tells me I only think this because the weather is nice. The pleasant atmosphere has to do with everyone’s late spring delight. People here are very beautiful in the sun. I live in Wicker Park, land of stone townhouses, and Division Street, land of cafés and bars. My paper is being written in the lounge of the Alliance Bakery.
I have met the charming Dame Eleanor Hull, walked out to the planetarium to see the skyline from the lake, and eaten things Russian. I have stood in a long line to get a conference program. I have seen nine intelligent presentations, asked two questions, talked to seven people I already knew, and chosen neighborhood strolling over hobnobbing. I have practiced one of the papers I have to read and worked on the other. I believe I shall start the second one with a perceptive quotation from one of my students.
I have a Ventra card and ride the L. My L line was started in 1895 and the stations are old. I always find the state of Illinois relaxing and also exotic. Here, one is definitely in the United States, one can feel it, and in an old city, clearly full of traditions and mysteries. It is the solidity of everything I find so relaxing, perhaps. As well, at this intelligent conference it is possible to think at one’s own speed as opposed to seek ways to slow down; this is also relaxing.
I have been to Chicago many times but the only times I got a sense of it have been the first time and this time. The first time, long ago, was to visit a friend. That was in summer. I have come other myriad times in spring, fall, and mostly winter, but apart from a few vague excursions I have been ensconced in conference hotels, which is to say I visited an organization but not a city.
On my first flying trip through the United States I transferred at O’Hare in the middle of the day, going to job interviews in the East. This was before long distance calls and interstate travel were routine. My friend, whom I had visited here by driving on the Dan Ryan Expressway, was at work in the middle of a weekday, but it was a singular event to be at O’Hare so I had to call the family. I talked to her mother.
She said everything was marvelous, they were all really proud that I was finishing a Ph.D., which must be a hard thing to do, and was flying to interviews in the East. These were the most genuine congratulations I had ever had on anything, and Mrs. N. is long dead. I have never forgotten those words of hers, that make Chicago feel so like home.