Wednesday 8 August 2007

Postcard from the Windy City

It’s humbling to be a little foreigner in a Big country, a Size 11 lost on a Size 21 film set of big portions, big cars, big churches. Some English are deeply prejudiced against Americans — fascinated but envious, perhaps. For all the USA’s excess and craziness, even barbarous Capital punishment, it is generously cut, warm, fun — a place of simplicity, optimism, self-respect.

Chicago! Here Charlie Chaplin made his Essanay films, and Louis Armstrong recorded his hot fives and sevens. Here Wrigley invented chewing gum. On this improbable swamp Adler and Sullivan invented the skyscraper, for Mies van der Rohe to work on last century. Here stands the tallest building in America.

Better to be a foreigner than an enemy. It was the British who burnt down Fort Dearborn in 1812. Anyway, that’s history, and now we’re deep into an all too special relationship. On Tuesday I saw a button on the streets — “Clinton Lied: Nobody Died.” Americans have a slick way with words. And guns. This was Al Capone’s backyard. And WMD. In 1942, at Rockefeller’s University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi first split the atom. The purpose of this exercise, friends, was Mass Destruction, not Bunny Love baby carrots.

America is all about Unity from diversity, say the dollar bills — e pluribus unum. Here little people grow big, too — your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore… Actually, Liberty Island closed down after 9/11, but that’s another town, another story. The Blacks pouring into Union Station in the 20’s and 30’s found they could assimilate here like they couldn’t back home down South.

Scripture says healthy people welcome the Alien within their gates. God has made of one blood all his children. In Millennium Park there’s a huge squishy mirror doughnut, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture. Chicagoans call it “the Bean”. Under it, faces becomes the face of a work of Art — black, pink, young, yellow, twisted, fresh, wrung out, old, all meld into a work of art. And standing there on a fine day, looking into those faces I realise that, however distorted, we are all what St Paul called God’s work of Art. All the small minded, mean spirited paranoia of the Old Country, even the Daily Mail, seems at least 4,000 miles away. Amen!

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