Taking a little mid-semester breather this week, so that my temples can relax. I found the prettiest Polish song: W zielonym zoo (5:20)
And I have taken up W.H. Auden, and “Autumn in The Age of Anxiety” again. How fitting the title. His poetry never disappoints:
Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.
Skipping class Monday was a good idea. As is running under the street lights.
This summer I started running regularly for the first time since high school. I began on Glenwood Ave., where I could very easily track my miles, and by the end of the first week I could make a continuous 3 solid. I haven’t been going very fast of course, that never was my thing in Cross Country. . . but I can keep going.
Today I decided to up the ante and run around the lake, which is real runner’s territory in Chicago. I managed a full 4-mile stretch, plus some lunges on Montrose Beach. It felt great running beneath the beautiful pre-fall foliage along the edge of the water. I can’t say it enough—Lake Michigan is stunning, every season, every moment.
On the last, slowly jogged mile home along Argyle St., I thought how strangely poetic it felt to be running along the street rather than walking, and how. . . empowering it felt.
I love my neighborhood, with its steaming spicy Pho and moon cakes and gay men. Please do not doubt it in my following words.
Argyle St. is difficult along Little Vietnam. Difficult in the way that I feel wrong saying it’s seedy because there are so many out-of-luck folks asking for money—difficult in the drug dealers along Kenmore—difficult in the multiple people experiencing homelessness sleeping on the Lake Shore overpasses.
It is heartbreaking, every day, to be among their (our) poverty. I know the people asking for help really need it. I study the reasons behind their reality in my graduate classes, and yet, I rarely stop. And I feel bad about it, every day. Chicago is not an easy city to live in, unless you cocoon yourself into the most posh areas, and never look out the window.
I do not exaggerate when I say multiple times every day, I am gnawingly talked to on the street, asked for money, for time, for a date, for a signature. I always acknowledge everyone, I recognize their humanity. But I am also constantly in turmoil over how I feel and what I should do, and usually, I turn away. I go on with my day. I know I should carry apples or granola bars, or singles to hand out.
But I don’t.
There are so many—they are the relentless tragic reality of our city.
But today, I had this rare triumphant feeling while running down Argyle St. I was full of a runner’s and an autumnal high and I waved at a lady sitting out in her wheel chair close to Magnolia at the old folk’s home. She had on these big black-rimmed reading glasses and looked at me with an intelligent nod of her head.
I stood at the stoplight at Sheridan, stretching my legs waiting for the light to turn and ignored what always happens on Argyle St.—so many stares. I ran passed the poor man without his legs at the usual spot and confidently flew past the drug dealers and glanced into the El stop to see if my Latino guy was working, before rounding the corner past Tank Noodle—the only white people restaurant on the block—back onto Argyle St. and it’s orange-robed Cambodian monks strolling the quiet side of the street where I live.
I wondered today why it was different. Why it felt so good to run, rather than walk down Argyle St.
It’s because it gave me a damn relief.
I could see without seeing and be seen without caring. Without going through the ever-present sadness, guilt and frustration about why the world allows people to live on the street—in my beloved neighborhood. And why I’m a part of that problem—why we all are. And why I never feel like I have enough time or space to address it.
Instead, I could run with Beirut blasting on my headphones and laugh in the face of anxiety, laugh in the face of the gentleman loitering on the corner leering at me and at everyone. I could laugh and run and feel the pain in my legs and the endorphins in my brain. I could laugh at the cruelty and feel the cool air—the perfect Midwest fall air.
While walking along the harbor on Lake Michigan today I though of my other favorite lunch walk.
Though various parks and downtown Lincoln were all restful, and the Vatican was out-of-control exciting, the most poignant lunch-walk I’ve made a habit was along Jacaranda Road, in Nairobi, Kenya.
Busy Gitanga Road, where my refugee office sat, with its two-lane traffic that cut each other off along the dirt sidewalks we trudged along, was forgotten in this fenced-off neighborhood full of Safari-vehicles and upper-crust schools, homes and the most stunning trees and plants I’ve ever seen.
Of course there were violet Jacaranda trees, and so many others too–pink, red, yellow foliage. I didn’t know trees came in those colors. I explored them every day during the noon hour, in-between writing about refugees and editing photos.
I wasn’t in Nairobi long enough to feel like I ever had it figured out. It would be so odd now to go back, as now at nearly 4 years ago, it feels like an unreal dream of another world.
In this busy city, the thought of sitting in a courtyard at night with a cat and a Tusker beer, listening to a 65-year-old German Jesuit snore in his room, is pretty absurd.
Every now and then though, I’ll get caught up in heavy traffic or in the underground of Michigan Ave. and the smell of diesel takes me back.
Diesel and fires burning next to the street. They are the smells of Nairobi. I hated it, then.
Now every time I smell it I catch myself breathing in more deeply. A little pollution–smells like nostalgia.
The Aunts and Mom visited last weekend, and we drank a ton of wine. Mom, bionic hip and all, climbed up on my roof with me, and Kate helped me pick out green thrift-store wine glasses. We reminisced past Chicago trips and family stories and gossip and let John run us around town. We toasted family passed and newly born. Wilma was there. Mom was a hot commodity with the 60+ crowd at the Green Mill.
I also discovered Mom and Dad kissed the first night they met. Ah, scandalous 1970’s Nebraska. These are my women.
I’m still recovering.
Did I mention I met her a few weeks ago? Here’s a quote from her book I’m using as a part of the 15-page paper I’m writing this week for my (way too huggy) class/conference of 3-credit glory.
Simone’s a poet, lawyer, sister activist. The baddest Catholic badass.
“At the same time, I know that I am so often just like everyone else in my resistance to the Spirit, in my fear of being pushed forward. That’s because the Spirit is about change, movement, wind. The Spirit creates change and makes change the only constant. And that is, at times, scary. Throughout my life, as I looked forward into the darkness of the future, I have never known where I was going or where I was being led. Often I have been nervous and insecure about the next step in my life. It has always felt like stepping into the void. But in retrospect, my life seems like a straight line leading from moment to moment. This isn’t how it felt in living it but I how it seems in memory.” (Preface, xvii, A Nun on the Bus)
Mostly, it’s the people.
I finally made it to the Pacific Northwest two weekends ago and damn. I feel like a different person here in Chicago.
Or, I feel Chicago may be a little different. It has been a year after all, of living in Little Vietnam and Andersonville and Uptown. I needed to get out of the Midwest for a little while.
Brooke, Brendon, Christi Anne, Kathy and Bill. All great travel companions in Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Bolivia. I saw them all in Seattle and Portland this month, in that bright emerald vastness.
Ah, the green. The fresh air. Their laid-back defiance. Made me realize how high-strung I’ve been lately. How tight and frustrated I’ve been. I don’t know if it’s the rush of the city, or just not being able to keep up with all my lovely guests, or my week-long conference class, or summer blues, it’s been a June I ran through. The city is certainly alive and fighting in the summer.
So, Seattle and Portland were SO good.
I don’t normally have friends like Brooke, who I do just about everything with just about every day. We were great friends living in the Kolej together on our semester abroad in Prague, wearing scarves as skirts and 90’s flannel so popular in the Czesky clubs, rolling smokes in the hallway and cooking noodles for dinner. We had SUCH times, running around that twisted city together, Brooke whispering Czech in my ear at bars. Ah, the gypsy music and Balkan beats, those long crazy 4am walks laughing through the Golden city, the street food and our shameless attempts to get free drinks and steal boiled eggs and yogurt without being chased by the Kolej breakfast ladies.
I hadn’t seen her in five years. Since then she’s had a lovely little girl, gotten married, gone to graduate school, and moved from Oregon to Washington. Five years. Girl, it was just like yesterday, those four months in the dirty east that made us all into hippies, when we saw Brooke off at Šárka where we’d watched the meteor shower. . . Prague was like yesterday when we got together in the Pacific Northwest.
And Brendon, continues to be as cute as ever. I found an old poem his eyes had slipped into one day when we were sitting in Shakespeare and Sons. Ah the old memories. Ah, the new memories.
Of course I went dancing with Christi Anne too, and of course Kathy fed me from her beautiful garden. I is like a fresh place to live, despite the rain. Perhaps better than Chicago. I can’t explain how good it was to get away. To sail, to dance, to love my friends and to LAUGH at the absurdity of Eastern European living, and how dearly we miss it.
I await sweet letters from the Pacific Northwest.
Two of my most beloved friends both arrived at my apartment this morning at 8am. I served pierogis, cinnamon toast, kielbasa, sour-cherry cobbler and espresso for breakfast. Leftovers, from yesterday’s Polish feast.
One’s a Jesuit, the other knows their world like me–from living, working, and hanging out with them way too much.
I saw Molly just a few weeks ago in Omaha for Easter. Her presence in Chicago was a surprise plan though, as it just so happens her new/old squeeze is working around the area.
But Artur, who first originally brought me to Poland in 2008 to work at the English Summer Camps, I hadn’t seen since I lived around the corner from the Jesuit house in Krakow three years ago, when we frequently went out for Tatankas and kielbasa in the old Jewish district. He was a Godsend in Krakow, letting me stay at the Jesuit house when I first arrived after my wild stint in East Africa and frequently supplied me with cake and coffees at his office where I occasionally worked. It was a strange time for both me and Molly, as we reminisced today how many nights we skype-chatted from Kenya to Thailand, or Poland to Cambodia, about how terrified and sad and overwhelmed we always were doing the refugee work, (and also how awesome the moto-rides and crazy international nights were.)
There have been many travels between us three. After a few Tatankas yesterday, Artur and I spoke Spanish for a solid 30 minutes, at least. We seem to be about the same level, as he is coming straight from 9-months in Mexico. That, more than even me living in Chicago, gainfully employed, made me feel the time that has passed. Three years was moons ago. And I can still speak Spanish, which was a nice surprise.
I love reunions. I love my friends and my wonderful memories. What a great start to summer.
Mom and Dad visited Chicago this weekend. Their trip was filled with uncanny similarities to their visit to Krakow/Prague three years ago when I was living between Poland, Rome, Kenya and the trains and couches of Eastern Europe.
Beyond the Euro similarities of my father taking a mob taxi, all of us eating kielbasa, pierogis and drinking Zywiec, we also spent the first night drinking gin and dancing to a big band at the Green Mill, my favorite prohibition-era jazz club that’s a few blocks around my corner.
I love the Green Mill–the music is fabulous and the decor takes me back. Folks get sloshed and you can dance with whoever you want after midnight or so. You lose yourself in another time. Zinger was like this too–my favorite old bar in the Kazimierz district of Krakow. My parents got a visit there, too.
Recently I had to come to terms that it wasn’t going to be practical to return to Rome with Molly, or Poland with Artur this summer. I’m saddened by it, because I feel like I’m losing a part of my life that is so very important to me–traveling and living abroad, especially in Central/Eastern Europe. I’m afraid that era is behind me, when I never thought it would be. But perhaps it’s just a pause.
The pause is because things are so good in Chicago right now. Life in semi-governmental housing is surprisingly interesting, and though my Master’s program at Loyola is institutionally falling apart, I’m finding a voice among the opposition. And we have strong allies, in LCWR President Pat Farrell, and many others.
I renewed my lease on my super-cute apartment here, and I’m entering into my second spring in the city.
The Green Mill, for now, will have to be my Zinger.