Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sense of the City

(I guess I've been getting around with newspapers as of late. Here is my latest Sense of the City. And I've also got a new article in the Urban Coaster.)

Spring seems to have come a little late this year, meaning Summer will be late as well. The last few weeks have been pretty cold. Not cold in the sense of freezing weather, but cold for May and June. Spring has announced itself with bits of white snowing down on us. Not normal snow, flakes of frozen water, but white fluff from some tree. Cottonwood maybe, I don't know I'm no Arborist.

The tree fluff floats around my neighborhood. It sticks in the air, flying in the currents purposeless. They will find a place to land in soft soil and grow into another tree to release its own fluff. Or not, such is life. I'm sure people with allergies must hate the fluff, but I think it looks pretty floating in the air.

Spring attacks all the senses. People break out of their normal routine and spend time outside. The beaches are full of dog walkers and barbecuers and sunbathers. Even people being passive feel a little more active. I usually will sit and watch people go by.

The smell of the food and the feeling of the sun and wind make me walk a little more aimlessly. I don't have much of a normal routine, school has been out for a few weeks and my day-to-day tasks have become limited. I have been walking about my neighborhood a little more, to see what I can see.

Uptown, my neighborhood is fast becoming my favorite area in the city. It is full of diverse people in varying stages of life. It has some very beautiful houses with big back yards full of plants and life, but also a lot of closed down storefronts. A lot of people have been hurt by life, their faces are warn and sunken by stress, but a lot of organizations have formed to help them. There are streets I walk down and don't even feel like I'm in the same city. I try to turn corners I have never seen before to find something new.

Perhaps if I spent as much time exploring Uptown as I did the farm as a child I wouldn't be able to find anything new here either. But, and maybe I'm wrong about this, I feel like I could navigate the farm from memory. I have gone over every bit of the land over the 18 years I have lived there and the last few years in visits. It's a different feeling; the excitement of finding something new verses the comfort of the familiar. I think it's a good mix.

The irony is, I am writing this all from memory. The day I decided to sit down and write about the beautiful Spring day, is cloudy and rainy. The wind is blowing hard and the air is chilly. The spring day I am writing about is a blend of the last week. Today is more like a Fall day than Spring time. It seems like it should be a little more disappointing, but without the rain the tree fluff, that brings me joy, can't grow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sense of the City (View from the Second City: renamed)

I renamed my column for the Journal Republican to open it up to more story ideas. Also, it will be on a regular schedule, due every other Friday. Pretty excited about that.

I changed the name of this column, from View from the Second City to Sense of the City, specifically for this article. Vision isn't the only way to navigate a city. Chicago can be mapped using all of the conventional senses.

Most think of maps as the visual likeness of a specific area. They are folded up pieces of paper with colored lines and symbols representing roads, parks, "areas of interest." But the map in my head uses more than visual cues. My instinctual understanding of the area around me relies on my other senses, including smell.

I love using my sense of taste and smell. I am a foodie at heart and I am happy with the smell of a great cup of coffee or grilled hamburger or locally brewed craft beer.

Chicago is a wonderful city to navigate by the nose. What a great variety. Chicago is not really known for its chocolate factory, but there is one. Sometimes the smell of cocoa wafts downtown and catches your nose for a second.

The brownie smell is quickly replaced by something else. Sometimes it's a food smell that changes depending on the neighborhood. Sometimes it's the sickly sweet smell of a sewer drain telling us something bad is in the area. We use are noses as a physical test of an area. We are attracted to the cocoa smell and repulsed by the sewer. Some ancient piece of our brain tells us were to go based on a mostly ignored sense.

The farm smells of my childhood behave differently. The city smells seem very binary. They are either there or not. One second you smell something and the next second it is replaced with something completely different.

My White Heath farm has an amalgamation of smells. There is an ever-present smell of flowers or trees with a hint of dirt. Perhaps there is a bit of mold or rust mixed in there. Sometimes manure or diesel or exhaust. They combine to make the unforgettable smell of my childhood.

They say smell is the sense most linked with memory. For me, the smell of freshly baked bread sends me back to my childhood when there would always be fresh bread.

Sometimes my nose plays tricks on me. I often walk by Lake Michigan. Something about the water in the air or the sight of the waves makes me think I smell something that can't be there. Even though I know the lake is freshwater, I still smell almost a hint of salt in the air.