Friday, May 06, 2011

Chicago 05.05.11

So this map is proving itself to be a toughy. (The photo to the left is just the small portion of the map I've got penciled in--the lower right corner, maybe an eighth of the overall surface of the paper.) There are several reasons for this. Chicago is a city of rigid grids so I want to treat it as such . . . that that's not particularly fun to draw. I want to pull it apart and make is looser, more organic like the street plans of European cities. It is also geographically indelible in my mind. Between walking my dog and riding my bike and catching a ride in a car here and there, I covered thousands of miles in Chicago. There are huge portions of the city that I knew with the kind of intimacy that you can only gain by riding down that street two or three times a day, know the rhythm of the street lights, when to crank to make the light and when to just relax because you'll never make it. There are many streets and locations I want to cover in this map and I'm struggling with "no, that is farther north than this" and "no, Grace runs east and west, not north and south." These are small difficulties, of course, but I'm finding it akin to trying to recite the alphabet backward. Meet a lot of resistance over familiarities. Indianapolis was easier because, well, Indianapolis is a kind of mush of a city. Sure there are some defining streets and a grid and a naming convention of sorts . . . but there were so many sub-divisions and housing tracts filled with curvy street, cul-de-sac and dead ends that the city was easier to pick over.

Another thing? Even though I've been gone for almost seven years now, the memories and emotions of Chicago are still startlingly fresh for me. I'm having to sift through stuff that I'm uneasy or ambivalent about. One of the reasons I left Chicago was because the emotionally water got very cloudy there and it was only in the last two or three years here in NY that the sediment had started to settle in the Chicago wading pool. I'm uneasy about stirring up the silt again . . . but I'm being a pussy. Everything will be fine.

The second photo: I'm using this Richard Horwood's amazing map of London (c. 1800) as the main reference point. I've printed out a small section of the online map and (shoddily and sloppily) taped it together so I have some reference material on hand. (I'm also trying to see if I can sprinkle in some of the 3-d aspects of the Turgot map of Paris (c. 1739) while I'm at it. I'm not sure if the two are compatible just yet. Probably not.) Although I can't know for certain the exact intent of the Horwood map, it seems that many of the buildings seem to sit on or surround small plots of semi-private land. And I love the aspect of open space in these blocks because Chicago--while it is a large city--always had these little slices of privacy (or semi-privacy anyway) you could enjoy. A lot of people had decks in the back of their apartment, some had small front or back lawns; in addition, Chicago is a city of alleys which provide their own (oddly threatening) sense of semi-privacy in a way--I'd often walk my dog for dozens of blocks, sometimes all the way to the lake and back--through alleys just for an opportunity to see the more intimate aspects of people lives. There was something kind of voyeuristic about that and I miss it. Anyway, I think these plots on the map will allow me to explore some of those memories a little more thoroughly.

I think this whole map idea was kicked off about two and half years ago by reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose as well as the collected diaries of the Lewis and Clark expedition. It really set off the idea of exploration and mapping in my head. It only took about 18 months for these ideas to manifest themselves somehow. That's a quick brain I've got there, my friends.

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