Each issue the New Art Examiner will invite a well-known, or not-so-well-known, art world personality to write a speakeasy essay on a topic of interest – whatever it may be.


Several of the women in my family seem to have a sour tooth.
I learned this when my aunt confided in me some years ago that she preferred lemons to pie.
And then I remembered that when I was a child, my mother spread marmalade on her toast, which someone (maybe her) said was an acquired taste. Now I like it. And Now, I don’t know, I think this predisposition to bitterness is either hereditary or temperament.
Pucker up, I like to think. (to myself).
That explains a lot, I also like to think. (also to myself)
Both sides came from Russia a mere two generations ago. Out the back door while the Cossacks came in the front door is the phrase I have heard used to describe what happened on my father’s side, in 1917, I believe, one hundred years ago this year. It is hard to imagine.
Once, maybe in the 1980s, when people used cassette tapes, we did an oral history of my grandmother’s journey. Which has been lost.
And then to wind up in Washington Heights or Trenton, New Jersey. They were fond, that generation, of phrases like “if you get on the wrong train you get off at the wrong stop.”
And yet so many of them did. There is no way to romanticize that. At least one of the women in that generation continued to flee. But the rest of them stayed put and did what they had to do.
Even with global warming, April is often still wintery, blustery, a disappointing month weather wise. I remember years ago, as a college student, trotting across the Midway and ruining my velvet shoes in the snow.
These days, I don’t wear velvet shoes much and I certainly don’t trot. I sold my car two years ago and so I ride the bus. It’s not much of a hardship.
Generally speaking, Chicago is not a good city for flaneuring, flatness notwithstanding.
Oh sure, there are people I see around who seem to be posing as flaneurs. One wears a beret. I am suspicious of the hours he keeps.
The reasons that Chicago is not good include:
The weather. It is too spread out.
The geography: Too much is unvisitable or desolate. Because the city sprawls out on a giant grid it is more difficult to get lost in the desired manner of some of the European cities. The boulevards are made for cars.
Certain streets, certain blocks present possibilities, such as dignified Elm Street from Rush to Michigan. Fulton Street, where you can smell the chocolate from the factory if the wind blows the right way. The cemetery on upper Clark Street.
Generally I like those because they remind me of other streets, other neighborhoods, elsewhere. A better way than walking, anyway, to get around in Chicago, is perambulation by bus. It’s not exactly flaneuring. Or if so, it is the moto-variety.
God forbid you should actually try to get anywhere quickly, that is maddening. Then for God’s sake take a cab. (I hate public transportation, a rich friend of mine said, as though that distinguished her.) But as a perch from which to view the city, it will do. Different angles. Sometimes I circumnavigate it and on a clear day and from the right place, I can see downtown from forever.
A few days ago, on the #9 headed South on Ashland, we drove over the rust-colored bridge just South of Fullerton. To my right the dirty greeny browny river and semi-industrial wasteland. To my left the skyline shooting up from the prairie.
The #151 cruises along. Some times of day, if not enough passengers are riding, we coast the asphalt waves, the Lake shimmering Caribbean colors.
Sometimes the drivers misinform you about the route or forget your stop as if they had watched too many thrillers. That’s part of bus flaneuring’s sinister charm. Sometimes the bus picks up so many people that it seems like the clown car at the circus.
I have seen several blind women. A few days ago one of them got on. Toothless, she smiled and smiled at no one in particular and talked to herself until it was time to get off.
Another time, a slouchy woman panhandler hit everyone up.
Some tourists conversed about their stroller.
More people are rumpled than not.
If you tear your eyes from the other passengers or the view, you can read the posters celebrating the city sponsored by an apartment rental firm. “I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America,” is one attributed to Sarah Bernhardt during one of her mega tours here in the nineteenth century.
I will say this: My parents, particularly, prized comfort over almost nearly every value.
Here I find myself thinking of a different sort of consolation: exile.

Or lemons.

Rachel Shteir

Rachel Shteir has lectured widely on popular culture and theatre. She is the recipient of six Yaddo residencies as well as MacDowell and Ragdale Colony residencies.Rachel has also written for American Theatre, Bookforum, The Daily, The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Playboy, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Chicago Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, (the late) New York Newsday, (the late) Lingua Franca, The Nation, Tablet, Theatre, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post. Rachel also writes “The Rahm Report,” a column about Rahm Emanuel for Tabletmag.com.

Volume 31 number 5:  May /June 2017 pp 9-10

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