Thursday, October 2, 2008

What I Did On My One-Day Vacation: The Unabridged Version

No, I didn't behead anyone. I went to the Art Institute, where this painting by Guido Reni caught my eye--no doubt due to the influence of Mary's most recent Strange Girls post. The Art Institute is all ripped up at the moment, undergoing a major renovation, and some of the best stuff is in storage, but I still managed to spend several hours wandering there. I always leave feeling as if I've had too short a visit with an old friend.

Speaking of same, before my art outing I spent a good chunk of the morning with Nancy, a dear friend since my Mount Holyoke days. Her boyfriend/now husband, Ben, was Dave's roommate at Amherst, and that's how I met Dave. (No Carnal Knowledge jokes, please.) Ben and Nancy have lived in Chicago since they left college, and Dave and I lived within a few blocks of them during all our various Chicago sojourns. Our old neighborhood, Hyde Park, is just south of Kenwood, where the Obamas reside. Until yesterday, I had no idea that the Obama house is right across the street from the synagogue Nancy and Ben attend. She tells me that worshipers now have to get past an army of Secret Service agents to enter the temple. In fact, Obama's protectors keep everybody out of the area who doesn't live there, or have formal clearance to enter. Sounds irritating as hell, but Obama is pretty much a local hero, so there's little complaining--least of all from Nancy, who is volunteering for the campaign. As much as I hate the idea of omnipresent police, all the protection seems prudent. Sad to say.

Being back in Chicago is always a bittersweet experience. The best and worst times of my adult life have happened there. I meet a memory around every corner, and after a few hours of wandering I feel as if I'm lost in a time warp. Actually, just being in the commercial center of a big American city is an unsettling experience. I stayed downtown all day, much of the time along the opulent corridor of Michigan Ave., and the glut of luxury stores made me feel a little queasy. Not that I hate luxury, mind you (I'll discuss my own consumer lust below), but when it completely dominates the environment, it creates a weird camouflage over real life. I mean, walking along Mag Mile, it's easy to get the idea that everybody is rich. The handful of panhandlers and muttering homeless seem like alien beings, dropped on Planet Luxe by mistake. The mass of people trudging along the street, by contrast, all seem to be natives of this peculiarly glossy world, all partaking in its "culture."

But of course, that's not true at all. There are wealthy people cruising the street, but the poor (or relatively poor) are not absent--they're just rendered invisible by the fact that nothing is really designed to accommodate them. I thought about that yesterday as I made a pilgrimage to the 4th floor ladies lounge at Neiman Marcus. The fancy ladies room was my lunch hour refuge when I was a drone at the Northwestern Law Library a couple of blocks away. On payday I'd go to Walgreens or Woolworth's and indulge in some new makeup, then take it up to NM and play in front of the vanity until I had to go back to work. A new mascara was a major splurge for me at the time. The lounge, not surprisingly, has since been remodeled. It's much less comfortable now, and the pretty marble vanity is gone. I suspect there were too many riff-raff like me hanging out there.

I was so freaked out by all the excess that I didn't buy anything all day except some half-price note cards in the museum shop at the AI, and package of very pricey, hard-to-get coffee for Dave. There was a woman panhandling in front of the coffee place. I walked past her on my way in, and was about to pass her again on my way out, but something made me turn around and hand her all the bills I had in my pocket. It amounted to maybe $8-$10, at most; not much money, but a lot more than most people routinely hand over in these encounters. It wasn't guilt that motivated me. I'd already ignored a few dozen appeals through the day. It was more of a panic response to the crazy economics of the street: A beggar standing outside a shop that sells coffee beans for $1.75 an ounce--I cannot wrap my head around that.

Needless to say, all this did not put me in a great mood for perfume hunting, but there was no way I could resist sniffing altogether. Since Macy's captured Marshall Field, the cosmetics department of the State Street store has been glitzed up. It's loud, bright and aggressively young, a la Sephora, so I moved on without sampling. Neiman Marcus is still its old, staid self, and a very persuasive male SA talked me into testing Quelques Fleurs Royale, of all things. The list of notes I've linked to seems dead-on to me. QFR is really quite pleasant, characterless but well done. It's just the sort of thing I would like if I liked that sort of thing: A hint of grapefruit in the opening, some very soft flowers, and a muted vanilla-musk base. A 17-year-old boy would find it incredibly sexy.

There's a L'Artisan boutique at 900 North Michigan, but I confess I didn't even go inside. I just wasn't up to the boutique experience, and anyway, I am not the greatest L'Artisan fan. Instead I went to Bloomingdale's, where I sampled Creed Royal Scottish Lavender, which seemed nice if a bit thin; in other words, a classic Creed. I spotted a display of Miller Harris and hurried over to see if they had Jasmin Vert, which I love. Alas no, and it's nowhere online, so I suppose it's a goner. Too bad. I think I found a new love, however, in Noix de Tubereuse. If you click on the link you'll see very mixed reviews, but I endorse the post that says if you hate Carnal Flower and love Fracas, you'll love Noix de Tubereuse. NdeT is essentially the wild floral shriek of Fracas softened with a healthy dose of tonka and amber. It is very sweet, but in a clean, nutty way. You will not think you've doused your wrist in butterscotch, or some other sticky horror.

By the time I'd taken a quick sniff of EL classics (and admired the venerable Estee), it was time to head home. I took a cab to Midway, wrist to nose to block the diesel fumes, and marveled at the passing scenery. Outside of Daley's spiffed up downtown, Chicago is still its gloriously rusted, shabby self. I got a window seat on the plane, and watched the thin sliver of waxing moon slowly drop below the horizon.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, Guido Reni, 1639-40


leopoldo said...

Jasmin Vert is a nouvelle edition (i.e. not available in most places). Here it is:

I was in the city yesterday too, most of the day in an inner city school, then a little bit of shopping. I didn't do the super-wealthy section (Bond St, Chelsea etc.) but nonetheless was amazed by how together - beautiful, actually - the world seemed to look. I think it might have been a bit of blindness, but I loved my rose-tinted specs for the day.

And I bought a RIDICULOUSLY expensive 'fume...

chayaruchama said...

Interesting, M.....

Chicago is a favorite of my eldest son-
Three of his 5 roommates [ in his Cambridge hellhole of a slumlord heaven- you know the type !]are from there, and he visits regularly...

Jacob's applying to U. Chicago
because of its excellent Classics dept.

I'm with you, about the excess.
And our own forms of hypocrisy, too.

My own feeble job as an SA for Chanel [ freelance] in a crappy Macy's is a lovely, life-affirming
experience- it shows what really matters to regular folk.

And it AIN'T what's goin' on in the blogs-
That's for DAMN sure.

Mary said...

Okay Leo fess up, what did ya buy?

Love that painting of our girl Salome, eternal symbol of demonized virgin womanhood. Wish I could have browsed the Institute with you.

M, loved your observations about being in the midst of all that excess. I can understand feeling the weird juxtaposition between being in the middle of all that 'stuff' and recent events.

Glad you two were able to get away for a few days.

BitterGrace said...

Yeah, Leo, what did you buy? Let us splurge vicariously! Honestly, I might have bought that Miller Harris on a different day. And thanks for the info on Jasmin Vert. They had it at a Saks in New Orleans last year, so I will look for it when I'm there in November.

Chaya, I hope I didn't give the impression that I dislike Chicago--far from it. As for the U of C, it's certainly been a presence in our lives. Dave, Ben and Nancy all have grad degrees from there, and all four of us have been university employees at various times. It's great that Jacob wants to go there.

Mary, I thought of you when I was at the Art Institute--and when I passed the Coach store.

It was actually a solo trip. Dave stayed home, and now he's in New York, doing his own art pilgrimage with his parents. We're making a joint trip to California next week. After a year of staying home, I'm suddenly on the road non-stop.

Whodat said...

Oh, good for you! Good to hear you're getting out and about.

"It's just the sort of thing I would like if I liked that sort of thing" :-D

Anya said...

Just catching up with blogs after finishing up a huge project, and I really enjoyed your trip down memory lane in Chicago. I've been there a few times, long ago, and only got a glimpse of the energy. It *is* a very energetic city, IMO, up there with NYC, leagues ahead of Philly (my hometown.)

Chaya - a note to you - had no idea of your stealth job - you should write about it more!

Jasmin Vert sound interesting - I must try to get a sample.

Have fun in CA, M!

BitterGrace said...

Hi, Anya, nice to see you. Thanks for reminding me to pop over to your site and see what new great things you've got going.