A Saturday in Illinois

United States 2005

We drove for hours through the corn belt of Illinois. The endless straight roads took us through endless harvested fields. Occasional corners merely changed the direction of the car rather than the view. Lunch found us in the peaceful community of Stelle, a town that practises communal, self-sufficient farming. Paula used to work for the sustainability centre there so we had lunch with a friend, Mark. An intelligent, peaceful man, he offered us food that was mostly grown on his own land. Being used to eating food from an unknown source in an unknown country it was a delight to eat food from fields I could see.

Then back on the road and through anonymous towns until suddenly Chicago’s quarter-mile high Sears Tower drifted over the horizon. Moments later the city’s other skyscrapers appeared around it, grouping round their giant neighbour like children clamouring for a mother’s attention. Out from the tiny towns of Illinois the bustle of Chicago had hit us. People were everywhere: hitting that pace between walking jogging as they crossed the roads; chatting nonchalantly with friends; hawking goods to passers-by; climbing into honking taxis. The streets swathed in perpetual shadow by the mammoth buildings.

The architecture was stunning: from the fractal beauty of Frank Gehry’s Millennium Park pavilion through to the utilitarianism of 70s skyscrapers, the art deco high-rises, and the gothic splendour of the Chicago Tribune offices. All this teetering on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was breath-taking. We walked around for hours, and when the others tired I walked around for hours more. Chicago is a beautiful, beautiful city.