Street Smart Chicago

Free Will Astrology: Week of February 12, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): I hope you have someone in your life to whom you can send the following love note, and if you don’t, I trust you will locate that someone no later than August 1: “I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you, and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else.” (This passage is borrowed from author Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Everything Is Illuminated.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Linework: Dynamic Stories From Another Dimension

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By David Alvarado. Edited by Ivan Brunetti and Aaron Renier. (Click on image to enlarge.)


Chicago, Earth

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Cover by Talya Modlin

Cover by Talya Modlin

As we prepare to launch our experiment in the future of cultural globalism, Newcity Brazil (read more about it at, we’ve developed a much deeper understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of being “a stranger in a strange land.” And while travel is a transformative way to reshape our understanding of the world in which we live, the very city around us is full of such experiences as well, with resources ranging from institutions like Instituto Cervantes, the Goethe Institut and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, to our friends and neighbors, many of whom enter our lives from an entirely different point of origin and enrich us so much more for the experience. And so, on these pages, some of the city’s finest—the world’s finest—novelists, poets and journalists share a slice of their experience. Enrich yourself. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Half and Half and Wholly Human: Searching for Meaning in “What Are You?”

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Nina Coomes and sister in Japan

Nina Coomes and sister in Japan

By Nina Coomes

“What are you?”

The first time Chicago asked me this question, it was out of the mouth of an inquisitive twelve-year-old boy. It was the first day of school at Mary Gage Peterson Elementary. I was the New Girl, wearing blue jeans, white ankle socks and a teal sweatshirt that says “SOCCER CHICK” down the arm because I figured nerds don’t wear sweatshirts with sports words on them. The school yard was riotous–a far cry from the orderly lines of yellow-capped students filing into a Japanese first-grade classroom, even further still from the soft siphon of school bus to hallway introduced to me when my parents first moved us from Japan to rural Illinois.

Boys flung backpacks over the black iron fence, their too-big t-shirts flapping like seagull wings as they hurled themselves onto trampled grass. A flock of girls with gold earrings swarm by the double doors licking Hot Cheetos dust off manicured fingers. Parents crowded nervously around the asphalt where we were supposedly lining up by grade, shouting warnings, farewells, admissions of love in languages I had never heard before.

“No, really, what are you?”

I recalled the question being posed, and examined my options.  Read the rest of this entry »

Devon Avenue Sampler: Quilting the Urban Diaspora

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DevonAvenueSampler/Laura Kina

“Devon Avenue Sampler” Acrylic paint on hand sewn quilt 53 x 77 in. 2009

“Devon Avenue Sampler” features vintage and contemporary street signs and imagery from my West Rogers Park Chicago immigrant neighborhood where Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all live. This all-American urban South Asian/Jewish corridor is lined with jewelers, ethnic grocery stores, bakeries, spice shops, restaurants, colorful sari shops, travel & tour services, cell phone/electronics/luggage shops, beauty shops advertising eyebrow threading and mehndi, and a baseball field. I have sewn patchwork canvases of dark blue fabrics and denim reminiscent in form to Japanese indigo boro quilts to reflect my own mixed ethnic heritage in the background. Read the rest of this entry »

Be Baltic Be

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By Lina ramona Vitkauskas

I, Lithuanian-American, a flexed flax,
Sanskrit buttress of bridles, buttermilk,
& mead. I, Soviet weaponry, Finn
fingers, brass Russina sex, German march,
bedded in miles of jaws & arthropods;
sterlings, stork, & calendula; I, nova
& novena of all my fathers, conjured from vapors of cigars.

Do not believe or include me,
allow me existence below larch forests
& seas. I, your town fool, burlesque
body, egg strands of impossibility
against Lituane lips. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tea Souls: The Russian Drink of Choice Is Not (Always) Vodka

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Illustration: Elena Rodina

Illustration: Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

When people hear that I am from Russia, they often jokingly (or very possibly not) ask me whether I drink vodka for breakfast. Or, more seriously, they ask whether everyone in Russia drinks vodka all the time. Vodka has become a national symbol of my country, along with bears and cold winters. This, however, is a gross misconception.  I do not drink vodka for breakfast. In fact, the truth is that vodka is not always the alcoholic beverage of choice; many of my acquaintances prefer whiskey or wine. But there is another drink that truly does deserve to be placed on the Russian flag and carried with pride in its universal acclaim. That drink is tea.

When I was in college, a friend of mine told me a story. She spent her summer in the United States, working as a member of the kitchen staff at an expensive East Coast resort. Upon her arrival she met two other Russian college girls working in the resort’s kitchen and the girls quickly became friends. A couple weeks later their boss gathered all the kitchen staff together and announced that he suspected a serious theft occurring on the premises. He had discovered that tea, served in bags and displayed at the dining room, was disappearing with a frightening speed, and believed that one of the workers was stealing boxes of tea in order to resell them later, or do god knows what with them. No one confessed to stealing the tea, so the boss declared that from that day on everyone would be searched upon exiting the kitchen. Once the measure was taken, the boss felt assured that he dealt with the problem in the most efficient manner. But the tea kept disappearing. He started paying attention to the tea section in the dining room, circling it like an eagle, watching everyone who was approaching it, and he finally figured out what was going on. During the breaks, when kitchen staff sat down to snack and have drinks, Russian girls were heading directly to the tea section, making themselves cups of hot tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. Besides, they would use two bags instead of one per cup, unsatisfied with the strength of the bagged Earl Grey. They would often have several cups of tea per break. It was the first time in the history of the resort when a limitation on the amount of teabags consumed by kitchen staff was issued: no more than two per day. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Soul Meets Body: My Half India in Chicago

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I was standing on Devon, between the intersections of Washtenaw and Talman, when I saw my favorite aunt from India. I was staring at the valiant K from the Kamdar Plaza sign, the Indian grocery store that stood like the sun behind her. The K was wittily designed to look like it was made out of a woman, the arms of the K representing her sari. As my aunt pulled me into one of her beanbag hugs, I noticed the massive crowd that had amassed behind her as if it was Diwali; bright hues of orange and lilac garments filled the streets, the clean white of the men’s traditional frock peeked through like marshmallows atop a sea of M&Ms, and street vendors passed around fresh sugarcane juice. I looked at my aunt, the kajal on her waterline as black as wet coal, and asked her how it could be that she was here in Chicago. “Haven’t you heard, my dear?” she said. “Chicago is half India now!”

That was the dream I had two weeks following my return from India, after having lived there for two years.

I spent the moonlit nights in India tracing the “I love America” I had scribbled onto the wall beside my bed my first week there out of a child’s pencil I had sharpened with a razor. My bitterness toward being there at the time was as sharp as that razor. But like most tantrums at seven, it dissolved as quickly as sugar in hot chai.    Read the rest of this entry »

Chekagou’s First Culture: The Native American City, Then and Now

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Defense by Henry Hering/Photo: Jeremy Atherton

“The Defense” by Henry Hering/Photo: Jeremy Atherton

By Bill Savage

Even when Chicago was “Chekagou,” this locale at the southwest edge of the Great Lakes was part of a system of globalization.

The first non-indigenous people to pass through this area—so far as we know—were Frenchmen Joliet and Marquette, the entrepreneur looking to make money and the priest hoping to save souls, who wintered at the Chekagou portage in 1672-73. They sought a water route to China, to expand French trade worldwide, and to evangelize for Catholicism.

As these two Frenchmen travelled with Native Americans, they saw that Chicago was an ideal spot for a canal to connect the North Atlantic/Great Lakes trading system with the Mississippi River, which they thought emptied into the Pacific. That this vast expanse of land and waters included scores of tribes and different indigenous cultures was not of much concern to them.

A century or so later, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable established his trading post near the mouth of the Chicago River. But du Sable and his successor, John Kinzie, were not just colonizers in a crude sense. As Ann Durkin Keating shows masterfully in her book “Rising Up From Indian Country,” they were part of a sophisticated network of global trade between European-Americans, Native Americans and Europeans. A multilingual and mixed-race métis economic culture thrived in the Great Lakes region before and after the War of 1812, based on elaborate systems of personal relationships, credit, bookkeeping and the delivery and exchange of goods. Manufactured items from Europe and the East Coast flowed into the Middle Border, and raw materials supplied by Native Americans, like beaver pelts, adorned the fashionable in European capitals. Read the rest of this entry »

At First Sight: A Paulistana’s Cold Choice

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The author camping with some friends in Ubatuba, in the North Shore of São Paulo.

The author camping with some friends in Ubatuba, in the North Shore of São Paulo.

I didn’t really choose Chicago; Chicago chose me, and since my life was a bore back in Brazil, I just mumbled “whatever” to whoever warned me about the low temps. I got picked by a WASP-y family who didn’t mind housing the oldest au pair in America, and ended up spending some time as a nanny in the North Shore. Little did I know how insanely low those temps could go; and little did I know “some time” would turn into “probably forever.”

I remember the first time I took the El into the city, overlooking the backs of the houses with their barbeque grills, patio furniture, and Cubs flags. Such a friendly landscape, so horizontal, so open; so different from the impenetrable high gates and guarded homes of my native São Paulo. Right then I envisioned my life as it should be, in one of those terraces, grilling some cut of meat with an unfamiliar name, impressing gringo friends with my Brazilian records and getting interrupted by the occasional rumble of the El. It was summer—I had no idea that terrace would eventually be covered in snow. Read the rest of this entry »