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.
But then winter came, and everything became dry, heavy and dark—including myself. The kind of reality I could only tolerate with a necessary new love, which I was lucky to find: a pianist, who likes to say he’s from the Bronx, but who’s actually from Long Island. He introduced me to the local alternative jazz scene, and brought me to cool places like the Hideout, the Empty Bottle and the Handlebar, among so many others—all of them a vast improvement from the douchy Wrigleyville joints where I used to hang with other au pairs. Still, winter was a tough pill to swallow, but I did, knowing that not only better but magical days would come, when I would walk downtown, look up at those buildings, look down at the river and think: “Wow. This is exactly where I want to be.”
Do I miss Brazil? Yes. I miss swimming at dusk in the warm salty waters of an Ubatuba beach, floating and seeing the fading mountains, the lush almond trees, the simple houses starting to light up. I miss walking along Paulista Avenue on a relatively calm Sunday afternoon. But here I have so much more. Through multiple layers of clothing, in Chicago I opened up. Now I feel truly connected, enjoying the perks of living in a big small town. (Isa Giallorenzo)