Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chi-town

Many times over I've seen Chicago referred to as Chi-town, but only in print, which leaves me to wonder how, exactly, one would pronounce the cool moniker. Am I supposed to say it like Chee-town, as in the place where Cheetos are made and consumed, and everyone has orange fingers? Or is it Shi-town, like dirty, cow-smelling funky shit-town? Is it Chai-town, the town full of spicy sweet indian tea, or Shy-town, a blushing child of a city hiding behind New York's pantleg?

Not knowing how to pronounce the cool nickname of the greatest mid-western city leaves me to my imagination. As an ex-enthusiast of the discipline of Feng Shui, I think first about the energy, or chi, of the city. I remember reading books about the ideal movement of chi throughout a home, achieved by placing plants in corners, draping cloths over edges of hard furniture, and combining soft curves with severe angles in decorating. The idea is to bring opposing forces of energy, the yin and the yang, into balance so Joe Homeowner can lead a happy and productive life. Here in the windy city, overwhelmed by hard, sooty buildings, pewter sidewalks, metal grates in the ground, and severe grey clouds, an anxious energy dominates. Trains rumble overhead, asphalt cracks underneath, drivers honk horns and gnash teeth, cyclists ignore red lights, and joggers pound the cement while their faces drop, frowning. And the wind, always the wind. Inescapable, it blows the chi around corners, shaking dry leaves from trees and sending a chatter through the bones of the good people of this town.

Countering the hard, anxious chi of the city are the feminine curves of Lake Michigan, to the east. The great lake thrusts her smooth hip into city center, forcing people to turn their steering wheels and soften their gazes. Folks living near the water gently exhale ohhhhhhmm as they stroll the lakefront trail; their hair curls at the ends, and ivy grows up the sides of buildings, cushioning the hard corners. Also, there are the women, my best girls from this life, Sarah and Dannielle. Two installations, artists creating masterpieces out of themselves. Women made of clay, molding their lives according to their own desires. Capable fingers eschewing expectations, creating warm homes and meaningful lives in spite of the hard push of the city. We drink wine together, smile, laugh, swirl our glasses, love each other. These two women balance the chi in Chi-town. They are idealistic, they are beautiful, they are apples in cheeks, they are cinnamon buns fresh from the oven. They are woolen sweaters: practical, comfortable, cozy. They are silk gowns: beautiful and elegant.

Dannielle is Atlas. Strong beyond belief, an articulate genius of a woman holding her world on her shoulders. Her words hit me like a right hook, knocking my jaw open almost every time we talk. Dannielle was the first person I met when I went to college. I saw her in the dorm bathroom, invited her over for Cocoa Puffs. She counseled me through my first real breakup, when I couldn't eat for weeks. Junior year we stole all the dry-erase markers off the doors in our old residence hall, laughing heartily, stoned off each other's company. We spent weeks on end together through senior year, until spring when I moved to Sydney and she took off to Morocco for the Peace Corps. When I describe Dannielle to my friends, I say that she's the only woman who ever broke my heart. I am in love with this woman, and it kills me that we can't be together like we used to be.

I've known Sarah since we were ten years old. It's been my honor to watch her transform herself into a woman. She knows herself better than anyone I know, but she hasn't always. I've seen her sway under pressure from her parents, then calmly consider the facts, anchoring herself against all currents. Sarah is a decisive, classy armadillo in cashmere. She grew up privileged, but never wears it on her sleeve. She's solid, reliable, independent, thoughtful, and always unabashedly Sarah. And she always looks like a million bucks with her timeless fashion sense, perfect hair, and porcelain skin. It's a pleasure to know her as a woman, but also to remember her as a girl. She taught me to drink coffee (Sarah, I owe this addiction to you!), and we giggled the nights away playing chess and dreaming of marrying MTV veejay Steve Isaacs. We were together when we found out that Kurt Cobain died, and we are together now, helping each other be great women. She has been the most constant friend in my life, threading her color through my existence.

Sarah, Me, Dannielle

Chicago is a fine city, but unremarkable. To me, a depressed, segregated, tree-less, midwestern shit-town were it not for my two best girls. But because they are here, I'll always long for Chicago. In my mind's eye, Chi-town will always be a warm place. A place where my love swirls like steam escaping a hot Chai. A bustling, glorious, fabulous She-town.





5 comments:

Trina said...

What a beautiful, loving tribute to your two Chicago girls. I love your writing, Eva!

sarahbear said...

Eva, thank you for this post and for spending time with us. We're all lucky to know you. Can't wait to read about Vanta-C's future adventures!
To the readers, Eva's van is really cute! I especially like the curtains.

Anonymous said...

We don't know each other, but I have been following your blog anonymously from the very beginning. I have fallen in love with your writing. You translate everything so beautifully into words, whether you're talking about your adventures, friends, dog, or even how you "shat" when you're on the road. You are an exceptional person, and I wish I had someone like you as a friend, even though we are nothing alike. I have become hopelessly addicted . . . .

Kelly McNiece said...

I miss you, as always. Let's have lunch?

Shannon said...

your boobs look great in that picture.