Tuesday, 2 September 2008

I just got back from the Windy City

The Windy City is mighty pretty…

ACENA has just held its 4th Annual Conference at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. All conference-goers take away their own memories and impressions. Here, rather disjointedly, are mine.

First though, Chicago... I love it

It really is a toddling town, and it really is mighty pretty. In fact the whole setting, physical and social, the bits that I experienced, probably coloured my whole view of the conference (which is why people like to organise conferences in nice places in the first place, I suppose).

Right from the outset Chicago managed to endear, with the Immigration Officer at O’Hare International Airport being the very opposite of the ogres that I had been led to believe that such officials are following 9/11. The very environment that he worked in was positively cosy and he and his colleagues outright welcoming. He was relaxed and easy, seemingly genuinely concerned that I had had a less than comfortable flight and genuinely disappointed that I was intending to be staying only a few days in his country. (How different to the harsh, alienating environment awaiting me when I went back to Heathrow, with its negative and admonitory notices and suspicious and twitchy immigration officers.)

Of course Chicago has its thousands of acres of post-industrial dereliction, run-down residential property, huge areas of social deprivation, and what to a Brit/European appears a desperate lack of a social safety net. And of course, bubbling away barely below the surface, there are all sorts of reminders of what the Americans call ‘race’. While I was there this was emphasised all over the city by Barack Obama’s pervasive presence on wide-screen televisions with the sound off, silently waving his arms and being nominated. Surreal, as was the suddenly edgy argument that I found myself getting into when I carelessly questioned the definition of him as an ‘African-American’.

I personally saw only ‘Downtown’ (the city centre) and a very nice middle-class suburb. I experienced wonderful Mid-Western charm and hospitality, and it was a joy to struggle with the language. I also enjoyed the fulfilment of national preconceptions (the weak coffee, peculiar beer and the nursery food) and experienced again the extraordinary interdependence of our two cultures.

And what places I did see. It was Chicago that ‘invented’ the skyscraper and over the years the city has begun consciously to savour the aesthetic of the skyscraper city. This is not just a matter of individual buildings (though it certainly helps that so many are so good!). There is something else immediately apparent, the coherence of the whole, with buildings of different styles, scales and periods blending together in ways that can wholly transcend the sum of the component parts. It doesn’t work universally but, when it does, Wow! (I subsequently learned that there is a word for this effect when consciously aimed for: ‘contextualism’.). And the suburb that I visited was not just any old suburb but Oak Park where Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked and sprinkled his own domestic architecture among the Mid-Western wooden family homes.

One further thing to enamour a rain-drenched refugee from the traditional English summer: the weather was sublime. Chicagoans this year have apparently been complaining about their own summer but the end of August was like a glorious English June. As Chicagoans never tire to explain, the soubriquet ‘windy’ is not meant meteorologically but refers to the windbag politicians gassing away down at City Hall.

The conference was held at the Chicago Institute of Rehabilitation, 'Number 1 Rehabilitation Institute of America', use of the conference facilities on the eighteenth floor having been donated free of charge by the Director who is apparently very supportive of the development of Conductive Education.

The conference itself will be subject to a further report, coming soon to this site.

Note

Chicago: Frank Sinatra loves it too...

2 comments:

  1. I must admit that I share your views of the border people. As an
    American, who also has Canadian citizenship, I have seen the difference.
    The Americans, even when they are holding us back (my wife is Mexican, which
    causes a lot of curiosity) are much more considerate than the Canadians.
    The Americans are helpful, explanatory, and amiable. The Canadian border
    guards are invariably irritable and terse; which, as a citizen, I find
    somewhat annoying.

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  2. Hi Andrew,
    What I liked in US was that the system and people have the ability to change! You mentioned the Chicago airport. Did you know that the same airport was a disaster and a very stressful place to go through in 2002. But they realised and changed it. When I was back in the summer in 2005 I found everything as you experienced. That is great. Same I learned about people, they were always kinda flexible. This is I miss from UK sometimes.... Laci

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