Monday, April 4, 2011


The weather has finally started warming up a little bit so we took a nice long walk yesterday through Uptown.

Uptown is an area that's very easy to love and hate. On the one hand, the look of fading grandeur really appeals to me; I like that you can still see so many vestiges of an earlier time, when the neighborhood was a resort for gangsters and glamorous Hollywood types, but that it has not been turned into some sort of tourist-trap time capsule. On the other hand, walking through it can be extremely depressing. Uptown is known to many Chicagoans for its great number of homeless people with serious mental illnesses; just yesterday we encountered some of the most disturbing visions of human misery that I've seen in this country. I know it scares a lot of people away from the neighborhood, but I do think it's important for people to be aware that such things exist, and so close to home.

But despite its problems, it's still a very beautiful area and has a lot of great things to see (and to eat). We started out with lunch at Carmela's Taqueria on Lawrence and Broadway. Best tacos al pastor in the city---they do it right with the meat and onion and pineapple on a rotating spit, and none of that lettuce and tomato topping bullshit that some places do to appeal to Americans. We really like that they keep it simple---you can choose from about half a dozen types of meat, in either a taco, burrito, or torta, with rice and beans on the side. In an area with taquerias on every corner, it pays to specialize and to do one thing really, really well.

We carried on and divine providence seems to have brought us to the Catholic church of St. Mary of the Lake right as it was opening for Saturday mass.  Neither of us are religious, but Jeff was raised Catholic, and I'm a historian of medieval religion, so we both have a great appreciation for the mysteries of the Catholic church and the beauty of the art and architecture.

We had walked by this church many times in the past, and Jeff has always been particularly attracted to it (I've got to say, the medievalist in me prefers the Gothic-revival church of St. Ita in Edgewater), but we've never been inside. Jeff always laments the fact that churches don't remain open all the time for people to come in and pray, but I can understand that in today's world that's just not really possible. But yesterday we got lucky, and we were really blown away when we got inside. American churches always disappoint me, as they're never as beautiful inside as their facades promise, but this one really was.

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