Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Megapost: Chicago

Almost 9 months ago, as soon as we were done with the last conference, I didn't know when or where exactly I would visit Miami and Chicago, but I could feel it it would happen. As it turned out, I visited Miami and Chicago within a year. What are the impressions from Chicago?

Overall, better than what I was expecting. It is a mini New York, maybe more nice it some aspects since it is smaller and more carefully grown. Clean streets, skyscrapers, endless park by the lake, young people, and of course very cold weather most of the year. Fortunately in July it was just fine.


Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper. Although New York perfected it (and afterwards many cities around the world), the original skyscrapers were built in Chicago, and they still have today many beautiful buildings.

This is the Sears Tower, tallest building in North America and until recently in the world:

We climbed up to the 103rd floor, and the view from the windows was spectacular during the sunset:

As you can see, the presence of the water makes a huge difference in the feeling you get when you admire all these structures.

Here are some more pictures from downtown Chicago. The merging of old and new:

A beautiful spot on Michigan Avenue, right by the river:

Condominiums are a very huge market right now in Chicago. If you are to buy an apartment anywhere in the US, I think this is the right spot at the moment. New skyscrapers are being build by the lakefront and around downtown like crazy, and they are relatively cheap ($1M per condo, or $4,000 per m^2). In a few years they will run out of locations and the prices can only go up afterwards.

Art, Art, Art...

Another great thing about Chicago is the art museum they have. They have the best impressionist painting collection outside France. Erdem couldn't believe what he was seeing and he insisted that the painting we were seeing were fakes :-)

They have 4-5 halls full of impressionists. Van Gogh, Monet, Gaugin, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat, all the stars were there. For example, Van Gogh bedroom painting (there are 3 versions: the other 2 are in Rotterdam and France):

Or even his own self-portrait:

Also, Seurat's masterpiece on pointilism (the paintings comprises of tiny little dots... it is impossible to appreciate it properly unless you see it closely):

We also saw Monet's haystack paintings:

I never appreciated paintings, when I was young. I thought it was a very boring thing. In the past few years, after going to several museums around the world, I came to realize that that happened because in Greece we don't get to see these painting and train our minds. It takes time to educate yourself in art, in the same way that you cannot appreciate a random paper of technical book just by looking at it for the first time. You just don't have the background to understand it, and the same holds true for art: you need to train yourself, you need to see paintings for some time before you realize what is going on. But when that heppens, it opens up whole new horizons. Especially when you parallel these paintings (18th-19th century) with the science achievements at the time, you get a much more complete picture of humanity at those times.

Myself I have realized that my favorite period of art is Modern Art (20th century). I find it much more exciting that anything else. For example, I loved this:

Here's a question for you: did someone drop the lightbulbs on the floor, or is it art?

(Is it the same work if you move a bulb a bit?)

My favorite artist has come to be Rene Magritte. They had a couple of his paintings in the museum, such as the weird sunset:

... or better, the 3D-feel train coming out of the fireplace:

Magritte is a very smart painter. His works are related to mathematics and they are such that they bend rules of logic in a very weird way; they mix reality with falsity. The best example is his famous Ceci n'est pas une pipe painting, which I had the joy to discover at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with Stavros about 2 weeks ago:

This painting is the picture equivalent of the infamous Liar Paradox: This Statement is False. It is ultimately related to Godel's incompleteness theorem, which I tried to explain in simple words at an earlier post, after reading Godel, Escher, Bach.

What about this:

Very funny picture. It is actually outside the museum of conteporary art, which I didn't like much (not at all actually). It looks very real, even from a short distance.

Finally, the museum hosts some other famous works, such as:

They can both be found at he opening credits of Desperate Housewives!

To conclude the art section: Chicago is famous for one of the greatest pieces of art ever to see this planet...

Yes, it is the home of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever to set foot on this planet. We had to go there and pay our dues to Jordan, for all the great monents that has offered us.

The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.

Millenium Park

This park was to open in the year 2000; however for various reasons in opened only 2 years ago. It is the best park I have ever been it terms of originality and blending with the city. It is between the downtown and the lake. The most amazing thing we saw was this:

It seems like another concert hall. But what left us all jaw-dropped was the full field of view:

It is the last free open concert hall in the US. People just walk by tand sit down on the grass and listen to performances, classical musc, jazz, opera, all kinds of music. And it is right in the middle of the park in the middle of the city, with the skyscrapers in the background. The feeling was very unique, since I have never seen anything close to this in any city (not even in the cultural european ones). Chicago cares about art and they are not afraid to show it - that was my single favorite fact about this city.

Just by walking around the park you fins other interesting things. For example, the bean:

It is like a mirror shaped in a weird way. Be approaching it you can see all kinds of cool reflections of yourself and the background city.

This is what happens if you go directly below and take a picture with flash:

The flash light reflects on specific equedistant points and reaches back to the camera; it creates a very cool effect.

Further down you find the fountain at the opening credits of Married with Children:

Here's another weird sight:

Notice that the child is real, not a part of the waterfall brick glass wall that alternates images of 1,000 chicagoans.

Finally, the first day we visited Chicago we captured this weird picture of sun, cloud and steel:

During the last day of staying there we did not book a hotel since our flight was at 6am. We got to the airport at 3am, at which point we saw this:

Total emptyness. The desks open at 4am, and the security checkpoints at 4:30am. So we spend one hour in one of the most busy airports in the world - totally empty.

Will I ever visit Chicago again? Maybe, but it won't be my priority. 2-3 days are enough to see everything important since the downtown may be dense but it is walkable or bikeable. It may be interesting to visit in the winter just to see how bad it is. On the other hand, it is a city I feel I could live in. Not huge, good mass transit system, lots of parks, friendly people, great art influences (Broadway shows, art exhibitions, music concerts). Plus, the condos in the skyscrapers are a great deal: new, comfy, with awesome views, inside or close downtown. No other city I think has so much living space in its downtown (for example, in NY and LA downtown is mostly for businesses).