The flanel’s shirts of Chicago, USA
The photographer and author Elisa Routa draws a portrait both original and authentic of the third biggest city of the United States.
When someone tells you “I’m from Chicago”, you immediately imagine a huskier version of Eminem, keeping his gun wedged between belt and jeans, wearing incredible tattoos over the neck and having an exacerbated obsession for under-5$ 6-packs. You imagine a man who would have grown up between a violent father and a druggie mother whose favorite hobby would consist in watching “Keeping up with the Kardashian” and holding the local mini-market up for buying some cheap wine.
“There’s an old church down here, it’s really worth going out of your way to pass by. The oldest church in the neighborhood.” When we meet Joe, we’re far from Eminem and bad family gangsters, wearing a blue ink tear under the eye. You find yourself face to the kindness in its true definition, an inconceivable quality after a short time stay at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport, a place where being stamped and insulted is more common than actually board a plane. The old church in question looks like a meticulous assembly of polystyrene slabs we generally find in the cardboards of new domestic electrical goods. Almost as old as my great-grandmother, that’s to say extremely young knowing that each of French cathedral dates back to the 13th century, minimum.
Anyway, Joe doesn’t look like a Hispanic gangster from Crime Scene Investigation and doesn’t have any knowledge in History. He doesn’t wear pants under his cheeks or an oversize flannel shirt. Joe is the manager of “Sunny Side Up” on Superior Street, a bar at the edge of the street where tables go over the shaded sidewalk. Watching people living in Chicago feels like watching an American series in 3D, ultra-definition sound included and without the guy behind you kicking in your red carpet easy chair.
Once in the capital of Illinois, I had no particular expectations, except that of eating the same pizza slice we see in the culinary programs adverts. It is thick, greasy and the trickles of melted cheese are more indigestible than a hair in a soup. For my first dinner on Clark Street I chose the irresistible mushroom Mac & Cheese. This dish is so heavy that it will probably avoid me to fly away in the gust of wind from the Windy city.”Yeaaaaaah.” This strong and piercing voice makes itself heard at Mickey’s Bar, at the other side of the street: this is a group of young American girls who try to express themselves on a Saturday night, with neither elegance nor discretion. They grab onto their beer jug as you hold a child by the hand, feared that someone could steal him. The jug runs down at each strong start and splashes their Chicago Bears t-shirts, shorten for the occasion… “Drunk but sexy” is with no doubt the universal proverb for womankind. Concentrated on the giant screens broadcasting an American soccer match, the overexcited teenagers liven things up in a neighborhood that is not even close to fall asleep.
I remember this bright light across the streets of the city at 6am, as a beautiful alarm signal sweeter than a caress on the cheek. The light show going on the huge windows of the all-glass buildings is an incredible moment. Shades on the ground flicker between cars and buses as an imprudent children game. You can also observe gulls above the interminable Michigan Lake reminding you that you’re finally at home everywhere. You have these cabs in hurry and their horn resonating under these yellow iron bridges that suddenly brings us into a more exciting atmosphere. There’s Lincoln Park where leopards and chimpanzees from the zoo are mixed with slicked businessmen wearing suits and trainers. There’s the unshakeable Chicago River that peacefully cuts the city center in two parts, as the hair on a docile and obedient face. There’s Wicker Place, this popular neighborhood where street art is more present than dubious offers of dental cares in the parking lots of supermarkets. There’s Big Star on Damen Avenue, its chicken tacos and its pitchers of Margarita that salt the top of your lips and sugar your check. There’s the Myopic bookshop on Milwaukee Avenue, with its green front window, where each second-hand book is a treasure to discover.
Today, when someone tells me “I’m from Chicago”, I imagine him as a huskier version of Eminem, keeping his gun between his belt and his jeans but with this extra chance to live in a city where it’s possible to eat Mac & Cheese everyday, to wear a black suit and a pair of Nike Air with any defamer judgment and, above all, to be oneself among the others.