Thursday, June 18, 2015

Imagined Cities, Real Cities

After attending the annual medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo for the first time, my partner Maureen and I spent a few days in Chicago last month. I had not been to the city since I started writing Rising Stories. Much has changed, of course--including the skyline, which when I last visited did not include Aqua, or the Trump Tower, or a host of other tall buildings. I was surprised not to like Aqua more (though it's very impressive) and surprised that I didn't hate the Trump Tower (except for the vastness of its Trump sign).

We spent a fair bit of time on the South Side, and I was surprised too at how much better things looked than one is often led to believe (mostly, it seems, by people who don't live there and don't go there very often). Here and there there were signs of bleakness, but these were surprisingly few and far between--whereas interesting and liveable neighborhoods with a good deal of pleasant architecture seemed to abound, and, unlike on the North Side, to have plenty of parking spaces that don't cost a fortune and from where your car won't be towed away immediately for the slightest violation. (A memorable part of our Chicago visit was the time we spent retrieving our rental car from the cavernous auto pound below Lower Wacker, deep under Aqua and the other skyscrapers above.) Maureen and I decided that if we ever did live in Chicago, we would definitely live on the South Side.

I was reminded of when I was starting to get to know New Orleans, and lots of people who lived uptown would say that Bywater (the Upper Ninth Ward) wasn't safe, or that Bywater beyond Press Street wasn't safe, or that Bywater beyond Desire wasn't safe. All of it imagined, none of it true, as it turned out (though perhaps some of it had once been true). In the same way too, a few months ago Maureen and I heard someone who lives in north Nanaimo talking about how seedy and dangerous downtown Nanaimo was; it turned out she hadn't actually been downtown for more than six years.

Rising Stories tries to breathe life into an imagined Chicago that only occasionally bears a close relationship to the real thing. But in two cases I decided after this recent visit that I wanted to make something in the novel more real. I added a short passage describing how the Hancock Building looms over the Oak Street Beach. And I added a short passage describing the view of the downtown from where Marquette hits the park and the lake. The book will be at press within the next few days, so I won't be adding anything more!

Maureen and I also went up the Hancock, which I had never done. It offers a view as close as one can get to that from K.P.'s imaginary balcony in Rising Stories. And it is all quite lovely.

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