Sunday, February 3, 2008

Love Is Murder

I fell in love today.

It was one of those re-awakenings of an old passion for a former lover. One of those things that just happens, when you are neither seeking it nor expecting it. One of those moments when you suddenly realize that your best laid plans will be best laid aside.

I spent the weekend at the annual Love is Murder conference, where I met up with old friends, made some new friends, and received a healthy jumpstart to my writing energies. Actually, it was a literal jumpstart, courtesy of Joe Konrath, who was thoughtful enough to bring his portable electroshock machine to win friends and incinerate people.

With many of my barriers to productive writing removed, I left the conference feeling great and headed downtown to Chicago's Millenium Park, to meet my wife and kids. This was my first visit to the park since its 2004 opening.

Standing at the south end of the park, I gazed across Michigan Avenue, looking at the cityscape. I am writing in the Chicago of 1919; when I view the city today, I tend to mentally erase newer and taller buildings. Some don't care for the embellished architecture of the late 19th Century. I delight in it, so when my eyes fell upon the building at 21 South Michigan Avenue, I paused a while, to enjoy it in detail.

Cast into the building's facade is the groundbreaking date:

The Year of Our Lord 1891.

Okay, so for me, this is a building of interest.

My eyes flirted over this beauty for several minutes before the obvious jumped out at me: also cast into the front of the building is the name "Chicago Athletic Association".

Another jumpstart.

Two years and one month ago, I entered that building to attend my first meeting of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Inside 21 South Michigan is a level of elegance that will not be recreated in this country, and for my benefit the atmosphere conjured the spirits of Chandler and Hammett, Christie and Sayers, Boucher and Stout. Libby Hellman greeted me at the door, introduced me around, and I soon felt at home.

Chicago Athletic Association (above green dot)
Chicago Daily News photo, 1914

For me, then, 21 South Michigan is something of a hallowed hall. Its ambiance, while top shelf, is somewhat jarring to my middle class, suburban sensibilities. I knew something of its history - among others, the CAA was founded by Marshall Field, A.G. Spalding, Cyrus McCormick, and Henry Ives Cobb. Men of power and means. Hard men, at least according to the stories passed down from my great-grandmother, the Field household's Swedish cook.

These men were also the same Chicago visionaries and giants who, twenty years before they broke ground for this opulent private club, strode purposefully among the glowing embers the day after the Great Fire and declared that, By God, they would raise the phoenix from the ashes meted out by a skittish bovine O'Leary.

Without their determination, Chicago does not exist.

So, who am I to begrudge them a few beautiful rooms and a gymnasium?

I felt a stirring.

Behind me, a father and his little son played in the snow-crusted bowl of the Crown Fountain. Three-year-old twin girls, using all their might, picked up blocks of snow from the edge of the plowed walk, and hurled them at their older sister, who giggled and made the blocks explode into bejeweled showers, to the obvious delight of the younger pair. And, on this SuperBowl Sunday, in the cold, a crowd of visitors still took the time to marvel at "The Bean", the remarkable achievement of artist Anish Kapoor and a highly-skilled team of Chicago union metalworkers.
Chicago Athletic Association (above green dot)
as seen through The Bean, 2008

The visionaries of the second city which rose from the ashes understood the absolute necessity of beauty in public spaces, of the value of art in the lives of all. And Chicago has not forgotten. The city gets it.

My passion awakes.

The founders of the second city decreed that there would be an open landscape on the lake shore, that all might enjoy the natural beauty. This was and remains an essential element of the character of Chicago. When this has been forgotten, other visionaries have stepped forward to defend this principle. I applaud them.

What I came to understand today, for the first time, is that the fathers also knew that growth and change were equally important to the city. As vital as the landscape of the lake shore is to Chicago, a healthy, growing, breathing, changing, living cityscape is just as vital to its present and future.

In other words, those who defend and preserve the past of Chicago, and those who carve and shape the future of Chicago need each other. A healthy, engaged, mutually respectful symbiosis of the two is critical to keeping Chicago Chicago.

I love Chicago, more now than ever.

Whenever the temperature dips into negative double digits, we talk about retirement plans, about someplace warm in the winter.

I understand now that those plans will need to be laid aside.

You don't walk away from true love.


Anonymous said...


I love Chicago too, in spite of all the snow we struggled with getting to Love Is Murder. Great to see you there. And J. A. Konrath can ALWAYS be counted on for a shock. Hehehe.

Now, get busy writing. Naggingly yours, Lonnie

Anonymous said...

You have the most elegant blog in the blogosphere, and this is a lovely tribute to Chicago.

Love the old photos, too. Now get William Howard Taft off your profile and post a photo of your own handsome self. :D

Pat Browning

Terry Odell said...

What a wonderful taste of a city I've never visited (unless you count changing planes at O'Hare).

Welcome to blogging.

Kaye said...

Its been many years since I've visited Chicago, but with this beautiful ode to a great city you now have me itching to get back. Who knows, perhaps for Love Is Murder next year? You and Shane and Julia might be willing to squire me about the town!

I'm joining Lonnie in gently nagging you about getting yourself busy writing! This lovely piece is but a prelude of the great things we're all expecting from you, my friend.


Morgan Mandel said...

Great blog, Jonathan,
You were very thorough and picturesque.
Morgan Mandel

Ken Lewis said...

Wonderful launch of your blog, Jonathan! How in the world did you ever get Barbara Mandrell to post a comment? I LOVE her and think she is absolutely H-O-T! Oh. Wait a minute. I guess that was someone named Morgan Mandell who left that comment. Sorry

Earl Staggs said...

Nice work, Jonathan. Loved your tribute to Chicago. I must admit, tho, I don't understand why anyone would go to Chicago when they could come to Texas. Here you don't have to shovel snow. Well, okay, if you have bulls, you have to shovel something else, but some of us have a knack for that, don't we? You go, Bro. Earl

Barbara said...

Millennium Park totally rocks. I love the Lurie Gardens and the Bean and the crazy fountains that spout water.

When it's 120 in Texas next summer, stop by the park and cool off, Earl. No bull.

Lillian Porter said...

Very nice blog Jonathon. I loved the photos.

I started a blog also for reviewing mysteries that I read.


Vicki Lane said...

What a lovely post, Jonathan! I was amazed to find how much I liked Chicago when I attended Bouchercon in 2005. It's obviously a city to fall in love with (or with which to fall in love.)

Welcome to blogging!