P. Rogers Park is on the far north side of Chicago, all the way north and all the way east. It’s above the northern terminus of Lake Shore Drive, so most of the blocks end in beaches. It’s the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Chicago, with large groups that are white, black, Mexican, Jewish, and African. The neighborhood is rough around the edges in a way that makes it colorful and only occasionally dangerous. It still has a fairly foul reputation amongst young Chicagoans who live in posher, whiter neighborhoods.
There are a whole ton of great Ethiopian restaurants, which all have good coffee and injera and saucy meats. There is one little Korean diner, right by the el tracks, that will make you a kimchee omelet on the cheap. There is the Heartland Cafe, a scruffy and inconsistent but somehow lovable left-wing cafe in a huge old house with a giant screen porch. There’s barely anyone ever in there and you’re always wondering how they stay open.
Clark Street is full of pawn shops, Mexican restaurants, some of which stay open late, and traffic.
Loyola Park stretches along the lakefront north of its eponymous university for nearly a mile. These are some of the largest and least occupied beaches in the city. You can sit out there at night and watch the planes come in from over Lake Michigan. One by one they emerge, first static like little sky candles, then growing and becoming mobile.
Rogers Park was once the confluence of two Native American trails, the paths of which are now traced by Rogers Avenue and Ridge Boulevard. It is named for one of the original white settlers of the area, Phillip Rogers, who worked as a trader there beginning in the 1830s. Like many of the outlying neighborhoods, it was a village that gradually became encompassed during the immense growth of Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century. The city officially annexed Rogers Park in 1893--the same year as the famous world’s fair that brought international attention and energy to a Chicago still rebuilding from the devastating fire of 1871.
Chicago is built on an extremely consistent grid. Roads like North Avenue run straight west from the lakefront to the Fox River in the far western suburbs. Many of them continue on as state highways--North Avenue, in the form of highway 64, travels west to the Mississippi River and on into Iowa. This makes the few diagonal roads in the city, like Ridge, extremely off-putting. Many of these diagonals are major thoroughfares--Milwaukee, Elston, Clark. Where they hit major north-south-east-west intersections, a strange thing happens to one’s spatial perception. After traveling on a grid with strict adherence to the four cardinal directions, suddenly a panoply of options opens.
There is a certain, subtle Midwestern warmth to Chicago underlying a basically cold, prickly, urban character. The winter is long, gray, anesthetic. We’re all in it together. And yet even on the crisp autumn days when everything appears to be perfect, I can’t deny feeling a sense of sadness just beneath the surface. It bubbles up in the faces of the strangers I see on the street, the old-timers who have never lived anywhere else, the twenty-somethings who consign themselves to the dream of upward mobility.
Each red line train traverses the city from the industrial wastes of the far south side past Chinatown, underground as it crosses through the heart of the loop, back above ground to the historic, comely and well-kept houses of Lincoln Park, past Wrigley Field and alongside the border of an enormous graveyard, past the Green Mill jazz club where Al Capone was a frequent customer, through the Vietnamese community of Uptown and the rapidly gentrifying Edgewater neighborhood up again to Rogers Park.
Mayne Stage is right off the train stop at Morse Avenue. They host rock shows, comedians. They project Bears games on a big screen; I was in a packed house there to hear Vijay Iyer’s trio. Once a year or so, they host Chicago contemporary-music darlings Ensemble Dal Niente to play some strange new sounds.
P. We decided to sit in the front row, and Professor Bad Trip was loud.
Fausto Romitelli had composer-cred. He studied with Franco Donatoni and Gerard Grisey and spent a bunch of time at IRCAM in Paris. He was also interested, in some manner or another, in rave culture and psychedelic rock. Professor Bad Trip has been compared to Miles Davis’ 1970s music and The Doors. To those unacquainted with the names mentioned to begin this paragraph: these comparisons are unusual for a European composer of modernist pretensions.
Perhaps this explains the piece’s somewhat controversial reputation among composers and performers of new music. I don’t think everyone at the concert loved it, but we sure were ready to talk about it when the show was over, I’ll tell you that much.
Romitelli wrote the piece in 1998-2000. He died in 2004 after a long battle with cancer. He was only 41. Professor Bad Trip was his magnum opus. It is in three movements, which he titled as “Lessons.” Ensemble Dal Niente performed the three lessons separately, with short intermissions and interlude pieces in between.
You can hear the whole piece on Youtube, if you want, but it isn’t the same. Hearing it live was less a musical experience and more a sort of initiation.
So we were in the front row, and the sound was intense, and shortly after the music began, I closed my eyes and began to see things.
I experienced powerful visions throughout the evening. I’d report them to my friends between movements. Breaks in the music, even stepping outside the hall did not interfere. When the music began again, I’d drop back into the space.
During the first lesson I was driving through the Middle Park valley of Colorado. I was somewhere along highway 40, following the Colorado River, somewhere west of Byers Canyon and east of Kremmling. The valley is wide open, there, and as I drove it began to fill with sand that steadily streamed from the sky like I was in the bowl of an immense hourglass. Then the valley was full of sand and I was walking on the dunes. I came across a buried house. The chimney was sticking up out of the sand. I could see inside that the house was filled from floor to ceiling with hardcover books.
During the second lesson I was in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The lights went out, and I was alone. In the darkness I found that when I touched the rock formations they would glow a bluish green from within, and where I touched them, lichens and mosses began to grow.
During the third lesson I saw an old mansion on a small hillside, and then I saw a tunnel in the ground below the mansion. The tunnel filled with rushing blood, which came up into the house; and then from outside the house, away down the hill, I saw the windows burst and blood come spraying from every window and door.
P. In Homer’s telling, Daedalus’ labyrinth consisted of a single path to the middle. It was a dancing path for Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Evidently prehistoric labyrinths were built as paths for ritual dances. In this version, Daedalus’ labyrinth was simply a winding trail, not a building.
Only in later versions of the story did the labyrinth become a tremendous edifice, a maze with multiple forking paths and dead ends. Ovid wrote that Daedalus constructed the labyrinth so cunningly that even he could barely find the exit. Today “labyrinth” and “maze” are often used synonymously. Traditionally, though, a labyrinth is more specific. A labyrinth has one path in and the same path out.
Eventually Daedalus’ story evolved to include the imprisonment of the Minotaur and its death at the hand of Theseus, who solved the puzzle of the labyrinth simply: Ariadne gave him a ball of thread, which he used to trace his path through the maze. The two then fled from Crete.
Daedalus has come to represent the archetypal skilled artisan. He focuses on his craft and not its ends. The labyrinth was built so meticulously that defeating its monstrous occupant became a difficult task indeed. The same moral is illustrated more dramatically by the later tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus. Enraged at the failure of the labyrinth and the elopement of his daughter, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built two sets of wings and the two escaped, but Icarus flew too close to the sun, melted his wings, and fell to his death in the ocean.
For Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, labyrinths were a complex metaphor that reflected the inscrutable mysteries of the world and of divinity as well as the human impulse to construct ever more complex artifice to reflect or even surpass that mystery. In his story Two Kings and Two Labyrinths the Babylonian king builds a tremendously complex maze and tempts the Arabian king to lose himself within it, which he swiftly does. The Arabian king responds by conquering Babylonia and leaving the defeated king to die in the desert, explaining that his labyrinth “has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage.” God has created the largest and strangest labyrinth of all.
One of Borges’ most famous stories, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” imagines a Chinese scholar named Ts’ui Pên who left a successful political career to write a deeply complex novel and simultaneously construct an equally complex labyrinth. He was murdered soon thereafter, leaving behind only an “indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts” that constituted both the novel and the maze, which used time as its medium and created a panoply of forking pathways from event to event.
In the medieval period hundreds of labyrinths and turf mazes were built in Europe. In Scandinavia they are often found in fishing villages on the coast. It is thought that they were built to trap malevolent winds, spirits, or trolls that might interfere in a successful fishing trip. It was not until later that labyrinths took on their current association with contemplation and prayer. The modern mystic walks the labyrinth to achieve a quiet mind and close association with the present moment.
In the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, Texas there is a labyrinth in the yard behind a Unitarian church. I used to find it on my runs, jog the path to the center and back, and then continue down the roads and alleys of the neighborhood.
Daedalus escaped Crete, surviving the flight that claimed Icarus. He found asylum in Sicily, where he built a great temple to Apollo. He displayed his wings in the temple as an offering to the god. King Minos came searching for Daedalus, traveling from town to town with a riddle he knew only the great craftsman could solve. He carried a spiral seashell and asked that a string be run through its apertures. Daedalus solved the puzzle easily, tying a string to an ant which then walked through the interior paths of the seashell. Once again, a thin thread defeats the complex maze--this time a labyrinth of nature’s creation.
Minos demanded Daedalus be handed over. King Cocalus, who had been the craftsman’s patron, insisted that Minos first have a bath and enjoy his hospitality. Minos did not survive this bath. Depending on the story, he was killed either by Cocalus’ daughters or by Daedalus himself.
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