Sunday, March 18, 2012

AWP 2012: Chicago

Before going to AWP, I had never been to the Midwest. 

My traveling experiences had been severely limited to the East Coast, more specifically New York, Jew Jersey, and Pennsylvania - all places where my family is. I have been to England and, for a day and a half, France, but for the most part, America has been largely unexplored for me. As a family, we never went on road trips. We never drove for hours in one direction, not really caring where we ended up. Everything was planned down to the smallest detail. In my family, the familiar is good. Safe. 

However, as sick as I am of Florida weather, I was ecstatic to have found out that the conference was in Chicago. I had it on good authority it would likely snow while I was there. I hadn't played in the snow since I was a little girl. I couldn't wait to have my hair blown about in the windy city, to feel my bones ache from the cold, to feel tingly when stepping inside a warm building. Yes, I'm weird like that. I practically daydreamed about the horrors of winter with a big smile on my face. 

Prepping for Chicago was another ball game. Because it doesn't get cold here, stores don't sell winter gear. I spent hours in shoe stores (so not kidding) trying to find boots. It was January and flip-flops and sandals were already pushing out the fleeting Florida shopping season of boots. I stared in horror at the boots with high heels - instant death for me, I imagined. Finally I found a pair of plain black boots. I remember telling my mom that the tops of the boots were tight  - not very comfortable. She laughed at me and said, "You really don't remember, do you? They have to be tight to keep the snow out." 

Well, not my fault. I was a kid when I had been bundled up in boots and jackets and rolled around in the snow like a careless puppy. It's been so long. 

EXCLUSIVE SCANNED PHOTO of me as a wee one, rolling around in the snow like a carefree puppy. I actually went looking for the photo after writing that simile... and I'm happy that this photo actually fit. 

Looking for a coat... well, that was something. My dad tried to get me to wear his old winter jacket that he still had from when we lived in New York. I put it on and my arms were lost in the sleeves. The jacket went down to my knees. There was no way I was wearing that to Chicago - I had to look "cool," haha. I ended up going with a bright blue pea coat from Forever 21 that my parents were skeptical about. They said that there was no way it would keep me warm... but I remained firm. "If I'm going to freeze," I had said, "I'm going to look good turning into an icicle." I also packed my dad's jacket just to make them feel better.


I'm glad I made that decision because in Chicago, everyone looked very comfortable and stylish in their winter garb. There were pea coats everywhere! (A rare find in any Florida stores, trust me). I proudly held my head high against the tear-inducing winds and almost skipped down the street in pure happiness. I hadn't been bluffing. I felt at home in the cold weather. My body may not have remembered the feel of boots or the stuffiness of many layers, but it remembered cold. And I adjusted pretty quickly to it even with my thinned-out blood.

Interestingly enough, the people of Chicago were fascinating - so much different than the way Floridians are. The people I met seemed genuinely friendly, eager to help, and had all around warm personalities. It feels strange to type such a statement, almost as if I had dreamed the whole thing up. I remember being surrounded by those smiles and cheerfulness in Chicago, and being so stunned that I apologized for little things like not putting my train ticket in the scanner correctly. I actually felt worse that I usually did about not knowing something - being a tourist - because people were so quick to help me. It's an odd feeling that sticks with me still.

I didn't get to see snow until the morning I headed back to the airport. I was walking over to the train station, lugging my suitcase behind me, when all of a sudden I noticed a flurry of white stuff drifting down from the sky. I wasn't sure what it was at first, and turned to my mother and said, "Did a bird just smash into something? Look at the feathers."

Yeah, I said that.

In Florida, birds smashing into walls is a regular occurrence. So much so that some glass walls have stickers on them so that birds will be able to recognize the walls before they try to fly right through them. Don't even get me started on the hawk that broke through the mesh in my backyard last summer. Yep. So I thought, at first, that was I saw was the last remains of a recently squashed bird.

My mom gave me an odd look and said, "No, Kim. It's actually snow."

I looked up with my mouth hanging open as the flurry rained down, light as soap bubbles. Some snowflakes landed on my coat and melted right away. We waited for the train for at least fifteen minutes and, the entire time, I kept my eyes on the falling snow. "It's beautiful," I said.

My mom burrowed deeper into her scarf and replied, "It'd better stop before we get snowed in at the airport."

Ah, ever so practical. We were fine. The snow melted long before our plane even arrived. A safe flight home.

Because of the conference, I hadn't been able to sight-see. Mainly I stuck to the streets in the area where the two major conference hotels were. As I mentioned in my last post, I did wander around the eight-floor Macy's after a long day at the conference. The most amazing floor was the dishware one, ironically enough. The displays were just pretty. Very much like the tourist I was, I took pictures of the displays and dodged the employees. I also ate a lot of delicious food and saw some wonderful paintings.

Kim's Mini-Food Adventure

My first legit deep dish pizza. It was outstanding! We put olives, tomatoes, and peppers on it - a bit of an odd mix, but it worked well in the end. The pizza was very fluffy and thick; it really was like eating a cake. Now that I'm back in Florida though, I'm dying to have more... but no one makes it here ;_;

Bread Bowls! This was the perfect lunch for my first full day in Chicago - it warmed me up right away.

Pad Thai. 'Nuff said, right? I came back twice because it was so delicious. 

Flatbread Pizza! Now, I've had flatbread pizza before, of course, but  eating it in Chicago is different. The bread is thick, soft, and fluffy here, so it makes the pizza taste fresh and full of flavor. I'm used to eating tasteless, cardboard bread - the water and dough don't mix to well in FL (I know I keep bashing Florida, but, well, come eat here and then we'll talk). 

Art Institute Chicago

I love museums - even the cruddy, local ones with dubious things encased behind glass. So I had to go to the Art Institute Chicago. The building, while impressive, doesn't look too big until you actually start wandering around inside. I couldn't believe how many rooms there were, all splitting off in different directions, and random hallways that seemed to make sense but then, really didn't. After stomping around at the conference that morning, my feet were aching by the time I trekked through the museum. I had to stop frequently on benches to give my legs a rest while admiring the paintings.

The collection was huge, but my favorite parts were the Impressionists and the Decorative Arts exhibits (a fancy term for beautifully crafted items found in the home). I'll end my post today by sharing some photos from the museum - a great way to end my time at Chicago before the flight home. 


  1. I can totally relate! I grew up all my life in sunny Los Angeles. It NEVER, and I mean NEVER, snows here. Ever. Our "winters" are not really winters; we have two seasons, one when it might rain and one when it won't rain. Man I was so sheltered in the sunny SoCal bubble. I remember my first winter in Berkeley thinking 60 degrees was cold. Ha! How little I knew then.

    You can't find warm clothing in LA. I remember the first time I went to the east coast: it was March, and it was sunny, blue skies and I thought "oh! 80 degrees at least!" I stepped out of the airport: 30 degrees. I remember I just stood there for a minute, freezing in my shorts, thinking "the hell is wrong with this picture!?"

    Anyway ... I've done a lot of exploring since: Seattle, Las Vegas, Wisconsin, Colorado, NY,bummed around Europe for a couple months once, studied in Costa Rica for a summer, but never Chicago. It's next on the list.

    My brown leather duster is a relic from my travels, and an oddity around LA. I never saw anything like it except on TV or movies. But man, I love it!

    And finally: I love museums too. Whenever I travel I stop by the museums and take home the guide books. Quite proud of the collection. (Also: Nighthawks is my favorite painting, it's my desktop background).

    1. Ah, that's interesting! I always figured that it was like that in LA as well, though I've never been there. Haha, I was walking around Chicago in 30 degree cold and it was awesome, haha. But yeah, not having actual seasons really messes with your perception of things. I feel like it's not mentally healthy to miss the leaves falling and frost on the windows.

      You should totally go to Chicago! :D

      Nice! I brought back a small pamphlet, but it's beautifully designed so I guess it's nice enough :D

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  3. This post is so awesome. All of it, haha.

    I was extremely amused and a little shocked by your comment when it started snowing! I had no idea birds smashing into things was such a common occurrence in FL.
    I love the photo of you bundled up and reveling in the snow. About how old are you there? :)

    All that food look so delicious! I don't think I've ever had a deep dish pizza. I'm thinking I definitely need to now...

    I NEED TO GO TO THAT MUSEUM. It looks loads better than ours! In your photos, I saw two of my favourite paintings! The first one (I can't remember what it's called) and the last one which is Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. I worship his paintings. Well, almost... ;) The two statues are beautiful too.

  4. Oooh, snow. I miss it! Hahaha, your story about the birds smashing into windows, as awful as it is, made me laugh. My brain makes those odd leaps, too, and usually the thoughts make it out my mouth just as I realize what I'm saying. So no worries. ;)
    Mmm, those bread bowls look amazing. Makes me wish for winter. Sigh...I remember rolling around in snow and being lifted off the ground by gusts of wind back when I lived in Maine.
    The statues are beautiful! And the paintings. Impressionism always...(drum roll) IMPRESSES me.
    I'm so glad you got to see snow! Store it up now that you're back in Florida. On a side note, like I said, I'm from Texas. During my sophomore year of high school, I did a six-month exchange in southern Germany. "Southern"....but still extremely cold. I had a heck of a time finding cold-weather clothes, and when I got there with my puffiest jacket, my most impressive boots, hats, mittens, everything, my host mother raised an eyebrow at me and hustled me out to the stores. Good thing, too. I had to wear my snow boots every day from October to December!

  5. Chicago is my hometown. I am glad that you enjoyed yourself
    "Chicago IT"