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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Big City

I spent the winter holidays with my husband's family in a suburb north of Chicago. On the Tuesday after Christmas my mother-in-law and I took the train downtown to look at the Marshall Fields window displays and walk around. I loved just wandering about in the big city. The bustle, the crowds, the rattle of the L-train, the sun glittering in the windows of skyscrapers, all filled me with energy.

We went to the Chicago Cultural Center. The man at the Information booth wore a tie with tiny yellow hippopotami embroidered on it; he handed us an armful of brochures. I stared open-mouthed at the stained glass dome, the mosaic floors, the black bronze banisters covered with leaves and vines. I hadn't been in a building this old, its history dripping from every detail of its architecture, for many years.

We stopped for lunch at Rhapsody; I had hummus with black olives and artichoke hearts, and the best pita bread I've ever tasted. I was ready to faint when I noticed that they offer a plate of artisanal cheeses after your meal. I had to pass, of course.

I couldn't resist stopping at the Chicago Public Library. The building is huge, brick-colored, with a frieze of enormous patina-green leaves that look like angel wings. There are water fountains inside; their bottoms glitter with coins. I felt the pressure of the thousands of books around me like two strong arms wrapping around me in an embrace.

In the reference section, nestled into the carrels, their bulging plastic bags piled around them as if to make a fort, slept homeless people. Women bundled up in winter coats with mangy fur collars, men with unshaved bears and dirty fingernails. Most of them were black. I felt suddenly embarrassed by my joy at seeing all those books.

This is the image that has stuck with me: black faces asleep against volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. I don't know what to do with it; I don't know how to deal with the hard reality that we build houses for books but not for people. Homelessness is a complicated problem, it's true; solving it isn't just a matter of putting up more buildings. But maybe we can begin with that. After all, a good many things begin with something as simple as a room of one's own.


Blogger Marigoldie said...

It is complicated, but isn't that a difficult fact to accept? It seems like humanity should be simple and straightforward: "You're in trouble? Let us help." We obviously have the resources to take care of people--of entire problematic systems and cycles--but it's complicated and priorities get jumbled. I often think we need a real revolution, a great big humanity overhaul.

Excellent post.

January 12, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

I think some problems have simple solutions but we tend to make them difficult because we want excuses for why we don't get involved, don't put our shoulder to the wheel. I agree with you about the great big humanity overhaul, but I think our hope is with small, consistent changes. I feel myself capable of little more than tiny baby steps towards becoming a better person.

January 13, 2006  

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