Chicago, And The Darkness that Beckons (to view the painting for sale above)

What could be darker than a whole neighborhood dedicated to the blood-splattered production of meat?  Chicago has a sinister underbelly that attracts rather than repels. Many years ago, as I sat with my mother in front of an enormous television, we watched together a series called the Untouchables, an unmitigatedly grim mini-series set in 1920s Chicago. Gangsters with oddly shaped little machine guns and repulsive spats riddled each other with bullets,  wearing suits and eating pizzas. Surreally they were speaking in French, as it was dubbed, deep, grunting, artificially hammy voices. It was thrilling, tense, eviscerating. Little boys love such gore. Yet television subconsciously molds our perceptions of  foreign lands, laden with stereotypical imagery that feels intensely real, whole swathes of territory steeped in myth, coloured with fantastical fears, longings and projections. For instance much of the South of the United States was a land of terrifying and portentous threat, a belief cultivated by film and literature. When I recently expressed a wish to my mother that I might like to visit Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama her face assumed an expression usually seen in Gothic films when villagers are asked for directions to the nearest Transylvanian castle. It was as though one would not be able to sleep for the light of burning crosses, nor drive five miles in any direction without being stopped by an obese, sneering and incorrigibly corrupt sheriff, homophobic and racist and with a keen nose for sniffing out the vulnerable. I am sure no such thing would likely befall me, yet the perceptions of time and place are set early in life, holding their forms like wobbly puddings. So it was with a similar thrill of the louche and seedy that I booked a room in an Art Deco hotel in Chicago, fully anticipating a city of shadows, of Al Capone and violent organised crime, a place of pre-War fading modernity where huge trains of iron and wood would roar and belch smoke. It would be a metropolis of Hopperesque corners, crepuscular and deserted. In the place of such childish fancies I arrived in a city of glass and wealth, charming and beautiful, with emporiums filled with intoxicating perfumes and seductive clothes, throngs of tourists from a hundred countries and a relentless sense of fun. At night we walked along the Mile, our bellies full of empty and delicious calories, our skin tingling from a day of sunshine. As visitors we were of course shielded from the harsh reality of many areas; and there was little left of the old world of bootleggers and the pin-striped gangsters. Only at night, when shadows lengthen over the backstreets, the old warehouses of the Meat District play host to phantoms and spirits, ghostly footsteps echoing.



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