Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pilsen, a museum peeve, and the hustlin' abuela

Took the red line and a bus into Pilsen today, a predominantly Mexican-American Lower West Side neighborhood that's been gentrifying/getting more expensive/getting nicer depending on who you talk to.  No Starbucks...yet.  Of course McDonald's is there.  But McD's is even working in Guatanamo Bay these days, so that's not surprising.

Why the trek?  I think I know a bit about Chicago until I look at a map.  Then I realize I've yet to explore 90% of its neighborhoods.  Been to both ballparks, stayed in Humboldt Park with my brother a few times, been around Logan Square, been to the young professional North Side neighborhoods and to some South Side schools here and there.  But don't really know the places.

When you cross over the railyards and into Pilsen, you're not in Ferris Bueller's Chicago anymore.  Most stores are SomeKindOf-erias.  Buying a CD is not a problem.  Buying a CD in English can be. Colorful murals coat what would otherwise be drab brick walls.  Even on a rainy day, 18th street is bustling.

I stopped at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Harrison Park, an impressive museum that not only houses some first class artwork, but does a lot of education and community outreach as well.  And it's free.  From a crash course in Mexican history to a current exhibition on the troubling femicide in Juarez, you're going to learn something.  Come ready to defend NAFTA--write-ups aren't shy about politics.

Two things I don't really understand from the museum, the first from all museums in general, the second particular to NMMA...and just unnecessary:

1.  Bowls.  The bowl hasn't really changed much in the last 2,000 years--especially the brown, ceramic bowl.  The bowl is still round.  You can still pour liquid or crush something in it.  A gangly, slightly stoned adolescent can still make one in art class with little to no effort.  I'm just not impressed by bowls.  I'd say the only innovation made in the field of bowl design in the last couple centuries came recently through the introduction of the straw.  Don't get me started on spoons...

2.  Putting a Piece of Yourself in Your Painting.  Mario Castillo, an artist featured prominently in the permanent collection at the NMMA, mixes semen with acryllic in some of his paintings.  At first I pronounced it "seven" in my head, thinking it some artistic material  I'd never heard of...but no, Mr. Castillo likes to have a "piece of himself" in the painting (what's wrong with saliva?).  For those keeping score at home...yes, the man's epic mural spanned an entire wall.  And yes, I imagine the Lower West Side ran out of Jergens during its completion. If you'd like to own a Castillo, exercise caution purchasing something from the "other media" category.

After the museum I grabbed lunch at Gloria's Tacos on 18th St.  Gloria was like the abuela I never had in her quaintly decorated taqueria with a wooden dining table for her and friends to chat the day away.  And she made a mean torta de pollo.  But a $1.50 for a can of Coke?  Que lastima...grandma knows how to hustle.

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