A lament for Chicago

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By Roger Snodgrass

The old razzle-dazzle just didn’t work this time.

Chicago, not only lost its bid for the 2016 Summer Games, it was crushed.

It seemed obvious going in that Rio would win, but who would have thought Chicago would be the first one out?

A solid second place, but the city didn’t deserve to be over and out in a flash.

I enjoyed a brief vacation in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and I’m here to tell you I thought it was a wonderful place.

While it was not my first visit, I had one of the best big-city experiences in my life.

The architecture of downtown Chicago is nearly overwhelming. I don’t think there is a city in the world that can compare with it. You start looking up and your eyes keep going up until you practically fall over backward.

It’s like a forest of beautiful buildings.

We went to a performance of the Joffre Ballet in Millennium Park, one of hundreds of free public cultural events the city sponsors each year. The ballet was absolutely first rate, surrounded by thousands of people. The park itself is a triumph of public planning in an inspiring effort to create a 21st century urban commons.

The Art Institute of Chicago at the southern edge of the park is one of the greatest repositories of art in the world.

But what seemed to me to be the best thing about Chicago was the most important one. The people with their all-american Midwestern cultural values were the best thing about the city. I found the hominid Chicogoensis to be enormously literate, cosmopolitan, curious, helpful, independent, resilient and friendly compared to the urban stereotype.

This is an anecdotal impression of course and I’m not the first to notice these characteristics.

I may have been deceived by the weather. A friend of mine was surprised that we had hit several days of perfectly mild and dry fall temperatures.

“Chicago has eight months of snow and four months of pretty poor sledding,” he said.

Mark Twain told a number of jokes at Chicago’s expense.

But he also had some observations that seem like they were written yesterday.

“We struck the home trail now and in a few hours were in that astonishing Chicago — a city where they are always rubbing a lamp, and fetching up the geni and contriving and achieving new impossibilities,” Twain wrote in “Life on the Mississippi” in 1883. “It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago — she outgrows her prophecies faster than she can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.”

I wonder if the world will be a little confused having the Summer Olympics in the southern hemisphere during August when it will be winter in Brazil.

Clearly, the rest of the world deserves its share of attention and we of all nations have much to learn from the rest of the world.

The fact that Chicago did so poorly in the International Olympic Committee’s estimation is more about America’s lost standing in the world, I would say, than it is about Chicago.

Chicago made its greatest appearance on the world stage during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, which was one of the greatest world expositions of all time.

The third of the four stars in Chicago’s flag represents that event.

The first star was for Fort Dearborn, the founding outpost; the second was for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fourth was for another less memorable exposition in the midst of a depression in 1933-34.

But the fifth star was going to be the Summer Olympics of 2016, if it had happened. Now, Chicago’s best shot for a fifth star is that the Cubs win a World Series.

That may be awhile.