Rebekka asked for a drawing of her childhood home in Hyde Park. We talked about it over dinner. She didn’t want something that looked like a photograph, so we agreed I’d try to draw on site when it gets warmer. But Monday there was a movie I wanted to see at Doc, so I decided to check out the house and brought the camera along.
The freezing rain was just starting to come down when I snapped a few shots of the building from across the street. Then I went up the driveway to the back, to look at the staircases Rebekka mentioned. This was the view she remembered best. It must have meant a lot to her because she’d made a sculptural model of these humble wooden Chicago back stairs. You can see similar ones all over the city. I never asked her why they were so important.
I’m an idiot with a camera, so it took me several tries to actually get a few snaps saved, but I persevered eventually, then walked up 57th Street for some dinner before the movie.
I’ve been going to Medici for as long as I’ve been coming to Hyde Park. It’s one of those college hangout restaurants with graffiti etched into the wood and lots of unrelated tchotchkes and art. The food was never memorable, but this night, for whatever reason, everything was terrible. The girl waiting on me couldn’t have cared less either. It made the whole place turn ugly. I don’t know if I’ll be going back anytime soon.
The movie was from Peru and was called The Milk of Sorrow. It was about a young woman who took drastic measures not to be raped or abused by the men who ran rampant in the country during the conflict between the Shining Path and the government. It evokes the woman’s emotional state so intimately that it was often painful to watch. At the same time, it’s a beautiful, sometimes sprawling portrait of a society I knew little about. It’s the kind of thing which is all-encompassing enough to make me forget everything for awhile.
One of the things I forgot about was the weather. The walk north on Woodlawn to catch the first of two buses home was treacherous. I ended up stomping through the little squares of parkway, because these were covered in snow, rather than the thin sheet of ice coating the sidewalks. Even so, I kept slipping and had to move awkwardly, checking every other step. It looked shimmering and beautiful from the bus window, but I wasn’t looking forward to going back out into it for the short walk up my street.
At home I loaded the photos of the house onto my laptop. I’d try to make a drawing from them the next day.
I worked at it the rest of the week and came up with something acceptable. I’ve been doing it long enough and have enough muscle-memory that I can make a drawing look like something seen with eyes rather than lenses. I’ve gotten in trouble before for putting photography down, but the truth is I just don’t think much about it. I spend most of my time looking around so I don’t need a machine to record the glances for me. In the case of Rebekka’s drawing, I used photos as a shortcut. It was on my mind and I didn’t wanna wait till spring to work on it. But it still sort of felt like cheating.
So much of making art is beyond words or explanation. I don’t know if somebody looking at my drawing could tell it was done with the aid of a couple shitty digital photos, or that I’ve never been in this house, or even when exactly the drawing was done. Does it matter? I knew next to nothing about life in Peru in the 80s but was utterly enthralled and haunted by The Milk of Sorrow. It still comes back to me a week later, which is rare since I see so many movies.
The next day I made sure to wear boots rather than the smooth-soled shoes I had on the night before, but the ice rink of yesterday was replaced by snow. I didn’t have to watch my step and could walk like a normal person again.