Anachronize this!

14 02 2008

Two things from this week need anachronizing. This means translation into another historical time:

1) “This may sound silly” said by an architect to his lecture audience. He was describing something that people 30-40 years ago would have understood in a blink and not imagined to be the least bit silly.

2) “Big Night. Big Mystery” This was an excellent (2/13) Chicago Tribune story by Phil Vettel and Monica Eng. Again, 30-40 years ago the big mystery wouldn’t have been so much mysterious as dramatically “far out, man!”

Let’s translate both of these examples into the mentality of 30-40 years ago:

1) An architect said “This may sound silly” to a group of Chicagoans at the Architecture Foundation this week. He’d just come back from a few days in California and he was really trying to get back into the winter mind of Chicago.

He threw pictures into the dark of something new he’d made out of something old, a record company and home out of an old tavern for some people from Reno. The project was on the northside of Chicago.

One image showed bare sunlight on a chair in a scrap of space over a stair. It was a place just big enough for one person to sit quietly in the sun, look out the window from time to time and go back to their book. “This may sound silly,” he apologized to Chicago.

It might sound silly to the City that Works, that always works, that calls its play work, that tries to aspire to 100% productivity with every cubic centimeter of air breathed productive of one minute of human productivity.

It might sound silly, he quickly explained, but his client loved that little spot in the sun best of all in the new space in a multi-million dollar project. She used it all the time.

2) Mystery:
Vettel and Eng’s story was prompted by a Chicago Chef, Michael Carlson’s decision to re-open Schwa after closing it abruptly, mysteriously some said, the day after the legendary 14 course banquet he prepared for a room full of the world’s most luminous chefs. That sentence was a mouthful and so was Chef Carlson’s arcane menu.

The chef’s culinary apotheose followed by the sudden darkening of his kitchen the very next day was the stuff of opera.

The Trib’s story attempted to account for Carlson’s action and concluded he was reacting to the brutal, some might say “macho,” work ethic of the restaurant world.

Vettel/Eng end their piece with comments from a local culinary college dean. Proper training, and by that the dean means professional education that combines business and accounting with all the culinary trades, might be the way for restaurateurs to bake their cakes and eat them too. No doubt. Perhaps.

Chef Carlson seems to have found a simpler way to return to his kitchen and start calling his waiting list: he’ll just work less. Less means less.

If he wants to play with his baby he’ll do that. If he wants to sit in a chair in the sun and read, he’ll do that. When he goes to the kitchen he’ll cook for a few people. Another day he’ll cook for a few more.

plan “b” loved this story (she is a big fan of Phil Vettel and Monica Eng, lusty eaters who know their stuff and are reasonably kind). But plan “b” could not help thinking that 30-40 years ago this chef’s story: big night, big closing, would not have been so hard to understand.

It would have fallen into the happy category of “blows my mind!” and all the many who heard the story would have been free to write their own explanations:
*the dude is bold, huge success, walk away;
*or nervous exhaustion, needs to kick back;
*or more simply, last night was then, and now surf’s up. Etc. Etc. Etc.

It occurred to plan “b” that Vettel and Eng rightly cast this story as one with gothic possibility for today’s Chicago readers. In the City that Works, the story of a man who leaves his career at its exquisite peak has latent darkness and tragedy. It is a mystery to contemporary readers that has the power to frighten them and give them terrible doubts about things best left unthought. It is a mystery that must be explained without further delay. The two Tribune food reporters found a brilliant, contemporary and local way of telling the story.

But 30-40 years ago the explanatory requirement would have been much lighter. “Dude, the man had enough to eat.”