The Obamas can’t see you right now

It was, apparently, possible to glimpse the Obamas’ house through the surrounding trees. With hope, I headed west to Hyde Park on a double decker train.

Chicago’s public transport is the best I experienced in the US. The municipal train (different from the excellent subway) had a conductor. I noticed that the train didn’t stop at every station. I couldn’t see a bell or something else to indicate that I wanted to get off at the next station. So I asked an elderly couple next to me. They said that I needed to inform the conductor who would tell the driver!

When I got off the train, it was sweltering. Whilst there, in July, the temperature was always at least 30c. Respite, on the day, was provided by the leafy suburb of Hyde Park. Clearly, an affluent part of Chicago.

In fifteen minutes, I was standing outside the Obamas’ house. I could see the whole house. No peeking through the trees required. There was a groundsman working at the time and I wondered whether I’d been trespassing to have such a good view. Two bulky black Chevy Suburbans (the ones the FBI or other important people drive in US dramas) parked outside told me that if I had been trespassing, I’d soon know about it.

Just to check, I asked the groundsman if this is where the Obamas lived. He replied, “Yes – and get off the grass”.

I looked at the house from the front and side. As I started taking a few photos, I heard, “Get off the grass!” Again, I’d absentmindedly put my foot on the grass. “It’s because of people like you that they’ll never return to Chicago”. He seemed upset. To mollify him, I asked,

“Are there many visitors here?”
“Yes, thousands.”
“Where do the Obamas live now?”
“How often do they come back?”
“Hardly ever.”

I didn’t want to tell him that I’d actually read Michelle Obama’s autobiography just before I got to Chicago. She says that they didn’t return to Chicago after the President’s second term because they didn’t want to disrupt their children’s education. They figured the children had experienced enough disruption in moving to Washington. I figured it was better for the groundsman to live in hope that they would one day permanently return to Chicago. And, who knows, maybe they will.

After leaving the Obamas’ house, I walked to the University of Chicago. I’d heard about the architecture – and it didn’t disappoint. It was varied: from Gothic to modern. Every building had a unique style. One of the two libraries looked like a spaceship. What a place to study!

The University also had the (free) Smart Art Museum. It wasn’t that big, thankfully. I was somewhat galleried out after my visit to the engaging but never-ending Institute of Art.

The Smart Art Museum had two exhibitions. One was about to open in an hour, coincidentally. There was going to be a drinks reception for the opening. A staff member said I should return at 5pm to join the reception. I said I would if I’m still around.

The other exhibition, by Tara Donovan, consisted of sculptures made of everyday objects: cards, springs and straws. The straw sculptures looked blurred in photographs – the sculptures seemed to be vibrating and fading: both there and not there at the same time, like Schrodinger’s cat.

Leave a Reply