Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bring your wishes, say goodbye

In alpine nothern Italy in the small town of Fenestrelle, you could hear the cowbells tinkling in the distance, as sheep roamed the hillside down the mountain below. In winter, when the livestock were housed in barns, it was church bells tolling across the valley which became the sound of the morning. (

Now we’re in Chicago, and it’s the ambulance siren and the blasting honk of the firetruck which fills up the space between the buildings and creeps into every ear in every building any time, day or night. Gord says it’s probably that the emergency workers want to remind all of us that they are doing their essential job, day and night.

I am seeing and hearing again all the things we discovered about Chicago - what makes it uniquely Chicago. After two and a half months here, I had become part of the daily crush, opening and closing the tail of my scarf, pulling on my gloves for the umpteenth time as I pushed open the revolving door and set myself against the cold.

But these are our last days here, and my eyes and ears are open again, cherishing what I experience, in heightened awareness as if saying goodbye to a lover.

Yesterday, the snow, that pristine gift from winter has fallen flake by flake and gently made everything uniformly white. At 7 AM the rooftops and sidewalks were blanketed. And then, of course, the people with shovels and cars and footsteps muddied it all in their determined daily rush.

Still, at minus 3 degrees, it felt balmy, and I just had to go over to the wall again and see how it sits there on Chase Promenade, lighting up the monochromatic winter landscape.

They tell us that over 112,000 people have visited the painting. I got a farewell email today, “Good luck to you! You've been a fantastic winter treat for all of us!”

On Friday, we’re going to have a ceremony of leaving. We’re bringing our wishes for Chicago, and asking others who have loved the wall to bring their own. Say goodbye.

At six o’clock we’re going to light the candles and melt one painting from the wall, a symbolic sacrifice for the destruction we know must follow.

People are already talking to us about how they will miss the colors. Maybe we’ll have some pieces that some can take away with them and put in their yards, like we did last time.

On Tuesday, Aldo Castillo hosted a reading of my work at his gallery on Franklin Street in River North. Almost everyone who said they’d attend eventually arrived; we had an audience of about 25 people. I read two well worn characters from my repertoire, felt like a singer who pulls out a popular song for a loving audience; and then read a chapter from my-almost-finally-tweaked novel. Pretty serious stuff, with one very ‘out there’ character. I think it went well, at least it was fantastic for me, to remember the times in our lives when we toured theatre and worked our art project on the same excursion (in the late nineties at the London International Financial Futures Exchange, and on weekends touring Singing the Bones ). It just felt great. To give my work the light of day, to perform again.

Gord gave a blue jacket to Amit, to acknowledge how much a part of our Chicago crew he was, as king of The Fulton. Amit gave it immediately to his father, Nehemiah, who wore it proudly throughout the reading. We stayed until 8. Lois Roelfs was there with her husband; she lives across from the park and has contributed photos to the blog.

In fact, every Friday night, she and friends have a party at her place to celebrate the wall and watch its many changes.

One more thing. It all started when I snapped Arquilla’s photo at the Consular Ball. She gave me her email address, and later as I wrote to send her the photo, I noticed her name. So I took a chance and wrote her a note.

"Dear Arquilla & Abou,

Here is the photo I took of you at the Chicago Consular Ball. Your name - Bakayoko - is one familiar to me and I am wondering if Abou may know a man I knew in Geneva, Switzerland, many years ago. (1975)

He was the Consulate General for The Ivory Coast in Geneva. I knew him simply as" Monsieur Bakayoko" -- and I lived with him for 3 months in a little town called Chambesy, working as Au pair for two young boys, his son Frank and Jacob (Frank's cousin). They were both five years old at the time. Franck's mother had died, so the boys needed someone to look after them.

A few years ago, I returned to Chambesy & Geneva, asking after him at the consulate, but they only said that he no longer worked in Switzerland.

Since you are in the diplomatic realm ... and your name is the same, I thought I'd contact you to see if you have any news of this man.

You looked so beautiful that night, enjoy the photo.”

Her note, after the Consular Ball, said simply,


Your email was quite a surprise and proof that the world is truly a small place. Monsieur Bakayoko, is in fact Abou's Uncle. He is now the Secretary of State for the Ivory Coast. Frank lives in Paris and has a small daughter. Abou is actually in the Finance realm and myself, I sit on the Board for the International Visitors Center of Chicago.”

And so we had supper together. Abou told me how the Bakayokos I knew have lived their lives since then. Abou, who reminds me of his uncle, gave me contact information for both Monsieur and Frank. and I can’t wait to call!

Photo credits: Caitlin Hicks, Colleen Duke, Matt Hotz, Gord Halloran

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