Rachel Cromidas: January 2010 Archives

Ukranian Village: the New Country

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Submitted by Second-year Michael Carwile

The artist Andrij Kowalenko endured the chaos of the First World War, the oppression of Stalinism, and the uncertainty of a post-war displaced persons camp before making it Chicago's Ukrainian Village. In comparison, Anna and I had it easy: an hour on various CTA buses and trains to put up with and we landed at the intersection of Oakley and Chicago, where the thirteen copper domes of the St. Nicholas Cathedral met us on our right, and the one large gold dome of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha flanked us on our left. The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, holding a retrospective on Kowalenko's career, was just up the block, and all up and down the street the light posts were flying chamber of commerce banners in Ukrainian blue and gold.

Chicago's Ukrainian Village is like none you'll find in Ukraine. Its streets are as rectilinear as any in the city, and come with such names as Leavitt, Thomas, Walton or Iowa. Its housing stock is the same sturdy workers' cottages developers planted in immigrant neighborhoods throughout the city. And its main Orthodox church, St. Volodymyr, is a convert from Lutheranism and looks it. The Ukrainians were not the first group to populate this section of the city's West Side, and are no longer the largest, but somehow they've held on, and have been holding on for over a hundred years now.

If they didn't build the place, they've made it their own: in a two block stretch we passed by such establishments as the Ukrainian Self-Reliance Federal Credit Union, the Ukrainian American Club of Chicago, Ukrainian Delta Enterprise, and a few storefronts advertising only in Cyrillic. There were clusters of people on the street speaking their language among themselves, and the first thing anybody said to us in the neighborhood, at the check out counter of a convenience store where Anna and I were buying a Ukrainian chocolate bar, having passed up the Ukrainian soft drinks, Ukrainian dairy products, Ukrainian magazines and Ukrainian who knows what else, was, "Oh, you don't speak Ukrainian?"

And they did build it too--at least some of it. The thirteen domes of St. Nicholas, the neighborhood's oldest Ukrainian Catholic Church, gleam in homage to the eleventh century St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. But they could easily stand for the thirteen-day shift the church made to its calendar in 1969, a switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which so outraged a group of parishioners that they crossed the street and put up a church of their own. Thus two of the 74 American parish churches of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church stand 600 feet from each other.

If you went to the Christmas liturgy at St. Nicholas on the 25th and wanted to repeat the experience at Sts. Volodymyr and Olha on the 7th of January, you could walk no slower than two feet per hour. Maybe it would be a pleasant experience, to leisurely watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood, to see the schoolchildren rush in and out of the cathedral school, and maybe even see the bishop step outside for air. You might piss off the motorists, though.

As long as there is instability in Ukraine, Ukrainian Village will survive, so believes Marta, the woman working at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art when we paid our visit. The neighborhood is not a recent phenomenon - the onion dome over Holy Trinity Cathedral was raised in 1903 - but neither is it self-sustaining. Inevitably, as children grow up, the insatiable suburbs draw them out of the urban village. Our host recounted this well-known tale with a resigned wistfulness about her, but added on an up note, "There are always special occasions that bring them back."

Fortunately, there have always been new immigrants to fill the village on ordinary occasions; like clockwork, or Halley's Comet, they pour into Chicago in waves. Every 20 years, our host reckons. She herself is a member of the immediate post-war wave, the child of one of many families of professionals, artists, or other undesirables of a workers' republic who fled the Soviet Union in the confusion surrounding the Second World War and washed up on the shores of Lake Michigan.

A new wave, coming with the fall of the Soviet Union, has yet to ebb, and our host, in trying to downplay the tension between the two groups of immigrants, managed to exposed it. "They don't really speak a different language," she defended against no one in particular,

"Well, it's not that there aren't differences, differences of time, regional differences, it's an issue of dialect, really," and as she trailed off, I could hear entrenched middle-aged Ukrainians accusing the new riffraff of russophony.

Coming to Chicago turned the earliest Ukrainians into Russians, in the same way it turned Sicilians into Italians. The oldest orthodox church in the neighborhood, Holy Trinity Cathedral, a Louis Sullivan take on the orthodox vernacular, is Russian Orthodox, and was even financed in part by Nicholas II.

Yet while the Tsar put his weight behind Russian Orthodoxy, His Apostolic Majesty in Vienna was pushing Ukrainian Catholicism, and soon Chicago's Ukrainian Catholics demanded a church of their own. In 1913, the thirteen copper onion domes of the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral rose from Chicago's grid, just five blocks away. A second wave of immigrants from the region arrived in the neighborhood after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Civil War, these unequivocally Ukrainian, having tasted, briefly, Ukrainian independence in the chaos of 1917. Against Moscow's directive, these Chicago Ukrainians contributed a pavilion to Chicago 1933 Century of Progress exhibition, the only national pavilion not the work of a nation-state.

The generation of Marta's parents solidified the Ukrainian hold on the neighborhood, creating such unifying institutions as the Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union and the museum whose lobby we were standing in. Though there is also a Ukrainian National Museum, specializing in embroidery and Easter eggs and the like, this museum is full of strong lines, bold colors, and abstract expression--making it unabashedly modern. Human figures reduced themselves to arresting silhouettes, or else thick masses affected human form. A wire skeleton of a cylinder seethed with potential energy like the unbuilt Monument to the Third International. It was the kind of Ukraine not just a tradition to look back on, but a tradition to carry forward while the home territory was momentarily held back.

The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, we saw, was not just showing a retrospective on Andrij Kowalenko but also the work of a younger generation. Accompanying the icons Kowalenko fashioned from scraps of newspaper and bottle caps were pieces from the children of the St. Nicholas Cathedral School made with an even wider array of materials. Floppy magnetic disks became flying saucers over a computer's silicon innards. An empty plastic jug wore a Yankees cap.

And we got to meet one of the artists! Andrij Kowalenko is twenty years gone, but Sophia was there with her mother to look at her class's work. The two were walking around the exhibition space, pointing, taking pictures, and discussing the artwork in Ukrainian. We approached them, but only the girl responded in English when we asked if she had made anything on display. She showed us what she had, a butterfly.

The Ukrainian restaurant Marta had recommended to us for dinner has recently been ceded to the Jamaicans. Mr. Brown's Lounge had its grand opening the Tuesday before our visit, replacing Sak's Ukrainian Village Restaurant in the position opposite Sts. Volodymyr and Olha. We had another place picked out, but to pass the time before dinner, and wait for Alex and Ricardo to join us, we headed to Cafe Ballou on Western Ave. I had been to the cafe before, my only previous foray into Ukrainian Village, and two years ago I sat there almost alone in a wooden chair I couldn't quite manage to get comfortable in, under maps and black and white photographs hanging from the cream-colored walls and lamps hanging like a pearl necklace from the ceiling. Yowling swing and subdued orchestral recordings completed the milieu. It felt like Vienna in the twenties, the refuge of a culture already defeated but not quite yet departed.

Perhaps that was a prescient intimation, for today the place is under new ownership, and while not everything has changed, its double as colorful, the radio plays contemporary fare, and there were actually customers. We sipped our Moroccan mint tea, lounging on floor pillows thrown around a knee-level table, where once doilies had covered a table twice as tall. Uncertain times had turned our Viennese cafe into an opium den, or maybe this was now the palace of some Tatar khan of the Crimea. Or the hip syncretism of a 21st century American metropolis.

Dinner was served at an establishment with fewer pretensions, Old Lviv Ukrainian Buffet. Here, soup comes in clay jars that narrow at the rim and the rest of the food in trays under heating lamps. The cafeteria-style presentation is not the most appealing, but I can assure you the food is without exception delicious. Thick, heavy, meaty, gruely and delicious.

We had the spread to ourselves, being the only patrons, but we were hardly alone. Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a fairy princess, or a girl dressed up as one, and when Anna tried to tell her she was the cutest little girl in the world, her mother apologized that she probably couldn't understand. There was an abortive attempt to get the girl to sing the alphabet, the Latin one, but she preferred to stick with Ukrainian, which the family spoke among themselves.

Still, she seemed as content watching a Batman cartoon as the Ukrainian children's program that followed, a Rankin/Bass-like stop-motion production, with half the frame rate and realistic lighting for winter at the north pole.

Our server was the teenage son, who says they've been living in the United States for about ten years now, first in Ukrainian Village but now in the suburbs. He'd like to return to Ukraine, at least to visit, but so far it hasn't been possible. When asked whether he thought of Chicago or Ukraine as his home, he said he didn't really know, but whether he said so out of real ambivalence or adolescent diffidence I can't say. As we left the restaurant, the little pixie blew Anna a kiss, which only confirmed her status as absolutely the cutest little girl in the world.

Maybe one day she'll become a docent at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, or be exhibited there, and maybe she will one day worry about what the next wave of Ukrainians is doing to the neighborhood. Or maybe it will all remain a childhood memory, a realm that in the early 21st century lingered half way between her parents' world and her own.

by Anne Groggel, Staff Writer for the University Community Service Center Newsletter

For undergraduate Leyla Gutierrez, last Saturday began as usual, with breakfast. However, this time she shared her morning coffee with over 1,200 second and third-year students and 300 alumni, who gathered in the Loop for 'Taking the Next Step' (TNS). TNS is an annual forum where alumni give back to students, offering practical career advice and the opportunity to re-imagine their career potential beyond the scope of their program of study.

Fields in the non-profit sector, and the importance of volunteerism were highlighted at this year’s TNS, which drew alumni for diverse panels, ranging from Banking and Financial Services to Education, Teaching, and Policy. Gutierrez attended a session on NGOs, Policy and International Relations. It was "a great networking opportunity—I walked away with a great contact to help me seek internships," she said.

Taking the Next Step is " an effective way to interact with professionals," according to Scott Morris AB ’86, MBA ’92.

Whether attending panels, lunch roundtables, or taking in the message of keynote speaker David Medina AB ‘91, students like Collen Belak, class 2012, found solace in hearing about alumni experiences. "It was reassuring knowing that they were once where I am now," Belak said.

Medina currently serves as the Peace Corps' Director of Public Engagement and External Relations. As Director he manages national Peace Corps initiatives that promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Medina also builds and maintains partnerships between the Peace Corps and non-profit organizations in the United States. Growing up 15 minutes outside of Hyde Park he "wanted to devote my life to helping the poor and I knew U of C would do just that.”

Medina recalled talking about his shared experiences of South Side Chicago. Medina's CV is not only impressive, it speaks to the importance of student involvement early on in areas they are passionate about. While he stressed that "learning how to think critically and collaborate with individuals from many different backgrounds" as something he gained from the University of Chicago he urged students to gravitate more toward community service. During a panel session he explained that extracurricular activities are one of the things he considers when interviewing candidates. “It was interesting to hear their stories about community service because it shows how to find a balance between getting a career and serving others," said fourth-year Evette Addai.

Daniel Peiser, AB '84 recommended that students volunteer. "For a career in the not-for-profit field, volunteerism offers students an excellent avenue for both entering the field and faster career advancement. " He currently works as a consultant in not-for-profit management and development. Peiser shared his experience with students having spent over twenty years working for non-profits in Canada and the United States.

Peiser introduced volunteering as a functional entry for students to learn areas in organizations while giving students "a chance to do good” through volunteering for an organization that may relate to their chosen career field.

“The SummerLinks program, [for example], is a great opportunity for students who are contemplating a career in community service - one which I wish I'd had back when I was in The College," he said.

Chicago's Daily Scoop

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It's hard to keep an ear to the ground when it's so darn cold out, so I'm trying out a new feature: a regular re-cap of interesting news items of city-wide, local and campus importance.

City news
Is it warm out here? Chicago weather will hit above-freezing this week for the first time since Christmas Day's unseasonable 43 degrees. Not exactly reason to break out a tank top, but maybe now my hands won't turn into icicles every time I fumble to retrieve my CTA card from inside my wallet.

South Side news3 months after Chicago lost the Olympic bid, and still no word from the city on what will take the place of the Olympic Village in its massive reconstruction project at Michael Reese Hospital. I wrote this story for the Chicago News Coop last week, and my fingers really did turn into icicles when I attempted some man-on-the-street reporting up in Bronzeville.

Campus news52nd Street has a new bakery, the Chicago Weekly reports. Sounds like a yummy way to keep warm (Note to self: don't write a blog post right after running across the snow-capped quadrangle to get to work.)

The Sustainability Council is sponsoring a free Winter Gardening Workshop on Tuesday in Swift Hall:

Julia Govis (Master Gardener/International Organic Farm Inspector) will demonstrate and explain ways in which you can grow your own organic meals indoors this winter. There will be a Q & A session after the demonstration and materials will be available to take away to try the techniques presented during the workshop at home.

Survival tips for living in our lake-side tundra

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A friend of mine once joked that you had better bring a contamination suit, signal flares and an armored bear or two back to Chicago with you for Winter Quarter—"You'll be happy to have the bear along when you still encounter those English majors getting their nic fix outside of Cobb," he said. He wears open-toed sandals year-round, which as far as I'm concerned discredits any advice he has to give about winter survival. But I'm clad in Gore Tex-equipped, North Face snow boots, and I've come up with five or so ideas for making winter easier on the student, (short of hibernating in a dorm room through January):

—a sturdy pair of heavy winter boots is essential this time of year (especially if you need to make a quick get away, what with all the armored bears around), and even more so if you plan to spend January frolicking through the snow than falling on your ass the ice.

Fortunately, not all ice exists to trip you up—and though you probably won't be resorting to skating to class anytime soon (unless the alternating periods of warming and freezing get really extreme), there are several locations in Chicago designed just for such ice-friendly footwear: namely, Midway Rink, which is probably located just a few blocks away from where you live, and the Millennium Park Ice Rink, open through March 14.

Fitness—Speaking of exercise, Winter doesn’t have to be a bane for hardcore runners like myself; I take the sleet as an invitation to cross-train, which can sometimes mean pool workouts and yoga at Ratner, but also leaves a lot of room to go exploring indoors: the north and south sides both have fantastic rock climbing gyms, one at the Formula Fitness Club's Red-line/Division location. The other, ">Climb On, is right across the street from the Homewood Metra Station. Many Chicago gyms like FFC and Equinox offer free, week-long trial memberships with complementary group fitness classes. Nothing says Winter like aerobics classes that sound like they came from a cereal box ("Cardio Crunch" much?).

Transit —Winter can be a frightening time to be a biker or El commuter, and this year is no different. With more than 1000 employees scheduled for layoffs this February, and other CTA workers being fored to take up to 18 unpaid days off of work in early 2010, factor serious delays into your travel time. Biking is also an option, if you have the right mindset, equipment, and built-in wind resistance, as this Columbia College article suggests.

Food—For the first time this year, The Green City Market is open year round, and Jan. 16 is the next date. While you probably won’t find the summer’s gorgeous Sun Gold tomatoes, take advantage of the organic jarred jams, tomato preserves and all manner of berry compotes and nut butters to remind you of the fleeting taste of summer.

—In the spirit of indoor exploring, many of Chicago's museums are attracting locals in the tourism off-season with a slew of free admission days, including the Art Institute and Shed Aquarium, though you may have to wait until February to take advantage of it. The most up-to-date list I've seen can be found here.