Robert Pirsig and The Richness of Chicago

Tunisian labor leader Kemal  Saad speaks at the UNITEHERE office in Chicago on Friday, April 19.

Tunisian labor leader Kemal Saad speaks at the UNITEHERE office in Chicago on Friday, April 19.

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motocycle Maintenance was an important book for me in high school, even if I’m not entirely sure I made my way through it.

You have to remember that this was a period when dear friend Hisao Kushi and I would spend hours exclaiming over the profundity of expressions on Lipton tea bags that read, “Sometimes the best thing to get off your chest is your chin.”

Compared to that, Pirsig’s assertion that “We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world” was, if not quite as deep as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, pretty darn close.

In this Princess Bride clip, Vizzini disparages the Greek philosophers’ intelligence.

I thought of Pirsig’s statement on Friday.

While much of the world’s attention, and our family’s heart, has been in Boston, I was reminded anew of the richness here in Chicago.

The reminders took several forms.

Dunreith and I responded to an invitation from uber-connector Danny Postel, in town from Denver for the weekend, and attended a presentation by a delegation of Tunisian union leaders at the UNITEHERE office.

For those who do not know, union activism is seen to have played a critical role in the ouster of longtime President President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 after 28 days of protest.

The revolution was the first social upheaval in what has come to be called the Arab Spring.

Saad gave a wide-ranging talk in which he talked about the change in union membership since the overthrow of Ben Ali (it’s up, especially among young people), the union structure (there aren’t leaders per se, he said, but older people do have more experience, the right to strike (it’s there, but to be used as a last resort), and the role of women (he said more than 50 percent of the Tunisian Congress are women, even though several other sources put the number at close to one quarter).

Saad’s college Hebib Hegeb also spoke, talking about the hope he and others share that the international community will invest in the country as it is sorely needed.

Per capita income close to doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to the United Nations, but still was at $4,200 in the latter year.

Both men’s comments were warmly received, and the diverse crowd stood to applaud them for their work and accomplishments at the session’s end.

Regardless of what one thinks about union activities, it was indeed an expansive opportunity to hear from people who participated so directly in the shaping of their nation’s history.

From the presentation we stopped by Kramer’s health food store to pick up a tasty Kombucha and catch up with G.D. Jenkins, an award-winning raw foodist.

I stopped by Kramer’s regularly when I worked at The Chicago Reporter. Since moving to Hoy a couple of years ago, I don’t get there much.

This lack of contact made it that much more pleasant to see G.D. again. He had just given a workshop last night and said that his wife is still biking actively.

Trilogy Kombuchas in hand, Dunreith and I made our way over to the Loews Theater on Michigan Ave. for the Latino Film Festival.

We caught the end of Delusions of Grandeur, Iris Alamarz’s homage to San Francisco that she said in a post-film question and answer session was in the tradition of Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

Delusions centers on the quest of Lucy, a 22-year-old medicated grunge girl who sets out for the city to escape her suburban home and to find her mother who abandoned her 10 years earlier.

Once in the city, she shares an apartment with Illusion, a transgendered woman with a generous spirit who succeeds in finding, but not holding onto, love.

Meanwhile, struggling flower seller Rocio discovers that her husband is a gay cross dresser-a knowledge that comes with predictably unhappy conclusions.

Yet, through a combination of drugs, reflection and Illusion’s wisdom, as Shakespeare would say, “All’s well that’s end well.”

Or, in the word of Alamarz, for whom the film marked a debut, you have to love yourself before you can love others.

She certainly loves San Francisco.

The movie is full of lingering shots of the Mission neighborhood where my brother Mike and his family live. This includes images of Dolores Park, the busy streets full of shops, a large blue mural that serves as a backdrop for Illusion’s distinctive walk and a painful spill, and repeated pictures of the classic Roxie Theater.

The enthusiastic audience was markedly smaller than the crowd that assembled for Las Cosas Como Son, or “Things As They Are,” the feature presentation.

Also by a first time director, Chilean Fernando Lavenderos, the film tells the story of Jeronimo, a taciturn thirtysomething landlord with a thick beard who lives a hermetically sealed existence fixing his family’s house in Santiago.

His world is disrupted when he rents a room to Sanna, an idealistic if naive Norwegian woman who teaches acting to children who live in a dangerous neighborhood.

Jeronimo spies on his new tenant, even as a relationship starts to build between them.

But progress between the budding couple is stalled when Sanna brings her work home in an unexpected way.

In the question and answer session after the film, Lavanderos explained that he wanted Jeronimo to represent the closed and lonely nature of many Chilean people, especially among the upper classes.

It was getting late for us, and we were ready to head back to Evanston.

But not before we took with us a grain of sand that showed us Chicago in some, but not nearly all, of its multi-lingual glory.


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