Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Part of the US Where Someone might Legitimately Recognize SRK...

Today was the first pretty morning in a long while, and I have been having a touch of the loneliness and cabin fever from staying inside all week sending out applications and generally trying to find my life's purpose, so late this morning I unlocked Ormen Lange and set off for Devon.

The New York Times describes the street thusly:

The stretch of Devon Avenue in North Chicago also named for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, seems as if it has been transplanted directly from that country. The shops are packed with traditional wedding finery, and the spice mix in the restaurants’ kebabs is just right...
Indian Hindus have a significant presence along the roughly one-and-a-half-mile strip of boutiques, whose other half is named for Gandhi. What was a heavily Jewish neighborhood some 20 years ago also includes recent immigrants from Colombia, Mexico and Ukraine, among others...
But immigrants are not mired in the Devon Avenue neighborhood; many move out once they can afford better.

For me, Devon is, from west to east, a Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Indian, Pakistani, African, Mexican collision covered in dirt that everyone seems to notice but nobody seems to care about.

I find this summation completely apt. I know some South Asians who have come as far as Texas but who started off as satellites of Devon. The whole place teems with life of all kinds and ethnic dresses and colors and the tantalizing smells of smoking meats and baking breads. As you walk down the street you are just as likely to hear English as you are Urdu, Spanish, Polish or Hindi, and it's all rather loud.

On the weekends, when the yuppies head in to shop, the ex-Devoners come back to pay homage to their roots, and the broke college kids go out to be "ethnic", the natives roam the streets and socialize with the shop owners, who tend to hang out their doors when business is slow. I used to get henna tattoos here before big exams, and while the herbal mud dried I'd watch the students at the religious Jewish day schools gossiping in long skirts or jackets outside the kosher pizza place.

A shabbas trip to Devon...

A Mexica paletero in front of an Indian cafe in Chicago.
This kind of speaks for itself

It's also one of the streets for produce. People can yell themselves blue in the face about the greatness of farmers markets, but immigrants don't mess around with their greens. I couldn't get much actual shopping done in the stores though, because there were walls of people and all incapable of forming a decent line. I just bathed in the kAoS of it all.

It's Ramadan!!

In celebration of Ramadan, I ducked into my favorite Islamic book store (yes, I have a favorite) for a card. Turns out I'm a bit late in the game, but the nice man told me when they were getting in their Eid card shipment and then, calling me "sister," showed me how to write out "Ramadan Kareem" which means "Happy in-as-much-as-it-should-be Ramadan!"

Then I went to a cafe, where I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the amazing piles of sweet orange things, or my thick mango lassi (I agree with a certain actor who in one movie implied that if he had had his lassi that morning, he wouldn't have been so off-putting to the female lead...not to worry though, it's bollywood, so he got the girl after some dancing around), but I did make some snaps later as I was finishing up my day on Devon:

A little slice of ethnic Chicago aesthetic

One of the stores...I don't know why, but I find the strategy of
stacking plastic pillows full of spices and stuff on BILLY style shelves
with no discernable organzing schema VERY entertaining and thrilling in many ways

It isn't all rose lassi though. We are in the middle of a recession, as seen in these photos:

Foreign-language newsprint, showing the English
word "Recession" on an empty store front

An empty lot, a hole in the array of shops, filling with water

Now, there are those amongst us who will blame this recession on overly-zealous deregulation. Others might point to Bill Clinton, our only Maoist president to date. Others might blame the giant monster of capitalism, but I think that someone on Devon has a much more compelling explanation for it:

well, dang, this might explain it all, mightn't it?
Someone from the Fed really ought to jump on that waiting list
because it'll hop up to 2029 before you know it

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