Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On the Other Side of Town

This morning it was wake up, get up, and get moving.

Temperatures have been bouncing between a low of 30 and a high of 40F, but the high has no standard time for appearing. I’ve been told that sometimes the high point will be mid-morning with the low returning before noon, and at other times peak isn’t reached until the sun is about to set. Probably this phenomenon is merely a manifestation of the city’s winds.

And yes, it is windy. The thermometer really doesn’t actually matter around here—the wind chill factor is the only thing worth noting, but that is not a constant either. It is something, in fact, that changes over ten minute periods and can only be gauged by being stepped out into.
On the street I got some sickened looks from other walkers as I allowed the winds to blow my overcoat open and back. Personally, I’m enjoying the weather immensely.

The foot bridge to the Metra station is littered with gargantuan granules of salt to prevent freezing, as is every other bridge in the area. At the top of the bridge is an enclosure featuring the line’s ticket vending machine. Which, at least when it mattered to me, failed to recognize U.S. currency. Tickets cost two bucks more when purchased on the train itself, but the guy on board kindly knocked it off due to circumstances.

After disembarking, it was a nice walk through cold and quiet streets to the University of Chicago grounds. A nice place.
Just inside my building of destination was one of many walls littered with flyers. Activities, roommates wanted, submissions requested, et cetera. At the top and toward the right was the first leaf to actually register with my head. It advertised Wednesday at 7:00pm, in Social Sciences Room 122, a meeting on Israeli/Palestinian issues. Featured was the name of one Hillel Halkin: renowned Judean and political scholar, and Hebrew translator.
Wednesdaythat means today, right?
Wow. It is Halkin’s magnificent translation of the Sholem Rabinovich (alias Aleichem) works ‘Tevye der Milkhiker’ and ‘The Railroad Stories’ (Halkin’s first translation from a Yiddish source) that I have lately been engaged in so happily. I had actually wanted to bring my copy from the hotel to read during lulls in the day, but didn’t for lack of large enough pocket.
And I must admit that, while I had hardly been familiar even with Hillel Halkin’s name before picking up his Sholem Aleichem, after reading his absorbing introduction to the book I have developed a massive respect for the man.
Seven o’clock. I’ll be there.

On campus it was a simple matter of finding a circular aimed at hungry freshmen to choose a breakfast spot. A relatively brief walk took me to Medici bakery (which also features take-out from the restaurant of the same name next door) where I dined on a large chocolate chip cookie. Washed down with milk rescued from a conclusion in someone’s cappuccino.
Nearby is Edwardo’s Natural Pizza, where one is a “guest” and not a “customer.” (The beautiful prices almost make me believe it, too.) I would later eat both lunch and supper there, more than satisfied by the magnificent pepperoni they dish out. The only bother is that I have never before in my life seen ‘Eduardo’ spelled with a ‘w.’ It is irksome.

I made a note of the three bookstores in the area, each of which I would visit during the day (though the antiquarian one with the primeval weaponry I only looked at through the window). At one I would buy one of the two Nero Wolfe books I had been missing from my collection, and almost buy a dozen other books:
John le CarrĂ©’s first novel (I sadly have yet to actually read anything of his, but $13 seemed high for such a thin paperback), some of the inimitable Tintin adventures from HergĂ©, a pleasing work on the Justice Department, not to mention a throng of very tempting comic collections.
I shouldn’t be allowed in bookstores until I am made independently wealthy by, well, whatever might make me independently wealthy.

I also hit the local markets to price things like canned goods and personally pick up a box of hot cocoa and a loaf of bread.

Back on campus I obtained a copy of the Chicago Maroon. The Maroon is announcedly an independent student newspaper. But it dates back to just before the Columbian Exposition (well-remembered judging by the number of establishments claiming to be ‘Columbian’) and seems to have acquired a level of official recognition, at least, due to the weight of tradition.
Maroon is brief, mostly immaterial, and healthily disjointed (meaning it has accepted contradictory points of view for its front page). It is also very well-written and a pleasure to read.

The time remaining (most of it) before the assembly with Mr. Halkin I spent in the research library with a visitor’s pass, brushing up on my knowledge of 1940s filmography.

Over at the social sciences building, people were arriving early. Actually, the room was beyond packed considerably before start time. The guy in front of me used his laptop’s WiFi to try finding out what was going on, but Wikipedia has no page on Hillel Halkin at this time. I gathered from the rest of the kid’s activity that he was supposed to cover this little gathering as a journalistic assignment.

The conference took the form of a debate between Mr. Halkin and Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, and most of the students present seemed to be there only for Mr. Hitchens.
As a debate it was acceptable, though Hitchens (who at first asked permission to use only two-thirds of his allotted time) took much more than his allowance in the opening argument. Not everything he said was actually rubbish, of course, and almost all of it was at least interesting. But it still remains that he consistently took long enough so as to leave Halkin not so much time to reply.

I was disappointed, but not totally so. The discussion on both sides was generally worth listening to, and Mr. Halkin did a very good job with the time available.
When it did end (late) due to Mr. Hitchens’ scheduled plane ride, I had to rush to the train station to catch a ride back to the hotel. In the end, my train didn’t materialize for another hour, leaving me feeling cheated out of not only the possibility of an autograph (as I’d left his book in my room) but also the chance to even shake hands with Mr. Halkin.
I’d had a camera in my pocket, and that would have made one nice picture.

Oh well.

As an aside, Halkin’s article at New Republic on Salman Schocken (whose Schocken Books published Halkin’s version of Milkhiker) is online for TNR subscribers.

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