A Field Trip to Chicago

Ravinder on the Chicago River

The tour guide on the Chicago River architectural boat tour is well prepared, and talks excitedly nonstop for 75 minutes giving the history of each skyscraper and each bend in the green muddy river. She is also well prepared for the weather. We start the tour in sunny warmth, but then a windy rainstorm hits. I have my umbrella, but it is shattered immediately by a flash gust. The rain is cold, but she continues her descriptions, completely unfazed by the disruption. The tour ends again in sunny warmth. This is the windy city, and my San Francisco umbrella should have known better.

The Domination of Trump Tower

I have a better understanding of American politics by seeing the Trump – TRUMP- , tower from the boat. It is the 2nd tallest building in Chicago, and the only building with such huge signage. Since everyone in this country knows his name, from television, tabloids and his hugeness, he has automatic recognition and votes. Any Hollywood persona could be president: I would predict that Madonna would do equally well.

The Art Institute of Chicago is marketed as one of the world’s best museums. I walked through the many sections trying to keep my pupils dilated, to see it all. I got interested in a painting by Atsuko Tanaka and spent time examining the smooth round colors. However, I was dismayed by the exhibit – “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms”. It was a mob scene, with hundreds of people crowded into a small maze of rooms. I always admire the paintings of Van Gogh, but how did this one starving artist become such a posthumous rock star? How did his tragic life now turn into a multi-million dollar industry? They showed a video comparing the three similar paintings of his room, and the colors in detail. They had hundreds of different Van Gogh books on sale. Somehow it seemed terribly wrong to me: this commercialization of tragic beauty. There are thousands of artists alive today who are currently struggling like Van Gogh. They should be appreciated now.

Untitled painting by Atsuko Tanaka


The Field Museum of Natural History reminds me of my childhood fascination with dinosaurs. One of the best things about being a scientist is that I now have friends working in incredible places, including this museum. I got to see and hold the voucher specimen of an Ivory billed woodpecker, and a passenger pigeon. Both of these birds are the sad remains of once thriving species that are now extinct. The woodpecker was particularly incredible, with its crimson crest and bold size.  Afterwards I wander the many halls of this vast collection. The little boy shouting out the name “Parasaurolophus” when he sees the duckbill emphasizes the impact that these dinosaur places of worship have on our lives.

One more vegan restaurant to review: Chicago Diner. The delicious Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut and braised seitan made me buy their cookbook. Please visit me at home to look through my too large collection of vegan cookbooks. I ride many trains to find vegan restaurants in this world. I watch people along the way.

I am here in the Chicago area attending the Summit meeting of the GlobeMed organization: “Students and communities improving health around the world”.  This is a terrific group of students coming together in a spirit of inclusiveness to really make change in health outcomes, locally and internationally.  Amazingly, one week ago, I had disc-replacement surgery for my neck. Modern medicine is absolutely incredible, and I am now pain free, and recovered, enjoying the – still not spring – in Chicago.