#906: La Grande Jatte

March 26th, 2018

The soundtrack was a mixture of cars traveling down Narragansett and Fullerton, the few birds who decided to make the cold day spring in more than name and a Spanish-language sermon hollered into and and echoing from a loudspeaker through the park from a congregation that decided to celebrate Palm Sunday al fresco.

Hymns alternated with hollering: half preaching, half protest rally, but the birds didn’t mind. They flitted and fluttered around the small lagoon human hands carved to look nature-built.

The taste was the plastic sack of chicharrones purchased from one of the carts stationed around the park, the ones eyeing the congregation for signs of weakness. A plastic bag of puffed wheat wagon wheels doused in squeeze bottles full of hot sauce and lemon juice. Sitting along a man-hewn rocky outcropping, they covered knuckles in stage blood as the wheat wheels vanished one by one.

The lagoon meandering through Riis Park’s southwest end is stocked in summer with bluegill, carp and yellow bullhead but any fisher at the moment would only likely to catch Budweiser cans, a Skyy Vodka bottle, cigarette lighters and plastic bags of sundry shape, size and usages.

The reeds are dead, the leaves are dead, the grass is dead, the trees are bare and spider-legged.

But the sun was bright on Sunday and the birds were chirpy. The occasional warbled hymn dribbling across the park was lovely for what it was — full-hearted congregants loving their lord rather than a well-trained studio choir.

Two short, hefty women and a gangly man with a mustache and baseball cap walked slowly along the other edge of the pond, each holding a single blade of a palm frond aloft. The man dawdled, then lingered, then stopped, staring down at the water. Maybe he was thinking of garbage, or of fishing, or just thinking of the wind and water and dead reeds like I was.

He caught up to the two women. They left the park.

A flotilla of water birds cruised atop the lagoon toward me as the rest of their flock waddled the pavement behind. Geese and ducks. City birds all, the two geese of the flotilla so fearless they get within inches for a shot at the chicharrones urban life has taught them humans were bred to distribute. The ducks were more interesting. Nut-brown females, gaudy males whose heads glinted Navy blue or green depending on which angle they turned in the sunlight. Two males flew off, necks ringed with white like a Catholic priest.

The waddling contingent of the flock dispersed, and with a final warbled hymn from the loud-speaker across the park, so did the congregation. They spread out from the central clump to the parking lots and chicharrones stands, children laughing ahead and running, the adults in a slow silent procession with blades of palm frond.

In 1884, French painter Georges Seurat put the first dot on what would become “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” With nothing more than dips of paint, he created a Sunday afternoon of the wealthy and sinful, innocent and beautiful sitting by and staring at the banks of the Seine. Out of disparate dots, he created a unified moment of beauty. It took him two years.

Belmont-Cragin did it in an afternoon.

Read about the painting’s Chicago home

And about a piece it shares that home with

And about getting drunk in public parks and playing croquet

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You are currently reading #906: La Grande Jatte by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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