Since moving to Illinois, I have pondered the differences, some of them vast, between my new home and my old one. Certainly the most obvious one would be the climate. Alabama is beastly hot in the summer which generally lasts from May to October, followed by a glorious fall, a short winter and a brief rainy spring. Chicago is bitterly cold in the winter which generally lasts from October to May, followed by a short spring, a glorious summer and a brief rainy autumn.
I learned recently that Chicagoans actually LIKE the extreme cold, snow and ice and are very touchy when it comes to comments from outsiders. I read in the Tribune that it is sort of like a family member: NATIVES can complain as much as they want, but if OUTSIDERS say it sucks, they do so at their own peril.
There is another little matter that sets Chicago apart from Birmingham. In Birmingham, usually on the day after Christmas and most certainly by New Years Day, all Christmas decorations are down, put away until next year. As we entered the first week of 2010, I continued to see decorations. At first I thought it was because so many people here celebrate Orthodox Christmas so I kept my mouth shut. As I write this on February 3, I see Christmas lights in the yard across the street. Today I read in the Tribune that Chinese New Year's is February 14, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut a bit longer.
Speaking of the Chicago Tribune, that is another difference between my old city, Birmingham and my new one. In Birmingham we had one daily newspaper, The Birmingham News or as I liked to call it, The Birmingham Snooze. I could read the whole paper most weekdays in about 10 minutes, 30 on Sundays. Shortly after moving here, I wondered why I would get up in the morning, eat breakfast, sip tea and suddenly look at the clock to find it was almost noon. It was because it took me all morning just to read the damn newspaper!!
Here in Chicago we have not one but TWO daily rags, the allegedly more liberal yet infinitely more appealing Tribune and the less popular yet more politically conservative Sun Times. I have read both and despite my conservative bent, I prefer the Tribune. Something about that sleazy looking tabloid format of the Sun Times. While it may be easier for commuters to handle on the crowded Metra or EL, it just makes me feel like I am reading the National Enquirer. At any rate, the Tribune features the best local columnists, an excellent sports page and despite its liberal reputation, political cartoons by former Birmingham News cartoonist, the mostly conservative Scott Stantis.
I could go on and on about my newfound love for the newspaper but then I would never get to the point of this post. If it hadn't been for my favorite Tribune columnist, John Kass, I wouldn't be so well informed about Chicago politics and its many colorful characters like Governor Dead Meat and Senator How Ya Doin...I have inside info on how our president got elected, too. Something about Hopium and the Chicago Way...at any rate, all kidding aside, yesterday was the Illinois primary and like most Illinoisans, I was casting my vote against corruption. I wish I could say that this is another distinct difference between my new home state and my old one. Sadly it is not. It appears that Alabama and Illinois have an unwritten rule on term limits for governors, one term in office and one term in prison!
So after marking our ballots to "throw the bums out", Burt and I stopped by our favorite local pasta joint for dinner. Clara's occupies space in an unassuming strip shopping center on Highway 53. No fancy decor but the food is fabulous. It is owned by the daughter of "Mama Celeste" of frozen pizza fame and it is some of the best Italian fare I have ever had.
We started by ordering a bottle of red wine. The waitress brought the bottle to our table and I commented on how pretty the label was. She leaned toward me and said, "This label is nothing. We have another wine here with a gorgeous label but it's kind of racy."
"Oh really?" said I, raising my eyebrows. She leaned in closer and added breathlessly, "In fact, it is so racy that the wine is actually banned in Alabama!"
"Well all right then," I drawled in my best Alabama accent. "Y'all bring that one instead!" She looked a bit confused, so I explained further. "You won't believe this, but I am actually FROM ALABAMA and I would love to experience what I have been missing all these years!"
"You are?" she asked wide-eyed. "But what are you doing here?"
"Oh, I live here now. But I just moved here last year..." I trailed off.
She asked if we had moved here for work and before I could say, "No way, darlin. I just wanted to get out of that Podunk state, live a little and drink some real wine in a racy bottle!", my wonderful, ever-so-honest husband joined the conversation. "Yes, we moved here for work," he answered.
Looking across the table at me, he chided, "You are NOT FROM Alabama! We used to LIVE there but you are not FROM there!" While I was kicking him under the table for not going along with my fun, he looked sternly at our server and said pointedly, " We lived there for a long time and LOVED it. It is a great place and I think your story about the racy bottle being banned is urban legend."
Pretty soon she was back, not only with the Cycles Gladiator bottle of wine whose label featured a reproduction of a French art poster of a nymph on a bicycle, but waving in her other hand a printout of article about the wine and how the Alabama ABC did indeed ban the wines from being sold there. The ABC code prohibits any 'labeling or advertisement depicting persons posed in an immodest or sensuous manner.' Burt apologetically told her it was not necessary to bring the article. She replied that the bartender insisted since he didn't like being called a liar!
She suddenly got very curious and started asking about why people would want to ban a wine just because the label featured a little tasteful nudity. She asked if people were really that backward "down there." "Oh absolutely" I told her. "When the Baptists go to the grocery store with their children, the last thing they want little Susie or little Johnny seeing is nekkid folks on the wine bottles!" By now Burt was kicking ME under the table. I leaned in closer to her and added, rolling my eyes, "Why we even have a statue of the mythological god Vulcan that sits high atop Red Mountain with his backside exposed and the state is considering legislation that would make him cover up!"
By now I am having a great time but my husband is paying the check and hustling me on with my coat and out the door. In our rush, Burt nearly knocked the Christmas wreath off their front door! So much for my Chinese theory...Did I mention that the wine was delicious? A rich and dare I say it?.. full-bodied red!