Street Smart Chicago

Life Is Beautiful: Teen Dream

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By David Alvarado
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The Power of Hospitality: An Interview with Chicago’s Advocate for Giving Syrian Refugees a Second Chance

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Suzanne Akhras Sahloul (center) at the Syrian Community Network #RefugeesWelcome Thanksgiving dinner in Evanston/ Photo: Syrian Community Network

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul (center) at the Syrian Community Network #RefugeesWelcome Thanksgiving dinner in Evanston/ Photo: Syrian Community Network

By Sarah Conway

The world is witness to the largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than four million Syrians have fled their country and nearly eight million are displaced internally, mired in a violent and unending civil war. Each year Illinois welcomes 2,000 refugees from around the world and is prime to lead in the refugee resettlement crisis. While the Obama administration and state and conservative leaders spar over plans to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. by the end of fiscal year 2016, 131 Syrian refugees have already started their new lives in Illinois. More than two-thirds of those resettled are now Chicagoans.

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, a local activist, recently founded the Syrian Community Network nonprofit to help newly arrived Syrian refugees successfully transition to life in America. Since January 2015, Suzanne has been on the ground running. She leads efforts to fight rising xenophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric through advocacy with local and national political leaders, as well as to help families in their transition to life in Chicago. “I wish there were thirty-six hours in a day,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top Five of Everything 2015

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As 2015 comes to a close, it’s hard to imagine this being a year of anything but infamy in Chicago. But that overlooks the fact that many of us live in and love this city in spite of its politics and social injustices. Consider its culture. We do, here in and more than a hundred Top 5 lists throughout our virtual and real pages. See you in 2016! (Brian Hieggelke)

Top 5 Cultural Events of 2015
Doris Salcedo at MCA
The Herd at Steppenwolf
An Evening with Kurt Elling at Grant Park Music Festival
The Secret Garden at Court Theatre
Grupo Corpo at Auditorium Theatre
—Brian Hieggelke

Top 5 WTF Moments Living in Chicago in 2015
Chicago’s fifth-largest blizzard in history
Rahm Emanuel is reelected as mayor
Chicago’s City Council passes the city’s largest property tax
Laquan McDonald shooting and video tape go public
“Back to the Future 2” disappoints as the Cubs make it to the second round of the MLB playoffs and lose to the New York Mets
—Mary Kroeck Read the rest of this entry »

A Lot You Got to Holler, Episode 1: Chicago Plays Itself

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Chicago Plays Itself


A Lot You Got to Holler is a new Newcity Design podcast. Hosted by Newcity design editor Ben Schulman and Chicago architectural journalist Zach Mortice, the podcast will explore Chicago’s singular history of architecture, design and urbanism, with an emphasis on pop culture. Schulman and Mortice will invite artists, designers, and architects into the studio for conversations about Chicago’s past and ongoing role as a proving ground for American culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of December 17, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The Neanderthals were a different human species that co-existed with our ancestors, homo sapiens, for at least 5,000 years. But they eventually died out while our people thrived. Why? One reason, says science writer Marcus Chown, is that we alone invented sewing needles. Our newborn babies had well-made clothes to keep them warm and healthy through frigid winters. Neanderthal infants, covered with ill-fitting animal skins, had a lower survival rate. Chown suggests that although this provided us with a mere one-percent survival advantage, that turned out to be significant. I think you’re ready to find and use a small yet ultimately crucial edge like that over your competitors, Aries. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: John Cusack’s Unlikely Year

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CusackChiRaqBy Tony Fitzpatrick

It is not every American actor who finds himself in a Moscow hotel room with Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg and Arundhati Roy in a wide-ranging discussion about the nature of democracy, the ideas of personal freedoms and the devaluation of other cultures in the face of those lofty thematic structures. That Cusack and the author Roy fostered this conversation into being is doubly amazing seeing that Daniel Ellsberg was the Edward Snowden of his day—leaking the Pentagon Papers in the early seventies and laying bare our dark and dirty secrets regarding the Vietnam War as well as the surveillance of American citizens perpetrated by the Nixon White House. Sound familiar?

It was also Ellsberg who was accused of the most egregious acts of espionage when in fact his actions, in the historical rear-view mirror, were actually a transformative act of citizenship. The conversation is riveting—for once we get to hear Snowden in his own words explain why what he leaked was a necessary and moral act of civil disobedience. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of December 10, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “Happiness sneaks through a door you didn’t know that you left open,” said actor John Barrymore. I hope you’ve left open a lot of those doors, Aries. The more there are, the happier you will be. This is the week of all weeks when joy, pleasure and even zany bliss are likely to find their ways into your life from unexpected sources and unanticipated directions. If you’re lucky, you also have a few forgotten cracks and neglected gaps where fierce delights and crisp wonders can come wandering in. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Is Beautiful: Teen Dream

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By David Alvarado

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Sammy the Christmas Dog

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sammy snowAs a young couple, my wife and I moved out of the Roscoe Village neighborhood to Portage Park, a place where we could afford to buy a home. About a month after our housewarming, my wife was at her office Christmas party at Condon and Cook, a law firm near Dearborn and Chicago. On a whim, she wrote “Puppy” on the “Secret Santa” form in the office pool.

December 22, 1998 was a cold, dark, snowy afternoon. The office was about to close for the five-day Christmas break. My wife was sent out to file briefings at the Daley Center. When she returned she saw a shoebox in the hallway with a red ribbon around it. Inside it was a Yellow Labrador-Pit Bull mix. It was tiny, the size of a guinea pig. Apparently, one of the other secretaries had been told she could not keep a dog in her apartment.  I drove downtown to pick them up. I remember how the tiny puppy kept shaking in the little shoebox as we drove home on the Kennedy Expressway.  It kept trembling as we entered the house. It took a couple of days for him to get used to us, but by Christmas, 1998, he knew he had a home. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Works: The Raffia Wrapper

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Perhaps you’ve seen a gift wrapper work, a calm clerk who folds crisp paper around impossible shapes and binds them with striped string. Perfect, and caring, and warm. When they’re done, it looks like a gift.

There is another class of gift wrapper: the one who, in early November, finds a flat surface in the back room, shoves a menagerie of items into decorative baskets and boxes, and fumbles with scraps of ribbon until these collections of colorful objects look something like what one might call a gift.

I am this wrapper, and when I wrap a gift, I look like a cat tangled in a ball of yarn: confused and stuck, eyes wild and glowing, mouth slightly ajar. I find scraps of raffia in my apron for weeks to come. I develop a deep loathing for raffia.

Raffia is a dried-out, shredded-up palm frond that looks like a softer, wispier version of hay. You can wrap it around a jar full of anything, and it will somehow look perfectly rustic.

It has become so popular among crafters that you can now find imitation raffia—paper, rayon, plastic—in any color you wish. I have three spools: fluorescent green, red orange, and brassy “pearlized” (plastic).

It is this versatile ribbon that looped itself around my every other finger and pulled me into that state of mania that descends upon the retail workforce every November. It’s the state in which you grin and say “hello” to everyone you see, every time you see them. The state in which you forget to eat lunch, but you remember to eat the free candy in the break room, then you suffer dearly. The state in which you travel through time more quickly, and your short term memory all but disappears. The holiday spirit.

Visitors to my wrapping lair will find me staring at the tense intersection of two delicate strings of raffia. I pull one end, and one of two things happens: either I tighten a knot and collapse under a wave of relief, or I undo the taut interface of string, and watch the ribbon fall off the box in the same way my cardigan slumps into a wrinkled mass when I shrug it onto my couch at home and sigh.

The more strings of raffia I use, the fluffier it looks. I fold it over itself, and loop it around my fingers. This confuses my shoe-tying instinct, and I have to relearn the narrative of the shoelace bunny. I relearn it with extra string tied around my fingers—which is like tying my shoes in another dimension, while drunk.

A coworker sees me, grins, and asks me how it’s going. “Remember how I said I like wrapping presents?” I say, and I grimace. She takes the grimace as a smile, as retail workers have trained our grimaces to look like smiles. She smiles back at me, says “girly girl.” She hadn’t heard me swearing at the thing.

I bring the boxes to the shelf. I stand them up like they’re a choir. I re-fluff the raffia.

Boxes disappear over the next two months. Away they go, wrapped by one stranger and given to another. Away they go to a dinner party where you don’t know anyone, but you want to impress them—because you live in a big cold city and you need friends to keep you warm.

In January, I will unwrap the remaining boxes. I will place each item back on the shelf, and I will throw away a festive wad of raffia. (Abi Knopp)