Chicago greeted me with it’s coldest winter in 50 years, thankfully I was prepared- my ‘no playing’ Dr Martins showed no mercy against the 9 inches of snow. Encased in my purple duffle coat, my shawl refusing entry to the hostile conditions, I was sufficiently armored.
On arrival, my first port of call was to find a toilet to dispel the bottels of water that i had been drinking on the flight. I was met with a quirk piece of technology in the ladies; a toilet seat that had a plastic cover that replaced itself. The clear instructions advised me to wave my hand in front of a green button, then, tho my amazement the plastic cover (a little like a plastic bag) rotated. Usually in public toilets i place sheets of toilet paper onto the seat before placing my delicate self onto the seat. If the toilet is offensive I levitate over the seat. No need for that here!
I navigated my way from O’Hare airport to my hotel Chicago Essex Inn on South Michigan avenue using the very efficient Chicago subway.
The security at the airport seemed to think my shea shower gel and apricot facial scrub had potential to cause harm and were confiscated- what was i going to do, have a ferocious facial scrub on the plane??? So I went out looking for replacements and for hot meal after Miss Flora and the rest of my baggage team were put to rest.
Early Saturday Morning I met up with 2nd Servas host, Kathy who invited me to go along to an event at the Pritzker Museum. I met Kathy at the venue as it is occupies the same road as my hotel. The event was unveiling a painting by Kay Smith. she was commissioned to paint a piece that commemorated the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII. I have particular interest in this topic as for the past 18 months I have been working on a documentary about Black Servicemen in WWII as part of the Nottingham Black Archive Heritage Lottery funded project “No Tears For Me My Mother’. The Tuskegee Airmen were a fleet of Black pilots who served in the American air force in WWII, largely unrecognised and unknown by the wider American public. As well as the painting being unveiled, a short documentary was screened about the process Kay Smith under took and interviews with a few ex Tuskegee pilots. I approached the film maker and the Pritzker Museum Events Manager to inform them of the project I had been working on. To my delight they asked if the Nottingham black Archive film could be donated to the museum and vise versa. The Nottingham Roosevelt Travel Scholarship (the reason why I’m able to be traveling America for 3 months) encourages it’s scholars to connect with industries that they are involved in and to promote Nottingham in the process and I really feel by connecting with Pritzker museum and sharing our resources would be one way for me to do this.
Black Ex Service from ioney smallhorne on Vimeo.
Artist Kay Smith and film maker Steve? at the Pritzker Military Museum
Kay Smith with her painting commemorating the Tuskegee Aircrew
Later that same evening Kathy invites me to the DePaul University Theatre to watch a play, ‘A Free Man Of Colour’ byJohn Guare. A play set in New Orleans, Louisiana 1801 and cleverly intertwines many historical personalities and events such as the story f Hernando De Soto, Le Code Noir, Toussaint Louverture’s sugar revolt, France and Spain fighting to control the state. It was a fascinating play, but at 3 hours I found it a tad long. Jet lag mixe with a dark warm theatre could only have one result. Yes i ashamedly fell asleep, I felt so bad as I was sitting in the front row. It had no reflection on the play whatsoever and was purely down to sheer exhaustion.
Kathy, my Servas host is an amazing woman, a marathon runner, cyclist & film editor she is deeply embedded into the community and frequently appears in local news advocating cycling in the city, for various charities & carrots. Kathy has the most impressive collection of carrot themed things in her kitchen.
Sunday, visited her friend Barbara car crash victim. Barbara was left unable to talk, walk and has limited control over her body. She does however have control over her thoughts and uses an alphabet board to communicate; pointing to letters on the board to spell out what she has to say. I was interested to meet her as i have a good friend, poet Maresa MacKieth who also uses alphabet board to communicate. Last year I translated one of Maresa’s poems into a short film and Kathy wanted me to show Barbara, with the hope that it may inspire her to also write. Barbara was delighted to learn of Maresa and said that she would think about writing.
Hands from ioney smallhorne on Vimeo.
After visiting Barbara Kathy took me to the a The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which has a beautiful tropical butterfly garden. You are invited to walk through the garden and meet butterflies of all sizes, colours & breeds who flutter freely- it was a magical experience.
While walking through the garden I received a phone call from Peter Kahn, a spoken word educator who works at Oak Park River Forest High school. I met him last year through Deborah Stevenson, the founder of Mouthy Poets. Peter mentions that there is a poetry event later that evening and invites me along. I accept the offer, Peter and informs me that I am actually the headline act. Surprised, confused, amazed, horrified and excited I agree to doing the gig. I find out that the gig is actually at the famous Green Mills, the home of slam poetry infamous for being Al Capones hang out. The gig is at 7pm so i had a few hours to gather my thoughts and poems.
Kathy then invited me to join her and her cyclist friends a a balaclava making party, which happens to be 5 minutes away from Green Mills. Kathy’s friends some how find the most ugly fleecy fabric (a lot of it donated) and make balaclavas with the intention of giving them away free to homeless and cyclists or anyone who needs to keep warm in these severe conditions. Having basic sewing machine skills I was soon put to work and made about 20 balaclavas before heading to Green Mills, where I meet Peter.
a wild balaclava making party in Chicago!
I take to the stage at about 7:45 after the open mic set. My nerves do kick in and prevent me from performing to my best, luckily I had a very supportive audience and get through a 15 minute set.