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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Tale of Two Chicagos

There's the Midwestern "Windy City," "City of Big Shoulders," "Second City," etc.:

[Photo by John Hill]

And then there's the "Mideastern" Chicago, an urban warfare training site for the IDF in the Negev desert:

[Chicago #2, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, 2005 | Photo source]

The Midwestern Chicago's name is "derived from a French rendering of the Native American word shikaakwa, translated as 'wild onion' or 'wild garlic'," according to Wikipedia. In the 17th century the area that would become Chicago was referred to as "Checagou" and "Chicagoua," but by the 1833 incorporation of the city it took on its familiar spelling.

The Middle East Chicago, on the other hand, "[invokes] the bullet-ridden myth of the American city," according to Eyal Weizman in his fascinating, must-read book Hollow City: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (Verso, 2007). The fake city, whose creation dates back to the mid-1980s and the Israeli occupation of Lebanon (yet it has morphed and expanded over the decades to resemble Gaza settlements and other urban contexts of battle), was documented by photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in the book simply titled Chicago (SteidlMACK, 2008).

I'll admit I'm late in discovering the fake Chicago (Cabinet wrote about it in a 2006 issue, as did Pruned in 2009, among many others I'm sure), but suffice to say the photographers managed to bring the non-place to the attention of a global audience; they were aided by Weizman, no less, who wrote an essay for the photo book. Pointing out the existence of this other Chicago is also timely, of course, given what has been taking place in Isreal and the Gaza Strip for the last month or so.

And while the Chicagoan in me wishes another name was chosen for the military training ground in the desert, my travels over the years, when I've met people overseas and mention the city I called home for three decades, have made me realize how much the Capone-era past of Chicago sticks in people's minds.

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