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I was going to do a protracted rant about something else yesterday, but I got sidetracked by the Olympic opening ceremony which I haven’t really watched with any enthusiasm in years.  There is only so much of the “And here are our cutest children wearing costumes, carrying flowers, spinning ribbons and releasing balloons while doing ethnic dances” I can take in a lifetime.  I hoped Danny Boyle could ring some interesting changes on the whole big, gaudy spectacle but I wasn’t holding my breath.

Well by god, Danny Boyle gets my vote for the best opening ceremony in… ever.  Yeah it was still a big, gaudy spectacle with moments of real goofiness (Mr. Bean makes me ridiculously and pointlessly embarrassed, much as I love Rowan Atkinson.) But underneath it all — and no matter what Mr. Boyle says publicly — there was a core of pure liberal joy that made me want to get up and dance.

Now I confess the bucolic opening kind of put me off.  Yeah, green and pleasant land and all, but singing “Hey nonny” on the greensward was not an Olympic event last time I looked. After a bit of pastoral fol-de-rol,  the Industrial Revolution chugged onto the scene with frock-coated industrialists smugly supervising the uglification of that pretty landscape, huge, ugly smokestacks, and smudged workers who didn’t so much cavort as trudge.  The commentators on NBC cheerfully told their viewers that this was a tribute to the industrialization that made Britain great, as clouds of sulfur-scented smoke wafted out of the chimneys and into the stands.  Ken Branagh recited Caliban’s “Be not afeared” speech from “The Tempest” and those frock-coated capitalists did a little dance as their money piled up.  I said to Glinda that it seemed odd to me to be celebrating the kind of industry that will eventually put all of the UK under water. I still wasn’t quite getting it, though later as I reflected on the forging of one of the five Olympic rings, the symbolism pretty much hit me over the head with one of those hammers.

And then things got really strange.  There was a tribute to the National Health Service which is so maligned by the right wing in this country.  ”Oh no,” they say “It’s horrible.  They hate it in England!”  Well right there in front of God and everybody, the commentators read their notes which explained how beloved the NHS is in England.  And I whooped and shouted “Suck that, tea baggers!”  Poor Glinda, who had gone out to the kitchen for a moment said “What the hell is happening?”

Then there was a children’s nightmare sequence which was an odd sort of tribute to children’s literature, when you think about it, and the children were rescued from their night time horrors by a whole platoon of Mary Poppinses.  (Possibly a spoonful of sugar does make the medicine go down.) It all ended with a gigantic baby about which I agreed with the commentator who said he found it kind of creepy.

The Frankie and June segment was a good-humored, and relentlessly multi-racial, tech love story.  I particularly liked that the kids who really represented the face of the new generation were mixed-race.  The commentators talked about how charismatic they were,

and they were charming, but what I saw first was dark skin.  And it was pleasing in my eyes, as was the video montage that followed Frankie and June’s first kiss which included a lesbian kiss and made me yell “GIRLKISSING!” and then, as the montage ended: ”WHERE’S THE BOYKISSING?”  You can’t ask for everything, I guess.  It was a damn inspiring moment.  And then, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web appeared, and tapped out this message for the world: “This is for everyone.”  Again, suck that everyone who wants to censor and control the internet!  It’s for everyone; Sir Tim says so and he invented it.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the sheer goofiness and good humor of H.M. parachuting out of a helicopter over the stadium, accompanied by James Bond.  You want to talk indelible images?  That’s the one people will be talking about for years. (And it was not lost on me that Daniel Craig is hot like burning, and believe me when I tell you I would hit that like the fist of an angry god if he gave me half a chance.)

I loved the rock and roll because British rock changed popular music several times over.  I got a bit misty as  I watched the torch being carried along the Thames in a motorboat piloted by David Beckham, and I cried when the Olympic flag was brought to Muhammed Ali .

I am not unaware that while rock is both the music of the people and of youth, punk and rap, which was prominently featured in the show, is the music of the disaffected and disenfranchised and I don’t think that its inclusion was an accident.  Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that the torch was carried in accompanied by an honor guard comprised of 500 of the workers who actually built the Olympic stadium, or that the people who carried the Olympic flag into the stadium were:

So really, I don’t care how many times someone says that no, there wasn’t any political content, I saw what I saw, and it made me very happy.  I loved hearing Paul McCartney sing “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.” because for a short space of time, this event, this coming together in the brotherhood of sports is a way to take all the sad songs and make them a little better for a time.  It’s a way to help people recognize that we’re all sharing the same planet, we all have the same needs, and working together, we  can make things better.

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Chicago - Can't Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 - Po...

Chicago – Can’t Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 – Portage Theatre, before the show (Photo credit: meryddian)

The church has withdrawn its request for rezoning of the Portage Theater, and has pulled out of the bidding on the property.  While I don’t have any other details right now, I believe this makes the current theater operators either the only or the top bidders on the property.

This is wonderful news, particularly coming on top of the successful Patio Theater Kickstarter campaign.  Thanks to everyone who supported these projects, with donations or letters or signatures on a petition.  You’ve done something good for Chicago neighborhoods; you’ve aided in the process of bringing them back from decrepitude.  These two theaters will serve this area for years to come, showing second run, oldies, and holding special events that will enrich their communities.

This is all very exciting.

Portage Theater

Portage Theater (Photo credit: reallyboring)

p.s.  Don’t forget that the Patio Kickstarter campaign is accepting donations until tomorrow night.  While the donations are a sure thing now, every little bit helps.  So please, if you haven’t already pledged, consider giving a few bucks.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.p...

4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.portagetheater.org/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Portage?  Well it’s still in danger.  Here’s the situation:  A church located a few miles from the theater has outgrown its current location.  When church reps found that the Portage was up for sale they jumped at the chance to buy it since the property is enormous.  They plan to use the auditorium space for their presentations, the storefronts and apartments for other church business and events.  They also plan to make significant alterations to the façade.

The alderman, John Arena, has been working with the church to try to find other, more suitable locations, but so far the church has refused to reconsider.  This is not a matter of keeping the building owner from selling; there are several other offers on the property including one from the people who run the theater.

I haven’t yet run across any local who likes the idea of an enormous store-front church spang in the middle of the Six Corners business district, an area which used to be a thriving shopping and entertainment district, but has in the past twenty or thirty years become very down-at-the-heels.  The re-opening of the theater has been a tremendous boost to pulling more business into the area.  There’s a theater group and a museum of veterans’ art slated to open almost across the street from the Portage, and several new bistros and cafes which have recently opened or are about to open.  The theater is an anchor for the neighborhood.  Without it, and in fact with the church in its place, the area would almost certainly lose its momentum.  The presence of a church (in the words of the group trying to save the theater) “would mean the eventual loss of a neighborhood favorite in the Portage Theater. The net effect would be a loss of tax revenue, economic revenue, economic engine that fuels activity in the corridor, and set insurmountable restrictions for businesses looking to open restaurants, bars and places of entertainment moving forward.”

Why does business matter?  Because this area has been a ghost town for too long.  When I was a child it was the central business district for all the neighborhoods around it.  Then people began to leave the city in the late sixties and early seventies and bit-by-bit neighborhoods came apart.  We need our neighborhoods.  We need places where independent businesses can grow and thrive, where we can shop, dine, and be entertained close to home.  Actual, physical involvement in a community is a deterrent to crime; it raises the bar for that community.  Everyone benefits.

Why am I saying all this?  Because the folks who want to save the Portage Theater have started a petition that they want to present at the final Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.  The church needs special zoning permissions and the neighborhood is against granting them.  They came to the last meeting unprepared, and were given a continuation.  The board has made it clear that they will not get another continuation, so this is a make-or-break moment for the campaign to save the Portage.  Please consider signing the petition.  You don’t really have to be a resident of the area, or even a Chicagoan; you just have to care about what will happen to the neighborhood if this wonderful old theater is lost.

Sign the petition to save the Portage Theater

Go here to send a letter to the City of Chicago showing your support for the theater.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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