I’m back from Byzantine Europe — Istanbul, Athens — as dangerously clearheaded about home as an American can get only on the road. Now I see plainly what’s wrong with the press in Chicago, and the root of the problem is the little boxes the product’s vended in, especially the elegant “street furniture” that holds sway downtown. Newspapers don’t belong in showcases: State Street isn’t Tiffany’s and the Tribune and Sun-Times and Herald and Reader aren’t Rolex watches and diamond rings. The street kiosks of Europe, where vendors squint out of huts festooned with daily, weekly, and monthly titles, their headlines screaming in a dozen languages, retail the press as something raw and vital, which is what it’s supposed to be. JCDecaux embalms the papers of Chicago and lays them out in a row of caskets.
If that sounds morbid — well, blame the way old ruins work on our heads, piles of stones in the here and now that open windows onto the long gone. Ruins as sacred as the Acropolis raise a profound question about restoration: what degree of putting back together and filling in honors the site, and what profanes it? The question of doing the right thing by a place whose time is past isn’t limited to antiquity. On the most interesting day of our family vacation we left the Parthenon and traveled by subway to the Olympics complex in a northeast suburb. We arrived after dark and wandered the vast, empty grounds. No ruins here — nothing but soaring, sweeping Calatrava structures gleaming in moonlight. Some were never meant to be anything but decorative, and of the rest, Athens has found uses for some but not others. The two-plus years since the Olympic games were held on this spot felt like 2,000. I think now Chicago has the right idea: to use existing venues wherever possible in 2016 and build a main stadium it can tear down when the games are over. We can inter the stadium alongside the White City in Lost Chicago.