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Postcards from the Windy City - Casablanca


By Abby Stocker

Fri, Jul 26th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists



Here’s looking at you, Readers.

I got stuck in “Casablanca” this week. Astoundingly, I’d never seen the movie. So I spent nearly two hours last Monday evening with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and my host parents, waiting for letters of transit and stifled by the sun and heat.

If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a quick rundown: in a classic story of intrigue, drama, and love, Richard (Humphrey Bogart) unexpectedly runs into Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca, where he has fled from German-occupied Paris during World War II. Unbeknownst to Ilsa’s husband, Victor Laszlo, she and Richard had fallen in love in Paris just before Ilsa received word that Victor, an underground resistance leader, had not died in a concentration camp like she thought. Mere hours before she was to board the train, escape Paris, and embark on her glorious new future with Richard, Ilsa learns that Victor is alive. To protect the Cause, she can’t tell Richard, instead leaving him devastated in the pouring rain. Years later, will the heartbroken Richard volunteer his ill-gotten immigration papers for Laszlo and his wife when the still-bitter Richard and stunningly beautiful Ilsa suddenly meet—in Casablanca?

Not bad, eh? The movie, released in 1942, is a classic, and apparently reveals something new with each viewing. I’m told you can see it in black and white or color, not a bad thing since one of the movie’s famous lines has to do with a blue dress. Humphrey Bogart was spot-on as the cynical, jilted Richard. Play it again, Sam.

Which leads me to this week’s discussion question: what does it mean to be local?

Bear with me. Besides experiencing the movie greatness that is “Casablanca,” I also traveled to the Twin Cities this past weekend for a friend’s wedding. While there, I was surprised to realize that returning felt almost like a homecoming—a strange sensation for one not used to associating “home” with my college campus. The Cities felt familiar. But is familiarity enough to make one a local?

I’ve mentioned wanting to have the “local” Chicago experience this summer. But is 10 weeks enough to actually become a part of this place?

My local experience of the week, the original inspiration for this column, was my trip to the grocery store. This grocery store, Dominick’s, is part of the chain that sponsored the Taste of Chicago last weekend. I’d never seen a Dominick’s until I moved here, but I drive past every day going to and from my internship, and thought it high time I stopped by.

I did not feel like a local when, upon entering the store, I wandered through the entire produce section before finding the dairy section. I did feel like a local when, seeing the prices, I knew from experience that Dominick’s was far more expensive than either Walmart or the Jewel-Osco (another new grocery shopping venture here). Yes, I have been grocery shopping on more than one occasion, at more than one location. Does that make me a local?

Maybe not, but I still think that I’m on the right track. Unlike the travelers in “Casablanca,” I have come here for the purpose of being here, not for escaping to somewhere else. But like the people in Casablanca, my experience is largely defined by the people I’ve met as we all interact with the place we’re stationed, however permanently. Being local is deeply tied to a sense of location. But being local is also about finding a place that you belong, as cliche as I know that sounds. Richard is, practically, a local in “Casablanca:” he knows the people and what makes the place tick. He doesn’t really intend to stay, but he’s found a niche.

Although I know I won’t be staying long-term this go-round, I’m beginning to find a place here—in Batavia, at my internship, in my host family. It’s only temporary, but these regular, meaningful interactions with places and people can still make a world of difference.

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