The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Monday, July 23, 2007

Which of Course in German Means . . .

Seattle is the city of swine.

We've just returned from four rain-swept days in that lovely city where I took over 100 pictures of portly pigs, brilliantly-basted bacon. Apparently, there's a movement going on right now in Seattle called
Pigs on Parade--sort of like San Diego's urban tree thing where various artists feature their works in strategically placed parts of the town, but in Seattle it's with snub-snouted mammals rather than bark-covered flora.

I did do the obligatory Pike's Place Market and first Starbucks (Seattle being the only town in the Western U.S. where you can go to Starbucks without feeling as if you should later be branded with a scarlet letter of infamy). But though I love this overgrown farmers' market as well as coffee, it's hard to go somewhere and be tempted by amazingly fresh seafood and vibrantly colored produce and not be able to buy or cook any because you don't freaking live there. Every time I go to Seattle, the market makes me want to stay forever. But, for now, that is an impossible dream, so I contented myself with a quick trip to Pike's and spent the rest of the time walking the city in the rain and photographing happy hogs.

I've been to Seattle once before almost exactly two years ago. I stayed a week during the fourth of July and learned in that time that California may not be the only amazing place to live in the United States (I qualify with "may" because I'll need to do some further field research (preferably sans toddler) in Seattle to confirm this possibility; though, like any good scientist, I know that I can do an infinite amount of research and never be proven right but a single experiment can instantly prove me wrong. So, I guess, I'll never know if California truly has a competitor in perfection.). I'll admit, I had a short and sordid affair with Seattle two years ago and since then--though living an apparently contented life in San Diego--have looked for ways to get back. When this weekend presented itself, I jumped at the chance to see if Seattle still lived up to the fantasies I've been having about it for the past two years. And with the addition of an army of pleasurable porkers, Seattle didn't fail to please the second time around.
Being from California, I rarely experience rain. In fact, when I go places that are known for their rain, it is often in the middle of an inexplicable drought. 2006: ten days in Ireland, not a drizzle. 2005: seven days in Seattle, not a drop. 1999: four weeks in Guam, barely a deluge. So I tend to plan my vacations around the fact that I can spend the majority of my time outdoors in very little clothing with no discomfort. Such was not the case this weekend.
Seattle decided for our second rendez-vous to show me her true nature: she rained like a fiend. I've got to hand it to her, it takes guts to let it all out on only the second date. To show Seattle that I love her just as she is, I continued my outdoor activities, regardless of rain. And like any relationship when people decide to get real, some moments were pure bliss while others a bit more challenging.

One particular moment of bliss was running (or some semblance thereof) through sleepy Seattle the first morning I was there. A good friend maintains that you can only truly know a city if you run/walk the streets. Something about the contact made when you are physically brushing past people, moving along store fronts, connected by smell, sound, and touch.

I agree. That first morning, I got up before everyone else in my travel entourage and sought out the Seattle I remembered from two years ago. With DJ Tiesto's Elements of Life playing softly in my ears (so as to accompany rather than drown out the sounds of the waking city) and a soft drizzle falling, I felt more alive than I've felt in months. The steady susurrate sound of the rain melted into the slightly blurred grey streets and sidewalks flecked with startling colors--green of trees, red of a door, blue of a sign, yellow of (of course) a pig.

I passed stores and restaurants I remembered from my previous trip on my route from the 6th Ave Hilton to Belltown and encountered new sights as well. I am amazed at how little has changed and wonder if the "new" stuff to me is really new or places I just didn't notice last time.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a horrible memory. Events disappear, shift, blur into things I can't recall, remember differently, or relate to others in some sort of morphing tale. Initially, I found Seattle to have suffered from my poor ability to recollect things. While I had no problem finding places I love and associate specifically with Seattle--Macrina bakery, the market, The Bookstore bar--I kept looking for things I had experienced in other travels. That first morning, as I sorted out my location and sense of place, Seattle was a mix of itself, Dublin, and San Francisco. It was slightly unnerving to turn a corner, expecting a certain view or building and find it conspicuously absent, only to realize that what I expected didn't even belong here in the first place.

But part of returning to somewhere (or someone) after a prolonged absence is getting to know each other all over again. Every morning I was in Seattle, I made a point of walking the streets. A different neighborhood each day: Belltown, Pike's, old Seattle (Washington Square), Chinatown. It is amazing to watch a city's personality as it is expressed in the architecture and people who call it their home. I briefly followed a man who seemed to know everyone we passed, greeted them by name, and in turn was greeted by name back. I caught snippets of conversation (political, literary, local gossip) at the various coffee shops I popped into (because you can't travel in Seattle without a coffee in hand): Cherry Street, Pegasus, Zeitgeist, and (of course) Starbucks. I heard music bursting from the speakers placed above the sidewalk outside of the symphony hall. I was struck by the sudden salty sweet smell of fresh seafood, the sharp green scent of fresh herbs, the cacophonic color of cut flowers at the farmers' market.

Travelling with toddler and indulgent Nani (my mom) in an rainy city can produce its shares of challenges. First, we somehow managed to get everyone a rain-proof parka except my son. At first, I figured that he would be fine in a relatively thick sweater, but as we continued walking in the rain, my son continued to get wetter and wetter.

Still, it seemed manageable: a leisurely lunch at a little cafe would allow him plenty of time to dry and then we would head to the indoors part of Pike's to watch fish being thrown or whatever.

However, my son had other plans.

In one of the squares off of 4th, there's a water feature that creates a tunnel of water. My son just had to go through it. And Nani is incapable of saying "no." A few photographs later (yes, I did take pictures of their watery journey), my son emerged from his water tunnel.

Now, this feature is designed (I believe) to cool people off on a hot (and not rainy) day by soaking those who traverse this tunnel of water from the knees down. Pleasantly, I imagine if one is wearing a sun dress or shorts or something similar that leaves the legs bare. Also, pleasant if one is taller than knee-height, which is not my son.

He emerged soaked to the skin. So much for lunch . . .
With a wet and cold small child, our options disintegrated to two: a) go back the 15 blocks to our hotel where we will effectively end our day or b) find a nearby store that sells children's clothes and purchase my son a new (and weather appropriate) outfit. Option a was not an option.
Luckily, Patagonia happened to be a few blocks away on 1st, and for the paltry sum of $200 (if you are Donald Trump!!), we purchased my son shorts, shirts, and a parka. I have a hard time spending that kind of money on clothes for an individual who, for all of his small size, will really only be able to wear them for a few months. I tend to believe that if we must spend money on clothes, it is money better spent on someone who won't be changing body shape any time soon and also has an appreciation for all that is fashion, namely, me.
However, necessity can make even the most ardent believer changer his or her views. So my son got a new outfit. I did make sure his parka from Patagucci is three sizes too big, so he'll be able to wear it for at least two years.
My son then spent the rest of the day in happy as a pig in chocolate, looking like the Morton Salt girl with his ginormous parka and Nani's pink "brellela." And with happy toddler, we had a pretty good time too. Even when we found out that we weren't going to be allowed in The Bookstore (a fun little pub on 1st a few blocks past Pike's) because of the under 21 member of our party, our mood couldn't be dampened. We ducked into a little sushi place right behind the pub and enjoyed wine, edamame, miso soup, and relaxed conversation while my son played happily on the table with his little sand-stuffed animals Nani had bought for him at Pike's.

Camaraderie seemed to reign as the spirit of the weekend after that. I looked up my doctor friend who is doing her residency in Seattle and met her for dinner and drinks later that evening. We traveled to Whidbey Island for a wedding of old family friends, marveling at the scenery at Deception Pass. We spent a lazy Sunday morning at Pike's Place Market one last time where we finally go to see some fish thrown to my son's utter delight.
I left Seattle, happy to return to San Diego, but with full acknowledgment that Seattle will hold a place in my heart not to far below that of the self-proclaimed America's Finest City.

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