Friday, August 26, 2005

I heart Seattle

Have you ever been to Seattle? Let me tell you something: You need to go to Seattle. Now. I’ll wait. (Okay, I keep seeing that on other blogs. I suppose it works better when you’re sending someone off to another website, rather than an entire city.)

I went to Seattle for work last week. Why did no one tell me how wonderful Seattle is in the summer? Nobody ever mentioned to me this business of warm, sunny, non-humid days in the Pacific Northwest. No wonder Washington and Oregon are being invaded by Californians. Where else are Californians supposed to go? Washington, DC? Let me tell you something: Californians don’t necessarily cope with DC summers. (I promise to stop whining about DC summer in October.) Seattle seems like a much better option.

On Wednesday my boss and I finished work around 3 and headed down to Pike Place Market. As we approached, I admired the view of Puget Sound beyond the buildings. But then I was caught up in the market itself—the rows and rows of flowers, the brightly colored produce, the stink of the fish counters. My boss tried to show me the fish stand where the guys throw the fish, but no one was buying, so there was no need to throw any fish. My favorite thing to look at was a large fish lying on the ice with a sign that said, “Hello! I’m a sturgeon.” My favorite thing to do was taste the free samples—peach-chipotle jam, cherry butter, blueberry syrup, a sweet blackberry. We wandered through the market, looking at the arts and crafts, until it was time to go back and get ready for dinner.

Approaching Pike's Place Market
Boat in Puget Sound behind Pike's Place
Fish market
I'm a sturgeon

I went back to the market the next morning. I was meeting my coworkers for breakfast at 7:30. I woke up at 5:30 easily, thanks to the time change. After I got ready, I headed down to the market. There was still no one throwing any fish. I stood for awhile and watched the men shovel ice and lay crabs and fish out on it. They smiled and said hello to me, and went about their work. I wandered through the nearly deserted market, watching people open their produce stands and unload flowers from trucks. When I reached the end of the market, I walked into the original Starbucks and ordered a cup of the thick hot chocolate that reminds me of the month The Husband and I spent traveling in Spain. I took it out to the same place I had been the day before, looking out over the water, and called The Husband at home to tell him what I was up to. A few years before, I called him from San Diego to brag that I was at the beach having fish tacos and margaritas for lunch while he was working. This wasn’t too different.

I went back to the market every day. On Friday we finished work early again. I found a sandwich place at the market for lunch, bought some treats to take home, and went back to my hotel to drop off my purchases and ask how far to Pioneer Square. The concierge gave me a map and assured me that I ought to take a cab. “It’s much too far to walk—at least half an hour.” So, I set out on foot, looking into cute restaurants and shops on my way, and was at Pioneer Square in about 20 minutes. I wandered through Elliott Bay Book Company, enjoying being around books and out of the sun for a few minutes. I bought a lemonade and sat at a shady table on the square reading my book (one I had with me—I was good and didn’t purchase anything new) for awhile before heading back to meet everyone for dinner.

On Saturday my friend Rachel arrived, and we continued to do tourist things. I think she was startled by how early I woke up. I should have prepared her for my East Coast time schedule. We ate lunch at a bagel shop down near the market, then walked to Seattle Center to go to the Experience Music Project. I enjoyed the EMP, although I’m not sure it was worth the $20 cost of admission (I am apparently used to all the free museums in Washington). The Bob Dylan exhibit was excellent—lots of music to listen to, with some context. It was sort of amusing to see letters from Joan Baez and Dylan’s high school yearbook. An old guitar and harmonica belonging to Dylan were displayed, and I thought briefly that it was sad for an instrument to be locked up and not played—probably one of my sillier thoughts for the day. A lot of the exhibit was made up of brief videos, which were fun to watch—I learned a thing or two, heard some good music, and got to see other folk singers that I like. The other exhibits—hip-hop and songwriting—didn’t draw me in in the same way, although some of the interactive stuff in the Sound Lab was fun. I should had here that I was almost disappointed in the ugliness of the building itself. My friend Sara, a native of Washingtonstate, had declared it the ugliest building ever. While it’s certainly not the most attractive building ever, I didn’t find it astoundingly ugly. It was shiny and weirdly shaped and brightly colored. It was not an attractive building, but it was just bizarre. I think there are lots uglier sky scrapers. Here is a view of the EMP from above, taken from the Space Needle, and a close up of one side of the building.

Experience Music Project from above

Close up of one side of the EMP

After the museum, Rachel and I rode the monorail back to the hotel, and learned that the concierge at the hotel is not particularly good at knowing useful information about buses. She was interesting to look at though, with her wrinkly face, dyed blonde hair, animal print glasses frames, and lots of hot pink clothing, lipstick, and nail polish. We figured out the buses ourselves and headed off to see the troll under the bridge and the statue of Lenin. We bought gelato and sorbet and ate on a bench to Lenin’s left.

Troll under a bridge

The largest stature of Lenin in the US
For our last activity of the afternoon, we took advantage of the beautiful, clear day to see the view from the top of the Space Needle. We had beautiful views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier. You sort of have to squint at the second photo below to see Mt. Rainier. It was much clearer in real life. I wish I had been able to go up on Thursday, which was even clearer—as we drove along the freeway from interview to interview, I had drooled over the sparkling, sapphire blue of the water. Still, I think we were pretty lucky with the views we got.

View of the Space Needle from Below

View of Puget Sound and Seattle from the Space Needle

View from the Space Needle

I am so totally going back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Name that panda!

You can vote on the name for the National Zoo's baby panda here.

But I prefer this poll. I hope it works and that we get to name it Butterstick. Does anyone know the Chinese word for butter?

Bookworms like me can ramble about books forever

I like books. Not only do I like books, I like to buy books. Part of me feels guilty, thinks that I should save my money, go to the library more often. But I like to own books, to read them, keep them, put them on my own bookshelf so I can reread them later—I do read most novels at least twice. My love of book shopping can be something of a problem. When The Husband and I moved across the country we boxed up our books and mailed them to our new address, so they wouldn’t take up room in the trailer we had hitched to the back of the car. Eight Kinko’s boxes (my sister worked there at the time) arrived at the new apartment a couple of days after we did. Since then, we have bought two more six-foot book cases. I bought a lot of books during grad school, most of which I didn’t sell back at the end of each semester, and once I graduated I began spending money on novels. Mostly I would spend time browsing around used bookstores, where I always seem to spend $20, no matter how many books I buy. But I also purchase from Amazon. Spend $9.48 more and get free shipping? Sure, why not. So during our most recent move, we packed up even more boxes of books, and moved them down the street to our new apartment.

On Sunday, I bought a new book. I was in the Seattle airport, browsing around Borders even though I had two unread books in my bag, because I had a lot of time to kill before my flight, because I knew I would be sitting long enough during the course of the day, and because I can’t resist even an airport bookstore. As I had wandered through Elliott Bay Book Company on Friday afternoon, I had resisted the impulse to buy several interesting books, telling myself that I didn’t need the extra weight in my backpack, that I could easily get the books when I returned to Washington. But now, with the prospect of 8 hours of travel ahead of me, my defenses were down. I tried to recall the books I’d been interested in. The last name of one of the authors had started Ch, I thought, and wandered down to the Cs.

I didn’t find the book, but one name jumped out at me on the third shelf from the floor: Justin Cronin. I knew his name. I had read something by him before. I picked up the book, The Summer Guest. The cover declared him the author of Mary and O’Neill. I looked back down at the shelf, but that book wasn’t there. But that was the book I’d read. I had seen it recommended somewhere, probably the Booksense newsletter, back when I lived in California. I had checked in out of the UCSC library, read it, loved it, and forgotten the name. But I hadn’t forgotten the book. It is a novel told in stories that could stand alone. I remember some of the stories clearly, and I remember a description of snow that seemed perfect to me. I’ve thought about the book several times in the four years or so since I read it, but I always got stuck trying to remember the title or the author.

And so I bought the book and headed back to my gate. I stood in line to board the plane, reading the first few pages, totally hooked. I read the book all the way from Seattle to Phoenix. I read as my second flight took off from Phoenix and as the pilot turned the plane around half an hour later due to mechanical difficulties that were sending us back to the airport to board a different plane. I finished the book sometime just after we passed over Kansas City. I teared up a little, as I often due at the end of books, sad or not, and hoped the man beside me wouldn’t notice.

It was the perfect way to read a book. Well almost—I could have done without the mechanical difficulties, the turbulence that left my tummy upset, the leg cramps, and the lousy customer service of the airline I had chosen. The perfect way would have been to spend an entire day snuggled up with my cat, with good orange juice or ice cream available when I needed a snack, reading the book straight through (which is actually how I read the most recent Harry Potter book). Still, to sit down and read a book all at once, even on a plane, is one of my favorite things. Most of my reading is done on public transit as I travel to and from work. I am happy for the time to read, but the reading isn’t as pleasurable that way—too much stopping and starting, too many distractions. Sometimes I want to stretch a book out, put off finishing it so that I can enjoy it longer, but patience is not one of my virtues, and I find it much more satisfying to read a book from cover to cover. To finish it in a public place isn’t ideal, but it was an airplane at least. I hate reaching the last pages of a book on the bus or train on my way home from work is so much less fun, and I try to race through the pages so I can finish before I read my stop, or interrupt myself every paragraph to glance up to see where I am, which takes away from the pleasure of reading.

I started Isabel Allende’s Portrait in Sepia on Monday, and I haven’t gotten very far at all, because I’ve been reading on public transit, and since it’s cooled off a bit here in DC, I’ve been walking from the metro to the office, rather than taking the bus. I gain exercise, but lose some valuable reading time.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The pattern

Ann wrote something interesting about destiny and fate that got me thinking.

I don't know if I believe in destiny. Sometimes, when something is distressing me I will try to tell myself that if something is meant to be it will happen. But then I worry about what that does to my beliefs about free will. I do believe that I am free to make my own choices.

In Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light, one of my favorite books, a character wonders about this very thing and the wise grandfather, who says that "the pattern is closely woven," tells him that "Any one of us can cause changes in the pattern by our responses of love or acceptance or resentment."

I find the response soothing, and so long as I don't wonder about whether my responses are predestined, I can keep my head from spinning too much.

I suppose I do believe there is a pattern, or at least I want to.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Excuses, excuses....

I did not melt.

It's just that work was eating my brain. And then I went to California, where it was a little hot, but not humid unless you're from Utah, in which case, fine, complain about the humidity in Contra Costa County, but remember that you live in Utah, so you probably have more issues than just humidity. But I was in California, and it was lovely and not humid, and I saw my friend Lynn get married, and she was incredibly beautiful and so was the wedding and I cried because I was so happy. Everyone was happy, and many people were drunk and happy and it also WAS NOT HUMID.

Now I am back in Washington, and it's not too hot, and it's kind of humid, but only because it's raining, because for some reason it insists on raining here in the summer. Note to Californians: if you move to DC and your umbrella breaks in April, don't tell yourself, "Oh, spring is almost over, so I don't need to bother replacing this, because the rainy season is coming to a close, and I can just get a new one in the winter." Because, Californians, the rainy season here NEVER ENDS. But I am adjusting.

Anyhow, I am back, and work is eating my brain once again. Frankly, if work stays like this, I'm going to end up back in grad school, because a disseration would be less stressful. Tomorrow I leave for Iowa, where it will be hot and humid, but this time it's for work, which means I have to wear my grown-up clothes, which will not be at all comfortable in the heat, but I'm not even allowed to whine, because I have to act like a grown up while in my grown up clothes. After Iowa, I get to come home for a few days to complain about the heat and humidity here, and then it's off to Seattle to rejoice in decent, non-muggy weather for almost a week.

So, no, I have not melted. And someday I will come write a real post that is perhaps interesting and has good sentence structure and isn't all whiny.