October 27, 2011

On Seattle

I watched Mount Rainier out my window as the plane ascended. The sun rising above the horizon, just below the rain clouds. I silently said a rushed goodbye as the plane broke into the clouds and I waited for the sadness to arrive. Unexpectedly and not a moment too soon, the plane busted through the clouds, now white and below us, into blue skies with a light yellow horizon, Mount Rainier to my left. I didn't have to rush this time; I didn't have to gush. Rainier and I both knew, I will return.

Although, that is the ending and I should start at the beginning.

I fell in love instantly, as I do with most cities. But Seattle had the feeling of arriving home; a comfort rivaled only by New York City, which some some ways is home. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, zipping down the highway, the signs aglow overhead; the 5 and 405 screaming for my attention. Los Angeles, of course, I noted without paying them the attention they craved; the only city with which I have ever fallen out of love. 

A dark shadow against the night sky held my attention instead. A tall evergreen tree stood still and quiet, strong and gentle, behind the signs and the almost-empty highway. "Welcome," it almost greeted me. If it could have, it would have nodded once; its eyes on mine from chin-fall to chin-rise. 

I traveled to Seattle for work, for the large, national conference we organize and execute once a year. I spent most of the nine days inside the hotel wrangling boxes, organizing materials, answering questions, and playing hostess-with-the-mostess. Already exhausting feats for an introvert, I began each day at 6am and worked until 9pm each day without much more than a deep-breath break. I didn't have a lot of time to spend with Seattle, but I did my best to get to know the skin and the soul of the city. 

Seattle gently coaxed me out of my quiet interior, asked the best questions, and listened intently as I spoke. The tall evergreens represent Seattle's people well. 

I met an older man selling his friend's paintings at the Public Market. He spotted my camera around my neck and asked if I had gotten any good photos. He was a photographer, offering advice when solicited and encouragement when I self-doubted. He didn't mention the painting and prints lying across his table until I asked specifically.

He was stepping in for a friend who came to the Market almost every day for the past thirty-four years. Both Brooklyn N.Y. natives, they met in Seattle, where this kind photographer came to visit for two weeks and ended up never leaving. He smiled at me knowingly when he said that. I squirmed and reminded myself how much I love the snow in the winter.

I asked about the artist and the paintings. I pointed to one I liked and he picked it up. The sign for the Public Market stood at the top, overseeing the people and colors below - just as I found the Market when I first walked down Pike Place to visit. The hands of the clock point to seventy-two, the age of the artist. Rachel The Pig, a large bronze piggy-bank designed to collect donations and utilized by tourists of all ages as a dual place to sit and a photo-op, stands below the sign. The image of the old man who plays the piano on the corner of Pine and the cobbled portion of Pike Place reminded me of the half-hour I stood in awe the humility in which he delivered a concierto - his melodies promising stories to tell and wisdom to share. He with his long white hair, worn in corduroy pants, and his plain, small brown piano, held in place at the bottom of the hill with wooden blocks. The painter put himself into the scene, and by the time I happened upon the painting, I already knew the Pike Place Market had a community of artistry and tales - a community that will now hang on my bedroom wall.

The most popular, loudest, and most visible vendor is the Pike Place Fish Co., which sits directly under the Public Market sign. The man I met the first day handed me samples of smoked salmon and teased me about my shutterbug behavior. He had a chiseled jaw, knit hat, and kind eyes. Almost all the men from Pike Place Fish Co. wore the fishing pants with suspenders, I will probably never know their proper name, and boots made for the deck of a fishing vessel. Most of them wore knit hats. I reminded myself not to get too attached and that they probably smelled like fish at the end of the day, even after they showered, and rolled into bed. But their voices boomed and their aim was impeccable and I watched them as long as I watched for the flying fish. 

Seattle wears gray well. I saw both blue skies and gray, but I will always think of the city as donning comforting shades of gray. The painting I purchased spills over with vibrant colors, nothing like the city proper, but everything like the colors of the Market. Vibrant bouquets of flowers, fresh fruit stands and artisan crafts; the Market gushes colors, energy, and vitality. 

Through the Market and down the stairs sits Puget Sound with Mount Rainier at attention to the left and the Olympic Mountains to the right. I unintentionally gasped when I first stepped out of the Market and into their view. Majestic, royal, and commanding, while the tree-lines of evergreens gaze at you from across the Sound. We took advantage of a clear day and rode to the top of the Space Needle, where we snapped photos and located the lake where we would have dinner on a houseboat later in the week. Grilled salmon, vegetables, and rice. On days without rain and conference attendees, we walked down to the piers and watched the sunset. On my one free morning, I rode the ferry to Brainbridge Island and walked the coast for a bit, stopping for soup in a coffee shop. 

I decided to buy books in Seattle. I decided to buy books while I was in Seattle and promised myself to buy books when I arrived back to D.C. Remember how much you wanted a library when you grew up? You need books to have a library.  Seattle grabbed me by the hand and firmly reminded me of so much I had forgotten. There are still book stores in Seattle. The kind with creaky wooden stairs and the kind that sell local zines. Vonnegut is held behind the counter and I had no idea Howard Zinn had written another book. I spent at least an hour in one small bookstore not worried that the mismatched wooden shelves would fall on me and yet probably not minding if they did. 

In yet, another book store, I managed to weave together extroversion and introversion, striking up a conversation with the employees and stepping back into my own thoughts seamlessly. "The pace of life here is so much more relaxed than the east coast." I would hear this countless times and wonder if my blood-shot eyes and tired smile gave away the fact that I am an east-coaster who struggles with work-life, stop-go balance. "Enjoy your Saturday in your office," she said to the eastern seaboard, "I'm going hiking." It was an acknowledgment and dismissal of a lifestyle east-coasters create and then embrace. A lifestyle I forgot standing in those bookstores.

I intended to spend more time in coffee shops, reading and writing and watching the rain. But I was short on time and the sun shined brilliantly on the hours I had to sight-see, so I kept moving. I popped in and out of a few coffee shops and made plans un-kept to spend more time in one with an industrial looking barista station amid a dark-wooded library, resembling the early 1900s. The walls shelved books from floor to ceiling and donned wooden ladders that wheeled from corner to corner. A promise to spend more time there, unfulfilled but not forgotten. The same sentiment applies to the entire Capitol Hill area's vintage clothing boutiques, art galleries, skateboard shops, trendy but unpretentious small restaurants, and of course, the unexplored coffee shops. 
I left too quickly and too early. I left feeling I had not yet met the person who would change my life, the person who would teach me to slow down and listen even more closely - to myself, to others, to life. If that person is another version of myself, I only got a glimpse of her and that is not enough. I left with stories untold and I know I will return.

Upon departure, my greatest hope is that I can carry the gaze of the evergreens with me until I return.


  1. the entire time I was reading this amazingly beautiful post, I didn't realize it, but I was holding my breath. When I came to the last stunning photo it came all out in a woooooooooosh. Emmy, I hope you know how much of an artist you are and how you paint the most glorious images with your words. Love you.

  2. Awesome post!  I've bee able to peek over here now and again to get updates, but today I had a wee bit of time to read and it was fabulous and complete with amazing pics :)