People and Places

Seattle and its many charms

Posted on May 31, 2012

Seattle has done its best to win us over in our first day here.

We walked six blocks downhill from our hotel to Pike’s Place Market, the famous waterfront market brimming with seafood and fruit sellers and crafts people.  It’s something akin to Faneuil Hall’s markets and is certainly a huge tourist magnet, but it is more genuine and grittier than its Boston counterpart– more Haymarket than Faneuil given the very real commerce going on.  We saw locals and chefs stopping in to buy and the quality of eveything was dazzling. 

As in California, the temperate west coast climate and rich agricultural bounty is everywhere apparent and makes our New England options seem limited and rather sad by comparison.  We passed stalls with gigantic, perfect raspberries.  There were succulent pears.  Flower mongers had dazzling arrays of flowers we don’t see and for little money.  The seafood?  Whew.  Enormous coho salmon, huge king crab legs, clams, and more.

Seattle has a serious foodie culture and is a hot bed for the slow food, farm to table, and organic food movements.  All of those are easier with this kind of proximity to supply and a long, generous growing season.  Yet it spills over into other areas not tied to growing seasons per se, such as bread, cheese, and chocolate — all amply represented among the local artisan suppliers.  This bodes really well for the days ahead!

The Market has spawned a lot of surrounding businesses ranging from tacky tee-shirts to high end fashion design.  One wonderful old store into which we wandered was Metsker’s Maps, a treasure trove of all things geographic: scores of globes, framed maps, travel books, and more.  We picked up a couple of local travel guides and were also subjected to the other big plus out here: just how darn nice everyone is.  The young woman working the store was quick with directions and advice.  She picked up that we were not local and mentioned that all our purchases would be free of Washington’s 9% sales tax if we had a driver’s license showing we were from out of state.  She was warm and friendly.  So has been everyone else we have met so far.

We found a Nordstrom’s Rack, the outlet for the high end retailer, and the clerk there shared that she was an aspiring writer, we talked NH authors as she bagged our goods, and she took her time in the way all west coast people seem to do even if the line behind us was growing longer.  Interestingly, the people in the line had none of that east coast “move your butt” look of impatience.   They apparently move in a more Zen-like ways as well.  Which makes no sense given the amount of coffee these people drink.  They should be jazzed up out of their minds.  There must be six Starbucks stores in a ten block area around the hotel, augmented by lots of other small coffee shops.  Even in some of the small shops there was a pot brewing and we were offered a cup.

In the evening, we made our way to the  Elliot Bay Book Company, the famous and huge indpendent bookstore, in the Capital Hill area, a funky artsy neighborhood with a Brooklyn-like convergence of Seattle’s gay scene, hipster culture, and the arts.  Yes, it does beg the question of how they let me in, I know.  But they did and Elliot Bay is a bibliophile’s dream.  I visited it years ago when it was in Pioneer Square (it moved to this new location two years ago) and I knew our girls would go crazy for the place, though it is almost overwhelming.  We left with more books to add to the pile we can never hope to get to during this relatively short trip. 

Of course, the helpful and smiling clerk had an answer to our question of where we might eat: “two doors down at Odd Fellows, the best place in the area.”  It was.  A hip crowd that mixed the skinny jean types with the tattooed and pierced with the Microsoft tech nerd group crowded into an old warehouse space where we sat at long wooden tables on wooden benches and had terrific food from local providers.  The Northwest is a mecca for beer and I started with a Murray’s Pale Ale, an excellent locally brewed beer, and had a simple roast chicken that was so much better than what I cook (the secret, as it turns out: brining….and butter, copious amounts of butter). 

The mix of people in Seattle is interesting.  In our short first exposure, we saw more than a fair share of the homeless and demented (and probably drugged addled in some obvious cases — they do go together often), something we see a lot more of in west coast cities like San Francisco and San Diego than in Boston and New York.  We saw lots of the aforementioned hipsters.  The grunge movement seems to be hanging on here if the plethora of plaid is any indication.  Lots of somewhat displaced looking teenagers with a combination of runaway and skate boarder look, though they could be the CFOs of cool tech start ups for all I know.  Fashion is a lot more comfortable here, maybe because one spends a lot of the time being damp.  We arrived to clouds, had some sunny respite in the afternoon, and it was raining by dinner.  Hey, this is Seattle – -we knew what we were in for.

Welcoming people, great food, fun shopping, views of water from every direction and the one shooting to make the news was some miles away (though again, a sort of whack job scenario).  We are off to the rainy Olympic Peninsula and its wild coast today, but we’ll return to Seattle at the end of the trip and we’ll look forward it.  My wariness wanes.

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