It’s been a summer of little rain here in Seattle. Many summers are like this and are the reason why you can’t swing a cat without hitting a fair-weather tourist between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Yesterday, we escorted another batch of much anticipated visiting cousins to Pike Market—a place we know to avoid during tourist season—and I’ve never seen it so crowded. At one point, the foot traffic was at a total standstill because there was such a bottleneck by the booth selling lavender sachets. Once people started moving again, if you dared stop to look at any of the other handmade wares, you were in danger of being trampled. We are a family of introverts, so I think all of us were thrilled when we finally pushed our way through and burst into the open. We stood in the park across from the market under the two totem poles breathing deeply and then taking tourist-style photos, because that’s what you do in Seattle on a beautiful day. (And even in the chaos of the market, my cousin did score a bag of morel mushrooms that she was clutching to her chest like Golum because she comes from a dry, mushroom-less place.)
I don’t know who is running the rest of the country because everyone seems to be here. Two weeks ago, Z and I rented a car and decided to take our favorite drive down Lake Washington Boulevard, only to discover we couldn’t because President Obama was in one of the fancy houses there on the shore of the lake, doing a little fundraising. The place was on lock down with lots of barriers and a strong police presence. Before moving to Seattle, I can’t say I ever had an opportunity to glance at the POTUS limousine, and now at least twice a year, if I stand on the right corner at the right time, I can flash a peace sign (or a thumbs up if he’s had a hard week) at the Commander in Chief.
So I spend a lot of time in summer marking off the days until the strangers who have descended here go home and the still-crowded city becomes more habitable. But then suddenly—because the cousins were arriving, because I knew I’d be going home to Indiana soon, because the temperature and the sunlight were just right—I fell completely and utterly in love with the city. It’s a fleeting love because I am a fickle woman; I know that. I care deeply for Seattle, yet it will never be my soul mate, like a Chicago or a Galway. But I’ve had a couple of perfect weeks where I’ve spent more time delighting in summer in the city than I meant to. And because you hear me whine too much about this city I have fond feelings for, I thought you deserved to see a few random delights.
This woman had the brightest, yellowest hair I’ve ever seen and she was working on a little corner garden near the grocery where Z and I walk a couple of times a week. When you live in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, seeing this sort of suburban domestic scene with urban flair is a joy.
This church spire in our neighborhood always makes me happy. It’s especially beautiful at night. One of the things I love about it is that it makes me feel a certain level of humility/shame because for the first two years we lived here, when we walked past it, I would sneer at it as I made assumptions about what the people inside believed. I was once terrified (and, let’s face it, oppressed, because I was a girl) in a church of this same denomination as a child. But it turns out I was the one being judgmental because this church was the first in the city to marry same-sex couples free of charge when it became legal in Washington to do so. Before that, they hung out rainbow banners about acceptance, insisting that all were welcome. Currently, they have a banner out demanding a living wage for everyone. It is a church committed to social justice, and therefore, a church that makes me feel hope. So whenever we walk past it, it’s a little poke at me to remember to remove the plank from my own eye before I go kvetching about the splinter in someone else’s.
This statue entitled Peace Child draped with paper cranes stands overlooking Portage Bay where it spills into Lake Union. We drive this route a lot and I’ve never seen it, but because we were on foot one day, (and I was growling about our lack of car) we caught a glimpse and stopped to see her. I love surprises like this.
On the same walk, Z and I had to stand and wait for the University Bridge to go up to allow a sailboat to pass through into Portage Bay. We stood on the bridge and looked out at all the activity on the water, and it was hard not to feel lucky to live in a place where bridges aren’t static and water abounds.
After our walk, we ate at Eastlake Bar & Grill, which has, arguably, one of the best outdoor decks of any place in the city. The views of Lake Union are excellent both from the deck and inside the restaurant and the food and atmosphere is good too. When G was here in June, we ended up eating here three times because, well, look at it!
When Z first moved here, there had been one of those competitions—like there are in a lot of cities with different animal shapes—called Pigs on Parade to kick off the centennial celebration of Pike Market. (Rachel the Pig, a big metal piggy bank sits outside of the market and is oft photographed.) So my first days in the city were punctuated with different colorful and clever pigs. (I particularly liked the chocolate one in front of the Chocolate Box.) While the cousins were here, I saw this one still hanging out on a roof near the Market and it made me feel all warm inside, remembering the early days here with Z.
This is my favorite neon sign in all of Seattle. There are many in my second place list, but this one is on top and is up the hill from where I live so I see it regularly. It’s a little residential hotel across from a hospital. I appreciate that the hotel hasn’t felt compelled to install a more subdued, tasteful sign.
When friends of mine who’d been living in New York City moved back to Indiana, one of their last purchases (if I remember the story rightly) as they bugged out of the city that had just been traumatized, was a little replica of the Statue of Liberty that took up residence on the mantel of their new house in Indianapolis. I loved seeing it—that integration of their old life and their new one. A sort of symbol of the few years they’d lived in an iconic place during a (sadly) historical moment. If Z and I ever leave Seattle, I think a statue of the Space Needle—probably one constructed of Legos—will decorate our life wherever we land. Seeing it—even on days when I’m homesick—never doesn’t make me happy. Is it an overpriced tourist icon unworthy of my affection? I don’t care. I love the history and aesthetics of it, including the weird, steampunk-ish elevators that look like they belong on a completely different structure. I love this weird human drive to build a huge, elevated viewing platform (see Tower, Eiffel) to celebrate a spectacle like a World’s Fair, and I love that we live in a city that has such a place on its landscape.
For me, it isn’t about going up the Space Needle to look out, it’s about seeing it when the skyline comes into view as we drive up I-5 from the airport after a few weeks away, or when we’re taking the ferry back home or when we’re driving back into town from a trip north. There it is, looking all optimistic and otherworldly and a little…delicate, marking “X” on the map of our life.
And finally, after many weeks of sun, there was a torrential, Midwestern-style rainstorm. Z and I worked at his campus and stopped periodically to look fondly at the blurry outlines of cars and houses, and teasing ourselves with the promise of damper, less crowded days. When we trudged home past our favorite bits of the neighborhood, it didn’t occur to us to complain.