Sunday, March 28, 2010

October 14, 2009 Day 5: Seattle

I was awakened before I wanted to wake by the rude chirp of a text. I couldn't be mad, it was a relative texting from the Philippines, what could I do? I rolled out of bed, literally, it was maddeningly quiet last night. I was used to the noise on the train. I sort of felt like that puppy who could only fall asleep when there was a clock ticking in it's blanket.

I strolled out and it was a quick 3-5min walk to the Space Center. It rained throughout the evening and unfortunately, I could hear the water flowing down the gutter along side one of the corners in my room. But by the time I strolled out, the sidewalk glistened with spent rain but the sun was out and the clouds were light and breezy.

I went for the monorail first, having been told by the desk clerk that Pike Place Market opened early and closed early. So I wanted to jump on the monorail, check out the market, walk the waterfront and take the ferry to Alki Beach. But when I saw how beautiful the morning was with the crisp sunlight, I knew I had to go to the Space Needle while I had the advantage of this morning sun.

I am terribly afflicted with a fear of heights. I've had the fear since I was a child. I still remember the time during a family vacation when we stopped to climb a ranger tower. It was one miserable flight yet I couldn't take two steps up. I could see the space between the steps and my legs trembled and my blood coagulated at the soles of my feet and I couldn't move.

I've been up to Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago. When relatives or friends come to town, you have to take them to one or the other if not both. I have had instances when the wind was so whipped up I swear I felt the Sears tower weave. Those were the times when I literally could only stand by the elevator, not daring to go near the windows.

Then there are other times when I'm absolutely fine, I stand by the glass, pressing my camera to get an angle, the light, etc. I went up Baiyoke Tower in Bangkok and it was an outdoor observation deck and I wasn't in the least bit afraid. But I knew there was a possibility the fear would arise and there would be nothing for me to do but stand and wait for the elevator to come back down.

But this is my first time in Seattle and I can't NOT go to the Space Needle. The elevator is open as it climbs up to the top. As we started up at 10mph, the guide telling us some facts about the tower. As the door closed and we rose all I heard was "The tower is 47yrs old...." Then I saw Puget sound and my feet started to melt. I looked over my shoulder only to find that the others had pushed themselves to the back of the elevator and had created room for me in the center. I stepped back away from the view wishing the ride would end quickly.

When we got to the top, that's when I noticed it was open. I had tweeted this and I wasn't about to back down. So I walked out and a blast of wind hit me in the face. I practically clung to the wall. I got a few stares. But I didn't care, I'm scared, bite me.

Instead I walked around the tower to get a glimpse of the entire city. I found a few benches and sat when I didn't think I could go on. The sunny side that faced downtown Seattle had the strongest winds and truly tested my resolve. But I sat on the bench then realized I needed to take a picture of Traveling Feet. It was an absurdity of being so afraid of the edge but wondering if I could somehow get one foot up on the hand rail! Instead I opted for sitting on a bench and propping my feet on a waste basket. It was perfectly place and once I took the photo, I was good. It was just so silly, but it was what I needed.

Then I took the monorail downtown. I entered the mall and someone placed a real fresh flower lei around my neck. As I rode down the elevator, I joked with a couple about being lei'd in Seattle.

By the time I made it out of the Westlake Mall, there was a soft but slowly building drizzle. For some reason, the hills and the odd angled streets seem to twist me around. Chicago is built in a grid system, it is easy to navigate, with the exception of a few diagonal streets, you go north, south, east & west in a straight line.

I walked two blocks in the wrong direction. When I discovered I was going the wrong direction did I do an about face and walk back? No, I stopped, checked my map, checked the GPS on the phone, scratched my head, adjusted my baseball hat, checked the compass on the phone, looked at the street and walked down another street before I crossed back over; all the time, marching with a decided purpose, which is really the trick to avoid panhandlers and such.

By the time I saw the sign “Public Market”, the drizzle was growing to showers and the street was steep and slick. No wonder my thighs burned that night. You get this strange gait when you walk down hill. It’s like you crab walk down. I have on sneakers yet, I wondered if I was going to go flying down the sidewalk.
The market is this lively, organically smelly, assault on all your senses. The multi-colored fruits and vegetables, the angry reds, bright oranges or livid yellow peppers hanging from the ceiling like chili chandeliers. Best of all, the market was covered. I was tempted by the peppers, then drawn in by a fish counter that had what looked like a salmon ladder going around their area. I wandered in deeper into the “alley” as the signs said, I think Dog Alley or something.

I found a rummage sale, found a nicely broken in smooth leather bag that I can use as my 2nd check in bag. I will take advantage of my “premium” status for as long as I can, so I don’t have to pay for my luggage.

I crossed over when I heard the chanting at the Pike Place Fish Market. The fish are gaily arranged propped up in voluminous hills of shaved ice and when someone buys an entire fish, the workers start a chant and one of the two guys who are standing watch over the fish will hoist the fish, cradling it in their hands before they take a massive swing and fling the fish over and into the arms of a waiting worker behind the counter, who will wrap the fish. It’s a great act. I was too slow to catch any of it. The chant is the hint, but it’s quick and if you aren’t ready, you won’t capture it on camera.

I wandered around since the rains continued to build into a torrent. There were so many little stores to see that I didn’t eat lunch until 2pm. I was distracted by the elderly Chinese man playing ditties on a traditional on stringed Chinese musical instrument. It looks like a 1 string guitar but played with a bow.

I dropped him a dollar and asked permission to take his picture, he nodded sagely and he started playing Yankee Doodle Dandy! I preferred the traditional Chinese tunes, they are discordant to my western ear but my eastern heart understood it and found it calming.

I wandered about until I found myself in a sea of flower sellers. This part of the market consisted of seafood stalls, flower stalls and hand made artisans. I am fascinated by bamboo, if someone hadn’t taken the moniker on Twitter, I would have been bamboo. It is a strong wood that bends in the wind to keep from snapping. It is resilient, flexible and so very strong. It defines the difference between hard and strong; hard breaks, strong bends.

I found a small Chinese man selling beautifully framed traditional Chinese watercolors and I saw a bamboo tree. The next thing I see; he’s got 4 different paintings laid out in front of me. I came here without any preconceived notions of buying anything like this. Instead, after futile attempts to choose just one, I bought two, he gave me a discount. They always give a discount when you buy multiple items.

Besides, support the arts.

He ran in the rain to get more cardboard so he could really pack them well. His wife painted the canvas and he made the frames, simple clean lines along the edges on a glass cover. It was beautiful. He also wrapped it so well, I resisted the temptation to open it at my hotel to see them. I’ll wait until I find a place for them before I unwrap them.

I wandered further down resisting all the great looking things that were on sale. Until my eye snagged a table of leather bound diaries. I have this fascination for writing implements, specialty paper/stationary and blank journals. The woman made the journals from hand made paper, sewn into the leather by her own hand. The journals were either closed with a leather thong(traditional) but she also had placed semi-precious stones on the cover to use as a closure. My eye went to this bright white journal, my hands slipped forward before I could help myself and it caressed the soft leather.

     “That’s elk, that’s why it’s so smooth.” She told me. It is also the most expensive of all the other leathers. Of course it is.

But it called to me and I knew of someone who I thought would really like it. The artist didn’t even know the name of the semi-precious stone, it just was. It added to the almost mystical call of this beautiful leather journal.

Journals are entrusted with the wishes of our lives, the worries and the cares, the joys and the sorrows. They are the record of what we’ve done, how we felt and where we were in that brilliant moment in time when we set pen to paper and open our hearts.

I guess again, it was what I was looking for. Because as soon as I decided to buy the journal and pick on up for myself, I immediately felt an ease in my tummy and the next stop was lunch. It was a surprise to me when I saw the time was 2pm.

I’d been moaning about getting pho soup in Chicago and I was marching off to Emmett Watson’s to eat seafood when I happened upon Saigon Restaurant. It was inside this courtyard space, just a little hole in the wall and it was just right for me. I got my seafood pho soup! Compromise and timing!

When I finished lunch I was going to head back to get some more donuts from Daily Donuts, but the sugar content on those things caused my sugar to surge so I went to get some toffee covered peanuts and caramel covered cashews instead. They are nuts and will be good for me(denial!).

On my walk back I passed Beecher’s Homemade Cheese and they were cooking up a batch in the corner window. It was fascinating and a crowd had started to gather. One vat had the liquid starting material and another had curds being stirred. So of course I bought some curds, they were the biggest cheese curds I’ve ever seen in my life and the texture was absolutely perfect.
I walked through the rain, back to the monorail and headed back to my hotel in the Queene Anne district. It is a nice quiet neighborhood, I got lucky when I picked this place out. By the time I got back the rain had stopped and the sun was out again, I dropped my things off in my room and took a long walk. I enjoyed ever minute, even the huffing and puffing up the inclined streets.

By the time I got back in my room, get ready for my 3am wake up call for my 4am car service for my 6am flight, I was exhausted.

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