Sunday, February 17, 2008


Twenty four hours after arriving in Seattle we are liking our first impressions. We took a bus from our hotel in the university district to the downtown area. The bus was clean and arrived on schedule. Unlike at home, where it seems it’s mostly the down-and-out that use the buses, here the bus attracted a variety of people – a pair of elderly women, a man reading a newspaper, a young, professional-looking woman, the heavyset women in baggy clothes who carried a radio and told us “I can’t help what songs they play on the radio.”

We immediately noticed the solar power traffic meters and the electric buses, signs of environmental consciousness. A large black billboard announced “babies are born to be breastfed” and baby slings appeared to be just as popular as strollers, indicating a propensity toward attachment parenting. Looking out the window I saw the blue of water, as well as boats and ships with their rigging. There was the maritime aspect. And looking out across the water I saw the snow-capped peaks of the Olympia mountains. I don’t think I’ve ever seen snow-capped peaks in the US and I loved it. It brought me back to Bishkek, where the views of the peaks on my way to work raised my spirits. Only here there are beautiful views of water as well.

We got off the bus downtown and headed to Pike’s market, the busy, roiling farmer’s market near the waterfront. It was gorgeous. Stands of fruits and vegetables glistened in all colors of the rainbow. Fresh seafood – scallops as large as hockey pucks, crab legs as long as my lower arm, white fish cheeks, and other items recently pulled from the ocean – sat piled under chunks of ice, waiting to be enjoyed on dinner plates. There were bunches of tulips in bright spring colors, bouquets of dried flowers, tart and sweet dried cherries (I didn’t know Washington was the world’s leading cherry producer), gourmet pastas (think dark chocolate pasta, or porcini mushroom, or sweet potato orzo) and dipping oils (white truffle – yum!), jams, honeys, blueberry syrup and vinegar, homemade goat cheese, artisan baked goods, and even a shop that made cheese on the premises in a giant vat surrounded by curious onlookers.

Unlike the Trenton farmers market, where I once heard a vendor respond to a customer’s inquiry asking what the yellow melon was by saying curtly “yellow watermelon,” here friendliness rang through the air. Musicians played Andean music or upbeat tunes, vendors handed out samples or described their goods with a smile. People stopped to admire our baby, to ask his name or his age.

We noticed the friendliness of the people here immediately upon arrival. Our first stop out of the airport was the Thrifty car rental office. The two employees behind the counter were so kind – giving us an upgrade, offering us a map, suggesting places to see along the Oregon coast, answering our questions, helping us put in the car seat. Even the woman in the booth, spending her Saturday evening in a chilly parking lot, greeted us with a smile as she collected our papers.

We ate lunch at a seafood diner on the waterfront. We were seated at the bar, where we watched the cooks at work. The waitstaff worked as a team, helping each other out. And the cooks worked quickly, efficiently, and seemed both happy and professional, I had the feeling that people seem content to be in their positions. I later heard that people have pretty balanced lives here, that it’s uncommon to work extremely long hours, that most people enjoy themselves on their days off. So perhaps their job is just one part of an overall fulfilling life. Since it doesn’t consume them, they can enjoy it more.

After lunch we walked along the shoreline, past a sculpture garden and to the space needle. We ascended to the top in a 41 second elevator ride, traveling at ten miles per hour. With the wonderful weather, we had an excellent view of the city. Walking in a circle along the observation deck, we looked out over the Olympic peaks, Mt. Baker, and the imposing Mt. Rainier. We watched boats traveling over water and seaplanes taking off and landing.

From there, we took a short and pleasant ride on the Monorail, constructed for the World’s Fair, back to the downtown area. We met some local friends for dinner at a trendy fish restaurant, where the fish surprisingly came from everywhere other than Washington.

They told us that in Seattle, much of the life is in the neighborhoods outside of downtown and suggested we explore those areas. The downtown area did clear out by the time we walked to dinner at shortly before six, and almost felt uncomfortable. So we have lots to see and do in our remaining two days.

The city itself isn’t the most beautiful one I’ve seen (for example, I think downtown Minneapolis is a prettier place) however the life and culture are very attractive here at first glance. I overhead one man on his cellphone calling to tell someone he’d arrived here safely and is having a good time. “Washington DC and Baltimore are looking worse every minute I’m here,” he said. Seattle cast its spell on another visitor besides us.

No comments: