The 74-acre Seattle Center complex was built for The Century 21 Exposition of the 1962 World’s Fair, and serves as the cultural heart of the city: home to the Seattle Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet, i.e., the newly transformed Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, numerous theater companies, the Pacific Science Center, The Children’s Museum, and the Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
The centerpiece, of course, is the 605-foot Space Needle. On a rare, clear day — today was not one, alas — the observation deck offers panoramic views of the city, its surrounding mountains and Puget Sound from 520 feet above ground.
JM among others had recommended a visit to the Frank O. Gehry-designed Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. CF and MT had visited this garish, multi-colored building a few years ago, back before the SFM replaced the “Funk Blast” wing with its much-missed ride. (Incidentally, I thought I was only one for whom the connection between rock and science fiction was lost, but apparently not.)
We toured through the permanent exhibitions, which included the excellent “Sound and Vision: Artists Tell Their Stories” — EMP|SFM’s collection of videotaped oral history interviews. I could have spent a couple of hours in that room of monitors and headsets alone, but at least I got to watch the clip of Nichelle Nichols telling the terrific anecdote of television’s first interracial kiss, which occured on the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode of Star Trek TOS. Not that I’d know anything about that… nope.
The interactive stations offered the chance to simulate keyboard, drum or guitar riffs, or to tool around with amplifier effects at the “Jimi Hendrix: An Evolution of Sound” exhibit. (Reminded me a bit of Rock Band… and we know how I feel about that.) The “Northwest Passage” traced the development of the Northwest music scene, which apparently owes a lot — much more than I ever would have guessed — to The Presidents of the United States of America. (Them again?) The original handwritten lyrics to “Lump” are enshrined here. Oh, and some band named Nirvana had a few hits, too. On display: Kurt Cobain’s Lake Placid blue Fender Mustang from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video — pretty cool.
The SFM wing of the EMP|SFM was a cool, if random collection of science fiction memorabilia — robot toys, Star Wars action figures, a T-800 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the original model for the Death Star and a few other familiar characters.
Outside the museum, the annual Northwest Folklife Festival was taking place. Impromptu performances, the waft of incense, stalls selling hemp goods and holistic medicines… if I had been asked to guess at which of the two area festivals there would be a shoot-out this weekend, this would not have been my choice.
And live music… because we just can’t get enough. From the stage-facing beer garden, we sipped on cold beer and wine (organic, of course) as Little Big Man commanded the stage with his reggae sounds, wiling away the final hour before I hopped the Monorail (…Monorail …Monorail!) back downtown for the airport shuttle home.
Not that’s a full six hours. Once more: full Seattle flickr set.
I’ve always enjoyed The New York Times’ “36 hours” travel series — even if it hasn’t always been entirely original. I’ve referred to it as a guide for planning weekend itineraries both very close to home and very far away. It’s not that I believe that 36 hours is sufficient to explore most places — I expect I’ll still be discovering things about New York after 36 years — but I appreciate how the day-and-a-half constraint compels prioritizing and efficient use of time. For my visit to Seattle, though, the difficulty of that challenge was increased sixfold.
We rolled into downtown, past the Rem Koolhaas-designed central branch of the Seattle Public Library — next time, I’ll take a tour — to CF and MT’s swanky hotel. I hung back in the lobby as they checked in, sipping the hotel’s lovely lavender lemonade, and put the question to the friendly desk clerk: six hours in Seattle — how should I spend it?
Out came the handy tourist map: it turns out that many of the city’s major sights are within walking distance of downtown, which gave me just enough time to take a brief tour before heading to the airport.
Our first stop: Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, which claims to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, having celebrated its centennial in August 2007. I’m skeptical, by the way, that the oldest market in America would be located in northwest Washington State; Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia claims the same distinction, and more believably.
We did a quick walk-through of the seafood stands where feisty fishmongers tossed and waved their wares before crowds of gawping tourists and locals. I was just as impressed with the flower stands with their kaleidoscopic array of fresh-cut blooms… and at prices far lower that any I’d ever encountered in New York. Local and exotic produce stands, pasta makers, specialty food purveyors with a few craft vendors rounded out the rest of the stalls.
Lunch was a quick and serendipitous stop at The Market Grill — an unassuming U-shaped lunch counter inside the market where I had one of my best fish sandwiches in recent memory. Nothing fancy: just impeccably seasoned and grilled halibut on a baguette, with grilled onions and homemade tartar sauce, served with a side of homemade slaw. At $12, the sandwich had seemed pricy initially — this coming from one accustomed to pricy sandwiches — but after that first bite, I felt it was worth every penny. Good find!
On the way out, we passed by the original Starbucks; that first cafe opened in April 1971 with an initial investment of about $10,000. (Note the original brown siren logo.) Running a cafe can be a tough business, but things seemed to have worked out for this chain with 171 stores in Manhattan alone, and a two story store set to open inside the Empire State Building next week. If only they made more of an effort to serve Fair Trade coffee…
Is this a sculpture of a badminton birdie? Upon closer examination, we recognized the inverted umbrella, no doubt a whimsical reference to Seattle’s reputation for rainfall. (Despite the near-constant cover of clouds, we lucked out, weatherwise, this afternoon.) “Angie’s Umbrella” (Jim Pridgeon and Benson Shaw) is located on a corner in Belltown, an artificially flattened 63-square-block neighborhood, dubbed “Seattle’s Soho” for its bohemian feel and newly trendy shops and restaurants.
One of our favorite sights was the Olympic Sculpture Park, a 9-acre waterfront, former industrial site that was converted into a green space for art by the Seattle Art Museum. (I do so appreciate this movement of transforming urban waterfronts into public spaces.) The $85 million park opened with a two-day celebration back in February.
From the quirkily leaning “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” (Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen) to the monumental sculptures by artists such as Alexander Calder (whose orange “Eagle” is the centerpiece), the park offers stunning views of art and nature.
Here, on the lower level, are the five swooping, asymmetrical COR-TEN monoliths that comprise “Wake” by Richard Serra, whose work we recognized from the MoMA exhibition last summer. Elsewhere, the 6’ by 19’ fan-shaped steel cut-out of New Yorker Ellsworth Kelly’s “Curve XXIV” looked like it could have been fashioned from Serra’s studio surplus.
And in front of the Bill and Melinda Gates Amphitheater, framing a view of the Seattle waterfront, Sir Anthony Caro’s “Riviera.”
Check out the full Seattle photo set — all six hours worth — on flickr.
After last night’s marathon Cure set – MT joked over breakfast coffee that Robert Smith was still on stage – there was an executive decision to be made. Although the Memorial Day lineup looked promising — including Jamie Lidell, Ghostland Observatory, The Hives, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Flight of the Conchords (of the HBO show), The Mars Volta and The Flaming Lips — ultimately we decided that for this, my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, it would be a pity to miss Seattle entirely.
Josh Bis (Science vs Romance) dutifully recaps Day 3 of Sasquatch on the KEXP blog. (More photo highlights of the festival here.) The talk of the final day was The Flaming Lips finale — a jolting spectacle which featured five fully nude women, U.F.O.s, Teletubbies, flashing lights, smoke machines, balloons, confetti and streamers. (Um, fully nude women. Link NSFW, obviously.)
So with most of the day left before I had to board the redeye home, we headed into the city. From Ellensburg, it was to be a two-hour drive east on Interstate 90, over Snoqualmie Pass (population: 201) and through the snow-crusted Cascade Mountains.
Emerald City, here we come!
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