There are so many things I love about going to the city, the cities; the adventure, the unexpectedness, the endless kitchens and bars and murals and people we don't know, all waiting to be discovered.
After four years in the country, the idea of going to the city can be exhilarating. Used bookstores, record shops, galleries and museums, french bakeries, all these things make cities places I miss sometimes...bridges and lights and old buildings...churches and cathedrals and secret temples. There's promise in the cities. It's the "Zoo of the new", an exotic place where anything can happen.
Yet each time, I return home with more mixed feelings than the last.
This time we went down to celebrate our birthdays by seeing Elephant Revival at the Tractor Tavern and what fun we had! (Seattle girls, it was a kind of a two-of-us day-trip which is why I didn't try to set up a meeting with ya' all. Next time.) We got to have dinner with the band, drink way too many hot toddies with friends and dance it up with total strangers.
Ratty clubs and bars are another thing about cities that never disappoints me.
The openers were our old favorites The Shook Twins. Laurie and Katelyn rock! Giant rhythm eggs, beat boxing, moshing with their magical blond hair, I can't wait for these girls to return to our little Island once more.
The show was packed and the Elephants played lots of awesome new songs. It was such a good time.
The next day, we left our car behind and walked our way from coffee shop to coffee shop, all the way to downtown.
On the way we stopped at a Native art gallery too see C.'s cousin Lena's seal helmet. Her art is amazing, original yet (as I understand it) draws deeply from Alutiiq art tradition. It was really fun to see this piece in a gallery setting, something I
There were some other amazing pieces there as well, in the Northwest Coast style, but I was too timid to ask for permission to take more pictures.
All day, Seattle was wrapped in a thick, Bay Area magnitude fog, cold and eerie. Fog muffles all the sounds around it, making the city seem a little desolate, in spite it being a busy holiday monday.
The things we like to do in town are pretty simple. Like tourists, we like going to Pike Place Market to look at stuff. We like to eat out, drink coffee out and I like to eat as many macaroons and eclairs as possible.
We enjoy listening to street musicians and people-watching.
A while back C's sister clued us onto a great Mexican restaurant in the stairwell between Pike Place and the Aquarium. Homemade everything, real food, simple.
While wandering around, we came upon the Martin Luther King day march and hopped on for a bit. It was a little sad to see how few people were marching, compared to how many people were shopping and how many cop cars and other assorted authority vehicles it "took" to police a march of old hippies, community activists and little kids.
As much fun as we had, always have, visiting the city makes me realize that I have a very sheltered adulthood. So many of the problems, negative messages and painful situations that people who live in cities face daily, are not really part of our life here.
Our single day in the city was the perfect illustration of this. It seems that in the city, one spends a lot of time "tolerating" other people in their space. Other people (as in people you don't know) are loud, clumsy, rude, in your way. Sometimes they seem or are dangerous. Their energy and problems are right there with them, they carry them through the city, into buildings and busses and shops and it's impossible not to let that affect you.
When I first moved to a big city, I was deeply disturbed by how many homeless, destitute people I encountered each day. Being supersensitive, I had little emotional resources to deal with the suffering I saw each day and now that I'm not used to seeing acutely needy people all the time, I feel the same way I did then. Back then I would give all my spare money away, feeling so urgently powerless. Even now I just want sit down with each of them, ask them if they need anything, if I can do anything.
Outside a grocery store, an old guy held a sign stating that he was a veteran of one of our many wars, most likely Vietnam. I asked him if he wanted anything from the store, a sandwich, some fruit. "Lunchables." He smiled broadly with his few teeth. "The things with little crackers and meat and cheese?" He nodded. I went in and bought two boxes, one with turkey and one with ham. It set me back about five bucks. He was old and crazy and weather-beaten and I wasn't about to argue with him about the nutritional value of lunchables. By the time I got back with them, he had forgotten all about me. The little plastic trays made him beam. "Lunchables! For me? I've never had the turkey one!"
Outside a different store, C. sat on the curb waiting for me next to a different homeless man. He gave the guy all the money we had left, 85 cents. The guy thanked him. It's an affluent neighborhood, stylishly dressed people going in and out for olive hummus and cheeses. No one looked at either of them.
When we got back, we ordered in pizza, watched the inauguration festivities. The President mentioned climate change, gay and lesbian rights and immigrant rights. A historic occasion. I wanted to, still badly want to believe him. In a different speech he stated his and the nation's gratitude to the men and women that serve in "our" military. He said we'd take care of them. My heart felt about to break. I thought about the homeless man and his lunchables. I thought of all the little frivolous things I'd spent money all day. I thought about all the frivolous things everyone in the city had spent things on all night. I thought about the cost of the inauguration. The local news channel came on with a story about a murder, followed by a story about a fatal car accident.
Even in a liberal bubble like Seattle, it's harder to believe that the good guys are winning. A landmark record store is forced out of business by one of the banks we all helped bail out. The owner of the bookstore across the street sighs "These are the times." We buy a few books, hoping that she'll still be there next time we come around.
Everywhere condos are being built and young yuppies push their toddlers in thousand dollar strollers. A friend tells us that just a few blocks away where she lives, there's a continuous influx of newly homeless folks who can't afford to live here anymore. Near the shipyard where Mali's dad works, the city enacts a parking zone to remove the tens of 70s campers that people have been living in.
Even folks with a roof over their heads and a steady job are subject to all kinds of abuses by default. The distances one travels for supplies, work and fun are as vast as the choices available. There is a lack of time and money. Even simple things like feeling poor because you can't afford to have your hair styled, or go to a spa seem to be hazards of city life. Or feeling like there's something always happening just outside your grasp; a better party, a better apartment, or job.
Living in a city seems so much harder to me now, both emotionally and physically. I don't know if I could hack it anymore.
At home I am shielded from the constant stream of bad news, want and self-loathing peddled by TV and billboards, magazine covers, expensive stores. I don't feel poor even when we have no money. No one else has much more than me and even if they did, there's nothing to buy.
I feel rich. I can go to the beach whenever I want to, eat good food, work a little.
"I just felt so lucky just to be able to plan my day, my future." C. says about sitting next to the homeless guy outside the store. And so we are. For what it's worth, the city is a very good reminder of that.
Country mouse? City mouse? Am I right? Or Wrong? What's your experience?