North-Western revelations.

Prior to flying there I knew very little about Seattle. Rain and Kurt Cobain, Foo Fighters and Starbucks, Amazon and serial killers. Squashed between a Pacific coastline that looked too tormented to be understandable and the linear dichotomy of the Canadian border, Seattle has never been a place I’d spent much time thinking about.
The plane floated above a mountainscape of such density that it felt as if peaks had mushroomed without bothering to arrange themselves in cordilleras or valleys. Fjords worthy of Norway’s Sogn pushed inland like silvery tongues of water; forests rushed to meet them, pines standing on the very shoreline like penguins on an ice floe. When it came to it, the urban texture of the city popped out almost unannounced; first a grid of suburbs, rows of homes sitting in large gardens, then a palisade of skyscrapers that descended towards a shoreline and a busy, industrial port. I didn’t know Seattle had either.
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I harbour a deep sympathy for cities built by the sea, where the port isn’t out of sight and mind and commuters can take a ferry to work: Seattle had all three, the latter taking the form of beautifully démodé white boats that cruised majestically between the city and an archipelago of forested islands lurking in the mist. America, I was discovering, had its own Ha Long bay, only replete with places where to find bacon and fresh fish.
On the topic of bacon, breakfast at Lowell’s. Seven AM is the golden hour in this much-respected establishment, three floors of dark wood and well-used furniture rising above the city’s market. The place drips Americana: Eagles schmoozing on the stereo and punters wearing the combo of Patagonia jackets, Carhartt hoodies and Seahawk hats that are de rigueur amongst the city’s early risers, but more on them later. For now, breakfast. Fried oysters surf on a tectonic plate of scrambled eggs, shaving of cheese, bacon and rye bread. Beneath it, the solid crust of a monumental hash brown that has very little to share with the triangular sadness of those in Britain. Coffee is served with miraculous instantaneity. Whoever said Americans don’t have good food is a twat.
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There’s a decidedly industrial aspect to this town. Barges are pushed by tugs around the fjord. A floating derrick is busy doing something obscure by the seaside promenade. Ocean-going freighters are tended to by enormous cranes in a frenzied choreography of moving containers. Behind them a cement factory spews vapour in the drizzle.
This city looks big-boned, barrel-chested. The streets are pounded, at this time of the day, by workers wearing baggy Dickies overalls, wide-brimmed hard hats plastered in stickers, red hi-vis jackets with Motorola radio sets clipped in. Every other vehicle is a Ford F-150 laden with tools or clapped-out GCM Savanas.
On the topics of white, non-descript vans, as we walk under the rain through a quiet suburb north of the city centre it’s hard not to talk about serial killers. Gary Ridgeway and Ted Bundy: were it not for these lands true crime podcasts would have to make do with Bernie Madoff and art theft (which wouldn’t be a bad thing, let me be clear). We walk up to a junction, empty but for us, a bundle of blankets left behind by a vagrant and two crows quarrelling over something very much dead outside of Yummy Teriyaki. The sky is battleship grey and it’s drizzling. I can all but see Gillian Anderson approaching a murder scene wearing her characteristic frown. Above us the flank of the hill is covered by florid-looking houses with lush pine trees and panoramic windows facing downtown; no one is in sight, though. Probably they’re all downstairs, cooking body parts in large cauldrons like many gigantic bouillabaisses.
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A sign proclaiming a smoke-free zone has been nailed to a railing in the Kerry Park belvedere. An unseen hand has slapped on an Eintracht Frankfurt ultras sticker whilst another has crossed out the word ‘free’ and added another adhesive reading “Boring”.
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There’s a vibrant art scene in town and stickers are but a minor expression of it. As we walk, I begin noticing those attached to the buttons you use to call for a traffic light to turn white and allow pedestrians to cross. A penguin holds a bottle of booze and says he’s sorry. A very young Matthew Broderick says that it must be 11:11 somewhere. A cryptic note  asks for crème brûlée.
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A city with a fully-functioning monorail sporting sci-fi looks straight out of a Ray Bradbury book can’t avoid being edgy. Resting on a bedrock of hippy traditions, fertilised by high-quality and legal weed, Seattle’s alternative scene flourishes in ways that those whiny posers over in Shoreditch will never be able to copy. Perhaps it’s the vicinity to the great outdoors and the invigorating activities – biking, hiking, skiing – that they allow, but Seattle’s hipsters appear happier, less conformist, more active and less geeky than their East London cousins. And they achieve all that whilst sporting facial hair that reach levels of flamboyance never seen outside a Village People video, or a firefighters’ charity calendar.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Perhaps it’s because of the weather, or maybe it’s the fact that we aren’t camping outside every wework in town, but my expectation of finding Seattle swamped with socially-inept software engineers appears to be a tad overblown. Granted, we spot a few of them walking around, blue badge flying in the wind like a royal standard. Moreover, signs of their presence are visible everywhere: Uber bikes, Tesla Model 3s, a serving of glass profiteroles plonked on a downtown block (courtesy of Amazon) and what looks like lots of painfully awkward office dinners in as many Japanese restaurants. Less amusing are the effects on the housing market of the arrival of so many well-paid geeks, with rents rising like inflation in Argentina and a large, even by US standards, community of homeless. Still, you won’t find me joining the anti-tech boys picket lines anytime soon. Unlike bankers, they’re largely making productive contributions to society, have never triggered a global recession, have never been bailed by the taxpayer and will never wear a pink tie.
Sun sets behind an overcast sky and, with it, ends our time in Seattle. We trudge back to the airport and its Alaska Airlines hangars emblazoned with a hooded Inuit who bears an uncanny resemblance to a smirking Silvio Berlusconi, triggering innumerable conspiracy theories. Whatever the truth, one thing is for sure: we shall be back.
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33 Responses to North-Western revelations.

  1. Anna says:

    I love my time in Seattle, crashing on a friends couch and just hanging about reading in cafes while she worked. Good memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh, Seattle… There were times when I’d die to be there. I’d fish out Tom Robbins and everything Pearl Jam-related and have the time of my life. I never came even close. The closest was almost buying a t-shirt in Vienna, back then when Seattle was everywhere, that said: “Bomb Seattle.”

    I’m glad it gave you good times and good food and made you promise to return.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. J.D. Riso says:

    I always love your commentaries, Fabrizio, but you’re truly at the top of your game with this one. So atmospheric, the pop culture references are brilliant. Your comment about American food was hilarious. I’ve been to much of America, but so far have not made it to the Pacific Northwest. I get the feeling this was a stopover?

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Julie, I suppose I should also thank America’s cultural hegemony. And in fairness, food in the US is generally great. I haven’t been around much, but I’ve always been able to find great, honest, quality cooking around; I’ve even had some decent catfish (possibly the least useful fish around). From the little I’ve seen, the Northwest seems like a place I’d fit right in: dressing poorly is actively encouraged, there’s mountains, fish, great beer and moustaches.
      Sadly, it was a stopover in the sense that I’m back already. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know Seattle well, having been there only a few brief times, but I think it has a bit in common with Vancouver – if only the weather and a love of outdoor activities. This was a lovely glimpse of the city Fabrizio. I like seeing it through your eyes. I never would have thought to photograph all the little stickers, but it’s these kind of little details that bring a place to life.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Alison! Surprised you never been there, considering it’s not far from Vancouver. But then again, you’re in Vancouver… why move?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I’ve been there, more than once, I just don’t know it well. I’ve never really explored the city at all. Went once to see a skating show, once to visit a friend who lives in Renton. That’s all I can remember.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bama says:

    I always love cities built by the sea — Hong Kong, Istanbul, Sydney they all have certain characteristics their inland counterparts can only dream of imitating. Since I was 20 years younger, Seattle has been in my wishlist of US cities I most want to visit, although in recent years others seem to appear more appealing to me, I must admit. But this post of yours reminds me of that long-held dream of mine of seeing this city one day.

    “Unlike bankers, they’re largely making productive contributions to society.” I’m glad I no longer work in a bank, although when I still did I was nowhere near those people who made lots of money out of their customers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Well Bama I think you’ll like it!
      Don’t get me wrong, there’s banker and banker. My old man has been a banker for 45 years, giving our mortgages to small entrepreneurs, looking after people’s savings and so on. Bankers like that are absolutely necessary; bankers like those I see in the Square Mile, betting against countries and companies and so on… should they disappear all one day, would we be worse off?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. lexklein says:

    Amusing like many of your posts on U.S. cities, but I laughed out loud at the bizarre linking of the Alaska Airlines Inuit and Berlusconi! 🙂 Seattle used to be in my work travel territory (yep, as a banker, but not the avaricious type!), but I haven’t been back for years. Very fun to read your impressions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Bell says:

    I enjoyed your observations on Seattle. I lived there for a summer, and have passed through many times over the years. It is a strange blend of blue-collar grit, hippies, techies, nature, old and modern. And you are right – America has great food. We just eat too much of it, and it isn’t so healthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Jeff! It’s an interesting blend indeed and one I’d love to see better. That NW corner of the US is quite interesting. Food portions in America are great; a meal might be a bit pricier than some parts of London but usually it’s the one meal I’ll eat for the whole day… value!

      Like

  8. Dave Ply says:

    Welcome to the Northwest! It was interesting reading your always unique take on a city I know, if only slightly. I’ve driven through it many times, and sometimes stopping in the ‘burbs north of Seattle to visit a niece’s family. But I’ve only played tourist once, maybe 30 years ago, and never made it to Pike Place Market.

    And if you ever make it to Portland, give me a shout.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a refreshing and fun take on Seattle. I love this part of the world (I live in Vancouver) but the relentless winter battleship grey sky and rain can drive me a bit mad…don’t worry, not cauldron cooking mad. Despite the grey, you’re prose and photos really make Seattle pop!

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Caroline! You’re in good company with regards to shite weather. Yesterday at the office we all stopped for a moment because… yes. the sun was out. It was a splendid sunset over the City of London, with the skyscrapers turning orange and just cotton-wool clouds everywhere. It was 3:30PM. By the time I left at 5 it was already pissing with rain…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This was really entertaining for me to read, since I live in Seattle! I’m not originally from here so I have /some/ outsider perspective left, but even so. I like your description of the hipsters. One thing that struck me after moving here and what visiting friends often comment on is how the average person appears a bit more outdoorsy. I’ve certainly fallen into this myself… easy when you have such proximity to amazing hiking!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The visuals you paint with your words are captivating from the get-go. As alway, I adore your writing style. And the photographs complete the experience. I especially enjoyed the twilight images, and surprisingly, the ones with overcast skies.

    I’ve been away from the USA so long that I’ve forgotten the beauty to be discovered on my doorstep. Our very own Ha Long Bay with bacon and fresh fish is particularly inviting.

    And you are so right about that Alaska Airlines mascot! Creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, brought back memories of Seattle. I also used to love the sight of sea planes coming in to land. Sea planes! Almost as anachronistic as a dirigible.

    Liked by 1 person

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