Tuesday, July 15, 2008

city. summer.

I. I ate lunch at an outdoor table today, since the only thing better than outdoor dining in Seattle in July is, um, well, lots of things...but it's pretty darned good. Trust me.

At the table next to me was a middle-aged man, attractive in that Dick-Clark-You'll-Take-My-Youth-Elixir-Out-Of-My-Cold-Dead-Hands kind of way. He was wearing a wedding ring and got up every few minutes to take a call from a cell phone. He always came over closer to my table, turning his back on his dining companion, and spoke in hushed tones to someone named "yes, dear"--I presumed his wife.

Remaining at the table was a very young man, Asian, petite, with delicate features, a furrowed brow, and a nervous titter. His English was passable, but clearly not his first language. He was wearing a tennis visor. He looked in the opposite direction when his companion took his calls, with his fork down and his hands in his lap.

Between interruptions, the middle-aged man fawned urgently, apologetically, over the young one. He cut his food for him, cooed, and took little morsels between two fingers and fed them to him, as if to a bird.

When they were finished, the older man stood up and pointed to the hotel entrance next to the patio where we were sitting, and the young man shuffled off, looking for affirmation over his shoulder.

I wanted to hope that this was all a happy scene, but I know it wasn't.

II. After my evening walk to Lake Union, I returned home by way of a little community garden. Everything is a tangle of vines, fragrance, color, and texture right now. Raspberries hang over the fence. Lilies stick out between the pickets.

I cut through the garden on a public path, stopping to admire a particularly lovely blossom, or to squeeze a bit of lavender between my fingers to smell.

Under an overgrown rosemary jungle, I saw a book, open. Holding it was a woman, laid out on a sleeping bag. Next to her were multiple shopping bags, her shoes, several recycled jugs, and some cigarettes.

She lives there.

People like to say "those who live outdoors" instead of "the homeless" here. Supposedly it bestows dignity on the outdoor dwellers. But I think it just bestows a guilt-free pass on the rest of us.

Why, it's just like urban camping, when you put it that way...

III. Next day: I walked downtown for lunch and passed three homeless people sitting in the entrance to a building. They were having a big old time, laughing and sharing a cigarette. I looked over and smiled at them as I strode past, and the woman sitting between the two men leapt to her feet.

"Will you do something for us?"

I confess to ripping through my mental rolodex of excuses for why I was not about to give them money. She held out a disposable camera.

"Will you take a picture of us? We're best friends."

My shoulders relaxed and I smiled again, this time the awkward smile of someone pinballing between relief, guilt, and admiration. I took the plastic camera and the woman ran to crouch down between her two friends. They all slung their arms over each other and put their faces together, mugging for the moment.

"One, two, three, smile!"

I returned the camera, they thanked me, and I walked away, brow furrowed...but of course it wouldn't have made any sense at all for them to have a real camera.

Where would they keep it?

I had cauliflower and thyme soup with goat cheese crostini for lunch.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Eddie, where have you been all my life?

I have to say that I came late to Eddie Izzard. Thanks to my friend Joseph, I finally put together the person I had seen in dramatic roles with Eddie the Comic. As much as I loved the first bits of the the first DVD I saw, I have come to become one of those One Drink Shy of a Stalker sorts of fans. And, I mean, I'm OLD. And have a grown-up job! And a Ph.D.! And...and...and it's unseemly, isn't it?

Still, I adore him. Not just because he's funny and darling, but because he's brilliant and HUMANE and ETHICAL and involved in the world.

In preparation for his show at the Paramount in Seattle, I sat in front of my computer when the pre-sale tickets were about to become available, password in hand. Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, and then SCORE! Front row seats. I knew I would move heaven and earth to get Joseph up here from California to go with me, because I couldn't imagine a more perfect Eddie Accomplice for the evening.

To say we loved it is a ridiculous understatement. To say I now bark orders to my co-workers in fake Latin and mimed coughs (*cough* TIGER *cough*) doesn't quite get it. To say I ask people accusingly where their quilt is when I'm missing something only makes sense to people who saw the show.

But here's the deal: this is a man who, in spite of his fame and cult following, stands for things. He puts his money where his mouth is. He advocates and gives back and pays forward. He comes out of the stage door and talks to people as if they're real, respected fellow citizens.

He wears his various passions on his sleeve unapologetically, and couldn't the world use a hell of a lot more of that? All while nursing aching faces from two hours of sustained laughing and grinning.

One could do worse on a Saturday night.

Saturday, July 5, 2008



I. This train is bound for glory...
or at least Vancouver.

It's Thursday, and my window seat gives me a view of the fields. The window on the other side of the aisle, by the seat I want, the one with the Puget Sound, is covered with a curtain.

A whole family has spread itself out, like in a tent, settled in for a nap in the sun. But there is no sun, only grey mist, and my earphones dripping thick sounds of Leonard Cohen into my head.

They have Indian passports and several generations. The grandmother is my seatmate, and her purple silk sari brushes my arm whenever she moves. She burbles and gurgles in a tongue I don't understand, and her daughter is up and down from her own seat to adjust footrests, open packets of food, dispense water, and offer tissues.

When I am old, I will be the Blanche DuBois of train travel...relying on the kindness of strangers to show me how the seat reclines. No daughter will hover over me.

But for now, I am young and free and and moving north, with a train whistle heralding my approach.

II. There are two kinds of travelers. One kind knows things and has seen pictures of things and has read things about their destinations. They are going to strange places in search of the familiar.

The other kind sets out with no itinerary, no plan, no knowledge of the new place. There is a need to be estranged, to start from scratch, to think that a surprise might be around every corner, and on every unknown face.

Sometimes I'm the former. This time I'm the latter.

III. I'm sitting on a low wall at Robson Square, near the Law Courts. Gaggles of attorneys stride by in both directions, pulling rolling briefcases along. It's humid here, and warmer than the forecast had predicted. The men carry their suit jackets over their shoulders on one finger. Sweat is lightly stamped on the backs of their dress shirts, and they don't care. But the women dab constantly at their temples and pull their blouses away from their backs, as they walk fast and look up at the men and never stop smiling.

I wonder what percentage of a Canadian man's Canadian dollar a Canadian woman earns.

IV. I sit in the hotel bar alone at the end of the evening. I have walked and walked and walked, but my head is less fatigued than my body, so I look at the wine menu. I choose a tasting flight of British Columbia reds, and the little glasses are brought to me with olives and smoked almonds. It's a Thursday night, so I'm all alone, except for a couple of businessmen at the bar proper, and the musicians.

The drummer is young, white, and blonde. The guitarist is old, black, and dressed to the nines. He is decked out, from his excellent fedora to his spats, and he knows he looks fine. I'm seated right next to them, and the old man looks at me as he speaks into the microphone: "How are you, young lady?" Oh, candlelight, you lying seductress. I grin at him and tell him I am well--even better, now that I am here and about to hear him play. They do a couple of old jazz standards and forget that I'm there.

I write and sip and think that I might get a fedora before too long...


Rainy Saturdays and big art museums in old buildings are meant for each other. I hit the Vancouver Art Gallery as soon as they opened, because there were two shows I really wanted to see.

I spent the first part of the day on the two floors devoted to "KRAZY!"--a wonderful collection of cartoons, comics, graphic novels, animé, video, and everything in between. It was curated by Art Spiegelman of "MAUS" fame, and it was truly remarkable.

Aside from the fact that I loved it myself, I loved that the spaces were packed with young people who might not otherwise have darkened the doors of a museum...

But the second show was the one I really came for: Zhang Huan's "Altered States"--a retrospective of his work, spanning his first years in China, his move to New York, and then his return to Shanghai.

His most recent work is what caught my fascination. When he returned to China, he started observing people at Buddhist temples. They would signal their devotion by burning incense and then placing the sticks in the sand at the foot of the Buddha. Barrels and barrels of incense ash were produced on a daily basis, and Huan contracted with the temples to haul it away. He now makes large scale sculptures of human forms, using the incense ash.

As he puts it, he is sculpting out of the dreams and wishes of his countrymen, and the sculptures--full of desire and fervent devotion, but soon ashes to ashes--will disintegrate over time.

I sat on a bench and stared and stared. No one else seemed particularly drawn to these sculptures, but I could not take my eyes off of them. They made me cry and smile at the same time.

The train ride home was odd, because I was again swept into an Indian family. The northbound grandmother wore a sari; the southbound grandmother wore a sweater that smelled of mothballs.

Both of them wore brown socks that had the big toe divided from the rest of the sock.

This time I had the Puget Sound window, and beautiful scenery. I saw two bald eagles. I listened to my iPod. I wrote in my little Moleskine cahier.

I came home.

Now I am going to crawl into my very own bed and rest well. I've already got the coffee ground and in the pot for tomorrow. All I have to do is stumble down the stairs, open the door for the Sunday paper, hit "on" and greet the day...

good night, all.