Monday, September 29, 2008

Love letter

Pike Place Market at dusk

It was exactly this time of year 13 years ago when I first laid eyes on Seattle. Oh, what a looker she was on that day; a day so remarkable, the cloudless sky and razor sharp edges of two mountain ranges made a girl feel woozy taking in all of the beauty. I had been living in Washington, D.C. at the time and came out West to visit an old friend who was on a one-woman mission to make Seattle my home.

Two experiences led up to my decision to go back to D.C., call U-Haul and get packing. First, I carelessly left my wallet in a cab. When I realized what I had done, I called the cab company and asked them to keep an eye out for it. Three hours later the phone rings. A passenger in the cab turned it in to the driver who insists on personally driving back to return it to me; does he need my friend's address? "Not at all," he tells me, "I remember where I dropped you off. I'll be right there." When he arrived, I gushed with gratitude and tried to slip a $20 into his hand to thank him. He handed the money back, smiled and wished me a lovely stay in Seattle.

Baby artichokes at the Ballard Sunday Farmer's Market

The other experience that sealed the deal was when I was walking with my friend along a quiet street in Madrona. It was early fall and the sun hit our faces at an autumnal angle, close enough to warm but far enough away to feel the crispness in the air. As we walked, my friend casually picked fruit off of the trees that lined the streets. She handed me an Italian plum with dusty white-purple skin that shined up after a few passes on my jeans. "Is this illegal?" I ask her, scanning the streets for security cameras. She tells me there are oodles of overflowing fruit - too much to eat - while she lazily kicks at the rotting plums in the grass to make her point. On the next block she tugs a perfectly ripe pear off a branch and now I know she's just showing off. I move my line of questioning to personal health, "What if it has pesticides all over it?" "I doubt it," she tells me, "people care more about their food here." And by way of explanation she states simply enough, "It's Seattle."

A vision of the "Soviet Safeway" where we shopped in Adam's Morgan, D.C. comes to mind, so named for the perceived scarcity of quality produce in certain inner city neighborhoods. After years of living in dirty urban areas, it's hard to adjust to eating a piece of fruit right off the street. You'd have to be totally out of your mind to contemplate eating anything off the street in most urban areas, unless it's a hot dog or a pretzel or you are supremely hungry. Let's be real - you're not even given the opportunity in most urban areas. Unless you are in Seattle or a similar Urban-Eden, there would be no chance to earn those blackberry scars on your arms, shallow, pencil lead-thin scratchings from joyous forays into the heart of the bushes come August. You wouldn't have to contemplate whether or not to gather up spring nettles in one of the city's numerous public green spaces to make soup. You wouldn't know that figs, heirloom apples and Rainier cherries could be so abundant, falling at your feet as you walk the streets.

Cheese squash (white), Hubbard (green) and unidentified (orange)

Now, after so many years, I know these truths intimately and it's hard to remember a time when the word "city" meant something very different to me. Today, Seattle, I send you a love letter for opening my eyes and teaching me that a city can be rich with beauty and generosity, natural and man-made.


Jesse said...

This is a beautiful post. I love Seattle too. I could write a love letter to New York but it would be very very different and have the same sentiment. We have clearly found the right environment for our tastes and careers.

My love letter would include the fact that a place like the Village Vanguard exists. It's is the world's best jazz club for a variety of reasons. Anyway, because of life and music, I happen to know the dude who works at the door. I went by the other night with a friend to see a great band and I showed up with a smallish bottle of bourbon and passed it to my man and we avoided a $70 entrance fee. I love New York.

Two days later, a friend invited me down to Roulette, an avant-garde performance space and saw some of the best music I've seen in a long while. Oh, that guy who's on bass is the legendary Dominic Duval - he played with Cecil Taylor for a decade. And with a name like Dominic Duval, with his black suit and bright grey hair, you might think he's from France or Belgium or something. Indeed, he is straight up Brooklyn. Bensonhurst I think. His speech is peppered with the "yooz" and "doze" that come from a life time in the city. It turns out he is a freak for old doo-wop music and can talk about it forever.

I may be getting allergic to New York though, after all this time here. Maybe I need to be Jazz Musician Interrupted for a little while and live in Seattle...


Becky said...

There is an air-mattress with your name on it, bro. Come to Seattle and we'll give you the free fruit tour and chuck your wallet in the middle of the street and see what happens.

jill said...

What a gorgeous, gorgeous post, Chef. Your writing is so lush, and the sentiment here is just, wow. I totally swooned.

Thanks for posting.

DateDyke said...

great, well written post. magazine column worthy.

Skintight Tamper Bunny said...

Happy Birthday, Sea Chef! Enjoyed the karaoke, however brief!