Friday, 15 May 2009

Welcome To Seattle

In 2008 i flew to Seattle from my home in France for a two month visit -my wife was working there and i got to hang out.

A friend in Germany, challenged me to use the titles of Shakespeare's plays to report my impressions of the city and here you will find the results - a personal view of Seattle written by an Englishman who lives in France for a Shakespearean Fool who lives in Germany.

Although this Blog is effectively archived please explore it as it may be useful for your own visit, and i will lupdate it if i go back.

You can learn how A Seattle Space Needle Sandwich links Two gentlemen of Verona and the history of Seattle, read all about The World's Biggest Shoes, the Seattle 48 Hour Film Project and find out what links Lenin and Trolls.

If you want to find the Hot Springs, the Best Coffee in Seattle or the Float in Movies this blog can help you. It will help you to if you want to dress the man IN you, or IN your life, with, well, a dress.

And if you are just interested in the challenge and what happened start here.

If you want to see what my friend made me do with San Francisco......

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


I'm trying to add tracker code to this blog as part of an "online better blog course" i am studying.

Ignore that and feel free to roam around these pages.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The End endeth here.

Hi, welcome to the end of this blog.

If you find yourself here by chance then go to the introduction to see what it is all about.

Me i'm back on

Friday, 5 September 2008

All's well that ends well"

And suddenly it’s too late; all things will have to wait or remain missed.

It’s too late to get a burger on Queen Anne Hill, to sit outside the coffee shop again in their recycled milk carton, Poly-Wood loungers. No time to have breakfast, lunch, dinner or cocktails at the black and white tiled 5 Spot Regional American Diner. No longer enough time to stroll down to Highland drive and stand on the terrace that looks out over the central city night-lights and West Seattle sea clouds, nor time to stand ankle deep in the chilling pacific and look west to the islands and dream.

I’m sitting on the plane, Lufthansa flight number 491 en route to Frankfurt, Germany and an eventual connection to home. Evening meal has been served, digested and I’ve watched one movie with my daughter – Horton Hears a Who, an animated version of the Dr Seuss story, surprisingly well done.

On the cabin screen now there is a map of our approximate position, just slightly east of the southern tip of Greenland. The map is pleasingly graphic, textbook greens and blues and of course, for Greenland - white. It seems almost to be in 3-D. In front of the symbolised airplane that trails a red line across the surface of the map is the empty blue of the Atlantic Ocean; somewhere in the distance I can see the outline of Britain.

Later we will pass over the Lockerbie memorial where my friend Bill Mack remains, but now we are approaching an area known as the strait of Denmark. Soon we will pass Iceland where my father-in-law died whilst on his own travels aboard a cruise ship tracing its own red line across his un-chartered blue.

We are flying at a height of 35000 feet the distance to destination is 1772 miles and our ground speed is 532 mph. Most of the passengers are asleep; the hostesses are resting my children dreaming. Just now I went to the rear of the plane and opened the shade to look out at the ice passing below but it is night time over the pole; we arrive tomorrow morning.

Everything, the map (which reminds me of school days, explorers and Tin-Tin cartoons of the sixties), the statistics, Frankfurt marked within a diamond, equidistant between Nice and Oslo and the red trace, the stark colours, the names all combine to incite within me a desire to travel.

And yet this is an end, a going home and a parting from friends, family and a place that has been home for two months.
It is also the end of this blog; the challenge laid down by a distant friend has been met, albeit with some degree of interpretation.

Unlike last year’s blog from San Francisco when the alphabet was the substructure there is no X to give me problems.

Yes, Shakespeare and his Titles seemed an impossible thing when it was first proposed but the relief of not having to answer to X outweighed the worry about Anthony and Cleopatra. Although I do not love Seattle in the way I do San Francisco, and find it harder to write inspirationally about, there is a at least a cinema here called The Egyptian.

It was there that a summer of multiple film attendance came to a fitting climax. Juno was the film of the moment, discovered at the first visit to the open-air screenings, seen again at the last and twice on video in-between, a sort of token of our time here. The Dark Knight, the latest Batman was the most impressive, firstly for the actor Heath Ledger’s promiscuously talented portrayal of the Joker and secondly for its resonance in the psyche of the American audience that surrounded me and cheered the end.

The Egyptian would not have been the climax to this celluloid feast if the final film I chose had not been a thriller depicting grisly murder in a French forest; the setting was too close to home and I didn’t want that atmosphere to be something I carried away from a summer in the northwest. As it was the cinema left us with the tale of Philippe Petite’s audacious tight ropewalk across the top of the former Twin Towers of the world trade centre. The film included the same animated “plane across atlas’ graphic that I am enjoying on the cabin screen as I write.

So summer, August, holidays and trip all come to an end. September starts as I land, maybe already has as I write. Krissie remains the other side of the ocean that now separates me and the continent that is her home for another six weeks.

Goodbyes are so hard, so much harder each time.

When I walk through the door at home, I will phone her, she will be about to wake up on a day that will not have almost finished for me and tell her we are home, safe and sound.

As Bill said, “All is well, that ends well.”

Especially when there is no X to worry about.
The End.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Henry (part 2)

From Seattle international airport you have little choice about the way you travel to the city. The train/monorail link is still under construction and not expected to be operational until next year so you are left with a choice of taxi or other wheeled vehicle which will by default deliver you to the city by travelling down Interstate Highway number 5.

As you approach the city, unless you are very attentive you will not notice the water of Elliott Bay – there are only two glimpses accorded and but your attention is distracted by the cranes of the container terminal, the two sports stadiums and then the skyscrapers of downtown.

I was lucky this morning in taking the taxi for the return journey when the driver chose to start the trip on route 99 and approach the airport from the west. We drove out along side the water, close up to the cruise ship terminal downtown and up over the container waterway.

Elliott Bay is the best part of this city, though it doesn’t dominate perception in the way the bay does in San Francisco, It remains glimpsed unless you go out on one of the ferries or across the bridge to West Seattle and Alki Beach.
Or go down the hill, past the Space Needle through the outdoor sculpture park that lies on the hill overlooking the waters of Elliott Bay to Peer 70.

The sculptures are functional, colourful and large – I did not find them emotional, but the seats and benches of the park are unparalleled for contemplating life, all its meanings and the distant peaks of the Olympic Range.

Down at Pier 70 a gushing fountain and some giant concrete eyeballs mark the start of Elliott Bay Park – a “Public Shoreline Access” A footpath and cycleway lead off alongside the water towards the distant Grain Silo. When the weather is clear, as it has been for most of the last two months the space between sea and sky is uplifting and the fresh ocean smell permeates the noise of the city.

Out on the bay a cargo ship or two wait for access to unload grain, the ferries silently glide across to the islands, someone kite surfs and a sailing boat might pass. One morning swimmers were gathered on one of the small beaches engaged in a competitive venture that entailed entering the icy shallows, submerging enough to fill blue plastic funnel attached to their heads and return to fill white plastic tubs on the sand. A small crowd of dogs and their walkers watched in puzzlement.
Further along, past the pier where the grain is unloaded, you will come to the fishing jetty – a series of shelters on a deck above the Salmon runs. Gulls call, if you are on a bike swallows will dart alongside and at one end the Canadian Geese gather on an open field. But the best thing about the park, apart from the space, solitude and air are the benches.

This is the best place In Seattle to sit.

It has been difficult for me to find someone in Seattle called Henry, something I thought would have been easy. It seems that Henry is a very old fashioned name, people today get names like Precious, or Madison, Loui made a friend called Summer, and one of the children backstage, two years old and learning a mixture of German (parental) English, Russian and Chinese is named August. So Loui started by meeting August and ended up kissing summer.

My dad’s name was Henry, Herbert Henry but as far as I know he never made it to Seattle. He spent some time in Miami or nearby, training with the US air force prior to World War 2 but I can’t find anything that connects him to this city.

But what would a challenge like this be if it weren’t challenging?

I came to Elliott Bay Park often; daily sometimes as its freedom was a literal breath of fresh air. I spent time sitting and meditating, reading and writing. I checked out each of the benches for the best view. I met people here, some completely mad but I always tried to find a Henry.

I cycled past the fishing jetty, The Happy Hooker bait shop, along side the railway tracks and even out as far as the marina at the end of the trail. And I read every sign, dedication and notice; some of the benches have dedications to departed loved ones. I even asked owners their dogs’ names. Was there a Henry among them? No.

Somewhere near the Grain Silo, an immense concrete bastion that dominates the shore view from see in a way that the revolving illuminated retro globe doesn’t (although apparently it is the fluorescent & of the sculpture park that is used by shipping) there is a plaque that commemorates the founding of the park. There are five names on the list and the fourth is Henry L. Kotkins and we should thank him for his sterling achievement.

However, it is the fifth name on the list that should remain immortal.

The Fifth


So, let’s recap.

The Merchant of Venice is all about a merchant, possibly one that sells coffee, Henry V is about a guy called Henry and The Twelfth Night is the one just after the eleventh. Love’s Labour’s Lost is about love and Juno (sort of), The star of The Tempest is Caliban and Hamlet is a bit about ghosts and a lot about castles with drawbridges.

We have also learnt that Romeo and Juliet is all about hanging around in graveyards and getting killed and The Taming of The Shrew features a beggar in the opening act. The Comedy of Errors was simply short and The Midsummer’s Night Dream should be confusing and sometime in the summer.

Shakespeare gave everyone the good advice that you should have your salad dressing As You Like It and that when you compare things like shoes you should do so inch by inch and Measure for Measure, and in King Lear he clearly foresaw the madness in everything that can even lead to the death and destruction of loved ones.

In the Bard’s original version of Much Ado About Nothing people talk a lot, as they often do sometimes about, well…. nothing much, in Two Gentlemen of Verona just two men did a whole lot of stuff that meant quite a big deal and in Othello a lot of people end up disappointed with each other.

And in a good production of The Winter’s Tale there ought to be at least a bit of snow.

Which brings us, neatly I think to Macbeth…………, which is all about trees.

Act 4 scene 1
“Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care 
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are: Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill 
Shall come against him.”

It’s the trees see, everything is going well until they end up at the castle door and then it’s curtains for Macbeth.

When the settlers arrived in the area that was to become Seattle all they could see were trees, mighty and majestic trees, the cedars of the Pacific Northwest. Some were big enough to drive through, and so they did. They also started to cut them down, fortunes were made, and hillsides were cleared. And then they were gone.

If you drive north from Seattle for about an hour and a half you can come to the town of Anacortes. Among other things it is the ferry gateway to The San Juan Islands. Washington is nicknamed the Evergreen State, Seattle the Emerald City but these are the Jewels. We traveled out there for three days of camping intent on seeing Killer Whales from the shoreline of Lime Kiln State Park. There is no guarantee of a sighting, in fact when we arrived on Monday morning the notice board by the small light house informed us that the last sighting had been Friday. The visiting scientific observer told us the resident pods had gone out to the ocean in order to feed, could be gone for three or four days and that only the itinerant seal eaters were around and unlikely to come past.

We stayed two days wandering the barnacle encrusted rocks, watching the changing sea, drifting seaweed and enflamed sky, the sunsets were outrageous, the smell of the sea intoxicating and there was even a 300 year old cedar tree.

But this is a mere juvenile. In the Quinault rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula you can even find the oldest tree in the world!! It’s the Quinault Big Cedar that claims (through human channels) to be 2000 years old.

The campus of Washington University also used to be full of trees like that; and empty of university. Today, lying on the shore of Lake Washington and just a books throw from lake Union, it is an area of open parkland, manicured lawns and academic buildings, some old some new. And ornamental fountains where Canadian Geese paddle. The atmosphere is genteel, Sunday afternoon, Oxbridge, or at least it is at the weekend when I went looking for trees.

You see the trees are coming back, gathering at the gates. The sculptor Brian Tolle’s new installation, as yet untitled, can be found near the bioengineering Dept. It is an homage to the massive cedar trees that used to grace the Pacific Northwest, and which played such a big part in native live and then later the settler’s; the sculpture’s diameter is the same as the Quinault Big Cedar. From a distance it looks like a giant stump.

Finding it was not easy, the Edinburgh born academic reading in the Herb Garden had not heard of it, the cyclist I stopped had not seen it, and the Pakistani Professor on his way to the library could only point me vaguely to the bioengineering block.

But Macbeth didn’t notice the trees at first either.