Thursday, June 17, 2010

True Grit

I was out walking today, as I am every day, rain or shine, and found my originally purposeful stroll transforming into more of a wander. Wandering, that is walking with no purpose or destination in mind, is one of the best ways to get to know a city in my opinion. Its plan is allowed to unfold in an organic fashion, rather than in geometric fits and starts, and one can see some of the spirit that lies beneath the familiar constellations of shops and galleries.

Artifact from the pre-internet porn days; the soon to close Lusty Lady peep show sits shoulder to shoulder with its high class neighbors.

On this occasion I was struck by how visible the myriad historic layers of seattle are, each stratum layered one on top of the other in a jumble of eras and textures. Boston is like this, but even Boston's crazed streets appear reasonable when compared to the exuberant mess of hills and buildings that is downtown Seattle. Victorian edifices of genteel brick are sandwiched between brash new apartment buildings with mirrored sides, streets carry on more or less straight and then plunge alarmingly to sea level, past tipsy earthquake cracked warehouses, and under the giantess legs of the viaduct. Rusting iron and corroded stone slump beneath the glowing tubes of neon signs, and the rain forest encroaches wherever it can; slimy moss on sidewalks, ferns clinging tenaciously to alley walls like terrestrial mollusks. And then there are the encircling mountains, the lares and penates of the city, who only show their timeworn faces to us mortals when they choose, but whose mercurial weather moods shape the pattern of our days. So many tiers of time and place, it can be dizzying

The hidden world beneath the viaduct.

I would like to compare all this to the concentric rings of a tree; a legible timeline reaching back to the city's beginnings, but that is far too orderly of a metaphor for this great gritty place. Seattle is an eroded cliffside, where the young soil has been washed away haphazardly to expose layer upon layer of ancient rock. It is transparent new skin stretched over old bones, it is a tide wrought wharf where many colored woods shine beneath clusters of armored sea creatures. It is beautiful. The eye is never made weary, but is always intrigued anew by the mysteries each bit of architecture and landscape promises.

A post apocalyptic scene; the sun sets behind a crumbling wall near the wharf.

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