Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Trip West


Growing downtown Seattle, Washington (with American crow)

The first thing I noticed about Seattle was the crows. The region has not yet been ravaged by West Nile virus, and the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) population remains robust. The birds flapped heavily over Interstate 5 as Michael, Jocelyn and I headed north from Sea-Tac Airport. A lover of all things Corvidae, I interpreted the birds' greeting as a good omen.

Approaching Seattle on Interstate 5

The red gods also granted me exceptional weather. The morning that I arrived in Washington, the low ceiling characteristic of Seattle's seven-month wet season dissipated. Even Mount Ranier, 54 miles southeast of the city, was visible from downtown. Clear skies, sunshine and mild temperatures are not uncommon during the summer months, but they are rare in early April, and the balmy conditions were the subject of much happy conversation among Seattlites.

View of downtown Seattle and Mt. Ranier

Another oft-raised topic was the supposedly passive-aggressive disposition of the Emerald City's residents. I don't doubt that it exists - few stereotypes are baseless - but either I happened upon a rare breed of Seattlite or the rumors of poor behavior are greatly exaggerated.

In fact, I found very little about Seattle unfavorable. The only notable drawback is a relative one; Metro Transit, Seattle's public transportation network, leaves much to be desired. (I've been spoiled by New York's first-rate transit options.) Seattle's bus routes are comprehensive enough, so the principal grievance regarding Metro Transit service is one of infrequency. Bus stops are visited at 30-minute intervals, on average, and a missed bus can mean a missed appointment. On the other hand, it's hard not to love the city's proposed streetcar system, especially since the completed, functioning section is called the South Lake Union Trolley, or S.L.U.T.. ("Ride the SLUT" t-shirts are a popular novelty item.)

S.L.U.T. line in foreground, with (little used) Seattle monorail behind

Generally, Seattle strikes me as a terrific place to live, and it now ranks at the top of my post-NYC shortlist. Not surprisingly, the viability of the local art community is an important criterion for any city on that ballot. Though I've heard some negative things Seattle's art scene - it isn't New York or Los Angeles, after all - I was generally impressed by what I saw. Gallery hopping during the First Thursday Art Walk, I visited several decent shows but, more importantly, observed ample (and good-natured) enthusiasm, a variety of work and a number of familiar names. The galleries that Michael, Jocelyn and I visited were all within easy walking distance of one another, and several were housed in Seattle's more interesting (because older) buildings, located in Pioneer Square. (The dominant architectural modes in the neighborhood are Victorian and Romanesque Revival, a result of the latter's popularity in the late 19th-century; the city was rebuilt following 1889's Great Seattle Fire.)

Pioneer Square, Seattle

The city itself, like the Sea-Tac Airport, suffers no shortage of public art. I saw more such work during my three days in Seattle proper than I've noticed in almost a decade of NYC living. Mind you, I'm not usually excited by public sculpture. Most of it is insipid, but the "right" setting allows some works to thrive. It was a treat to see Richard Serra's "Wake" at the Olympic Sculpture Park, with the Space Needle rising to the east, Mount Ranier to the south, and Puget Sound behind me, to the west. (By contrast, Claes Oldenburg's "Typewriter Eraser, Scale X" looked as ridiculous in this context as his works do anywhere else.)

Serra's "Wake," at the Olympic Sculpture Park

(An art blogging aside: I finally met artist Amy Ross, after having corresponded with her for months and having a 3-person show, "Animus Botanica" - Amy, Boyce Cummings and myself - slated for this coming September, at Denise Bibro Gallery. She was participating in a 2-person show, "Animal Spell," with Justin Gibbens, at Punch Gallery. I'm happy to report that her collages and paintings looked fantastic.)

Photo credits: Seattle crow, PDX503; Interstate 5, Hungry Hyaena; Skyline with Ranier, Bill Rose; S.L.U.T., Brian Bundridge; Pioneer Square, Vincos; "Wake," Cascadeguy

(More pictures of my trip can be found here. Also, although none of the photographer's work was included in this post, Seattle Daily Photo is an excellent resource for terrific photos of the city. Finally, a thank you to the photographers who I've ripped from for this post. More posts about the trip will follow.)


andiscandis said...

Beautiful photo set! I'd like to visit Seattle someday.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Thank you, Andi. I highly recommend a visit. It's a cool city.

Michael said...

It was good out have you out here. It's important to remember that all Seattlite grumbling is currently tainted by many, many months of gray drizzle. I think that people become much more positive as the summer months develop.
Also, I recently looked at my photos, and have one to rival the 'wood troll.' Turnabout's fair play, right?

Hungry Hyaena said...


Duly noted and, if I saw the most grumbly moment, I'm further impressed. Generally, people seemed rather upbeat...but, then again, the weather was lovely.

As for the wood troll volley, of course! ;)