Birthday

My birthday was on Friday.

Any day is a great day to have a birthday but one bonus about Friday is that it’s the start of the weekend, so you can extend your birthday celebration if you want.

On Friday I drove out to Armstrong Woods and walked around in the redwoods. I love the redwoods. I don’t get the same flood of creativity and wonder that the ocean gives me… it’s more like old-fashioned awe.

I stopped at Mary’s Pizza on the way home for a salad and breadsticks. I didn’t eat a bigger meal because I was scheduling a self-indulgent dessert for the evening, before I went to Petaluma Copperfield’s to hear Greg Van Eekhout at his author event for Voyage of the Dogs.

I went to Zazzle’s and had their delicious chocolate mousse. Zazzle’s is directly across the street from Copperfield’s. They used Voyage of the Dogs as the theme for one of their large windows.

The crowd was small, mostly adults but about one-third kids. Van Eekhout had spent the afternoon at two elementary schools, one in Penngrove and one in Petaluma. Several of the children were from the schools, but not all of them. And — there were three dogs. Henry was a chocolate lab, one year old, who was just so very happy to be there! There were new humans! And new human kids! And other dogs! As the little girl behind me (a friend of the boy whose family Henry is part of) said, “He should have a name-tag. ‘Hi,my name is Henry and I want to give everybody kisses.'”

Henry in a quiet nanosecond.

Henry in a quiet nanosecond.

Trixie was a more sedate Dalmatian.

Trixie, who was playdate friends with Cinnamon.

Trixie, who was playdate friends with Cinnamon.

Cinnamon,a chiweenie, came in costume. She wore a space suit for the first few minutes of the reading and Q&A, but it came undone. Cinnamon stayed close to her kids at first, even growling once, but as soon as the costume came off she relaxed into a friendly, ebullient canine who wanted to meet all the humans and was overjoyed to see her playdate friend Trixie. (Some really poor images of Cinnamon, sorry.)

Partial image of Cinnamon, in her space suit costume.

Partial image of Cinnamon, in her space suit costume.

Greg Van Eekhout loves dogs. He said he wrote the book, Voyage of the Dogs, because when he thought about where he wanted to spend six months writing — “what head-space I wanted to be in” — he knew he wanted to spend time in a fun adventure “with good dogs.”

Greg vanEekhout

Greg vanEekhout

Lopside, Bug, Daisy and Champion are uplifted canines assigned to the first interstellar ship. However, the dogs wake up from cryo-suspension to discover the ship damaged and the life pods gone. The dogs who call themselves “the Barknauts,” decide to carry on with their mission, and that is the thrust of the story.

Van Eekhout is a warm, funny, engaging presenter. He explains things simply  without talking down to a kid audience (as when he explained Morse code). I could have listened to him for another hour, frankly.

All in all, a good birthday! And the fun continued Saturday, when I spent the day in Benicia with my friends from the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. After brunch, in addition to our usual visit to Bookshop Benicia, we checked out the First Street jewelry and crafts fair.

 

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Remember Me

Remember Me aired on PBS, an import from BBC filmed in 2014. The show comprised three one-hour episodes as a disillusioned detective and a young caregiver tried to solve the mystery of a missing old man and two suspicious deaths. The town of Scarborough, the traditional folk-tune Scarborough Fair and cowrie shells were repeated elements… as was water. Lots of water.

This is a spoiler: There is a supernatural element to Remember Me. It’s not much of a spoiler, because you would probably figure that out in the first fifteen minutes of the opening episode. The first character we meet is Tom Parfitt, an elderly man who lives alone, surrounded by memorabilia. His neighbors look in on him, and he counts on that, faking a fall down the stairs so that a social worker is called and he has to be taken to a care home. Tom already has a suitcase; he snaps at the social worker when she picks up one of the framed photos at random to take with him. “Nothing from the house!” he says. She slips the photo, of a little boy, into her pocket anyway.

At the care home we meet Hannah, a caregiver. Her mother is an alcoholic and Hannah has postponed going to university so she can care for her ten year old brother. Hannah is caring, emotionally open, and somewhat vulnerable. Tom arrives and he and the social worker to go the fourth floor, where his new room is. From below, people hear a loud, steady pounding, the lights flicker off and the social worker plunges through the glass window to her death. Tom is found out of his wheelchair, huddled in the corner, muttering, “Something is missing.”

The detective’s interview with staff and residents uncovers nothing, but Hannah knows something is wrong because she is plagued by frightening dreams. Tom, who was traumatized and taken to the hospital, walks away from it. He is in the wind; there is no reasonable cause of death for the social worker, and soon another carer at the facility is found drowned; drowned, sitting upright at her dining room table. The table is soaked in water but there is no water on the floor or anywhere else in her flat. And before she died, she told Hannah that she’d gone out to have a smoke the day of the death, and looked up to see a woman in the window with the social worker. Not behind her, pushing her, but literally in the fourth-floor window.

By now the viewers have had an experience at Tom’s old house and are well aware that there is a ghost. When Tom muttered “Something is missing,” he meant that something was missing from the house, a thing that let the ghost follow him. As with any good ghost story, the real question is, why? Hannah’s dreams and visions become more ominous, taking over parts of her waking life, while Detective Rob Fairholme uncovers more mysteries, not fewer, as he investigates Tom’s past. Where is Tom? Is he dead? Soon, the ghost has attached itself to Hannah’s younger brother Ryan. At first, the attention is benevolent, but we know this entity has killed two people already. Ryan is in ever-growing danger.

The first two episodes delivered an increasingly disturbing psychological creepiness. The images of water; dripping faucets, reflections in puddles and the constant pounding of the ocean waves, ratcheted up the tension, while Hannah’s connection to the entity through her dreams and the strange reveries seemed to put her danger. When it was clear the ghost had discovered Ryan, it became downright scary. The idea that this ghost could travel through objects made the hauntings plausible. The ghost’s motivation for the social worker’s death was clear, while the second murder seemed more like a classic criminal’s motive – the idea of leaving no witnesses.

Locations and cinematography, especially of the Scarborough seashore, were breath-takingly beautiful, and added to the sense of a haunted landscape.

The tone of the story changed in the third and final episode, focusing much more on the mechanics of solving the mystery, and the ghost’s motivation seemed to shift again, to a less plausible ending, one that didn’t work thematically for me even though it succeeded emotionally for the most part. Hannah’s dreams and her connection to the entity are not coincidental, it is revealed; there is a reason for the connection. Tom’s “final secret” wasn’t very secret, but his decades-long relationship with the ghost and the woman she was before her death rang true and was sad and frightening.

The biggest surprise for me in the series was the presence of Jodie Comer, who plays Hannah. It was great to see her in this role after having seen her as the gleeful psychopath in Killing Eve. It’s always great to see that an actor you admire really does have range, and Comer’s Hannah is a completely different woman from professional assassin Vianelle.

So, while the tale fell apart at the end, it is visually beautiful and filled with excellent performances. It’s available On Demand. If you’re at all susceptible to ghost stories, don’t watch the first two episodes at night, especially if you’re alone. Especially if any of your plumbing leaks!

(Here is the IMDB link to the show.)

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“Party Girl Jake” and the Private Eye Tour

WARNING: One instance of foul language.

I went on the Prohibition-era tour of Seattle my last night in town. Private Eye Tours offers ghost tours, true crime tours and the “Booze, Broads and Jazz” tour. These are all vehicle tours, which was new to me. In the case of the Prohibition-era one, many of the sites we visited no longer house the buildings that were infamous in the 1920s and 30s, or they are repurposed, so there wouldn’t be a walking tour in any event.

Besides being just what I needed, the tour was fun.

Neighborhoods like this one, in Pioneer Square, had some racy clubs.

Neighborhoods like this one, in Pioneer Square, had some racy clubs.

The white van pulled up in front of the Executive Pacific a few minutes after 6:30 and an older gentleman in semi-formal clothing got out and came around to open the door for me. In the front seat was a woman several years younger than him. She wore a shiny blue dress with a corsage, and a small hat. I wondered if they were a couple and it was a special occasion for them.

In the first set of passenger seats were Margee (pronounced with a  hard “g”) and Dave, two Seattle school teachers who’d decided to take the tour as a fun thing to do on a Saturday night. We drove north and east toward the South Lake Washington district, which is undergoing renovation thanks to a couple of tech firms… I want to say Netflix. Somewhere up there we picked up our fourth, Tanya, a dark-skinned twenty-something woman who runs a Nike store in Brooklyn and is out at the Nike HQ in Beaverton, Oregon, for a four-month special assignment. Tanya was having city-withdrawal in Podunk Beaverton (my term, not hers) and took the bus to Seattle to get a bigger-city fix. She was having a pretty good time. We compared notes on the Underground tour and the Space Needle.

The woman riding shotgun, with the corsage and the hat, was Jake, our guide, in her character as a 1930s/1940s party girl in the wild city of Seattle. And then we were off!

Margee (l) and "Party-girl Jake."

Margee (l) and “Party-girl Jake.” I’m so sad that this is blurry.

Much of the tour took place in neighborhoods that are now called Chinatown and the International District; centered about S Jackson and 12th Streets. Washington close to go “dry” in 1916, three years before the rest of the country. This meant their bootleggers and speakeasy proprietors had three years longer to learn their trade and get their systems in place. Jake chatted knowledgeably about Chief Roy Olmstead, the town’s premiere bootlegger. She opines that the absence of organized crime, specifically the Italian mafia, from the Seattle prohibition scene, was because local law enforcement was so well paid-off and so thoroughly entangled in the business.

Party-girl Jake also believes that Olmstead’s wife, AKA “Aunt Vivian,” who read bedtime stories over the radio from the top of the Smith Tower, really did give out coded coordinates to smugglers, “Mostly on nights when the fog was in.”

Smith tower.

Smith tower.

(Rough language!) There were several gay clubs and transvestite clubs south of Yesler Way, and Jake took us past a couple of them. Talullah Bankhead visited one of the transvestite clubs, delighting the cross-dressing audience by shouting, “Avon calling, you beautiful motherfuckers!”

Dave expressed surprise that things were “so open” in the 1930s. Jake gently corrected him. People “in the know” knew about these clubs, but they weren’t common public knowledge. They might have been (semi) safe places inside, but it wasn’t safe to be gay, by any means.

The outer perimeter of Pioneer Square housed several delightfully dodgy establishments, like Madame Peabody’s Dance Academy. It wasn’t a school of dance; the place provided vaudeville/burlesque style performances, and for an additional fee, a patron could rent an hour in one of the cubicles with one of the girls. The name of this kind of place was a “box house,” which was a new one to me.

Street Scene. It's hard to see but the sign for card reading is spelled "Taro."

Street Scene. It’s hard to see but the sign for card reading is spelled “Taro.”

At University and 1st Street, almost to the waterfront, the Garden of Allah, held in the basement of the Arlington Hotel, was a transvestite club with cross-dressers who achieved mainstream celebrity in Seattle.  Jake showed us photos. If she hadn’t told us they were female impersonators I would not have assumed they were men.

Then we headed east toward 12th Street, passing the former Milwaukee Hotel. The Milwaukee Hotel was founded by Chinese immigrant Goon Dip, a pacific northwest success story. The official story of Goon Dip says he landed in either San Francisco or Portland before 1882 (good timing on his part since Chinese immigration was declared illegal after 1882). He started a thriving and successful business in Portland, and then moved to Seattle, where his father-in-law had businesses. Goon Dip made a small fortune in Seattle by recruiting Chinese men to work in the Alaskan fish canneries, but he gambled, and won, by planning for the upcoming Alaska Yukon-Pacific Exposition, scheduled for 1909. Goon Dip built the Milwaukee Hotel and greatly benefitted from the influx of tourism.

The official story of Goon Dip calls him a “visionary, wealthy entrepreneur, public servant, philanthropist…” and the most influential Chinese voice in the pacific northwest for his time. I think all that’s true. It’s also true inside the Milwaukee Hotel Goon Dip had a bar, two casinos, one for Chinese and one for European-Americans, and a brothel. The hotels and “social clubs” in Chinatown constructed tunnels that led to neighboring buildings, so people could flee in case of a raid. Of course, the vice cops were welcome and frequent visitors to the speakeasies and casinos, and the owners were usually tipped off in advance to a visit from the “dry agents” or anti-booze brigade.

Jake said that the police graft was so institutionalized and so rich that beat cops competed for a chance to get a Chinatown posting so they could rake in those extra bucks.

*

It was outside of my timeframe, but the music of “south of Yesler” was fascinating. Jazz was super-popular, and known names in jazz and blues played the clubs regularly. There were several African-American owned hotels, because acts would come in to play the ritzy white clubs, but black performers were not allowed to stay in those hotels. Ray Charles was a regular, and one of his early blues songs, “The Rocking Chair Blues” was about a club called the Rocking Chair.

*

When Prohibition was repealed, Washington maintained strong laws restricting the consumption and sale of alcohol. They frequently could get a club declared a “public menace” and shut it down, with little or no evidence. It’s a strange standard.

*

“Jake’s” party-girl persona worked perfectly, but I was stunned at how much research she’d done. Jake had photographs she passed around and period music (including “Rocking Chair Blues”) that she played at key points during the tour. She read us quotes from various contemporary reports of raids and indictments. At the very end, when they took us to Vino’s, a 50’s-era bar that probably was one of the rare Mafia owned establishments, Tanya asked her about how she set up the tour, and she laughed and said she probably read “every single newspaper on microfilm” from the 30s and 40s.

That’s an impressive work ethic!

Vino's Bar and Grill

Vino’s Bar and Grill

I also enjoyed the time spent with my tour-mates. Margee and Dave have two years to go until the retire (Margee flashed ttwo fingers in a aV and nearly shouted, “Two! Two years!” I think she’s looking forward to it,) and I could have listened to Tanya talk about New York, and Nike for another hour. It was time to head back to the hotel though, before I turned into a pumpkin.

 

 

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Superstition Everywhere (Except on Syfy; They Cancelled it)

Superstition aired for one season, in 2017, on Syfy. It’s already been cancelled or at least not renewed, and I watched it On Demand. If more episodes were available I would watch them.

The show, co-created and co-produced by Mario Van Peebles, borrows liberally and heavily from other supernatural fantasy shows, the two most obvious being Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (adapted by Starz) and the CW’s Supernatural. Even though it only had a 12-episode run, Superstition was better than Supernatural.

Please note that I’m not saying the show was great, just that it was better than Supernatural. I know that’s a pretty low bar.

In addition to producing, Van Peebles wrote several episodes and starred in the show, which is set in an “unusual little town” in Georgia. The Hastings family owns and runs the town mortuary — apparently it’s the only mortuary in town, because even the town’s former Klansman’s body is taken there, even though the Hastings are African-American. Patriarch Isaac Hastings (Van Peebles) and his family lovingly and respectfully care for the dead and they also fight demons, which they call “infernals.” They are assisted by Tilly, the town/county medical examiner and mythologist, who has some connection to the spider god Anansi, and Mae Westbrook, the chief of police.

Our story starts when Calvin Hastings returns home after 16 years in the military — in, among other places, Afghanistan. A premonition of his father’s funeral drew him home, a home he fled after his younger brother was killed in an attack by infernals. (Despite the fact that the cemetery outside the Hastings house is filled with Hastings headstones, that attack seems to have taken place in a different house in Louisiana.) When he gets home, he finds changes and secrets, and of course he harbors several of his own.

The Hastings family must work together to defeat a Big Evil called the Dredge, one that wishes to destroy the Hastings clan once and for all, and also the little town of La Rochelle. Some of the family secrets are revealed, like the fact that Isaac is an immortal, a Moorish crusader who was changed magically so he could fight infernals, and is  778 years old; or that Calvin is the father of Mae’s daughter Garvey. Calvin’s mystery unfolds more slowly and the first big clue is that his official military records ended three years ago. (Can you say “Special Forces?” I can.)

None of these revelations is particularly original. The special effects budget for the show must be measured in tens of dollars, giving it the look of Tom-Baker era Doctor Who episodes. Think cardboard and strobe lights. (On one episode, a dead raven meant to foretell the death of someone looks like the polystyrene-and-chicken-feather ravens you can buy at Michael’s Crafts.) The best thing about the show is the family at the heart of it, and the second best thing is the casting.

The family is a real family. They are compelling. Van Peebles does not shy away from racism in the past or present, even though the black mortuary family and the chief of police seem to be quite comfortable. While the writing is uneven, it has moments of wit and brilliance that I would put up against the best moments of Killjoys and Wynonna Earp.

Isaac and Calvin are the main characters, but Superstition is not a sausage-fest. The women characters are smart and strong, with their own histories, and their actions drive the plot. Bea Hastings, Calvin’s mother, is a mortal (apparently) but carries a vast amount of magical knowledge and clearly has powers of her own. Tilly functions largely like pre-witch Willow did in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Garvey walks a tightrope; she is fascinated by her paternal grandparents’ metaphysical work, but she is also rebelling against a strong, protective mother. Mae is mostly unflappable, even when she’s pulled into a mirror dimension, threatened by a witch, and nearly killed by her own doctor. The one place the show lets Mae down is her relationship with Calvin, making her dithery and inconsistent as a way to create “romantic tension.”

Other choices, like an interpretation of Anansi that featured Jasmine Guy, are inspired.

When we talk about diversity, often there’s a condescending undertone, or the same tone we use for getting exercise or eating kale;  it’s good for us, not enjoyable. Superstition is, on its face I suppose, a “diversity” show, with a mostly black cast and black main characters. For me, I saw it more as a slice of American culture that I was less familiar with than others, and I enjoyed the new stuff I was seeing and learning.  Opponents of works that feature main characters who are not white,male and cis often talk about check-boxes, but the check-boxes in Superstition come from the backstory, not the characters:

  • “She’s your daughter!”
  • “You have a dark soul, Calvin.”
  • “There’s stuff you need to know but I’m not going to tell you yet.”

The original season ran 12 episodes and I’ve seen 8 so far. I’m sure it ends on a cliffhanger. It’s a shame Syfy didn’t give this show more of a chance. They have a Friday time-slot, the lead-in to Wynonna Earp and Killjoys. Killjoys is winding down; finishing up its penultimate season in a few weeks. Superstition would have been a good understudy; and had a place among the quirky, family-centered Friday supernatural dramedies.

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The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell; It’s Nordic, What Did I Expect?

The Fifth Woman is the probably-not-coincidentally fifth installment in Swedish author Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender police procedural series — or, as some critics choose to call it, Scandinavian noir. Published in the USA in 2000, the book is set in 1994 and follows detective Wallender and his team and they try to solve a series of cruel and inexplicable murders in the fall of that year. Along with Wallender’s point of view we get sections in the killer’s as well, which ups the suspense and gives us information the police don’t have.

The book is bleak, disillusioned and at times pretty implausible. It’s Nordic — what did I expect?

As the story opens, Wallender returns to work after a week in Rome with his father. The trip was a good one and there is a rapprochement between the two usually estranged men that promises to flower into a closer relationship. Almost immediately, Wallender is confronted with a corpse found at the bottom of a ditch, impaled on bamboo “pungee sticks.” It is not only a cruel murder, it’s a baffling one. From there the story ranges on, from Swedish mercenaries in what was then the Belgain Congo in the 1960s to a maternity ward in the local hospital in the story’s present. Anther victim is discovered and then a third, each killed in a different but vicious manner.

Meanwhile, a dire occurrence with Wallender’s father changes that relationship forever; Wallender continues to waffle on both buying a house and getting a dog; his relationship with a woman friend who lives in Latvia founders, and the police face a growing nationalist movement that expresses itself as a “citizens police force.” Along the way there is plenty of discussion about the growing callousness and cruelty among society, and various theories put forth as to why that is happening.

Swedish law and procedure in the 1990s was markedly different than the USA and that was a small stumbling block for me. It was just an adjustment. Mankell uses his story to give a critique of sexism; particularly, the blind spots people (of both genders) have about women. Overall, the sameness of the prose and the relentless downbeat nature of the story wore on me. I don’t know how many times in a book a character can react to a new fact provided with “unease.” (This is clearly a translation issue.) The book is longer than some of the other Wallender books, and moved very slowly as Mankell  meticulously takes us on every single false lead and detour in the case. For example, did I miss the role the Swedish mercenaries played? Were they somehow related to the later murders in Africa that set the book in motion? Did the shrunken head offer any meaning to solving the case? These things were informative and atmospheric as hell but didn’t seem to more the story forward.

What I liked was the view of Sweden, grappling with economic and political changes in the 1990s. While the shift toward neo-Nazism and anti-immigrant sentiment is disheartening, it is plausible and opens a window into the national psyche.

If you like grim, downbeat, dark-night-of-the-soul noir, than this might be your cup of tea — or maybe coffee and a sandwich. So, if you can, enjoy.

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Beyond the Stars; Unimagined Realms is Available Now

Beyond the Stars; Unimagined Realms is out now, available on Kindle for ninety-nine cents. It dropped on Friday; It’s now Sunday evening and the book is:

  • #8 in Kindle Store, ebooks, SFF, Science Fiction, Anthologies
  • #16 in Books, SFF, Science Fiction, Anthologies
  • #116 in Books, SFF, Science Fiction, Military SF, Space Fleet

Those all look like good numbers and I’m sure those categories have some meaning, although they seem so narrowly defined as to be useless… or to guarantee that any particular book will be in the top twenty of some tiny category.

I’m not complaining, just observing.

If you like Military SF or space opera (not all the space-farers in the stories I’ve read are military), this is a good anthology, and you can’t beat this price through the end of the month. September 1 it catapults to $2.99.

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Tea at the Olympic Hotel

The Olympic Hotel opened in 1924. It was a grand, opulent place meant for the wealthy movers and shakers of Seattle. Since the novella I’m finishing up  research on has a scene in the Olympic and one nearby in an alley, it was one of my planned visits. Then I discovered that the Georgian Room, located in the hotel, serves fancy afternoon tea – you know, delicate nibbles usually provided to women in big hats.

Tea drinkers in the Georgian Room. One lady does have a big hat.

Tea drinkers in the Georgian Room. One lady does have a big hat.

(Note: I did not wear my big hat because it was foggy that day.)

Before I talk about tea at the Olympic, a brief note about the other scene. In the novella, the ingenue character slips away from a party-planning meeting at the Olympic (her engagement party, as it happens) and meets her secret lover—okay, well, not-so-secret lover—in a nearby alley. The main character follows her and catches them.

This meant I needed to find an alley near the hotel. I’d looked at maps on Google and paper maps and “made up” an alley between 4th and 5th Streets, connecting Spring and Seneca. I was really hoping there was an alley there. To my delight, there was! As a bonus, the outside stairs from my hotel, the Executive Pacific, ended in that alley. Hurray! My search for another alley needed in the story was not so successful, so this was a standout.

I made a reservation at the Georgian Room for tea on Thursday, which was my first full day there. The marine layer visits downtown regularly in the summer, and it was a welcome relief to me after driving though hot, fire-ravaged, smoke-clouded northern California and Oregon. Coming along Lake Shasta had been like driving through an apocalyptic movie – it was like driving through fog, only it was both blue and coppery, and 90+ degrees outside.

Oh my gosh! That lobby.

Oh my gosh! That lobby.

But back to tea… I went back to my room after visiting the waterfront and changed my jacket because the dress code (yes, dress code) for the Georgian is “business casual,” so I brought a jacket that matched my slacks. And walked over, through that vital alleyway. It appears that through a terrible oversight I did not get a picture of the Olympic entrance; but the book I bought corrects for that in most respects. The hotel is currently operated by Fairmont, and the building is on the registry of historic buildings. First I walked into that – gasp! – lobby. I looked right and there, up a few stairs, was the Georgian Room. I went in, where this young lady greeted me. They had my reservation and the table was all set up for tea – which is a different setup than for a lunch. I asked if I could take her picture.

Yeah, that lobby.

Yeah, that lobby.

“Of course! Do you want me looking at the camera, or working?” She smiled. “Or pretending to work?”

The pleasant and hard-working hostess.

The pleasant and hard-working hostess.

I opted for working/pretending to work so she folded some napkins. (It looked like actual work to me.) Then she guided me over to my table, near the back wall, close to one of the two private dining rooms. My table didn’t have a chair. It had a settee.

My reservation was for 1:15. The place was nearly empty; two tables held tea-partakers, and two others had duos, both male, all four in suits. I can imagine my characters, Fiona and Tony, the two who have been directed into an arranged marriage, being dragged here for tea by Tony’s strong-willed mother. I watched the two tables of guys in suits. They did not look like brash young tech startup dudes, who might have business meetings at a strip club or at one of the many Starbuck’s “Reserve Tasting Room” coffee houses. No, these guys looked like they already hang out in the E-suite of established mega-corps. They might get booted out of their companies in four or five years, with mere $40 million bonus/parachutes, but right now they are sleek, self-satisfied and enjoying their cocktails.

The trio of women directly across from me, one of whom did have a big hat, was having the champagne tea, which costs $64 per person. A note about sales tax in Washington; Washington has no income tax, and sales tax is 10% on everything. “Everything” includes food. That $64 price is before sales tax.

The un-champagned tea cost $49. I added a bottle of sparkling water which boosted the price, plus the sales tax. (This was basically my meal for the day.) Tea had three courses; berries and fruit, scones, and an array of tea sandwiches and petit fours. The berries were served in a martini glass with a couple of mint sprigs. The scones were white chocolate cherry, and there were two. Lastly, the server brought out the famous tea stand with three levels. There was a chicken finger sandwich, a tomato basil sandwich and a tiny savory quiche, a matcha tea flavored petit four, a chocolate thing that looked a lot like a truffle, and a macaroon. All the food was beautifully presented.

Fresh fruit started the meal.

Fresh fruit started the meal.

And the tea stand, loaded with finger-sized sandwiches and sweet treats.

And the tea stand, loaded with finger-sized sandwiches and sweet treats.

I had golden dragon jasmine tea, which was fragrant and a rich amber in color, and blew my reduced-caffeine regimen straight out of the water. The tea was wonderful. The food was good but not exceptional. I have had better scones locally. Nothing was bad, and I was mostly there for the ambience anyway. I doubt anyone goes to “afternoon tea at the Georgian Room” for the tea cuisine. There was enough food left that I took half of it back to my hotel and snacked on it the rest of the trip. I had the scone with Pike Place Market raspberries for breakfast the next morning. The chicken sandwich and the petit four were dinner my last night there.

That's the china pattern.

That’s the china pattern.

The server filled my teapot with loose leaves and hot water.

The server filled my teapot with loose leaves and hot water.

The walls in the Georgian Room, painted pale yellow with white trim, must be twenty feet high. The named streets run roughly east-west in downtown, and the University Street side has tall, arched windows. The inner wall has fifteen feet tall mirrors that mimic those windows. They need ceilings that high just to have room for those chandeliers. The sideboard held a collection of Dale Chiluly glass.

Just one of the crystal chandeliers.

Just one of the crystal chandeliers.

Mirrors on the Georgian Room wall.

Mirrors on the Georgian Room wall.

 

An old sideboard filled with art glass.

An old sideboard filled with art glass.

After I finished up, paid, and got my to-go box, which was put into a huge Fairmont paper bag with handles, I went out into the lobby to take more pictures. I approached the concierge desk to ask if they had any written information on the hotel. They did indeed and shared it with me. One man handed me a book commissioned by Fairmont to provide the history of the hotel. “It’s the only one we’ve got left, I think, but you’re welcome to have a seat and look through it.”

The book gives the history of the hotel... the handouts were free!

The book gives the history of the hotel… the handouts were free!

Another concierge glanced up. “We’ve got a few of those left,” he said.

“I didn’t see them.”

“Maggie moved them. I’ll go look.” Off he went and then back he came, with this. It was $20, well worth the price.

I had a good time, was pleasantly overwhelmed by architecture and design, and managed to check the third location off my six-location to-do list. Plus, I was so buzzed on caffeine I would have run wind-sprints the rest of the day. That energy served me well at Pike Place Market.

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Pike Place Market

I went to Pike Place Market twice today. Actually, I went to the waterfront and Pike Place Market twice today. I’m all about habit.

Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market, the tourist magnet I visited twice.

The second time I decided to ship something from the fish market to a certain person — okay, I’m no good at being coy, it was Spouse. The fish market ships anywhere in the US with next day delivery. I did all the paperwork, they swiped my card, and handed me the slip to sign. Meanwhile they got started on the woman behind me who was shipping home some prawns. “Wait, wait,” the guy said to me. “Just one more thing.” I’m holding my receipt and my card and I’m like, what? Dude, only two hands here, and he hands me something in a square of waxed paper and it’s smoked salmon. And it’s a big chunk of smoked salmon. He handed one to the other lady too.

Just a small sample of the fish market's selection, but if you touch it, you just bought it.

Just a small sample of the fish market’s selection, but if you touch it, you just bought it.

I noticed that she held her waxed paper and daintily plucked off shimmering pink shreds of the smoked meat. Not me. I was eating it like an ice cream cone. I took one bite and stopped, eyes closed, in the middle of Pike Place Market (not that I’m the only person to ever do that), my credit card still in my hand because I was totally HAVING A MOMENT. Having a food moment.

Oh, and I really hope Spouse’s oceanic treat arrives fresh and safe.

Acres of fresh, vivid flowers.

Acres of fresh, vivid flowers.

The market has fish, flowers, fruits, vegetables, cheese, street food, coffee, pastries, honey, spices, olive oil, T-shirts, jewelry, tote bags, souvenirs, new and used books, tchochkies, music… I’m sure I’m forgetting many things. Restaurants; it has sit-down restaurants, and, maybe, the original Starbuck’s coffee house.

A flower vendor who graciously posed for me.

A flower vendor who graciously posed for me. She IS smiling.

Pike Place Market was the city’s original farmers market and goes back to the early 1900s. Probably it didn’t sell as many postcards or “Pike Place Pig” charms back then. I imagine horse-drawn carts unloading vegetables, fruit, grain and cheese, freshly butchered meat, and maybe some fish although I don’t know how much fishing was done at the turn of the 20th century. The regrade project dumped tons of silt into the harbor and there was a massive fish die-off for several years, but it’s possible the population had recovered by the time the 20th rolled around.

Mt Rainier honey with sunlight shining through it.

Mt Rainier honey with sunlight shining through it.

Fun fact; the north-south axis of downtown is much flatter than the east-west. This morning, I walked straight down to the waterfront and then back on the east-west, up he hills, and my calves aren’t speaking to me. This afternoon, I had to go find the Bon Marche department store (now it’s a Macy’s) and that meant walking north on 4th street. Google even said, “This route is mostly flat.” And it was! After I found the Bon, I headed west again on Pike Street and there I was, back in the market.

The stairs from Alaska Way up to Pike Place.

The stairs from Alaska Way up to Pike Place. These are only the beginning.

And then there is the art.

And then there is the art. Mural of a merman on he side of a building.

And then there is the art.

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Under the Streets of Seattle

There are two tours that lead people though the underground streets of Seattle. Bill Speidel has the most famous one that is in all the guidebooks, Seattle Underground. There is a new company  called Beneath the Streets and I took that tour yesterday. I took notes but I didn’t write down our friendly tour guide’s name, so I’m going to call him Bill. I hope that’s not confusing.

Downtown Seattle is kind of a miracle of engineering, and kind of a precarious place to be. It highlights human ingenuity and human hubris, especially European-American hubris. And it’s cool. When you’re walking around on S Jackson Street or 1st street, or the lower parts of Spring Street, you aren’t walking on solid ground. You’re walking on the roof of an entire underground; the city’s “first floor.”

Bill took us to a masonry pylon underground that is featured in an historic photo of the area before the underground was underground. Topside, he said, a copper column marks the same spot.

Our lively and informative tour guide hugs a copper column attached to a pylon underground.

Our lively and informative tour guide hugs a copper column attached to a pylon underground.

The US government provided land grants for this part of the Washington territory in 1850. The plan was to get a European-American settlement up and running to have a pretext to claim the land before England did, which is was poised to do. The US government was unconcerned about the people who already lived in the area and had for 5,000 years, the Doowamish tribe. Settlers imagined coming out and farming. They arrived to find a steep hilly terrain covered with majestic evergreen trees. So they switched to logging.

The hills were too steep to navigate easily, so the business part of town was built, basically, on the beach. High tide frequently flooded businesses. Roads were graded out of dirt, and, well, have I mentioned that it rains frequently in Seattle? Between the high tides and the rain, the streets were mud. Despite this, the town rumbled along, cutting down trees, milling them at Yesler’s Mill and selling them.

In 1889 a massive fire destroyed the business district. The city fathers, such as they were, wanted to rebuild immediately (some came back days after the fire, pitched tents, and tried to reopen). Engineers offered an alternative; using massive water-cannon, they would erode away or “regrade” the surrounding hills, creating a gentler slope, and use the dirt to raise the downtown area. They saw a chance to correct the earlier design flaw and they were eager to try it. The town fathers thought that was cool, too, until they heard that it would probably take ten years. A compromise was reached. The business people would rebuild and open. In addition, they would build huge retaining walls, fifteen feet high in some spots, around each block in a grid pattern. When that was done, the regrading would begin, and the dirt would be directed between the retaining walls. “Picture a waffle,” said our guide. Eventually, when it was done, people would build a new building on top of the old “first story” one.

A set of stairs to the underground.

A set of stairs to the underground.

This image is the old "first floor" of the building above...

This image is the old “first floor” of the building above…

... while this is technically on the underground "sidewalk."

… while this is technically on the underground “sidewalk.”

For about ten years, the streets of downtown Seattle were about twenty feet higher than the sidewalks. While, miraculously, no one was killed in the catastrophic fire, plenty of people died in those ten years from falling off the street. That’s not a cause of death you hear every day.

Bill shared some above ground history of old Seattle, and not so old. The Central, he said, is where a group called Nirvana played the gig that got them discovered. (Bill is a musician and has played many venues in Seattle and the west coast.)

The Central, a dive bar famous for hosting Nirvana.

The Central, a dive bar famous for hosting Nirvana.

Brief detour: two men who got land grants, Dr. “Doc” Maynard and Arthur Denny, had plats next to each other and disliked each other. Denny was uptight and puritanical Maynard was life-and-let-live. The main business in the town was lumber; men outnumbered women by ten to one; prostitution was legal in the territory. Maynard thought it should be accepted, along with bars. (I think he thought legal drinking and prostitution would help keep a lid on violent crime). Denny, of course, wanted it banned. Yesler Way split their properties, and it was called the “deadline.” The south side (Maynard’s) was the bad part of town… or maybe the fun part if you were a guy. No “decent” women went south of the deadline. As Bill said, “If you were seen there it was assumed you worked there, and nobody thought you were a seamstress, if you know what I mean.”

One really cool thing about the underground are the glass skylights. From topside they look like utility covers, studded with clear, milky and amethyst colored disks. Those disks are the bases of glass prisms, that let light into the “underground” story.

These glass dots are prisms, bringing in the light from up top.

These glass dots are prisms, bringing in the light from up top.

I sized this next picture a little bigger.

Detail of skylight prism.

Sorry about the blur, I didn’t want to use flash.

Bill has lived in town twenty years, and he had lots more to say. The group was small– there were three of us– and I think we got a lot more detail, and more of Bill’s personal history, than many groups do.

It was fun, and it makes me want to go reread Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker right now.

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I Am In Seattle!

My room space is nothing like the palatial digs of the Embassy Suites in Portland. It is efficient; reminding me a little bit of my hotel room the first two nights in Reykjavik. I have everything I need without a lot of frills. It feels very executive. That’s good, because this is the Executive Pacific Hotel. It’s right downtown, four blocks to the waterfront. Four blocks down to the waterfront and four long calf-workout-aching blocks back up to the hotel. Exercise is grand!

This building, which I can see out my window, is the Seattle Central Library. It is pretty amazing and I’m looking forward to checking out the interior tomorrow.

Seattle Central Library

Seattle Central Library

After I checked in I walked down to Pioneer Square and took one of the underground tours. The underground tour is not part of my research project but it’s interesting and fun.

This is the Smith Tower. It was, the underground guide said, the tallest building west of the Mississippi until the 1970s. I hadn’t known that, although I did know that there used to be a radio station that broadcast from it.

The dizzying Smith Tower.

The dizzying Smith Tower.

And, plenty of stunning architecture, including embellishments on nearly every building, like this.

Architectural detail.

Architectural detail.

I hiked my way back up the Spring Street hill to the hotel and stopped for dinner at Vovito, which is connected to the hotel. It’s a coffee/gelato/pizza/samosa place and that isn’t as weird as it might sound. I had a vegetable samosa and two flavors of sorbetto on the “happy hour” special and it came to $12 with the tip. The passionfruit sorbetto was exquisite. Anyway, it made a nice dinner after the longish walk. Tomorrow, when I’m awake, I’ll post some more photos.

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