Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday in Seattle

When I moved here someone told me that Port Townsend is one of those places where it's easy to stay put. They say we're at "the end of the line" which practically means our postal estimated delivery times (for mail going off the peninsulas) are usually off by a day - or a week. It also means The City of Dreams that PT was supposed to become did not materialize. The train ultimately didn't come here but went, instead, to Seattle. I believe most people who live here still think of PT as The City of Dreams but in a more personal sense than was originally imagined. So yes, indeed, I found myself settling in and appreciating the fact that I live in an environment which other people save up and pay money to visit on vacation. But in the back of my mind the little voice reminded me "if you want to stay happy here, get out of Dodge once in a while!"

My first thought when I consider getting out of town is to go to Seattle. I love the city and figured, when I decided to live out here, that Seattle would still be my city since I'd chosen to live in a small town. Every small town needs a city to claim as its own.

So last weekend I took Sunday in Seattle with a friend. First stop was the Calder exhibit at SAM (Seattle Art Museum). Alexander Calder caught my eye first at The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. [The Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the U.S., established in 1842.] I remember my joy at showing my children, nieces and nephew the Calder sculptures in the courtyard, including one of the red dinosaurs, and my own joy at being greeted by a new Calder mobile on the sidewalk outside the entrance one day. Having grown up in a town that was isolated, and in circumstances where it was unaffordable to travel to museums, I was excited to be raising my sons where we had access to this wonderful place.

So it was a joy to see Calder's work, and a lot of it, in SAM last Sunday. We were a little disappointed that despite fans installed on one ceiling over a very large mobile, none of them moved much. The air was just too still. A large circle on the floor quietly warned us away from the mobile's space. Once, later in the day, I wandered back to look at it again and saw a guard make a sudden shift in movement toward me. Looking quickly down at my feet, I danced away from the line, raising a hand and smiling at him. He smiled and nodded back and returned to his position but I saw him do this dance with several other mesmerized viewers.

The small pieces of work, both mobile and stationary, were delightful. The alligator, a piece of colorful, carefully folded metal is perfect and one of those items I'd never tire of seeing. There was also some flashy jewelry, or as Calder described it "swell joolery." A woman could not blend into a crowd wearing his spokey, flaring earrings, that's for sure. The photographs of him at work and in studio were not terribly captivating. There was a video running of his circus that did seem to have people mesmerized. I was taken with his mechanical/artistic meldings for entertainment's sake but more-so with his pure joy and the loss of all artifice as he made crude but ebullient sound effects and played like a giant child with his tiny and complex creations. It was very like watching my young son play with his plastic dinosaur village or his older brother at play with legos or toy cars. In the end it was more engaging to me to watch Calder's face and listen to his vocalizations and take in his pleasure than to be entertained by his circus. It was good to see Calder again, like an old, not very close, but admired friend.

Next was Michaelangelo. Normally I only try to take in one show each visit and perhaps wander the other exhibits before leaving. This time we both wanted to see these two so we dug in and spent some time. Most interesting to me was getting an overview of Michelangelo's life and time, with a time line and quotes placed throughout the exhibit. I was stunned to learn that he carved his Madonna of the Steps at fifteen years old, two years into his apprenticeship. He dedicated all of his youthful energy to perfecting his art. Late in life he burned most of his drawings so that history would only know him for the perfection he accomplished. Fortunately a few remain and it was fascinating to see the changes he made between drawing and finished painting, in one showing the Virgin Mary as accepting Jesus' judgement on the sinners suffering below them. Whereas in the drawing Mary was shown in her role as interceder, pleading with him for mercy on the sinners. The quotes on the walls revealed a man at times suffering for art and greatly disheartened and at other times arrogant in his accomplishment. And then there was the one that said he was sorry that he would die soon when he was only at the stage of having learned the alphabet of his art and had so much more to accomplish.

We could not leave the museum without visiting a piece we had seen last visit, which I fondly refer to as "The Head." It is that. Or appears to be one wrapped in moire silk, all brown. On close examination it is one piece carved of wood and the texture achieved is amazing. So after seeing that again we passed the larger than human black rat sculpture, made it past the stupid stupid cars hanging from the ceiling (I know, "One man's meat...") and got out onto the street again. We walked up to Belltown and caught a cab, as the bus would have been 15 more minutes wait, to Seattle Center. This gave us just enough time to find lunch in the food court before the matinee performance of Electra. I'd never seen the show and I was mesmerized start to finish. I will admit to thinking at first blush "oh, dear, I'm going to tire of this girl's suffering." But I did not. The entire cast was perfect. And they seemed to me a viable ensemble who had worked out their relationships among the characters and knew how to bring them true. The set was just right with interesting use of chain link fencing among a few pillars and tiers. There was tension and physical play between the players throughout, even to taking the murders "inside" the castle, then dragging out the bodies with great effect. The contrast in costuming for the commoners and struggling oppressed with the styled queen was very effective. She represented regal and sensual and the line between passion and perversion beautifully in a classical one shouldered draped formal white gown. He, Aegeius, came on in the final scene to a laugh because he entered in a white suit, hair slicked, looking like a smarmy wise guy. And yet. His sorrow on viewing his wife's body was incredibly moving and brought us to the point of looking at all sides of the story at a perfect moment to do just that. The other men were ragged warriors and convincing in that, and the women wore various shades of white, layered, passing for ancient Greek draped dress. The nun and servants were clean and simple and the sister was pure and innocent and Electra was a hot mess. Not hot as in sexy but as in energy. She was filthy and didn't give a damn, which added tremendously to her character. When it was done we were on our feet instantly applauding the professionalism and achievement and our own fortunate experience as witnesses to the play. I'm very grateful that my friend chose this show. I probably would not have. Which is why smart people sometimes choose challenging friends.

Our favorite Indian restaurant was closed. Second choice was not to open for another hour plus. So off we walked toward downtown and the ferry. I cannot tell you how wonderful it felt to be walking from the Center to the ferry on a balmy January day. I remembered how two years ago when I was ill I felt the acute loss of that ability and how limiting it was. I could not even go into Seattle by car for fun. And now, here I was, swinging along again, a friend at my side, though my favorite, well-loved city, Seattle. I stopped to show my friend an architectural feature I liked: triangular wedges that were balconies - so refreshing after seeing thousands of tiny rectangles hanging in the air. Then I noticed the wedge complimenting those, or vice versa, hanging over the main entrance to the building as a marqui/entry roof. He then explained to me that this is the sort of design they are looking for in the uptown business district in PT, where larger buildings are broken up this way, with a variety (as this one had, going from rectangular features to triangular and then with a globe atop one end) and not just big flat facades. Then my friend was kind enough to guide me to some bridges and walkways which pedestrians can use to get closer to the waterfront so we had a beautiful walk down to the ferry. A ferry wait is not so bad when you have good company and a nice drink to talk over in the bar at the terminal.

When we got to the other side I remembered a new Indian place in Bainbridge so we popped in there and ate well before coming along home. That one day, to me, was a vacation and a lift. The advice I was given to "get out of Dodge" still proves true today. May we all have these options. I did not, growing up. I'm grateful that I do now.

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