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Egyptian - Seattle

Oh, what's in store for breakfast?  So one wonders in establishments where any sort of morning meal is promised.  Of course, we've all been around the block enough times to look askance at the promise of a "Continental Breakfast."  Sort of like browsing for some mid-century antique on eBay and realizing that every object from the time of Ramses II through something produced last week in China is characterized as "Eames Era."  Who has not been left wondering what's so continental about a second rate bagel and some watery orange juice?

So, we crept down to the Ace's lower level meal room wondering what and who we might find.  There was the essential - coffee, respectable as you might expect in Seattle and at such a hotel.  And the makings of a simple, satisfying breakfast.  Plus waffles.  This seems to be a thing in Washington hotels just now.  Or the out of town guests have been clamoring for them.  Hard to say.  So, among the other options, there was  rack with cups of waffle mix that one could pour into the waffle maker.  While we were breakfasting, a waffle finished cooking, but no owner could be found.  As if in such feverish demand that the waffles cook themselves.  There will be waffles!

The young gentleman who discovered the stray waffle was half of a pair of skinny twenty-somethings taking their breakfast at the same time.  With his knit cap, beard and scarf wrapped jauntily over his sweater, he looked to me like a hotel prop.  Like he belonged to the place.  Makin' waffles, hangin' out, whatnot.  Exuding Aceness.  But he seemed perfectly nice.  We appreciated that he wanted to turn off the plasma screen t.v. over our heads, for the sake of everyone's morning peace.  

The only other person in the breakfast room was an older woman who had come down in her white hotel robe.  I didn't really feel self-conscious being at the Ace, but as with Chicago concerts at which one is considerably older than the median age, where one, in fact, could be the father of the median age, it's nice to know you're not the most ancient thing about.  


Visitors must, by law, visit the Pike Place Market in Seattle.  Especially if you're staying just down 1st Avenue from the famous market.  So we went.  

And there is plenty to enjoy among the covered stalls.  The displays of all the varied seafood, the fruits, vegetables and flowers.  And a number of lovely old neon signs.  The fish tossing thing seems a somewhat empty tourist ritual, but to each his own flying salmon or cod.  

Fish heads fish heads, roly-poly fish heads....

Belltown and the area around the market are pleasant enough.  No doubt enviable to your less vital urban precincts.  And there are some interesting old buildings along the much-plied streets.  But little about the taller buildings thrown up in Seattle in recent decades are likely to set architecture lovers craning their necks upward.  

More peaceful and architecturally interesting we found the Pioneer Square area to the south.  Particularly the Smith Tower.  The Smith in question is Lyman Cornelius Smith, whose companies produced typewriters (eventually becoming the famous Smith-Corona) and shotguns.  Seeing what a marketing boost that New York skyscrapers provided for the likes of Woolworth and Metropolitan Life, Smith's son convinced him to commission something rather more ambitious than originally planned.  The tower upon a tower rises to nearly 500 feet and was for several years the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  Taking advantage of the clear day in Seattle, we rode the shiny Otis elevator (conducted by an actual operator; a rare bird these days) to the 35th floor Chinese Room, outside of which is an observation area.  For me, it was that day's fear of heights therapy, though legs were not rendered all that weak, since there's an anti-suicide fence round the whole thing.   

The striking Smith Tower
Arctic Building, Seattle
However great the trip might be, there are those intervals when the blood sugar begins to dip, the legs grow weary, the feet begin to throb.  At such times one is not nearly at one's best.  One can actually become quite disagreeable.  Or so I have observed.  So I have been told.  Me, I'm never less than delightful.....

Yes, where was I?  Well, okay.  I was growing a bit peevish.  The simplest decisions about what to do next were beyond me.  I needed a doughnut.  Though I had never patronized the chain in my life, I had decided that I needed Top Pot doughnut.   It became an idee fixe, the sort of obsession with which many a parent saddled with bratty child can identify.  And to be completely clear, I am the bratty child in this scenario. Fortunately, our northward wandering finally brought us to the 5th Avenue Top Pot.  I ordered a classic cake covered with chocolate.  And it was good.  It was very good.  The fact that my inhalation of this sublime ring of goodness occurred in a sleek, mid-century-inspired (this flagship store is little more than a decade old, I believe) cafe, only added to pleasure.  To stave off any possible afternoon doughnut emergencies, I purchased a large, glazed apple fritter to go.   

At least somewhat fortified, we felt able to venture out into one of the outlying neighborhoods of the city.  After following the monorail north to the Space Needle, after standing about cluelessly at a couple of bus stops, a kindly resident directed through the sprawling Seattle Center, including the unmistakable waves of its Franky Gehry designed component, to a stop at which we could catch an express bus to Ballard. 

Unfortunately, the D bus brought us to Ballard several years, or perhaps a couple of decades late for my taste.  They may be trying to do some good things in terms of urban sustainability, but any notion of escaping to a different, throwback Seattle was dispelled quickly enough.  Of course, the mere idea of getting to some classic version of a city or neighborhood is itself a chasing after illusions.  They're living things, ever-changing, cities and their discernible divisions.  The version of a neighborhood that one or two generations remember so fondly at some point might well have replaced someone else's idea of what that piece of land and water should be.  But as we go forward - in time if in no other way - and neighborhoods gentrify, there's an inevitable sameness which descends, however gleaming that sameness might appear.  

It was interesting to see the Chittenden Locks, which were built about the time of the Smith Tower downtown and connect the salt water of Puget Sound with the nearby fresh waterways of lakes Washington and Union.  Amusing to see civil engineer Hiram Chittenden cast as something of a hero in the visitor center display.  And there are some fine old buildings standing and converted to modern use along Ballard Avenue.  

Among the newer, tony eateries of Ballard, we found our way to a lovely old diner called Vera's.  A friendly, unassuming oasis.  Our waitress, taken aback by my request for a cheeseburger with just catchup and mustard, asked twice if I wanted nothing else with the sandwich.  Certain of my strange proclivities, she assured me that she would bring me a cheeseburger "plain and dry."  I found it neither.  

Aside from a few grand old buildings, the main reminder of enduring personality in the Ballard we saw were a couple of colorful (at least their exteriors) taverns.  Sometimes when a neighborhood changes, a few such places survive, almost as mascots of a kind.  There was the alluring Sloop Tavern which I eyed as we walked back and forth on Market Street.  But we never did ford the many lanes of that busy street.  Instead, we stopped for a pint at the Lockspot Cafe, quite near, as the name suggests, to the Chittenden Locks, before catching a D bus back to the city center.      

As with the Harvard Exit the night before, we took in a movie that evening at a theater which is the result of a building conversion.  The Seattle Egyptian is actually a former Masonic Temple.  This despite the fact that "Fine Arts" is emblazoned in gold atop the building's facade on Pine Street.  Apparently the Mason's allowed the larger of the facilities two auditoriums to be used for wrestling shows in the 1970s.  By the 80s, the Seattle International Film Festival was using the converted theater as its home.

I had assumed the venue was another of such themed theaters built in the 1920s, when the country got a bit carried away with things Egyptian.  But the the decorative scheme was actually applied in the 1980s.  Given what was often going in that decade in terms of theater decoration, those responsible for the Egyptian's current look could certainly have done worse.  Much worse.  

A couple of reminders of The Egyptian's Masonic past....

We took our places among a few other people and a lot of empty seats for a screening of On The Road. Director Walter Salles, who had already directed an appealing road picture with The Motorcycle Diaries, was probably a good choice to finally bring Jack Kerouac's sometimes overheated novel to the screen.  It's not a masterpiece, but Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera make a pretty good run at it with their episodic film.  English actor Sam Riley, so good as Ian Curtis in Control, seems just a bit off as Sal Paradise.   But Garrett Hedlund is a charismatic surprise as Dean Moriarity.  Otherwise, On The Road offers something of an all-star cast, Viggo Mortensen perhaps best among the luminaries as Old Bull Lee (William Burroughs).



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