I was done with Seattle the night before. Perhaps a bit of road weariness. Certainly too much walking around in the dark in the southern extremes of the Capitol Hill neighborhood (or perhaps the north end of First Hill), trying to read my guidebook under dim lamplight like an idiot, an advertisement for street crime. We didn't find the pizza place for which we were looking and wandering, but were able to find a a booth in a crowded Pike Street bar where there was pretty respectable thin crust (it's utter apostasy for someone living in Chicago, but I much prefer New York style pizza) to be had. But not even the life-giving slices and a couple of pints could restore the excitement I had felt to be in a new city just the day before.
Good then, that I was traveling with someone of more sanguine outlook. At her prompting, we decided to check out both Capitol Hill's Washington Park and the neighborhood of Fremont before we quitted Seattle. Across the hills of the city, over the river of the I-5 we went and finally located the Japanese Garden, tucked along the southwest side of the greater park. Not a bad way to start one's day, walking about such a peaceful place. The spring was obviously beginning to arrive in the Northwest,but not quite everything was in bloom. And the Koi fish seemed rather lethargic, as if not quite in mid-season form, gliding ever-so-slowly through the murky water of the garden's pond. But perhaps that's just the way they roll. Or swish.
Fremont, just east and south from Ballard, once a city in its own right (named after the Nebraska hometown of its founders), has a counter-cultural history trying to hold its own against gentrification. At this point, the results are more interesting than is the case in Ballard. The neighborhood, which to some goes by "The People's Republic Of Fremont," is home to quite a few large-scale works of public art. Most controversially, there is a Lenin statue, rescued from Slovakia after the fall of the Soviet empire in 1989 by a Washington resident who was there teaching English at the time. Apparently, he mortgaged his home to help pay for the transport of the statue to Seattle. Although you certainly won't find any statues of Lenin there, Fremont's attempt to be a "People's Republic, " or "Artists' Republic," reminded me of Uzupis, a great neighborhood we visited in Vilnius, Lithuania last year. The neighborhood declared itself The Republic of Uzupis on April 1, 1997. Uzupis has gone so far as to create a constitution, which is posted in several language on brass plaques along one of its streets. You can read more about Uzupis here.
Perhaps most entertaining of all the large works of sculpture in the neighborhood is the Fremont Troll, built beneath an Aurora Avenue overpass. Note the Volkswagen Beetle being crushed by the troll's left hand. I like public art which affords kids (of whatever age) to crawl around on it, whether the Fremont Troll or the Chicago Picasso.
To think that I might have missed the Kogi Tacos. Horrifying thought. Lucky's Pho arrived in Fremont only four years ago. But this, my friends, is progress to believe in. Great little joint, unpretentious, inexpensive. And lordy, the tacos. If you remember nothing else of what I speak, remember the tacos. Never before had I tried them. I was on the verge of opting for a Vietnamese sandwich, of which I am also a fan. But my companion, in a gesture for which I am still grateful, pointed out the Kogi Tacos. We enjoyed some relatively high caliber food on our trip, but I think the offerings of Lucky's Pho were my favorite. Whether this reveals more about the tacos or me, I can't say.
And so it came to pass that I left Seattle with a much better taste in my mouth - in every sense, obviously - than would have been the case had I simply checked out of the Ace and moved sullenly on.
Vancouver Washington lies just across the Columbia River from the Portland area. Convenient enough for a short drive to Portland airport the next morning. Before that sad task, a chance to check out the 30's deco of Vancouver's Kiggins Theater.
Getting our routine down just in time to end the trip, we actually arrived in downtown Vancouver with time to spare. Time to relax and then walk the short distance to the town center for a dinner before the theater's later screening that night. We made the happy choice of a Middle Eastern restaurant called The Jerusalem Cafe, whose menu promised, "Mediterranean delights brought to you by 2 brothers from the North Shore of Galilee." True enough. We were served by one of the brothers, a no-nonsense but fairly charming gentleman, who has still not grown accustomed to the often sun-deprived climate of the Pacific Northwest. It was the second straight evening we shared a conversation with an exile from his homeland. Our taxi to the Egyptian the previous evening was driven by a soft-spoken kid from Somalia, who has spent a considerable portion of his life separated from his family and native country.
I'm a bit spoiled by my location in Chicago, living essentially around the corner from several of the city's best Middle Eastern restaurants, along with three Arab sweet shops. But the Jerusalem gave us a few things we had not quite encountered in Chicago, from appetizers through dessert, the later a kind of hirsute baklava to which our host treated us, the normal bar of phyllo, nuts and honied goodness topped with shredded wheat.
Beyond it's colorful red upright sign, The Kiggins' 30s facade, of that period in deco between the zigzag of the 20s and the streamline which was soon to follow, is a reminder how elegant, how pleasing a building's exterior be with just minor decoration and a few setbacks. It doesn't actually take that much.
Inside it's red doors, the Kiggins gives you a good step back into what some call the "classical moderne" sub-period of Art Deco. Of course, all these terms came after the fact, not the least of which was Art Deco itself. More subtle than both the heady glamour of the zigzag that preceded it and the sleek streamline that found expression through the 30s and into the 40s, the classical moderne is what you'll see in a lot of public buildings constructed in the 1930s. And some theaters, like the Kiggins. Despite whatever renovation that have taken place - I've seen pictures to that effect - the theater interior seems unspoiled enough by the decades. The grey and red auditorium was relatively plain aside from its changes in contour, the shallow setbacks built into the ceiling. Such a relatively quiet palate, as it were, allows things like detail of its grillwork and light fixtures (original to the building, I would guess) to better stand out.
It all makes for a fine place to see a film, to better emphasize the passing into another world or reality for a ninety minutes or so. Unfortunately, intruding upon this other, happy world of the cinema, were piercing fragments of conversations from outside the auditorium, easily invading through the curtains which serve as the only barrier to the lobby and beyond. I assumed some sort of meeting or gathering was taking place in the upstairs bar, which I had read was created by the conversion of a former second floor lounge.
I didn't begrudge the intrusion as much as I might usually have, grateful as I was for the theater to find some revenue wherever they might. Not a great deal was pouring in from ticket sales that evening, as only about eight or ten of us were gathered for the 8:20 screening of Emperor.
I also didn't mind being distracted from the film. I know a good part of the challenge theaters like the Kiggins is programming, competing for and getting interesting films. It doesn't help that the last four years have not exactly been a golden age in American film. So you find yourself screening something like Emperor. An interesting enough premise - ruined Tokyo during the first days of the American occupation; should the emperor be spared or tried for war crimes; etc - brought tepidly to the screen. And the curious casting of Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas MacArthur. And the decision to cast Matthew Fox at all. I stayed for most of the 98 minutes and then excused myself into the quiet Vancouver evening.
I had scouted the half dozen or so bars in the downtown area before I went into the movie theater. This being the one evening of the trip when I was left to some bachelor roaming by night, I thought it might be nice to howl at the moon a bit. But the belly was still full of Middle Eastern goodness and the requisite 55 gallon drum of diet soda that I consumed at the Kiggins.
So I walked the brief distance back to our downtown hotel, sifting the mixed emotions of the last night of being on the road. Mainly sad at lacking the wherewithal - time, money, perhaps even temperament - to go on. I walked by an apartment or condominium complex. Whether confining their lives to Vancouver or commuting the relatively short distance into Portland, I assume most of the 165 thousand (or so) residents of the city are spread out in largely suburban areas. It's not exactly hopping of a night - a Monday night, to be fair - but there seemed some solid signs of life in the city center, including what looked like a relatively new and sleek downtown library. And as I walked by the apartment complex, I was surprised to see here Porsch, there a Mercedes.
Drawing people with luxury cars is certainly not the most noble, it can't be the only goal of a a city aiming at some sort of sustainable vitality. But at the very least, I hope that investment or interest in downtown Vancouver means that I might find the Kiggins open and showing films several years down the road.