Last week, before the Froog died, I was in Seattle, or really, Duvall, Wa. My little brother lives there, teaching at the Wilderness Awareness School. We really could not be more opposite: he spends his days walking around inspecting various kinds of animal scat and building fires with two sticks, and I cross the street when I see big dogs lingering by fire hydrants, and turn a knob to ignite my stove. (He lives so far away from the city he has to have an electric range–the horror!) One time he called me from somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and I was sitting in a cube on the 40th floor of some office tower, watching the fog roll up around the Chrysler building. I’d like to say something like “But despite our differences, we have a deep and abiding mutual respect and love” but that’s not exactly true: we’re seven years apart, so we’re not that close–I left for college just as he was turning into a sentient being. Really, seeing each other is sometimes a mutual “Huh?”
Add to this the usual East Coast-West Coast cultural divide. Not rappers, but “rapping”–as in, opening your heart and pursuing personal growth and all that. West Coast: pro. East Coast: anti. I grew up in New Mexico, so I know from Western touchy-feely, and I can speak the lingo, but with about the fluency of a third-grader: “I feel, um, er, awkward? How you say, ‘need a drink’?”. And now that I live in NYC, I usually do the cheek- (or, where appropriate, air-) kiss or the handshake, so I’m taken off guard by big full-body hugs from people I’ve only just met. Then they ask me where I’m visiting from, and I say New York, and their eyes go all wide with fear, awe and/or a little bit of pity. “Wow, all that [read: very bad] energy” is a frequent reply. Also, “How can you take it?”
I take it very well, thanks. I love cities, especially The City. Cities make sense to me. When I travel, I vastly prefer even a tired industrial city to a scenic vista–mountains look pretty much the same everywhere (except in China, I hear), but each city is different. The food in cities is of course fabulous and much more diverse (except maybe in Indianapolis) than your standard twigs and berries found in the woods, and you can learn so much just by going out to eat. And I love not having to own a car. You’d think the no-car thing would be a hook for them, being nature-lovers and all, but no–because then how would you carry your dog around? I could also explain that it’s nice to have external stimulation and a sea of strangers to sink into when your internal anxieties ramp up–just get on a subway, and let your cares ease away. But I don’t think they would get that, because they prefer to talk through their anxieties. For hours. To death.
I’m being unnecessarily mean–all of these people are individually extremely nice and hospitable, especially to someone so cranky and un-chatty as me. I’m just setting up the cultural gap here–and yes, I know I’m being a provincial New Yorker, gawping at the people who live in the sticks. But some of them gawp right back…or I feel like they do.
Anyway, over the course of the week, during which time we ate incredibly enormous and cheap breakfasts and then lay around digesting and either getting sunburned or watching movies, I did soften up a little bit. Reggae and red wine also helped. And when the guy who lives in a camper by the river and has come over to use the shower tells a story about addressing the tribe he’d been living with in Papua New Guinea to help solve a conflict, and having to speak very simply so that what he said could be translated to even the seriously ancient elders, and then having everyone sing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” for about three hours straight, well, you can’t help but feel all those petty cultural divisions just washing away. (Yes, more hardened city-dwellers would just be sniggering into their wine glasses at the mere mention of Bob Marley, but I was born out west and grew up listening to Survival and Kaya on one of those little rectangular mono cassette players.)
Finally, on the day I was set to leave on the red-eye, there was a token visit to the city, where we all filled our respective roles: me, bossy tour guide; brother, sullen teen; and mom, cheerful, despite the cloud of crabbiness that formed around us as we tramped around, plan-less. The one plan had been to eat lunch at Salumi, the cured-meat place run by Mario Batali’s dad, where they make lamb prosciutto. This had also been the plan for my only prior visit to Seattle, under the exact same conditions but with the added group factor of My Two Dads, but that time Salumi had been closed because it was Monday. This time…it was also closed. For vacation. The adjacent bike store and Seattle Police Museum held my companions’ attention for only a couple of minutes. So we commenced what kills all but the hardiest groups of travelers: “just wandering around.”
(to be continued…)