Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mecca Of Funk

Several weeks ago I listened to Lee Callahan at KPTK interview Rainn Wilson, the young man who plays Dwight Schrute in The Office. He mentioned that his mother, Kristin Wilson, sold handcrafted silver jewelry at Pike Place Market. Consequently, when Roberta began thinking about what to get for her sister’s birthday, I suggested we walk down to Pike Place Market and check out Kristin Wilson's silver jewelry.

It’s a short walk, about two miles. It starts by going down a very steep part of Fifth Avenue North, then passing several blocks of small stores, the Crow restaurant (killer lasagna), Panos Kleftiko (a traditional Greek taverna), Jewel Alterations & Cleaners, and Marinepolis Sushi Land (the impulse to try sushi has not been sufficiently strong enough to put me on one of their seats trying to figure out how to eat items going around on a conveyor belt).

Continuing south, the next few blocks takes us past Silver Platters (a nice place for old duffers such as myself who still buy DVDs and CDs because we have not figured out how to download movies and songs from the internet), the Experience Music Project (a building designed by Frank Gehry that looks like a cross between a plane wreck and the bear house at the Woodland Park Zoo), KOMO television (four gigantic vents blow warm air and God knows what else into the street onto hapless pedestrians), and Zeke’s Pizza.

Fourth Avenue is a pretty street, lined with small trees and wide sidewalks. Traffic is light, the pedestrians a standard urban mélange of tourists, panhandlers, merchants, and office workers. We hooked a sharp right on Virginia and headed down to Pike Place Market on First Street, overlooking Elliot Bay.

Pike Place Market opened August 17th, 1907, which makes it over a hundred years old, and is one of the oldest continually operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. If you like funk, this is the place for you. Pike Place Market is the Mecca of Funk. The pungent smell of fish mingles with the sounds of street musicians, banjos, mandolins, paint cans, empty plastic buckets, washboards, kazoos, and occasionally an electric guitar with a little speaker ejaculating Nirvana and Dylan. There are people covered head to toe with tattoos, bizarre coiffeurs, denizens of the waterfront filibustering their demons with streams of fascinating invective, crafts merchants in reveries of people-watching prognostication, snotty street kids sneering at the world with baggy pants and butt cracks, mothers pushing strollers, fathers fiddling with smartphones, girls viewing life through the screen of a digital camera or texting their friends back home, boys sporting goatees and skateboards, middle-aged retired accountants on Harleys with biker fantasies and Viagra prescriptions. In other words, the hoi-polloi. Salt of the earth. Riffraff. The rank and file. The great unwashed. Middle America. The vulgus. The multitude. The huddled masses. Roiling moiling toiling boiling brooding brewing mewing intruding eluding reviewing strewing feuding chewing exuding obtruding spewing tattooing and bamboozling.

Jesus. I sound like a Republican. I actually like being in crowds. People fascinate me. And crowds make me feel secure. This is wrongheaded, I know. Crowds have a tendency to become mobs. But what comforts me is the feeling of my individuality being a part of something far larger than the miserable carping ego I am locked into 24/7.

Roberta and I entered the crowd at the far northern end of the north arcade and began shuffling along in a Brownian movement of torsos, buttocks, paunches, and arms, a slow diffusion of nervous human energy contributing lipids and protein to the corpuscular crowd jamming the arteries and capillaries that is the Pike Place agora.

The myriad displays of cottage industry product and handmade commodity was overwhelming. A plethora of gadgets, doodads, hats and watercolors, bolo ties and bric-à-brac shouted their colors and qualities on each side of us, hungry for attention and money. Pipes, rings, cutting boards, wooden crayon vans, gift cards, art scrolls, custom invitations, silkscreened shirts and tote bags, healing salves and meditation music, bottles and jars of aromatherapy oils, handknit rainwear, pottery, photography, organic African herbs and shea butter for the skin, Hmong needlecraft, Holy Cow Records, jackstraw nudie boots, hand-pummeled japonica ice bags, signatory gateposts, sweetbriar escalator suits, and stegosaurus toenails.

I spotted a constellation of silver brooches, pins, and earrings mounted handsomely on placards of black velvet and guided Roberta in that direction. She saw what she wanted immediately, a pair of earrings in sterling silver, a moon and a star. They were exceedingly pretty. I wondered if the woman sitting at the stall was Rainn Wilson’s mother. I looked for hints and traces of Rainn Wilson in her face, but didn’t really see anything that loudly proclaimed “Rainn Wilson is my son.” The woman, in fact, turned out to be a friend who had been overseeing the sales of Kristin Wilson’s jewelry for many years. Roberta paid for the earrings, which the woman put in a black velvet pouch. We merged into the crowd again and shuffled along beside an immense display of flowers until I spotted an opening and dove for it. We returned to the cobbled street that divides the two main sections of the market and were greeted with the heavy fragrance of pastries emanating from the Mee Sum Bakery.

We went down the long series of steps that leads to the waterfront and the Seattle Aquarium and crossed Alaskan Way to the sidewalk that follows along the slop and slap of Puget Sound's bracken waters around the barnacled pilings and jetsam below. The crowd did not look that thick when I eyed it from across the street, but once we began running the crowd proved to be much thicker than anticipated. It felt more like we were dodging players in a basketball game than running. We crossed to the other side where the going was much easier. We enjoy running on Alaskan Way because the scenery and freshness of the salt air. When we reached Pier 70 we ended our run and began walking again.

There are two Louise Bourgeois sculptures by Pier 70, at the beginning of Myrtle Edward Park. One, Father And Son, I cannot stand it is so infernally corny: a man and a boy, both nude, both rendered in aluminum, face one another, the man’s arms lowered and flexed, slightly, in a welcoming posture of reception, hands turned upward. It is a fountain timed to mark the 24 hours of the day, the water squirting upward between the two figures, obscuring them. I find it almost offensively lame.

The other Bourgeois sculpture, Eye Benches, is brilliant. It is hard to believe it is the work of the same artist. Two immense eyeballs, rendered in burnished black granite from Zimbabwe, peer east in an eternal gaze toward Western Avenue, Ye Olde Spaghetti Factory, and the railroad crossing. The back sides, where a network of optical nerves would be if there were an actual brain involved, are contoured to fit one’s gluteus maximus, and face west, toward Elliot Bay. The eyeballs are positioned rather precariously, subject to collisions by bicyclists, and errant automobilists crashing down Broad Street. I hope they survive.

We passed two more works that are part of the Olympic Sculpture Park. The Neukom Vivarium, by Mark Dion, is a climate-controlled greenhouse housing an immense, moss-covered Western Hemlock nurse log hauled into Seattle from the Green River watershed. A nurse log is a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides “ecological facilitation to seedlings.” I like being in this space. I can feel the vibrance of decay as it generates more life. It is odd to see so much vitality in dying. Unfortunately, this space relies on volunteers to keep an eye on things and field questions and is closed much of the time.

The other is titled Split, and is a stainless steel tree by Roxy Paine. Roberta and I wonder if this tree is susceptible to lightning strikes. One can only imagine the confusion of squirrels and birds trying to build a nest in it. Where are the leaves? Where is the bark? Where are the twigs?

The rest of the way home takes us through the Seattle Center Fairgrounds, past Fisher Plaza, where we had recently seen Wooden O give an outdoor performance of Much Ado About Nothing. Seattle has two Shakespeare companies, Green Stage and Wooden O, who put on free Shakespeare in the park performances every summer, beginning in early July. These are a gas, and immensely popular. People show up in the hundreds for these shows. I’m amazed at how much the kids get absorbed in these plays. So do the dogs, though they have a tendency to improvise and be a part of the drama when things get excited. King Lear, watch it: you might discover amid all of your other woes a Chihuahua latched onto your leg.


Joseph said...

John, have you ever thought of doing a book that's just walks around Seattle?

John Olson said...

Yes, I have. I should consider doing it before Seattle is gentrified into a homogeneous mass of glitz and glass. While there are still pockets of funk and character left. Something, perhaps, akin to Barthe's Empire Of The Senses. Love that book.

Kylee said...

Thanks for providing the info that told me the necklace I bought at Pike Place Market two weeks ago was made by Rainn Wilson's mother. I was searching for an online store of some sort, because I really loved her stuff and may want to purchase more, but I can't find her anywhere. :-( I live in Ohio, so I can't just pop down to Pike Place Market.