Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seattle - Waterfront and around town

Seattle's waterfront provides miles of piers, boardwalks, ship terminals and parks overlooking Puget Sound, passing by such popular sites as Pioneer Square and Pike's Place Market.  The Seattle Aquarium is appropriately situated by the water, as is the historic Miner's Landing where miners may have passed through on the way to the Alaskan gold rush.  Currently it holds a collection of restaurants, shops and an arcade which includes a vintage carousel.

One of the highlights of the waterfront is Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a novelty store that is also an oddities museum, a bit like Ripley's Believe it or Not in Niagara Falls.  Skeletons, mummies, old moving picture peep shows featuring Charlie Chaplin or Roaring 20s pinup girls, stuffed two-headed calves, shrinking heads, a full set of a shark's teeth are just a few examples of what can be found in this shop.  We bought a wind-up salt and pepper set of plastic robots so that next time we are asked to pass the salt, the shaker can waddle down the table to the requester.

In the Olympic Sculpture Park can be found large scale modern art pieces including a bright orange steel sculpture by Alexander Calder called Eagle and one of a huge eraser overlooking the water.  This park is part of the Seattle Art Museum, where a giant black sculpture called The Hammering Man presides out front.  It has a mechanical arm holding a hammer which moves 4 times per minute from 7am-8pm, except for Labor Day, and is a symbol of the importance of the working man and the labor movement in Seattle.   There are similar sculptures installed throughout the world and even another one in Seattle, 1 mile away from the University campus, that holds a beer bottle instead of a hammer. 

The Seattle Centre hosts a number of attractions including the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project (EMP).  This latter building  is currently both a music and a science fiction/fantasy museum, a seemingly odd cohabitation apparently forced by economic circumstances.  Regardless of what is held inside, the exterior of the EMP is a must see in itself.  It is a bold, shiny, multi-coloured structure that epitomizes the flamboyant work that is expected of renowned architect Frank Geary.

In contrast, the work he did on the expansion of  Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) seems disappointingly tame,  as he was adding onto an existing structure and tried to blend into the established neighbourhood.  My favourite Frank Geary reference is the spoof from The Simpsons where Geary's inspiration for the design of the new Springfield town hall is the crumpled up napkin he throws away after lunch.  I would have liked to see something more like that in Toronto.  However the bright blue titanium box in the back of the AGO that glows in the sunlight is reminiscent of the surfaces used on the EMP. 

An unexpectedly profound experience was driven by my need to find a public washroom while we were in the vicinity of the Seattle Center.   Right across the street from the EMP sat the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor's Center which seemed like a good possibility.  I was not expecting the reminder inside the stall of how lucky we are in North America to have clean, safe bathrooms which we take for granted while third world countries struggle without.  On the outside of each stall door was a photograph of what toilet facilities are like in various countries - outdoors in a hut, sometimes just a hole in the ground.  I left feeling morally chastised, very appreciative, and wandered around the visitor's center for a bit, reading about the good work that the foundation did.

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