He visited Seattle years ago, but this time he is seeing it with new eyes. “Nothing looks like I remember it,” he says right away. He is no longer the traveler experiencing a new destination, but someone wondering if this place can become his. Can he get used to the ever-present damp fog? “Great for photographs,” he murmurs, “but I don’t know about waking up to this every day.” Is there a neighborhood that will hold out its hand to him? Will Seattle be his partner? Jesse’s camera, slung at his side, remains unused. “Sorry,” he says later as we warm up with a cup of coffee, “I didn’t take any photos. My mind wasn’t in it.”
“That’s okay,” I tell him, noticing how he is still seeing the city as a photographer —observing the symmetry of iron grills, judging streets by their ability to frame a story, remarking on the tonality of grays everywhere — his eye working as the camera. We usually digest a place with me in the lead, delving at different story threads, starting and stopping, working our way through a destination’s innards, his photos illustrative to my tales. This time Jesse takes the reins. He wanders through the century old Pike Place Market examining the variety of produce available to him should he reside here. He wades into University District, Fremont, and Ballard scrutinizing apartments and scouting cafes. We chat with baristas and book shop owners about the hassles of public transportation. This city is put under the microscope: how many parks, the condition of bike trails, the location of pubs. Large and minor questions pile up, waiting to be answered, waiting to see if they can fit into the puzzle of Jesse’s lifestyle.
“Every walk is an examination of Seattle, because a place to live is more than a space, a house, or acreage, it is two entities taking possession of each other.”
We take the ferry to Alki Point and gaze at the receding skyline. The steel skyscrapers cut out shapes in the slate sky like the jagged incisions on a key. Jesse paces the deck and fidgets. Understandably he is anxious, choosing a city to call his own is a complex decision. Months or years after the move there will still be readjustments before the city fits him and he fits the city, before it feels like home. We stop at a fish-and-chips shack and order two fried cod plates. The batter is light, the fish flavorful. “You’ll have your fill of fish-and-chips if you move here,” I say to him. He chuckles in agreement. “Great fish-and-chips, however,” he counters, “is not a deciding factor.” Perhaps not, but the seafood selection in Seattle is exquisite in the way food dreams are exquisite. Oysters full-bellied and succulent, shelled prawns dripping juice, pan-seared halibut fresh and flaky. It would sway a lesser seafood lover.
We meet briefly with a real estate agent who rushes us through a handful of properties chirping out measurements and amenities: 804 square feet (74.7 square meters), 16 feet by 17 feet (4.88 meters by 5.18 meters), walk-in closet, sundeck…. She relates fascinating figures, but while we retreat from one of the “modern” kitchens, the agent’s sharp heels tapping ahead of us, Jesse says, “It’s nice, but I don’t feel the space.” His statement affirms home is also more than adequate storage capacity or lofty ceilings. Inside the four walls enclosed in this city Jesse is seeking scope for privacy, a canvas to reflect his individuality, and a conduit by which to participate in the community. It is a sky-high order no matter how expansive the square footage.
As dusk descends we return to our car and drive the streets. Lights twinkle and the city flits by as if through a zoetrope. A handful of residences have yet to draw their curtains, letting us glimpse inside their illuminated interiors. We spy paintings, armoires, couches, and chandeliers, brief bookmarks on the complex lives existing within. We discuss how much these decorations reveal about their owners and to what extent the objects are a product of the cultural climate. No need for andirons in the tropics or patio rattan in icy landscapes.
“The two of us inhabit other people’s ideas of home while traveling, so we have forgotten what is necessary for our own lodgings.”
The flickers we see through open blinds and lit windows have us playing a guessing game: Is a television essential? Is a fireplace necessary? Does one require a four-burner, two stove gas cooktop in Provençal blue? Will a teak headboard suffice or no headboard at all?
Our travels have forced us to live with less, but while scoffing at sight of cream leather chairs and chrome waterfall faucets, we silently wonder how it would look in our respective abodes. The remembrance of villages with one rusty communal water pump render these luxuries gratuitous and tragic, yet there is undoubted allure in the gleam of marble washstands and silken bed covers. At the end of the day Jesse is uncertain whether Seattle and he will be the perfect match. He wants to return later, to analyze further. “There wasn’t enough time to think,” he says and I agree. Everywhere we go we contemplate whether it could be a place where we would stay forever, a place to call home, but the thoughts are fleeting. In Seattle, however, the word “home” carries weight with Jesse, it is a life-changing decision. A question only time will help answer.
A Scandinavian fairy tale comes to life underneath the George Washington Memorial Bridge in Seattle’s Fremont district. An eighteen foot (5.5 meters) tall troll, grasping a real Volkswagen Beetle, lurks on N. 36th Street ready to devour unsuspecting commuters or be played with as its mood strikes. The steel and concrete creature with a hubcap eye was built by artists Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead as a community art project to rehabilitate the area.
What are some places you have visited that have seemed like home to you? Has a travel destination ended up being a permanent home-base for anyone?