Concert Days

It’s nice to have an outside-of-school choir life again. It means more weekend concerts.

In school, when our end-of-term concerts were on Thursday nights just hours after classes ended, everyone seemed so anxious to get home after the gig to study for finals that there was minimal fun to be had. I missed the days when I could spend my pre-concert Saturdays studying my music, carefully pinning up my hair and nervously warming up while adjusting music folders and dress hems. I missed my in-car warmups on the way to the church/concert hall, bonding with other choir members as we were waiting for the gig to start, and losing track of time in post-concert conversations.

Now I get all of that again.

This afternoon, Seattle Pro Musica is singing a mass at St. James Cathedral on First Hill. My fellow members make excellent company, the cathedral itself is breathtaking, and the music we’re performing couldn’t be better. And soon, concert season will really begin and we’ll be singing holiday repertoire all over the Sound. Yet another reason to love the holidays.

I was reminded of how much I love holiday concerts when I stumbled across a blog post from four Decembers ago. I volunteered to usher at a Cantiamo! Cabrillo concert, mostly to see the group perform for free, and saw old friends who reminded me why I went all the way to Eastern Europe to sing with them:

It had been more than a year since I’d seen Cheryl Anderson or really anyone Cabrillo-Chorus-related, but when I walked into Holy Cross Church at 7:45 last night, I felt like I’d never left. There again were those sparkling blue empire-waist dresses I could never decide whether I liked or loathed; there were those faces I had known so well before, unchanged. I could name every single one of them: Nell, Art, Jenny, Liz (“Hey GLEN!!”, I thought), Colin, Kent, Kathy, Lucy, Sandy,…Trevor?! There was Vlada at the piano, and although I couldn’t see him, I knew John was somewhere above me in the balcony, clad in dark clothing and big headphones. And at the center of the madness, there on the podium, radiant as ever, was the blonde beacon herself.

Nothing changes around here and I love it.

Cabrillo Youth Chorus, circa 2003

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So you want Thai food? Narrow that down.

Yesterday I drove to Bellingham for an assignment–more on that this weekend when the story gets published–and it gave me perspective on my new city life. Before now, I used to take day trips to the city–San Francisco, Portland–and come home to a comparatively sleepier place–Santa Cruz, Eugene. Now, counterintuitively, I visit smaller towns and come home to skyscrapers and the perpetual sound of sirens.

It’s one of the many things about city life that I still haven’t quite gotten used to. I’m still on sensory overload, trying to process all the ways my new lifestyle differs from run-of-the-mill suburban life.

Listmaking always helps.

  • Traffic. Ah, the traffic. I live about half a mile away from the Times office, yet it can take me up to 30 minutes to get home at the end of the day. Cars coming from downtown, Belltown and the Central District seem to converge on Denny Way, which bridges Interstate 5 and access to neighborhoods such as Ballard and Fremont. And it’s far from the only place that’s in total gridlock every single afternoon. It’s just as bad as, if not worse than, the traffic I braved in Silicon Valley the summer I worked at Palo Alto Weekly.
  • “LOOK! FREE PARKING!” Never have I been so excited to see these words. In downtown Seattle, free parking spaces are only slightly more common than unicorns or UFOs. They’re so thin on the ground that even veteran locals don’t know of any secret alleys or hidden lots. Rather than spending hours driving around trying to steal free spots, most locals will grin and bear it with a paid spot, taking care to get the most bang for their buck by running as many errands in a five-block radius as possible.
  • Too many options! As previously stated, if you say you want to grab Thai food near my apartment, you’re going to  have to narrow that down. I’ll probably never visit every single restaurant and shop on Queen Anne Avenue.

Of bagpipes and neighborhood festivals

After many, many days of intense heat, Seattle has returned to the grayness for which it is known. This might be the University of Oregon alumna in me talking, but I’d take damp, dreary fog over sweltering sun any day–something I came to realize after posting a complaint about the summer clouds.

Last night I went to my first Celtic music concert in quite a while at a funky little venue over in West Seattle–which might be more aptly called South Seattle, since it’s so far south of downtown. The two groups that played deviated from the typical Celtic sound: one was heavily influenced by French Canadian and Breton folk music, so lots of the instrumentals were accompanied by French singing and a handful of the songs featured that weird triple meter I remember learning about in a Celtic music class back in school. The second group’s sound boasted a Galician influence–that’s a region of Spain that has Celtic roots–because one of the members of the group grew up in Santiago de Compostela and others in the group visited the town to learn about its music.

The concert served to remind me how many tens of subgenres there are for every musical genre. When people say “Celtic music,” it could mean so many things– it could be a folk tune from the Celts who settled in the Scottish Highlands, or a bagpipe march, or even a hypnotic Enya track.

I got overwhelmed just thinking about the dizzying array of Celtic music–imagine how overcome I might have been had I started thinking about other genres! I find that whenever there are an infinite number of possibilities in music that I get overexcited and then exhausted thinking about them.

There’s so much to entertain in this city that I get similarly overwhelmed every time I try to make weekend plans. I go over my mental list of all the things I’d like to see and do in this city while I have the chance and I wonder how I’ll fit it all in. Within just a two-block radius, there are a dozen bars to visit, an equal number of ethnic food restaurants to try, half a dozen record stores to explore, a handful of bookstores to check out, and an intriguing independent movie theater where I’d like to watch something. Heck, there’s even a local grocery store where I must shop at least once to get the full Seattle experience.

And that’s just in my immediate vicinity. When I visit other neighborhoods in the city, I’m overwhelmed all over again. As we drove to West Seattle last night, a friend from high school, another intern and I talked about all the neighborhood festivals we’d seen or read about but hadn’t actually attended so far this summer. There were car shows, seafood festivals, parades and more. There were two festivals going on the day we saw the concert. It was all so overwhelming, we agreed, that whenever we tried to make plans with so many options on the table, we tended to give up and do nothing. We must have gotten too used to our boring college towns, where often there was just one party to attend or one bar we were in the mood for. Now we have to adjust to the polar opposite.

With all these choices already in front of me, I now refuse to take recommendations from any of my sources on stories, any of my coworkers and any friends who have lived here for more than six months. They know too much. We interns know very little about this place, which is good: it means we don’t know how much we’re missing out on every night that we’re home on our couches watching TV.

The Seattle summer

A view of Puget Sound, and the globe-topped offices of the recently-folded Seattle Post-Intelligencer, from my rooftop.

According to locals, summer in Seattle doesn’t start until July 5. Everyone sits shivering on their apartment rooftops or in folding chairs at Gas Works Park on the night of Independence Day, hoping and praying the next two months won’t be as horrible as June was–and the next day, magically, the sun comes out, as if all that collective wishing willed it to do so.

So, locals–where’s the sun? I didn’t feel much in the way of warmth today, nor did I see much sunlight. Sure, I should be used to seeing gray skies–I’ve lived in Oregon for the past four years–but before now, I always escaped the clouds come June and flew south to Santa Cruz, where perfect, breezy, 75-degree sunny weather was invariably always waiting for me.

I can’t really complain about the weather, though; even on its mundane days, this city is far more exciting than Santa Cruz has ever been. It offers more nightlife, more local color (and that’s saying a lot, because Santa Cruz, like Berkeley, is known for such a thing), more job opportunities, even–dare I say it–more stunning vistas! But wouldn’t everything be all the more exciting with sun? I think so.

Despite the rainy daytime and the chilly evening, my Fourth of July couldn’t have been better. After weeks of waiting, I finally moved into my apartment. My roomie and I celebrated at Seattle International Beer Festival, which was not only tasty but also educational. By sampling beer from all over the world, I learned all about different countries’ unique brewing styles. When my fellow Times interns and I learned that anything with a beer label bearing the words “stout” or “imperial” was guaranteed to taste great and have a higher-than-average alcohol content, we raced for the booths displaying either word–we wanted to get our money’s worth!

After the festival, we raced to my apartment building and cooked up some pasta and macaroni and cheese. Later, several other friends filtered in; by the time we formed a line out the door to head up to the roof for the fireworks, there were close to 20 people there. (And they probably felt pretty unwelcome, as all we had in the way of seating was a sofa bed and a couple of bar stools!) The fireworks, both above Lake Union and across the sound at Bainbridge Island, were pretty elaborate. I hope I can stay here long enough to see them next year sans obstructive cloud.

Tomorrow will be the start of my third week at the Times. Oh how time flies…when you can’t see the sun.

The Seattleite

Every American city attracts a certain type of person. Activity in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the 1960s forever branded the city as a hippie haven. Los Angeles is purported to be full of tan, slender wannabe actors and musicians waiting for that big break. New Yorkers are notoriously loud, rude and fazed by nothing.

Seattle’s people don’t come with as many stereotypes—at least, none that I was aware of before I got here. I associated Seattle with companies and objects rather than specific types of people: Microsoft, Starbucks, the Space Needle. It’s only been a week, but after talking to a wide variety of people in neighborhoods all over the city, I’ve already begun to understand what defines the typical Seattleite.

Intelligent. I already knew that Seattle was the most educated city in the U.S., but I didn’t see the evidence until I started working at the Times. Even my totally banal first clip got a tidal wave of constructive criticism in the form of e-mails, voicemails and online comments. Perfect strangers weren’t afraid to tell me what I left out of the article, listing the unanswered questions that remained. For the first time, I actually understood the journalism adage, “Your readers are your editors.” Never have I seen such deep, logical thought come from online commenters.

Cliquey. Before I drove up here, my friend Rachel warned me that Seattle residents, while initially very warm and welcoming, wouldn’t truly open up to you as quickly as most West Coasters. Locals will put you through what’s called the “Seattle freeze” (no, it’s not a reference to the weather or the name of a yummy drink), where they’ll be a little standoffish toward you until you’ve proven that you belong in their group. Another friend who’s lived here a little less than a year said she didn’t make friends until she found friends in her coworkers at a gym. Suddenly, she had a huge handful of friends, and friends of friends, and so on—a whole network she never could have wormed her way into without her job. I see evidence of cliquey behavior everywhere. When I go into a coffee shop in Greenwood, I’ll get a curt greeting while someone who obviously comes in regularly walks in and gets a warm welcome, an inquiry into his work and the health of his family and a nice chat about the horrible weather we’ve had lately.

Quirky. A friend who lives near Green Lake is off-and-on dating a man who is in an open, long-term relationship with someone else, and it doesn’t bother her in the least. This weekend, as the festivities of Pride Week concluded with a parade of cross dressers and half-naked women marching through Capitol Hill, a car show on the other side of town attracted families in minivans and men driving F-150s with “NO-BAMA” bumper stickers. (I remember because the narrow residential streets of Greenwood were suddenly very hard to navigate with all these huge pickups crowding the sides of the roads.) That’s a testament to the wide variety of people living here, and it shows that no city does things the way Seattle does things.

Picky. The sheer number of coffee shops in this city should have tipped me off. Seattleites look for a specific combination of things in a cafe. The coffee has to be exceptional. The décor should be a little eclectic, lending a comfortable, not-too-polished bohemian vibe. Free Wi-fi is a must. And it’s best located on the corner of the block, where it’s easier for outdoor patrons to people-watch from their tables. You won’t see more than a couple of people hanging out at any café that doesn’t boast all these selling points. Clearly, Seattleites aren’t easy to please—but you wouldn’t be either if you had as many options to choose from as they do.

I’ve still got a lot to learn about Seattle, but I feel like I’m really starting to get a grasp on the people here. Now I just have to figure out how to earn their friendship.