Monday, June 8, 2009

grateful in the cities of the northwest

We drove into Vancouver on an unusually hot, sticky late May day. The sky was impossibly blue and there were many shirtless men parading their white hairy chests throughout the city. We saw Stanley Park, a gigantic forest of a city park, with its endless stream of rollerbladers in their uniforms of tiny shorts and wisps of a top. I guess rollerblading didn't leave with the 90's on this side of the border.

We met Luigi, our couchsurfing host, who showed us to our private room and separate bathroom, handed us some keys and made it explicit that his home is now ours. (for those of you who need a refresher, couchsurfing is a website that hooks up people who have an extra couch, room, or floor space that they'd like to share with passing travellers. In return, when those travellers return home, they're expected to make their space available.)

Luigi is a man from Rome with a puritanical streak for authentic Italian food, which he insisted on cooking for us fresh every evening. We ate three-course meals: antipasti covered in olive oil and pepper, sliced roast beef, roasted potatoes and grilled artichokes, and he taught us how to correctly eat his perfect pasta (hint: it does not make use of the spoon in any way).

We spent most of our time in the city getting to know its neighborhoods - which were both plentiful and colorful. We visited the home of Vancouver's artists and artisans on Granville Island, gazed at the enormous variation in ethnic eateries on Commercial Drive, and saw the sky reflected in the endless blocks of glass towers downtown.

We moved back to our homeland in our visit to Seattle. There we stayed with Dan, an Information Technology guy, who was as "IT guy" as it gets. After we dropped our stuff, we hopped on a bus to downtown and met with a lively downtown Seattle. We were flabbergasted by the vast marketplace at Pike's, where we sat down for some happy-hour-priced clam chowder washed down with local microbrews. We found the original Starbucks across the street from the market, with tremendously talented singers performing in front of it, including a motown-style quartet who reminded me of home. Then, we curiously stopped into the socialist/anarchist bookstore down the street, where we found some books we just have to get off amazon.

We continued around downtown - finding an art show happening at the Seattle Art Museum, which consisted of hipsters doing dance routines. Argh, my generation's sad excuse for art. We then found another gigantic bookstore, which was having a reading by one of its former workers who has now become a best-selling author. We sat in on her reading, where she talked about picking up one day from Seattle and moving to Bangkok - where her literary career began. I guess travel can be quite useful as a career move? We strolled on the way back to Dan's house, where we found a cafe with jazz pouring out of its open windows. We slinked in for a cup of coffee, where we listened to the man in the fedora as his sounds bounced out into the purple-ing dusky sky.

We got back to Dan's where he and his 15 or so friends were having a barbecue. As can be surmised, the conversation revolved around new operating systems yet to be released, the viability of Amazon's Kindle technology, and video games.

We then moved on to Portland, where we stayed with Devidas, an Indian software engineer who also welcomed us with open arms. As we pulled up, he showed us to our private room and bathroom and met us downstairs where he cooked us fresh, delicious Indian food and we chatted into the night. In Portland, it was overcast and there wasn't much to do, so we spent the vast majority of our time in Powell's, probably the best English-language bookstore I've ever been in. Filling up an entire city block, its vast array of titles and sections is staggering. We spent the day reading and researching our futures and plans, looking into books on gardening and apprenticeships, grad school and immigration.

I was looking to the cities of the Northwest for a future home - as global warming makes it a more viable place to live - but overall, these cities were not any more special or magical to me than any other North American cities. They have little quirks all their own, but none of them really blew me away like the places in Europe did with the beauty and grandeur. What I took from these places is more from the people in them - the incredible generosity of strangers, the willingness to share and to converse, really astounded me and made me incredibly grateful.

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