Obscure Orb

Everywhere we’ve been since sometime last week it’s been overcast, foggy, raining or all three. That’s just what the weather does on the northern Pacific coast, and the farther north you go, the more likely it seems that the skies will be grey during the short daylight hours (which are also shorter the farther north you go, this time of year). Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, Dan told me that he had a little fantasy that we’d get up this morning and the sky would be blue and the sun would come out. We laughed.

This morning, we left the place we were staying rather early in order to drive down to (and onto) the ferry, and as I drove I realized I needed my sunglasses. We drove onto the Bainbridge Island ferry, parked and got out of the car, and climbed up to the observation deck. The sun shone brightly in the mostly blue sky for at least five minutes, and we turned our faces to it like morning glories or tulips. My skin said thank you and my mental health said thank you and then the sun went behind a dark cloud again. But for those few minutes, the sun was glorious.

Inexplicably

Today, after a great lunch with an internet friend, we drove to the downtown Seattle area not terribly far from the Pike Place Market. Dan and I enjoyed window shopping in the Market but not so much the insane crowds, and so we left the Market proper and just walked around the streets for an hour or so. A big to-do was happening outside a big mall, where people were gathering in anticipation of the giant tree lighting. There were TV cameras and large choirs singing amplified Christmas carols. A group of nattily-dressed people held signs that said “Buy More Stuff!” We left the main crowds and continued up the street, where a group of Ghirardelli employees were also caroling and handing out $1 off chocolate coupons. “Happy holidays!” exclaimed one of them at me, which seemed like a truly genuine wish.

It brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. I’m not sure why, except that downtown Seattle is a good place to be the day after Thanksgiving, when the promise of the holiday season still holds shiny possibility and anticipation. Something wonderful might happen. Something magic. Happiness, even.

Doing something different

This was the first time I was not in the USA for Thanksgiving. I did not assist with any meal prep, possibly for the first time since I was too little to help. I did not spend the evening with anyone related by blood to me or my husband. Instead, I had a delicious pasta bake, soup, salad, and bread, with pumpkin pie and fresh whipped cream for dessert cooked by my friend Hillary. We had a great day wandering around Vancouver and views of mountains and friendly police officers and sushi and rain and a great evening with friends and it was a lovely Thanksgiving.

An Irony

We got up at 6:30 this morning and left Ashland before 7 AM. The drive through Oregon was beautiful, if waterlogged; the drive through Washington was beset by somewhat inexplicable and unexpected traffic in odd places. We listened to an audiobook that turned out to be quite good, and the most annoying thing was that though we’d left plenty of time to make it to Vancouver by dinnertime (we were supposed to eat at their house), the traffic gods and border crossing people had other plans in store for us.

Though belated, we made it into Canada and to our hotel, which we discovered upon exploration of the immediate vicinity is essentially Little Saigon. I think I counted more than 15 Vietnamese restaurants on either side of this street along the few blocks we explored. The smells coming out of them were absolutely delectable. The unfortunate thing is that I’m allergic to Vietnamese food.

We found a Indian-style Chinese place instead. It was pretty good.

Road trip: PNW edition

We’re headed out of town today in Carlena Dietrich (complete with moustache) and I’m pretty excited to be driving further north in a vehicle than I’ve ever been. We’ll be having Thanksgiving in Vancouver, BC with Hillary and Shawn and the G-man, then stopping in Seattle and Portland to visit with people on the way back. I can’t wait. 🙂

On Pearls

Ai Weiwei’s Bowl of Pearls

When we were in Washington DC last month visiting family, on our way back from Mount Vernon one day we all went to the Hirshhorn Museum (a Smithsonian joint) to see Ai Weiwei’s recent exhibit and installations. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and I’m not generally a huge modern art fan. But Ai works in so many different media and has such a different style than most contemporary artists whose work I’ve seen that I stayed interested and focused on everything I saw.

I snapped a few shots of some of the pieces I really liked while we were in the Hirshhorn. I know taking photos of people’s art is kind of weird – I mean, it’s not like I can add anything to the discussion, or whatever, but I like being able to interact with art in that way. I like the textures and the patterns; I like seeing how people move around art museums; and I like being able to remember the pieces that really do something for me later. Here’s my favorite of his Zodiac installation.

Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac installation

After we left the museum, and in the days following, I kept thinking about what I’d seen and experienced. Looking over my photos from our trip, the one at the top of this post popped out at me again and again. I know that the artist’s intent when making a piece can have a small or a large impact on how an audience views it, and I think the intent with this giant bowl of pearls was to show that when something rare and precious is surrounded by like things, its worth diminishes; each pearl becomes much like another. But that’s not how I see the piece.

A pearl is a beautiful object made by a water-dwelling creature to protect itself from harm. Nacre is something that bivalves use to coat irritating objects that might get inside a shell: bits of sand, shell, parasites. Layer after layer is added until the object is no longer uncomfortable, no longer damaging. And the resulting pearl shines with a radiant luster. I keep thinking about that giant bowl of pearls (all man-made, I’m sure, and pearls are not very expensive in China; I know because I’ve bought pearls there). Each one was formed around an intentionally-placed irritating object inside of an oyster who only wanted to filter plankton or whatever it is oysters do in peace. Each one is beautiful, something good to come out of something bad. Something uncomfortable wrapped over and over until it is no longer irritating.

Once, when I was in college, I was with my boyfriend and a group of his friends and their significant others. We were all camping at the beach, and one of the single people there was hyperactive, could not stop moving or talking or laughing. He seemed to work himself up into a tizzy, and my first inclination was to sigh and inwardly groan about spending the rest of the camping trip putting up with his behavior. But suddenly I realized there was something I could do that would help, and though I didn’t especially like him at the time (and knew I had no interest in him in any way other than possibly, potentially, as a friend) I decided to give him a hug. I went over to him and put my arms around him and just stayed that way for several minutes. I physically felt him relax in my arms, like my hug was stabilizing him and bringing him back to earth, able to center himself again. He took a deep breath, and when I let him go and looked at his face he looked like a different person. Thank you, he said. Of all those people, many of whom I lived with at one point or another, he is the one person I still consider a good, close friend. You never know, with people or with situations. They can be irritating and annoying, and if you wrap them in layers of something, they turn out to be beautiful.

Things about which I am (perhaps reasonably, perhaps not) judgmental

1. Visibly pregnant women who smoke.

2. People who get tattoos on their hands, front of the neck, and/or faces.

3. People who think tights or panty hose are pants.

4. Men who wear pants that are both tight in the legs and saggy in the bum.

5. People who eat out all the time and get fancy expensive coffee drinks, who claim that they can never travel because they don’t have any money.

6. People who call themselves vegetarian yet eat bacon.

7. People who aren’t willing to try new things.

8. People who use copious amounts of perfume or body spray.

9. Parents who don’t read to their kids.

10. Drivers who think brake lights are equivalent to a turn signal.

11. Truck nuts.