In Downtown Seattle

Every time you see a feature on this city named after Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe, it is led with a shot of the famous Pike Place. It is as obligatory as say ladyfingers laced with coffee are to the noble tiramisu. So just to be obtuse, I decided on this giant man with his slow-mo release of a hammer, as mine. Perverse pleasures.

But let me not get ambitious here, for Pike Place is the throbbing heart of Seattle. Did I just contradict myself? I often do. And I end up quoting Mr. Whitman: ‘Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes)’.

The old public market was the first place in Downtown Seattle that I laid my eyes on  three years ago when I first visited the sister-in-law and fam. It was a pleasant evening after a smokin’ hot day in June, and it must have been late, because the row of stalls had been emptied of their wares. No traces of fishmongers, flower sellers and vendors who throng it during the day. It made me want to see it during the day, for ’tis the buzz of humanity after all that makes a place special. Even though I do carp about the crowds — how they singe your scalp with indignation in a location like Charles Bridge, Prague — but in Pike, ah, it is another matter. Here the crowds are part of a carnivalesque atmosphere. This includes the fish throwing event that takes place at the Pike Place Fish Co. Now I have written a post previously about the FISH philosophy, so I shall not bother repeating myself and content myself with the observation that it is bloody marvellous how effortlessly the fishmongers catch and throw monster fish. For all the world, they could be hurling soft toys at each other.

This time they did a token throw for the few who had accumulated around the stall. We wandered around, taking in the familiar sights of the bronze pig, a favourite with most for sitting astride it and claiming insta-happy photos, of the flower seller who is almost rendered invisible, burrowed inside her world of flowers.

We tasted chilli-coated chocolate beans and wondered aloud about the idea of carting mushroom growing pods back home, stared at fish with their gaping mouths and dead eyes that see no more, watched whey being swirled in vats inside humid cabins of the Beecher’s flagship store (it sells one of the best cow’s milk cheeses I have had — its the Beercher’s Flagship Cheese), saw a queue form outside what is said to be the Original Starbucks store, but what is not, because the first one was actually started by three men a few blocks north of the present location.

At a fresh produce stall, black truffles were pegged at heart-stopping and credible prices. One of the grocers came forward and insisted we try  some jumbo-sized purple asparagus. It was delicious raw. A fat bundle of it was bought for my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner, to be rustled up that evening at home. The fellow gathered momentum with all his green talk. He held forth about about the art of foraging, and he pointed out thin stalks of sea beans culled from salt marshes and mushrooms sourced from the forests nearby. After some violent nudging (which was resolutely ignored by me), Adi vamoosed with his sister. The brother-in-law and I stood and listened to the guy gab, because how do you leave such passion unappreciated?

Pike Place, you realise, is a live theatre of sorts. It is what I love most about marketplaces. Be it the rows of vegetable stalls in Calcutta where I turned up at with my father as a child almost every day; or the ancient market square in Northampton where the butchers hawked their meats the old way, where the produce made my senses hum with their freshness; Borough Market in London where you could browse and taste gourmet foods before squirreling them away in cloth bags, to be savoured later at home; or the Mercado de San Miguel of Madrid where I went barmy at the range of pinchos, cheeses and meats on display, not to mention the delightful wine bars and cakes. It is a fascination, which I suppose can be put down to the old-world charm of a market, for it fosters the need for community, conversations and a wonderful feeling of bonhomie.

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