Christ Died For…

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As Austin Powers might say, “It’s the Zeitgeist, baby.” Only this Zeitgeist is the popular Zeitgeist Coffee shop just off Pioneer Square. It is part of the greater Top Pot/Bauhaus extended family (still related in décor but no longer in ownership). Most prefer their coffee to be simpler, stronger, smaller – and independently-minded Zeitgeist offers a distinct contrast to the usual Seattle triple-mocha crowd.

 

The look is very much in keeping with Pioneer Square and the Gold Rush era: exposed brick, quilted wood paneling, ironwork, two long walls filled with local art, newspapers, and loads of sunlight. The smell of piping hot coffee hangs in the air and sunshine floods in through huge picture windows. And there’s also the Iberian touch, with the impressive “Bolsa Official deCafe” blackboard menu, Art Deco retro electric clock and an array of continental coffee roasters, pots and samovars.

 

Zeitgeist is steps from nearly anywhere in Pioneer Square and the International District; it’s also hailed as one of the best coffee/cafes in the whole of Seattle, and popular with visiting Europeans and the artsy folks by being a frequent stop on those art gallery walks.

 

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As recently as the 1940s, while serving as the music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the world-famous British conductor and impresario Sir Thomas Beecham infamously quipped that Seattle’s arts scene amounted to an “aesthetic dustbin” – a harsh appraisal that wounded the town’s pride a bit, but surely also one likely shared by plenty of other worldly cosmopolitans.

 

Beecham was famous for his acerbic wit and there are many funny anecdotes to his name. One being that a woman once confided to him that her son wanted to learn an instrument, but she couldn’t bear the purgatory of him practicing in the initial stages. “What is the best instrument?” she asked. “I have no hesitation, madam”, he said, “in saying the bagpipes. They sound exactly the same when you have finished learning them as when you start learning them”. As far as Beecham was concerned bagpipes sounded out of tune whoever was playing them.

 

So spare a thought, then, the next time you pass popular Seattle bagpipe busker Martin Brendecke – at “Westlake, Greenlake, or any part of Seattle with a lake in the name”, as he says in his blog – who helps pay his college bills with his pipes and talent. He was born in the US, the son of a performing folk musician, and whose family have Scottish roots. He started playing the bagpipes at 8, and when he was a teenager he attended many top piping camps, and also studying at the College of Piping in Glasgow, Scotland.

 

His latest venture is busking to Brazil in the summer – and his piping has to be in tune, Mr. Beecham, because he’s already financed the trip!

 

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Next month marks the 20th anniversary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death. And with impeccable timing, Seattle police last week released previously unseen images showing drug paraphernalia taken from the suicide scene – all possible because a detective who recently reviewed the case files found several rolls of undeveloped film taken at the scene.

 

It’s continual little surprises like this, some 20 years after the event, with potentially vital new evidence coming forward, why some refuse to believe his death was a suicide, leading to conspiracy theories that Cobain had been killed. “Sometimes people believe what they read – some of the disinformation from some books, that this was a conspiracy. That’s completely inaccurate,” said Detective Mike Ciesynski, who found the undeveloped crime scene photos.

 

On his death, Cobain entered the ’27 Club’ of popular rock musicians who died aged 27, along with other luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Robert Johnson and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers.  The rock icon was a Seattle legend, selling millions of albums with Nirvana and helped put the Pacific Northwest’s “grunge” rock scene on the map.

 

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At 70 years old and with a filmography as lustrous as his peculiarly bouffant hair, Christopher Walken has become one of my favourite actors. The Hollywood grandee is often picky with the scripts he opts for, and seems to have spent his whole life in Tinseltown creating memorable and menacing characters in a long list of violent affairs from The Deer Hunter to Pulp Fiction.

 

But he does have his sensitive side; as seen in one of his most recent offerings, A Late Quartet – a wonderful movie with a stellar supporting cast that includes the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener – where he finally got to play a regular guy: a classical cellist diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And even then, he still looked menacing.

 

Walken is back, though, to his menacing best again this week, in one of his rare forays into TV drama, in Turks & Caicos, the second part of playwright David Hare’s modern-day spy trilogy for BBC Two. It’s the follow-up to the first film, Page Eight, with Walken starring alongside Bill Nighy, who gets to reprise his role as the grumpy and disenchanted veteran MI5 agent Johnny Worricker.

 

And just as the sign on Lake Union says, Walkens Welcome!

 

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The Jimi Hendrix bronze statue on the sidewalk of bohemian Broadway, beside the Blick Art Materials, is, unquestionably, one of my favourite shots to test out a new lens or camera. I’ve lost count of the number of shots I’ve taken of Jimi over the years – for me, it’s a bit like rubbing a rabbit’s foot, as I can’t pass it without shooting it; the latest being with the very underrated and surprisingly cheapish Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron-C.

 

I had heard a lot of good things about this unassuming little lens – and after just getting one (in mint condition, and with the rubber hood) at Glazer’s Camera (cheers, Dante!) in Seattle, pairing it with my Leica M3, and shooting a couple of test rolls of Ilford FP4+, I can honestly say that this has to be the best value-for-money Leica lens out there!

 

The Hendrix statue (by Seattle artist Daryl Smith) was dedicated in 1997, and commissioned by Mike Malone, a real-estate developer. He was the founder of AEI Music Network, a music programming and distribution company with worldwide operations. Seattleite Malone has a valuable guitar collection that includes Elvis Presley’s first guitar that he used at Sun Studio and Hendrix’s last guitar.

 

And just to keep in the Hendrix theme, my weekend viewing is the critically acclaimed documentary, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’, that traces the guitar legend’s journey from “hardscrabble beginnings in Seattle…to international stardom.”

 

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Halley’s Comet comes around every 76 years or so, lightens up the celestial sky and then disappears again. Here in Seattle, on 10th and Pike, arguably one of the scariest and pukey, best-ever dive bars, the Comet Tavern, gloriously stayed with us for well over 60 years before disappearing overnight. But alas, unlike the famous celestial comet, it looks like this one will never return. And sadly therein lies a tale; a comet tale if you like.

 

The ‘Vomit Comet’ (as it was affectionately called) welcomed hippies and punks with some of the cheapest drinks you’ll find in Seattle. It was the city’s oldest, divest bar, famous for its loud music, pungent toilets, ceiling of nicotine-stained dollar bills and the way it fondly honoured a departed bartender named Ethel. It kept her ashes inside the bar stool she used to sit on.  Opened in the ’50s, the Comet was a popular hangout during Seattle’s grunge years. It was also a den of solace for musicians after the 1993 murder of local singer Mia Zapata. Her last drink had been at the Comet; her death was a catalyst for feminist change. 

 

Then, out of the blue, early last October, the Comet shut its doors and they didn’t open again. The Comet’s owner fell into serious financial troubles, and then secretly removed the sound system and other items of value (surely not Ethel’s bar stool?) from the esteemed venue and changed the locks, leaving that particular corner of the Pike/Pine corridor – where it was regarded as a permanent fixture – dark for the first time anyone could remember.

 

So farewell then, Comet Tavern….perhaps like Halley’s Comet, you’ll come back in another 60 or so years.

 

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Street chess, that institution of young, old, rich and poor cerebrally duking it out over a checkered board in the open air, thrives downtown in nearly every big city of America – but recently, that wasn’t quite the case in San Francisco. For more than 30 years, chess has been a permanent fixture near Fifth and Market streets, but late last year, the San Francisco Police Department confiscated the playing equipment, chairs and tables from where dozens of people, mostly homeless, would gather every day to play.

 

Police said that regular chess players weren’t the problem but that the area had become a hotbed for illegal gambling and drug use. It was the flimsiest of flimsiest pretexts to clear “undesirables” from the area. And they soon realised what a big mistake they had made, following a huge public outcry and ensuing media maelstrom over what had happened – and the big brouhaha didn’t get any better when they came up with the very hastily announced damage limitation excuse that they had always intended the street chess to be moved to a “better area”.

 

In downtown Seattle, Westlake Park is the place to go for Chess Alfresco – and recently, there was a prominent feature on the thriving chess community there that appeared in the Seattle Weekly by Kelton Sears. Word to the wise, though, before you decide to click on the link to read it: it does feature moi.

 

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We always have that eternal debate in photography of Digital vs Analogue. I firmly subscribe to the latter, that film still has a core niche market. There are still photographers out there who continue to use it, and use it religiously. Digital may have today’s market and ever-growing – but, as Tom Stanworth once remarked, “Digital photography is like shaved legs on a man – very smooth and clean but there is something acutely disconcerting about it”

 

There’s also another digital vs analogue argument going on in the mainstream publishing and printing industry. Personally speaking – and not to mention a vested interest of the day job requiring me to fill white-space for The Scotsman newspaper back home in Scotland – I would rather sit down with either a newspaper, magazine or book to read than reach for my increasingly more omnipresent iPad. But I was on hand recently at one of my all-time favourite Seattle haunts, the “Read All About It” newsstand at Pike’s Place Market, as one of the co-owners declared it was almost a nostalgic step-back in time for him, with the biggest daily sale of a newspaper there since the death of President Kennedy: The Seattle Times’ commemorative issue of the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl.

 

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With advancing years, I have started to become follicly challenged – or follicularly challenged, but let’s not split hairs on it – but either way I still make my regular visit to Sergio’s Barbershop in Pike Place Market; but alas, more out of habit these days than necessity. This is a great man’s man barbershop, where mein host, Sergio, is said to be the lowest-paid psychiatrist in town.

 

For the many regulars it’s the follicle version of Cheers, the famous Boston bar where everyone knows your name, with Sergio playing the part of Sam Malone as he offers his philosophical wisdom on just about anything and everything, but particularly about the opposite sex.

 

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