Death of an Icon

 

It’s a quintessentially modern Seattle tale: downtown Seattle’s Icon Grill on Fifth Avenue will shut its doors this coming weekend to make way for  – yes, that’s right, you’ve guessed it – yet another yuppie high rise development slated for its prime downtown location.

 

To me, Icon seemed like a permanent anchor on Fifth Avenue and Virginia Street, and perhaps more familiar to millions of passersby over the years for its snarky readerboard (like the much-missed ‘Lusty Lady’) below its iconic Icon Grill neon signage; one memorable message in 1999 reading, “Thanks WTO. It’s been a riot.”

 

The Icon Grill was one of my favourite haunts, mainly because it was always right there on my doorstep, and served up wonderful comfort food in a tasteful, flashy interior inside an eclectically adorned dining room, replete with blown glass decorations and local art.

 

Sadly, Icon’s closure follows hard on the heels of other recent departures forced by development, including Old Spaghetti Factory, Tini Bigs and Hula Hula – and again, all were lovable haunts during my lengthy Seattle sojourn.

 

Progress, don’t you just love it?

 

Olympus OM1n & 1.2/50mm Zuiko

Kodak Tri-X(@200)

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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Sad news comes with the death at the weekend of the Observer’s revered and legendary photographer Jane Bown, just months before her 90th birthday, and who worked on 35mm B&W film with her trusty OM1 to the end. Such was her lifelong connection with the newspaper, she was hailed by its editor, John Mulholland, as being “part of the Observer’s DNA.”

 

She was cool under pressure and blessed with that rare ability to immediately seize the mood and the moment, producing some very distinguished portraits only ever taken with available light (check the Guardian gallery link by clicking here); my particular favourite being her impromptu, one-off shot of Samuel Beckett as he tried to sneak out of the Royal Court Theatre in London, via the stage door, after rehearsals of Happy Days starring Billie Whitelaw, who also sadly died on Sunday.

 

I grew up through the 1970s regularly marvelling at her unbelievable body of work during my weekly pilgrimage to the library to read the Observer. Shy and totally unassuming – she once said “a photographer should neither be seen nor heard” – Bown always preferred being behind the camera, but earlier this year she was the subject of a documentary, Looking for Light, that’s well worth seeking out.

 

It was through Bown’s influence that I recently started experimenting yet again with the Olympus OM1 and Zuiko lenses. And a great portion of the blog offerings the last few months have shown just how good this combination still is.

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil. H – 7:30min)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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You just don’t know anxiety until you’ve tried to throw something away in Seattle. Is it compost? Recycling? Will you be judged if you toss your Starbucks cup in the garbage (Yes.) Is there even a bin marked “garbage?” (No.)  Recycling is a big issue here in Seattle, with the city council actively legislating to promote it.

 

The city already recycles 56% of its waste but is aiming for 60% by 2015. Seattle is the second US city after San Francisco to make composting mandatory in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  And recently, they took a further step by voting to fine businesses and residents that do not recycle correctly their food waste. Under the new rules, households will be fined $1 (£0.61) if their rubbish bins contain more than 10% food waste, and businesses and apartment buildings $50.

 

Up to 40% of food in the US is wasted, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Only 5% of food scraps are composted, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Many Seattle homes and businesses have food compost bins but are not required to use them – now they will have to. The city will begin issuing warning tickets on 1 January 2015 and fining customers on 1 July.

 

Seattle officials do not expect the programme to be a money-maker for the city, says Tim Croll, the Seattle Public Utilities solid waste director.  “The point isn’t to raise revenue. We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.”

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X(@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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As they readied themselves for last Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming tumbling down, city officials admitted that something was missing: they had somehow “lost” Berlin’s giant Lenin statue. The monument torn down in 1991, was carved up into pieces, and buried no one knows where, so it missed out in being part of a major exhibition for the 25th anniversary celebrations.

 

But this was no ordinary statue of Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich – this one was a movie star. It was the unwitting star of Good Bye Lenin!, Wolfgang Becker’s wonderful tragicomedy set around the fall of the Berlin Wall, and suspended from a helicopter, seemingly waving goodbye to the crumbling socialist republic.

 

And I also recently said my good byes to Lenin – to the Lenin statue in Fremont. And Fremont Lenny has also had a rough time of it of late. He’s had his hands daubed with red paint (presumably for the blood he’s had on them), and, more recently, someone has painted in gold “JESUS IS LORD” on his ever-striding right thigh. And if that isn’t enough, with Christmas coming, he’ll also soon be suitably decked out for the Holidays (see previous blog entry Red Christmas). I think there’s a glass mausoleum in Moscow with something spinning profusely in it by now.

 

Olympus OM4T & Zuiko 21/2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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Most amateur chess players used to assume that Grandmasters were gods who saw everything at the chessboard; inhumanly-efficient calculators who would see every little tactical nuance.  GM games were supposedly impossibly complex and decided upon the basis of one player exploiting an imperceptible error made by another.

 

Of course, this was in the pre-silicon era, when the Average-rated Joe lacked analytical tools. Nowadays the pendulum has swung sharply in the opposite direction. Kibitzers viewing live online games – such as the World Championship match between the Norwegian reigning champ Magnus Carlsen and ex-champ Vishy Anand of India, just underway in Sochi, Russia  – are now sitting back with the luxury at their fingertips of  number-crunching, top GM-strength computer engines that empowers them to pontificate on the mistakes being made.

 

As a result, many online kibitzers believe the GMs are nothing more than tactically-deficient idiots who stumble along countering error with error, and shouldn’t even by playing in the tournament at all. Dominic Lawson, the former Fleet St editor and long-time chess aficionado, highlighted this blight in the game in an interesting article for the latest edition of New in Chess magazine, entitled The Death of Kibitzing.

 

Like me, he yearns for the good ol’ days, when many would gather round a real chessboard and whisper suggestions – good, bad, or more often or not completely ludicrous – into a colleagues ear, such as this recent photo taken at Westlake Park during a street chess challenge. It was so better back then, as Lawson nostalgically reminds us – those exciting days in an era sans computers, when we would sit back in the press rooms at major chess tournaments, and just marvel at the fierce arguments going on between top Soviet players, as to who was or wasn’t winning and why.

 

Olympus OM4T & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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If you have Batman in the previous blog entry, flat-out with an opened up umbrella beside him, then it logically follows you have The Penguin – but this penguin isn’t the waddling bird of foul play, as the kitsch sixties TV series set in Gotham City is wont to say.

 

Like other designer pieces at Twist, the Pacific Place upmarket  jewellery store, this 8ft-high penguin standing guard – rather than casing the joint for a potential robbery – outside the shop is a creation of the Philadelphia-based junk sculptor Leo Sewell, who has a way of transforming scraps of metal and discarded items into artfully welded animals and human torsos.

 

Not many people knows this, but you can actually buy this sculpture for “about $45,000”, according to the store manager, whose eyes lit up like a Christmas tree for some reason or other when I asked if it was for sale. I’m surprised a wealthy Seattle art collector or corporation hasn’t – and especially here for UK readers of a certain vintage, remembering the penguin chocolate biscuit ads from the 1970s – p-p-p-picked-up this penguin signature piece yet. It has been here since the store opened in 1999.

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X(@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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In Halloween week, fittingly we head in the general direction of what’s arguably the most visited public art project in Seattle: The Fremont Troll, that lives underneath the George Washington Memorial Bridge – that’s the Aurora Bridge, for a very, very large majority of those in Seattle, who apparently are none the wiser than a Glaswegian smart-alec interloper (see blog entry Under Aurora).

 

But thanks to the Troll, the space under the bridge is far from the dump it once used to be. Back in 1990, you would find mattresses and beer cans lying around, until the Fremont Arts Council set about rehabilitating the area, with the Troll sculpted by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead.

 

The Troll soon became a Fremont and Seattle institution – so much so that Aurora Avenue North was officially renamed ”Troll Avenue” in 2005. The artists’ came up with the troll-under-the-bridge theme from the Norwegian folktale, Three Billy Goats Gruff.  And yes, it is indeed clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle that the artists incorporated into their work; making it look just as if it had swiped it from the busy arterial roadway above.

 

“Trolling” also takes on a different meaning in this Fremont area, as there’s always a busy line of tourists and locals making the – mainly weekend – pilgrimage, as they wait patiently in turn to be photographed alongside the troll. Kids venture up as far as its head – but most (such as today’s photo) like to pose with a hand sticking up its left nostril; perhaps in search of the Bogey Man.

 

Olympus OM4T & Zuiko 21/2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan,

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Though that silly ‘60s pop radio hit – Seattle, from the sitcom Here Come The Brides – was all about “The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle,” the truth is that this can be one very soggy place to live – so soggy, in fact, that I once joked that the national dress of Seattle is Gor-Tex. Another popular joke around here is that Seattleities don’t tan, they rust.

 

We’ve had a good summer, but with the falling leaves of fall we’re subjected now to a spell of bitter winds and torrential rain, and winter seems closer than summer will ever be. Some sure signs that fall is officially upon Seattle is….T-shirts are gone and everyone looks like they’re gearing up to spend the day on a walkabout in Siberia; …The locals wear Birkenstock socks with their sandals;… You leave for work in the morning and it’s dark. You come home, it’s dark. It’s dark, it’s dark, it’s very dark.

 

And perhaps worse of all, is that Seattle newbies tend to get somewhat over-excited about buying all that fashionable rainwear, and then go around kicking the puddles much like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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It is indeed perhaps the most visible sign of these harsh, austere times.  Everyday we walk past heaven knows how many homeless people on the streets, holding up their cardboard handwritten signs they use to beg with. But now a new charity project in Barcelona is putting those handwritten signs to a wider use by turning them into downloadable fonts, and sold online to raise funds for a foundation that supports homeless people.

 

Homelessfonts.org, a joint venture between the Arrels Foundation, which works with half of Barcelona’s homeless population, and advertising agency The Cyranos McCann, hope individuals and companies will buy the fonts and use them to communicate on social media or as part of their corporate identity on stationary and packaging.

 

Using the typefaces homeless people themselves use to call attention to themselves in the street – from rough, energetic and sometimes barely legible scrawls to sometimes beautifully executed near-calligraphy – is “a creative way to raise awareness and transform the popular view of the homelessness issue,” says Ferran Busquets, the foundations’s director.

 

It’s hoped that the new charity venture will also soon become international. If so, then they will have many more fonts to choose from, including perhaps this one from my recent trip to the Ballard Sunday Market. Ballard is an area where there is a large community of homelessness now living in cars and vans – and, thankfully, their presence there is being tolerated by the local community and cops.

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X (@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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The medical profession must be welcoming the chance of additional healthy, pink new organs, with hundreds of green bicycles recently hitting – no pun intended – the notoriously dangerous streets of Seattle, with the introduction of the Pronto Cycle Share scheme for those brave enough to cycle in the city (read my previous blog Ghost Riders in the Sky).

 

With the theme of “Explore. Dream. Discover.”, there’s now 500 Pronto Cycle Share bikes based at 50 stations across Seattle. The rental bikes are seven-speed commuter cycles (you’ll need it for the hills!) with a pedal-powered headlight. The bikes are lighter than similar cycle share bikes used in other cities – and, crucially, the Seattle programme is the first in the U.S. that includes helmet use as part of the rental.  You’ll need it.

 

Olympus OM1 & Zuiko 50/1.2
Kodak Tri-X(@200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 7:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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