Classy & Fabulous

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As I was photographing this shop window, a man passing by asked what I was doing. I replied that it was a beautiful window of ladies lingerie. He looked me up and down and said “No, son, there’s something wrong with you!” and marched off. It was pointless for me to explain that I’d read the book, A Vision of Paris, with photographs by Eugène Atget and words by Marcel Proust that contained a wonderful image of a similar little corset/lingerie shop.

 

But no matter what explanation, cultural, artistic or otherwise that might have been offered, his only thought was – and this is somewhat typical of Glasgow and Glaswegians here – “No, son, there is something wrong with you!” Good job then I didn’t tell him about my online habits, eh?  

 

So, in the spirit of Atget, this is how it turned out. 

 

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Apart from inventing the modern world as we know it, did you realize you also have the Scots to thank for Halloween as well? 

 

Halloween is a Scottish contraction of All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints Day) that first entered common parlance in Scotland in 1745.  At this time of year, when the days were at their shortest, it was thought that the ethereal boundaries which prevented faeries, witches, bad spirits, and the tortured souls of the undead from roaming freely in the real world were breached.  

 

Although he was not the first to describe the festival in print, Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, is credited with popularizing the concept of Halloween and the supernatural themes surrounding it. His poem ‘Halloween’, one of Burns’ longest, was published in 1786 and explores many of the festival’s eeriest stories and traditions. One of the lines, “what fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, makes mention of practical jokes at Halloween. 

 

And that brings us to the other Scots’ ‘invention’ associated with Halloween: the globally-recognised custom of trick-or-treating. Until recent times, this was known exclusively in Scotland as ‘guising’, gaining popularity from the late 18th century onwards. Children would disguise themselves as ghosts and evil spirits in a bid to blend in with the free-roaming undead. Simple treats, such as fruit and nuts, would be offered in return for a song or performance at a person’s door. 

 

And an early version of carved pumpkins first appeared in Scotland and Ireland during the 19th century. They were known as “tattie bogles” or “potato ghosts”, ghoul-like faces carved from potatoes and turnips – not a million miles away from modern-day carved pumpkins we see today – to ward off evil spirits.

 

But all of these Celtic traditions – widely believed to have originated in the USA via the large contingent of Irish and Scottish settlers – were soon to be, just like Christmas, commercialized out of all proportions Across the Pond by our American cousins.

 

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For all you kids out there, as per my previous blog, the typewriter could well be making a comeback — that’s  t-y-p-e-w-r-i-t-e-r. Way back in the last century, people used to use these big, clunky metal things to, um, type. You didn’t need electricity, or a battery, a stable cellular or wi-fi connection or download it from the app store. You just needed an ink ribbon and some paper, and you could write words… well… legibly.

 

And if you are really old and made a mistake, you had a typewriter eraser – and if you don’t know what those are, here in Seattle, there’s the giant Typewriter Eraser, Scale X sculpture, that comes from the pop generation of art,  created by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen  Its located at the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the 19-foot-tall popular art installation is made of stainless steel, fiberglass, and painted with acrylic urethane.

 

I once overheard a young girl (I’m guessing aged around 10 or 11) seeing it in the park, and asking her grandparents, “What’s that?” “Oh, that’s a typewriter eraser,” came the reassuring reply. “Back before Wite-Out or eraser ribbons, this was how you corrected mistakes. The bottom wheel end is the eraser, and you uses the top end to brush the crumbs off the paper in your typewriter.”

 

The next question from the kid was, in retrospect, inevitable.  “What’s a typewriter?”

 

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Seattle has to be one of the most dog-friendliest city in the US – actually, in a recent poll, Seattle was rated No.5 for popularity for our canine friends. Well-behaved leashed dogs of all sizes are allowed on the buses and trains throughout the city as well as the Washington State Ferries; couple that with numerous eateries that welcome dogs and it’s easy to see why. And then there’s all those dog-friendly parks throughout the city, not to mention many off-leash beach areas.

 

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Like Google and Facebook, Amazon is now joining the party of novelty headquarters with the biggest downtown development Seattle has ever seen. Three giant, interconnected futuristic glass biospheres, filled with trees and vines is set to house 1,800 Amazon staff in a jungle utopia. Call me a traditionalist, but I like real buildings – ones with character, made of ye olde-fashion building blocks of bricks and mortar.

 

There’s not much modern I care for. But perhaps it’s architectural relativism (what’s built today makes certain era’s buildings look not so bad) but I don’t mind the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in itself. Taking up the whole block at 2nd and Marion in downtown Seattle, it was built in 1974. You can’t make the 1970′s Brutalism case with it and the patterned inset windows provide a nice visual relief from today’s unrelenting flatness, Nolvadex prescription. However, the sadness around the old Federal Building is in what was torn down to make way for it. The Burke Building, Hotel Stevens, Tivoli Theater — all significant losses to Seattle’s historic downtown past.

 

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With the polar vortex again causing weather mayhem in its wake, it is indeed “caulder days,” as we would say in Glasgow. But for this blog entry, “Calder daze” might best describe my recent and very cold meander along the Olympic Sculpture Park, the centrepiece of which is dominated by Alexander Calder’s dazzling, biomorphic red-painted steel sculpture the Eagle, caught in the late afternoon silhouette with the equally stunning background vistas across Puget Sound.

 

Originally, the sculpture was made in 1971 for a bank headquarter plaza in Fort Worth, Texas; when the bank building was sold, it then spent a year sitting outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the hope of the building of a Calder Museum in the artists’ hometown. When patrons in Philadelphia couldn’t come up with the asking price, in 2000 two Seattle collectors named Jon and Mary Shirley paid more than $10 million to bring his 39-foot red Eagle to Seattle.

 

 

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Not so much Shylock looking for his pound of flesh; more like looking for his pound of beef, as this is not only one of the best hamburger joints in the downtown historic Pioneer Square district but its also the oldest restaurant in Seattle.

 

Merchants Cafe, a three-story brick building, built in 1890, claims the bragging rights of being the “OLDEST RESTAURANT IN SEATTLE,” as prominently displayed on its awning. It has survived many obstacles like the Gold Rush, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Seattle Fire of 1889, and even the myriad changing of ownership throughout her 124 years. Today, Merchants Cafe’s brochures heighten the aura of naughtiness-past by proclaiming, “Only a mere shell of its former decadence, The Merchants now welcomes women and children.”

 

It is also reputed to be haunted by a mysterious feminine ghostly figure, of what many believe to be a working girl who was killed there.

 

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A newish book says the infamous “Sinking Ship” parking garage – or at least the lot it sits on – that lives under the shadow of the Smith Tower, at Second Avenue and Yesler Way, is cursed. The iconic property has been there over 50 years — a triangle-shaped wedge of concrete tilted so improbably against the land’s slope that it looks like it’s a ship sinking stern first into the asphalt of Pioneer Square. And each time I pass by, just like Titanic, I half expect to look up and see Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet hanging on to it for dear life whilst fearing the worst.  The worst, of course, being to have to listen once more to Celine Dion wailing My Heart Will Go On.

 

Early Seattle’s most luxurious hotel was located on the triangular lot near the Pioneer Building. The first one, the Occidental Hotel, burned in the 1889 fire. It was soon replaced with the even grander Hotel Seattle. That hotel suffered damage in the 1949 earthquake and declined along with the surrounding area. It was virtually vacant by 1961, and was demolished in 1962. Its demolition and replacement with the parking garage shocked the entire city, giving impetus to historic preservation and the formation of a historic district in 1970.

 

The book, Boren’s Block One: A Sinking Ship, traces 160 years of the history of the lot — back to when it was carved into its peculiar alignment by Seattle’s sometimes drunk and conniving founding fathers.

 

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An early 1900s Seattle pioneering photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis had a big idea: to capture on film the last remaining American-Indian tribes before they disappeared completely. Backed by President Theodore Roosevelt and funded by financier JP Morgan, the charismatic Curtis – who is compared to Indiana Jones – spent the next three decades circumnavigating the United States documenting the customs of more than 80 tribes.

 

His Indian obsession began with a sad, dignified 1896 portrait of the aged Princess Angeline, the last surviving daughter of Chief Sealth (Siahl) – for whom Seattle was named – was one of his first Native American models. This avocation soon admitted Curtis into the fraternity of American explorers, naturalists and ethnographers that ultimately led to the publication of his iconic, 20-volume set The North American Indian. In the process, he took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings and is credited with making the world’s first documentary film.

 

But there was a toll to be paid for this passion. Ultimately, Curtis’ obsession destroyed his marriage, his health and his finances that left him penniless. You can read more on his odyssey in Timothy Egan’s excellent 2012 book Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. And there’s also a good documentary on Curtis, Coming to Light, currently streaming on Netflix (but be quick, it ends on 15 January).

 

Curtis’ work also brought Indian culture to the masses for the first time. And there’s a popular totem pole situated in Pioneer Square Park with a backstory to it. Some wayward Seattleites, it’s said, stole the original totem pole from the Tlingit natives in southeastern Alaska in 1890. An arsonist then set the stolen pole on fire in 1938, burning it to the ground. When asked by City Hall if they could carve a replacement pole, the ever-obliging Tlingit – recalling that the original had been stolen from them – took the money offered, thanking the city for payment of the first totem, and then said it would cost $5000 to carve another one.

 

The city duly – and rightly – coughed up the cash and the Tlingit obliged with the oft-photographed totem pole that fittingly stands not more than a good tomahawk’s throw from Curtis’ downtown Seattle photography studio.

 

 

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as someone or other once famously wrote. Forty years ago, with Merry Xmas Everybody and Everyday, Slade (Jim Lea, Don Powell, Noddy Holder, Dave Hill), a true working-class English rock band from Wolverhampton, enriched our drab, miserable lives in the UK – during an almost State of Emergency austerity period filled with strikes, the three-day work week, regular power cuts and television ending each night at 10pm – with pop singles as good as any made during the 1970s.

 

Messrs Holder and Lea crafted some memorable tunes and welded them singable yet observant lyrics – and one of their best, arguably being the follow-up to those two aforementioned hits, The Bangin’ Man. It was Slade’s homage to the pop star lifestyle on the road – Noddy sets the scene of a man in a hotel, unable to recall much of what happened the night before, and the lady beside him locks herself in the bathroom, and enters the banging man, hammering away on the door.

 

And the song invariably wanders – nay, smashes – into my mind every time I pass by Jonathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man located outside the Seattle Art Museum, as he constantly bangs away with his hammer. There are many Borofsky Hammering Man sculptures (of various sizes) around the globe, and each has its own unique number, this one being 3277164. The sculpture is a symbol of the working man’s struggle – and the one in Seattle kinetically hammers away 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 364 days of the year. The one day off it gets being, fittingly, on Labor Day!

 

Leica M3 & f4/21mm Super-Angulon

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HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

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