I sat and ate a biscuit with a high cheese-to-dough ratio and a heavy pad of butter soaking into flaky perfection. It was my first true meal of the day. I was hungry and still having trouble believing I was on the US West Coast, having started my day on the US East Coast. The time change was confusing – the journey across the country was space and time travel. This biscuit shop was on the ocean edge of Pike Place Market in Seattle. Before arriving, I hadn’t known biscuits were popular in Seattle, but I was glad to find several biscuit shops as I wandered about the city.
The last time I’d been to Pike Place Market was in high school on a family trip. But, as all the places of family lore are, the market was familiar because my mother had told me about it many times. My parents met in Seattle. I’d lived there for several years before our family moved East, back to the coast of my grandparents. Pike Place Market is a place of fish stands and cute cafes. It’s full of people.
As I experienced the market for the first time on my own and as an adult, I was most struck by the maze that was the market and the perfect, stunning flower bouquets wrapped in parchment paper. I also liked the mosaic mural of North American birds. The mosaic bird mural reminded me of the bird murals in Harlem (where my sister lives). Per my sister, the bird murals in Harlem depict all the birds that will go extinct sometime sooner than I’d like. I wondered about the mosaic mural birds, would a day come when those birds (too) would only be found in murals?
I liked that Pike Place Market unfolded as a maze. It reminded me of Mercado Cuatro in Asunción, Paraguay. The markets share a maze layout, haphazard vendor stands, a huge range of goods, and people-filled walkways. Pike Place Market lacked the feral kittens that Mercado Cuatro had, but it had its own large bronze pigs with bronze pig hoofprints throughout the market. I followed the hoofprints for a bit. I decided the pigs were a good addition to the market.
I would later learn that the Starbucks in Pike Place Market was so busy because it was the founding Starbucks and people visited it for that reason. I was familiar with Starbucks because I’d worked there when I lived in Washington, DC. The Starbucks in Pike Place Market was much fancier than the one where I’d worked. However, I wasn’t inspired to stop at the first, ever, Starbucks. There were too many other places to choose from for me to pick a place I already knew. I found a tea shop that sold crumpets (which I didn’t know existed outside of fairytales) and got an earl gray tea.
I was mildly disconcerted by the neon lights in Pike Place Market; they seemed a little aggressive for an enclosed space with so little wiggle room. I did like the nooks with tables and chairs and the scattered sculptures I stumbled upon when I rounded sharp hallway corners. I followed the hallways, stairwells, and odd steps until I thought I’d explored the whole market. I found the public bathrooms on both sides of the street. They were not striking, except that their stall doors were very short. A tall person could easily see over them.
I spent time looking out over the construction next to the market at the ocean. It was drizzling and cold, so I was glad I had worn my puffy coat. The waterfront was in flux. I’d later learn from a family friend that there used to be a highway between the market and the ocean. But, for many years now, they’d been slowly working toward reclaiming the waterfront. It’s funny how we call progress building roads and buildings, only to realize years later that beautiful park spaces are more important. I was glad that someday I’d be able to walk from the market to the ocean, but not today. This visit, there was no direct way because of the construction.
Once I felt that I had a good mental map of the market and had seen enough, I turned back to the city to explore its streets. Seattle was a home to me, but not a familiar one. It was a home of my distant past and the setting of early family stories. I wouldn’t have time to return to the market in the morning to watch them throw fish during this Seattle visit, but I knew I’d be back again. And I was grateful to have my own memory of the market. Lore-made memory to re-lived experience.