What hits me first are the sounds of Pike Place Market. A constant hum of chatter of hawkers and gawkers. This is followed by the riot of colors that the eyes register even though the old worn out buildings have a muffled air and dispersed light somehow managing to find a way in. Flowers, fish, leather, paintings, scarves, vegetables in their vibrant raw beauty. Then comes the smells of fish (wrinkling nose here), coffee (freshly brewed in styrofoam cups), roses (and other flowers I don’t know names of) and spices. It is not a gentle waft that tickles the nose, but a blast of good, bad and dicey smells.
Overlooking the Elliot Bay (from where you can take a ferry to Bainbridge Island or even hop onto a cruise to Alaska) the Seattle Pike Place Market is more than a hundred years old. This public market where local farmers and craftsmen sell their goods and produce consists of more than six pretty old buildings with narrow crowded corridors and even more densely populated sidewalks that have braved though the world wars, privatization/industrialization and even the heralding of modern times. It remains one of the foremost tourist destinations of Seattle retaining its local charm and authenticity, or atleast that is the sense I get.
I enter one of the main buildings with a sign in solid red that says this is the Public Market. Rows of bouquets are spread out to my right. Lilies, roses, posies, ferns, even orchids and many more, regal and wild, of varied colors all beautifully bound together and ready to be bought. Will they adorn a vase in the buyer’s living room or be gifted to a loved one, who knows?
I quickly buy some Rainier cherries. Am not sure if they are over prices because am awful at remembering prices so I have nothing to compare them to. And judging by how tempting these look, remembering the store price would probably not have deterred me in the slightest. These cherries have an artistic blend of orange, yellow and red on the skin that is much lighter than the regular cherries. The seller was sweet enough to wash them for me so I can eat as I walk. Sweet in taste and melts in the mouth. Of course, I can’t find where to throw the seeds and have to juggle carrying my cherries, the seeds and my phone (which I need to click photos).
There are signs screaming of eating joints from cafes serving coffee to Chinese, Thai and American finger food. The most popular seem to be the sea food places. Having turned vegetarian nearly ten years ago I am not that interested, but am told the clam chowder here is pretty famous. Freshly made jams and jellies with audacious recipes of berries, cherries with cinnamon, pepper, lime and ginger are being offered to sample. I stop to admire a stall selling raw pasta that is not plain white or cream, but in all hues imaginable.
Rows and rows of fresh vegetables. The vendors sprinkle water on them and they glisten in the dim light. Leafy greens, mushrooms in all sizes, ripe fruits. Am tempted to buy everything, but have no way of carrying it all while I walk through the market. I know if I cross over to the opposite side of the road there are even more vendors with oriental spices and tropical produce. The vendors have an uncanny sense of spotting the customers and are quick to pack and charge for the goods. The rest of us get jostled around. Me specially, as I stand a little dazed and probably in everyone’s way.
I have reached one of the biggest sea food stalls of the market. Everyone is watching expectantly. The workers have started to sing, am not paying attention to the words. A confident youth throws a slippery look fish which is deftly caught by the man behind the stall. More follow. It’s an age old tradition, perhaps followed by the fisherman that bring in these lobsters, crabs, clams, mussels, salmon, scallops.. The singing and show has stopped and I quickly realize I don’t like the smell at all so am out of the market.
Its strange how in the most unexpected moments life decides to impart a valuable lesson. Inside the market, there were a number of local craftsmen who have set up stalls. Locals selling leather bound diaries that I was so tempted to buy, but were too expensive so I walked away. Painters showcasing their talent. Gemstones and jewellery, pottery, woodwork that were spread out. I wanted to take pictures, but I was conscious. Should I have walked up and asked the sellers to pose for me with their goods? What would I tell them, that I wrote a column about Seattle? Finally, I gave up thinking they probably were too busy to pose for me. Bad decision. So, note to self – Learn to do what you feel like and stop second guessing yourself.
Err, so where was I before I started discovering the profound truths of living? I was standing in the sun watching tourists take photographs of the first Starbuck’s building ever. Atleast that is what guides claim, but there is some conspiracy theory suggesting that might not be the case.
Amused and still eager to see more I entered another side building. This was quieter and dingier. A tibetian apothecary greeted my eye. I did not enter. The wonder and mystery is more when things are left to imagination. I leaned against the railing and watched an old lady shuffle around inside the shop. A pocket of olden era preserved in the modern world. I walked away, it was better untouched. In hindsight I probably would have helped preserve it if I bought something from the store rather than my random romantic musings around it. Well, another task chalked up for my next visit of pike place.
I was exhausted, and probably you are too since this trip seems to be never ending. But before I leave, I had to visit the gift shop at the corner. From Sounders and Sea Hawks (the local Seattle teams) merchandise, to curios and t shirts this shop had it all. Coffee mugs, snow globes, key chains, and magnets with rainy Seattle skyline and the prominent Space needle were all on display. Grizzly bears are popular too since they often show up unannounced on the trails around Seattle. Some adorable piggy banks caught my eye. Do kids still use these? I shopped to my heart’s content and then it was time to return back to the world as I know it.