Sunday, December 20, 2009

Towards Always Vanishing Authenticity

Like everyone else we came to Seattle for the coffee and the old books. Old books without the feral cats they seem to attract (we have an allergy for that). Coffee without the corporate signs of global brands. Old books with hardcovers and perfect brittle pages. Coffee in big glass steins in an old brick building that has seen many lives which therefore makes its latest transmutation so interesting.

The coffee shop we finally rested on is in a block of buildings built in 1909 (a couple of years before Great Grandpa John stopped by) when Seattle was young. These days it is in an alleyway a few blocks down from where we live facing new apartment buildings behind a blank wooden door. It was used for a lot of things over the years -- as a store, restaurant, a bank branch, and a funeral home/mortuary -- before becoming the first espresso bar in Seattle, the proving ground for Starbucks. People that come here, artists, poets, intellectuals, hangers-ons, read Walter Benjamin or (like us) Franz Kafka and talk about village life in South Korea. They are the sort of people Annie Dillard writes about: "They are a people of profound beliefs. They treat cancer with tea. They have come here to abandon society to its foolishness. They believe in wood heat, unpasteurized milk, and whales. To everyone they are unfailingly helpful."

A few short steps away in our same alleyway is the best used-bookstore in Seattle. Best because they have the finest collection of mass market hardcover books from the 1940s and 50s and they play only the finest operas. All of the Victorians, all of the early American literature are there -- the rare books are on display in special cases. These books feel good in your hands and look good on the shelf and we're excited about taking them home for Christmas where we will transmute them into prize possessions.
"Can't you just smell the dead people?" Jennifer asks as she eyes the strange drain in our favorite morgue turned coffee shop.


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