Sunday, February 07, 2010

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I’ve never made a pilgrimage to a place mentioned in a novel – at least, not before our trip to Seattle. Having recently read Jamie Ford's Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet I was curious to visit the area now known as Chinatown/International District. One of the locations featured prominently in the book is the Panama Hotel – in particular, the tea room and the basement where Japanese families about to be shipped off to internment camps stored their personal belongings.

Just like in the book, these possessions were discovered after the old hotel was purchased. The current owner installed a see-through panel in the floor of the tearoom. It’s haunting to look down into the basement to see the stacks of stuff left behind.

Leaving Dani to do a bit of homework in the tea room, I headed off to the Wing Luke Asian Museum. I was particularly interested in seeing a display mentioned in my guidebook – a recreation of one of the horse stalls at the Puyallup Fairgrounds that was converted to living quarters for a displaced Japanese family (again, important in the book). Alas, “Camp Harmony D-4-44” was not rebuilt when the museum moved into new digs in 2008.

The current display case and video of stories told by Japanese Americans who had to endure this dark chapter in US history is moving, but I don’t think it has quite the same impact as seeing the teeny quarters assigned to the families while they waited for the construction of internment camps father inland.

That said, the Wing Luke Asian Museum is excellent and I’m glad I checked it out.

Another pilgrimage I’m glad we made was to the Elliott Bay Bookstore. We were lucky enough to visit this fabulous, meandering, wood-floored, homey and packed-to-the-rafters-with-great-books shop while it was still in its old location. According to the website, this Seattle landmark has to move in order to survive. We could easily have spent the whole day lost in the stacks, but forced ourselves to move on after a respectable amount of time.

Seattle’s love affair with books couldn’t be better highlighted than in the amazing public library.
Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect, did a remarkable job on this oh-so-very-cool structure. We had a good wander around inside, checking out things like the in-floor way-finding system (the Dewey Decimal numbers are huge and easy to see), the way the main collection spirals up the core of the building, the incredible kids’ section – the awesome auditorium area. No matter which direction one points a camera, there’s some interesting visual combination of light, sky, angles, and Seattle buildings. Definitely worth a visit!

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