Seattle Essentials: Koolhaas' Seattle Public Library

I have a lot on my mind, but present things first: I write this from the new Central Library branch of the Seattle Public Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas. The entire glass and steel structure is a giant free wi-fi hotspot.
It struck me this morning that the end of my stay in Seattle is just around the corner, and all morning I've felt a bit nostalgic and sad. It was all prompted by a visit to the dentist. I realized at the end of my visit that it would be my last time at that office, and all the dentists and assistants (all 15 of them) came by to give me huge and to shake my hand (yes, I found it unusually sentimental). These were the first people I was wishing farewell, but it has started a clock ticking in my head. I wish I could shake this feeling of losing time, of imminent partings; it's so difficult to think straight under such pressure. Perhaps I can slow things down, and so for the next month that remains of my Seattle days, I want to document some of my favorite Seattle places, features, and people.
I'm both thrilled and heavyhearted to be finally visit this library. Thrilled because after just an hour or two here, I'm certain it's the coolest library I've ever visited. Heavyhearted because I'll only be able to use it for such a short period of time.
The architecture, a collaboration between Koolhaas and local firm LMN (responsible for Benaroya Hall and McCaw Hall) and Rem Koolhaas's OMA, is spectacular and overshadows the books themselves (see pages from OMA/LMN's original concept book). The glass and steel exterior lends a spectacular openness to the space and offers wonderful views of the surrounding buildings. Though it's the newest building on its block, it plays better with its neighboring structures than those structures play with it. 994,000 pieces of glass and 3,000 tons of steel died in the making of this facility. Each diamond-shaped piece of glass contains metallic mesh that filters the amount of sunlight entering the building so it doesn't overheat, and much of the building is made of recyclable materials. The library is already in line to receive the LEED (Leadrship in Energy and Environmental Design) award given by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The library is the talk of the architectural world, and it's already a huge hit with Seattelites. A line was waiting outside both entrances this morning before it opened at 10am. I've already seen dozens of tours of adults and school children pass through. The youngsters scamper about the place as if it were a museum, and if it does nothing else but prompt people to visit this place of reading and research, it will have been a success. Certainly I never felt the urge to pay for parking just to visit the previous Central Library.
My only criticism is that most of the books I came to check out were already gone or put on hold by dozens of other people. I wrote down over twenty books I wanted to find but only located two of them. remains a beautiful thing. The books here don't seem as central to the space as they are in your average Barnes and Noble or Borders superstore, but the Koolhaas is far more interesting space. It seems like a space that wouldn't seem outdated fifty years into the future.
Since I moved to Seattle, the city has added Benaroya Hall (finest acoustic performance space I've ever experienced), the Experience Music Project by Gehry, McCaw Hall, Pacific Place Mall (a terrible layout for a mall, but contains the most affordable and city-friendly parking garage), a renovated Cinerama (an awesome movie theater with terrible seats but sweet bathrooms in which nearly everything is automated), and Safeco Field. It was an architectural renaissance. The city skyline still lacks a defined character, but each of those facilities was a memorable and worthwhile addition.
For once, I'm wishing for rain on a gorgeous, sunny day. I'd love to listen to the rain tickling this library's skin.

More raves for the Koolhaas

The new Seattle Library by Koolhaas continues to get rave reviews. This virtual tour will have to do for me until I can get back to Seattle and visit it in person.
Now Seattle just has to rebuild every non descript building around it so the Koolhaas doesn't look out of place. The Seattle skyline still looks strange. You have one plain building after another, and then the Koolhaas, or something like Benaroya Hall, or a Gehry, just begging for visual attention. The skyline lacks the architectural balance or cohesion of the greatest skylines, like New York or Chicago.

Seattle Film Fest recos

For once, I actually know quite a few of the movies screening at SIFF this year. Unfortunately, I'm out of town for most of the festival and had to give away nearly all of my tickets. It's killing me! SIFF lacks in movie star wattage (as compared to Cannes or Sundance), and it's not an acquisition hotbed that premieres a ton of movies (as compared to Sundance or Toronto). But SIFF makes up for it in sheer quantity. It's a movie lover's movie fest, and I'm smarting at missing most of what is likely my last SIFF.
If I were around for it this year, I'd either recommend or want to see the following:

  • The Twilight Samurai - I have the DVD but haven't watched it yet. Early reviews are quite positive. A samurai movie for the more thoughtful crowd that can't stomach the bloody violence of Kitano's Zatoichi (see below).

  • The Saddest Music in the World - already out in theaters in some cities, so those who only try to see movies they can't see in theaters soon (or ever) might want to pass on the latest strange creation from Guy Maddin.

  • Doppelganger - by SIFF favorite Kiyoshi Kurosawa and starring Japan's Robert De Niro Koji Yakusho. One of my favorite SIFF movies ever was Kurosawa's Cure.

  • The Corporation - A documentary about that selfish, ruthless entity known as the corporation.

  • Open Water - Based on a true story, and every scuba diver's worst nightmare. A tour boat leaves two divers behind in the middle of the ocean, and soon the sharks and barracudas begin circling. To film the movie, the director threw two rookie actors into the ocean and used bait to attract real sharks to circle them. Talk about method acting.

  • The Girl on the Bridge - I wanted to catch this back when it was in theaters and have meant to watch it on DVD. Patrice Leconte is the featured director this year, so here's another chance to see this black and white love story on the big screen. A knife-thrower (Daniel Auteuil) who needs a partner finds her in the form of despairing beauty (Vanessa Paradis) whom he rescues just before she throws herself off a bridge. Why can't I ever meet hot babes on the brink of suicide?

  • Primer - Won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance, but the word of mouth on this has been that it's incomprehensible. Still, the premise, about some guys who invent a time-travel machine, and the fact that this is Shane Carruth's directorial debut, shot on 16mm, is enough for me to give it a chance.

  • Donnie Darko (The Director's Cut) - Many of you have probably already seen this cult classic, but my guess is this Director's Cut may not make it to DVD, so catch it while you can. Great soundtrack.

  • A Tale of Two Sisters - Korean horror flick. Creepy Flash website. Is there any doubt Asia is the new capital of horror movies?

  • Natural City - I haven't been all that impressed with Korean sci-fi movies of the last several years, but for some reason I've been forgiving enough to always see the next one.

  • Cinematography Master Class with Christopher Doyle - long-time collaborator of Wong Kar-Wai, Doyle's cinematography is legend. His work on Hero and In the Mood for Love is just a sample of his brilliance. I'm going to this event, and I am jazzed beyond belief.

  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi - saw this on DVD. Didn't adore it since Kitano plays Zatoichi as almost completely devoid of humanity and humor, those aspects of his persona that made him such an interesting character in the past. Still, Kitano sees the character as I do, as patently absurd (a blind master swordsman, ronin, masseuse, master gambler all in one?!?) and finds a new and less reverent take on the character that is refreshing. Cartoonish violence: lots of digital blood spewing like geysers from wounds opened by Zatoichi's flashing sword.

  • Infernal Affairs 1, 2, and 3 - Perhaps my favorite Hong Kong movie trilogy of all-time. Really, what other HK trilogy maintained its quality through all three chapters the way this one did? Excellent, though the back to back to back showings at Cinerama would rival the LOTR trilogy as a butt number. Still, that might be the best way to see them as the sheer number of characters and plot twists forced me to watch them each twice to remember all the characters and plot developments, especially as Andy Lau and Tony Leung's characters are played by other actors in the middle chapter. There's talk that Martin Scorsese wants to remake the trilogy with Leonardo Dicaprio, a serious endorsement in my book.

  • Hero - I couldn't wait for this movie to come out back in2002: Zhang Yimou directing truly a Hall of Fame lineup (Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi). Perhaps my expectations were too high, and it underwhelmed me. But it's worth seeing on a big screen as some of the cinematography is gorgeous. I'm more excited about Yimou's next wuxia pic, House of Flying Daggers. starring Takeshi Kaneshire, Andy Lau, and hottie Zhang Ziyi.

  • Before Sunrise/Before Sunset - The original is a classic, and the sequel arrives nine years later and is set, well, nine years after the original.

  • Goodbye Dragon Inn - I enjoyed King Hu's original Dragon Inn and the remake, so it stands to reason I should see this homage. Ming Liang Tsai is one of the more interesting and cutting-edge directors working today. I don't always love his movies, but he's brave and daring.

  • Riding Giants - Missed it at Sundance, will miss it at SIFF. Too bad, because who knows when Sony Classics will get around to putting it in theaters. This surfing documentary is by Stacey Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys) and stars insanely stoked surfers like Laird Hamilton.

  • Garden State - Whoo-hoo, Natalie Portman is single again! If I were a first-time director, I'd definitely pull the "I'll star in the movie myself and cast some hottie to be my romantic interest." I missed this at Sundance, I'll miss it at SIFF. Someday I'll see it. Someday Natalie and I will be together.

  • Undead - It's something of an annual tradition for me to attend the midnight horror movie showing at the Egyptian at SIFF. It might just be the most fun night of the fest, what with the rowdy fans screaming their lungs out until the wee hours of the morning in the acoustic nightmare that is the Egyptian. I don't even know what Undead is about (some Aussie zombie movie?) and I'd still see it just to be social. Bring that squeamish date you've been meaning to cuddle with.

  • Criminal - Let's see what Soderbergh disciple and director of this movie Gregory Jacobs can whip up. I'm a sucker for con-game flicks.

  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence - If I could see just one movie at SIFF this year, it would be this single screening at Cinerama.

  • Sky Blue - Originally titled Wonderful Days, this movie set in the future combines miniatures, hand-drawn animation, and computer-generated animation. I know little about the story, but the visuals look gorgeous.

One thing you might note is that because Seattle doesn't premier a lot of movies, many of these are available on DVD already. Still, seeing a movie on a massive screen in the company of others just can't be beat, if you can stomach waiting in long lines with the occasional passhole (i.e., obnoxious SIFF all-series passholder who hasn't showered in seven days of sweaty sprinting from one theater to the next in an attempt to see as many movies as possible).


Steve and I don't eat out often, but he's a foodie, so when we do eat out, it's an event. Most of the meal is spent discussing cooking, great meals past, dining experiences memorable for both the good and bad, and mysterious combinationf of flavors that have burrowed their way into our memories. Within me lies the soul of a reluctant foodie. Reluctant not because of the pleasure of fine dining, but the cost. But every so often, the monster emerges from its cage, usually because Christina or Steve has lured it out.
Steve and I converged on Lark tonight. It's the latest venture of former Earth and Ocean chef Johnathan Sundstrom.
We had both hear similar stories about Lark. A treat for the taste buds, but not a great value. I had tried to dine here twice previously but been turned off by the long wait: they don't accept reservations for groups of six or fewer, a policy I think they should change. It's one policy that often turns me off of the next new hot restaurant, and Lark fit the bill. It had permeated the Pacific Northwest food zeitgeist. I was in for a half hour wait tonight, but when Steve arrived a table opened sooner than expected.
The menu is arranged in the following order: cheeses ($4 for one, $11 for three), vegetables/grains, charcuterie, seafood, and meat. We'd both heard the cheese proportions were so small as to be non-existent, so we passed, despite being cheese fanatics. From the vegetable menu we chose four dishes: (1) the sugar peas and pea vines, (2) artichoke heart soup, (3) morel mushrooms with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt, and (4) pommes de terre robuchon Robuchon (Jo

Pacific Northwest James Beard award winners

In the 2004 James Beard awards, two Seattle chefs were nominated in the category Best Chef: Northwest/Hawaii: Scott Carsberg of Lampreia and Eric Tanaka of Dahlia Lounge.
Eric Tanaka won the, uhh, Beardie. It's been a while since I've eaten at Dahlia Lounge. I guess Tom Douglas is just a figurehead. I ate once at Lampreia. Spectacular meal, but PRICEY.
Leslie Mackie of Macrina Bakery & Cafe was nominated for All-Clad Bakeware Outstanding Pastry Chef Award. Her work I haven't tried, and that must be corrected soon.
I've been trying to hit all the restaurants I haven't tried in Seattle in an effort to complete the list before I head out of town. Last Friday I dined at La Carta de Oaxaca (tasty and cheap, but very crowded and slow on weekends when no reservations are accepted; go during the week), yesterday Kate treated me to Kaspar's (thumbs up, but how do they stay in business as everyone I've spoken to who has eaten there has sat alone, and we were no exception), and tonight I'm headed to Lark (Johnathan Sundstrom's latest venture).

Cool house, err, Koolhaas

An e-mail from Ken reminded me of the new Seattle Public Library downtown. As he notes, Chicago gets the new Trump Tower monstrosity while Seattle receives the latest Koolhaas...

I've driven by it a few times, and it's a massive improvement over the previous building.
I must go visit after it opens in late May, if nothing but to visit the reading room at the top floor, with views of Puget Sound.
Slide show here.

A hazy shade of winter...and spring...and autumn

It does not rain all the time in Seattle. That's a myth. In fact, most people who say that to me live in cities where it rains more. Flipping through the 2004 New York Times Almanac (which the NYTimes shipped to me free for some reason; thanks to the grey lady), I found the following average annual rainfall in inches for some major U.S. cities:
59.74" New Orleans
57.55" Miami
48.61" Atlanta
44.77" Houston
44.12" New York City
43.81" Boston
41.42" Philadelphia
39.00" Washington, D.C.
38.85" Seattle
What is true about Seattle is that it is cloudy. Not all the time, but pretty damn close. 226 days out of the year, to be exact. The weather here does not pound you into submission with cruel winter cold or withering summer heat so much as it saps you of skin tint and cheer through its abiding, unchanging grey.
Somewhere around this time of year, it starts to get to me. Saturday, in the late morning, the sun poked through, and seeing clear skies for a good stretch in all directions, I jumped on my bike and headed around the top half of Lake Washington. The sunshine was deceptive; on the trail, riding into a stiff and chilly breeze, I struggled to stay warm. Just as I reached the farthest point from my house and turned around, the rain began to fall. Lightly at first, but steady, and soon I was drenched and frozen. I cussed my way home like a sailor.
It's not so much the rain itself that I dislike. It's the way the rainwater chills my bones, decreases my braking power, and leaps off of my rear tire like a miniature fountain, soaking my back in water and mud. Cleaning one's bike and chains after a ride in the rain is a messy hassle.
About twenty minutes after I returned home, the sun re-appeared for a few hours. Baseball teams hold hold spring training in Florida and Arizona for a reason. Spring cycling in Seattle sucks.

Confusing naming conventions

The NCAA regions this year are named St. Louis, Phoenix, East Rutherford, and Atlanta. It's one level of precision too many; the old naming convention of East, South, West, and Midwest worked fine. Where is East Rutherford, anyway?
It reminds me of the naming convention at the Pacific Place parking garage in downtown Seattle, perhaps the best value of any parking garage in a major city in the U.S. To help shoppers remember what floor they parked on, the garage labels its floors (from top to bottom) Seattle, Hong Kong, Sydney, Bangkok, and San Francisco, and each floor is also color coded. The city names and colors are lousy mnemonics, though, because they have no discernible relation to the floor number (Or maybe they do? Pray do tell if you know something I don't). They're simply two arbitrary keys. I often see dazed shoppers wandering up and down the aisles, searching in vain for their automobile.

Ready, AIM,...

I signed up for all those instant messaging services a long time ago and never used any of them. It didn't seem to offer that much more than e-mail, and it all felt a bit of a waste of time, especially since most people I'd IM were in the same office as me.
But now that the holidays are approaching and more people are on vacation, and as I realize that I've lost touch with some of my college buds, I'm going to get back in the game. Don't call it a comeback.
My AOL IM username is eugenewei. Ping me late evenings and you have a good chance of catching me during these dreary winter months.

Yoshimi does battle

One of the cool things about Seattle's symphony hall, Benaroya, is that they occasionally allow rock acts to perform there. Such was the case tonight as Beck and The Flaming Lips paid a visit.
I'm a big fan of both, but I didn't have tickets to this concert which sold out long ago. But how often do you get to hear two groups you love in an acoustically pristine symphony hall? I headed out to scalp myself a pass. I don't know any Flaming Lips fans so I decided to play lone fun-man for a night.
Seattle has been coated with a Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-worthy fog for several days now. Outside Benaroya, a group of scruffy, malnourished Seattle alterna-folks created their own fog of cigarette smoke, standing around looking as if they were hoping someone would hand them a ticket, a veggie burger, or sandwich bag full of weed. I weaved in and out of this group, looking to make that special kind of furtive eye contact that you make when you're meeting someone for the first time in a strange bar and you don't know what they actually look like and you're working off a description ("I'm blond, about five foot four, and I'll be wearing a red sweater"). It's the same kind of eye contact you make when you're looking to scalp tickets.
Tickets were $35 face value, and my first offer was from a particularly malodorous heroin addict in a blue Adidas jumpsuit with a seat in row W, orchestra level. He asked $125. I offered $40. He asked for $100. I offered $40. $80? $40. $75? $40. $80? Uh, you're going the wrong direction bud. $60? I'll think about it.
Some other guy came along, asking if I'd pay $80. Where are the seats, I asked. He pointed at the guy in blue Adidas jumpsuit.
That guy has the seat.
Gee, thanks, who are you, the Ticketmaster of the sidewalk, a NASDAQ market maker?
Another guy came along, asking $85 for a seat in the third tier, nearly the back row. Just about the farthest seat in the auditorium. Man, I thought, there's some irrational exuberance in the scalper's market today. I assessed my competition for these two tickets I'd been offered and realized that these slackers were probably unemployed and wouldn't be able to pay top dollar. If I wanted these seats would be here when the concert started and I could name my price.
By now I had been standing outside in 45 degree weather for about 20 minutes, and in my light jacket I was getting cold. I went inside to stand by the Will Call window, looking to pick off on a more affluent breed of alternative music goer, the kind that thinks, "Wow, Beck is playing at the symphony hall, that should be a nice safe way to sport my alternative stripes." Often these are the folks who buy one too many tickets and who are novices at scalping so they'll take whatever they can get because they're desperate to sell.
Bingo, some guy had an extra. I picked it up for face value. Box seats on the second level, stage right.
The only bummer about scalping tickets at the last minute for this concert is that I didn't have time to get there early to try and volunteer to be one of the stage animals for the Flaming Lips set. I've never seen the Flaming Lips, but I've heard about their stage menagerie. They grab people out of line or out of the crowd before the concert, and those folks dress up in these furry animal suits and dance around during the performance.
This time was no different. The Lips started their set by tossing about 25 beach-ball-sized balloons colored lime green and light pink into the crowd who responded by batting them around. The animals showed up on stage, Wayne Cory and the gang showed up and started cranking away, creating the overwhelming sonic landscapes which make their albums such great demo CDs.
The band members played and danced gamely while balloons from the audience flew on stage and bounced off their heads and equipment. They must be used to it. Their set bordered on performance art given all the colors and eye candy. All the band members, with the exception of Wayne, were dressed up as pink rabbits or some other types of animals. When they played one track from their latest masterpiece Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots a scene from the Japanese movie Battle Royale projected in the background (it's the scene where the girls are in the lighthouse and gun each other to death). Wayne picked out two audience members who were celebrating birthdays that night, covered his face with fake blood, and led the audience in a round of Happy Birthday for the two lucky fans. For another song, Wayne sang while wearing a fog machine around his neck so that he was basically hidden from view. You get the picture--it was wacky stuff.
Wayne is half front man for the Lips (who are from Oklahoma City!?) and half cheerleader. Everytime he felt the crowd settling down he'd hold out his arms in front of him and to the sides and wave them up and down, palms up, as if trying to get us all to stand up. The orchestra crowd would respond with a loud cheer every time.
Beck came on for his solo set after a long stage overhaul and started with a few tracks from Sea Change before cranking up the action with the Lips joining as backup band. He did a healthy mix of old classics (Devil's Haircut, Loser), funky Midnite Vultures tracks, and the new and mellow from Sea Change. He did a Flaming Lips cover, a Velvet Underground cover duet with Wayne, and yes, he did all that weird robotic dancing everyone was waiting for. It was all quite a contrast from Sigur Ros who I saw earlier in the week. They didn't speak a single word to the audience that night.
Beck is proof that anyone can be cool if they're good enough at what they do. If you saw him just out somewhere, from a distance, you'd think he was, well, a loser, and he plays off of that in his lyrics.
There's something really satisfying about spending your evening at an event that you had to scalp tickets for on the day of. It's even better than buying tickets far in advance. It feels like a stolen moment, one with the cachet of spontaneity.