I feel like I’ve been to enough parts of America now (major cities visited, not just in the changing-planes sense, in the last year: San Francisco, Boston, Portland (OR), New York, New Orleans, Seattle, Baltimore, holy crap that’s quite a lot actually) to get a sense of how diverse a country this actually is. More geographically than socially, since I spent most of my time in all those cities with a) Fulbrighters, b) scientists, or c) geeky people (groups who overlap in a number of important ways), but a sense nonetheless.
I was in Seattle for twelve days, longer than I’ve stayed anywhere except Western Massachusetts, though – as I noted in previous posts – most of that time was spent in a darkened room staring at bits of seafloor near the Galapagos Islands, so I probably didn’t get as much of a sense of Seattle proper as you normally could with that amount of time.
Since my PhD supervisor lived in Seattle for twelve years while doing his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD, we did get the “the University of Washington’s Architecture Is So Much Better Than UMass” tour. And you know? It is, because UMass mostly subscribes to the same architectural school as Canty’s Ilam campus, also known as the Soviet Government Building school of architecture, with a lot of very blocky concrete, tempered by a bunch of prettier older buildings scattered hither and yon. UW has clearly poured a lot of money into their grounds and buildings, and it shows.
On the other hand, it’s a bit depressing wandering around your supervisor’s former school while he tells you that it’s so much better than the one you’re at, so I focused on the fact that the Pacific Northwest is very earthquake prone and UW has an awful lot of stonework. Also, Mt. Rainier, which looms south of Seattle like a lovely white vision of inevitable firey death. We may have been having a very eventful year weatherwise here in Western Mass (see: blizzards, record snowfall, record rainfall, tornadoes, heatwave), but inevitable firey death is not a problem on our horizon.
Like Portland and San Francisco, though, Seattle reminded me very much of Wellington, or all of New Zealand really. Not just that it’s a coastal city – so are New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, and Boston – but in the relative youth of the architecture, in the hills (and trolley buses, OK, that bit was very Wellington) and in the weather and vegetation (Pinus Radiata!), which was much more like home. The weather was actually a real disappointment, given that during most of the time I was in Seattle, the rest of the country was having a Heat Wave of Doom and Seattle was struggling to hit 20C, which is my bare minimum for a decent summer temperature. (I spend a lot of summertime in New Zealand being disappointed vis-a-vis decent summer temperatures. I’m still not sure about this whole Four Months of Snow thing, but Four Months Of Potentially Reaching 30C Every Day is A-OK by me.) But it’s a lovely place, overall, with a lovely downtown area – again, sort of like a souped-up Auckland – and I’d like to go back when I actually have time to do touristy things for more than thirty seconds. Trouble is, though, for everywhere I’ve been in America so far, there’s somewhere else I still want to go – I haven’t even touched the entire Midwest or Southwest, for starters.
The Mid-Atlantic, however, I can tick off, since last weekend we took Bob the Toyota Camry and roadtripped down to Baltimore with friends for Otakon (frankly, I’m not quite sure how we wound up at an anime convention either, but it was awesome.) I want to do a whole proper post about that adventure once I get the pictures off my friend’s camera, since it deserves a proper retelling, but it did mean we drove through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and I got all excited all over again when New York hoved into view because I can forget I’m in a foreign country sometimes, but seeing the New York skyline makes me excited all over again every time. So did the signs for Washington D.C., but I couldn’t quite persuade everyone else that the sixty-mile side-trip was worth it. It did a good job of impressing on me just how big this place is; Baltimore is practically next door to Massachusetts on a large enough world map, but it’s a good eight or nine-hour drive from gently rolling forested hills through flat marshy plains to different forested hills, and there’s still a long way between there and Florida. Now we’ve done it, I suddenly want to try driving other places. Like I said when we got the car in December, the idea that we could just get in the car and drive for thousands of miles without stopping thrilled me. Since we’ve managed a few hundred, the thousands are a bit more tempting. Maybe next summer.
Anyway, when I get my hands on those photos, you’ll get to hear a story of car breakdowns, facepaint, accidental side-trips through upstate New York, police helicopters, kittens, and a corset, which makes it sound a lot more exciting than it actually was but definitely involves every one of those things, though maybe not quite in that order. Promise.