WA Day 7 - No Bake Cookies, Northwest Art, and Nautical Disasters
Today I was very excited to start my day at one of my very favorite coffee shops in the country, a little To Kill a Mockingbird themed cafe and shop in Spokane called Atticus. It’s a very unusual theme, especially so far removed from Alabama, but it works weirdly well in creating a homey artsy space for the community to gather, eat, and work. I spent almost every morning there when I was playing in the college band for NCAA, and it made a big impression on me. They also sell local arts and crafts and a house a great book selection as well (pretty in keeping with the literary theme) which highlights Northwestern authors as well as the classics. I also really loved the logo and backdrop on the cafe walls that beautifully represent themes and quotes from the store’s inspiration.
While all the art and books add the unique vibes of the place, the thing I’ve been fantasizing about ever since my last visit there is something they do called a No-Bake Cookie, which consists of homemade granola and chocolate and peanut butter chunks all held together by some fantastic milk chocolate that was melted all over it and then allowed to harden giving the beautiful mess of ingredients a cookie shape and structure without any baking. I don’t know what it is about it but all the disparate elements come together in such a satisfying and delicious way, and I’ve never quite had a cookie like it anywhere else. They also have fantastic (and crazily cheap) espresso drinks, and I particularly appreciate that in their ice beverages they use crushed ice so it doesn’t take up as much room in the cup. It was a perfect, if not particularly healthy, breakfast.
Next door to the cafe is a funky gift store called Boo Radley’s (I have a sneaking suspicion I could guess the store owners’ favorite book). They sell a melange of pop culture items, including comic books, toys, regular books, and gag gifts. It doesn’t take itself too seriously though and everything there has a winking touch of the ridiculous (for MA folks think Newbury Comics). My personal favorite thing there was a series of wonderfully goofy classic movie monster masks that look like horrible things to put on your fave but pretty excellent things to put on a wall. I was especially happy to see the aliens from Mars Attacks! (an underrated gem) get some lovin’.
After my literary diversions, I walked around Spokane’s beautiful Riverfront Park where you not only get lovely greeneries but also some amazing views of the Spokane River and the smaller Upper Falls and Upper Falls Reservoir.
I didn’t make the hike down to the city’s main waterfall, because I had seen it when I was here last, but it should be noted that it’s pretty spectacular so I would be doing the city a disservice by not including a picture:
Other highlights of the park include a garbage can in the shape of goat called the Garbage Eating Goat, and the stunning Great Northern Clocktower towering 155 ft high. The tower is an art deco holdout from the days of the Great Northern Railroad Depot, and even though the depot may have come and gone the monumental tower has been preserved as the city’s giant grandfather clock, and it’s still wound by hand (!) once a week.
After enjoying the park, I made my way to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, which as the name implied had a little bit of everything including art, historical items, and cultural artifacts from the local Northwestern tribes. The first exhibit I checked out was about the native wildlife, specifically the mighty sockeye salmon. There were some salmon fun facts in the exhibit, but was mostly drawn to the artwork including some impressively lifelike sculptures, and gorgeously psychedelic mosaic artwork by local artist/naturalist Melissa Cole.
In terms of contemporary Northwest Native American art, the staircase was all adorned with acrylic paintings by Spokane artist Ric Gendron, who grew up on the Colville/ Umatilla Reservation northwest of the city. His work had a lush dreamy quality, but with a bit of darkness underneath it in the eyes of his anthropomorphized animal people. It reminded me of a blend of traditional Native American iconography with the counterculture weirdness of artists like Ralph Steadman. I really liked his work, and I wish I could have seen his showcase a year earlier (from which I’m pretty sure the staircase is a holdover from).
The next gallery I went to traced the history of the region during the 20th century through material objects. I really liked seeing all the fancy glassware and ceramics that different residents used to own, because I’ve really become a sucker for that kind of art over the course of these travels. I think the thing I got the biggest kick out of though was learning about the award winning butter and the butter competitions that used to happen at state fairs. I can’t imagine what being a butter judge does to your arteries, but I don’t think those dudes were running marathons.
The staircases continued to be a surprise delight with the next one I went down containing a display that was equal part whimsical, artistically impressive, and really informative about the prehistoric wildlife in the region. Local artist Peter Thomas used exclusively recycled materials such as cardboard, paper, and discarded steel to create models of ancient critters that literally pop out of the walls. The creatures are heavily researched and incredibly lifelike, but his decision to keep them all the same off-white as the wall lends them a playfully abstract quality as well. The display is meant to inspire awe and imagination in visitors and prompt them to learn more about the animals and the ice age with some cool facts and timelines along the walls. The thing I was most shocked to learn is that at one point the region was home to Saber Tooth Salmon (!) which seems like it has to be a joke from the Flintstones but is in fact totally true. I loved the concept and execution of this little stairwell so much and I was super impressed that the artist was able to give all the animals their own hints of personality, especially the little baby mammoth dangling his legs and looking like maybe he knows he shouldn’t have wandered off.
The special exhibit while I was at the museum was a massive, impressively curated exhibit about the Titanic, which unfortunately did not allow photographs. The expansive exhibit was divided into three rooms, one about the building of the ship, one about the ship itself, and one about the crash and the aftermath. All three sections had a mix of vintage period artifacts and recreations of what the ship would have looked like. The latter two sections were the most fascinating to me because both the ship and the wreck were so unprecedented, but regarding the construction of the ship I do get a kick out of the old Catholic legend that the ship really sunk because the Protestant North Irish shipbuilders said “Fuck the Pope” every time they hammered a nail. It’s a bit rude, but I’m pretty sure the iceberg had more to do with it personally.
The facts I personally found the most interesting: The ship had 8 decks for a total height of 104 feet! The first class was so opulent that it not only had its own running water, but it’s own running turkish baths (then again it did cost $57,000 in today’s money so I guess there must have been some expectations for next level luxury)! Despite the intensity of the first class digs, the (relatively) more affordable third class cabins actually provided working class folks with more fanciness than any ship prior by giving these rooms access to their own electricity so everyone could feel like a high-roller. Lest the ship seem to egalitarian, it should be noted that the survival rate for first class passengers was about 40% higher than any other travel class. This is partly due purely to bad luck in cabin placement, but also partly due to certain folks just feeling much more entitled to being saved. In a truly mindblowing story of assholery, there was a shipping magnate from the Titanic’s own White Star Line named Bruce Ismay who not only got on a lifeboat while there were still tons of women and children on board, but, in a real piece de resistance, immediately asked for a private cabin as soon as the lifeboat was rescued. A really sad but very human fact, I learned is that most of the lifeboat’s could have held more people but lots of folks didn’t want to leave the “unsinkable” ship because even while it was mostly underwater they just trusted that it couldn’t really sink.
The story of finding the wreck is almost as interesting as the ship’s ill-fated journey, and the technology that went into creating a vessel capable of scanning the ocean floor for the remains is really incredible. The photos of pristinely preserved luggage hauntingly floating in the deep sea is so eerie and beautiful. I thought the most interesting things to learn about the wreckage is that one of the biggest discoveries was hundreds (plural) of containers of cherry tooth paste at the wreck site (what a weird thing to imagine people using in 1912) and that they discovered that the ship is slowly being devoured by kind of bacteria that feeds on iron and they create these bizarre formations called rusticles. Looking at photos of these rusticles, they seem like something straight out of a ghost story:
In a neat bit of curation, every visitor of the exhibit is given a boarding pass with a real passenger’s name and backstory, and at the end you can see if your person survived or not. It’s sad but it forces more immediate connection and empathy with the human scale of the tragedy, and it’s proven a big success for the museum. According to their press releases, this has been their most popular special exhibit ever and lots of younger kids who are initially kind of tuned out, insisted upon going back when they found out that there passenger didn’t make it because they wanted to understand everything better. It’s a neat way of making history feel more alive.
After the Titanic, I was done with museum’s main building but they still had a lot more to share. One of my favorite things was a series of bronze sculptures by the artist Tom Otterness throughout the property. On their own, the sculptures are super cute cartoon-y fish and rats occasionally wearing silly hats for added adorableness, but if you follow them in the right order you realize they’re all pulling of a heist with some of the fish carrying sacks of cash while others saw of the bars on the museum’s fences so they can sneak down to the amphitheater to meet up with the rats. This adds an amazing extra layer to the piece as a whole, because let’s face it, who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together.
I was glad I followed the animals for their big score, because the amphitheater itself, with its big grassy steps and ivy snaking up the walls, really cut an impressive image in its own right.
Next up, I went to the museum’s archives building to see a small but fun gallery of contemporary Northwest art by an artist named Dick Ibach. Ibach combines pretty grand, interestingly textured impressionist backdrops with goofy caricatured figures. Despite being capable of realist renderings (look at his cars), he intentionally makes the people look ridiculous because he says he wants his work to “speak to the dichotomy of the human condition: both the nobility and the stupidity of it all” I can appreciate that.
While I actually really loved his weird surrealist flourishes, I did enjoy his departure from his primary working style for a super sweet little sculpture of a parent helping a baby take its first steps. It’s still sort of impressionist but it’s very cute.
The last part of the museum was a neat historic home called the Campbell house, that had belonged to a wealthy mining magnate during the turn of the 20th century. In a move of wealthy extravagance at the time, the house was designed in the English Tudor Style, which now gives it the vibe of a cozy British hunting lodge randomly tucked in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
While the outside has become more quaint and cute over time, the inside still has a bit more of that wow factor the magnate had been looking for with fine art on the walls, household items made with the latest technologies and some of the most exquisite craft, and some truly unprecedented (for the time) colorful and stunningly patterned wallpaper. It was all very opulent, but fun to look at it, and I liked that the museum let it be self-guided, whereas most historic homes I’ve been to are guided tours only. It’s nice to actually walk around at your own pace and really feel like you’re stepping into another period of time albeit only from the point of a view of a pretty wealthy individual. It’s a weird mix of totally foreign but oddly familiar, because really while the window dressings may change over time, day to day life is still made of mostly the same routines no matter who you are or when you’re living.
As I was leaving the museum, I had to stop to appreciate an over 12 ft. tall sculpture in the parking lot called the Navigators by Brad Rude, which features a deer, a coyote, and an owl all stacked on top of one another on a large wooden platform. I really love the attention to detail of making such lifelike fully realized animals with the whimsy of having them do something that animals absolutely never do in the real world.
After the museum, I decided to take in some of the natural beauty of the area by strolling through the John A. Finch Arboretum. The tall trees and blooming rhododendrons were really lovely, but the showstopper to me were the views out over the hills into the distance. On both ends of the state, Washington has proven to be one of the prettiest and greenest places I’ve ever been.
After all that exploring, I got some more coffee at a place called Rocket Bakery (which supplies all the non-home-made pastries for Atticus, so I was already a fan). They were super friendly and the coffee was really good necessary.
Fueled up, I went to get dinner at a brewery/restaurant called the Steam Plant, because, crazily enough, it’s housed in an old steam power plant. You’d hardly notice though:
They were super good in both the food and drink departments, and my waitress was very funny and sassy (she did not believe I was of drinking age) so that added to the whole pleasant dinner. For drink I decided to be a bit adventurous getting something called the Huckleberry Harvest Ale which was a light amber ale infused with real Inland Northwest huckleberries. I had never had anything huckleberry flavored, but my waitress assured me that it was an essential thing to try while I was in the northwest so who was I to deny her judgment? It did not disappoint with just a hint of fruity sweetness without being super overpowering, and I really enjoyed it. For food, I got something called the Codfather Sandwich which featured beer battered Alaskan cod, with avocado, cilantro crema, lettuce, and tomato. The fish was unsurprisingly excellent, but the avocado and crema added a breath of freshness that made the sandwich pop in a really tasty way. A very successful meal if I do say so myself.
After dinner, I was shocked to learn that I was actually super close to Idaho, so I didn’t have a crazy long drive to my Air BnB. I had some time to kill, and had done most of the sightseeing I could do in Spokane (all the other cool places were starting to close at this point), so I decided that after getting all jazzed up on Marvel at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, I had to see the newest Avengers movie, Infinity War. I’ll be honest, I really like these movies but I went in with kind of low expectations because I just assumed that balancing such a huge cast would be too unwieldy for any movie, but I was pleasantly surprised by how breezy it felt up until the shockingly downbeat finale. I know that every cynical geek immediately met the ending with “yeah but they’re going to undo all that” but I still give a ton of credit to a major franchise movie being willing to end on such a decidedly depressing cliffhanger. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I literally just sat in my seat stunned for a few moments, because I couldn’t believe that’s where they were ending it. Was it perfect? No. But for the first blockbuster of the upcoming summer, it was a pretty impressive next step in the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe and not a bad way to end the day.
Favorite Random Sightings: Encouragemints; Edamame and Edapapa; Frankie Doodles; The Yuppy Puppy (not even puppies are immune to becoming slaves to capitalism)
Regional Observations: The seemingly official town motto of Spokane is Transcend the Bullshit, which is just incredible especially when put across so much city merchandise:
Albums Listened To: Super-Sonic Jazz by Sun Ra (it’s impressive that such an old album can still sound futuristic); Supreme Clinetele by Ghostface Killah (maybe my favorite Wu Tang Solo Album, though it’s a tough call)
People’s Favorite Jokes: One from the internet:
While making his rounds, a doctor points out an x-ray to a group of medical students.
”As you can see,” he says, “The patient limps because his left fibula and tibia are radically arched”
The doctor turns to one of the students and asks, “What would you do in a case like this?”
”Well,” ponders the student, “I suppose I’d limp, too.”
Favorite Coffee Shop: Atticus in Spokane (though Twede’s Cafe earned a lot of points purely from my Twin Peaks excitement)
Favorite Beer: Reuben’s Brew’s Robust Porter from Seattle
Favorite Bar: Rachel’s Ginger Beer in Seattle
Favorite Restaurant: Duke’s Seafood and Chowder in Tacoma and Seattle (though Pike Place only loses out for not technically being one restaurant)
Favorite Open Mic: Jai Thai in Seattle
Favorite Natural Attraction: Olympic National Park
Favorite Man-Made Attraction: Real toss up between the Museum of Pop Culture and the Chihuly Glass and Gardens, but I give MoPop the edge for sheer sizee
General Impression of the Comedy Scene: The Puget Sound (Seattle and Tacoma) Comedy Scene was one of the most instantly supportive scenes I’ve encountered. Maybe it felt magnified because I started the week in a pretty sad place, but everyone was so kind and welcoming to me and to one another and it really made a big impression on me. Even better they were all really funny too! I felt like it was a scene that really embraced absurdity, though they had a variety of different types of comics. I think in general though there were more short silly jokes than longer stories. I was real happy to be a part of it, even for a short while.
Songs of the Day: