Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quirky Seattle - Fremont

The very first view of Fremont that caught my eyes.
A 20 minutes’ bus ride from Downtown Seattle, and the bus would drop you off near a cafĂ© next to a bridge declaring the place to be Fremont. At first sight, it would be just like any other neighbourhood of Seattle, but look closely and you would be able to notice a colourful funky but informative direction post. Lo behold! You are at the Centre of the Universe. Now notice people around you. At any time of a bright day you would notice people with kids walking or people of bikes moving in a particular direction. Follow them, out of curiosity (not stalking level) and there below the bridge you will meet the famous troll of Seattle!


Welcome to a super interesting and quirky neighbourhood - Fremont!
For many people, who frequently travel to western countries – Graffiti and random statues at middle of some random street might not be an interesting encounter. But being from India, at least the statues and structures at seemingly insignificant corners of Seattle fascinated me a lot. Recently, a blogger friend of mine decided to do a series on street art across the globe and it was that series that prompted me to write this post because Fremont in Seattle is a must visit for its quirkiness!

Do you see the centre of the universe? 
Fremont, Seattle is known to be a treasure house of creativity! From the centre of the universe to life size statue of Lenin, from a troll under the bridge to Patches & Gertrude dancing away to glory – you can see it all during a languid stroll in the neighbourhood! Here are the five things to see when in Fremont Seattle:

Say Hello to the Troll!

1.   Troll under the bridge – I have already mentioned it so many times, that I am sure you knew this was a must in my list. In 1989, Fremont Arts Council decided to give some life to the folklore of troll under the Aurora Bridge and thus this troll was born. But unlike Scandinavian folklore where trolls were feared this troll is a friendly non-living being loved by kids and adults alike and is one of the most frequented sites in Fremont.
A handshake with Lenin?

2.  Statue of Lenin – This life size cast bronze sculpture of Vladimir Lenin was created by Emil Venkov and installed in Slovenia in 1988. Wondering then how it got to Seattle? In 1989, An American veteran - Lewis Carpenter found statue lying in ruin after the 1989 Revolution. As an appreciation and recognition of skill and craftsmanship of Venkov, Carpenter was determined to save the statue. Carpenter mortgaged his house to get the sculpture and got it to Issaquah. After he died the statue was owned by his family and they installed it temporarily in Fremont for viewing and sale. The reason this statue is worth seeing is because apparently, it is the only representation portraying Lenin surrounded by guns and flames instead of holding a book or waving his hat – symbolizing his violet ways of revolution.
When we made the people wear colours of University of Washington

3.  People Waiting for the Interurban – The electric trolleys don’t run from Seattle to Everett anymore, but still some people wait at Fremont to board one. Not real people, but aluminium statues with a dog at Fremont Interurban stop, installed in 1979, are the funkiest of the lot of statues in the area. You can dress them the way you want and make them as real as you want and that makes this buck really special!
Dancing away to glory!

4.  Patches & Gertrude – I didn’t know this, but Patches and Gertrude were titular characters of a famous live kids show that ran for about two decades and had a huge fan following in the Puget Sound region. In 2008, a life size statue of ‘Patches and Gertrude forever in Dance’ was installed, courtesy fan contributions. Interestingly, this installation has a place to leave buttons on Patches’ famously multi button jacket and a bronze TV box in form of a donation box. Donations left with patches makes its way to the Seattle Children’s Hospital – hence making kids happy even after all this time!
I was aiming for the moon and imaging night, in case you are wondering why my eyes are closed.

5.  The Centre of the Universe – Do you want to know exactly how far is moon from where you are standing? Do you know how much distance you need to cover to travel to Antarctica? Do you know where Paris is exactly – distance, direction, any idea? Well the answer is at the Centre of the Universe if the a colourful post right at the start of Fremont Neighbourhood. And if you like geography or are inquisitive about random distances and places – you must spend some time at the Centre of the Universe!

Apart from theses – you should also see the rocket, have some local cider, and be part of some Neighbourhood parade like the Oktober Fest or Solstice parade!
Have you been to any place that is equally fun and quirky? Do let me know in the comments below!

In case you just want to spend a peaceful evening - Fremont has that option too!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kashmir Tales – The Carpet Weavers

If you guys have been following my blog regularly, you might have noticed I always go quiet for two weeks every three months. First of all - my apologies and than you all for still following me! I am trying to juggle with work and full time education along with travelling and my travel blog, and every 3 month I have exams which leaves me with no time to write for a week. But as always, I am back and this time with the final chapter of my Kashmir Tales.

The carpet weaving machine
Kashmir flaunts its pristine gift of nature and survives with quaint, war zoned, recovering lanes full hopeful faces searching for life and smiling at what they have. Beautiful, quiet and enchanting is the place but equally amazing is the amount of art that flourished and has survived in this state. We have all heard of the Pashmina weaving that happens only in Kashmir but another thing that is ethnic to Kashmir is the Kashmiri carpet and rug weaving and guess what carpets made in Kashmir are not famous just in India but worldwide!

When I travel, I interact a lot with locals, get to know the place and its people as much as I can, collect stories, but often fail to pen them all down. In this current series of Kashmir Tales, I have made a conscious effort to share a piece of my local exploration of Kashmir and today I want to tell you more about the carpet weavers of the area.

During my stay in Srinagar I visited one of the premier carpet manufacturers and dealers of Kashmiri Carpets – Shawart Palace. Not really old, but well known for bringing a lot of carpet weavers under one roof. Right when you enter Shawart, you see a loom and a man weaving there, pretty oblivious to the customers entering and staring at his work. You see the work for about 20 minutes and it leaves you awestruck. You walk inside and you see a plethora of completed designs and you are mesmerized with the intricate work that has gone into each of the carpets and rugs in the room.

Rug and carpet weaving in Kashmir dates back to 11th century when the locals wove simpleton rugs for their own houses. Eventually with advent of Mughals in the Kashmir valley the rugs got artistic. But it was in the early 15th century when Badshah Zain-ul-Abidin brought a lot of Persian artisans with him to the valley who with the locals created regal rugs and carpets by blending pure wool and silk and by using the old school Persian techniques of hand woven rugs.

My dad, deep in conversation with the owner of the place.
The store owner at Shawart Palace told us that Kashmiri Carpets were famous because of their design and technique. Unlike the common carpets, that are tufted, Kashmiri rugs are hand knotted and hence are strong and ageless in a way. He also told me how these carpets are in high demand abroad, especially in gulf countries for, unlike the Persian rugs, Kashmiri rugs use bright colours as major thread work is of silk on wool and still manage to create major Islamic designs, oriental prints, floral styles and now days a lot of Rajasthani prints too. He said they have 50 something weavers working for their store and one weaver finishes a standard 900 by 900 knots carpet in about 8 months but as carpets sell for very high rates abroad it the produce is enough to give the workers, the shop and the actual carpet handloom more than enough revenue per year.

I did not dare ask him how much overpriced or under-priced a rug is at the store for Indians from the point of view of a weaver and how much a weaver earns. Neither did I questions the price of the ones they export, because looking around at the work I thought rich people wouldn’t mind paying for the quality they would be getting due to the skillfulness and diligence of the craftsmen who pour their hearts out for months to create these seemingly ostentatious carpets.

I feel a lot of times that some form of art is priceless and the Kashmiri carpets sure seem to fall in the priceless zone.

Do you guys talk to locals during your travel and try to find more about some famous art or cultural trait of the place? Do let me know in the comments below.