Catching Up On Last Weekend

Flying into the midwest was quite a bit different on Sunday than it was last month.  From the vertical vantage of six miles, the riotous reds and golds of the deciduous forests have given way to a uniform pall of dog-fur brown.  Last month, the Minnesota lakes were a froth of frenzied last-minute water sports, myriad white slashes carved into the chilling blue water;  Sunday, the only thing stirring the water’s surface was a persistent arctic wind that rocked my plane as it made its final approach to MSP.  The marina berths that had hosted the summer hierarchy of local aquatic social distinction are now barren, windswept lattices overlaying water for which freezing is an imperative as urgent as childbirth.

I retrieved my Wisconsin bicycle from the custody of my client’s owner, but the 1-mile ride from my hotel to the gym where I purchase a-la-carte workouts left my fingers in a mind-bending agony as they relived their Toledo Blade winter paper-boy abuse.  The euphoria that accompanied the bike’s purchase in August begins to look like a mortgage for which the collateral (the pleasure of evening bike rides) is insufficient.  (anyone have Secretary Paulson’s email address?)

We attended a wedding Saturday night of a couple who are great friends of our son’s, and climbing companions of Mrs. Perils.  The wedding ceremony was held at a Methodist church near the University of Washington, and later we attended a reception and dinner in the Chinese Room in the Smith Tower downtown.

The ceremony was unapologetically religious, officiated by a woman minister.  We tried to remember the last time we’d been inside a church for any reason, wedding or no, with inconclusive results.  Perhaps for that reason, I tracked the syntax of the ceremony closely, marking the iconic stuff that I used to accept as general cultural commonplace, but that is now part of the geologic edifice of our cultural divide.

The language of scripture and sacrament employed was mostly elegant and often, even to a non-combatant, stirring.  I was raised as a Methodist, but I’m not sure I ever attended a Methodist wedding.  I tracked its layered progression of commitment, the invocation of Christ as progenitor of the institution and as a benevolent third party.  I noted the unambiguous (but not strident) assertion of marriage between “a man and woman”.  I actually thrilled at the climactic vows of devotion unto death, and the challenge to us as friends and witnesses to nurture the union.

I came away thinking that it would be impossible (for me, at least) to participate in that particular ritual perfunctorily, if I knew beforehand what bargain was being struck, either to accommodate my partner or to placate relatives.  I couldn’t stand there bathed in the sincere aura of a particular commitment not only to an enduring contract with my partner, but also the stark acknowledgement of the Christian brand on the entire process, if I were an iota less than convicted.

This is not a criticism or the condescension of a cynical non-believer (which I can evince at times);  rather, it’s a revelation to me, delivered via a close attention to the language and solemnity of the service, that one must, at certain pivotal moments, unambiguously examine the essence of his/her beliefs and character and act with truthful vehemence.

The reception was held on the 35th floor of the Smith Tower downtown.  Built in 1914, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi for decades.

The crown jewel of the Smith Tower is the legendary 35th floor Chinese Room. The room’s name derives from the extensive carved wood and porcelain ceiling and the elaborately carved blackwood furniture that were gifts to Mr. Smith from the Empress of China. The observatory’s furnishings include the famed Wishing Chair. The chair, product of the skill of a Chinese carver and quite likely the skill of an early day virtuoso publicity man, incorporates a carved dragon and a phoenix, which when combined, portends marriage.

The night was unseasonably warm, and there were doors leading outside to a promenade around the perimeter of the building. A few (well, probably too many) photos (Click photos to enlarge):

This is the ornate elevator bank in the lobby.  I hadn’t been in the building in easily 20 years, and wasn’t sure whether they still had human elevator operators.  They do.

Here’s the view from the observation deck.  On the left, looking north down 2nd Avenue; on the right, looking up at the pyramid top of the building:

On the left, Qwest Field, where the Seahawks play. The shot on the right was pointed out to me by a professional photographer who admired the perfect circles of light. I told him I was totally going to steal this bit of intellectual property, and he graciously assented:

(Update) One more - a shot of the ceiling of the Chinese Room:


  1. interesting self-knowledge gained from a wedding ceremony. j’accord.

    thanks for the pix. got any of the chinese room?

  2. Phil:

    Roger - only one photo from the Chinese Room, a picture of the ceiling which I’ll add to the collection in a bit. I didn’t want to run around the room detonating my flash, since it wasn’t my kid getting married.

  3. beatriz:

    Well, I really like this young couple, so was tolerant of the Jeebus blather.
    But I am not tolerant of religous clap trap in general, and think it is irrational and often destructive.

  4. I stumbled upon your blog and I really enjoy your crafty spin of words. Your take on the wedding caught me up in my own memory of the particular phrases used at a friend’s hyper-religious ceremony. This experience often flashes in my mind when I consider whether to convert for my boyfriend’s family. It would make his parents so happy….and yet, could I stand there and utter these phrases with any shred of integrity? That I am not sure of. But you put things so eloquently…and being someone who grew up in the Methow (Wenatchee) Valley area, it’s fun to see a Washontonian blogger.

  5. Phil:

    Zora - thanks for stumbling by, and for your kind words. The religion thing is so binary - either you believe, or you don’t. I don’t think there’s a middle ground. Good luck on navigating that situation. It might be good to remember that it’s your event, and the others are there at your pleasure.

  6. I’m a less honourable soul than you are, Phil. My first marriage was in church, my wife-to-be and I having decided to ‘placate relatives’. My only concession to the creditable respect for creed that you declare above was to inform both sets of parents, my grandmother and the officiating minister prior to the service that I was not a believer. This being the good old flexible Anglican faith in a decidedly Tory area, no one gave a toss so long as I went through the motions. That experience of doctrinal pragmatism did little to deepen my respect for the Church as an institution.

  7. Carroll:

    Heh — interesting discussion. I am reminded that our younger son, having been raised to the best of anyone’s recollection as “good person”, but a complete heathen, went staunchly down the “placate the parents” route when he married into a Vietnamese Buddhist/Catholic family. Fortunately, the Buddhist priest/paternal uncle who performed the family ceremony in their living room actually pronounced them man and wife. Later on when they got to the Catholic church, the Vietnamese priest was so rattled by the unusual presence of all the waspy faces in his audience that he completely left out that important little detail. Since much of the ceremony was in Vietnamese, I’m really not sure if the kid actually knows *what* he so agreeably vowed that day.

  8. Phil:

    Dick, at least they didn’t hold a purification bonfire. If old Hank VIII could use the institution to swap wives, it’ll serve your purposes, too ;-)

    Carroll, that’s a funny story. Actually, we should probably take an attorney to the ceremony instead of a best man.