Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest

Unexpectedly, I ended up in Seattle.

My bags were packed for a nice New York City summer weekend (shorts, t-shirts, flip flops) but instead I took off for Seattle. Wrong clothes, wrong place, though last-minute travel still carries a thrill of spontaneity, even when you’re flying cross-country for a funeral.

Everybody has at least one friend in Seattle. It’s that kind of city where you’re bound to find that personal connection. And yet I never realized so many people lived out there–enough to fill up every cubicle on every floor of every earthquake-proof skyscraper. Back on the East Coast we like to think we invented all of America’s big cities, but no . . .

I come from the other Washington–DC–where it gets unbearably hot and sticky in the summer; where men sweat through three-piece suits and women wear impractical shoes; where any day you might pick up the Post and know somebody who’s in it and everyday there’s some kind of vigilant protest brewing on the Mall.

West coast Washington is a little less uptight but a whole lot damper. The stereotype about Seattle’s drizzled, overcast skies held true for me and in spite of summer, the day’s “high” was a shoulder-shaking 52 degrees. Dark, unorganized clouds greeted me in the morning and I started to understand the whole coffee thing–how this one city had unleashed Starbucks on the rest of us like a misunderstood gift of the heart.

The day after the funeral, another friend I was crashing with whipped out a yellow legal pad and began making a list of things to see and do in Seattle. Mostly, he suggested I do a lot eating. We made plans to meet up for lunch at a popular Russian café; my friend slipped me the address as we walked downtown. I had no map and no idea how I would find him.“Just remember,” he panted, “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.” He ran all the words together as one and it didn’t make any sense at all.


“It’s a way to remember the streets: Jesus is for Jefferson/James. Christ–Cherry and Columbia. Made–Marion/Madison . . . and so on, you’ll see. It’s easy–just follow the streets in that order. Be at Cherry and Third at one o’clock.”

Jesus! Christ! Made! Seattle! Under! Protest!” he shouted out each word as he spun around the corner and marched uphill. Every street in Seattle goes up or down.

I didn’t expect to find him again, ever. Normally, I take pride in my sense of direction. I never get lost in new cities and if I do, I just pretend that I’m exploring. But Seattle was a little confusing for me–no matter how many American cities claim to be laid out in a grid pattern, they all have their idiosyncratic exceptions to the rules, like Germanic languages. In the other Washington, we take pride in our many exceptions to the rules–in naming streets and in running the country.

I found Pike Place Market all by myself–not so hard. I just followed the street until I could see the sea, or “the Sound” rather. The sun was thinking about maybe coming out–there was a bit of backlight that made the sky look less grey and bit more like a faded watercolor. I began to wander through the stimulus of the market, comforted by the colors or neon signs and bright vegetables. I bought English tea packed in happy little tea tins–the kind you keep even after the tea is gone. I sampled Rainier cherries and dried apples from Wenatchee. I waited alongside a pack of tourists for the handsome bearded fishmongers to fling some twelve-pound salmon through the air, shifting back and forth on my two feet and hugging myself from the cold.

When I was a teenager, Seattle was so cool–it was this whole abstract fashion concept from a faraway foreign city. Now suddenly, having finally made it to Seattle, all those grunge styles sported by midwestern mall mannequins in the 90s made perfect sense. Here I stood, in July, shivering in a T-shirt-longing for facial hair or at least a thick flannel over long underwear or a groovy knit beanie on my head.

Seattle was still cool, I realized. All the people looked so damn cool, all dressed and ready for battle. The guy selling cherries had giant black plastic horns pushed through holes in his ears and his hair cut like a vicious pixie. The bikers and skaters wore helmets with dancing flames on the sides. The girl scooping organic ice cream for tourists had a pair of matching red devil faces tattooed into her inner elbows, two evil grins flashing poisonous fangs back at me through the frosted glass. Such a pretty girl, I thought. Why devils?

And then I remembered: “Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest.” The premise was ridiculous–“What does that even mean?” I wondered. God loves everyone. I mean, He did hate a few cities in the Old Testament, too, as I recall, but I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and Seattle is not listed once, anywhere. Also, there are actual things that Jesus Christ did protest in real life, like common hypocrisy and the gaudy merchandising outside the temple in Jerusalem.

A city built against God’s best wishes, belligerent to the core–a kind of unholy city whose streets spelled out this almost anti-Christian agenda. I wondered as I wandered back into the square-cut grid of downtown, trying to navigate myself through the streets: Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest. I kept walking south, ticking backwards through my friend’s mnemonic device: Pike–Protest . . . Under . . . Seattle . . . Made . . . checking each street sign until finally I came to “C”, Christ–Columbia–Another block and there it was, Cherry Street, and there was my friend and a window filled with hot piroshky.
That same afternoon I napped on a bench near the waterfront and when I woke up, there was sunshine-not warmth, but light, yes. Seattle is like so many northern places–one may moan about the lousy weather, but if and when the sun does shine, it’s simply glorious. Suddenly there were pretty pine trees everywhere, quiet silver waves slapping the shores of the Puget Sound, and snowy pyramid mountains in the background. If God ever did protest Seattle, it’s only because the city occupies some pretty divine real estate.

Not that God could actually have anything against Seattle. Some of His best friends live in Seattle, I thought, just like me. My friend’s funeral was still fresh in my mind, as were the lyrics of Nirvana’s song “Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle“–the song whose chorus moans, “I miss the comfort of being sad.” It’s a backhanded slogan for the city that gave us grunge and caffeine addictions but also a common feeling among all travelers.

As I travel here, there, and everywhere in the world, I still wonder: Are sad places just sad on their own or do we make them sad by arriving with our own carry-on sadness? Do we ever let the destination just be the destination or do we turn to our own ideas about what it should be, based on a lifetime of prejudice and teenage notions?

My own teenage notion was to go visit Kurt Cobain’s house on Lake Washington–the one the rock star died in. It’s become a sort of insider’s drive-by tourist attraction that overlooks beautiful Lake Washington. “It’s a nice drive,” my friend kept reassuring me, promising to take me. But then we never went: too little time, too many other things to do. After 36 hours in the Emerald City, I found myself waiting in line at Sea-Tac, boarding a red-eye home, neck pillow in hand.

Perhaps Seattle was better that way. Yeah, I liked Kurt Cobain like everybody else but I was still unsure about seeing that pretty place where the icon had died–I was still coping with the pretty city where my friend had lived. And that was enough.

[All photos by Andrew Evans]

In Oberammergau: the most “passionate” performance you will ever see

Now you can visit a plague-ridden era and watch history unfold. No, this is not an invitation to get busy with swine flu. Instead, head out to Oberammergau, Bavaria and witness a performance that has been carried out for centuries.

In 1633, Oberammergau’s population was decimated by the Plague. The villagers were brutalized, but their spirit remained strong, and they promised to act out the events of the last days of Jesus Christ, ending in the resurrection, every tenth year. This Passion performance, sans any influence from Mel Gibson, is an extremely local affair. If you weren’t born in the village or haven’t lived there for at least 20 years, the best you can do is watch with the masses. The stage is reserved for the true villagers.

Half the village is engaged to assist, from acting to playing music to creating costumes – in the case of Oberammergau, that’s 2,500 people out of a 5,200-person population. In what seems like a scene from The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis (who is more famous for his other book, The Last Temptation of Christ), lead roles are sketched out on a chalk board, while all of Oberammergau waits anxiously. The parts are assigned the year before. In the run-up to the performance, the cast grows its hair long and cultivates beards (not the women, of course), as wigs are not permitted.

While you’re in the village, ask around to see if the actors assume the characteristics of their assignments, as they did in the book by Kazantzakis. In the novel, the poor guy assigned to play Judas couldn’t get anyone to hang out with him. But, he took the part for a good cause.

From May 15, 2010 to October 3, 2010, the forty-first Oberammergau Passion will be performed 102 times, with each showing lasting around five hours. It runs from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM, with the time in between reserved for dinner. Though the symphony-sized orchestra is protected from the elements, the actors are exposed to the whims of the seasons, much like the figures they depict.

If you’re interested in experiencing this rare event, catch a flight to Munich, and drive the 55 miles to Oberammergau. Packages are available in town for one or two nights. Without a doubt, this is a unique performance, and any travel or theater junkie should absolutely experience it at least once. You could put it off a decade … but why wait?

Here’s a bit from ol’ Mel, in case you need a refresher:

Giveaway: Win a copy of David Farley’s An Irreverent Curiosity

Last week, Gadling interviewed travel writer David Farley. Now, we’re excited to give away a copy of his hilarious, quirky and fantastic new book, An Irreverent Curiosity. Chronicling his tales in the tiny Italian village of Calcata in search of the lost foreskin of Jesus, An Irreverent Curiosity is a great read.

Back in 2006, David Farley uprooted his life in New York and moved to Italy with his wife and dog to solve a mystery: What happened to Jesus’ foreskin? The townspeople didn’t trust him. The Vatican rebuffed him. And the odd cast of characters kept him amused, befuddled and intoxicated. It all makes for a fantastic tale and now a copy of the book can be yours. For FREE!

Leave a short comment sharing what missing relic, artifact or curiosity you’d love to find. The Holy Grail? Noah’s Ark? The secret to Miley Cyrus’ popularity? You name it, and the winner will be randomly selected.

  • The comment must be left before Friday, July 17 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • The winner will receive a signed copy of the hardcover book An Irreverent Curiosity (valued at $25).
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Talking Travel: David Farley, Author of An Irreverent Curiosity

    Striking a balance between being informative and being entertaining is one of the most difficult aspects of non-fiction writing. And when it comes to travel writing, it becomes even more challenging. The author needs to educate readers about people and places while also keeping them engaged in his own personal story. Thankfully, travel writer David Farley has done just that and managed to go the extra mile of writing a truly enjoyable, educational and funny chronicle of his time in Calcata, Italy searching for Jesus’ foreskin. Yes, you read that correctly. He was searching for the lost foreskin of Jesus and details it in his new book, An Irreverent Curiosity

    Along the way, he met a wide array of locals, each quirkier than the last. He deceived priests at the Vatican, befriended a woman who talks to birds and managed to put a tiny village back on the map. I recently sat down with Farley at a bar in New York City to discuss his adventure, how he ended up being called Gary Coleman and what it’s like to be known as “the foreskin guy.”
    Mike Barish (MB):
    I’m sure everyone asks you this, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. So why Jesus’ foreskin?
    David Farley (DF): Why not Jesus’ foreskin? Who had actually thought of Jesus’ foreskin until you heard of it the first time. The first time I heard “Holy Foreskin” with those two words in succession to each other I thought it was some sort of foreskin fetish magazine.

    MB: At the beginning of the story you talk about how you wanted an adventure, but you didn’t know exactly where you wanted to go. What made you want to uproot yourself, head to a tiny Italian village and search for the lost foreskin of Jesus Christ?
    DF: Just out of habit of not really staying in one place at one time. Before that in the last 10 years, I had moved around so much from Santa Cruz, Prague, San Francisco, Paris, Rome, and a few years in New York. I just started to get antsy again, so my wife and I both were thinking about moving somewhere for awhile but didn’t know where. She had been reminding me about Calcata because we went there on a day trip when we lived in Rome, and it was such a fantastical place with all these crazy bohemian types there. It looks like a classic medieval Italian town, but once you start wandering around, you see that there is an absurd amount of art galleries and people are dressed in saris. You start talking to people and they start speaking about this weird energy that comes from the rock and stuff. Then I came across the story of the Holy Foreskin, and that’s when I realized that it was interesting enough.

    In towns of that size [Author’s note: Calcata has app. 100 people], you often encounter two types of people: those who are very excited to have an outsider and those who are incredibly distrustful of the interloper. Overall, was Calcata inviting or suspicious towards you?
    DF: I expected it to be really distrustful, especially because I was coming there to speak about a relic that I thought was a taboo subject. It wasn’t taboo at all, and Calcata is really welcoming. Pretty much everyone there was really welcoming of me there and really curious about me at the same time. It really went beyond my expectations. I really thought that some guy from New York showing up who claims to be a journalist, is mentioning writing a book about his time there; I thought that a lot of people would be really suspicious of me. Maybe they were, but maybe I just didn’t realize it.

    MB: You were confronted by some priests at the Vatican while you were attempting to research the Holy Foreskin. When they asked for your name, you panicked. Why did you tell them that your name is Gary Coleman?
    DF: Because, first of all, I was just talking about Gary the night before with an actor who spends his weekends in Calcata and who was in the Italian production of Avenue Q, which in Italy is called Viale T. He was just telling me that there is this part where they say, “I’m Gary Coleman,” and that’s one reason. I thought that was really funny. Then he told me when Diff’rent Strokes aired in Italy in the 80s, and if you were of a certain age everyone knew who Gary Coleman was and the famous phrase: che cosa stai dicendo, Willis (What you talking about, Willis?). I thought that was really hilarious. I even thanked him in the first book that I co-edited, Travelers’ Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories. He’s in the acknowledgments and gets a big thank you.

    MB: Some of my favorite parts of the book are your interactions with the Vatican and other scholars and how you always tried to come up with a diplomatic way to bring up the Holy Foreskin so as to not be laughed out of the room (or aggressively dismissed from the room). On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Martin Luther and 10 being Martin Lawrence, how much of a sense of humor does the Vatican have?
    DF: From my experience it would have to be a 1. They are an ancient institution that is having trouble keeping up with the modern world. So you get people like me coming in asking questions about this ancient relic that used to be part of the institution of Catholicism and the church, and they don’t know how to deal with it. If it were 500 – 600 years ago and I came in asking about the Holy Foreskin, they probably would have invited me in to lounge on their sofa and ask all the questions I wanted to about the Holy Foreskin. Now, of course, things have changed.

    MB: In your recent WorldHum article, you talk about how there were mixed reactions to you writing an New York Times article about Calcata. Now you have a whole book about the town. Are you persona non grata, persona quasi grata? What is your relationship with the town and the town’s people now?
    DF: Some people won’t be happy with it. I didn’t say anything intentionally bad about anyone in the book, but you never know how people are going to react to the way things are mentioned or characterized in the book. I think Calcata is a special case because the village was abandoned and the people there who still live there, these artists and bohemian types, felt like they saved the village because they did have it taken off of the condemned list. They feel really protective over it. So it is particular to Calcata that anything you write about, people are going to kind of react to in a certain extreme way just because it’s like they’re looking after their child or something like that.

    MB: Part of
    the story is that a German soldier during WWII had the foreskin, brought it Calcata, and that’s how it arrived in the village. The only real interaction that people have with Nazis and Catholicism up until now is in Indiana Jones. Were you at all concerned that had you laid eyes on the foreskin that your face would melt?
    DF: That wasn’t my concern, but my concern would be that my hands would become numb, because if you remember from the story, that everyone was trying to untie the sack that held something in it and their hands would become numb. They needed a woman of complete purity to open it, and they found a seven-year-old girl named Clarice, to do it and she opened it. So not being a man of complete purity, I think that I wouldn’t have much of a chance of touching the Holy Foreskin without my hands or another part of my body becoming completely stiff.

    MB: To me, one of the most wonderful parts of the book is that it is about you wanting to shake yourself out of your comfort zone and go on an adventure. What advice would you give to people who are maybe thinking about uprooting their lives? How do you break that inertia and say I’m going to do it?
    DF: Right. I actually don’t have any practical advice for that except just to say the annoying answer is just to say that you have to do it. I’ve done it 3 or 4 times in my life already where I’ve just moved somewhere for that reason just to welcome the unfamiliar, uncomfortable. At times it sucks but in the end you become a much better, wiser person for that. You really just have to have the courage to do it. Changeability changes your world.

    MB: J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye and never released anything after that. He’s known for The Catcher in the Rye, which not a bad way to be remembered. Now, heaven forbid writer’s block attacks you or no story catches on the way searching for the Holy Foreskin does, have you come to peace with being the Holy Foreskin guy?
    DF: No, I haven’t. I was at a party a few months ago on the Upper West Side and somehow it was at one point where the topic of circumcision came up. As soon as it did, everyone looked at me, and I said, “What?” I knew why they were looking at me, but it was just kind of funny that just circumcision, nothing to do with historic circumcision or Jesus’ circumcision, but just circumcision in general made everyone look at me. So it would be nice in a weird way to write something else that I might be known for other than Jesus’ foreskin. I hope that I do, but until that happens, I will just be Mr. Holy Foreskin, I guess.

    David Farley’s travel writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and National Geographic Adventure amongst other publications. He also once showed Gadling what’s in his pack. His new book, An Irreverent Curiosity, is in stores now.