My tour’s arrival in Seattle coincided with three straight days of unusual sunshine and the Seattle Cheese Festival.  I have been a die hard cheesehound ever since I was formally introduced to the stuff waiting tables in Manhattan restaurants.  Even though I am lucky enough to have put that job behind me, my passion for good food and cheese challenges me to maintain actress-like proportions.  Nonetheless, I donned fat pants last Saturday, stuffed an umbrella in my purse (just in case!) and trotted down to the Seattle Cheese Festival.

This totally free festival takes place on the cobblestone streets of Pike Place Market.  Anyone who lives in or has ever visited Seattle will say that “you simply must” go to Pike Place Market during the course of your stay.  They would be right.  The market presents an overwhelming array of fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, honey, souvenirs, and last Saturday and Sunday, cheese.  Vendors range from biggies like Cabot to locals like Mt. Townsend Creamery to award winners like Cypress Grove and everything in between.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been overwhelmed by cheese.  This was one of those times.  I quickly abandoned my plan to eat from one end of the fair to the other.  With so many terrific options, I could afford to be choosy.  I began to lean towards local cheeses, turning down a perfectly good sample of an Ossau Traty, one of my faves, in favor of local or unusual cheeses.  (I did, however, shy away from Wisconsin State University’s cheese in a can.  Too unusual.)  Interestingly enough, I found each cheese indicative of its culture– no pun intended.  Many Midwestern creameries added flavors to their cheese such as dill, jalapeno, and garlic, which irritated a purist like me.  An English cheddar representative proclaimed loudly that his cheese had been eaten at the Royal Wedding, the veracity of which I doubted, but nonetheless people literally gobbled it up.  I restricted my purchases to Mt. Townsend Creamery’s  Off Kilter, a semi-soft cheese washed in Scotch Ale and Rougette’s Bavarian Red, triple cream, washed rind, soft-ripened cheese.  (Full confession:  I purchased the latter in part because the Rougette people were wearing leiderhosen.  Hey, I’m an actress.  I give points for costume.)

The market worked its charms on me as well: in addition to cheese, I purchased a baguette, a box of artisan crackers, a pound of Washington cherries, dried mangoes, and a bouquet of pink and white tulips.  I couldn’t take advantage of the wine pairing because I had a seven-hour rehearsal later that day.  Nor did I take advantage of any $40 educational seminars, which had titles like, “Great British Cheese Meets Great American Beer” and “Is My Cheese Safe?”  If I had a little more advance notice, I could have attended.  If I’m lucky enough to be in or around Seattle in years to come, I will not let the cheese festival take me by surprise.  I will pack some Tums and my fat pants and be ready for it.

Gotta Love Seattle

“It’s easy.  You just get on at Sea Tac and ride straight to Westlake.”

The Homewood Suites employee was explaining to me over the phone how easy the freshly inaugurated Seattle Light Rail made it to get from the airport to the hotel.

“It costs $2.50.  Once you’re at Westlake, we’ll send the hotel shuttle to pick you up.”

Much cheered by the prospect of saving $45 on a cab, I hung up the phone and continued to pack for my flight.  The next day I landed at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport at 10:15 PM my time (7:15 local), collected my 100 lbs’ worth of luggage and hauled ass to the Light Rail.  I followed sign after sign after sign pointing me in its direction.  It was a hell of a walk.  My Ipod made it through Bille Jean, Bad and Gotta Be Startin’ Something before I got there.  But when I did, I found a brand-spanking new train with hardly any passengers.  I purchased a ticket that no machine collected.  (In my experience West Coast public transport relies heavily on the honor system.  Eventually I handed my ticket to a collector a few minutes before my stop, but if I had departed at, say, Rainier Beach, I could’ve ridden for free.)

Once off at Westlake, the shopping mallish center of Seattle, I called for the shuttle.  “The fire alarm just went off,” Amy-at-the-desk explained.  “The fire department just arrived. It might be a few minutes.”  When I got there the lobby was full of frenzied evacuees, but Amy checked me in with remarkable speed and efficiency, assuring me that the elevators were back on.  I ascended to my suite and gasped in pleasure.  My Seattle digs resemble a fairly spacious NYC one bedroom.  It has tasteful artwork, plants, a galley kitchen, a giant bathroom, a dishwasher and a balcony.  Sure, it overlooks a highway, but in Seattle the highways are lined with trees.  Big, beautiful trees.  I skipped around the rooms for a few minutes, then called my husband to express my elation.

The next morning I awoke to a blissfully sunny day.  I showed up in the lobby for breakfast at a quarter to eight.  (Jet lag.)  The breakfast buffet overwhelmed me at first, but I eschewed the sausage and eggs for a sensible yogurt and hard-boiled egg.  I had plenty of time to kill before my 1:30 rehearsal, but the internet connection was excellent– this is Seattle, after all– and I killed time easily.  At the theatre I was joined by equally gleeful castmates.

“I caught a fish!” squealed a homosexual who wouldn’t ordinarily touch the stuff.  Another cast member was clutching a bouquet of tulips.  Another had already been to the Aquarium.  “Did you see the octopus?” I asked.  “Yes!” he cried.  “I love Seattle!”

Me, too.  Rain is in the forecast, of course.  It may dampen the streets of Seattle, but not its spirit.  I will be dressed in galoshes and carrying an umbrella, as you do when staying in Seattle.