Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A new home amid the unhoused in Seattle

Although partially occluded by the tall buildings across the street, the view of the Seattle harbor area from our apartment in the Belltown neighborhood is a source of endless fascination, especially at night, what with ferries and water taxis coming and going, the colorful Seattle Great Wheel turning, and the reflection of lights on the water. Through a combination of online ordering and going all over Seattle by foot or by public transport, we are slowly acquiring the basic things we need to live “normally” here. 

We have discovered Pike Place Market and its warren of shops, we have tried several different kinds of new-to-us cuisines (Laotian, Filipino), we’ve been taken aback by the high prices of just about everything, we’ve been forced to remember that the prices on stickers and signs for non-grocery items don’t include sales tax (as price tags do in Europe), and… we are daily reminded of the disparities in fortune, of rampant economic and social inequality, of classism and racism, every time we step out of our building.

Much of downtown Seattle’s unhoused population used to subsist in a large encampment right at City Hall, several blocks away. From what I’ve read, continuous, destructive police sweeps during 2022 have driven the people into other parts of the city — and in particular, into Belltown. Small tents and sleeping bags, repurposed umbrellas, blankets, shopping carts dot the various entryways all along Third Avenue — particularly the entryways of vacant buildings marked for demolition to make way for even more high-rise office and apartment buildings. (In other words, buildings like ours.)

I know that France and Germany both have large numbers of unhoused people, but there were none in our tiny village and very few in Grenoble. Even in Berlin, the unhoused population was some 6,500 out of 3.5M, versus 11,700 out of 2.5M for Seattle, so we did not see as many “rough sleepers” there as we do here. 

I have a lot to learn about what Seattle and the state of Washington are doing, and what charities and non-profits are doing to try to address the needs of the people on the streets, and how I can meaningfully help. That so many people — including veterans, the disabled, and the mentally ill — in one of the world’s wealthiest countries are without a safe place to live and to shelter from the elements isn’t something I can comfortably ignore anymore. And for some reason, this problem did not figure among the many other reservations I had when thinking about moving back to America. How naive and wildly overprivileged of me.

Friday, January 13, 2023

A sudden move back Stateside

 In February 2001, our Boston-based family took a trip to Turkey and stopped in Grenoble on the way back so Mr. Mo could interview for a job there in the vallée du Grésivaudan — France’s equivalent of Silicon Valley at the time. Mr. Mo and I had been toying with the idea of possibly moving to France — perhaps a joint mid-life crisis for us in combination with our then-fresh disaffection with the Mormon church: we had both served as full-time missionaries in France in the late 1970s. We’d loved living in France even under such unusual circumstances, and we wondered what it would be like to live there as “civilians.”

Though the February interview went well, the company had a hiring freeze, so by the time summer rolled around, we’d given up on the idea. What was our surprise when a job offer came through on August 1st! Mr. Mo ended up going over with our younger two daughters at the end of August so they could begin school on time; oldest was in college, but couldn’t bear the thought of being left behind, so she joined them in Grenoble about a week after Boston-Logan airport reopened after 9/11. I was in charge of dealing with movers, putting our house on the market, and transporting two very unhappy cats when I finally joined the family in mid-October.

We spent five years in Grenoble, during which time I became the “accidental principal” of the American School of Grenoble (then called the Marshall McLuhan American School, and yes, McLuhan was Canadian, and no, I was not the one who picked the name). For a variety of reasons, we ended up moving to a very small (pop. ~450) village about 1.25 hours NNE of Aix-en-Provence, almost exactly three hours due south of Grenoble by car, and that’s where we have lived since fall of 2006. 

…Until a bit more than a week ago, when suddenly (very suddenly) we find ourselves living in Seattle. The German company for which Mr. Mo had been working was swiftly acquired by an American company, and part of the deal was a pair of handcuffs that was simply too golden to pass up. Mr. Mo is now employed by the acquiring company and as most of his new team is on this side of the Atlantic, it made sense to come back.

We’d been thinking that eventually we’d move back, since our children and all other close family members live here, but that idea was simply part of our nebulous, foot-dragging future. After all, we (dual-nationals — we became French citizens in the late 00s) would be giving up France’s fabulous health care, among so many other things. Plus we’d be returning to a country whose political landscape has shifted so radically to the right that it frankly scares us.

(Yes, France is likewise shifting scarily rightward, but its basic center is so far to the left of the USA’s that it seems unlikely to achieve Crazyland status. And yes, more and more French people are being influenced by QAnon-style assholery, but conspiracy theories — and behaviors based thereon — are not as widespread there.)

Despite the challenges of dealing with companies that apparently have never considered how to handle people like us who are moving (back) from a foreign country, who are homeowners instead of prior renters (etc.), we have been approved for an apartment here and are trying to purchase a few very basic things (mattress! bedding! towels! cookware! etc.) for when we move in next week.

We didn’t expect this to happen so quickly. We were supposed to have returned to France yesterday. Mr. Mo will stay here, and I have booked a return to France in mid-February to deal with … everything. For the moment, we will keep our little house in the village. Will it simply become a storage unit for the acquisitions of our entire married life? How often (and when) will we go over? What should we do with all of our stuff? What should we ship over here, if anything? What about our thousands of (English-language) books?

Am I now retired? What about Medicare? How does all this work? I finally get used to metric, and I’m now back dealing with pounds and miles and Fahrenheit! Hmm.

There is a lot to process, and I will likely do so here. Stay tuned.