Sunday, September 5, 2010

Portland, Oregon: America, at it's Best

Portland: America at its best. Yes, here in buzzing metropolitan Portland people certainly are doing what they can for themselves and for their country. Why there's little junior getting on the metro rail all by himself, whizzing away over the bridge and into the city proper. And if that isn't Mary-Lou. Hello Mary! Quite a lot of flowers you've got there. Ha. Ha.

[note: it should be said that for this to give full effect, you need to read it like a nineteen forties news reel. But we'll stop that now too.]

Portland, it's the city of cities. America's crown jewel as far as I'm concerned. Portland is what so many people expect from San Francisco. This is art, culture, kindness, and west coast joy all rolled into one.

First thing I did was grab myself a day pass for the metro – it was under five dollars, and seemed like good value. I didn't understand, at the time, why a day pass should be so inexpensive, though I'd later learn that answer. Portland, they're a green city. They're known as a bike city, and they also encourage mass-transit. How is mass transit encouraged? By making it free within the city centre. All we needed to do was pay to get from our motel on the outskirts (though luckily right on the orange line) and then ride it down into the city. Fromm that point on all our traveling would have been free anyway.

Imagine living in a down town area and never having to pay a dime to get around? Is this the future? Probably not. But, it is Portland.

Right as we hopped off we found ourselves lost in the Saturday market. Food stalls were all jocking for customers. Elephant ears, and Chinese food; hot dogs, and Italian. In the end it was the Greek lamb wrap that won me over. After that was polished off and a great big strawberry lemonaid had been polished off it was deeper into the heart of the market.

Here crafts were king. Cribbage boards were made from exotic woods, and jewelry was hocked at reasonable prices to all those who wanted something slightly trendy. It was like the one of a kind festival, but instead of a few weeks out of the year, this is every weekend.

I saw a few things I wanted to try and replicate when I finished travelling. Little souvenirs of sorts to give away to friends and family. In one boot a photographer had cut up small versions of her photos and affixed them to the the back of glass beads – rectangular or square in shape. These were then turned into necklaces. I'd made magnets like this in the past with magazine art and small round beads, but I'd not thought of using my own images. Now the tricky part will be finding the beads in the right shapes and sizes.

There were also rings made of bottle caps and two stage epoxy. I like crafting but I've never had a reason to do much of it before. Reason? Check. Know how and ideas? Check. Now I just need the time and the materials.

As we left the market, a band with enough member to rival Broken Social Scene in any form of professional sport, or gang fight, was setting up. They played fast, catchy ska – I was given reason to dance again. Nothing quite like skanking it up in front of random people. But then, this was Portland, and it didn't seem odd. I also didn't skank alone for long – but the next song three others had joined in.

The band was a wacky assortment of nonsense. There were two accordions, two trumpets, a trombone, percussion pipes being played with flip flops, a drum set, a korg synthesizer which, with the held of a guitar neck, and power drill, had been converted into a home made keytar. There was also a digital guitar – which I'd never seen before, and would love to hear sans accompaniment. There was even an electric ukulele just to spice it up.

I had been in the city proper for an hour, and I already knew I'd never want to leave.

As we jumped back on the metro and zipped down to the university, we noticed that a crowd was milling around. Was it for frosh week? Apparently not. This was the Saturday Farmer's Market. A real farmers market, with fruits and veggies directly to you. For three dollars I picked up a box of the most delicious black berries I'd had in years. Some sweet, others tart. All beautifully juicy, staining my tongue and fingers deep purple.

Every stall offered samples from ripe melons, to way too many types of apples. My favourite? Tokyo Rose Apples. That is an apple. It tasted like what my idea of apples tastes like. Like that idea of Banana flavour you have in your head, which never becomes quite realized. This apple was the fantastic-phantom apple realized.

There were breads, and cheeses, and pepper jellies. Goat cheese and broccoli for dipping made for an afternoon snack, with a fruit filled pastry rounding things out.

The people here were friendly, and knowledgeable, and really cared about their products. And this happens every week. Twice a week, to be truthful – it's just the mid week market is a few blocks away from the weekend one.

Now, already feeling like we'd seen a lot, we walked on up through the central park in the city which would eventually lead us to the street on which rests Powell's books. We didn't get all that far though – two blocks up I noticed a number of people holding giant keys, or dressed in black with red clouds on their robes. Girls were dressed as goth lolis, and all was a little bit off. At first I shrugged – Portland. But then I realized, there was an Anime convention going on.

Asking for information, it was discovered that the con was at the Hilton a few streets over. I was all ready to go check it out, but there was a line. A terrible line. For one thirty in the afternoon, there should not have been an hour line just to register. This was too much. There would be no Anime con for us just now – though the wild hair wonderful people still streamed around us, up and down the streets.

A few blocks more at we found ourselves at a Lego festival. Clearly LEGO had bought out the square, which was now filled with their new board games, and displays, and trivia fun for the kids. We didn't stand around long, but we were there long enough to marvel at the fact that every few blocks puts you in a new and wonderful experience.

Closer towards Powell we ventured, but were soon swept up in yet another experience. Right by the statue of an elephant standing on an elephant was the Portland art market. Think – the Saturday market, but adding an extra zero to all prices. Here things were a we bit... more – though the quality was the same. The same pictures, frames, similar crafts – but because these items were “art” you were looking to pay through the nose. It was sad, and wonderful.

In one both a man was making a kayak from nothing – cutting wood, creating the frame, and covering it in skin. From nothing to nearly finished in the course of a number of hours. Another booth had a man wood working, and another iron working. Still another was a print making shop, where each print was a one of a kind piece.

On glass someone would paint with ink, and then run that through a press, making a print – each glass painting good for only one pass. Now, I didn't want to be a swine and make this simple observation, but I thought there might be an even easier way to make a one of a kind piece of art – simply paint with ink, right on the paper, straight away? Cut out the difficult middle process. But then, that was the fun part to watch.

Finally one long pass through the stalls, and a quick hop into a porta-potty (honey bucket) which smelled shockingly not terrible – belying the horror within – and we were on course again. Only one quick stop remained before we hit Powell's for our return trip: Reading Frenzy.

Reading Frenzy is a Zine store, which carries all number of self made publications. As I flipped through one the art seemed familiar. I turned the book over, and there stamped on the back was it was the same artist. Shannon was my writers craft teacher years ago. She offered me good advice when I set off to be a teacher myself. She's one of the few who managed to pursue her dream in spite of a working life. And seeing her work here, across the continent was inspiring. Also, seeing Toronto so clearly represented in her art didn't hurt either.

Now we walked through the doors of Powell's books. Hours were spent here between books, and games, and games, and books – going back and forth, looking at items over and over, and finally making choices.

At the end of it all, I decided not to get the latest Chuck Klosterman book, despite my love of his writing style. No, instead I picked up Night of the Living Trekkies. Star Trek? Zombies? What more could one ask for. It seemed the right choice at the time.

I also grabbed the Cthulhu dice game, and a copy of Eaters of the Dead – right behind Jurassic Park as my second favourite Michael Cheriton movie (13th warrior). I figured I needed to read the book.

Today I got off easy. Katherine, on the other hand, grabbed two Winnie the Pooh books, on sale for three bucks because they were to be used as book art (cut up the book to make something else – how cool is it that the store has a section for this?!) and a used copy of Under the Dome. She also snagged two games: Gloom, a card game, and The Stars Are Right... another Cthulhu game. You know, I really must force myself to read more Lovecraft. i hated his writing last time I tried it – but the mythos and the games? They're great.

You know, I hated Lord of the Rings for years too. Maybe I'm finally ready for The Horror.

With these purchases weighing us down, it was time to return up town. We made our final stroll through Portland, along the waterfront, grabbed the orange line, and zipped home. There we played the games a few times, and got a love for them. Then it was off to dinner.

Dinner would be at the Grilled Cheese Grill. I'd read about this restaurant in a number of sources, and knew it was for me. The eating are is inside a converted school bus. Tables had been put in, and a bar along one wall. The seats were all made of school bus seats – and children could play in the drivers seat. Trivial Pursuit cards sat in boxes on every table. This is always a good move for a restaurant.

But the real reason for coming was the cheesus sandwich. It's a 1/3 pound burger. But, rather than a bun, the top and bottom pieces of bread are each grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes this is a beast. I recommend it was sauerkraut for maximum deliciousness. Kath had the goat cheese and apple grilled cheese, with a side of creamy tomato soup for dipping.

My meal? It was so good – I had to have a second. When would I ever be back?!

At the motel we tried to play The Stars Are Right – a truly fun game, but a thinking game. Far too much thinking was required with meat on the brain and exhaustion overpowering. Oh Portland, how I wish we had more time, but I'll always remember you. I'll always love you.

[note: back to news reel voice.]
Yes, that's right. Portland – America at work to bring you greener, more welcoming, and more entertaining futures for us all. The choice, is yours.

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