Tuesday, August 11, 2009

portland sketch # 1

#1 AWhole Nuther Trip

What was it in those two or three lines of the tourist’s brochure that caught my eye? Words like “funky,” or “bohemian,” or “counter culture...”

...regardless, after 10 hours of taxis, planes, and airports, my long legs needed limbering, so I let the both of them carry me across an ancient trestle bridge, and thirty and forty blocks east, along a straightarrow boulevard rising gently toward Mount Tabor, to the “not to be missed” Hawthorne District.

Nor was I disappointed. I started with a breakfast at JAM, scarfing free range chicken eggs, splendid wholegrain bread, and some savory vegan chorizo—which gave up nothing but a little grease to the real thing. The wait staff would have blended seamlessly with the coffee house folk I hung with before Dylan went electric. (I did pass on the Breakfast Mary, with rosemary infused vodka...)

Thus sustained, I ventured along the avenue, festooned with shops and businesses for every imaginable need—aromatherapy, tattoos, hookahs, and beads; counseling, therapy, and body piercing. There were raingardens, and gaily painted vintage homes converted into professional offices—like the turn-of-the-century four square with five practioners of arts I had never heard of, but likely involved the manipulation of body parts.

I came upon a building next to a parking lot—on its the sidewall a 70’ mural featured portraits of Tennessee Williams, Sylvia Plath, Dostoyevsky and other luminaries—with pithy quotes, and illustrated vignettes from their works. I was fascinated, and worked my way all the way to the end, where Oscar Wilde’s portrait faced a life sized rendition of Aubrey Beardsley’s Salome admiring the severed, goredripping head of John the Baptist. What manner of business could this wall enclose? A bookshop, a theater? I walked to the front, to discover that it was a second (or third, or fourth) hand store, a humungous garage sale from the Truman administration.

On past the rollicking Bagdad Café, past Belly Timber and The Third Eye Shoppe: Incense, Crystals, and Hemp Products—We Smoke the Competition! A handscrawled sign on the door of a knife store threatened mayhem to anyone sneezing, coughing, wheezing or dribbling, or entertaining a host of other disagreeable attributes, or belonging to a frighteningly long list of ethnicities and nationalities. I’m afraid I passed it by, fearing I might not be One Of Us.

A visit the ‘hood would not be complete without dropping into a satellite branch of Powell’s—but wait—this shop only had books on cooking and gardening. A passageway led to the adjacent store—a magnificent array of gourmet produce, meats, and wines. Two separate ownerships, but united in a common cause. (A few doors down was a vast, diversified Powell’s, but no where near as vast as the Entire City Block Powell’s.)

The sidestreets were equally compelling. The neighborhood was populated with bungalows large and small, some almost touch eaves with one another, others set deep on double lots. It was as though they all were in a competition for the most imaginative detailing—carved barges and brackets, porch rails, and that kind of paint job that would be lurid if it were not for the counter balance that only the lushest gardens can provide.

Talk about lush—one home with vacant sideyard was planted entirely with towering perennials, dwarf fruit trees, and every size, color, and shape of blossom and bush. Rainchains led to rainbarrells. Along the sidewalk strip, the full width of the property, was a light frame structure clad with plastic sheeting; tomato plants within were almost bursting out. I saw a man in a straw hat, Gandalf beard, and granny glasses puttering about.

“You have a wonderful garden,” I told him.

“It’s theirs,” he replied, gesturing with his chin over his shoulder.

I thought at first he was indicating the house across the street until he continued, “It belongs to all of them who are in it,” and I realized he was referring to the grateful flora that he dutifully served.

Soon it was approaching time for the board meeting; time to move on. Halfway back to the hotel I hopped on the #14, and sat down on a jumpseat on the curbside of the bus. A couple of stops later, the driver came back and asked me to move. Momentarily puzzled, I got up, as the driver flips up the seat.

In trundles a gritty greybeard riding a scooter chair. He had spiky hair and a black tee shirt with a savage looking goth device across the front, tummy hanging out the bottom. Standing on the foot rest facing him was a sort of cocker spaniel, curly brown, with sad, rheumy eyes. The dog rode with her front paws in the man's lap, and gazed at me mournfully as he chattered away on his cell phone.

By then, the flashback effect started to wear off. Time for a shower, and on to the board meeting—which as you may know, is a whole nuther trip...

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