Sunday, July 5, 2015

Can't Be Sporty

The only thing about taking vacation is post-vacation.

I'm not talking about adjusting to the three-hour time difference, although it hasn't been easy. I went to bed at midnight last night only to discover that my body thought it was 9:00 Portland time. Let's just say by the time I finally fell asleep, it was well after 3 a.m. and I'd done nothing fun to show for that time.

I've got no problem with late nights, but I expect escapades in trade.

I'm not even talking about the inevitable unpacking, laundry, plant watering and grocery shopping required after you've been away from home all but one of the last ten days.

No, the biggest adjustment is shifting out of vacation mode and back into real life. For me, that means running errands, finally answering work e-mails and diving back into my social calendar.

It also means catching up on over a week's worth of Washington Posts left by my intrepid delivery guy who continues to make a stop here even when I've notified him I'm out of town. Unlike the rest of the world, when I go on vacation, I stop paying attention to the larger world to focus on fun.

Sure, now that I'm back, I see that Greece is in deep doo-doo, read the gruesome details of the latest North Carolina shark attack and learned that it's now okay to take pictures on White House tours, long verboten. With any luck, I'll get to today's newspaper before going to bed tonight.

But what I also needed was friends and the Silent Music Revival at Gallery 5 offered me that. I got barely a block away when I first saw lightening and turned around and walked home for an umbrella before proceeding. Turns out I didn't need it, but the sidewalks were wet by the time I got out, so it did happen even if I didn't see it.

The first friend I ran into shared the latest on the house she and her partner are rehabbing slowly but surely. Boards have been removed from windows so glass and caulking can make them usable. The hydrangea I'd given her for her birthday had been planted and is blooming.

They'd collected a wood-burning stove and claw foot tub from her grandmother's house, all the more impressive because the tub will be an outdoor tub, which may be the coolest thing I've heard of in a while. Sure, I've got my own claw foot tub but it's in that most mundane of places, the bathroom.

Jameson, the organizer of the event and always the supremely serene type, was tonight a bit keyed up because it had been one mishap after another preparing for tonight.

First he hadn't been able to locate tonight's feature, "Say Ah-h!" because it was in storage in northern Virginia. Attempting to download it, his computer had been infected with a virus. Then Gallery 5's projector was on the fritz. Somehow, he'd sorted all this out and while we were now seeing another film, at least he hadn't had to cancel.

It was the first time I'd seen the teacher/music fan who'd just spent five weeks in Europe, bouncing around between Germany, Romania (Transylvania, natch), Austria and Italy. A devoted metal-head, I wasn't at all surprised to hear about the multi-day music festival he'd attended (we compared notes on Strand of Oaks since I'd seen them here while he'd seen them there).

But I couldn't have been more surprised to hear that he and his main squeeze had taken a four-hour "Sound of Music" bicycle tour in Salzburg. The funny part was that he'd never even seen the movie until deciding to book the tour, so he'd watched it just before going abroad. He got to see it all  - the von Trapp mansion, the abbey and cemetery, the town - except the mountain where Maria sings to the hills. Seems that hill is in Berlin, not Salzburg. Who knew?

Tonight's crowd for the music and film was smaller than usual, probably because of the holiday weekend or even the impending rain, so I had no problem scoring a front row seat.

Instead of one film, we were seeing a bunch of animated shorts from 1907-11, created by Frenchman Emile Cohl, whom Jameson said was the first to use pen and ink drawings for animation. The earliest were white figures on a black background (meaning negatives), eventually giving way to black figures on a white background.

Providing tonight's soundtrack were DJ Harrison for the first set and DJ Ohbliv for the second, both hidden behind the movie screen. Their seamless mashups of song snippets were an ideal match for the fast-moving action in shorts such as "Affair of the Heart" with characters with hearts for heads and faces, "Art's Infancy" and "Mr. Crack" based on an operetta about Baron Munchausen.

More people arrived and a few left during the break, while I ran into a guy I'd met a few years ago and hadn't seen at all in the past year. I'm always surprised when people remember me after so much time.

The last half of the program was later work by Cohl, much of it foreshadowing the work of the surrealist and avant garde film makers of coming decades. More plot driven, they also featured much more of a mix of live action and drawn animation.

Mothers-in-law seemed to be a recurring theme, always drawn as hideous old hags with bad teeth and menacing eyes. "Let's Be Sporty" began with a figure trying to ride a horse, then drive an automobile, ride a bike and ice skate. "Nothing beats walking!" it seemed to conclude, but, walking was bested by jumping, a movement not easily captured at this stage of animation.

When the show ended, Ohbliv kept playing and Jameson queried the group, "One more?" which got him a rousing affirmative from the crowd in the room.

"The Mind of a Cafe Worker" began with a table of men drinking in a restaurant while the tired server slumped in a nearby chair (at least he wasn't on his cell phone). Once he fell asleep and began dreaming, it was about wine...and beer...and absinthe, fanciful bottles showering him in alcohol, so happy dreams. He awoke only because his patrons were squirting seltzer water bottles at him, laughing at him as the crowd laughed at them.

Classic silent films about walking and absinthe, two things I know a little about. Not a bad way to ease back into my Richmond life.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saluting the American State

It took going to the beach to get me into my jean jacket.

When packing for this trip, I'd taken into consideration the fact that Portland was trapped under a stagnant air mass that was causing an unprecedented heat wave. Not so much in temperature (apparently they hit over 100 degrees every summer), but in duration.

So after packing a bunch of cute summer dresses and a few lightweight, crocheted cover-ups, I'd felt ready to sweat with the hipsters. Then, at the proverbial eleventh hour, I'd tossed in my jean jacket, you know, just in case.

How was I to know that the one and only place I'd need it all week was at the beach?

For our last full day in Oregon, we abandoned wine country to head to the coast along with thousands of Oregonians who hit the highways for the holiday weekend.

Fortunately, they were interesting routes that took us past a field of colorful tee-pees, a house fronted by a totem pole with an elk's head on the top and several one-lane bridges that required oncoming drivers to wait their turn. There was even a fitting holiday sign proclaiming, "God Bless the USA! Ribs * Shortcake!"

When we left the Willamette Valley, the temperature was just over 90 and the further west we headed, the further the temperature plummeted until we hit 63 degrees and I had to pull the jean jacket out of the trunk. It sure wasn't feeling like any Fourth of July celebration I'd ever had.

Arriving at Pacifica Beach, home of the dory fleet (and a host of warning signs, including one for "sneaker waves," whatever they might be. Sneaky waves that don't announce themeselves, perhaps?), we were greeted (symbolically) by a huge rock sitting just beyond the breakers, an imposing formation that screamed "west coast beach" much the way the cars on the beach and the people huddled in sweatshirts and jackets tucked in between cars for a wind break did.

Only the youngest children played at water's edge while their parents stayed warm between the rows of trucks and SUVs. When we came across three kids buried up to their necks in sand, we assumed it was for warmth. Walking down the wide beach, to our left was a huge tidal pool, in some places almost four feet deep, and far more people were playing in its considerably warmer water.

Usually I'm on the Outer Banks for this holiday week and after years of being down there, we know to expect an influx of day trippers, many in holiday-appropriate red, white and blue beach garb. Not so much in Oregon.

But what they lack in patriotic beachwear, they more than make up for in pedestrian friendliness. We'd been impressed in Portland with the way drivers stopped for pedestrians at every crosswalk, even when they had the light, but I was bowled over to see people slowing down on 45 mph roads to allow people to cross the road. As a daily walker, that's a battle I fight every day, so it was impressive to see such respect for those on foot.

Our second beach was Cannon Beach, a place with more of a resort feel, catering to people on vacation with some cash. Haystack Rock is the big photographic draw, so we obliged before taking another beach stroll.

We stopped when we saw a sign for "true oceanfront dining," although the deck was full so we took a table near a window with a view of the beach and ocean (and two screaming toddlers at the next table, but that's a different rant). With a bottle of Argyle Brut, a Dungeness crab cocktail and a cheese plate, we focused on the view not the clamor.

During the drive back to Portland, I researched dinner options and made reservations at Aviary, a pan-Asian place that had come highly recommended. Tucked into what appeared to be an office building, the sleek restaurant had a half dozen tables outside but not one was occupied.

Asking to dine al fresco, the hostess showed surprise but obliged. As one of our severs later told us, "When I saw you sitting outside I figured you weren't from Oregon." The same temperature in Richmond would all but guarantee that every patio in town would be mobbed.

Almost everyone who left the restaurant and walked by our table commented on how nice it was outside now. Their point was that when they'd arrived, it had been hot as Hades and no one would consider eating in such heat.

Whatever. When yet another person walked out making that comment, she looked to me to reassure herself. "It was ungodly hot out here," she lamented. When I asked if she was from Oregon, she said yes, paused, bit her tongue and walked on. No defense, huh?

Our meal wound up being one of the best of the week with creatively conceived dishes boasting the freshest tasting ingredients and exquisite presentation.

Beet and asparagus salad sounds pretty civilian, but this one came encased in paper-thin slices of beet wrapped around frisee, chunks of beet and spears of asparagus, all encircled by a dressing of yogurt and za'atar.

Just as pretty was a prawn salad covered in a spicy berbere crisp with lemon anchovy emulsion, paper thin slices of grape and cukes.

Dungeness crab chawanmushi was a Japanese egg custard dish, silken on the tongue, and adorned with sea urchin, Asian pear, snap peas and truffle vinaigrette. Obscenely decadent, I couldn't even finish it all.

Carrying over our Douglas Fir theme from the distillery a few days before, we also had NY strip smoked over Douglas Fir atop a plate-sized potato puree made mostly of butter and cream and taken over the top with bone marrow custard.

By the time I ordered what our server called chocolate pudding, there were only a few tables left inside, so we'd had visits from multiple servers eager to talk to us east coast types. One told us how much she enjoyed outsiders because all too often everyone she meets is from "here."

My pudding turned out to be a chocolate pot de creme with fruit compote (honestly, fruit is so plentiful here that we'd be strolling down the street and could just pull different varieties of cherries off trees as we walked along), bourbon ice cream and verbena leaves. Did I mention the ridiculously large size of the portion?

As we were downing that, one of the servers came out and sat down at a nearby table. I had a sense that he needed a break from the dining room and when another server came out to ask if he was okay, his response was, "Elitist vegan pricks!"

I could almost have guessed which group he was talking about, but I'm betting Oregon restaurants have to deal with a fair amount of picky eater pricks.

One thing they never have to deal with is being very far away from a coffee shop. To this non-coffee drinker, it's ludicrous, but the ubiquity of them ensures that if you need a latte between when you park your car and when you walk into the garden store/office building/boutique nearby, it's mere steps to get it.

Hell, we saw coffee shacks (pop-ups?) set up in parking lots of other stores. Apparently Portland has more caffeine sources than Seattle. And, no, we didn't bother with the Portland mecca that is VooDoo Doughnuts after being told by a Richmond to Portland transplant that the doughnuts are better at home.

So, then, my quest to investigate how Richmond-like Portland really is has come to an end, so it's necessarily time for me to draw some questionable conclusions.

Portland, like Richmond, seems to have stellar dining and music scenes. They can't touch us tattoo for tattoo, although I saw a fair amount of piercings and ear plugs. Flannel and plaid shirts abound, and not in an ironic way, but are they thrift finds like they would undoubtedly be in Richmond? Hard to say.

Our server one evening had on a t-shirt that read, "Oregon...the American state!" When I asked what that meant, she had no idea, she'd just liked the picture on the shirt when she found it thrifting.

Mostly, everyone seems more than happy with life as an Oregonian, radiating sunshine, lollipops and rainbows with every interaction we had with them. Even so, everyone mentioned the two months of solid rain, escalating rents (the bartender at Ned Ludd marveled at my RVA rent), the hunkering down everyone does during the gray winters, and how you just adjust to those parts of life here.

Do you? My question to each person who presented less-than-ideal aspects of Portland was, and you live here why? Because they like the other parts.

Do they seem categorically happier than Richmonders? I don't think so. We may not have the fresh-faced, lumber-sexual thing going for us, but when we go to the beach in July, we most definitely do not need a jean jacket.

And when it comes to t-shirts, if any state qualifies to be labeled "The American State," shouldn't it be the one granted statehood in 1788 (ahem, Virginia) and not the one barely sneaking in before the Civil War (Oregon in 1859)?

Okay, Oregon, I'll take your long days, pedestrian-friendliness and abundant gardens and raise you history, southern charm and tattoos. This populist omnivore Pollyanna would also happily return...for a visit.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

On Oregon Time

This is the hottest part of the day and it takes some getting used to.

Forget that mid-afternoon east coast heat thing, here heat reigns supreme from 5 on, a fact I need to remind my brain daily. Several people have confirmed it to us.

Out on a brief morning walk (which took me by a side street gun shop, what the hell, Oregon?), I passed a guy wearing a Lamb of God t-shirt. Instead of saying good morning, I said I was from Richmond, Virginia. I got a delighted grin and laughter in return..

But I can't be out walking and making commentary on locals all day, because we had wine to taste. Today's first stop was St. Innocent, where a funny and charming winemaker named Mark regaled us with all kinds of stories.

The name comes from a relative whose middle name was Innocent, a fact he kept hidden because of some big St. Innocent Day massacre (see how historically educational travel can be?) which gave the name a negative connotation for years.

Like many winemakers out here, he liked to brag about his highest elevation vineyards, but I was also struck by his vocabulary for describing wine, which knew no limits. Best description of a wine heard all day: "It's complex. It's an intellectual orgasm in your mouth."

When it was time to leave, we asked for a lunch recommendation and he supplied one. "You can plug it into your GPS or I could draw you a map," he offered. Of course I took him up on the map drawing, watching as he made wavy lines for the river and misspelled "corthouse."

I had him sign it and it's my favorite souvenir of the trip so far.

But he was right on about Kitchen on Court, a Belgian chef-driven spot in Salem with hand-cut burgers that alone were worth the trip. Around us, young legislative aid types took stock of each other and asked questions like, "Will you be at my party this weekend?"

At Left Coast Winery, we met Luke, a much younger winemaker, who piled us into his truck for a vineyard tour to show off his "babies."

Even more fun were the owners, a delightful couple, both of whom took to me like a fat kid to cake. She used to work in publishing, so we talked Richard Brautigan's "The Pill versus the Springjhll Mining Disaster," how she'd met Ferlinghetti and why Leonard Cohen currently yours the coast ("Suzanne is an amazing song still").

Her husband, a taciturn man with a wry wit and piercing blue eyes, made sure my glass stayed filled and smiled at me a lot.

It was coming back through the shank of the early evening, meaning the hottest part of the day, that I once again had to recalibrate my brain to deal with the endless sunshine and heat.

Where exactly are these gray Oregon skies we've been brainwashed to expect?

While I got a disco nap, my partner in crime went to a nearby tasting room to gather intel, returning with explicit instructions from a local to find the 411 and try their steamed clams.

He was right, the enormous bowl of fat clams was outstanding, as was my seafood saute with shrimp, clams and halibut in a broth of butter and white wine. The little restaurant was a gem with terrific food, ridiculously low prices on food and wine and an affable server who was in no rush.

Nor are we, given it's vacation. We closed out the evening at a local billiards bar of which we'd been warned not to go in there after 6:00. On walking in, we found a guy wrestling another in his underwear. Outside, a couple sobbed in each other's arms. The people-watching was extraordinary, the drinks cheap. We got front row seats to it all.

Today began at the Elizabeth Chambers tasting room a few blocks away. We'd missed our appointment yesterday, so today we came bearing locally baked cookies to make up for it.

Our pourer was an Oregon come-here who'd fallen hard for the land of mossy rooves and gray skies. She spoke of keeping Oregon's wine scene small, extolling the pleasures of working in a tiny boutique winery after serving time in one of the big boys.

She was the best kind of advertisement for the pleasures of Oregon's laid back, groovy winemaking scene. Here, everyone is on "Oregon time," it seems.

At Sass Winery, we got to meet Jerry and Jerry, the father and son team who make a limited supply of wines in a building that would fit inside some other wineries' stock rooms.

On the white board calendar was a notation for today, "Tasting 1:30." that referred to us. Pulling fresh bottles down from the stacks of wine in cartons, he poured his wines for us in the middle of his work space.

Sass won my heart for being the real deal, by far the smallest and simplest of all the wine outfits we visited. Jerry the elder cracked me up with his definition of most winemakers: "Boring people with big egos."

By the way, he's the winemaker, too.

He led us back to where barrels of wine sat aging, extracting tastes from various vineyards to demonstrate differences in locations, clones and vintages.

It was funny because his son Jerry had left for lunch not long after we'd arrived. When he returned, he put classical music on the sound system and immediately got to work. Father Jerry grinned at us. "Thanks for being here or it would have been hip hop at 80 or 89 decibels. Can you stay?"

Alas, no, it was time to fuel up and his lunch recommendation was Acme, a diner-like place where we had Old Bay-spiced Oregon shrimp cakes (only 2800 miles to eat Old Bay, go figure) and then carbed up to classic rock.

We'd passed Mel's Ice cream every day since we got to wine country and today I'd been promised a visit. The place claimed to be only 30 years old but had the patina of dirt and cutesies that seemed to indicate a much older tenure in the space.

Waiting for our ice creams to come out we noticed a glass wall with bars on the side and, sure enough, there was a live monkey inside. Grated, he was half hidden ina  towel as if to stay out of sight of gawking tourists, but definitely live. Why Alf's is home to wildlife, we have no idea. Must be an Oregon thing.

Like this crazy evening heat that's got me carrying an umbrella to walk down sunny streets. Going to dinner at 9:00 in full daylight. By the time I'm finally adjusted to the Oregonian way, it'll be time to go home.

Pity. Next trip out this way, I intend to carry a pink parasol.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Leaping Seconds

Portland's in the rear view mirror and the Willamette Valley was in our sights.

You can't very well be a wine lover and come to Oregon without heading to the Willamette, dammit. Nor can you go to an 11 a.m. winery tour without breakfast in your belly.

Fortunately, we spotted the Babica Hen Cafe in Dundee promising local, passionate and from scratch, all pretty much standard in this state. Yeast waffles were as light as advertised but it was the blueberry jam (and butter, lots of butter) that made the waffle. Okay and the thick-cut local bacon.

We were greeted at Domaine Serene by a knowledgeable man whose first question was music to my ears: "Breakfast Rose?" Don't mind if I do sip a lovely Rose of Pinot Noir while you talk about tanks and stamp collections (his, not mine).

Carrying water while we sipped wine, he toured us through the high-priced set-up which included five stories of tank rooms, bottling facilities, production rooms and a separate "mad scientists" office where top secret tasting and blending decisions were made.

My girl parts were gratified to hear that some of the mad scientists were of the female persuasion.

Our guide took particular delight in getting me to identify and say "bung hole" once we arrived in a barrel room, admitting that he usually picks on a mild-mannered woman in a tour group (we were two, so he was limited to me) and has her say it for the pleasure of hearing her say something she doesn't intend to.

Bung hole, bung hole, there I said it repeatedly.

Wines aside, the highlights were the life sized sculpture of a woolly mammoth and discovering a tiny bird resting on the floor of a porch in the sun. He not only allowed me to walk around him but photograph him repeatedly.

But I can't really say winery (or wines) aside because this place was incredible with various ages of vineyards surrounding the family estate and tasting room, all with extensive gardens everywhere.

I'll give Oregon that, they're no slackers in the garden department. Roses, lilies, true geraniums, balloon flowers and daisies seem to be in every plantable plot.

Ditto Sokol Blosser, with its rough hewn pine tasting room and porches spanning both sides. After tasting through their offerings, we bought glasses of "Evolution" Sparkling and took them to a shady porch to sip while marveling at the vista of vineyards and solar collectors, mountains in the background.

Our lunch destination had come by way of a suggestion from the woman who'd tasted us through at Clear Creek Distillery, who'd insisted we stop at Red Hills Market, a pizza/sandwich joint, beer/wine shop and specialty market.

We got there after 2, but so did lots of other wine tourists, including the adorable older guy in front of me in line who made a strong case for trying the chocolate-covered macaroons.  First there was a sandwich of Italian salami, arugula and Provolone on a crusty roll with a Crater Lake root beer, enjoyed while taking in the hustle and bustle of the hip little store and its non-stop parade of all ages of hungry people.

The amusing guy who'd toured us through the first winery had boasted of once making it to 12 wineries in one day, a personal best. Yes, he admitted that it had been necessary to have his girlfriend collect him at the end of the day, but, still. Twelve?

Our goal was three, the final one being Argyle, known for their bubbles and, at least according to staff and the letters on the wall, a popular choice at White House dinners for some years now.

One of us chose the bubbles tasting (hello, have you met me?) and the other the Pinot Noir tasting, making for quite the contrast as we tasted the offerings of both. The tasting room was small and quaint and looked all but closed behind a construction fence because the new and improved tasting room out back is about to open in a month.

So we'll always have Argyle version 1.0 as a fond memory.

A short drive put us in McMinville where the quirky Hotel Oregon welcomed us with music show posters framed on the walls, named rooms (we're in 418, the Wine Pioneers room, meaning four sketches of of pioneering Oregon winemakers drawn on the wall along with quotes from them on another) and a rooftop bar.

After dinner at a local Mexican joint with highly dramatic Mexican music playing, we climbed five flights to the roof only to find three levels of decking and a superb view of the sun going down behind the mountains.

Impressive as a good West coast sunset is, the absolute coolest part for this east coast girl is the amount of daylight. Even at 10 p.m., the sky is still a medium blue and stars are just showing themselves.

Tonight was the big night where Jupiter and Venus were converging, so we admired that, eventually learning from a nearby guest that it was Regulus hovering just above the bright convergence of the two planets.

We'd quasi-met the man with the superior astronomy app when he'd first shown up because I'd been struck by the Washington Redskins jersey he'd been wearing. In Oregon. Forgetting societal niceties, I'd unabashedly asked him where he was from when I'd seen that shirt.

Answer: Grandpa had grown up in D.C. and this guy had spent two years in North Carolina. Ah, that explains that.

The rooftop proved to be a lovely place to sip tequila and admire the night sky and the bar's kitschy outdoor light fixtures, all of which seemed to pay homage to the Jetsons. That's not as surprising at it seems because McMinnville hosts an annual UFO Festival every year.

I know this because not only does the hotel boast old posters about it, but we also saw a "No parking" sign from the UFO festival laying on the ground,  a testament to the concessions made for Martians and the like.

Tonight, fireworks went off a few blocks away as we sipped on the deck, a reminder that June is all but gone and July just over one of the mountains.

No humidity, such late daylight and today's Leap Second. I like the Willamette, dammit.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sunnyside Lit Up

Conclusion so far: Portland is only somewhat like Richmond.

Zillions of restaurants, so come meal time we have our pick. Last night we ate at Ned Ludd, a "craft kitchen" where everything, and I mean everything, is cooked in a wood-burning fireplace that dominates the dining room.

Axes and cut wood greeted us at the door. No kidding. Beer was poured into Mason jars, if you can believe that.

The low-tech cooking method was only part of the reason I chose it. The other is because it's named after the guy who resisted technology during the industrial revolution, causing those who turn their back on it to be called Luddites.

For the record, I am a proud Luddite, amazing Portlandia types by telling them I have (gasp!) no cell phone.

We couldn't resist drinking local with Love and  Squalor Rose (of Gewurztraminer, no less), a barely salmon pink Rose made all the more desirable for the mere 60 cases produced, the kind of thing that would never make it to the east coast.

After charcuterie, whole trout, cabbage and a chocolate chip cookie cooked in that brick oven (delivered with a glass of milk for dunking), we headed to Mississippi Studios to see a show.

The venue was cool with Oriental rugs over concrete floors and a seated balcony which we bypassed for the floor. On the bill was The Family Crest, a San Francisco band I'd seen on NPR's Tiny Desk concerts series last year.

The septet was so full of youthful enthusiasm and classical talent - violin, trombone, drums, bass, guitar, cello, piano/flute - and their orchestral pop infected the crowd like pot brownies, causing them to dance and sway with the music. We heard new material, Tiny Desk repeats and a cover of a Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song, "Maps." Standout evening and it was a frickin' Sunday

At breakfast this morning, it was bagel sandwiches and the Archies singing, "Sugar, Sugar,"  a song so notable the woman next to us felt compelled to comment about it.

Bumpersticker seen today:

Dance.
Grow things.
Try not to be a dick.

This is what Portlandia aspires to, not that I'm judging.

We made two trips, one successful, one not, to Clear Creek Distillery for a tasting of liqueurs, grappas, brandy and even a whiskey. When I chose to taste the pale green Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir, our taster commented, "You'll definitely be tasting Christmas tree for the next hour.

If it's possible to drink a Christmas tree, this was it. I have to admit, I kind of liked it.

The being a tourist part has been oh-so nature-centered today, with visits to the Japanese garden and Rose Test Garden, the former a breathtaking study in contemplation, water and repose and the latter a riot of colors and fragrances.

I can't agree with the People's Choice, though, because a licorice-scented rose just doesn't do it for me.

After lunch at Broder - because why come to Portland if you're not going to eat Swedish food? - a transplanted Portlandia-ite suggested the Space Room, easily the darkest dive bar I've ever been to, followed by the Sapphire Hotel Bar, a swankier stop with club chairs and no Fleetwood Mac videos playing.

Since there's nothing like spending an afternoon on a Sunnyside (the name of the neighborhood) porch, we spent hours doing just that, talking about the recent nude bike ride and why not living together is the best thing a devoted couple can do.

Over dinner at Irving Street Kitchen, we saw a server spill a purple drink on a guest's white dress, a woman refuse to eat her fried chicken because it was too spicy and a couple discussing the oceanography classes they'd both taken (what are the chances?), all the while enjoying a an exquisite chilled sweet corn soup,  the most perfectly cooked halibut a mouth could hope for and meatballs with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and gravy.

Best of all, daylight here lasts until almost 10:00, making for evenings that stretch out much longer than at home. Tonight, eating outside on the patio, a practically full moon kept us company as we absorbed more Portlandia goings-on.

Yet to dance, growing things are everywhere and, for the most part, people have been anything but dick-like. Portland and its pines have been fun.

Also, note to Richmonders: drinking Christmas trees is under-rated.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hilltop Flyer

Portland's giving me a hell of a view.

Our Air B 'n B digs are in a posh house that's perched at the top of Nob Hill in what's called Hillside because it is. Sort of an Arts and Crafts-style house - dark wood floors and window frames, four or five levels and unusually-shaped windows everywhere -  it's got a view only swells could afford.

From the balcony off the music room (black grand piano) unfolds a panorama encompassing the bridge, city and more pine trees than I've ever seen in one place. They're so ubiquitous that when we were downtown earlier, I spotted the pointed tops of pines between high rise buildings.

One reason I was eager to come to Portland is because of years of hearing how similar it is to Richmond, meaning I expected beards, tattoos and skinny jeans. Check, check and check.

What I didn't anticipate was how seriously they take their Portlandia status. An ad for chewing tobacco touted, "Portland only does local," meaning, I guess, that even dip aficionados can expect chaw from these here hills.

 My newest past time is reading people's chests because apparently, they wear their thoughts. To wit, "Suck, Feattle." I didn't even know what that meant at first. "Beach, please?" is no doubt a nod to Portland's current heatwave, which is wilting locals used to far more temperate summers. "No pity in the Rose City" is, we're guessing, a sports reference since there was a soccer game today with many people sporting team scarves.

While I knew in advance that it's called the City of Roses, after two walkabouts, it's easy to see why. Enormous rose bushes are in bloom everywhere, evident even last night when we walked to dinner in the dark because  it seems that Portland, or at least Hillside, eschews street lights. It's dark in these here neighborhoods.

Last night's dinner at Papa Haydn's featured a savvy server, Argyle Brut to celebrate our arrival and a savory bread pudding with roasted corn, onions, chives and a blackberry compote to die for.

The local Argyle is notable because at brunch today at Rose & Raven, there was a bottle of it on the bar and written on it was, "Thanks for participating in bubbles week." Wouldn't it be something to think that Richmond might take a page from Portland and institute a bubbles week with featured sparklings all over town? A girl can dream, can't she?

Our brunch sparkler was Monmousseau Brut Rose, which went well with my farmer's market quiche, bacon and salad, savored in a LEEDS-certified former carriage house with great charm. So far, everyone's been friendly and oh-so helpful about making suggestions for the visiting Richmond contingent.

I'm not going to lie, the walk back up Hillside from town is not for the faint of heart or out-of-shape, but I love the  advantage it gives me in eating and drinking at will. Add in that around every corner is a new view, interesting architecture and lush gardens and it's a recipe for walking. Today we encountered a huge sculpture of a duck (goose?), made entirely of metal objects and parts such as baking pans, car grills and spatulas.

Their downtown was about as deserted as Richmond's on a Sunday, but that didn't stop us from walking through parks (both the one originally designated for men and the one for women...we mustn't mix our sexes in the park, my dear) and over to the Portland Art Museum.

Richmond's VMFA wins this one hands down. Despite work from Fragonard, Boucher, Delacroix, Corbet, Rousseau and Boudin, it was a bit thin, at least from what we saw.

Everyone insisted we needed to visit Powell's Book Store and let me tell you what. Powell's is paralyzing. Walking into a book store that spans a block and multiple floors and even a book devotee such as myself is immobilized. I contented myself with browsing the Portland table before crying uncle and leaving.

Climbing the hill to our temporary home, I spotted many windows open and fans oscillating just inside. Oregonians are clearly withering under the heat, which by Richmond standards is negligible, as is the humidity.

A girl on a bike struggled to carry a box fan still in the box as she pedaled. Earlier we'd passed a sign for the "skate route," with a skateboarder symbol.

Work it, Portland. You're like Richmond on steroids with less ink.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nothin' Like a Dame

Where better to go after a positively exhausting week than Bali Ha'i?

Despite the fact that my train wasn't getting in until almost 6:30 and despite that it was late and arrived closer to 7, I managed to get home, unpack, get cleaned up and present myself at the November Theater to meet my date for Virginia Repertory's opening night performance of "South Pacific."

Only a cock-eyed optimist would even attempt such a thing.

On the way over, I ran into a favorite server and his adorable beagle, both recently moved to Jackson Ward. He shared the newcomer's perspective (loves the vibe and touch of grit) and I the more long time resident's (nine years) view, all while scratching those velvet ears (the beagle's, not Michael's).

Opening night meant not only a gold medallion on our programs, but lots of familiar faces - the gallerist and his perky wife, the dancer I hadn't seen in years, and more actors, directors and theater people than should probably be in one place at any given time (you know, in case something happens).

My date was the perfect one because, somehow, some way, he'd never once in his middle-aged life seen "South Pacific." I shouldn't be surprised; I took him to see "Mame" last year and he'd mentioned then it was his first live musical.

Yes, I had myself an enchanted evening virgin.

The last time I'd seen this play live, it had been at the Landmark and no less a magnificent voice than Robert Goulet had played Emile, the handsome French planter. Fabulous as that touring production had been (just hearing him live had been a thrill), it wasn't like seeing talent I knew in classic roles.

I can't convey how satisfying it was to see the multi-talented Matt Shofner as one of the seabees singing "Nothin' Like a Dame." Now that's acting. Just as impressive was Audra Honaker with her impish demeanor and beautiful voice as one of the nurses. Nicole Oberleitner oozed sass and sex whether she was front and center or off to the side striking a pose.

And speaking of the nurses, during the "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" number, the women wore fabulous '40s-style bathing suits that were the talk of the ladies' room during intermission.

My only observation was that there weren't many '40s-era bodies with hips and curves to go along with those era-appropriate costumes. Let's face it, women's figures just aren't what they used to be.

Ditto wardrobes. In the remember when category, one of the nurse's lines alluded to the fact that the Navy only allowed them to bring two evening gowns overseas with them. How many women today even own one? I do have one long dress but I'm not certain it would qualify as an evening gown.

Waiting in line for the ladies room gave me a chance to check out the framed newspaper articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chicago Tribune and Honolulu State Bulletin hanging in the hallway, all of them actual copies from the war years. Overheard in line: "My nephew is in Wilco. Have you heard of them?" and soon after, "Well, yes, but Paul McCartney's still playing live and he's in his '70s."

So he's not younger than Springtime. Still, I heard it was a terrific show.

As my companion pointed out, it would have also been nice to have some maps hanging there, too, for a geography lesson to go along with the history lesson to clarify all these islands' locations in the play.

I was happy to hear that my date was very much enjoying the play, although still adjusting somewhat to the notion of a musical and actors singing so much of the plot. "It's such a great story!" he raved, admitting he was completely engrossed in the saga as it unfolded.

He was lucky to be seeing such a fine production. Both leads, Branch Fields and Stacey Cabel, were spot-on as the lovers from different sides of the world. Her Arkansas accent came and went occasionally but his French one never wavered and his bass voice was the kind that does things to a woman. It didn't hurt the appeal that the sets were so evocative of the South Seas with bamboo screens, palm trees and the illusion of water and sand on the island.

Because he's recently out of a relationship, my date admitted that half the time lately, he's been trying to avoid romantic entertainment. The other half, he's been seeking it out. "I'm just too much of a romantic," he said with a shrug, explaining why he was enjoying this so much.

Join the club, honey bun. From "A Wonderful Guy" to "This Nearly Was Mine," a person inclined to romance could pretty much melt into her seat the entire time.

Let's just say it was some enchanted evening.