Thursday, October 17, 2013

Portland trip!

I have a group of close friends from college, most of whom moved to NYC right after school, as did I. But eventually everybody moved away to other cities. Dana moved to Chicago and married Jim. Jena moved back to San Diego and married Robert. Vicki moved to DC and married Roger. And Rosa moved back to the Boston area and married Mark. Fred lived a bunch of places on several continents, and somewhere in there he married the wonderful Jacqui, and eventually they ended up in Portland. I could tell a lot of stories about this group but I'll confine my intro thus. Given our diaspora, we began to have a mini reunion every year or two.

This year we chose to go to Portland. I've never been there, but I've seen every episode of Portlandia and have long wanted to see this city. The reunion was this past weekend. I found Portland just as lovely and quirky and homey as you would expect.

I have collected a bunch of Portland-related links and blog posts over the past few years. In preparation for the trip, I grabbed them all and made a map:

View places in portland OR in a full screen map

I made it to precisely six of the above places I aimed at, but it was a lovely weekend and I'm not sorry for the choices made.

Just waiting for the elevator is lovely
On Friday Adam and I landed in PDX at about 10:30 am. We came into the city using the MAX (train system) and checked into our hotel, The Nines. I loved this hotel! It's decorated so beautifully, in wonderful colors, which days into the trip still gave me delight. Black, taupe, silver, and Tiffany-box blue. I took a few pictures but they didn't do it justice. I have to say the bed was uncomfortable. Although Adam found it fine, my back was destroyed by it. But in comparison to our Tempur-Pedic, nothing is worthy.

Jacqui and her wonderful daughter Phoebe took us to a real Portland coffee place. Then we went back and met up with Dana and Jim in the hotel's lovely lobby. We hung out there for a while talking and catching up. Eventually Jacqui left to take Phoebe to a synchronized swim practice, and we went up to the bar on the top floor, Departures. This turned out to be a glossy, highly stylized take on a yacht cabin, complete with navigation maps covering the walls and captain's chairs around the bar. Soon enough the rest of our reunion gang showed up.

Once we were all convened we went out to find a brewpub for some dinner. The first place we went, Cascade Brewing Barrel House, was kind of a drag, super packed with youths and a bit generic and a long wait. It was just chilly enough not to be able to sit outside.

So we left there and drove out to McMenamins Kennedy School, a converted elementary school in NE Portland that has been, to put it mildly, renovated. It now contains a hotel, a theater, a brewery, a soaking pool, several themed bars and restaurants. It is an entertainment complex by and for strange and quirky people. It was just amazing and delightful. There was art covering the walls of the hallways and the bathrooms and the restaurants and the bars. There were loads of funky lights and murals and door decorations and signs and every creative thing you can think of. I was blown away. It was very nearly a creative overload. We had to wait for a table there, too, but it wasn't a hardship as there was lots of room and stuff to look at. I was pretty tired by this time - it was already about 9:30 pm when we got there (12:30am Eastern time) - and all I could do was gaze about me in wonder.
Two of the many attractions at
McMenamins Kennedy School
Adam and I went exploring and found all kinds of fantastic nooks and crannies. In the back yard of the main restaurant they had a wonderful terra cotta fireplace, at least 8 ft long by 5 ft wide by 15 ft high, covered with mosaics. Further along in the yard there was another open fire pit with a blaze going and a fiery warming station. And sculpture all around. The food was good, although I was too tired to appreciate it. I urge people to check the place out for the decorations and the creative juices it will get flowing in them. It made me want to come home and make art, the bigger the better. It made Adam want to build us our own giant fireplace outside, and I do hope he does!
A map of McMenamins!

After that we headed back to our hotel and crashed. I really was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. I woke up at 6:00 (ET 9:00), but since I'm adept at going back to sleep on a weekend at that time, I knew I could soldier on back to sleep. So I did and got 3 more hours and more or less set myself on Pac time.

We went to breakfast with Dana and Jim at one of the hotel restaurants, Urban Farmer. It was fantastic! Jim reckoned it the best breakfast he'd ever had. They began by bringing us a mini loaf of hot zucchini bread and grated chocolate over it at the table. So amazing. Then we got our breakfasts. I adored my french toast, which came with these nuggets of blended dairy butter and peanut butter and blueberry compote. I didn't even notice what other people had but we all scarfed it up.

After breakfast some of us went to the Saturday Market, a craft fair down by the river. I bought some hand balm and a CD by 9Swords, a musical duo who were busking and were really good. We were agog at the bass player's duct tape repairs to his flannel shirt. I felt pretty touristy when I asked if I could take their picture!

Tiny twig dam at the Japanese Garden
Next we headed out for the Portland Japanese Garden. This was as lovely as you might expect. Though not quite as tranquil. It was fairly crowded, both with throngs of photographers with tripods, and clusters of sightseers joking about how the caretakers could ever rake the gravel without leaving footprints. It was impossible to be alone with the scenery there, so I can't really report having had a serene and contemplative experience. I wish. But they had all kinds of amazing little details, like tiny dams along the side of the path hand woven out of twigs, and about a hundred types of moss, which I really love, and the trees changing colors in all their autumn glory.

Pano photo of the Flat Garden
After the Japanese Garden we went to Powell's Books, which Jacqui really wanted us to see. I only wish I'd had more time in it. I was looking in the crafts section and found a note in the knitting books area that Clara Parkes - blogger, luminary of the yarn world, and founder of Knitter's Review - was speaking there at 4 pm. I looked at the time; it was 4:09! So I headed quickly up to the third floor, Pearl Room, and heard a bit of her talk. The story she was telling when I got there was one I'd already read online in her project The Great White Bale, so I went nosing about the stacks. I found an interesting book on Greene & Greene (architects and furniture designers), but it was a bit on the heavy side and I didn't fancy shlepping it back in my luggage. I went down to the Gold Room, where they have the sci fi section, seeking Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites, but it's hard to find and they had no copies. So I ended up not buying anything, which Adam had decreed anyway (I am to buy no more books, supposedly, now that we have Kindles) so he was happy.

Beast menu
After Powell's, people did various things, wandering and napping and shopping. We had a reservation for dinner at Beast, one of those restaurants that has "seatings," providing a six-course prix-fixe dinner with menu determined by what they find in the markets. Here is what we were served; see menu: ------>
It was transporting, as expected. That was all we were able to do on Saturday. I think Beast consumed us, rather than the reverse.

On Sunday we had a firm plan to meet up early to go to breakfast at Meriwether's. This was, if possible, even better than the breakfast the previous morning. At least mine was: I had a Dutch Baby lemon skillet pancake, which is a kind of custard-bottomed lightly sweet pancake, baked and served in a small iron skillet. My friends reported delighting in their choices as well, though I was pretty focused on my own amazing meal to examine others' choices.

After we ate I pushed everybody to set a date for the next meetup. Dana and Jim were leaving after breakfast and I wanted to get everyone to discuss it in person. [In the past, we've typically done this over email; it's a giant pain getting everybody to reply to the email, much less commit early to a date. If the date is in one's calendar already, however, when one is planning things for the fall of 2014, for example, then one may be less likely to accept another event during that time.] So despite pushback from Dana, who protested it was way too early to think about it, I referenced advice from her husband Jim, who had said to pick a date and just stick to it. And when he chimed in with, "You should just say, Columbus day weekend next year," everybody else fell into agreement. I was delighted. I told them, these mini-reunions are a highlight of my year! I love seeing all these people so much. I get to see them far too rarely. After agreement was reached, Jim said, "And now, Barclay, when you get back, you send everybody an Outlook invite!" (Which I did today.)

After lunch Fred took Jim and Dana and Jena and Robert to the airport. Jacqui took the rest of us back to the hotel. Adam took a nap, and I went out in search of one or two of the craft destinations I had been planning to visit. It turned out that the Button Emporium was closed. What a bummer - from what I could see through the window it looked like my kind of shop indeed. But I did go to Knit Purl. I had read about them on the Juniper Moon Farm blog; they were a stop on JMF's yarn tour earlier this year. KP has its own new yarn line, containing one yarn so far but a doozy, a lovely thick cashmere. I bought a skein and they gave me a free pattern as well for a scarf they had a sample of in the shop.

Jacqui surprised us by inviting Adam and me to go with Phoebe to the Portland Timbers game on Sunday night! We were totally excited to get to go. I absolutely love that kid and we were delighted to be at the game with her. It was super fun. It was a big deal of a game, in which they beat the Seattle Sounders to take first place in their division. We sat in the North End, where they have booster club volunteers to pump up the crowd and lead sheers. They even pass out a cheat sheet with all the words. I put a couple of videos on Instagram, including one of the crowd right after Portland scored the only goal of the night! (Warning: it autoplays, in case you're at work.)

After the game, the three of us took a streetcar (their public transportation is absolutely delightful) to our hosts' home and had a light supper with Vicki and Roger and Fred and Jacqui and their kids. Their apartment is large and full of family and love. It was great to get to see it and them in it.

I love these college buddies so much and it was great to see them.

Next year in Austin, maybe, or Boston, or ... well, we'll figure it out. But at least we know when it'll be!

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