Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Very Portland White Christmas

Tonight, I saw a show that reminded me of the magic of Portland: A White Album Christmas. It featured the Wanderlust Circus and the Nowhere Band (an ensemble of fantastic musicians). This isn’t the first time the show has been performed; apparently, it’s a bit of a Portland tradition. The idea is that they play the entire Beatles White Album. During intermission someone noted that it’s something the Beatles never performed live. Throughout the year the ensemble puts on a few other shows that are the complete albums of other epic musical masterpieces.

The show’s storyline was that of a traveling circus. The players are the immortal kind, though what caused it I have no idea. Rest assured, they weren’t vampires. That just wouldn’t go with the vibe of the show. It’s one of those things you just believe because it’s Portland and really anything is possible. There are punk rock clowns that try to thwart the performance, naturally. There’s even a time machine element that’s reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. Of course, the scent of patchouli invaded the air. Ah, ambiance. The acrobatics, aerialists, juggling, contortion movements were amazing – swings, ropes, belly dancing (maybe not acrobatic, but something), hula-hoop’s, and human pyramids even the best cheer leading squads couldn’t accomplish. Things thrown between the audience and the stage performers accompanied the performance of the song Helter Skelter. I won’t say more because that would be like a magician revealing the secret to a trick. Yes, it was magical.

During the break, as theater goers assembled outside cast members mingled. I heard one such player reveal that his costume, a way too big black and white suit was originally purchased for an event where he refereed a glitter bomb fight. Ah, Portland.

The Culture of Art

That’s what gets me to the point of writing this post. When I first moved here, I longed for theater. I went all the time when I lived in New York. It was lacking here, but compared to New York it would be lacking anywhere. There’s a reason Broadway shows scoop up all the Tony awards. Perhaps instead of calling them unsophisticated, I should have said they weren’t authentic. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except that sometimes you don’t know that until you see a glimpse of what it should be. Every town has its own vibe, own sense of itself, and as the saying goes: To thy own self be true.

Seeing White Christmas tonight reminded me of that. It reminded me of the Portland I came to seven years ago. Weary of all the tattoos and people wearing pajamas during the day, I wasn’t exactly sure what this place was all about. Tonight, I get it. Perhaps that’s because I see daily how it’s starting to disappear. This place is a bit of an artist’s playground, with the freedom to express yourself how you see fit – no judgment. It’s not about making money and working all hours of the night. It’s about working to live the life you want. That life can be filled with anything… outdoor activities, art projects, crochet bombing, music, creating films, getting a ton of tattoos, etc. You think it and you can duct tape your way through it until it turns into something special… something like White Album Christmas.

An Evolution of Sorts

Portland is changing, which makes it an exciting time to live here. Watching a city going through growing pains and seeing the decisions it makes that will affect it for years to come is fascinating. You could see it in New York when you look at the transportation. Clearly, someone at some point never wanted freeways going through it, but cars weren’t going away. So you end up with a town with highways surrounding the city and a ton of public transportation that can often times get you to your destination faster than a car. It’s progress despite the multiple visions people had for the city.

Portland today isn’t the Portland I initially came to seven years ago. It’s not good, or bad; it’s just different. Apartments are going up everywhere you look, traffic is an issue, cocktail prices and rents are on the rise, and parking is hard to find. More companies are setting up shop here. That’s just progress and that’s ok. There are still tons of mom and pop shops, there’s plenty to do, and people are still putting on shows like White Album Christmas. My wish is that through this change, the city doesn’t lose itself completely. There is an artist spirit and creativity here that should never be demolished in place of something new. The bumper sticker says “Keep Portland Weird,” I’d change that to say “Keep Portland, Portland.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It's On A Boat: Parde of Lights

One of the things I used to love about the holidays in New York are all the great display windows and of course the annual stop to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Although the streets were crowded and the city had been invaded by tourists, there was still something quite magical about it all. Each city does something special to celebrate the holidays. In Portland, it's the Christmas Ships.

It's not as large or as fancy as those say in Newport Beach, CA, but it's still quite a site. I've been living here a few years and never quite got out to see them. It does actually get cold here in the winter. Temperatures can easily be in the 20s and 30s. This year was the 60th anniversary of the Portland Christmas Ships Parade. It's actually not just one night, it happens for quite a few nights. It shouldn't be too hard to fit in, but somehow I never did.

It's not all about floating Christmas Trees
This year, I got a chance to see them cruising on a boat, no less. I attended a holiday party on a boat and we got to see the ships start their journey to their destination up the river. At one point, we were stopped on our not quite three-hour tour and the boats circled around us. It was definitely a treat, being in the middle of the water on a cold winter's night with boats decorated in Christmas lights circling. It did feel a bit magical, as if the show was just for us. Of course, it was for everyone.

I'm glad I got a chance to see it and especially while being on the water. It did kind of remind me of what Portland is all about, a bit DYI, tons of fun, and taking advantage of all the things the city's landscape has to offer. It's a bit late, I know, but I hope your new year is bright.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Front Yard Farm

Portlanders tend to have a green thumb. It's evident by all the front yard farms all over town. As someone who has more of a light brown thumb, it's something I really appreciate and admire. Even now as the gray of fall rolls in, tomatoes and the occasional fruit fallen from a tree liter the sidewalk. It's clear they know what they're doing.

I'm getting ahead of myself, let me first tell you what makes a front yard farm. It's really what it sounds like. People put up planting beds in their front yards. Sometime it's not in the front yard proper. That area is still reserved for lawn, gnomes, and other front yard accessories. Instead, the planters are placed in the patch of lawn in between the sidewalk and the street. Sounds small, but you'd be amazed at how much produce one of those patches can yield. 

The front yard farm is a great idea. It's industrious, resourceful, and well, fruitful. It goes hand in hand with Portland food culture where many of the items on a restaurant menu are locally sourced. I like this practice in general.

While Portlanders are huge "grow your own food" people, what they aren't is ambitious. Perhaps that's beginning to change a bit, but all and all not so much. Unless, of course, your ambition is to have a body covered in the most amazing tattoos you've ever seen - then you've come to the right place. When it comes to any kind of art there's a supportive community around to encourage the work and help out.

I digress, my point about ambition is that you just don't see it much. Which is why it was so surprising to see a bit of ambition when it comes to front yard farms. How you might ask? People are renting out plots of their land for people to plant vegetables. To be clear it's the little patch of land between the sidewalk and the street.

There are signs planted in the grass alerting passerby's that the land is available. They kind of remind me of those "You could be home now..." signs you see on the freeway promoting a housing area. I wonder how much they get for that land? It's kind of crazy, but resourceful.

I'm all for ambition whatever form it takes and if produces healthy fruits and vegetables - all the better. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Housing Boom

When I first moved here there wasn't a lot of building going on in Portland. Lately, things have changed. Construction is on the rise and every time I turn around it seems like another empty lot is getting built up. Even locations that had abandon buildings are quickly getting rehabilitated. Like the old Der Wienerschnitzel building that was painted black and had flames on the side of it is now a new housing unit. I never knew what that place was suppose to be, but it had character.

One of the more interesting things about all this housing is that there isn't a lot of parking being included. Looks like parking in this town is going to get harder. Perhaps more people will start using car sharing services.

Along with more housing there are more business opening up all over town. Main streets like SE Division that didn't always have a lot of store fronts are getting more shops and restaurants weekly. I'm happy to report that these new shops aren't chains. As Portland grows it's still supporting more mom and pop shops - at least in the South East.

The Pearl is growing as well with high-end brands (Jonathan Adler and Jack Spade) opening stores. That also seems to be right for the Pearl. Especially, since when I first moved here everyone compared the Pearl to SoHo in New York. I see the resemblance, but it's not quite the same.

It's been interesting to see these changes happening and watching a town grow. Inevitably there will be growing pains. I'm curious to see what they might be. What do you think we can expect from all these changes?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Carless In Portland

I'll admit it: I'm a city girl. The years I've spent owning a car in my life are far less than the years I've spent not having a car. That's as Martha Stewart would say, "A Good Thing." When I moved to Portland, Matt had a car - a Subaru (one of the most popular automotive brands in Portland) - it's the same car he had when I met him years before. That's what I would use to get around town. It was nice having a car to drive. It helped me get the lay of the land. Some days I would just drive around random neighborhoods. More often than not I would get lost. I like getting lost. Next time I found myself in that location, I'd know exactly where I was.

As I got a better idea of how the city was laid out I began to figure out routes I liked best and the order of the streets. I learned that Burnside split South from North and the Willamette river split the town East and West. While the city isn't exactly a grid (like the streets above Houston in New York) it's pretty close. Some streets are even laid out in alphabetical order. Having a car to drive during that acclimation period was crucial and oh so helpful.

The car was getting old as cars do. Problems started occurring with the car and it turns out I didn't actually drive it all that much and neither did Matt. It made sense to sell it and let someone else have great adventures in it.

Around this same time a new service started in Portland. Maybe you've heard of it - Car2Go. Now, we already have ZipCar here in Portland. It's a service I used in New York - about once every other month friends and I would get a car and get out of the city to run errands or just go on an adventure. It's fairly easy to use, you reserve a car (there are a plethora of models) and then pick it up at it's parking spot and return it there when you get back. You pay by the hour and gas and insurance are all included in the price. Pretty simple.

Car2Go is a bit different. The entire fleet is made up of smart cars. It works similar to ZipCar in that you have a card that you use to unlock the car and you can reserve cars. The big difference is that you can get a car anywhere and you don't need to return it to the place you picked it up. The service also includes gas and insurance. Instead of paying by the hour you pay by the minute. It's all about short trips and getting you from one place to another. There is even a Car2Go mobile app that can be used to find and reserve cars nearby. The app has its moments, but overall it gets the job done.

I quite like Car2Go, but then again I'm rarely in a hurry and don't mind walking to find cars. They aren't always around. For example, on a weekday during work hours it's pretty easy to find a car downtown, and quite difficult to find a car on the east side. That's just what happens. The cars are where the people leave them. One of my favorite uses is to drive a Car2Go to meet friends for dinner and then take a cab back home after.

It's actually less expensive than owning a car. Then again, I don't use a car every day. Between the two car services and the bus service in Portland getting around without a car isn't too difficult. I must say it really does help that there's no particular rush to be anywhere. That sense of urgency just isn't as immediate as say in a place like New York. Honestly, even there you can get away with being late to some things. That said; Portland may not have as dense a layout as New York, but both cities are quite doable without a car and I think that speaks to a certain city-centric lifestyle.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Favorite Weather

My favorite time of year is summer and one of the great things about living in Portland is the summer. Granted, the season here doesn't officially start until July 4th. Think I'm kidding? Nope. When it kicks in it's awesome -- dare I say idyllic. It's typically 80 to 90 degrees with minimal humidity. There are some days when the temperature can hit 100 degrees if not a little higher, but at least it's a dry heat. Last summer we had about three months of sunny days for three months straight. All of this is a welcome change after spending summers in New York.

To be fair there was something magical about summers in New York on the weekends. For those who don't flea the city for the Hamptons or Fire Island, the city becomes a private playground. It's much easier to get into great restaurants, the streets are fairly empty (still there are more people on the streets than those walking around downtown Portland on a busy day), and if you're lucky enough to know someone who has access to a pool each weekend can become like a mini-vacation.

It's the other five days of the week that were brutal: The oppressive heat trapped in between all the buildings, the steam coming up from the subway tunnels through the sidewalk vents, and the humidity. Not a fan of humidity. There were days when you couldn't wait for the rain. Not just rain. A torrential downpour that felt more like a tropical storm. When these struck people would huddle under building awnings waiting for the rain to pass (usually only about 10 minutes). The best part was always that first breath of air when the rain stopped - just a moment of no humidity.

Portland summers are pretty much the opposite and I love that. I don't even mind when it rains for a few days in a row. What I don't love is the schizophrenic weather which usually occurs in the Spring months and often in June. This year we've gotten plenty of beautiful days in both May and June so I feel a bit bad mentioning my weather angst, but not that bad. What is schizophrenic weather you may wonder? Well it's a mixture of sun, rain, hail, gray sky, and sun again all in the span of a minute or two.  

Honestly, how do you dress for that kind of weather? I have a jacket on, wait I don't need a jacket. It's a head scratcher. Now if that happened maybe once or twice a day that would be one thing. That's simply not the case. The weather can carry on like that all day long. The upside is we sure do get a lot of rainbows in Portland.

Even better news? Summer is coming and I can't wait. Now, if I could only find someone with a pool.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blooming Trees

There's something about Spring in Portland. It's different than Fall, when the leaves on the trees turn different colors and inevitably fall to the earth. In the Spring, the trees literally bloom. The colors are vibrant and the idea that all of these trees are growing flowers in gorgeous shades of pinks instead of leaves - is a bit magical. Just walking through a neighborhood can make you feel alive.

Of course, the petals fall to the ground like the leaves, but looking down on a walk around town isn't so bad either. There are so many flowers blooming in a bounty of colors it's just outstanding. It's all a person can do to keep from picking some, bringing them home and putting it in a vase to admire for a few more days.

Here are a few snapshots that will last longer and it might even be a lovely little escape to revisit on dark winter moments when the days short and the skies are gray.