Thursday, July 29, 2021

Tuesday in Portland

On Tuesday, I decided to go back to where it all began, when I first visited Portland, and I happened to randomly pick an Airbnb in the Alberta Arts neighborhood. This was an extrememly rare circumstance for me, as I was traveling all on my own, and to a place I didn't know. Even though it was only an overnight stay, on my way back home from seeing family in Albany, the time in Portland left a long lasting impression. It was like a new crush, a new infatuation, with a beautiful neighborhood, city, region, developed, and I still can't get enough. On this first visit, I was wishing I had a few more hours, so I could see more, get even better acquainted. Now, I pinch myself! Am I dreaming? I've had the privillege of coming back... five more times! I'd like to think I am good friends with Portland, to imagine she thinks fondly of me, that we enjoy each other's company, and share a bond.

This visit was a frank reminder that we are only acquaintances, and that more likely, I am somewhat aggresively friendly, overly-zealous, and a bit presumptive. I recongnize, it has been a rough, brutal, year for this city, and I saw it more clearly in person, than from news reports, and Instagram posts. COVID lockdowns, fires, a record-breaking heat wave, and the shocking summer when peaceful protesters were confronted and attacked by government aroused, and backed, rioting and terror... the toll of these trials was sadly evident. I tried to verbalize what I was seeing, in people's behavior, in the destruction, and boarded buildings, in the something is missing mood that veiled even pretty, familiar places. I admit I was initially a bit offended, when the service at a once favorite restaurant was almost hostile, indifferent at best... what was in the warm, slightly foamy water the hostess begrudgingly plopped on the edge of the table? Then I resolved to hold space for a city short-staffed, struggling to recover, and probably still feeling dizzy from 114 degree heat. We enjoyed some wonderful interactions, service, and engagement. I re-doubled my effort to drive like a local, slower, kinder, stopping for every pedestrian, mindful of cyclists, birds, dogs, squirrels, extra extra chill. I arrived in Portland, showing up to see an acquaintance I love, but she's had a very hard year, and it felt like I showed up too early, stayed too long, and expected too much. I apologize, and I hope my adjusted attitude helped.
Ok, back to Alberta Arts. I scored a great parking space, a short distance to the place where we hoped to get breakfast, and around the corner from one of my favorite bookstores, Green Bean Books. AND! (All caps worthy conjunction!) AND, lo! A real life Maggie Rudy art installation! I figuratively swooned! I literally squealed! I couldn't be there when Maggie Rudy made the window display at Green Bean Books, so this was a really wonderful sight to come upon! If you know me, and my ratty-rat obsession, it can come as no surprise that all of Maggie Rudy's mice, and moles, frogs, birds, and miniature worlds mean the world to me... the tiny, fanciful, make-believe, creative world.
The Art in Alberta Arts is as poignant and compelling as ever. The shops, still in business, were closed at this early breakfast hour. We headed over to Petite Provence, on Division, where they were open (literally, figuratively, hospitably) for guests. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast, including this hot chocolate, which I called "exceptionally Instagramable." And we particularly enjoyed the gracious welcome, and kind hospitality.

Now for something different. Much like when we traveled to New England and William introduced us to cemetery visits, and it felt odd to me, at first, I was not familiar with, nor exactly eager to visit, a place known for taxidermy. Well, by now I should know from the start, that if William has a recommedation, I can readily expect it to be something interesting, worthwhile, and not necessarily gross, but highly engrossing. William takes to the subjects of history, nature, philosophy, making, and replicating, research, and oddities, with reverence, and appreciation, and studied knowledge. It's how he approached the prop-making practice of making historical reproduction headstones, and what lead to many, many visits to cemeteries in New England, and he brought me along, reluctantly, at first, then increasingly appreciative. He shares compelling and fascinating details, anecdotes and practical knowledge, so that the visits became like living history, relevant, enlightning, worthwhile. And so it was at Paxton Gate, Portland, and NW Portland. A few disclaimers, cautions, and insights... 1. William is a vegetarian, he carries spiders outdoors, and searches for cheese that doesn't use rennet. 2. Paxton Gate ethically sources their products: "We want you to know that we go out of our way to source items that have either died of natural causes..." 3. It's the fascination with, and respect for, the natural world, that compels William's interest in skeletons, and feathers, minerals and gems, taxidermy, and preservation. I did not readily make the distinction, having a distate for game hunting, and making trophies of wild animals, but William sees these as musuem studies, as a means of keeping accurate anatomical record, for research, and appreciation, and definitely not as prizes, or an indication of conquering nature. Arguably, it may be a small distinction, but I think it's an important one, and merits consideration. If you aren't uncomfortable... here's some of what we saw.
I don't know where those kind of spiders are found, but... yeah, no. I don't want to know! This is an oddities shop, for sure! I loved the minerals, the gems, the books, the incense, and plants. I was fascinated by the baby beaver, the chipmunk, the bat skeleton... so delicate and beautiful. The taxidermy of the two-headed calf? Truly odd, and oddly compelling. It's hard to explain curiosity, but it's there, and I marvel at what nature is, does, how it works, and what happens when it works differently. We have the very good fortune of living near one of the finest Zoos in the world, and their work in conservation and education, are essential, necessary... I mention this because I've been taking William to zoos for all his life, and when I first took him to a natural history museum he looked crushed, a bit astonished, but not in a good way. He was only three years old. I kneeled beside him, and asked what he felt, was he enjoying the museum, and with a tone of great concern he asked, "Is everything here dead?" He was used to seeing living lions, and tigers and bears. Now, he has a greater appreciation for dioramas, for the preservation of specimens, for mindful curating of samples, exhibits that tell a story. Ideally, we wouldn't need zoos, or to "manage" populations of wildlife. Ideally our understanding of nature, of ourselves, would be from observations and study in the living world. Still, from a young age, the impression of seeing a beaver diorama in a museum, or touching an otter pelt at an aquarium, inspired respect and care, left me mindful of the living otters, and snakes, and spiders, bats and chipmunks, and compelled me to want to protect them, to care for their well-being.

Is this a very long post? Too long? Ah, well. I've been prattling on with these travel posts, and no one has said Stop, so far! What can I say? We squeezed a lot into our Tuesday. And I like that I am getting some of the memories pinned down.

Of course Powell's City of Books was on the schedule. We paid a good, long visit. (By the way, if any of this is inspiring you to visit Portland, I should warn you... downtown was particularly rough around the edges, even more than it's been previously. If you haven't noticed that our country has a crisis for people without homes, or a crisis with people dependent on drugs, many places in Oregon, and California, will readily remind you. I don't say that patronizingly, but concernedly. I am deeply shocked and dismayed by the number, and size of tent cities I saw, and while I can't offer the perfect solution, I am quite certain that compassion, and corporations paying taxes, and paying living wages would be good places to begin. There is way too much hurt, and disparity in our world.)

Sorry. I hope you know you can stretch, get a cup of tea. This post is long and deep!

I don't know if this is anything to do with COVID or heat waves, or racists running around Portland with tRump flags, but the bathrooms at Powell's were closed. Everything else was as awesome as ever, and Maria and William had no trouble loading up on some must-have reading material. My own pick was a book of poetry by Mary Oliver, Devotions. I was thinking of the redwoods, and other natural spaces that make me want to be a poet, or a singer, an artist, anything to help express my affection and longing for forests, meadows, birdsong, and rivers. Mary Oliver scratches that itch.

We did not eat here. But this travelogue would not be complete without mentioning that it smelled really really good as we walked by.

We walked by Escape From New York Pizza when we decided we might as well visit both Portland locations of Paxton Gate, especially as it was suggested by the very attentive, intelligent, and kind woman at Paxton Gate on Mississippi Avenue. And I will warn you, I got a little closer to taxidermy this time, and have some pictures to prove it.

Calamity Kim, I was thinking of you all day... what with the Maggie Rudy display, and then what I am about to share about the second mouse.

I learned that there is more than one way to do taxidermy, and the gentleman that greeted us by asking if we would like to touch a chipmunk, shared all about the process of freeze-dried taxidermy vs removing everything then stuffing taxidermy. The chipmunk actually has bones and organs intact, because it was freeze-dried. Did you love the school lessons on dissection, mummification, ancient Egyptology, the mummies of Guanajuato, all that was preserved in ash at Pompei? You are probably fascinated, otherwise, I apologize.

By this point, after interesting lessons and discussions from several of the clerks, at both Paxton Gate locations, I was getting a little less squeamish, myself. And I couldn't help being drawn to the (not wool felted) "cute" mice. Because, you know... I love ratty-rats. I was undeniably attracted to the little guy in red gnome hat with a miner's pick... he reminded me of some ratty-rats, and other paintings, I made. And just as I was almost nose-pressed to the glass in admiration, I took a closer look at the second mouse, and I got a small shock. A slightly twisted, darkly comical shock, and I said, aloud, something like, "Oh! No. No, that is not cute!" Because the second mouse, on closer inspection, is a sinister and creepy little fellow, with dishonorable, nasty habits, and not-so adorable appetites. Kim, my Halloween and scary movie loving, fan of gothic horror and comically chilling expressions, this second mouse is for you!

Bad Mouse! Bad, zombie mouse.

Ice cream, anyone? We, of course, had some Salt & Straw. I can't resist a kid scoop of the lavender and honey, which is like giving all of your senses over to a lavender garden in full sun. It is worth the whole trip. The End. And we went on our evening walk, which was more of a night walk, to be accurate, because it was already after 9 o'clock. And I like saying it as something we do, all the time, because it's just our habit, and way of living, now, on only our second night of visiting Portland. Our walk. Come, join us. I am taking pictures of countless beautiful homes, and gardens, and trying to decide which 2 or 3, or five, we will buy and share among friends. We will all live around the same block or two, and walk every evening, and stroll to the cafes and shops, and ride our bicycles to Tacovore, or Collage, or the River, or anywhere. One house for entertaining on Halloween, because the stoop is long and broad for Jack-o-lanterns, and one house that has a W on the chimney, so must be William's and he will fill it with oddities, and that's where we will have poetry readings, and drink tea on dark, stormy afternoons. A house where we can sleep lots of guests, another where we will grow every kind of flower and vegetable, and paint the fences. And so on. What else. What kind of house would you like? I've said enough already.


Little Dorrit does... said...

I've been reading all your road-trip posts and loving each and every one of them. I can really relate to the what you say about revisiting special places and reconnecting with family, as well as your enjoyment of all the other things that made this trip unique - Maria's hat, the freeze-dried mice, and (best of all, for me) the tale of the needle-point doggo. I have been in very similar situations where I've fallen in love with something (usually some waif-like creature in a second-hand shop) and used the threat of being featured in a hoarding documentary to restrain myself and walk away, only to return (sometimes days later) armed with the mantra "If it's still there, then it was clearly meant to be!" Your doggo was definitely meant to be with you.
Thank you for sharing your wonderful journey!

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Thank you! I admit, I was second guessing my decision to write so much (as evidenced by the post that I wrote yesterday, and was published this morning.) I am still trying to figure out what it is about that Doggo! I will say this... it was nice to have an inconsequential problem that took me out of my comfort zone and rewarded me. It was like solving an entire cross-word, or finding my way out of a maze! And if I hang the Doggo up, and enjoy it displayed, I have to believe that it won't be a hoarding concern. Right? I absolutely relate to your experience of going back to a shop, thinking "If it's still there, then it was clearly meant to be!"
I am so happy to share the journey, and thank you for chatting with me.

Kimberly Shaw said...

I have really enjoyed your travel posts. Thank you for taking your readers along on the adventure. Isn't is wonderful to be out and about again after such a long confinement?

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

Kimberly, thank you! I'm glad you feel like I am bringing you along to share the adventure, which is definitely one of my hopes when I sit down to write this all out. I have to admit, being out and about was much more of a dare than a firm desire. But I did benefit, and I am thankful. I am thankful for the cold ocean air, and the smell of deep woods, and for the chance to hug family, and see more people, places, things, moments. It cleared some cobwebs, and rekindled my motivations, and dreams. I feel lucky, and it's good to be reminded of that. Have you had a chance to get out, to see new things? I hope so!