The City of Roses
August 8, Our Anniversary. After an exhilarating week with Randy and Chris in the beautiful Tetons Range, we headed to Portland, known most famously as the City of Roses. They are everywhere to be seen in this northwest city, seemingly growing wild in scattered patches of earth, and ubiquitously present in just about every home’s garden. The Rose Garden in Washington Park has every imaginable color and variety of rose with its attendant aroma that offers a trove of pleasure to the senses. They bloom even in the most modest of gardens, giving the impression of hardiness with little need of care. In my own garden in Indiana, I struggle having a healthy looking rosebush. Perhaps this misty, cool climate is more conducive to their growth.
What I’ve noticed here is the lack of green lawns. Perhaps they can be found in the sprawling suburbs, but at least, here in the city, the small frontage plots are converted into gardens, or left to a natural state sans watering. Some of the lawn gardens are vegetable beds of tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, herbs, beans, even corn, and whatever else the homeowner wants to grow. Others are a mixture of vegetables and flowers. Behind a wall of sunflowers in one garden, I noticed beds of vegetables.
Portland is also known for being ecologically friendly. Recycling is a big deal here. Bins and public disposal places make it easy to be environmentally conscious. Compost bins stand neatly aside trash and recycling bins — the smallest among them is the trash. Customers can redeem bottles and cans for cash. Farmer’s markets are plentiful promoting organic foods, and can be found in just about every neighborhood across the city. Healthy food is a by-product of this city that promotes healthy living. Community gardens can be found in many neighborhoods. It’s also a city of bicycles. Drivers are forever vigilant; cars politely yield to bicyclists and to pedestrians. Unlike in the Tetons, where bicyclists were out for the sport of it, here people are mounted on bikes mostly as a mode of necessary transportation. Just about everyone is riding toward a destination, some to work or shopping, others perhaps to a coffee shop to gather with friends. Few if any, appear to be riding recreationally, except in the evenings, when families are seen enjoying casual rides.
The city’s moniker may be roses, but craft beers clearly define the city. Brew-pubs are seemingly as omnipresent as the roses. I’ve traveled to Portland numerous times since the early nineties and with each visit enjoy tasting a new craft beer with my stepson who is quite knowledgeable about beer and who, on occasion, has made some tasty homemade brews. It is he who introduced me to the Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter. Normally, I am not drawn to porters, — I prefer lagers or ales — but this one is not heavy; and as porters go, it pleases while still retaining its hoppy, chocolate taste. I’d relish the idea of pub hopping with several of my faculty colleagues who are craft beer aficionados. I’ll be bringing a couple of cases back to Indiana and can invite them over for a tasting.
Portland’s less glamorous aura is its homelessness. I’ve always been astounded by the number and visibility of homeless people roaming the streets. It’s a problem that the city has been battling for a number of years. A former mayor pronounced an end to homelessness within ten years; and now that timeframe has passed, the problem persists. There are many anecdotes as to why Portland is attractive to the homeless — mild weather, good social services, acceptance and tolerance among the local population. But that broad-mindedness is rapidly shifting as the city desperately tries to move the homeless off the streets. A recent article by a weekly newspaper highlights the current situation. Although life circumstances took an unfortunate turn for some, surprisingly, the homeless lifestyle is a choice among many.
These impressions of Portland aside, the main purpose of our visit is with the new Bendotoff-Smith family addition, grandbaby Eliot, six months old. We arrived last weekend and on Sunday attended an outdoor symphony concert in the Rose Garden of Washington Park. The widely attended event was part of a two-week celebration of the arts. We picnicked on the grass with Nicole’s parents from Palo Alto, Ethan and Nicole, a friend of theirs, and Eliot. The rest of the week was spent visiting with Eliot and his parents. Melanie and I have enjoyed walking Eliot around the neighborhood in his stroller. He’s a beautiful baby with big blue eyes that light up his face. He is curious about everything around him. Melanie says he favors Ethan, his father, as a child. Today, he focused attentively on a squirrel scurrying along a telephone wire. In moments like this, it is difficult to distract him. For Melanie and me, it’s been fun observing Ethan and Nicole as parents. They have slipped naturally into parental mode and are doing very well as doting parents. And like every new parent, they are sleep deprived. Little Eliot likes to stay awake at night.
Earlier in the week, we all spent an afternoon cleaning Nicole’s and Ethan’s new home, a fixer-upper that has charm and potential. That evening I cooked a pot of shrimp creole to the delight of all. Satisfying our culinary palates has been de rigueur at each of the stops on our cross-country journey. It was a good excuse to dine out on Thursday evening, at a neighborhood Spanish restaurant, Cabezon, for a three-fold celebration – Nicole’s success on her oral midwifery exam, Ethan and Nicole’s new home, and our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Each of the dishes was beautifully presented; no doubt enhancing its flavor. My meal of monkfish was absolutely divine. This morning, Melanie and I breakfasted at our favorite French restaurant, La Petite Provence, in the Alberta district, an artsy up and coming area in northeast Portland. With our coffees and croissants – made only as the French can –we shared a dish of Eggs Provencal, poached eggs on a half-tomato covered with an herbed pesto sauce. As the French would say, suberbe! There’s no second-guessing that we will return before leaving.
A highlight of our Portland stay was the visit to the home of a friend, Pam Montgomery, from SVHE, the Society for Values in Higher Education. She describes her house as a tree house. Indeed, there are steep stone steps to mount, but the view of downtown, the Willamette River and the mountains is exhilarating. Built by her great grandfather at the turn of the last century, this home with its warm exterior color has a Monet-styled garden. Walking through the gardens was akin to walking through separate rooms of a home, each section at different levels defined by a particular color scheme and texture. Water features in several nooks mimicked the music of gentle flowing streams. Tucked away along the paths were statuettes of Asian foo dogs and ceramic pots. A seating area under a vine-covered pergola housed a dragon placed there by her great-grandfather; there her extended family gathers annually for a dragon ritual in his memory. After a tour of the garden and the home, we sat on the veranda overlooking the city for dessert – sorbet, pastries and port wine. Pam is a connoisseur of port. We appreciated hearing stories of generations of family history. The maternal side of her family stretches back to pre-Civil War times in New Orleans. The family home was located on Dauphine and Royal Streets. I now have another connection to my beloved city.
And what would a visit be without spending a couple of hours at Powell’s, the large multi-level bookstore downtown that is as much a landmark for Portland as Mt. Hood! And if you are as much a book-lover as I am that means you won’t be leaving empty-handed. In addition to the new novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, a view of race and America through the eyes of an African, we bought two French children’s books for Eliot. In fact, Melanie and I have been speaking to him in French; he listens attentively, and sometimes smiles.
August 13. An early morning rise and walk through the Rose Garden was a perfect complement to a beautiful sunny day. We got there before hordes of bus tourists descended on the gardens enabling us to casually stroll among the multi-colored forest of fragrant roses. We spent about two hours there admiring and studying the rose bushes, the rose trees, the climbing roses. It’s like being in rose heaven. A lunch appointment at noon with another friend from SVHE pushed us out of the park; otherwise, I could have spent the entire day there. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to return to see the Japanese Garden, one of the best, I’m told, outside of Japan.