The Sun Never Shines in Portland
August 17. After several days in Portland, I noticed that the early mornings were hazy and cloudy causing me to remark that the sun never shines in Portland. But it does, as Melanie so gleefully made me aware each morning we stepped outdoors into the bright sunshine. As common wisdom might have it, Portland is known for its cloudy, even misty days, particularly in the winter. But that has not really been the case since our arrival. Sunny days have been bountiful; the air fresh, cool and free of humidity. However, occasional haze has made it difficult to see clearly Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.
Other than this small inconvenience, our time here has been restful. Almost two months have passed since my retirement. There is a growing feeling of independence unfettered from budget woes, personnel issues, endless meetings and all the other worries that occupy a chief academic officer’s attention. The daily routine was wearing but I’m slowly settling into a routine that I determine and from which I gain personal satisfaction. I’m getting fewer and fewer e-mails. I’ve been un-subscribing myself from all those higher education newsletters and websites offering student retention, faculty development, planning, management techniques, and /or assessment services. Instead, I’m getting up in the morning, exercising, reading the newspaper over breakfast, reading about the history of the Tetons, taking an occasional nap, playing with and taking walks with baby Eliot. Melanie and I have found time to visit with friends in Portland, dine out, take brief excursions to Multnomah Falls and to Hood River for wine tasting. Much to our delight, we discovered a Pinot Gris with an aromatic bouquet and refreshing taste from a small Oregon vineyard, Cerulean.
This morning we babysat Eliot while his parents went out for a date. He was perfectly fine for the first hour, but then he became fidgety and before long he was waling. Nothing seemed to comfort him; he was not interested in a walk, nor had he any interest in food or drink. We finally realized that he needed a nap and after some resistance, Melanie was able to lull him to sleep. To the surprise of his parents, Eliot was still sleeping when they returned. Ethan remarked that we were pros. Little did he know! In the afternoon, we helped Ethan and Nicole transport some of their belongings to their new home. Melanie occupied herself with the kitchen while the rest of us hacked away at overgrown vegetation in the yard. Later we treated ourselves to ice cream at Salt & Straw, a very popular place in Portland that serves fresh homemade ice cream with an eclectic array of unusual flavors, like strawberry and cilantro lime cheesecake, and goat cheese marionberry habanero. Melanie chose almond brittle with salted ganache, Nicole, sea salt with caramel ribbon, Ethan, strawberry honey balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper and a second scoop of lavender honey, and I had a delicious pear and blue cheese ice cream.
This ice cream shop is just one of the many curious and interesting things I’ve noticed about Portland. As you may already know, medical marijuana is legal in Oregon and as we drive around town we’ve noticed several medical marijuana establishments. We drive pass one of these daily, Potlandia, that bills itself as a private social club where clients in need of medical marijuana can visit in a comfortable and welcoming environment. This is also a city of bridges. I’m amazed at the intricate interweaving of bridges suspended high in the air appearing to float over the waterways and the city below. Driving on these byways can be quite intimidating, particularly for someone like me who suffers from acrophobia, a fear of heights. Yet, if you are interested in panoramic views of the city, some of these bridges offer spectacular views. But watch out for the traffic ahead!! A safer way to get panoramic views is at the summit of the Rose Garden or a stroll along Terwilliger Boulevard, near the Oregon Health and Sciences University. Both places offer unimpeded panoramas of the city and of Mt. Hood, the latter being visible if there is no haze. And you are free to call me old-fashioned, but I am amazed how many young people tattoo themselves. Seemingly, every person under thirty has an ornamental tattoo, and often multiple tattoos covering large swaths of their bodies.
What also make Portland special are its ethnic diversity and the diverse character of its neighborhoods. Like any big city, there is the usual mix of upscale housing and modest bungalows dispersed across all quadrants of the city. But the attraction is found in city blocks grouped in districts where restaurants, brew pubs, specialty shops, boutiques, galleries and other small businesses abound. The ones I am familiar with, and have spent time in, are the Pearl District downtown near Powell’s, the Alberta District where La Petite Provence is and the Mississippi District where we had excellent margaritas at Por que No, a Mexican restaurant. There are many surprises in these pedestrian friendly districts. If you haven’t visited Portland, put it on your bucket list or happiness file.
I’ve also been impressed with the Catholic Church here. To my surprise the church bulletin of St. Rita’s parish contained an enclosure, “Campaign for Human Development,” a call for action by the U. S. Catholic Bishops for parishioners to contact their representatives and senators and urge them to support bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform, to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and to replace the sequester with a “Circle of Protection.” I’m wondering if the churches in South Bend are doing the same.
And before I close this missive, I must give multiple kudos to Portland; it has probably the best public transportation system of any US city that I’ve visited. In our meanderings about town, we have used the streetcar and the light rail system, locally referred to as the MAX. Their frequency and timely schedule, along with the city bus, reminds me of public transportation in France.
Although our main focus has been on Eliot, even swimming, we’ve managed to pack in a lot of activity. And now that our visit is coming to a close — next stops Bend, Ashland, and then Northern California –, it is dawning on us how much we will miss being with Eliot. But that only means that we will visit more frequently. And I am sure there is more to discover in Portland where the sun shines more frequently than I admit. But don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself; you’re in for a treat.