Monday, February 25, 2008

More Portland

On Friday afternoon we met Frederick, a good friend from Siberia who now lives in Portland with his wife. We met for lunch at the Red and Black Café, a vegan café where all the decisions are made as a collective. I had soy yogurt with nuts and granola and an insubstantial Oregonian salad – greens with hazelnuts and apples. At the counter, behind the jars of teas, was a collection cup for the medical expenses of one of the employees. The clientele were young and arty. There was a play area with toys in a corner.

When we needed to change River, we asked about a changing table. They did have one, but if they hadn’t, Frederick said it wouldn’t have been a problem to change River on the table. I told him how the patrons of a Seattle café protested when we changed him (on top of his snowsuit) on our table, after unsuccessfully looking for a changing table. “It’s different here,” he said “People would understand.”

My friend Lisa told me that the attitude in Portland is “live and let live.” Libertarian values are common. People want freedom to do as they please and one doesn’t pay attention to what their neighbors do unless it is causing real harm.

We finished lunch still feeling hungry, so we went to a bakery in a nearby warehouse to get some carbohydrates. That place was vegan as well though. While I like meat, I can do without it if necessary. But I really don’t like going without eggs, milk, cheese and butter. It feels too restrictive and I feel denied.

Frederick was kind enough to show us around Portland. We drove to the northwest, where we saw attractive homes lining a green park area and a vibrant commercial area, filled with art and coffee shops. Frederick told us that many people in Portland have a craft. Whether it’s gardening or bookbinding or ceramics, artisan crafts are a popular way to spend time. It was certainly true of my friends. Lisa and her husband garden, make music, produce silkscreen t-shirts, write, build and create things for the home, and draw. Frederick writes and his wife bakes, binds books, photographs and knits.

We stopped at the Japanese gardens, a quiet area near the rose garden, within a forest of tall, majestic, stately trees. I didn’t like it as much as the Chinese gardens because the China garden was such a pleasant surprise within the urban center. The Japanese garden seemed naturally located within the hilltop wilderness. Nevertheless, it was a pretty and peaceful place, with a rock garden, many Japanese plants and trees, a rock sculpture exhibit, and Japanese architecture and artisanry.

We went to Frederick’s for a cup of tea. He lives in the warehouse district, in a small apartment with windows offering a view in all four directions. Their bed pushes back into the wall and pulls out like a drawer, maximizing space.

Everyone we spoke to said that Portland has been changing and modernizing significantly in the last few years. They said the Pearl district, a wealthy area near downtown, was the first to build up. Then the northwest area that surrounded it followed suit. Frederick thinks the area where he is living will be the next to gentrify, as old warehouses are converted into cafes, shops and apartments.

He and his wife Melody took us to one of the new neighborhood arrivals, a Japanese place called Biwa. The portions were tiny, so I thought we might again leave hungry. But we ordered enough small platters – of chicken, lamb, beef (ah, meat!), shitake mushrooms, eggplant, rice and pork dumplings – that we all left satiated.

From there they took us to a local movie theater. Admission was six dollars, less than I can find in my neighborhood. But my friend Lisa said that was too much, especially if it didn’t include beer or pizza. She said many local theaters include beer and/or pizza in the admission price. Another nice Portland tradition.

We took River to the movie, crossing our fingers he’d behave. He ate and/or slept the entire time, allowing us to watch Persepolis and not disturbing others. The movie, a cartoon film about an Iranian girl, was good, but not as fast-paced as I’d been led to believe by the previews, nor quite as engaging as I’d hoped.

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