I am on the veranda of a quirky little pad on South East Belmont Street – my home for the next few days. Cuppa in hand (thank you Sophie Price you LIFESAVER), I am now ready to attempt summarising my first week in this brilliantly chaotic jumble-sale of a city.
I was slightly concerned that my expectations ahead of coming here were too high; I had pictured my arrival as something of a spiritual homecoming. One week in, my feeling is that as long as you are open to diversity, the unexpected and the downright absurd, there is no way that this place can ever disappoint.
I began my Portland sojourn by basing myself in the North East part of town: first at Amanda’s and then with an old-school East-coaster and absolute diamond of a man named Bob. Catching up with Amanda after three years has been utterly wonderful, and has reconfirmed my belief that time and distance have no power over solid friendship. From old links to new connections, I then had a fascinating stay over at Bob’s place. He has this timelessness about him, an engagement in everything he sees and a deep-rooted spirituality – think Dumbledore with a Boston accent. Our conversations wound their way from his development of public health policy (which does in fact exist in America, believe it or not!) to animal totems by way of ecstatic dance (which I’m going to try for the first time next week!). Staying with him at the same time as me was Caro from Austria, with whom I wandered Portland sampling craft beer, frozen yog(h)urt and sushi. We clicked so easily and I can’t wait for the road trip in Austria and Switzerland we’ve now got planned!
This first week has been so crammed full of encounters, observations and experiences that I’m finding it quite difficult to know where to start. The itemised approach worked well in other posts I feel, so may come especially in handy here:
The Alternative. As a non-tattooed, non-hair-dyed person with relatively few piercings and a generally mainstream dress sense (insert witty retort from Jess Soper/Ruth Miller/Sarah Steenhorst/Mum here), I am decidedly out of step with the majority in this city. In Portland the alternative is the norm; men grow chest-length beards and dye them blue (I saw three such characters on my first morning), toddlers sport mohawks and underwear is apparently optional (Caro got an eyeful one day when a girl on a bench uncrossed her legs à la Sharon Stone). The message is essentially this: come here and be whatever you want to be, but make sure whatever that is isn’t too ‘normal’.
Hiking: the Columbia River Gorge. On Sunday, Amanda, her friend Kellen and I headed out of town to hike up the Angel’s Rest trail – a couple of hours’ graft with the reward of spectacular views over the Columbia River awaiting us at the top. The NW Pacific landscape is truly breathtaking, as I hope the photos show to some degree. We also made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot spectacle just outside of Portland. Beautiful though the waterfall was, the site was so rammed with tourists that we lingered long enough for me to get a couple of photos then got out sharpish – totally heaving. The Angel’s Rest hike was fantastic though, and adding that to another hike that I did earlier in the week in Forest Park with Australian Bernie (from Seattle), I am feeling live, kicking and ready for more!
Alberta Street Fair. This gave me a great sense of the scale of creativity bursting from the city’s every nook and cranny. To give you an idea of the variety of wares and services on show as we wandered down Alberta Street on Saturday morning, the stalls I passed went something like this: beaded jewellery — fennel ice cream — hand-painted city-themed playing cards — artisan soaps — eyebrow sugaring — a pop-up barber’s where you get a beer and a trim — voodoo do(ugh)nuts — a bloke with several parrots perched on his arms — honey tea… you get the idea.
Kayaking on the Willamette River. After the fair, Amanda and I took to the water and spent two hours giving our arms a good workout as we circled Ross Island in the middle of the Willamette. I proved myself wrong and managed to not sink the kayak, hoorah! The day was beautiful, the water was calm and the experience was generally bloody lovely.
One of the things that I most like about Portland is that every district is distinct; each has its own sense of community, and the variety of cute little bars and cafes to try out is quite overwhelming. I have also been struck and incredibly touched by the openness and friendliness of the people I have met here. From the folks at Bob’s friends’ BBQ to the lovely life coach lady I ended up having sushi with, everyone smiles readily and enthusiastically offers advice.
Portland has greeted me with open arms. What I have written here only scratches the surface, but I hope it gives you a bit of an idea as to the goings on of the past week! I haven’t even mentioned the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, late-night karaoke in a tiki bar, the Bite of Oregon food fair, watching soccer practice in the ‘burrrbs’ (suburbs) or my very first Slurpie (slush puppy with at least double the sugar)… gahhh too much to cram in one post!
This week I plan to live life in the slow lane and may get down to some work (siiiigh). Then again, this is Portland, so I’m also expecting the unexpected. Hope you’re all well! Thinking of you and sending loads and loads of love x x x P.s. due to popular demand, more photos will be up soon!