Monday, March 31, 2008

Ira Keller Fountain

During the winter, the Ira Keller Fountain is dry, but not to worry — it's still worth checking out. Absolutely nobody was there when we visited, so we had free rein of the massive monolithic concrete forms. It's a photographers dream, a desolate, almost distopian landscape right out of a science fiction film.

Portland is Nifty

I've never been to a Nordic city (Stockholm, Helsinki, or Copenhagen, for instance), but here's how I picture them: brisk, gray, clean, high-functioning, orderly, artistic and (ahem) white.

Portland is all of those things. The city doesn't make you feel insignificant, like Manhattan. The buildings are built to a more human scale, and the city blocks are scaled down to half the size of typical big city blocks. Walking is a pleasure; the sidewalks are made with neatly arranged red bricks rather than aggregate concrete. Drivers are passive, not aggressive. Pedestrians and bikers seem to rule the roost.

The weather was typically Pacific Northwestern: daily periods of rain, sun, rain again, only now mixed with slush, then sun, then, is that hail? Wise Portlanders wear sensible shoes and hats; foolish Portlanders wear high heeled pumps and silk blouses. When riding public transit, you notice other riders entering the train with pant legs completely soaked from knee to shoe.

Now, about the whiteness: Portland is by far the least racially diverse major city I've ever visited. I'm not exactly sure why it's so white; it just is. Chinatown was notable for a curious lack of Chinese. The few black folks I saw looked more like Bobby McFerrin than say, Bernie Mack. Is this why Portland is often called America's "Most Livable" city? Are headlines like this really secret code for "Psst... you'll like living here, it's really white"? You'd expect a lack of racial diversity in an isolated city like Reykjavik, but c'mon, in Portland, Oregon?

Still, the city works magnificently. Bikers pedal to work in special protected lanes; pedestrians hoof it through the sporadic rain squalls in the North Face outerwear (who needs an umbrella?) and the light rail system slips through town with barely a sound. Portland city planners certainly have a vision, and it's working.

One thing thankfully lacking in Portland are churches. Oh, you'll see the occasional steeple downtown, but one gets the feeling that Portlanders would rather spend time in a bookstore than in a church. The latter tells you what to do, the former let's you figure it out for yourself, if you're even interested.

Japanese Gardens

For some reason, I've lately become obsessed with Japanese gardens. I'm not a big Japanophile (sure they make cute toys and great electronic products, but why the sell-out to the West?) I guess I love what Japan used to be, before Commodore Perry. I love the Japanese principles of gardening, and the incredible beauty they can create.

The Japanese Gardens in Portland (inside Washington Park) are the most beautiful I've ever seen. They've been called the most perfect outside of Japan, but I don't know how one judges something like that. I do know that I saw every shade of green that could ever be conceived, and that when the sun flashed from behind a cloud, every shade of green changed once again. It's a serene, self-reflective space, with a blessed ban on cell phones and loud conversation. The gardens were installed in 1963, but because of the way things grow in Portland, they look like they've been there for centuries.

Street Sights in Portland

More Portland

Lunch Wagons in Portland

Michael Graves in Portland

Michael Graves, he of Target fame, was formerly a big time architect. During the 1970's, he developed a style that rebelled against the prevailing stark-box forms of modernism in favor of an elegant, witty approach.

One of his most famous buildings is the Portland Public Services building. Completed in 1982, it's been called the first major post-modern structure.

Here's a critical opinion:

"When first completed, this postmodern landmark was wildly innovative and controversial. On the varied facades of this chunky 15-story municipal office building, speckled with smallish square windows, masses of deep colors—browns, blues, and a rusty red—make emphatic statements against a sandy background. A stylized garland of blue ribbons (rendered in concrete) decorates one side while a huge statue of a woman, Portlandia, added in 1985, dominates the main entrance."

— from Sylvia Hart Wright. Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture: From Postwar to Postmodern. p39.

Powell's City of Books

Portland, Oregon

Cami was invited to read a paper at a big academic conference in Portland. I tagged along, and tried out the new camera she got me for my (40th) birthday.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bilingual Bai Ling

A quick glance at the personal blog of actress Bai Ling (recently arrested for shoplifting at LAX) indicates that she resides in some sort of perpetual dreamscape.

Her blog entries tend to describe the weather in Albuquerque before musing on the nature of love. She's also a fan of the ellipsis:

The sun is not out just like my mood, looking for the sunlight in the desert, hope it will show me a tender smile just like I used to smile so many people when they are down......

It is a beautiful day for lovers, for romace, beauty mystry dancing in the light of the sexy red wine......hope you are somewhere with your special one who is close to your heart and give you the joy of love..

love has no time, love breathing its joy through day and night, through life, through time, through air, through space, through our gentle heart......

I am lucky to be awake, dancing the wind in the darkness to find the warmth of home for love...... Walking again from the set to my trailer, darkness, darkness around me like a winter blanket pure......

Pure darkness is so beautiful, with out it we can never see the stars and the beautiful smiling moon......

After reading her prose, it's not hard to believe she truly did forget to pay for a pack of batteries and two Star magazines in the airport. She was busy musing on the nature of transience!

There's so much more at her blog.

Test Your Vocabulary

I did pretty well, until "menhir" stumped me...

Check out freerice.