Thursday, April 27, 2006

Random Special Moments in Portland

Before moving to Portland, B. Deckert got pickled one night and extolled the virtues (read: went on and on) of the city: it was beautiful, it was clean, well placed within an hour's drive either way of stunning scenery, it was tolerant and friendly and intelligent and little faeries of happiness washed your ass for you every single day.

I had no doubt when I got here that I'd like the city a lot. And I really have. So I thought I'd share a few special moments.
The Japanese Garden is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Apart from the groundskeeper, a loud guy who looked like he just stepped out of a Kurosawa movie barking at a little kid for running on the grass, it was quite serene. A bit lacking in the koi department, however, which is a drag.

Papa Haydn is a favored spot in the Pearl District for their desserts. It's a great yellow affair of a place, and Mrs. Deckert and I sat out on the patio for a bite. I had an asparagus/goat cheese ravioli with a tangle of pea tendrils on the top. Now, I ask you, can you resist a dish garnished with pea tendrils? I cannot. The was okay. Kinda lackluster. But the lemonade, now that was the stuff right there. Lemonade the way the Lord intended. After lunch we split a banana cream pie, made with a lot of chocolate and coconut and foo-foo. The waitress warned us about the dif in style, to be fair, but ultimately it didn't really scratch the banana cream pie itch. I'm a purist about these things. Maybe they should call it 'Chocolate Coconut Banana Foo-Foo Pie' for clarity. I'm just saying. It's not like you can actually bitch about eating pie in Portland on a sunny afternoon.Now Mother's Bistro's a fun joint, except for the intimidating wait. I had a simple lox bagel for brunch, but it was done as good as one could ask, and went one better by letting me put it together myself. See, I like the capers underneath the salmon, so they stick in the cream cheese and don't roll off. Kudos to Mother's for saving me the trouble of disassembly. I visited later on for a Mexican chopped salad. To the manager, I said, "This reminds me exactly of a salad my mom made when I was a kid." And of course, that's the idea.
Hooray for conveyor belt sushi! It's cheap, it's halfway decent (except for the canned corn and if you have no one to talk to, you can zone out on the gentle whir and clink of passing plastic plates.

This is only scratching the surface of my culinary discoveries, let alone the whole of Portland, but hey, I'm here for a few more days. I'll leave you with Multnomah Falls, and the assurance that yeah, Portland is as cool as they say.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Northern Oregon Coast


I told B. Deckert, my Oregon host, that I needed Bald Eagle action before I left. He recommended a couple of hiking spots where the elusive raptor flies, but beyond that, it was all about being in the right place at the right time. Fine, I said, then let's hit the coast.

An hour's drive from Portland is the Ecola State Park, where the aquamarine licks black craggies for your viewing pleasure. Except for the requisite Pacific chill, the weather is flawless. Only the slight fogginess keeps distant objects from clear sight. Just beyond the parking lot and before you get to the vistas, there's a grassy picnic area dotted with teeny daisy-like flowers, as if spring could get any lovlier here.

On our way down to the shore, Deckert points out areas where forest clearcutting (you know, that Bush Administration brain child where you strip the trees so they won't burn?) has cut unsightly chunks into the hills. Politics aside, the shit just looks wrong.

We make it to a vista point where a cheery couple in their late forties or so are taking photos with an enormous panoramic lens. I ask them what's the main attraction and the man points to the large viewfinder bolted to the ground and says, "Don't move it, just look straight through."

Far away, on yon big-ass craggy rock, are a pair of bald eagles, sitting pretty as you please.

"They mate for life, don't they?" I asked, wanting in my current personal circumstances to romanticize the birds for it.

"Yup," the man said. We all traded off staring at them through the lens, then passed on the tip to everyone who came up there after us. Its a times like this, in places like this, that people are with each other the way they're effin' supposed to be.

Hunger demanded to know why we didn't bother to bring a damn picnic lunch, so Deckert and I headed off to Cannon Beach. After much inquiry of passers by, we decided on a seafood joint that proved to be precisely what we were looking for: superfresh fish and steamer clams on paper plate for fair prices. Ecola Seafoods Restaurant and Market is the joint. We came back after our adventures and bought our fish for grilling later, and it was even better the second time.

A horrific stench hit us as we decended the steps to the beach, and there seemed to be this strange band of purple gunk running a long length of it. Upon closer inspection, the gunk seemed to be bazillions of tiny purple mollusks who had died en masse and created a thick reeking paste. Weird. We passed over that quickly and headed toward a great big rock down the beach.

"It's called Haystack Rock," Deckert informed me, "And it's the biggest...something or other kinda rock in the Pacific." I think he meant basalt, but who knows what goes on in that boy's mind. He's always eager to boast. What's completely fabulous about it is that, at low tide, it's a Marine tidepool garden brimming with the bizarre and beautiful creatures of the coast.

At this point, I'm giddy like a kid at the candy shop, snapping shots until Deckert assures me that fifteen images of the same anemone is probably enough.

We discovered a group of teens up on the rock beyond the 'CLOSED' sign, passing around some kind of mini bong with their ass cracks facing us like they're invisible. I dissuaded Deckert from messing with their heads, asking him to recall the days when they could've been us. We saw them later walking down the main street in town, their cheeks fat with taffy, looking for the pizza place, and we just about fell the fuck out. Ah, sweet, tolerant, mellow Oregon.

This place is the first that has tempted me to consider leaving Austin. That ain't sayin' I plan on it, 'cause I don't. But for a dyed-in-the-wool Texas gal like myself, that's saying a lot.

And BY THE WAY, if you're one of those annoying-ass people who feel like you just have to make a crack about my home state, please save us both the formalities and kiss my ass. I know damn well that some krazy shit happens in my state, but your preconceived notion of me and everyone who lives in Texas is unwelcome like a hot poker in your ass. Thank you.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hard Headed Woman Finds Pacific Wonderland

I hit my head in the shower the day before Easter. And no, I was not liquored up on wine. I was perfectly sober, just dense enough to assume that the bath mat placed over the side of the tub was for Gramma.

I was fine at first, then started to feel nauseated, so I got a ride to the emergency room. A CT scan, three hours and many hundreds of dollars later, I was cheerfully informed that I had a minor concussion and sent about my merry way. What a thing to have happen in the middle of my little dream trip. Damn. C'est la life.

After a day in bed watching Lord of the Rings over and over again in between naps and another dreamily driving to Eureka after an interview, I arose and tried to pull it together Tuesday to make the trip north. I drank my coffee, took my vitamins, stretched and so forth but I could not clear my head. It felt like someone had poured several pounds of sand in it.

Just a few minutes out of town, I found Clam Beach. I shushed the voices in my head urging me to press on, get going, get to Portland before nightfall and stopped the car. I grabbed my Coleman chair, walked to the beach, planted it, and planted my ass, then watched the Pacific lap the land until I felt better. Now I was ready to go, ready to see more. Initially I passed the Trees of Mystery, but my inner brat threw a fit and I turned around. How, she insisted, can you resist a massive statue set of Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox, especially when such time was taken to make sure the latter is hung in the correct anatomic proportions? Soooo glad I did. For nature fans and those who love roadside cheese, this place is the purest union of both. Nothing makes you feel the sweet flush of insignificance like a cluster of gigantimous redwoods that have grown together to create a 'Cathedral Tree', and nothing drives that feeling home than a soppy, lofty poem and piped in hymns from the fifties.
I took the 101 to 199 through the place where I crossed over the border into Oregon. In Oregon, by the way, you are not permitted to pump your own gas. A guy comes out, takes your card and does it for you, no charge. How sweet is that? Just don't make the mistake of forgetting, 'cause the same guy will jump your shit, as though you'd gone behind the bar and grabbed your own tequila. Anyhoo, the 199 is a stellar drive. The last time I saw a river this color I was on a log-shaped boat-on-a-track headed for the 'Spelunker's Cave' at Six Flags.

I'm in Portland now, where much to the chagrin of my Texas people, is cool and partly cloudy. I've got my game back now, post head trauma, and can't wait to check out Powell's Books and all the streets after which Matt Groenig named the Simpsons crew.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Too much time alone, not enough time alone. Balls, chickenshit. Badass, loudmouth. Brilliant, clueless.

I left the house knowing I'd have a moment like this. What, you think this whole trip is about wine?


I'm in the Marie Callender's and the waitress has plunked down a big fucking plate of cold cornbread. I'm looking at this big hunk of cornbread and I'm thinking: what the fuck am I gonna do with that? Who the hell's gonna eat all that? Why did she put all that on my table? Now, because it's on my table, it's mine, and I've gotta deal with it. It'll go to waste if I don't eat it, and all the starving children will know. I could take it to go. Then it will sit in my hotel room and taunt me: you spend so much money on your fancy food, following your every whim, and here I am, perfectly good sustenance, rotting by the television while you fill your greedy hole with In and Out Burger. What a horror you are. So I toss it in the can. And now I've wasted cornbread, a styrofoam container, and half an hour of my life.

Oh, yeah. As much as wine, meeting people, and experiencing the wild blue yonder, this trip is about my head. And my head is full, people.

I can't seem to catch up with whatever agenda I'd set down for myself. What was it again? To write, to see the Western half of the Homeland and report back everything I've seen, take pictures of everything, talk to everyone, go to every winery, taste every wine, interview as many winemakers as possible while simultaneously working through my iminent divorce, death of my mother, come to terms with solitude and face my loss of faith in humanity....

Iminent. Was...was that a typo? Nice work.

So I'm at this wine dinner last night, and I'm looking through the wine list and notice that, under the category of Other World Reds is the 2004 Reverdy Sancerre. Thinking I've just spotting a heinous error, I quip to the table: "Wow. Who knew that the Reverdy Sancerre was a favorite in the 'old world red' category?"

"Actually," the winemaker for Cuvaison said, "Reverdy makes a Pinot Noir that's really nice."


"Well, damn," I says, "Who knew I didn't know what I thought I knew?"

It earned me a laugh for being a sport.

Spending time away from a job, either with my self all on my own or interacting with other folks is teaching me more than I can process. It's both exausting and completely amazing. I just need to figure out how to slow down, let this stuff settle.

Sigh. I need a vacation.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rain on My Parade, but not on Theirs

According to Allen Price, a winemaker for Casa Nuestra, all this effin' rain is supposed to be up in British Columbia. But it's here in Napa instead, raining on my head while I'm trying to do my thing. And the further North I go, the more I'm gonna get.

I know I shouldn't be complaining, since my guess is the Texas summer is going to kick our asses this year. I should be reveling in the not-ninety-plus degree climate. Sorry, but no: cold rain sucks no matter where you are.

I've been posting less the last couple of weeks. I gotta admit, between the craziness of the SF leg and the physical demands of interviewing, writing, hiking and power drinking, I burned out. I realized that I was desperate for normalcy, a chance to sleep late, do laundry in a residence, pet cats, and read. I finally got the opportunity to do that with my friends in Napa, and it's been refreshing.

Napa (the actual city, that is) is an old farmer's town. Prior to wine fame, this area was known for its prunes. There's a significant population of Mexican immigrants here, and on Monday many marched to the local park dressed in white tee shirts, trailing the American and Mexican flags behind them. Whole families filed along Jackson Street, some chanting and others strolling, taking the opportunity to enjoy the few precious hours of partial sunlight while they made themselves visible to the community.

I've encountered a lot of the protests, since I'm in the smack-dab middle of where immigrant labor--both legal and illegal, I'm sure--has a tremendous impact on economics. The issue of illegal immegration is profoundly complex right now, and doesn't lend itself to easy solutions regardless to which side of politics you might lean. I understand that 11 million illegals in the country is a big problem and a drain against already dwindling economic resources, but the idea of making it a felony is rediculous and counterproductive. Mostly, when I see these people walking down the streets is the desire for due respect, recognition that they have put their asses and elbows into the work they've found, and deserve more than to be sneered at or refered to as a "drain" on a society to which they have contributed.

Beats the shit out of me what the answer is. I haven't been able to delve far enough into the options since I've been on the road, and I hate to put my half assed theory out there and get it mangled by someone who knows the details better than I do. What I do know is that I want what's going to work best for them because I respect what they do.

I'm feeling better now, and as long as I can find freakin' wireless access (not so easy to find here; there's here at Ana's Cantina and some Burger King in Napa proper, and Starfuck's but they have that T-Mobile bullshit you have to pay for. WTF??) I'll be keeping up better.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Catching Up: Lost in the City, Lost in the Woods

Where the hell have I been? Where's all the amazing pictures of the City?

I arrived in San Francisco exausted, excited, and frankly a little burnt out on wine. I decided to put down the camera and the laptop and walk all around the City, get to know some chunks of it I hadn't seen before.

I stayed in the Castro, historic haven of tolerance for not only our gay and lesbian bretheren and sisteren, but just about any variation thereof. Upon my arrival, the innkeeper noticed my saucer-eyed meandering up and down Market Street, so he pointed me in the right direction for some great chow. Chow, as a matter of fact, a slender, hip little bistro on Church Street with magnificent and well-priced food and a killer por la gente winelist.

I had to make a second trip to Japantown. Love me some Japantown. Love that the cherry blossoms are out and the Cherry Blossom Festival is underway for the whole of Northern California. The Japan Center is always hiding some little treasure. Any graphic novel or anime fans? There's an eight volume series of graphic novels based on the life of the Buddha by Osamu Tezuka that looked fantastic. At $25 a volume, tho', I was a little priced out, but they're cheaper on Amazon. Off to Mifune after that, of course, for one o' those big cast iron pots of udon with egg, fishcake, pork and tempura shrimp. See, I figured I could get away with a big lunch if I walked the City afterwards. Sheeeit. Maybe if I walked to Portland.

I gotta tell you, there was so much stimuli that it was all a blur. I met so many people, both very cool and very pretentious, was shuttled around from one venue to another by groups of people...saw so much stuff, drank so very much beer...
Above is a photo of one of my favorite spots. This was the Amber Lounge, the only bar in San Francisco where you can smoke inside. All the bartenders are also the owners, and since the smoking law is there to protect employees rather than patrons, these guys can decide for themselves.
Phil was unafraid to crank up the tunes. Early Rush, Metal bands from Austin, Roots Punk. Fantastic. And what a cutie, no?

Another groovy stop was Wild Side West, a mixed crowd saloon with a great two-level outdoor space. It was here that I met a newly formed a cappella group who broke spontaneously into Pat Benetar's "We Belong" while the small crowd stomped out a beat. Very special City moment.

After all that night, I longed for trees and birdies and stuff. There's nothing like hiking with a hangover to bring you back to reality. After doubling back fifty times looking for the effing entrance to the 101 (only to realize it was a block from where I started), I made my way across the Golden Gate to the Muir Woods.

Not one to take the Grandma tour across the boardwalks, I headed up a trail that led through the thick of beautiful redwoods and ascended to a vista where you can see the ocean over the tops of the mountains. My wee camera doesn't hack it for this kind of expansive vista, but you get the idea.

I'm in Napa now, still reeling from my SF days. This trip...damn. I can barely keep up with myself. The proportion of this adventure is overwhelming sometimes. I knew this would happen: I'd get tired, have to slow down a little. It's part of the plan.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Man, Nature and Cocktails

So there was this California Baby Boomer couple in the breakfast nook of the Sands hotel in San Luis Obispo, talking about where they wanted to go next. "Hearst Castle?" says the guy. His wife sneers. "I'm not so much into man-made things. They don't interest me. I like the beach, the mountains, the slopes. The waves call to me, the wind calls to me."

Well, Mrs. Gaia McWheatgrass, the Hearst Castle calls to me. I was so excited at my first glimpse of the great Fortress of Hubris that I giggled aloud. The story of W.R. Hearst is one of the great twentieth century Power Broker tales, and the only thing that would have made me happier touring the house is if I'd been able to wander it on my own. See, tour guides are great and all, especially if you're not familiar with the history. Me, I don't give a rat's dingle how many pounds of concrete were hoisted up the mountain or how long the polar bears stayed on the property. I just want to look out over the electrically lit tennis courts and imagine all of Marion Davies' "trashy" Hollywood friends hanging out.
I want to inspect the artifacts for signs of Hearst's involvement in secret societies. I want to sit in the billiards room and see the dirty-rich bastards making power deals and talking shit about women. I could make the whole movie in my head, were it not for a tour guide filling me in on the age of some tapistry. Someday, when I'm rich, I'll have myself a private tour, with a docent who will follow close behind silently until I ask a question. Or need my cocktail refreshed.

Oh, and by the way, Molly McBirkenstock, Big Sur also calls to me. I did a day and a half powering through as much as I could take of the pants-crappingly beautiful* scenery. I watched a herd (Herd? Group? Gaggle?) of plump seals frolicking amongst the craggy rocks, laughed as they hoisted themselves ashore and plopped down for a nap.
Jade Cove and Sand Dollar Beach were spectacular, even in the off-and-on drizzle. At Jade Cove, I climbed underneath a massive boulder and sat about a foot from where the foam washed over the rocks. I had a nice conversation with the sea. I asked permission to take the fist-sized chunk of jade I found, and it said sure, go ahead, I got tons of the stuff. You fully understand the color aquamarine once you've sat so close, as well as the power of water. I was both enchanted and a little afraid.

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is nestled into a grove of tall redwoods, it's little chimney puffing away. I spent an hour reading and smoking while the "curator" played Stevie Wonder on the guitar. A Perfect Moment.

Ate lunch at the Nepenthe, a 60-some-odd year old restaurant where Orson Wells, Rita Heyworth and later a host of beat-generation personalities hung out. Today, it's a destination restaurant for the Beautiful People. Still a gorgeous view, though, great food; the Bloody Marys are wildly popular and the wine list does not suck at all.

Hiking at the Pfiffer/Big Sur State Park was cut short by the rain once it really started to pour. My entire 2-ish mile hike was wet and muddy, but I didn't mind. It felt invigorating to be trudging up the hill on my own amongst the redwoods. I felt like Survivorwoman again. But once your jeans are soaked through, it's time to give it up.

I would have loved to continue my adventure in Big Sur; I didn't get nearly enough. But the lodgings are muy expensivo, and scarce due to a concert going on at a local venue. Plus the rain was settling in, and so I've moved on. I'm definitely coming back, both to spend more time at the Castle and more time with the whales and the seals. Life is lovely, especially when you don't limit yourself to only one category of experience.

Oh, and seriously: check out the photos with the badge on the right. Good lookin' stuff.


*(thanks, Maggie)