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The Genie (Major Attaway) from the lamp sings his own praises. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

My ticket for Aladdin

{Note: None of the performance images are mine, I have used media photos provided.}

When we’re talking about live shows, performance and production can be words to describe the same thing. I recently saw two shows and for one I declared “That was a production!” and for the other, I was moved by the performance. They were equally wonderful and nothing alike. I’ll try to explain.

Tara, my 21-year-old-offspring, loves all things Disney and Broadway. Thus, tickets to Aladdin were an obvious choice for a Christmas present. I did not know anything about the show and did not take the time to look it up.

Consequently, I was totally blown away on Thursday when I saw this show. The creators pulled out all the stops for entertainment. This was the sparkliest, loudest, flashiest, most-colorful, most frequently jaw-dropping, silliest, gaudiest show I have ever seen. The costume changes were constant, and every costume was layered in mesmerizing colours and more rhinestones and sequins than I thought possible to fit on fabric. There were scarves and bangles and turbans and feathers and every single, every single male character wore pointed shoes. At one point, cannons shot metallic glistening streamers over the audience and we sat transfixed, watching them spiral down onto us.

Leaping, turbaned dancers

Golden cave of treasures, where Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) finds the lamp.

Back up dancers and singers, male and female, supported nearly every scene, and these were the fittest performers I’ve seen in a Broadway show. I could tell because most of them were only about 50% covered in clothing. It was nice to see men objectified for a change. All those glistening six-packs….sigh. They leapt, spun in the air, spun on the ground, flipped and skidded and cartwheeled back and forth.

Aladdin as the Prince, with Jasmine (in Portland played by Lissa deGuzman)

The sets were incredible, in the literal definition of the word. At one point the whole back of the theatre dropped away into a convincing starry night sky…WITH a legit flying carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine sat on and sang A Whole New World to us. The scene inside the cave of treasures, where Aladdin found the lamp, looked like it was made of solid gold. Indeed, every surface shone like metal. This made it particularly splendiferous when the fireworks went off. YES!! Real fireworks inside the theatre!

Genie explains to Aladdin how the three wishes work.

Genie was hilarious, Jasmine was convincingly strong, Aladdin convincingly vulnerable, and Jafar sufficiently evil. We were all glad to see him change from one costume to another in a blink before our eyes like magic, and then just as quickly disappear leaving only a lamp behind, when Jafar foolishly wished to be an all-powerful genie (and therefore had to live in a lamp).

What. A. Show. What a production!!

The set for Tiny Beautiful Things was a cross-section view into a beautiful home that is clearly lived in. (Left to Right: Lisa Renee Pitts, Brian Michael Smith, Dana Green, and Leif Norby)

My ticket for Tiny Beautiful Things

Storytelling took center stage in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This play is based on the book, which is about an advice columnist named Sugar, and the letter-writers who contact her and sometimes get responses.

The set was great!! So perfect and beautiful. I wish we were allowed to take photos during performances, so I could have captured just one shot that showed the whole thing. Multiple times during the show I thought how nice it would be to live there. If you look at the kitchen shot above, imagine a small dining table to the right, with a door off stage on the right to the laundry room. On the far left of the photo, you can see two steps leading to a playroom in the back. Imagine that farther to the left, there is a living room with a couch and table, and behind the couch is the front door leading off stage on the left, and at the very back a staircase upstairs, and a door to the basement? beneath the stairs.

Sugar “listens to” one of her letter-writers.

We watched Sugar, a busy mom, as she carried her laptop with her around the house, answering mail (outloud) all day long as she does the laundry, folds clothes, picks up toys, straightens the living room. We also watch as three other actors perform the words of the letter-writers, who are children, people with cancer, or people who are pregnant. Letter writers told their secrets, exposed their fantasies, regretted their choices. Gender, age, and background aren’t visually reflected by the actors, so we had to listen carefully to the words to find out who was speaking.

Sugar didn’t answer everyone. She wore yoga pants and a cardigan, and at one point pulled her long hair back into a sloppy bun while she read the letters. One writer kept submitting the same letter over and over, that said, “WTF. WTF. WTF?” She didn’t answer that one, obviously. Until…. the end.

The way Sugar answered the questions was to tell a story from her own life (taken from true stories of Strayed’s actual life) filled with pain and tragedy, joy and fear and bravery and hope. She connected to the letter-writers by telling what got her through her own similar challenges, and recommended that we be more compassionate, kind, and generous – particularly to ourselves. It was thirty stories told, hers and theirs, linked by the advice column, and a thousand stories told, linked by all the people laughing and crying in the audience. Proof that we were all feeling these stories as our own.

Sugar answers a letter at night, after the day’s chores are done.

Sugar dispenses advice to a letter-writer.

Sugar would usually speak to her laptop as she answered letters, even while the letter-writer was sitting beside her on the couch, speaking to his phone as he typed his question. But when the topic or the connection got more intense, they would turn and face each other, and have a conversation. During one wonderful scene, she brought all the letter-writers into the kitchen with her to help pack school lunches for her kids while she answered a letter.

Live performances get to me more than TV or the movies (and all of these actors have been on TV or in the movies). This show was deeply personal, designed to make the audience reflect, or identify, or consider. Ultimately, this play took up all the parts of us that are dark, acknowledged them, and then made us feel good anyway. It is wonderfully done.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland.

In Old Town Portland, Chinatown has lost most of its character from bygone days. Its in the oldest part of the city of Portland. After multiple attempts to revitalize this area and emphasize the Chinatown aspect, it remains small and quiet. However, there is one vibrant and much-visited place: Lan Su Chinese Garden.

This is my last post on stuff Will and I did together. We had two weeks to enjoy the Pacific Northwest and now he’s far away in Rhode Island again.

The name Lan Su is formed by combining the name of two sister cities:  Portland and Suzhou, China. Suzhou is famous for its gardens, and Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou and is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. But of course, care was taken to choose words that have another meaning, and “lan” means orchid, and “su” is arise, or awaken.

Admission is $10.95 with discounts for students and seniors. A ticket gets you into any event happening in the garden for the entire day, to include guided tours and cultural events. There are classes to teach Chinese games, live music in the teahouse, calligraphy and poetry demonstrations and classes.

All of this is in the center of a bustling city that somehow you forget while you’re inside. The design is so well done that from inside the garden you can hardly see the buildings outside, and you honestly cannot hear much of the street noise.

Skyscrapers are barely noticed from inside the garden. Instead, I noticed the architecture inside, the variety of plants, and the peacefulness of the setting.

I carried a laminated flower guide with me into the garden, that was provided as we entered. I thought with the early season that I would be lucky to find any of the blossoms. To my surprize and delight, I found almost every single blossom in the brochure. It was like a game to find them all, and the added bonus was a reminder that Spring is really on its way. Lan Su also provides plant-specific tours for both home gardeners and professionals in the fields of horticulture and botany.

Blossoms were small, and few, but unmistakably all over the garden.

This garden was created with an extraordinary attention to detail, with symbolism tucked into every viewing angle, and poetry all around. If you wanted to zip through in 15 minutes and get a good look, it would be easy, as the place occupies a single city block. However, if you wanted to spend your entire afternoon there, followed by evening tea, that would also be reasonable, as the longer you gaze out across the waters, or through the branches, the more you see.

Symbolic fish, peaches, and bats adorn the top of one building.

Weak spring sunlight highlights early buds.

For many more photos, from a trip to the garden in 2015, please see my other Lan Su blog post.

Me, standing in front of a mural near where Tara works in Corvallis.

I took Will on some big adventures while he visited the Pacific Northwest, but we also went on a bunch of tiny adventures.

Revolving case of donuts at VooDoo Donuts.

We explored a lot around Portland. There is so much fun stuff to see and do in the city, as I am sure is true for any city. Portland has a great vibe and prides itself on being tolerant. The amount of kindness shown by strangers on the street in Portland far outshines any city I’ve ever lived in, and though we (like everyone) definitely need to improve our appreciation for people who are different, the effort that is made is noticeable. It’s a great small city.

We parked by a giant bronze elephant statue, visited the giant Powell’s bookstore, then walked to VooDoo Donuts, a famous portland donut shop that everyone wants to visit. Their pink and eclectic shop is entertaining while you wait (there is always a line) for a donut. We sat outside to eat our donuts and Will liked his so much that when he finished he let out a whoop and did a fist pump. A passing homeless man laughed and said it must have been a pretty good donut. 🙂

The woman is wondering if the guy at the counter is contemplating the deformed chandelier, or the giant donut on the ceiling (not shown in the photograph).

I pointed out wall art when we saw it. Portland has some great street art and murals.

Next we walked to Mill Ends Park, in the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s smallest city park, at 452.16 square inches. I thought for sure I had told the back story of Mill Ends Park in a previous blog about it, but I did not. Dick Fagan was a journalist whose office window looked onto the spot where a utility hole was prepared, but no pole ever erected. He imagined a park there, named it after the pieces cut off timber in a mill, and began writing about it in the paper. His dream came to life. This post will be long, so I’ll skip the full story to save space. The park has a sign now, but I liked it better without the sign because that made it feel more like a scavenger hunt to find it.

At Waterfront Park, beside the tiny park, we walked over and gazed at the Willamette River in the setting sun and I pointed out my favourite Portland bridge: the Hawthorne Bridge. Opened in 1910, it is the oldest vertical lift bridge in operation in the country, and on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Cyclist rides past Mill Ends Park. Vegetation is replaced periodically in the little park, to keep it looking fresh.

“Pose for a picture, eh?”

Crows were amassed in the tops of every tree near the Hawthorne Bridge, and the cries from a thousand crows were cacawphanous.

Waterfront buildings in Portland, beneath colourful skies filled with crows.

On another trip to the city, I took Will up to the Pittock Mansion grounds. We did not buy tickets to go into the mansion, but instead walked across the grounds to an overlook point across the city of Portland toward Mt. Hood in the distance. It felt like our own version of Seattle’s Kerry Park, as I mentioned in a recent post.

The view of Portland and Mt. Hood from Pittock Mansion.

The view reminded Will of the tram, so we returned to downtown to ride the tram. The tram takes people up to Pill Hill, so called because on the top of the hills of west Portland is a collection of medical facilities, including the very large Veterans Hospital and even larger Oregon Health & Science University, a teaching hospital (OHSU). The hilltop is so crowded with facilities that there isn’t much room left for parking. To encourage people to park at the bottom instead, a tram was installed. I have never used it to attend a doctor’s appointment, but I’ve taken it several times just for fun.

“Go by tram.” Sponsored by OHSU, teaching hospital.

Bicycle parking and tram heading into the station.

View of Mt. Hood and South Portland apartment towers from the tram station on top of the hill.

I want to see this sign on every single trail.

Bonfire erasing the signs of winter floods.

On another day, we went to see the much-visited Beaver Creek Falls, that I often take friends to because it’s close to home and because it’s the same creek that runs through my property. Will also helped me do some cleanup work on the property. My blogger people will know that I had some flooding over the winter. This dragged a bunch of sticks and logs and branches onto the grass. That stuff has to be cleaned up so I can mow without damaging the blades when the grass starts growing. We hauled brush and then had a bonfire.

Will at Beaver Creek Falls.

OSU Beaver

We took a short road-trip along the coast (separate blog post coming soon!) and returned through Corvallis so we could visit Tara and their partner. Tara’s a Junior at Oregon State University and working toward a degree in geology. While walking through campus, Will asked if the trees ahead of us were redwoods. “Oh yeah, probably,” Tara and I answered, and began discussing identifying features such as the way the needles fan out and the grooves in the bark.  Will then asked if I would take a picture of him beside the trees. “Huh?” I thought. Then I realized newcomers are excited about redwood trees not for the needles or the bark, but for their size!! ha ha ha ha. To Tara and I, having lived in the redwood forests of Northern California, these particular trees are not remarkable, and we hadn’t noticed their size at all.  After Tara’s tour of the OSU campus and then a look at the waterfront and downtown area of Corvallis, we went home. Will made dinner for everyone, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, Tara made their famous St. Patrick’s Day chocolate cupcakes, that call for Guiness, Irish whiskey, AND Irish creme in the recipe.

Women’s Building on OSU campus is a beautiful building.

Inside one of the campus buildings, I noticed the light at the elevator was the Beaver logo. OSU is home of the Beavers.

Will gazes up at the redwood trees.

On another quick excursion, we went for an up-close look at Mt. Hood, featured in so many vistas of his trip so far. The mountain remains beautiful, even when you are standing on its slopes.

The least interesting city in Oregon

On the way there, we detoured into Boring, Oregon (sister cities are Dull, Scotland and Bland, Australia). Will really wanted to buy a T-shirt that said Boring. “It’s the only thing they’ve got going,” he reasoned. “Someone will be selling a Boring T-shirt.” But no!! We stopped and walked, and explored a convenience store, and looked for a gift shop that apparently no longer exists. No one was selling a Boring T-shirt. Entreprenuers, take note.

Deep snow at Timberline Lodge completely covers this window. That’s a hand-carved newel post cap in the foreground.

One of the best things about Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. The building is big, beautiful, and welcoming. There are historical displays all around, so it’s partly like a small museum, and almost all the windows open onto a spectacular view (unless they’re blocked by snow). It’s three stories high with a giant fireplace that rises up through those stories. There are two restaurants and a bar inside! The food and drinks are top notch. You can see shots of Timberline Lodge and the mountain in my blog post from last June. We did get neat photos of snow piled up against a window – something I did not see in June!

The first thing we did at Timberline Lodge was get a bite to eat. We sat at a table with this view of Mt. Jefferson to the south.

The view on the other side of the lodge, up toward the peak of Mt. Hood. The ski lift wasn’t running on this slope for some reason, but all the other lifts were busy.

I’ve been posting a lot this week because I have so many stories to tell, and also because I have several more stories coming up and I want to keep my posts somewhat in order and not get too far behind. There’s more on Will’s visit to the Pacific Northwest ahead. Then I’ll probably post about the Broadway show Aladdin that I’m seeing this week with Tara and their partner Brynnen. After that I’m going to a play with a girlfriend and former co-worker. And then I’m going to Ireland with T for a week. We are so excited!!! (also, super-psyched to travel in a country where I know the language…ha ha) Anyone who remembers Bone (the horse bone) will see him (or her) again because Bone is coming with us. 🙂

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Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

“For us the violin is the vehicle for a bigger message, which is not to be afraid to be different,”

~ Kev Marcus.

Six years ago, Tara was dancing ballet at the Laurelhurst Dance Studio, which is a part of Portland Parks and Recreation. It was a great environment, with talented dance instructors. For one seasonal performance, Tara’s instructor chose a song for the kids to dance to by a group called Black Violin. The song was Dirty Orchestra.

If you’ve ever participated in practicing something, or were a parent watching someone practice something, you can guess how many times I heard that song. I ended up purchasing the song on iTunes, and I even made CD copies for all the kids and handed them out at one of the early practices, so they could take their dance home if they liked.

After a couple years, I still couldn’t get enough, though I had purchased the album. It’s fun to discover musicians whose appeal turns out to be long term.

Tuesday I received an email from Portland’5, the local arts email that gives me a heads up when anything is happening in PDX, from opera to ballet to music to Broadway. It announced Black Violin, the very next night! In person! I bought tickets without even thinking about it.

Stage before Black Violin's show

Stage before Black Violin’s show

The show was even better than I was hoping for. Black Violin are packed full of energy to back up their irresistible music. Both classically trained violinists, these two men, Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus, lean more toward hip hop and R&B. So, they pull it all in together: the appealing sounds of the strings with the funky, soulful beats. The sounds were rounded out with a DJ on stage (and I’ll admit it’s probably the first time I’ve ever attended a concert with a DJ in the band), and a drummer who held his own. In my opinion, the mix is fabulous!

If you would like to read the program insert for more information about this group, and in particular their new album Stereotypes, I scanned it here: Black Violin 1 Black Violin 2

Most of the performance was their own work, but the guys also covered a lot of familiar songs that were fun for the audience members who didn’t know Black Violin songs very well. My favourite was a mash-up of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and Barry White’s Let’s Get It On. I was singing at the top of my lungs for all of it.

The only down side (and this is a pretty high down side) is that they weren’t willing to let us sit through the show. Though I had recently had a small operation on my toe, I expected to be seated most of the evening, and assumed my toe would be alright. Nope. “Get up! This is a party!” yelled Kev. I had no choice, but was forced to shake my tailfeathers for hours.  My toe was angry the next day, but it was worth it. The show was a blast.

Unlike every other show I’ve attended at one of the Portland’5 events, the artists told us right from the start that we SHOULD be using flash photography, and video, and posting it online as much as possible, and to tag it with #blackviolin. I love it when people grab onto trends and use them, rather than fight them. I managed to get a couple of poor quality videos, so you get a sense of the show.

 

A and Tara pose for me at the Japanese garden

A and Tara pose for me at the Japanese garden

This post can be a complement to my post from several years ago, Japanese garden in the rain. Both times I forgot to bring my camera, so the photos from both posts are taken by phones. In comparing the two, the advances in cell phone camera technology are evident.

Tara met an Italian exchange student at their school, two weeks before school was out. The visiting student had not yet had a chance to see many sights of Portland, and it was almost time to return to Italy. Tara was dismayed. I got a text while I was at work, “Will you please take us to the Japanese garden this weekend? She has to see more of Portland!”

It was a very sunny and hot day and we looked forward to the shady glades of the Japanese garden.

“Designed by Professor Takuma Tono in 1963, it encompasses 5.5 acres with 5 separate garden styles, and includes an authentic Japanese Tea House, meandering streams, intimate walkways, and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.” ~from the brochure we received at the garden.

Sun filters through branches, colouring everything green and magical.

Sun filters through branches, colouring everything green and magical.

The Flat Garden (hira niwa) is a central focus of the garden, beside the pavillion.

The Flat Garden (hira niwa) is a central focus of the garden, beside the pavillion.

On the other side of the pavilion is this view of Mt. Hood, reminding many of Mt. Fuji because of its symmetrical shape.

On the other side of the pavilion is this view of Portland and Mt. Hood, reminding many of Mt. Fuji because of its symmetrical shape.

Inside the pavilion, events are held. It was a bonsai exhibit in my

Inside the pavilion, events are held. It was a bonsai exhibit in my “rainy” post. This time a pottery exhibit. Most of the pottery displays were traditional, but this artist was fanciful.

A look inside the pavilion

A look inside the pavilion

The Flat Garden

The Flat Garden

I was pleased with the fine touches in the garden, such as the gracefully curved railings.

I was pleased with the fine touches in the garden, such as the gracefully curved railings.

Irises grew from the water beside a wooden walking path that kept our feet dry.

Irises grew from the water beside a wooden walking path that kept our feet dry.

It was past peak spring colour, but these azaleas still added a spark to the shady greenery.

It was past peak spring colour, but these azaleas still added a spark to the shady greenery.

The Strolling Pond Garden

The Strolling Pond Garden

Shady stone path

Shady stone path

After our time in the shade, we crossed the road to another famous Portland garden: The International Rose Test Garden, named for its mission of testing new rose varieties. Built in 1917, this garden holds over 7000 rose plants of 550 varieties. It was in full sunlight and roasting. Despite the heat, it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and was filled with visitors. The roses were spectacular, and the scents intoxicating. Our new friend A kept a brochure to send home to her family. We had done our small part in encouraging good international relations. 🙂

Looking down onto the Rose Test Garden.

Looking down onto the Rose Test Garden.

Aisles of fragrance and colour.

Aisles of fragrance and colour.

Most of the roses were as tall as we were, and the blossoms were nose-height: perfect.

Many of the roses were as tall as we were, and the blossoms were nose-height: perfect.

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

California Condor shows off his lovely profile for us at the Oregon Zoo.

California Condor shows off his lovely profile for us at the Oregon Zoo.

My landlady wants us out of the house so she can sell it. We actually had this conversation a year ago, but I begged her to let us stay another year so Tara could graduate from high school first. Graduation is in one month and that means no more stalling: we have to go.

The Blue House, as I like to call it after its distinctive colour, went live on RMLS Friday, and my phone has been going bananas ever since, with realtors wanting to bring their clients through. The real estate market in Portland is astonishing, considering we are only a few years away from record foreclosures and joblessness and plummeting home values. These days, twenty people show up at once to view a house, offers come in at $30 thousand in cash over the asking price, and places sell in 24 hours. It is a piranha frenzy out here. I remember being confronted with this kind of competition when I looked for homes to buy near Berkeley, California in 2003. But that was before any of us knew what was coming. This time we should know better than to encourage a housing bubble. But we are humans, so we do not learn.

Tara and I have been asked to scoot out of here when people want to look around, and to be particularly absent last weekend. I worked 10 hours of mandatory overtime on Saturday and was off work at 4 pm. By 4:15 pm, there were people standing in our front yard. Waiting. We left to catch a movie and then a birthday party for a friend.

Sunday we needed something that would take more time. Our first stop was to Oswego Mortgage who is helping me with a VA loan so I can purchase my own home, so I stopped by the office (on SUNDAY! That’s how busy they are; it’s 7 days a week at the mortgage company) to sign eighty bazillion pieces of paper. Yes folks, I have been searching since November, and finally found a house. If Old Mother Hubbard kept homes in a cupboard, her cupboard in Portland is bare. And that’s why house-hunters are behaving like piranhas. I found a *beautiful* place. Negotiations are still underway and I don’t close till the middle of June, so I’m not sure yet if it will be ours in the end, but I will definitely leave updates here. The property is like paradise, and I am only slightly exaggerating. Just you wait. 🙂

“Whatchyoo lookin’ at, Huh?”

The bears were fun to watch. One played in a water trough for awhile, one rolled around on the ground playing with a branch, and a third napped in the background.

The bears were fun to watch. One played in a water trough for awhile, one rolled around on the ground playing with a branch, and a third napped in the background.

After signing documents we went straight to the zoo. I haven’t been to the Oregon Zoo for about 10 years, so it was high time. I could only remember the bats and the polar bears. The bats were again one of my favourite exhibits. Portland has a pretty nice zoo, and there is a lot of construction going on. Some of the structures are the original buildings from when it was constructed in 1959, and some, though newer, are still not to the standards that modern zoo-attendees want to see.

Construction has totally disrupted viewing of the elephants, but the elephants may appreciate being separated from the people. The elephants at the Oregon Zoo are a big attraction, since they are a healthy family group. Their current home was state of the art, revolutionary design in 1959 – a new idea in zoos to allow elephants to mingle together and sleep unchained. As a result, Portland became host to the continent’s first successful pachyderm nursery. Go figure. Six of the elephants here were born at the Oregon Zoo, including little Lily, born in November. We also host Packy, born in 1962, he was the first elephant born in the United States for 44 years, and the first to live past the age of 1 for 80 years. The new enclosure will provide them more space and a pond.

This is our actual view of the Asian Elephants, while barriers keep us safely at a distance during construction of Elephant Lands.

This is our actual view of the Asian Elephants, while barriers keep us safely at a distance during construction of Elephant Lands.

Luckily my camera has a zoom lens and I could get a better look at them. Here, one elephant appears to have open-mouthed delight as it scratches an itchy thigh on that log.

Luckily my camera has a zoom lens and I could get a better look at them. Here, one elephant appears to have open-mouthed delight as it scratches an itchy thigh on that log.

Ambitious zoo construction plans also include a much more homey primate area, which they certainly need. It is hard to view such expressive faces behind bars, even though I know a pretty cage is still a cage.

The Oregon Zoo partners with other organizations to promote strong populations of other animals, such as the California Condor (the lovely face at the top of this post) and Oregon Painted Turtles.

Baby turtles identified with nail polish on their shells.

Baby turtles identified with nail polish on their shells.

DeBrazza's Monkey gazes out at me from behind bars.

DeBrazza’s Monkey gazes out at me from behind bars.

These spirited Cotton-top Tamarins were leaping around and entertaining us.

These spirited Cotton-top Tamarins were leaping around and entertaining us.

It was difficult to get a good shot through the thick and scratched Plexiglas, but this one turned out ok.

It was difficult to get a good shot through the thick and scratched Plexiglas, but this one of an otter licking its paw turned out ok.

This is a different otter, who was swimming along the length of the pond, delighting the children who stood with their faces pressed again the glass. When one of the otters flashed past, the children would shriek and squeal!

This is a different otter, who was swimming along the length of the pond, delighting the children who stood with their faces pressed again the glass. When one of the otters flashed past, the children would shriek and squeal!

A Northern Shoveler trying to find a nap spot away from the eager crowds.

A Northern Shoveler trying to find a nap spot away from the eager crowds.

Look at the face of the Malayan Sun Bear! This one was in a playful mood.

Look at the face of the Malayan Sun Bear! This one was in a playful mood.

Northern Sulawesi Babirusa, or pigs with bloody great tusks.

Northern Sulawesi Babirusa, or pigs with bloody great tusks.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Africa Cafe, built with a view of the aviary so we watched the birds fly around while we ate.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Africa Cafe, built with a view of the aviary so we watched the birds fly around while we ate.

One of the lovelies inside the aviary.

One of the lovelies inside the aviary.

This photo makes either the giraffe look small or the birds look enormous. Answer: these birds are enormous!

This photo makes either the giraffe look small or the birds look enormous. Answer: these birds are enormous!

Tara pretending to be a baby eagle. A cranky baby eagle.

Tara pretending to be a baby eagle. A cranky baby eagle.

Polar bears enjoying the shade and the cool water of what turned out to be a very warm day.

Polar bears enjoying the shade and the cool water of what turned out to be a very warm day.

An Egyptian fruit bat. Gosh they are so beautiful I just want to cuddle. I love bats.

An Egyptian fruit bat. Gosh they are so beautiful I just want to cuddle. I love bats.

Straw-coloured fruit bat seems to be cackling with glee. Perhaps he is particularly big fan of bananas for lunch.

Straw-coloured fruit bat seems to be cackling with glee. Perhaps he is particularly enthusiastic about having bananas for lunch.

Our plan worked, and before we knew it, the sun was dropping toward the horizon and our home was again empty so that we could return. It was a Sunday well spent, and I may even have to thank the landlady for how our weekend turned out.

I’m not sure this pole is as squirrel-proof as the company who sold it to me believes it to be. However, I added some olive oil, and that was more effective.

P.S. Don’t you just love the symphony of bird voices I get to hear while I work from home?

The tea house

The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Our tea service.

Our tea service.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

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