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"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.

Mural in Eureka

Man, what a great trip to Cali on several levels. I’ve speckled the writing with just a FEW of the amazing murals in Eureka. Many of them courtesy of beloved Humboldt artist Duane Flatmo.

A friend of mine named him Barney at one point, and it works for me, so I’ll call my daughter’s father Barney. Well, as I so dramatically pointed out earlier this year, Barney decided to move back to California. His original intent was to take our daughter with him. I fought it like a wildcat, and thousands of dollars and six months later, Barney is in California, and she is back in Portland with me.  We had decided to split the summer. He got the first half so that she could move down there with him, and into the girlfriend’s house. She got to set up her room and visit her old friends in Eureka and get a sense of where her dad would be. My half of the summer began Thursday, and I was there at 9:00 am to pick her up (yes, I was a bit eager).

girls in the sea - too much fun!

Because of such an early start from Portland, I rolled into Eureka Wednesday afternoon, and as I passed beneath the familiar stands of eucalyptus and breathed in the wet salty air coming across the bay and brushing through the leaves making the most delicious smell, I realized that I had happened upon a rare gorgeous day on the North Coast. My girl had been texting me about every 5 minutes since Crescent City, so instead of heading to Margaret’s, I went straight to her house. I asked Barney if it was ok to take the girls to the beach and everybody was game. The girlfriend has a daughter the same age as mine. We played on the warm sands at Samoa Beach and had a grand time. I took them to Pachanga for dinner, then dropped the girls off at Barney’s.

Mural in Eureka

I made my happy way on over to Lost Coast and some free WiFi and picked up a case of my fave beer: Downtown Brown, complete with wacky label art from aforementioned Duane Flatmo. Down the hill to Fortuna in time to take a shower before Margaret and John got home. I had a lovely visit with my old friends. Margaret is as amazing as ever. Effervescent even in times of some life challenges right now. She is beautiful and generous and always a kind friend and excellent hostess. While I was chatting with John, she got a phone call from a Mexican friend, and we listened to her giddiup her way through a phone call in someone else’s native language. She laughed when she hung up, “She barely speaks English and I barely speak Spanish, so we have funny conversations.”

Margaret and me on her deck. When there is no fog, there is a stunning view of Fortuna and the sea beyond.

When I met Margaret, she did not speak Spanish. The next morning there were lots of hugs and best wishes and Margaret was in her UPS uniform. She started a brand new UPS store in Fortuna less than a year ago, and it’s going gangbusters. She said it’s hard to manage the store and also teach four days a week at College of the Redwoods, which she also just started. What a woman.

what a smile

I picked up my girl from Barney’s and off we went. First order of business: get some new surf gear to fit my growing girl. I needed new gloves too, because my old ones were wearing thin. We headed up north to Trinidad beach despite the gloomy fog which I knew would hit – to make the locals pay for the gorgeous sunshine the day before.

my girlie and me

We stopped for a quick hello to Bob at the Tribal Offices at Cher-ae Heights, ate at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and made our way to Moonstone Beach. Trinidad had a little magic in store for us, and by the time we hit the beach we were blasted with sunshine and blue skies, while Eureka remained socked in. We played in the water about two hours. Near the end, a seal came out to play with us. We were the only two in the water with the seal. It was the first time I had seen a seal so close while surfing. At one point, she blasted through the water right between my daughter and me. I didn’t see it, but she did, which is better. How exciting. I had a heart-thumping thought in the back of my head that when the White Sharks up here accidentally bite people, they’re really after the seals, but I was wise enough to keep that in my own head, and let my girlie just experience the thrill.

Red dawn through smoky skies from forest fires in Canyonville, OR

It’s been so long since I surfed, I had lost touch with the sea. It took a long time before enough of that salty water pounded through my hair and tumbled across my body, that finally the worries washed away too. Seagulls swooped across the sky, the seal kept popping up – her black shiny nose covered in long whiskers – and the sun lit up white froth in the crashing waves. If I stare out west long enough, my world gets simpler. The only critical data coming in is the quality of the swell, and maybe how cold my toes are. Other than that, I feel blissful joy in that my whole world becomes the feeling of bobbing in the cold water, the blue-green stained glass of sun through the peak of a wave, the salt in my mouth, the scratchy neoprene of my glove when I brush hair out of my eyes, and sparkles everywhere. Sparkling jeweled water. Sparkling squeals of delight from my daughter, Sparkling cries of the gulls. Sparkling joy inside me.

A mural at Pierson's hardware on the south end of town

We hit 101 south again and spent a great visit with my dearest friend. I first met her online, and it was love at first type. Her online name was Ophelia Red, and now I’ve even got her in my address book under “O” for Ophelia, even though neither her first or last name begin with an o. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever felt so happy in her life. That is a great thing to hear from a friend. She was full of smiles and love and peace. Ophelia and I shared some wine while she made a gigantic batch of enchiladas in order to have food in the house in the coming week. Her daughter was mostly quiet but when she did open up, showed that she’s a lovely young lady inside as much as out.

Mural at the Courthouse Market downtown

Ophelia’s house is packed with art. She says what gives her joy is that her living room is mostly art given to her by friends. Yes, there is something of mine on her wall too: a cast of my face, so I can be with her always, and trimmed in dried plants because I’m an Earth-girl faery sprite. She talked about her work with Humboldt Pride and mostly her work in the Impropriety Society. One of her ongoing projects is The Yoni Endeavor, in which she works with women to build yoni sculptures as part of both a healing exercise, and also a way to love ALL parts of our beautiful female bodies. With dozens of ceramic yonis on the walls, in paint, in sculpture, and in metal, there is no way not to be in love with being female there.

female ostrich ignoring us

The last time I was at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, it was midday and hot, and I didn’t get to see many of the animals. I thought if we hit it in the morning we might have better luck. In any case, that thought led me to hit the road directly after leaving Ophelia’s. My girlie got into her jammies and off we went. I was doing some serious nodding by Grants Pass, so I found a road out of the way, and pulled over to zonk out for awhile. We got into Winston in time for breakfast, and I pulled into a little café that looked perfect because the parking lot was jammed and there were a bunch of white caps in there. It was exactly as expected: many old crusty dudes who all knew each other, and a friendly waitress named Dee who hugged everybody who walked in. While we sat there, new people would mosey on in the door, and people in beat up ballcaps would barely nod as the newcomer would drag out a chair and move in on their table. “Mornin’ Merl.” “Howdy Ted.” Man, I love that stuff. We got pancakes, hash browns, an omelet, some more eggs, bacon and a Belgian waffle. Ummmmm. The bathroom in the back was at the edge of the A-frame, so one wall sloped and did not allow me to stand erect. My daughter was impressed with all of it, “This restaurant is perfect!” she announced.

giraffes at play

We pulled in too early to Wildlife Safari, and my kid read from her new book while we waited. It’s to help answer questions so going into Middle School isn’t so scary. It’s sort of a weird concept to me: Middle School. There was no such thing when I was a kid in Idaho. We had Junior High, which was 7th and 8th grade. Sixth graders were elementary school.

Finally! We had access and were delighted all the way through. Wildlife Safari is sort of like a zoo, but there are no “cages” per se. It’s gigantic, and the animals roam the hills and forests. It’s divided into portions named after the continent the animals come from: Africa, Asia, the Americas. We saw so many great creatures, and my girl helped by taking most of the photos.

One of our first sights was of giraffes at horseplay. They stood right next to each other with feet splayed, and pushed their butts up against each other, trying to shove each other aside. Sort of like you might see siblings in the back seat of the car do. Then they would swing their long necks down hard and ram their heads against each other’s chests. We were so close we heard the thump! each time they did it. Very funny.

bears horsing around

There was a lot of horseplay going on in there. A baby Bison was butting his momma, thump thump thump, and she just dug in and leaned back at him, pretending not to notice, so she wouldn’t encourage the behavior. I could imagine her thoughts might be similar to many other mothers of boys. The brown bears were rollicking down by their pond. One had its paw around the other next to it, and they wrestled and bared their teeth at each other. It was priceless when the one got tired and rested his big bear head on top of the other’s head.

This is how close we were to the animals!

Lots of babies too. We saw a baby zebra, and lots of baby cattle- and deer-cousins (sorry, can’t name all those critters). Our favourites were the baby rheas who ran into the road after their mom. She is eight feet tall; they are more like eight inches tall.

Ahhh, such a rewarding stop. We piled into the car again. My girl laid her seat back and took a nap, and I stayed awake all the way home. I love it that when I come home, I come to Portland.

Placid beauties. White deer in a lavender field.

Rhea babies and their momma

In the absence of our newest local grass roots what’s happenin’ PDX reporter (Mark, who contributes to PDX Pipeline), I felt the need to fill the photo/news void left in his wake. (Mark is currently in San Francisco visiting friends to distract himself from waiting for someone to call him about a job….)


My always-engaging kiddo was student-of-the-week last week, and had a big self-presentation during the last 15 minutes of class time on Friday. She also had the permission to bring a pet. The available parent du jour was moi, so I had the honors of zooming up Cornelius Pass, stopping at the school’s office to pick up her dad’s apartment key,  zooming over there to scoop up the unsuspecting Cookie cat  and plopping her into a cat carrier, and scooting back to school to wait for the exact moment. When it was time, I swept in through the back door of the library and … tah-dah!! Held high the offering of claws scrabbling, hair on end, mewing Cookie for the class’s consumption. Actually, once brought out of the carrier, she was an amazingly mellow and tolerant specimen, and in my daughter’s arms allowed herself to be petted by everyone who wasn’t allergic.

Ginger with pups

My reward for all that was to bring my daughter home with me after dropping off cat and key. Our evening was pretty mellow: had to visit ALL the farm animals, examine Mom’s work in cleaning the chicken nesting boxes and coop, see how much the puppies have grown, roll on the ground with the Schipperkes, and fill the goose pond. Then we washed up thoroughly and made peanut-butter oatmeal cookies with a peanut glaze. One of the Uncles called me “Devil Woman” later, because he could not bring himself to stop eating them. I’m sure he meant it in the nicest  possible way. We watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the usual delight and smattering of giggles, then closed the day with two stories from Anderson’s fairy tales: The Emperor’s New Clothes (1837), and The Flax (1849). The very last line is beautiful: “But the children could neither hear nor understand this, nor should they; for children must not know everything.”

tree hugger

This morning we got moving early and we were at her favourite Portland park so far: Columbia Park, off Lombard. The Uncles told us that there was a pool there, but we had never seen it, so that was our first mission. It was cool, cloudy, and wet this morning, and about as perfect a Portland morning as they get. We walked through the gorgeous trees of the park (only hugging a few), and at length came upon the round pool building, across from a field full of mini-soccer players and their enthusiastic and damp parents.

The pool is open every day, heated, indoor, and the price is reasonable even for unemployed single moms. Yay! We took their booklet to plan for a future swim date, then gave a wide berth to the footballers on our path through the trees and over to the wall ball court. My daughter taught me the ins and outs of the highly specialized and regulated game of wall ball – the way it is played at recess at her school. We weren’t getting much wall ball in until I shouted “No more rules! Let’s just play! I can’t remember all that anyway, I’m old!”

wall ball. You can see the red ball

It was great exercise, and we invented a few more rules for her to take back to school with her next week. Then, as will inevitably happen in a park with trees, she got distracted by the squirrels and we let the ball lay forgotten. Totally forgotten. We were already in the car before she stopped me, “Wait! Did anyone bring the ball?” After we picked up the ball it was an easy trip from Lombard to I-5 to the Alberta Street exit, and we were on to the next stage of our Saturday adventure.

street mural

We parked on 11th – as close as we could get – and were rapidly distracted by the drums from what was probably The Rhinestoners warming up. Since most of the band was not there, we moved on and soon came to Wendy Rover and her daughter, fellow henna aficionados, who answered many questions for us based on their vastly superior experience and knowledge about the topic. We wished them a lovely day and moved on.

Alberta street mural

The Alberta Street Fair is the longest (lengthwise) Portland street faire I’ve attended so far. From 11th to 31st it ranges, and the two of us did not even wander to the far end.  We made it as far as the Main Stage on 20th, but had to turn back and cut our day short in order to be back at The Farm in time for her father to pick her up again.

fuel from Fuel Cafe

Our first order of business was to find some food. People were packed around one establishment – always a sign that good food is on the menu – and we put our names on the list before asking how long the wait. “About 45 minutes,” we were told, and promptly went to look for another place to eat. Right across the street is the Fuel Café – exactly what we were looking for: perfectly Portland, comfortable, a short wait in line, and scrumptious  food. Oops, my daughter’s “basic grilled cheese” included jalapeño jack – look out for that if you’re dining with a 10 year old. She focused on the cheddar side of the sandwich, and I savoured my Southwest Tuna Salad with actual real, live fresh garden lettuce and cilantro, and coffee served in a mug. She had a mango Italian Soda. We were two spoiled girls.

Me at Fuel Cafe

Tummies happy, we continued on, visiting tables and booths, talking with the vendors, appreciating the eclectic fashion sense among Portlanders. Siren song enticed us around a corner into an empty lot where we found the Interactive Kid’s Activity Center with a soundtrack provided by the all-women group Soundspell. Further down the road, we couldn’t help stopping to admire the brilliant murals on Alberta Street buildings as we made our way eastward.


Suddenly we heard a booming circus emcee voice and hastily said goodbye to the vendor in front of us so that we could locate the source. Good call! It was probably the best show of the day, and that’s going out on a limb, considering I missed most of what the faire had to offer. We discovered Kazum! self-described as a circus/acrobatics group. Noah Mickens emceed the enormously appealing acrobatics and dance circus-type show, featuring the enchanting hula hoop professional: Amy Hatfield (recently spotted supporting the March 4th Marching Band at Tour de Fat).

Kazum! emcee

Kazum! is incredible. (I think their T-shirts sported an umlaut.) We were treated with a series of dance- and acrobatics- routines by the men and women in the group. First up were lions and their trainer, followed by hula, acrobatics, dancing, more acrobatics, and more acrobatics. The gorgeous women were tossed into the air by laughing strongmen in tights, and all of them displayed enviable upper-body strength and firm abs all while maintaining choreographed arm movement, no fear of heights, and smiles in unison. (I need to go to the gym…)

Cowa-freakin’-bunga! That was amazing! When the top hat came around, we tipped in not only a coupla bucks, but also a lucky T&A heads-tails coin that will hopefully pass the happiness forward.

twirling Amy Hatfield

At this point we were starting to worry about getting back to The Farm on time, so we turned around. Found a mirror vendor – wow, those creations are astounding. No matter how hard we tried to hurry, we kept being waylaid, but only by the most deserving. Stepped into Chris Ellis’ studio because he was creating on the keyboard. He called to my daughter to sit at the keyboard and set it up to play what he called “Vampire Dance Club.” As she became more comfortable with performing for an audience of strangers-becoming-friends, the tones became delicious despite their creepiness, and the grown-ups introduced each other. Chris Ellis told the background story to my favourite of his photographs on the wall – a lovely woman outside a cemetery in Paris, checking her face in a compact while holding her cigarette out of the way with firm delicacy.

at the Chris Ellis studio

Lee Meier – professional photographer – and his son Nelson Meier introduced themselves and Lee insisted that we consider his studio on First Fridays in Multnomah Village. Lee had phenomenal gear (photographic that is) with which to capture the rollicking Alberta street sights, and assured me his photos of Kazum! would be available online.

Bearing due West, we aimed for the parked car, but saw so many other cars that demanded attention. The Portland Artcar Revival Club wowed us all with the organization of the famous art cars we’ve all seen around town. There were a few of these in Eureka (CA, where I lived pre-Brandeis), but it tickled everyone in sight to walk up close enough to touch these motley mobile artworks like “Trophy Wife” (a car covered in trophies and trophy plaques), and Rev. Bill’s Vacation Bible Camp – featuring Jesus as the King of the Road.

Again, we tried to escape the street, but found Wendy again, and couldn’t resist the pull of a glitter dolphin in henna at its finest. Finally, the two girls moved with me toward the car, only to be stopped again by The Alberta Street Clown House. We watched them crashing bicycles (well, I guess one could call them bicycles. In Portland they morWh into things sometimes unrecognizable.) into each other, and then were enticed to join in a bagel war, where my own youngun’ pelted the nurse with a bagel. Good on ya, mate!

Clownhouse crashes

Finally, finally, we forged against the wind and thickening clouds and spotted the Dragon Wagon (my car – it’s a long story) again. Good old 11th street. We caught I-5 outta there, whipped onto 30 West, and in little more than half an hour were tooling our way out toward Scappoose and The Farm. Gathered enough eggs to fill a carton, watered the cats, ate some peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and my little girl went home with her dad. Whew! Day well spent.

Alberta street mural

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