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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.

View of Nagasaki at night from the observatory

Friday afternoon, Ian and I shook off the somber mood of the Atomic Bomb Museum, and went out into Nagasaki to see what else there was. First of all, we were starving, so we had to find a place to eat. We rode the streetcar back toward the center of town. We wandered through streets for awhile, taking the time to poke into curious areas in our search for food. We found an underground market, but it turned out to sell mostly raw seafood, and we had no way of cooking it.

The underground market had many stalls displaying fresh fish

The eyeball of this huge fish was nearly 3 inches across!

After eating, we went to a landmark in Nagasaki called Spectacles Bridge, because the reflections of the two arches in the water look like round spectacles. There are several beautiful stone bridges along the river in that part of town. Spectacles Bridge was built by Zen master Mokusu Nyojo, and is the oldest stone bridge in Japan.

At one point in the river, rainbows of koi fish were hovering, as if waiting to be fed by people on the shore. A few people appeared on the stone ledge beside the river, and the fish moved to them in a group, sloppy carp mouths gaping above the surface.

Meganabashi, Spectacles Bridge, the oldest Chinese-style stone bridge in Japan

People cross on the stepping stones, and fish wait hopefully for food

We saw signs pointing up a hill, so we walked along narrow streets till we saw red painted beams of a temple above rooftops, and were able to find our way to it. We had discovered Kofuku-ji, the first Obaku Zen temple in Japan, its origins dating to around 1620. Interestingly, Mokusu Nyojo was one of the masters at this temple. This was the first of a series of temples built by Chinese immigrants determined to make a grand display of their loyalty to Buddhism, so that people would be less inclined to suspect that they were Christians (since Christianity was outlawed).

Tohmeizan Kofukuji

fabulous flower

Behind the temple was a cemetery that stretched far up the hill behind it. Ian and I climbed between the gravestones, through a maze of stone steps, trying to get a higher vantage point and possibly see the end of the cemetery. Hundreds of rectangular family plots are carved into the mountainside, each with its own hand-built, narrow, concrete and crumbling steps. But it truly was a maze! I would follow steps up to a dead-end, back track, try different steps to another dead end. I would spot a different path from there which seemed to lead higher, so I would go back down, try the new route, only to be stopped at another dead end. Ian was doing the same thing in a different part of the cemetery. He came down to where I stood and pointed to another section, “It looks like you have to start over there,” he said. I followed his hand, and saw that we would have to find the beginning of the trail from the other side of the temple grounds. So we hopped down all the little steps and walked through the temple grounds and buildings again, with an eye out for a way to get behind them to the path we sought. We made it all the way to the other side, but every path to the back was blocked.

Cemetery stretches up and out of sight on the hill behind the temple

Kofuku-ji closes at 5:00 pm. We discovered this when worried caretakers began stealing glances our way, and closing doors to areas we were no longer visiting. We were also feeling a little self-conscious about trying to get into a different part of the cemetery only in order to climb higher into it, and not for mourning someone’s passing or paying respect to the dead.

Farther along the Nakashima River are more stone bridges

We wandered back toward the river, and back to the streetcar line. Ian wanted to find the observatory at Nagasaki before nightfall, so we would be able to watch the sunset from the summit.

A shrine beside the river. The symbol of a swastika (called manji) in Japan, is the infinity character, and signifies a Buddhist temple.

For 1200 yen each (about $15) we purchased tickets for the tram that would take us to the observatory. We waited with a growing group of other sunset-seekers, and found vending machines to quench our thirst while we explored the shrines there. Our timing was good, and we arrived at the top while the sky was still light enough to illuminate the scene below us. A three-story circular building perches at the top of the hill, allowing viewers on the observation deck on the roof to have a clear view above the trees. We could see in every direction.

View of homes below the tram as we sailed through the air

People atop the building, looking out across Nagasaki city

The observation tower, with a restaurant and resting area inside, and an observation deck on top.

We remained at the observatory till it was completely dark, watching as lights below grew brighter. Then we rode the streetcar back to the train station, and made the long journey back to Sasebo.

Path down to the torii entrance to the shrine and tram boarding station

Stray cats waiting for the train with us

A sunset view

Ian, beside the river

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