Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday 1 June: Portland, Oregon – Bridge Trouble

We had arrived under a blaze of sunshine that was still in evidence the following day. However, we were assured this was not typical Oregon weather and by the third day it was back to its usual wet and cloudy self. Some people began talk that we had been tokens of good fortune for the weather. Now it had turned bad again I hoped that they would not use this as an excuse to put us in a huge wicker manikin and burn it. But fortunately folks round here are not really like that.

For breakfast we went to a place called Old Wives' Tales and met some friends of our hosts. It's the kind of restaurant that caters especially for families with kids (although they do have kid-free rooms for the rest of us). We sat in the main area next to the kids playroom because our party had a small, engaging child with it (adopted from Ethiopia, birthplace of coffee). The speciality of the restaurant seemed to be scrambled eggs, which were done very well and with the wide range of optional extras you expect with American meals.

It was as our child was coming out of the playroom that another, much bigger kid pushed him over. Because he could. The mother of the big bully, horrified, immediately picked him up and tried to reason with him, but he seemed to be less regretful that pleased with the maternal attention. But our little feller wasn't hurt, just surprised and was soon comforted enough to go back to crayoning the chairs and laughing and funny faces. The only bad side to the restaurant was cunningly pre-deducting a tip, but leaving a gap for you to add another without realising the first had been taken.

After we said goodbye to the family (grand parents, mother and aforementioned littl'un) we headed over to the mother of our hostess who we visited briefly the day before. This was a longer stay and it was nice to hear stories behind some of the evocative pictures of times long ago. One in particular was of her whole family taken just before she headed off to Seattle at the early stages of WWII told a great story even without her narrative. It was the kind of picture that starts a movie.

Next stop was REI which has everything you could possibly want for the outdoor life. We went initially so that Cath could replace her sturdy water bottle that she had constantly praised since I'd known her. Apparently in her absence, toxic chemicals had been revealed in the construction and now there was a whole new variety with them. I looked at shoes.

We nipped back for a quick change and a quicker spot to eat because we had a date with a ship. The Willamette River was the seed from which Portland grew and a medium cruise liner makes regular trips and gives commentary to those hardy enough to stay on the top deck. Those not hardy enough, and large of pocket enough to have dinner on the lower deck, get to listen to a moonlighting pianist.

The first bit of excitement was that we had to go under the Hawthorne Bridge. This 1910 steel construction uses 19th Century over-engineering to lift up a whole section of the bridge, vertically using massive pulleys. It's quite impressive. It's named after the founder of a loony bin, I mean hospital for the mentally in need of treatment.

We passed idyllic dwellings by the water, mansions in the undergrowth and islands with 2000 beavers. Beavers, apparently, pair-bond and remain faithful. If the female should die, the remaining otter mourns. He stops looking after himself and lets his hair go to pot. For two weeks. Then he's back out on the waterfront whistling at any beaver beaver that goes his way. Our guide gave us lots of such information including which bird was the national bird of Portland. It was news to all of us that a city could have a national bird. I guess it's the same logic that only one country plays in the baseball "World Series." National Bird was of course a 1974 British sex comedy.

Along the way we passed several dragon boats. These are long rowing boats painted like dragons and were preparing for a dragon boat race which comes later in the Rose Festival proceedings. At the far reaches of the ride, the boat turned in a deep part of the river formed by an ancient volcano crater. We figured because of the Rose Festival and the extra people in town that the boat would be packed. In fact it was not very full at all, which was nice. At times we had the top deck to ourselves. Apart from the crew, that is. The crew featured the usual array of members: the bearded captain who always had a drink in his hand, the female pilot, the photographer (who takes your picture as you board and then sells you a copy later) and the souvenir shop clerk. Just like in the old days.

The real fun and games happened towards the end as we again approached the Hawthorne Bridge. We waited, waited some more, then started turning circles in the water. Eventually we heard the bridge was stuck. It wouldn't go up and the barriers wouldn't come up to allow the cars to cross again. After a lot more spinning, the ship pulled over to the side and we got off at the marina.

While Patrick raced off with one of the daughters, to take her to hand in a job application, Joyce, Catherine and I took the scenic route near the tall, sail ships in town for the festival (cover-charge), along side the kid-filled fun park (cover-charge) and through the closing Saturday arts market that opens on Sunday as well (cost: one skirt). Then we crossed the impressive two-level Steel Bridge with its complex, independent raising for the lower and upper decks.
Soon, on the other side of the river, we were met by Patrick. We walked through the homeless area (or free, improvised campsite, depending on your point of view) and picked up our car. After more great, home-cooked, vegetarian fare for dinner, Cath and I walked around the area. It's a great hilly, wooded suburban area and you look down the hill onto a wonderful foresty spread. Again we fell asleep quickly aided by jetlag and Cath being a little bit ill. We dreamt whilst Hollywood burned.

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