A Few Fine Portland Buildings

Drive into a large city for the first time, without the benefit of some GPS box advising you, and with few exceptions, it’ll be confusing for a while. The way the streets are connected seems to make little sense. They don’t match your maps, or rather, what you think you remember from looking at your maps. Signage isn’t what it should be (often just an impression, but objectively true in Boston). The route you want to go is under construction. There’s always someone right behind you when you need to make a critical decision about turning, but you’re never in the lane you need to be anyway.

It sounds like I’m complaining, but not really. Once the worst of the drive is over — because you do get where you’re going, usually — you’ve had the satisfaction of navigating through a strange place. You’ve also seen, even fleetingly, some things you wouldn’t have otherwise. GPS is fine if you have a meeting to attend or a plane to catch, but otherwise it obviates the need to guide yourself through new territory with maps, landmarks you know ahead of time, and your own sense of direction.

I plowed through parts all three cities — Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle — on different occasions last week, each causing me temporary location frustration. Each time when it was over, it was worth it. When I found a parking garage in downtown Portland early on the afternoon of August 22 and set out on foot, it was wonderful not to be in that car anymore, and taking in what the streets of Portland had to offer.

The first thing I took in was the air. Everywhere hung a light haze and the smell of a not-too-distant fire. It wasn’t a choking haze, or even one that made me cough, but it carried a distinct odor. Smelled like one’s clothes after grilling, especially the burned wood. The source was the vast complex of forest fires then raging in eastern Washington — still raging — and which only a few days before had killed three U.S. Forest Service firefighters near Twisp, Wash., all young men.

Portland is known for a number of things, such as trying to rival Austin for urban weird. More on that later. I want to point out that downtown Portland, and the nearby Pearl District, have some exceptionally fine buildings a century or more old that aren’t remotely weird. Such as the New Market Block (1872).

New Market, PortlandThe Blagen Block (1888).

Blagan Block, PortlandBlagan Block, PortlandThe Postal Building (1900).
Postal Building, PortlandAnd the Pittock Block (1914). Among a good many others, including more modern structures.
Pittock Block, PortlandI have a fondness for buildings with visible fire escapes.

Also worth noting: Portland’s a sizable industrial town. Not something you hear about much either. I spent the night at some distance from the city center at a motel on U.S. 30 near the Willametta River, a major tributary to the Columbia, both of which are working rivers. The motel was in an industrial zone, both for manufacturing and distribution, and I know there are other areas similarly industrial in greater Portland. It isn’t the largest industrial market even in the Northwest, but it’s large enough to have current and projected development of nearly 2 million square feet.

Pacific Northwest ’15

I left for the Pacific Northwest on August 21 and returned home late yesterday. Imagine an axis that connects Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver, which are all linked by I-5 (British Columbia 99 north of the border). That axis was the focus of the trip. I went to all of those cities and some points in between, some for a matter of hours, others for a few days. I spent time away from those cities as well, in hilly territory lorded over by towering pines and enchantingly quiet at night.

I drove a lot but also managed to spend a solid chunk of time walking and riding buses and light rail. The visit involved attending a conference, touring an exceptional building and seeing other fine ones, experiencing two large public markets, wandering through one of the largest book stores anywhere and a few other excellent ones, and seeing two museums and a Chinese garden very much like some of the wonderful ones in Suzhou. I ate food both awful and extraordinary, including things I’d never heard of before.

Going to another part of the country means doing new things, too. Or it should. Not necessarily life-changing experiences, but the sort of petite novelties that add up over time to make the fabric of one’s life better. Even before I got there, this was the first time I’d ever booked a rental car through Costco or a room through Airbnb. I attribute a less expensive trip, and a better one, to both. I visited a new city (Portland) in a new state (Oregon) and visited new parts of places I’d been (Vancouver in British Columbia, the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle). I witnessed a major forest fire from the air and smelled the result on the ground as the wind wafted west. Unexpectedly, according to the residents. I stood inside a building designed by Frank Gehry, rather than looking at its curious outside.

I saw a number of odd and interesting things, such as the street musician who’d modified a bagpipe and played it on stilts (Vancouver, just outside the Pacific Central Station). What to call it? Steampunk bagpiping?
Vancouver, August 25, 2015Or the Gum Wall (Seattle, next to the Pike Place Market). Each of the those bits of color is ABC gum, often used to attach cards and small posters to an alley wall. Why? As near as I can tell, just because.

Gum Wall, Seattle, AugOr the echo of a celebrity event I’d missed when it happened, the Bill Murray Party Crashing Tour of 2012 (this sign was in Portland).

Portland, August 22, 2015I can think of a lot worse people to show up at one’s party uninvited; maybe he’s still doing it occasionally.

Most importantly, I reconnected with two dear old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 18 years, another I hadn’t seen in 30 years, since my last visit to Seattle. Our friendships have been maintained over the years mostly through paper correspondence, with a more recent electronic component. But there’s no substitute for being there.

Thursday Oddments

Back to publishing around August 30. I might have a few new things to post about by then.

Distinctly cool last night, down toward 60 F., following heavy rains the night before, and cooler than usual today. That sometimes happens this time of the year. It’s to remind us of the long slide into ever colder temps, beginning soon.

Another marker of the passing of summer: peewee football players in our nearby park. For a while, baseball will be played and practiced there, too, but not for long.

I noticed the other day that Lilly has hung Ecuadorean and Panamanian flags on the wall in her room. She didn’t mention bringing them back, but I suppose she did. An interest in flags is no surprise.

She also brought back this picture from the tourist equator. Something to recall the summer of ’15 by.
Ecuador 2015Naturally, I’m reminded of this picture (winter of ’94).

Greenwich1994One of these days, Lilly will probably make it to the tourist prime meridian. I’ve less sure I’ll ever stand on the tourist equator. Enough to have crossed the actual line a few times.

I watched Kelly’s Heroes (1970) on DVD the other day. Interesting movie: not quite a black comedy, nor anti-war movie, nor straight up war movie, but including elements of all those in a mostly successful blend. The stellar cast had a lot to do with that: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Carroll O’Connor, even Don Rickles, all pretty much in their prime, though you could argue that Eastwood’s prime went on for a long time, petering out only around the time of his discussion with an empty chair.

Donald Sutherland’s character, never called anything but Sgt. “Oddball,” was the funniest of the lot, once you got past the palpable anachronism of him being a hippy tank commander in the U.S. Army of 1944. Pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor was the least effective, but he sure did chew the scenery in his relatively few scenes as an Army general.

Among the minor characters were a number of familiar faces, such as a barely pre-Murray Slaughter Gavin MacLeod, and an actor named Jeff Morris as Pfc. “Cowboy.” Turns out he later played Bob, the owner of Bob’s Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers.

Mars Cheese Castle

The postcards I bought at Mars Cheese Castle style the name Mars’ Cheese Castle. The tall sign in front of the place, highly visible along I-94 in southern Kenosha County, Wisconsin, omits the apostrophe, but it doesn’t forget the Stars and Stripes and the Packers G flag.

Mars Cheese CastleThere’s been a Mars Cheese Castle for years, but only a few years ago, the place was redeveloped. The old store didn’t look anything like a castle. The new store looks like a castle that a child might draw, provided he included a parking lot.

Mars Cheese CastleBefitting a tourist attraction of some stature along I-94, Mars Cheese Castle offers a wealth of cheese, brats and other meat, beer, and gewgaws and gimcracks. We were in the market for a gimcrack or two, namely a souvenir shot glass (Lilly has decided to collect them) and a souvenir spoon (Yuriko has long collected them). We were able to find both at not-too-outrageous prices.

The old store had, on its roof, a statue of a cartoon mouse with some cheese. That particular design element is missing from the new store, but the mouse didn’t go away. He’s inside the store now, and from the looks of him, repainted after years out in the Wisconsin weather.

Mars Cheese Castle 2015A friendly family man took our picture. I took his in turn with members of his family. Note the top of the mouse’s head. That’s no ordinary cheese. That’s a cheesehead hat.

The sign on the cheese says:


Get the most points by 8/7/15

Retweet/Share = 2 points   Like = 1 point  Comment = 1/2 point         

#SayMarsCheese  @MarsCheeseCastle

A literal sign of the times. We didn’t take any selfies, and the contest was over anyway. I think a better prize would have been a 100-lb. cheese wheel, but that’s mainly because I like the idea of cheese wheels.

Leon’s Frozen Custard, Milwaukee

The web site for Leon’s Frozen Custard is simple, just like the establishment itself, which is at 3131 S 27th St. in Milwaukee, near that street’s intersection with Oklahoma Ave.

Leon'sThe web site says: “Leon’s Frozen Custard opened for business on May 1, 1942. The original 40’s design is seen in the picture below. The building was later remodeled in the early 50’s to as it is seen today. The business is still owned and operated by the original family. The main focus of the business is and always has been to serve the Freshest and Finest Frozen Custard available anywhere.  We are open all year and have a full soda fountain service, limited sandwich menu, daily special flavors and take-out service.”

We wanted to eat lunch before leaving town on Saturday. Not even the mass quantities eaten at the state fair would keep us from being hungry the next day, so we took a drive down a number of streets until we saw a pita joint and nearby, Leon’s. First we ate pita sandwiches, which were OK, then went to Leon’s. It was a lot better than OK. Leon's, MilwaukeeAnn had butter pecan ice cream, which she said was delicious. As was my chocolate shake. When it comes to a weekend of high-calorie food, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The Wisconsin State Fair ’15

Years ago, some friends of mine told me about their visit to the Wisconsin State Fair, which is held every August in suburban Milwaukee. “Meat,” one of them said. “When we got there, we wanted meat. We ate a lot of it.”

I now understand the impulse. I’d also add dairy to the mix. Meat and dairy.
Ann and I arrived at the Wisconsin State Fair last Friday afternoon, staying into the evening (Lilly and Yuriko couldn’t make it). She’d never been to a state fair. I had never been to one either. Neighborhood fairs, town fairs, county fairs, even a world’s fair, and fairs in a number of countries, but somehow never a state fair in the United States. Been mulling it for years, especially going to Wisconsin’s, because it’s the closest one. The Illinois State Fair is in Springfield, at least an hour further away.

WiscStateFair15We got there when it was still fairly hot. That didn’t deter a large crowd of fairgoers, but somehow the grounds managed to hold all of them without too much trouble. I’m glad that a state fair like this drew a crowd, since it’s a real event, one that requires going somewhere, and seeing something, rather than some kind of electronic entertainment. It also provides work for musicians, and not just the headliners, who tend to be acts whose heyday was 30 or 40 years ago. Considering my nephew’s profession, I can get behind an event that employs musicians.

The fair featured a vast array of merchandise booths, a good number of no-extra-charge stages with the aforementioned musicians playing, and large exhibits of farm animals, true to its roots as an ag show. Ann and I spent some time looking at the many, many cows in the cattle barns. At one point we watched a man wash his cow, making use of a squeegee. That isn’t something I’d have thought of.

WIstatefairmapBut that wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was to consume mass quantities. I knew that would be the case, so we both had light lunches. We ate items individually and shared a few things. Mostly, of course, meat and dairy. Namely, a pork doughnut, elk jerky, poutine, a pizza cone, an eclair, lemonade and milk.

The pork doughnut was a regular doughnut-like pastry, not too sweet, filled with pulled pork. The poutine was poutine. I didn’t have that in mind when I went to the fair, but the poutine booth attracted my attention with a large, hand-painted cartoon moose, looking suspiciously like Bullwinkle, wearing a Mountie uniform that looked suspiciously like Dudley Do-Right’s. He promised that the poutine was authentic Quebec style, and as far as I can tell, it was. Not bad at all.

The poutine booth was near the Wisconsin Products Pavilion. Ann got some ice cream there, and on impulse, I bought an enormous eclair, not like one of the dainty delights in France, but American sized: big as fat hot dog in a sizable bun. Not quite as good as the French version, but with its Wisconsin cream and chocolate, almost that good, which is saying something.

After I ate it, I realized I wasn’t going to eat anything else that day. Even I have my limits. That was too bad, because it meant we missed trying the pizza slices cooked with bacon underneath and especially the Wisconsin State Fair Creme Puff.

The creme puff’s apparently a big deal. Even though I knew we couldn’t eat one — Ann was full, too — we went into the building devoted to making and selling creme puffs, right at the fair, just to see the place. It was a large operation with dozens of apron-wearing, hair- and beard-netted people devoted to their creation, visible behind large glass windows. People were lined up inside to buy them and at “creme puff express windows” outside the building. That eclair was good, but I would have traded it, and certainly the poutine, for one of those mountainous puffs.

So it goes. I may live long enough to encounter a state fair creme puff some other time. Next time I’ll be ready.

Prambanan 1994

Candi Prambanan, or Candi Rara Jonggrang, is a 9th-century Hindu temple compound near Yogyakarta in central Java, though it had lain in ruins for centuries before reconstruction in the 20th century. UNESCO asserts that “the temples collapsed due to earthquake, volcanic eruption and a shift of political power in the early 11th century, and they were rediscovered in the 17th century. These compounds have never been displaced or changed.

“Restoration works have been conducted since 1918, both in original traditional method of interlocking stone and modern methods using concrete to strengthen the temple structure. Even though extensive restoration works have been done in the past and as recently as after the 2006 earthquake, great care has been taken to retain the authenticity of the structures.”

Candi PrambananMy snapshots hardly do the structures justice. We visited in the mid-morning of August 11, 1994, after seeing Borobudur earlier that morning. The increasing tropical heat made the temple compound a little harder to appreciate than Borobudur, but it was impressive all the same.

More from UNESCO (the compound became a World Heritage Site in 1991): “Prambanan, named after the village, is the biggest temple complex in Java. It is actually a huge Hindu temple complex… Dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities, this temple with its decorated reliefs is an outstanding example of Siva art in Indonesia and the region.

“It was built in the 9th century and designed as three concentric squares. In all there are 224 temples in the entire complex. The inner square contains 16 temples, the most significant being the 47 m high central Siva temple flanked to the north by the Brahma temple and to the south by the Vishnu temple. These three ancient masterpieces of Hindu architecture are locally referred to as the Prambanan Temple or Lorojonggrang Temple (Slender Maiden); the compound was deserted soon after it was completed, possibly owing to the eruption of nearby Mount Merapi [volcanoes are always a risk on Java].”

img127 adjLooking at it, I’m glad that Indonesia hasn’t spawned as much religious extremism as some other parts of the world. This is the kind of place that ISIS and Taliban barbarians would dynamite.

This, That and the Other Thursday

Here’s a sign you can see in my neighborhood.

Cave CanemLiterally true, and it might mean a legal quagmire for the property owner, though I’m no expert on the matter.

Driving along today, I spotted the first bumper sticker of next year’s election. Next year being the operative term. Everything at this point is just talk, and citizens are entitled to pay it no mind. The sticker said: Bernie 2016.

Mostly blue, but the letters and numbers were white, with a thin red swoosh underlining the letters. Reminded me of the Obama O design; no accident, I’m sure.

I mentioned it to Ann, who is as nonpolitical as a 12-year-old should be, and she told me the only presidential candidates she’s heard of are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

On the Roosevelt Road bridge at the southern edge of downtown Chicago are some nifty bronzes. I only took a picture of one.

WorldBronzeRooseveltRoadThe sculptures are by Miklos P. Simon and include (among other things) likenesses of  dolphins, dinosaurs and celestial navigation instruments, supposedly homages to the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium, none of which are far away. More about the bridge is here.

The Return of Blue Clock Socks

It’s been a while since I mentioned blue clock socks, but the time has come again. I must have worn out the blue clock socks I mentioned nearly a decade ago (Aug 6 and Aug 7, 2006). Or they simply disappeared. That’s the fate of socks. They go from the dryer to the alternate reality where socks go, beyond the ken of humanity. Was that what Zaphod Beeblebrox posited, or was it missing pens? I don’t feel like looking it up.

blue clock soxAnyway, it comes to mind because I bought some more recently. Inexpensive socks on sale that surely won’t last, but I’m fond of blue clock socks because of the first paragraph of The Big Sleep.

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”

Dog vs. Rabbit

After a recent rain, the dog was really eager to go into the back yard, so before long I opened the door for her. Just then I noticed a rabbit idling on the grass near the back fence, which is fairly far from the door. Instantly the dog dashed out and made a beeline — which really ought to be a dogline — toward the rabbit.

For a long instant, the rabbit seemed to notice nothing. At least, it didn’t move. At what seemed like (to me) the last possible moment, the rabbit took off in the direction of the fence, which has undergrowth obscuring much of it this time of the year, and both dashing animals, smaller and larger, disappeared into the greenery.

About five seconds later, the dog emerged empty-mouthed. The dog was fast; the rabbit faster.