My first impression of Portland is that it’s gorgeous. I landed in “Downtown” or “The Pearl”, or something, figuring I could initially take advantage of its offerings, such as libraries, Whole Foods, public buildings, parks and so forth. Even though I was surrounded by buildings both old and new, it smelled of wood stove smoke, which was supremely delightful as well as confounding. (I now know the smell is omnipresent, and much more so in the lovely areas East of the river.) The trees lining the streets already had Christmas lights, which I loved, as I love Christmas. (Even though I probably won’t make it home for this one.) The daylight was fading fast, and the approaching darkness highlighted the soft zig-zag patterns of colored lights on the undulating watery surfaces of all the roads and sidewalks. Folks walked about briskly, steamy air from their mouths, doing last-minute Sunday shopping, rushing onto packed buses and tram cars. Church bells rang, a distant train whistled. I walked around for quite a while, wandering into the fancy areas, watching the fancy people in their fancy restaurants, and listening to the muffled talking and clinking of dishes and cutlery. A steady drizzle continued, and the distance was obscured by fog and cut by lights from street lamps.
The following days have convinced me, as many people know, that there is much to explore and discover in this city. Although many people I’ve talked to prior to my arrival suggest there’s a certain falseness or pretentiousness to the younger crowd in the city, I haven’t specifically noticed that, although I can see where they’re coming from. Folks here seem to be genuinely excited about (and contribute to) the abundance of art, books, good food (food carts !), good beer (beer carts !), music, literature, independent shops, and so on. Personally, I am excited about all these things, genuinely. Believe me ! I am also excited about the fog, and the overcast days, and the industrial areas and forested areas waiting to be explored.
Post Script :
I am writing this in the “Quiet Room” of a small library in the Belmont neighbourhood (I think). One of the many things I’ve learned on this trip is that after utilising many libraries in small towns, I have not found many of them to be very quiet. Unless, of course, they are near-empty, which is sometimes the case. Anyway, this one is currently crowded, so it luckily has the Quiet Room. A librarian just informed me that the room will soon be used for reading stories to small children, and that I could stay if I wished. Needless to say, I definitely wish to stay. I’d rather hear a children’s book being read than listen to the talking and coughing and sniffling and ruffling of 30 people.
We started with an informative book about whales. The kids were very good listeners. They loved it. She then read a book about the beach. One kid raised his hand frantically: “Hey, hey, excuse me ! I was watching a movie, and, and, and there was a man who had sand. He was the Sandman.” One other kid knew exactly what he was talking about. “Oh, yeah, and he has a gun that shoots sand, right ?” “Yeah !”, said the first kid. The librarian patiently waited, then said with a smile, “Okay, cool, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this story.” And so we continued the story about the beach.
I do love children’s books, and think they’re so important. Many of them contributed thoroughly to who I am, and what I love. In fact, the only new book I ever bought was a children’s book, as I thought it was so well illustrated and composed. It is called Wonder Bear and has no words. It is about two kids who plant two patches of watermelons. One grows over night, and the other does not grow at all. From the water melon plant emerges a massive polar bear, with a blue bowler hat. From this hat he pulls flowers, bubbles which turn into bubble lions and octopi, and other amazing things. They go swimming in the indigo night sky, and ride dolphins. It’s amazing. Other things happen, but I can’t remember it all. It can be seen here. Speaking of children’s books, I met a girl in Arcata, California, who was there to promote a Halloween book for which she illustrated. It’s called Halloween Ooga-Ooga Ooum and can be seen here. After meeting her, I later stumbled upon it while in the health food store, and found the illustrations to be very beautiful.
My personal favourite children’s book is (coincidentally) a Halloween book titled Tell Me Mr. Owl, and probably has most if not everything to do with why I love so much to wander and explore towns and cities at night. The illustrations in it are very mysterious, and as a child I recall being completely taken into the world of that Halloween night. I didn’t find much information about it online, as it’s from 1957 and has probably never been reprinted, but I did find this semi-functioning page, which has some photographs of the illustrations.