Friday, 23 April 2010

Just enjoying the vibe

So, Portland. I wish I could say I've been exploring the politics of America's greenest city, and soaking up the hipster arts scene, but sadly not! Perhaps it's because I'm coming to the end of my odyssey (only five weeks to go, and then I'll be back in the UK - pray God not under a Conservative government), but I've been content to mooch about instead.

And in fairness, that's been pretty cool all by itself. The first major landmark I visited was Powell's, the largest independent bookstore in the States. Strangely, I find myself walking past it often on the way to somewhere else, and popping in for a browse - the ways of my unconscious are not that unconscious! Apart from all the novels (room after delicious room of them), there's a pretty good graphic novels section too, and I've belatedly discovered Preacher, the dark tale of one man's attempt to make God answer for abandoning humanity. But with sex and guns and secret societies. Those who know the series (and even those who don't) will not be surprised to learn that my favourite character is the tormented but charming Irish vampire. I know, I know, I'm sorry! I've tried to like nice guys, but unless they come with a side order of torment, misery and emotional angst they just don't do it for me.

Back in the land of the emotionally sane, the other delights of Portland tend to revolve around its green spaces, lush and plentiful because of the climate. Washington Park is glorious, with an incredibly moving Holocaust memorial tucked among the trees, as well as a beautiful authentic Japanese garden. This really blew me away - there's a steep climb to get there, and suddenly you come across this haven of peace and tranquillity, with gentle waterfalls and limpid pools full of coy carp, winding paths and carefully arranged stone gardens. Unlike many Japanese gardens it's user-friendly, too - you can walk around it without being told not to touch (or walk) in case you disturb some deeply meaningful arrangement.

Equally lovely is the Chinese garden - you walk off the street and suddenly you leave Chinatown (one of Portland's sketchiest areas) behind. Portland is twinned with Suzhou near Shanghai, and they designed this garden for the city as their sister gift, basing it on scholar gardens of the Ming dynasty period, which were also meant to create an illusion of spaciousness and peace right in the heart of a city. The relatively small plot (less than an acre) is divided into scenes that flow into one another - the view from one pavilion, for example, would take in a small pool running under a bridge, leading the eye to a larger pool and waterfalls beyond. Small paths run into nowhere, and the walls between courtyards are pierced with windows that frame more beautiful views beyond. As soon as you walk in you can feel your cares lifting from your shoulders - a wonderful experience.

My other highlights in Portland have been hanging out with other guests from the hostel - I've met a really good bunch of people, and part of the reason I haven't been out sightseeing is because I keep getting sidetracked into gossiping with my room mates! Still, it's nice to chat over a few glasses of red wine, and probably better for the soul than checking out architecture - my world needs a little balance! Tomorrow a group of us are heading out to a comics convention, where I will be geeking out and having an all round cool time. And after that it's on to Seattle - Starbucks, here I come...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You kept us all laughing with your wonderfully dry wit. Keep in touch Abigail! Come and visit me in Vermont anytime :-) Fantastic blog-I vote for your new job to involve writing and travel.

    (My first comment had a spelling error so I had to delete.)