OR Day 4 - Claymation, Craft Beers, and Catching Up with Old Friends
Today started with a drive to the Portland International Airport to pick up my friend, Dana. Dana was one of my first friends at college, as we bonded early on about being from the same region of MA and both knowing who Father John Misty was before it was cool, and she’s been one of my best friends ever since. She had some vacation days from work and figured she could see a new part of the country, see an old friend, and get a free tour guide out of the deal if she lined up her travels with mine. It was good planning on her part, and I was thrilled for the company.
Unfortunately her flight was arriving fairly early (for me at least), so to survive being awake at that ungodly hour I got some coffee at a place called Bipartisan Cafe because that felt like an even-handed thing to do. They had a cute shop, really tempting pastries, and some cold brew that was able to get me to the airport.
I was thrilled to see Dana, and the pickup went incredibly smoothly. The first stop of our joint Northwest Adventure was to see Multnomah Falls, because I felt like it would be unfair for her to miss out on such an incredible sight just because I had already seen it. Plus, because it was earlier in the day, there was less glare from the sun so I was able to get a much better photo of the falls than last time which also featured Dana demonstrating the proper reaction to a double waterfall.
After taking in the waterfalls, we made our way to the Portland Museum of Art which I’d been waiting to go to until Dana got here, because she and her brother both studied Renaissance Art (and in her case cookbooks!) in college so I’d finally have someone who would geek out about goofy art babies with me. Before we could get to artin’ though, I needed some more coffee. We stopped at a popular local chain called Coava. It was very hip and sleek, and I can see why they’re consistently ranked as one of the best coffee shops in Portland because their cold brew was on another level.
A perk of stopping for coffee first is that we got to walk around the blocks near the museum and enjoy a really beautiful day. Dana was particularly excited having started her day in still-pretty-chilly-even-in-April Boston to take in all the sunshine. I don’t know what about it struck me so much, but my favorite part of the stroll was the castle-vibes I got from St. James Lutheran Church right next door to the museum.
The first goofy thing we did at the museum was take this photo of me recreating the pose of Gaston Lachaise’s buxom Floating figure sculpture, because Dana egged me on. I’m the lower one.
I was excited immediately upon entering the museum, because their special exhibit was on the artwork and craft behind the stop-motion films of Laika Studios. I’ve always loved stop-motion animation, and Laika has proven to be a little indie powerhouse in that department making quietly beautiful films that rival anything coming out of the bigger studios. They roared onto the scene with the impressive Coraline, and have continued their hot streak with ParaNorman (a fan favorite of my brother and me), The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings, all of which feature insanely detailed artwork utilizing innovative new techniques and complemented by story-telling that is refreshingly dark and non-condescending for children’s movies. ParaNorman also features the first openly gay character in an American family cartoon which further exemplifies Laika just being generally quite awesome.
The lobby of the museum raised my already high expectations for this exhibit by showcasing two monumental works highlighting their impressively creative and meticulous approach to character and set design: Coraline’s Other World House, an entire house scaled to 1/4 size in exquisitely realized details, and the Giant Skeleton from Kubo which is a 16 ft. tall 400 lb fully posable puppet built in two parts held together by magnets to maintain realistic stop motion even at such a large size (it is believed to be the largest stop-motion figure ever created). They were just incredible.
The rest of the exhibit featured sets, character models, props, and concept art from all their films which were amazing to just look at as art but which also really painted a picture of how much insane work and detail goes into making a feature film using these techniques. Every tiny motion must be captured with either new poses or new models and scenes that last only a few minutes may take weeks to complete. The realness and three-dimensional artistry really does shine through though showing that all the extra effort that come from not using just 3D animation really does pay off.
To highlight the intense difficulty required to make stop-motion, the real showstopper of the exhibit was a massive wall filled all the different facial expressions that had to be made for different characters, sometimes with imperceptible differences needed to capture the transition from one emotion to another.
From there, we moved on to the Asian Art wing of the museum. Portland had a pretty impressive and diverse collection here featuring works from all over the continent not just from China or Japan (as is unfortunately pretty often the case). The collection featured a particularly expansive and awesome collection of sculptures and ceramic works ranging from a 2000 year old turtle from the first century to delicate contemporary pieces that have shapes that seem to defy physics and glossy finishes that provide otherworldly colors.
My favorite piece here was the deceptively simple Moon Jar by 82 year old master Korean ceramicist Kim Yik-yung. The piece is made of white porcelain and it’s peculiar not-quite-spherical full moon shape is produced by actually firing two different halves and then fusing them together. It looks so serenely plump but actually pulling off that task and keeping a perfect consistency of thickness, color, and length between the two halves is immensely difficult. The fact that the jar looks like one perfect seamless whole is a testament to just how skilled Kim is as a craftsman and artist. The shape and color are so extraordinary that piece is much more oddly captivating than any jar I’m used to seeing.
Among the sculptures in this wing were a number of more two-dimensional artworks, which were nonetheless really incredible to look at. My favorite pieces included: a triptych of Japanese woodblock prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi called The Chopping Block Shoals Off the Coast of Buzen Province which captures the depth and drama of sailing through turbulent seas in lyrically efficient gestures; a sweetly delicate painting of a mother and child by Kitagawa Fujimaro on a silk scroll; a virtuosic calligraphic intepretation of Tao Yuanming's poem Returning Home by the artist Jung Do-Jun over 8 folding panels, made seemingly impossibly in one single burst of creativity (the fact that so much emotion is able to be conveyed in a text I can’t read is just astounding); and a six panel piece by unknown 17th century Japanese artist entitled Birds and Flowers that renders its namesakes in beautiful metallic inks and dyes on the paper screens in fantastically precise detail.
Up next in the Asian Wing was a special exhibit called Craftsmanship and Wit in Japanese Prints and focused on works on paper from Japan that either displayed impressive and/or innovative techniques mixed with a playfulness that kept everything really light and fun. On the more technical side of things, my favorite prints included: 81-4 (Commonplace) by Maki Haku which featured an abstract white woodblock print with a small reflective disk actually embedded in the paper to give it a unique 3-dimensional texture and a constantly changing sheen based on the angle that light hit the disc; an incredibly detailed (almost improbably so the more you look at it) monochrome woodblock print called Shoka (Early Summer) by Sasajima Kihei which pretty amazingly captures the feeling of summer without any color at all; and a stunning color woodblock print of a street in Tsuwano by Sekino Jun'ichirō who achieved that print’s painterly quality through meticulously layering different colored woodblock impressions, sometimes using 25 prints of one color to achieve the right hue. I’ve always been a sucker for woodblocks but these ones were particularly exceptional.
On the more playful side of things, my favorite pieces were a chubby dreamlike hippo puzzle by Sakazume Atsuo and some wonderfully goofy pufferfish lanterns by Norikane Hiroto. I didn’t realize they were lanterns at first and just thought they were wearing little hats but either way they make me smile.
Lastly before, we moved up to the next floor of the museum there was one more painting that stuck out to me for its historically interesting blend of styles. Zhang Hongtu is a contemporary Chinese painter who sought to recreate a landscape painting by famous 17th century Chinese artist Shitao but in the style Vincent Van Gogh who was himself inspired by Shitao. Hongtu displays an impressive ability to work in two different styles that helps to illuminate the the mutual artistic influences of Eastern and Western cultures on one another. Hongtu’s own voice shines humorously through his two impressions with the writing on the painting as he copies the original writing from the Shitao painting but also adds his own amendment: "If Shitao's original painting is a night landscape, then I apologize. What my mind wanted to do was paint a bright Shitao. Shitao painted as he liked, so I am also, like Shitao, painting as I wish"
On the staircase up to the European wing there was a particularly great Kehinde Wiley portrait. I generally like all of the pieces I’ve seen by him and the way they elevate contemporary young people of color to the status of royal portraiture, but the colors and flower-work in this one really blew me away.
On the second floor of the museum, we started with Dana’s meat and potatoes: The Renaissance. She bore with me geeking out about the Laika models, and now it was my turn to let her get way more excited about an exhibit than me. Granted the artwork is all beautifully painted, but after so many museums I get a little fatigued all of the Jesuses. Still it breathed new life into the pieces to see them with someone who knew all the history behind them, and Dana’s enthusiasm was contagious so I enjoyed this gallery much more than the average Renaissance exhibition. Still I gotta be me, and I was definitely more drawn to the weirder and more mythological pieces (think stigmata lasers and centaur fights) than the more sweetly divine pieces.
My favorite pieces here included: a mostly gorgeous Madonna and Child by Lucas Cranach the Elder (not technically Italian but the museum included him here so so will I) with a hilariously small face to head ratio on the Baby Jesus; a fascinating painting called the Femminiello by Giuseppe Bonito which documents an oft-forgotten Neapolitan cultural acceptance of cross-dressing men as a respected and beloved third sex (a nice example of an older culture accepting gender fluidity faster than a lot of people today); and a painting of Jesus where I think he’s supposed to be praying but it really looks like he’s rolling his eyes and saying “Do you see the shit I have to deal with?”
Of all these pieces though one stood out to me as one of my all time favorite examples of a weird Renaissance baby and also for just being an all around insane thing to paint. That painting is The Circumcision of Christ by Jacob Cornelisz Van Oostsanen. I don’t know why someone decided to paint this, and I don’t know why the baby’s head looks like that but I laughed until tears came from my eyes and Dana had to walk away to not be associated with me making a scene. I still cannot look at this thing without noticing new crazy details and giggling. I’m so happy this ridiculous ridiculous painting exists.
After the Renaissance, we saw some pieces by the Flemish masters. I like that they had a darker take on Religious scenes than the Italians tended to, but my favorite thing here was a series of four paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger depicting each season with a lively and impressively 3-Dimensional focus on everyday life as opposed to royalty or religion. They really make you get why he’s earned the title of Master.
From there we moved on to slightly more modern Romantic and Realist European paintings which featured amazingly vivid colors and the first hints of more impressionistic brushstrokes. Highlights for me included: Charles-François Lacroix’s painting of A Shipwreck on a stormy sea; Francesco Fidanza’s painting of Vesuvius erupting; Jean Baptiste Camille Corot’s eerily dreamlike The Ponds of Ville d'Avray; Gustave Courbet’s lush and lonely L’Automne; and Jean-Jacques Henner’s peaceful and impressively lit Reclining Nymph.
My favorite here was a painting called Nature’s Fan by William-Adolphe Bouguereau that almost magically seems to be lit up from the inside but is somehow just oil and canvas. I could barely take my eyes off it. Look at how gracefully the hair and grass seem to flow in the wind.
After that we took a bit of a step back to appreciate some older mytholgy with both an authentic Ancient Greek amphora with scenes of Athena leading a charging chariot from 500 BCE and a more modern rendering of Theseus fighting the Minotaur sculpted and cast in bronze by Antoine-Louis Barye. The rippling muscles on the latter are as impressively rendered as the Minotaur is surprisingly dinky.
Transitioning to the American Wing, there was a really impressive 9 paneled peace entitled Bodies of my Bodies by James Lavadour, an artist from the Umatilla Reservation in Northeastern Oregon who creates uniquely haunting seascapes and landscapes by applying and scraping his paint across the wooden panels to give an earthier dreamlike texture. They look pretty abstract at first but the more you look the more you see different views of the natural world in its smokey, dusty, rocky splendor.
Up next came a really amazing collection of modern and contemporary Native American art from all over the country. It was of the most expansive collections of contemporary works by Native artists that I’ve seen in any museum. I loved the use of more traditional materials you don’t see as often in other contemporary pieces ranging from stone and ivory works by Inuit tribes up north to basketry of the Plains tribes to feathers and carved wood from the local Northwestern tribes.
My favorites from this gallery were an impressively dynamic (if a tad unnecessarily nipple-y) painted red clay figure of a dancer by Virgil Ortiz and a series of carved bone Tupilaks from Greenlandic Inuit tribes which are sort of like an Inuit equivalent of voodoo dolls in that they are spooky figures used in witchcraft to cast revenge upon people who have wronged you. I loved those funky little guys.
Up next came an amazing but heart-wrenching special exhibit called Common Ground which showcased the photography of Fazal Sheikh. The photographs, in gorgeous high resolution Black and White, document Sheikh’s trips to different parts of the world trying to share the story of people who have become dispossessed through myriad reasons personal, cultural, and political. He works closely with his subjects having them choose their own poses and write their stories to accompany the pictures to more thoroughly add their own voices to the pieces rather than just fetishizing their struggles as sometimes happens with photos from areas of great upheaval. In doing so, these pieces provided more complete and more powerful portraits of pain and suffering around the world but also the strength and resilience of those fighting against it. The photos also highlight the natural beauty of the areas of the world Sheikh is visiting in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East which a lot of western artists tend to ignore. Composition-ally Sheikh’s works were stunning, but the added social relevance of the stories he’s sharing that may otherwise go unheard really elevates to the work to another level all together. If you’d like to read the exhibition panels (other than the one I shared), the museum was nice enough to put them up on their website which can be found here. In one very sweet touch of curation, the museum tied the exhibit’s stories of refugees to stories shared by local refugees and undocumented citizens living in Portland which helped make global issues seem more immediate and personal while also highlighting the unfortunately far-reaching universality of humanitarian crises.
The saddest but also most powerful photos were of children from refugee camps in Afghanistan which were displayed alongside drawings the children gave the artists of some truly horrific things they had witnessed. It really makes you realized how spoiled we are as Americans just to not grow up near active war zones (which isn’t to say everyone here has it is easy but that is one thing everyone who grows up here has been lucky enough to avoid). It’s heartbreaking, but it also puts an all-too-human face to stories that can seem too far away to care about sometimes so hopefully in sharing the photos and the stories some progress will come from Sheikh’s works. I don’t know that it can ever be enough to make up for what the kids have already gone through, but progress is still progress. It is amazing (in a very sad way) to realize how many people whose lives are just beginning have already gone through more than I in my 24 years can even imagine.
In a stark tonal shift, the next room we went to had the museum’s collection of fine silver work. These pieces were all really stunning but Dana and I were still pretty emotionally affected from the last exhibit and even amazingly well crafted displays of wealth just didn’t sit right in our stomachs after all that so we continued on.
Next up came some works of 19th century American Painting. This museum’s collection got more impressively strange and lyrical than a lot of painting I usually see from this place and era so that made me pretty happy. My personal highlights included: an imaginative historical painting of by George de Forest Brush of a Native American king and sculptor admiring the latter’s handiwork; an oddly dreamlike painting of an aqueduct by William Sartain; a luminous piece of American impressionism by Eanger Irving Couse called the Fishing Party; a magnificent rendering of Oregon’s Mt. Hood by my boy Albert Bierstadt; a gorgeously hazy oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice by Thomas Moran; and an ominously bare and rippling seascape entitle Marine by William Trost Richards.
For reasons I can’t totally explain though, my absolute favorite piece in this wing was an impressively deceptive painting called Peanuts by De Scott Evans that looks shockingly like a shelf with a bunch of Peanuts on it. It’s a such a weirdly mundane image to get perfectly right, but I love that that was where this guy’s muse took him.
From there we moved on into the early 20th century American art, which was more my speed in terms of weirdness. I really liked this collection and the highlights for me included: A simple but vibrantly youthful painting of three abstract children by William Cumming; an amazingly lifelike portrait of a girl with a cigarette called Girl With a Cigarette by Moses Soyer; a very geometric painting of a San Francisco Street by Hilaire Hiler (what a name); a wonderfully creepy painting of a flower in a cemetery by Morris Graves; a Street Scene by Jack Levine that looks bizarre and feverish by today’s standards let alone for 1938 when it was painted; a sleek and stylish art deco painting of a fountain by Joseph Stella; a beautiful Urban realist painting of a New York Street by Jerome Myers; and a dreamy painting of a woman posing by a river by Arthur B. Davies.
Up next was a gallery of contemporary works by local Northwestern Native American artists. I really enjoyed pieces and was happy to see the museum both acknowledge and celebrate the native traditions of the region. My favorite pieces included: some lovely fused glass modern petroglyphs by an artist named Joe Fedderson; some vibrantly woven robes by Tlingit artist Clarissa Rizal with really captivating patterns and color combinations; an impressively massive quilt made by over 40 modern Tlingit Weavers with each patch being made by a different artist capturing different patterns and images from traditional mythology; a sculpture by Gail Tremblay, of Onondaga/Mi'Kmaq origins, using old film stock woven with traditional techniques with red patches featured prominently as a statement about the lack of Native actors in major films both historically and today; a sculpture by Maori artist Manos Nathan, who is included in this exhibit despite being from New Zealand because he traveled to the Northwest to participate in and learn from cultural exchanges with different traditional ceramicists there in the 90s; and another multi-panel piece by James Lavadour again highlighting his unique approach to landscapes.
Next up came the Modern and Contemporary Wing. The first thing that really captivated me was a series of pieces by the artist Eric Stotik, who combined wildly surreal imagery with non-traditional media including painting on frayed cloth and crumpled metal as well as more traditional (relatively) etchings and paintings. They were all so weird, and I loved his style.
A very strange but captivating piece in the lobby of this floor was called Global Inversion by Diane Jacobs which featured an upside down map of the world made of wool and human hair (creepy) which becomes rightside up when viewed through a small acryllic sphere suspended just in front of the larger canvas. The dueling images, one 2D and upsidedown and the other 3D and oriented correctly, make for an intriguing optical illusion that gets more interesting the more you look at it.
The rest of the contemporary wing had some funky stuff going on that was a bit of a mixed bag for Dana and I, but we were both happy to see people doing weird new things even if it wasn’t always our cup of tea. Highlights for me included: A very odd mixed media installation by Korean artist Sang-ah Choi called All You Can Eat which featured one row of incredibly impressive carved cardboard boxes creating a sprawling intricate cityscape decorated with birds and flowers, with weirder rows above and below it meant to tap into nostalgia with the top row consisting of holiday themed stuff animals and the bottom containing classic cereal boxes arranged in a rainbow; a bizarre text based painting featuring some important words to live by; an abstract piece that looks initially like a blank canvas until a torn hole in the middle reveals that underneath is a swirling blend of colors; and an amusingly uncomfortable looking portrait by Elizabeth Malaska called Still Life on War Rug.
One piece that stood out for being equal parts goofy and impressive was Sean Healy’s Egghead. The piece comprises of a portrait of Melvil Dewey, inventor of the dewey decimal system, made entirely out of dyed and cast using gum on the underside of an upturned table. The piece is meant to evoke the universal experience of reaching under a school or library desk to feel a gross piece of gum, while also whimsically transforming the experience from one of repulsion into one of impressive craft and beauty.
Up next was a special gallery dedicated to environmental concerns with different landscapes and seascapes by Northwestern artists. Highlights for me included: an oil painting of mountains by Charles Healey that has a lovely collage-esque quality to it; a bustling steamship by Cyrus Fulton; a haunting image of a cut down forest by Michael Brophy; some more oldschool landscapes by William Samuel Parrott and Eliza Barchus; and a cute cartoon Oregon that was actually promotional for the exhibit so I don’t know who made it but I thought it was really great.
The next contemporary gallery was funky blend of three-dimensional pieces that really showcased that contemporary craft and weirdness is not reserved for just paintings. My favorites here included: a polyurethane sculpture of a car airflow model by Claes Oldenburg; a reality defying sculpture by Marilyn Levine that looks like a beat up old handbag but is actually all ceramic; an abstract painting by Frank Stella that refuses to be bound by 2 dimensions or a frame; an earthenware tree that looks more like a cone of mint choc. chip ice cream; a satirical porcelain plate by Howard Kottler called Peace March which features adorable little guns marching in line; and a ridiculous intricate yet still sort of gross looking sterling silver sculpture of a boar on a plate.
The next gallery was a showcase of the amazing Black and White photographs of Minor White, who, while born in Minnesota, spent most of his career in Portland. His photos, despite being of actual places and things, have an abstract quality to them, and it’s amazing to me that somebody can take something totally commonplace seem totally new and unfamiliar.
We then moved to another building of the museum (it’s pretty darn big), and in the hallway they had a really sweet exhibit called Invisible Me, which was part of an ongoing series called Object Stories where members of the community share an object of significance to them with the museum and a little bit of their story to foster a greater sense of engagement between the museum and the city. Invisible me was very dear to my heart because it brought together objects and stories from different Oregonians with disabilities, who sometimes don’t feel like museums are accessible to them. In particular the objects from a young man with Autism and the accompanying explanations of their significance were really sweet and poignant, and I just really enjoyed the intentions behind the exhibit.
Up next was a gallery highlighting modern and contemporary pieces by female artists. My favorites included: the three top paintings by Sally Haley which combined abstract and surreal imagery with domestic for really lovely dreamy effects; two large geometric abstractions by Mary Henry; and a cool and spooky painting by Maude Kerns called Interlocking Life and Death.
Up next we found some galleries of early 20th century European Art taking us from Impressionism to Modernism, and featuring some pretty big names along the way. This was a nice bridge between Dana’s classical European sensibilities and my preference for oddness, so we enjoyed this one. Some highlights included: a vibrantly abstract young girl by Edvard Munch (in a brighter color palette than I’m used to from him); a cutely geometric Christmas tree by Theo van Doesburg; a spooky cow and cart by Vincent van Gogh (in a darker palette than I’m used to from him); a classic Monet landscape; a grandly Art Deco-ish painting by Franz von Stuck (fun name) of Phryne supposedly the model for the first ever nude female sculpture from Ancient Greece; a Childe Hassam repping some American impressionism (not totally sure why he was included in this gallery but it was lovely painting so I don’t mind); some gorgeous Renoir portraits; an impressively dense city scene by Marie-Francois Firmin-Girard; and a moody portrait of two lovers by Karl Hofer.
Speckled throughout these galleries was some pretty great sculpture work to complement the more 2-dimensional pieces. Some sculptures I really liked included: a bronze circle of dogs biting each other; a bust by Kehinde Wiley that looks very classical until you notice the afro-pick; a flowing abstract metal river sculpture that reminds me of the villain from Terminator 2; and a dynamic bronze sculpture called the Call to Arms by our dude Auguste Rodin.
Up next we had some more 20th century American modernists with my highlights being: Eugene Berman’s very Dali-esque Time and the Monuments; a classic Joseph Cornell collage box mixing wood, glass, painting and photography to capture different feelings and associations with the hotel whose name is written across the front; an abstract painting of an artist’s studio by Helen Frankenthaler; a dark and dramatic scene called The Mill by Max Beckmann that looks like it’s out of a scary silent film; a Philip Guston painting of a very cartoony KKK member; and a Milton Avery painting of one of the most hilariously unappealing beaches I’ve ever seen.
We jumped up a bit in time with some more contemporary pieces including: Katherine Bradford’s Ritual which either depicts people bathed in moonlight or being abducted by aliens; the ridiculous and possibly even more ridiculously named Testical Flange on the Green by Sue Williams; the very geometric Locations by Richard Artschwager which makes cool use of shadows; a painting of a nicely labeled Horizon by Marlon Mullen; a sad but sorta cartoony painting called Awake (for J.K.) by Brian Calvin; and a fun pop-y dreamscape called Top “O” the Town by Roger Brown.
Lastly were some more abstract pieces which Dana had no time for, but which I occasionally liked. My favorites here were: Joe Goode’s Cloud Painting made from tearing white paper over blue paper; a large reflective disc that flips and distorts every image by Anish Kapoor; a mindbending op-art piece by Julian Stanczak; an interestingly textured piece just called Red Section by Robert Mangold; a swirling globby painting called Noble Regard by Jules Olitski; and a comic book jumble of mechanical imagery by Roy Lichtenstein.
After that impressively massive museum, Dana and I were famished and I was barely awake. We started making our way to one of Portland’s famous Food Cart pods, which is essentially an entire city block loaded with food trucks of every variety. Along the way we stopped at Public Domain, a nice coffee shop with a really welcoming wood interior that gave it a hip schoolhouse vibe. I got a good strong cold brew and it helped bring me back to the land of the living.
Recaffeinated, we made our way to the Alder Street food cart pod. I feel like when I was growing up food trucks were where you got quick and dirty meals on the fly, but there’s really been a push recently to turn them into purveyors of fine food in compact spaces and Portland was one of the leaders of the charge. They truly had an embarrassment of riches, and we had to circle the block a few times just gawking at all the delicious looking foods from every world cuisine imaginable. Dana wanted something vegetarian to prepare for the weekend of unhealthy eating she knew I would give her, so she went Mediterranean. Unsurprisingly, I took a different route. I went with novelty and went to a place called Boom Crepes, a Japanese-French fusion creperie whose namesake dish is a special creation consisting of a crepe with a flambe’d creme brulee on top. That seemed like a lot even by my standards, but they also had savory meal crepes which seemed basically like fluffier burrito which I was powerless to resist. I ordered a crepe called the Salmon King which had a filling of a fresh smoked Pacific salmon, Italian pesto, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, spinach, and avocado all wrapped up in a crepe that was perfectly crispy at the edges and doughy all around. It was so fresh and tasty (Dana was jealous), but unfortunately it was too good and I ate it all before taking a picture. Luckily someone with much fancier nails than me was nice enough to exalt the Salmon King on google images.
With full bellies and a renewed sense of adventure, we made our way to one of the big Portland tourist destinations we were most excited to see: Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent book store. It’s gigantic size may not be obvious from the photo because it doesn’t expand vertically quite so much as it does just spread out. The story clocks in at 68,000 sq. ft., occupying an entire city block and containing 3,500 different sections!
As unassuming as Powell’s was from the outside, it was a beautiful maze on the inside with thousands and thousands of books and nooks and crannies as far as the eye could see. Dana and I just walked around in a fog of stunned amazement fighting the urge to spend all our money on books. My favorite books were a children’s book about a dog named Larry (I’m already sold) loving the city of Portland and a guide to the weirdest laws from every state all broken via beautiful photographs by Olivia Locher. My favorite from the latter was that in Michigan it's illegal to paint sparrows to sell them as parakeets, though if you’d like to see the rest of the laws the photos are all very funny and compiled here.
After all that fighting temptation at the bookstore, we made our way back to my car which I hadn’t even noticed was parked in front of the really amazingly painted Oregon Historical society.
Our next stop was at an Ice Cream place Dana really wanted to check out that I was immediately on board for because ice cream. Salt & Straw started in Portland but has gained international recognition for its lovingly handmade and funky flavors. While we were there they were doing some extra wild flavors with a super cute promotion called their Student Inventor Series where the store works with kids from local elementary schools to make their wildest ice cream ideas a reality. Some of the flavors were pretty out there like Lemon-Lime Slime and Tacocat, which featured Mexican vanilla with chocolate covered tortilla shells and chili powder mixed in, while others were more classically tasty like Rhubarb Ginger Crumble or Honey Vanilla Croissant. I liked tasting the different kids’ flavors but when it came to making the final call I wanted to go with some of the restaurant’s signature creations so I got a giant waffle cone filled with a scoop of their Coava Coffee & Cloudforest Craque (a cocoa nib based candy) and their Freckled Woodblock Chocolate (freckling is a technique where the chocolates are suspended in the ice cream in an untempered state for extra meltiness). Dana went even funkier going with scoops of Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and honey lavender. I cannot stress how good this ice cream was with perfect melt in your mouth creaminess and explosions of delicious flavors. Plus they had weird ice cream based art on the walls so I was pretty much in heaven.
After ice cream, we met up with my friend Hank’s friend Chris at a local brewery called Loyal Legion. Hank was not around because he was doing some globetrotting of his own in Germany, but he’s such a nice guy that I assumed (correctly) that any friend of his would have to be a nice guy as well. We ended up getting to the bar a little early so we began our bar crawling for the day at a fun and weird little dive bar called Creepy’s because they had pinball and Narangansett two things I had missed very much.
Luckily the time we were supposed to meet Chris lined up nicely with the time it took for Dana to get tired of me playing pinball so we made our way to Loyal Legion. This place was like a craft beer mecca with over 100 local brews on tap. I did a little self made flight to try a variety without getting too drunk, going with Coalition’s Two Flowers IPA (the first beer to be brewed with CBD they proclaim in proud Portland fashion), an Ex-Novo Paddy Wagon Irish Stout Nitro, and a Little Beast Count The Stars Imp. Stout. The Two Flowers was a fun novelty, but naturally I enjoyed the stouts a bit more. It was also really fun getting to know Chris and get some recommendations for beer and Portland more generally. He was telling us that we have to get wild ales and sours because Oregon has famously impressive wild yeasts that make for good beers and sourdoughs.
After sampling some variety at Loyal Legion, Chris wanted to show us the best view of the city from a beautiful old red brick highschool turned bar and concert venue: Revolution Hall. It looks so forebodingly academic from the outside you’d never know that they don’t give you detention for drinking inside.
The big draw of the hall though is their rooftop deck, which gives incredible 360 degree views of the city. I don’t really remember what I was sipping on up there, but it was really a perfect place to hang out share stories and watch the sunset. It was such a lovely way to end the afternoon, and I was very grateful to Chris for giving us the heads up.
After doing doing one classic Portland activity of bar-hopping, we decided to do another classic activity of hanging out under bridges. Portland has several beautiful bridges connecting the two halves of the city and underneath St. John’s Bridge is a cute little greenway called Cathedral Park after' the Bridge’s Cathedral-esque Gothic arches. The arches didn’t come out super well in my dusky photos but they were super grand and impressive adding an aura of majesty to the whole park.
After all that bridgin’ and bar-hoppin’, we went to get some good Mexican food at the restaurant my buddy Hank used to work at. Dana and I pigged out and split some massive (and massively tasty) Nachos as well as getting our own meals. I went with a a flight of pork tacos called When Pigs Fly which featured 1 carnitas taco, 1 pastor taco, and 1 cochinita taco, served with rice, beans and guacamole. It was magnificent, but my phone battery had been hanging on by thread since the art museum and finally gave out before I could snag photos of the food. Another fun fact about the restaurant is that to get to the bathroom you have to walk through the strip club they share a wall with and it can be wild. Hank did tell me I had to use the bathroom while I was there but nothing prepared me for the sheer amount of spinning tassles I would see on my way there.
After dinner, Dana and I decided to take inspiration from the all the stop-motion art we saw today and go see a late night showing of Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion film Isle of Dogs. Visually I was blown away and I thought the dialogue was all very funny though there were certainly the occasional moments where it felt kind of like it was fetishizing an imaginary Japan rather than accurately depicting a real place. That didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the film too much, but I do get why that gave a lot of people an understandably icky feeling. Either way it made for a fun way to end a day well spent with bud.
Favorite Random Sightings: Bearly read books (books read by bears presumably); Knead Therapy (a bakery); Art Work Rebels (dramatic); Boy’s Fort (a Fort for Boys!)
Regional Observation: The street art in Portland is really impressive and whimsical. Case in Point:
Albums Listened To: Stankonia by Outkast (a really impressive double album blending jazzy compositions, juvenile skits, and pointed social critiques often all at once); Star Wars by Wilco (a fuzzed out punk throwback to the band’s less folksy days released for free which actually was how I got introduced to the band because I loves me a bargain); Stash Box by the Slackers (a fan selected greatest hits)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
What’s the difference between an acrobat act and a strip club? One’s a cunning display of stunts… (rude but a thinker)
Songs of the Day:
Bonus Impressive Animation: