The Gypsy Returns! (Part 1: Portland)
Dear loyal readers,
I’m sorry I haven’t given you anything new to read. The reality is that so much of what I’ve experienced has been visceral, impossible to convey through the written word (impossible, of course, being hyperbole, but definitely very time-consuming). On top of that, I’m still trying to figure out my writing style. Short pithy stories? Diary-like daily accounts? Moral lessons? All of the above?
Considering I’ve been gone more than three weeks, I’ve begun to despair as to whether I’ll ever post another entry again, as concerned as I am with methodically chronicling the trip from the beginning. So to remedy that problem, and to give myself a swift kick in the arse (surprisingly, not actually a commonly used word here in London), I have a treat for you: random photos from my journeys thus far, with semi-interesting captions to boot! Complete summaries of trips will come later (most likely in the infinite amount of free time I’ll have in Ireland while John’s in class), but hopefully this will do for now.
Vidya (a.k.a. Pocket Gypsy)
Part 1: Portland in a Nutshell
August 25 – 31
Best Friend –
First stop on the Voyage? Portland, Oregon: new home of my best friend, Nusha. I couldn’t have picked a better launching point. Who better to quell the unexpected sadness of leaving my family than the sister I never had? I left my house in a flood of tears, prompted by the (melodramatic) realization that I was completely unprepared, but by the end of that first night, I fell asleep smiling and happy. Thanks, Nusha!
It was particularly comforting to be in a city so absent of “cultural landmarks.” There wasn’t much I felt that I had to see, but walking around was an attraction in and of itself. The lack of hustle and bustle also allowed us to wake up late, make enormous and gourmet meals, and then amble at our own pace through adorable shops and beautiful parks. I cannot understate the luxury that is time, especially when visiting your best friend who, for the first time in nine years of friendship, does not live within walking distance. I caught up with everything I meant to do pre-departure, calmed myself down with the realization that I was actually perfectly prepared, and had ample time to test out new travel materials (quick-dry towel and underwear, MoonCup, Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap). A stress-free week: that was exactly what I needed after the building pressure that was the Voyage countdown.
Nusha laughs that my first reaction to most things in Portland is, “Awww, that’s so cute!” But it’s true – I’m pretty sure the city is powered by cotton candy and Lisa Frank sticker books. The photograph above was taken after a really pleasant 20-minute conversation with a perpetually-smiley candy shop owner, who created these Mad Lib-like boards that passerbys could add to. (“Aww, that’s so cute!”) Did I mention that everyone’s really friendly in Portland? Because they are.
Conveniently, my trip engenders not only a gradual geographic shift, but a glacially slow cultural one as well. Portland is basically a younger, more hipster version of Los Gatos – and I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of Portlanders are actually Los Gatos transplants. Apparently much of the city is populated by relocated Californians, jumping ship to our sales-tax-less neighbor Oregon. That being said, I love the South Bay, and I think I’ve been spoiled by growing up with such friendly, talented people, so any comparison to my hometown or surroundings is a big thumbs up to this burgeoning city.
Bikes and Hipsters-
Let’s be honest – the first time most of us seriously thought about visiting Portland was after watching an episode of Portlandia and thinking, “Well, that’s not so bad.” You know why? Because if you’re reading this, you’ve at some point harbored hipster tendencies. Admit it – or don’t, as it’ll invalidate your hipster sensibilities – hipsters have become the new cultural beacons and Portland has become the epicenter of what a futuristic urban environment might look like.
And by that, I mean, it’s reverting to some relics from the past – antique stores are bustling, the Talking Heads are blasted over every stereo, and bikes are more numerous than cars. For real. The mayor has even determined that one Sunday a month, several roads will become bike-only, and the safety of bicyclists will be the responsibility of friendly cops eating popsicles the chief delivers. Yes, biking isn’t a hipster-only event – in London, there are businessmen and grandmothers cycling home on Barclays rentals (more on this awesome program later) – but considering Portland is 90% hipster, ipso facto.
Children and Dogs-
Portland is full of two things (aside from hipsters): children and dogs. It’s like everyone moved to Portland (because of Portlandia), couldn’t find a job (because of everyone moving to Portland), spent a copious amount of time in bars and other social areas (because they couldn’t find a job. True story: unemployment is through the roof), observed the exponential increase in hotness (for real – Portland’s full of young, attractive people), decided to have sex (plenty of time and opportunity makes for a very fertile environment), started a family (either accidentally or on purpose), then got a puppy to complete the image of the nuclear American family (another throwback to the olden days, pre-50% divorce rates).
I don’t have a picture of a dog here, but in my earlier post, you will see that I’m not lying. Dogs = everywhere. Plus, I love dogs and cannot walk past one without wanting to pet it, so meandering is a delicate way of saying that we rarely got anywhere with any sort of speed. (As though getting anywhere quickly was something I was ever capable of.)
Also, more of these children are likely to grow up to become hippies, like my friend Vivek’s little guy here. Yes, that’s a boy – he’s such a badass, with the raspiest voice I’ve ever heard and wild child hair that Vivek claims he wanted to grow out himself. Vivek is a professor at Portland State and teaches courses on Urban Sustainability and Environmentalism (something like that; awesome stuff that everyone should be interested in), so he’s more than happy to have raised his kid in an area where he’ll be exposed to so much nature. To foster that, they have a weekly picnic out in a park, though more recently Suhail has been drawn to railroad tracks, as little boys are wont to do.
Homemade Food –
I love food. Despite how I may look, I can wolf down an arm-sized burrito; it’ll just take me a bit longer than, say, a six-foot muscular guy (cough, Michael Klein). Eating slowly is good for your metabolism, and taking the time to create a meal increases appreciation for the energy and resources that go into producing our valuable nutrition.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with new recipes and more elaborate meals. My current favorite is couscous stuffed bell-peppers, which is my go-to recipe and a somewhat difficult thing to do perfectly. (In fact, I’m making a batch for lunch tomorrow – I hope they turn out well, because the boys I’m staying with in London are studying furiously for a banking regulations exam in the evening and I want to give them all the time they need to study.) But even simpler meals, like the one pictured above, have become satisfying but quick additions to my morning. We’d wake up, whip up some food, throw on the latest Breaking Bad or Colbert Report, then drink our tea and eat our carefully crafted breakfasts.
In a matter of words: it was a perfect way to start the day.
I casually (re)introduced Nusha to heirloom tomatoes, but did not expect how dramatically we would become addicted to them. We started using them in everything – stuffed bell peppers, sandwiches, even alone. I used to use heirlooms occasionally in cooking, but due to their price (around $4 – $5 per tomato), had reserved them for special occasions. But Nusha and I figured that being together was enough of a special occasion, and ended up eating way more tomato in that one week than I generally do in a month.
Mmmm, even thinking about it now is making my stomach rumble and my mouth salivate. My recommendation: preheat your oven to 375˚. Slice a firm but juicy tomato into 12 or so pieces. Space them evenly on a cooking sheet. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, olive oil, coconut and/or almond oil, lemon pepper, sea salt, and maybe some paprika on each slice. Let sit for 10 minutes. Take them out and eat them straight, or spread them onto hummus-covered/buttered toast. Reach nirvana.
Famous Food –
If you like donuts, you’ll love Voodoo Donuts. It’s one of the rare “must-see” Portland sights, and the line around the block supports that claim. I didn’t get a donut, because my sweet tooth has recently been revealed to host a cavity, and now anything too sugary slightly scares me, but I did have a delicious arm off of Nusha’s. It’s a cute place (unsurprisingly) and is decorated very uniquely. It’s in downtown Portland, close to the gates of Chinatown, so it’s an easy walk from anywhere in the area (though everything in Portland is very easily accessible, due to the city being tiny.)
For my first breakfast (turned lunch), Nusha took me to a local pancake restaurant: Slappy Cakes. I should preface this section by saying that I love pancakes. I just can’t have that many; usually after the first or second, I start to wonder whether too much of a good thing really is a bad thing.
The neat thing about Slappy Cakes is that each table features a built-in griddle. The servers bring you the batter and mix-in ingredients, and you can make your own pancakes. For people with young children, this is a huge plus. For a big kid like me, though, I wanted my food made – isn’t that kind of the point of going out to a restaurant? So instead, we sat at the bar, ordered alcoholic chocolate drinks at noon, and got the most delicious pancakes I’ve ever eaten in my life. I got bananas and chocolate in mine (two pancakes filled me up), and Nusha got green onions and mushrooms. Mmmmmmazing.
Food Trucks –
Food trucks rule Portland. I never really got into the taco truck culture of San Francisco, but with the ever-creeping grip of Off the Grid, I’ve started to come around to the idea that food sold out of trucks won’t necessarily give you uncontrollable diarrhea. In fact, Portlanders seem to order from food trucks just as often as they do from proper sit-in restaurants. Entire communities, called “food pods,” have sprung up to support this semi-mobile/ semi-permanent fixture of Portland’s culinary landscape. And I’m glad for it – I got some terrific, organic (of course), semi-expensive (of course) coconut lemon saffron sorbet from 50 Licks as well as some mouth-watering Mediterranean food from Aybla Grill. Both operate out of Good Food Here Pod, conveniently around the corner from Nusha’s apartment.
Natural Beauty –
As you might see from some of the earlier photos, Portland is a very green city. It remarkably maintains its small town feel and makes an effort to integrate into and promote nature, all while still catering to an increasingly metropolitan population. One of the best ways to witness that charming element is watch the swifts at the Chapman Chimney. Around late August and September, thousands of swifts roost in Chapman Elementary’s chimney, now converted from a functioning chimney to a permanently disabled autumnal home for the small birds. Bring a blanket and set up an hour before sunset; you’ll see black specks flying around the chimney for quite a while, until they all suddenly siphon into the chimney just before the sun sets completely. It’s quite an impressive sight, and has become a community event, drawing full orchestras on the weekend to choreograph the swifts’ dance.
Note: No relation to Taylor Swift. Though imagining all the tiny birds with Taylor Swift’s head is pretty hilarious / terrifying – even better is picturing them all with tiny shirts with her face on them. The first time we thought of this, we had a bit to drink, but it’s still funny to me now.
Historical Relevance –
For such a young city, Portland does make a sincere effort to honor the past. Unseen in this photo is the string of various other random items – including a broken violin, a briefcase, a doll, a pair of reading glasses, and an opened book – that line the path to Washington Park’s Holocaust Memorial. Though randomly placed, it’s actually quite well done, with quotes and historical facts scattered across the memorial’s front and the names of victims related to Portland-based Jewish families. It’s really eerily quiet as well, surprisingly considering its relative proximity to the road. Either way, it was a sombre note that tamped down our carefree day in the park (see photo #2), but it was a thoughtful silence that followed, not an uncomfortable one.
Of course, we were not always so respectful. I believe that this statue represented the original President of the International Rose Test Garden Society, which is to be fair probably a prestigious position. But anyone who places a bronze statue on the ground, without a pedestal, should expect that everyone walking by will in some way interact with it. It’s our human-to-statue nature! In any case, it’s always fun to be silly with Nusha; as an old man said to us while waiting in line for the Greyhound, “If being silly were illegal, you girls would be arrested!”
My First Stop! –
Included in my pre-departure-cum-post-departure preparation, I photographed everything I brought. In one respect, it’s smart to have a photograph in case something gets stolen, but it’s also just helpful to be able to share with you guys what I brought, what I wish I brought, what worked, what didn’t work, and how everything held up. So far, I’ve only sent a few miscellaneous things home with a friend who happened to be going back to the Bay (a one-gallon Ziploc including some pamphlets, notebooks, malaria medication, and two pairs of underwear – three pairs of ExOfficio quick-dry underwear are more than enough).
But for the most part, I seem to have packed pretty well. My pack is definitely heavier than I’d like (26 pounds for the check-in, plus another 19 for my carry-on, including all my electronics, some medicines, a change of clothes, and a notebook), but I’m hoping I’ll end up wearing more clothes and using up more liquids, making the pack a wee bit more manageable. Plus, I estimate that ten pounds are dedicated solely to my laptop and camera, which are unfortunate but necessarily burdens. Even so, at 45 pounds – far over the third-your-body-weight rule – I’m able to distribute the weight in such a way that I barely feel it. Hurrah, Gregory Deva 70 XS! Everything is working out!