Monday, March 30, 2009

My Weekend in Comestibles

Friday night:

- 1 bottle of Epicuro, a red wine from Italy. Notes of blackberry. $5.99 at Trader Joe's.

- Homemade bruschetta on parmesan reggiano crisps; pulled pork sandwiches on baguette; pretzel thins dipped in melted Swiss chocolate (70% cacao)

- Dinner at Pambiche, a Cuban eatery on the East Side. I had the Plato Cubano, with braised pork, black beans, fried plantains, and a glass of Sangria.

- 2 glasses of PBR at Slow Bar

- 2 more glasses of wine at Kir, the cutest wine bar ever.
7th and E Burnside.

- 2 more glasses of house red at Aalto Lounge, on E Belmont somewhere. Also, a bowl of Chex Mix.


- 1 tall, nonfat vanilla latte from Starbucks

- 2 cups coffee; 1 waffle breakfast at Broder

I recommend Kir, making Parmesan Reggiano crisps yourself (roughly grate about a tablespoon, make a pile on an ungreased cookie sheet for each tablespoon, bake in oven at 300 degrees for about 8 minutes. Detach from pan before fully cool, then let cool completely), Pambiche (though I hear they have better breakfast), and Broder (be prepared for a wait), if you're in the city!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hazards of Being a Decemberists Fan

The Decemberists are one of my favorite bands. Top 5, honestly.

My sophomore English teacher let me borrow the Her Majesty, The Decemberists album when I was in high school, and I listened to those creepy sea shantys in my '81 Subaru wagon until the batteries ran out of my Discman.

It is not fair to say that people have a love-it/hate-it attitude towards The Decemberists but rather an, "I love it" or "I don't get it" response.

Being a word-nerd, and a native Portlander, with a soft spot for all tales epic and old, I am really drawn to their music, and more uniquely in this age of singles and iPod shuffling, their albums. I believe most of their fans feel this way, as we have been rewarded with The Hazards of Love: a prog-rock and British 60s folk inspired concept album.

Yeah. It's as out there as it sounds.

The plot is, basically: Margaret, a maiden from town, falls in love with William, a shape-shifting fawn-man of the forest. They have a lovely relationship, which mostly consists of lying around on beds of boughs in firefly light, and all this lying about inevitably gets Margaret pregnant. She goes into the taiga to meet her lover and tell him of the news (you can tell what kind of album it is when the word "taiga" is involved. Look it up).
William's adoptive mother, the forest Queen, is enraged by this turn of events and appears in a jealous rage during this intimate moment. William makes a deal to pacify her (the details of which are lost on me, but they must come to some agreement as The Queen rumbles, "Consider this your debt repaid" at the end of track 8).
The Queen hires a rascally rake, whose autobiographical track 10, The Rakes' Song is "that rarest of things, a comical rock track about infanticide" as one review put it. He kidnaps Margaret, the Rake's murdered children come back for revenge, the escape is hazy for me, and I won't ruin the ending.

Basically, it's freaking cool. The obvious highlight is guest vocalist Shara Worden voicing the raw and resonating Queen, and that the whole thing is kind of inspired in part by Ladyhawke (one of the better movies of the 1980s).

The point of my gushing is that The Decemberists made a two-hour appearance at Portland's coolest record shop, Music Millenium (31st and E Burnside) and I went and bought the album, got a really lovely limited edition print poster, and had both signed by the band.

The hazards of being a fan that I encountered are two-fold:
1. The other fans are f-ing weird. I stood in front of the most foully intimate, tofu-eating, internet-radio-show-hosting, baby-talking, cat-adoring Portland couple in the city. It made me want to spew every few minutes. That, and a bunch of outcast high schoolers.

2. When in the presence of Colin Meloy, one of our time's most brilliant songwriters and intelligent musicians, it is impossible to sound eloquent. Apparently, I took this to mean I had a green light to sound like an idiot as the following conversation actually occurred:

Me: "Hi! Thanks so much for coming out to do this and taking the time out of your day."
Colin: "Hey, no problem at all! Thanks for coming."
John: "Yeah, thanks, our pleasure." [starts to sign my stuff]
Me: "You know, you look a lot more comfortable than the last time I saw you guys, since you were on stage and sweating your-"

It is at this point I realize I wanted to say "sweating bullets" but in the presence of the Word Nerd himself, I faltered, and said "sweating your". I said the "your", and needed to commit, so I went with what was on the tip of my tongue, as it also started with a "b".

Me: "...balls off."

Really? I say to the band, "Last time I saw you, you were sweating your balls off?" WHAT!?

They laugh, but with crinkled brow and a "did she really say that?" expression as I quickly go on to explain myself:

Me: " know, because it was in Eugene, at the beginning of that tour! And you were all wearing those new uniforms... which you had specially made for the tour...they were the first time you wore them and they were said it.."

Luckily, Colin saved me, laughed, acknowledged the event and then, surprisingly bitterly said, "Oh. Yes..the night ALL OF OUR STUFF got stolen."

Instead of thinking on my feet and suggesting that perhaps all his tales of gypsies, drunkards, rapscallians and pirates had come to life, I just said,
"Yeah, but, you got to play anyway, right?"
"Yeah, we did."

Turns out the biggest hazard of loving a band is conversational impotence.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A First Lesson

I want to learn to play the piano.

I should have taken it up years ago, but as a stubborn child, refused. I still resent my parents for not forcing me to sit and plunk out Greensleeves repeatedly, and feel that if Renaissance Woman is my ultimate goal, sing-shouting in my car to old Lauryn Hill songs really doesn't fulfill my musicianship quota.

The ad glowered at me from the back page of Willamette Week until I called the number. "Piano Lessons, $10/hour" was all it said.

After an extensive phone conversation with the instructor, who frankly seemed a bit dotty, I got an address, and a multitude of landmark references: kitty corner from Ray's Ragtime, right across from the Old Galleria mall, take MAX and get off at the public library, etc.

My lesson was to be at 6 PM yesterday, and I left work with plenty of time to arrive puncutally. However, I realized I misplaced the paper with the instructions, and, being a product of a GPS/Google Maps/texting generation, decided, as I often do, to wing it.

This proved a poor choice, as I ended up parking kitty corner from Ray's a Smart Park. No piano studio to be found, there. I inquired at the Made in Oregon store. I wandered around the Galleria. I walked down a block and asked at my favorite art supply shop, Art Media. One employee there pointed me next door to a shabby performing arts building with a giant rambling staircase inside that took me past floor after floor of dance studios, but no pianos.
Flustered, I pulled open a door, and to my absolute bewilderment, practically ran into a guy I know.
"Whoa, hey. What are you doing here?"
"I...I'm looking for my piano lesson." This sounds ridiculous. "What are you doing here?"
"Remember Jared?"
"Sure." Did I ever. Biggest crush ever when I was 12.
"Yeah, I'm here for his wedding rehearsal. He's getting married on Saturday."
These guys were my camp counselors at church camp, oh, 10 years ago. They would have been about my age and I was in middle school.
I eventually became a counselor with Aaron, but never saw Jared again after he dated another leader of ours, Jamie, and then weirdly and abruptly broke up with her after dating seriously for 2 years.
"This is SO weird," I said. "I just went to Jamie's bridal shower on Sunday!"
The weirdest part? Jamie is now engaged to ANOTHER guy that we all knew from camp.

We exchanged minor pleasantries, as I slowly backed my way out the door, as if to disappear before anyone could see me, so I could process what I'd just wandered into. I feel like these things only happen for a reason, but any and all reasons other than serendipitous coincidence evade me.

Onward continued the search for the elusive piano studio.

I stepped into a men's clothing store, and then finally Brooks Brothers- another men's store. There, a nice man by the name of George was extremely chivalrous in his efforts to assist me in my quest to play the piano. We got out a Yellow Pages. He walked me around the block and into a building to help me inquire as to the whereabouts of this stupid piano studio.

I thanked him profusely and bid him good evening, as the time was approaching 6:45. I could have just given up, but didn't have anything else going on, and was sort of enjoying this treasure hunt around Portland. I wondered whom else I would encounter.

And then, I found it. Nestled *next* to Ray's Ragtime Vintage Clothing: The Fine Arts Building. Ms. Ferrara: Ste 303.

Still in my work attire and heels, I sprinted up the stairs and to her studio. The lights were off. She was not there. But the door was ajar.
I stepped in, cautiously.

It was a small room, maybe ten feet by ten feet, and cluttered in the way that only a lover of the world can fill a space. Books- countless tattered books- doilies, and sagging sofas, and threadbare Oriental carpet, and busts and framed portraits; pillows, countless leaves of sheet music. A solitary poster of Bach sat magisterially above the room's guest of honor- an old wooden piano.

The molding around the windows was thick, and one window was open enough to hear the rain, and feel the March evening in the city street below. I breathed in- the scent of old things and learning- and decided that this would be where I learned to play the piano. If I could come back to *this* space, and soak up the palpable passion, and absorb the dust of music dictionaries - just sit and be, in this room, I would certainly give Ms. Ferrara my ten dollars each week.

I am sure I will be getting lessons of much more value.

The teacher found me minutes later, sitting patiently by her studio door. I began to apologize profusely, and she said, "Oh, that's okay. I went to the library. Those people there...they aren't good anymore like they used to be."

I liked her immediately. We talked each other's ears off for an hour and twenty minutes (topics covered: the healing properties of the Ocean, the depressing nature of Portland and Albert Camus, Romantic vs. Baroque music, family illness and responsibility, the terror of coping in a world with exponentially advancing technology and the resulting sadness at feeling left behind), we briefly talked piano, and then I offered her a ride home, to the hotel she is living in nearby.

Yes. These are going to be important lessons.

If you'd like to take piano lessons in Portland, let me know, and I will give you her name.
If you'd like to buy a suit or a tie or a nice men's coat, I recommend buying from George at the downtown Brooks Brothers.
If you'd like to buy a paintbrush, canvas, or other art tools, do so at the Art Media store on 9th and Morrison.
If you'd like to get married, or take lessons at a nice dance studio, you can do so at the Pyrithian Building, between 9th and 10th and Morrison.

If you'd like to wander around this city with me, give me a call.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I have a new favorite holiday.

The Portland Urban Iditarod involves costumes, beer, rain, Portland bridges, people who like to have fun, outdoor sprints, and all kinds of other awesomeness.

It's basically exactly what it sounds like: a team of people pull a stolen shopping cart around as if it is a sled in the Alaskan tundra. Except it's in the streets of one of the weirder cities in the US. And it's a pub crawl.

2009 Portland Urban Iditarod - Highlights from brewcaster on Vimeo.

I recommend starting one in a city near you.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Girl, I wanna check out your components.

In trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, a role model is always a good place to start.
Other than the stellar, solid, sassy, smart, and sincere woman that is my mother, and both of my elegant and classy and brave grandmothers, there are three women on the planet I really look up to- not for all they stand for, but for the gut feeling I get when I think of them. That they mean something, that they are doing and have done great things- these women make me feel the way I want other people to feel when they look at me.

#1. Angelina Jolie

I don't care what you say about her. Behold:

Aside from the obvious wins in her column (Brad Pitt, those cheekbones, an easy start with two famous parents), the woman always does what she wants. She gets the man, she adopts someone else's kid, she wears blood, what. ever. She is a humanitarian and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN and if you don't think I want that job, you are a stranger to me.

#2. Jane Birkin

The original "girl don't give a fuck" poster child. After she divorced the guy who wrote the James Bond theme, she married Serge Gainsbourg when she was like, 20. I don't envy her life as a slave to the men she wanted (to gain their admiration and companionship) but she always did whatever the hell she wanted to and looked good doing it. Additionally, she has one of the world's most sought-after handbags named for her, an extensive filmography, and a singing career most models only dream of.

#3. Aunt Lucy

This Greek goddess speaks 5 languages fluently (English, Arabic, Greek, French, and Italian), smokes, paints, and is the most fabulous hostess the world has ever known. She is also married to my great-uncle (who is a former treasurer of a foreign country) and has raised three intelligent, beautiful, sociable, fabulous children. She is glamorous, fabulous, and inimitable.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

From Anna

The following is a letter that my great-grandmother Anna wrote to her sister. It is a favorite in my family, and has been read aloud on many an occasion. I stumbled across it tonight at my parents' house, and wanted to share it with you, whoever you are. It is a testament to the power of words, the art of letter-writing, and is reassuring to me, as I've been having similarly nostalgic musings as of late. I hope this stirs something in you, as it did in me.

Mrs. John B.
535 Jefferson Avenue
Elizabeth, New Jersey
April 9, 1942

Dearest dear Ellen,
Supposedly I am hard at work cleaning the attic but an overpowering nostalgia has seized upon me, and I just must write to you. I wish you were here with me -- surely somehow in spirit this afternoon you are here. It is a strangely beautiful day to begin with -- a perfect attic day -- even the light has the perfect attic-y quality. It had been warm enough for three days to bring out the leaves on the apple trees; forsythia is blooming but for hours now it has been snowing, a wet sticky snow that transforms the trees into something faerie -- looking like blossoms nestling in the new apple leaves. Robins and our redbirds are singing and here from the back attic window I look out over the yards into branches black and white against a white sky and the snow on roof and skylight make it white inside. This attic somehow casts a spell over me because it is what I always dreamed about being turned loose in as a child -- a historic attic filled with memories of a half-known, half guessed-at past. Life goes on in the rest of the house downstairs, but here I feel isolated from all of it, and a strange peace possesses me that i want to share with you. I can't begin to put it all in words, though. As I look down into the yard I see my own small self playing there and remember so vividly the Easter morning when I awoke to find Granny instead of Mother an Daddy in the bed beside my crib. (You were imminent). And I went into the yard feeling Mother -- lonesome -- and Mr. Patterson handed me a freshly laid egg from his hen coop -- my Easter egg that Granny cooked for me. But in reality, Cathie, my own flesh and blood little daughter is running there now, and David is sweeping the snow off the rhubarb plants. I wonder if that is the same pear tree where Granny used to help me put pulled-out basting threads for the birds to use in building their nests. And now it is nesting time again what ages afterward -- thirty four years! -- and it all seems like a moment that is gone. The trees are full of birds -- I hear a rooster crow, it always recalls sunny spring days when I was trudging home to Madison Avenue from school. Cars, cars -- their incessant whirr of their tires on the wet streets, life rushing by -- and yet this old house stands the same through spring rains and winter snows. I suppose Aunt Sadie used to see sleighs gliding by. Time is something beyond comprehension. There are chests and trunks filled with wonderful reminders of her time, her home, her clothes. Old letters -- bits of hair -- marriage records. Cousin May's childish sayings -- scraps of old dresses, old rugs, old upholstery -- pictures of the later 1800's with gas lamps and bric a brac that was shockingly dust-collecting -- a funny big old easel that probably held a picture, shawl-draped! What a place to let the imagination run riot. Old books -- ancient books -- old travel guides to St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey -- views of Switzerland, Montreaux (treasured memory) -- the Castle of Chillon, the Jungfrau! Here -- all of time -- all of space -- how intimate, how near.

Silly to try to put it in words - this mood of mine! How transitory things are -- and yet how permanent, compared with human life. You know Aline Kilmer's poem? I often think of it. What mementoes am I leaving for an attic to disgorge? Treasures that are treasures to me only, and yet I needs must keep them for moods such as this, for I like to conjure up with forgotten letters long forgotten moods. They seem to make the past more vivid. (But NEVER my love-letters -- I burned those long ago in panic lest anyone but John and I should ever chance upon what to any one else would not be sacred) -- just little things worthless to anyone by me -- college souvenirs, Mother-in-law's first dear letter of her unknown daughter-to-be -- two dresses I wore that summer when John and I were first in love -- the pocketbook I carried over Europe, poor battered thing, but somehow linking me tangibly and really to that almost faded, almost impossible dream -- drawings the boys have made --dirty old animals their baby arms have hugged (remember Nondy? Percy -- your Percy -- is Cathie's dearest love now).

Then there are other things that bear no meaning for me -- pictures of people I can't identify. Dear Uncle Archie seemed so close to me so much of the time last year when I was going over these things. His pictures I love, and try to reconstruct his life from his account books. I love to pore over them. He listed daily every single expenditure and I have these records going back to the time when he first left Ireland. Frequently mentioned were repayments of small loans to George Trull, our grandfather -- the high chair for May, Christmas gifts to the Trull children -- payments to George Brown for word done -- various repairs on the house -- all seem to make almost a diary.

The snowflakes whirl outside the window -- the steady drip drip of melting snow from the roof is the most insistent sound. The past, the present, the future too, life, death, reality, unreality, all seem inextricably mixed. Since we have lived in it for a year now the rest of the house seems quite definitely ours in the very real present -- John's and Johnny's and George's and David's and Cathie's and mine -- but somehow the attic is only mine with its memories that none of them can share. What happy times I have had in this house- the many Sunday dinners with Uncle Archie and Aunt Mabel and Scotty -- the Thanksgivings when Granny and Uncle Archie won "Going to Jerusalem" and played in potato races. The time I stayed here when Archie had the mumps -- and recently the quiet intimate times with Aunt Mabel when she was sick and told me more of herself in the times when I used to rub her back than she ever had been able to reveal before. Yes -- they are all happy memories with this house, and what blissfully happy history is being made here now. Past and present all mixed together now -- John's summer suits in a box at my elbow, Aunt Mabel's wedding veil in the chest in the corner, Aunt Sadie's embroidery in the sewing box under me, our summer camping equipment, Aunt Rose's little old trunks -- the size 14 shirts and underwear I have laid in a supply of for the boys next year's needs -- Uncle Archies's desk.

I know you'd love to go over these things too. I opened up the big American flag in the chest for the first time yesterday. It measures 6' 4" X 12'. The pole is here somewhere, and I'd like to rig it up. I guess it flew in World War I days as Granny's did daily from her attic window. This house has survived the Civil War, the Spanish War, the first World War, and now God grant that it may survive this one -- unbombed and unbereaved. Snow and spring --past and present, war and peace -- all here together today.

My nose and my toes have gotten cold with such long sitting. I must back to the exercise of sorting and straightening and sweeping.

My dearest love, sister mine