Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I promise to do better

It appears I haven't posted a damn thing for a month and not much previous to that. Premature New Years Resolution: post more frequently, and think of something worthwhile to write about.

At any rate, to my thousands upon thousands of loyal readers: Merry Christmas.

The photo is from a wicked storm in January 2005(?): most welcome sight of the day, as a nice warm bus rolls toward me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ranting after rush hour

Are bicyclists just stupid, or do they have a death wish? Or, charitably, have they simply never driven an automobile at night, in the pouring rain, in heavy traffic? Perhaps this is it, and they lack the essential knowledge of what, exactly, an automobile driver can SEE through a rain-streaked window, reflected from a rain-streaked sideview mirror. Maybe this is why bicyclists persist in assuming that they're just as visible as a 16-wheeler with dozens of running lights--especially to someone trying to merge into traffic from a parking spot in the pouring rain, in heavy traffic, in the dark while not either hitting another vehicle, bicycle or being struck by same.

I have a lot of respect for Portland's cyclists, especially the die-hards who commute every day regardless of how crap the weather is: rain, sleet, cold, even snow (the truly mad among them). But, BUT, bicyclists have to remember they're jousting with big heavy moving masses of steel while they have nothing but a cheesy helmet and bravado in return. If you ride a bike, for God's sake, you have to assume that everyone in a car is blind, stupid and self-involved. You cannot assume that just because you happen to be in The Bike Lane! that you're visible, even if you also have one of those really cool blinky lights on the front. Always assume you're invisible and split seconds away from death.

For that matter, get the hell off the main drag (Hawthorne Blvd, in this case) even if it does have a bike lane and even if it is the most direct route. It's also where all the damn cars are!

It's OK. I'm home safe, not having killed one of you through no real effort of your own. We've survived another commute.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More eating and drinking in Eugene

I guess I am in a rut. Last weekend, I drove down to Eugene just to attend an afternoon party at Ryan and Jenaya's. Pear cocktails, sparkling wine, more wine, beer, delicious ham, sweet potato fries . . . and some serious cognacs rescued from the evil clutches of Hurricane Katrina. Ryan reports that consumption reached 7.67 drinks per person, which seems a bit excessive, especially since some people were clearly not doing their share. Perhaps the fellow sneaking out the back with a couple of cases of wine skewed the curve?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Drinking and having fun in Eugene

Actually, this photo and these photos were taken months ago. It was summer, I'm pretty sure. Hmmm, June. Ryan, Jenaya and I visited the Bier Stein (finally!) for dinner and a selection of interesting (not always great) beers. Sandwiches were excellent and, as always with these two, I had a lot of fun. The woman sitting to my right asked me "Do you always take pictures of your food?" as though it was an odd practice, but . . . maybe it is. It does help to remind me of great meals and great evenings, even in Eugene in June.

The Bier Stein is a pub that specializes, oddly enough, in beer. Lots of excellent beers on tap and a huge selection of bottled beers in the reach-in coolers along several walls. You can buy beers to take home, or pick out something and have it poured into a reasonably-correct glass to consume on-premises. Since this is Oregon, they have to serve food, and it's very good pub food, well-suited to accompany something from the cooler. On this evening, we beat the rush; by the time we actually got to eat the place was jammed and no seats were left.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

It's not my photo! My son, Alex, sent this to me and can't track down the original link. So if it's yours, I apologize and would love to give you credit. But it's a baby hedgehog! Soooo cute.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Spiders in the Park!

Spiders belong in the park, not in the tub! On a foggy Sunday morning, there are lots of dewy webs with the spiders off somewhere else sleeping until things dry out. Hopefully, the spiders are close by, and not sneaking off to certain people's apartments to lurk until dark. More pictures of fog and sun at Mt Tabor Park are here. There is even a photo of a spider!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Autumn is the best time of year! No more hot days (the window fans are all stashed away for the season), ovens can be used to cook wonderful Fall meals, and the leaves are turning beautiful colors even here in Portland. True, October here is usually more sunny and a bit warmer, but this year is what it is: cool and grey.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Sunday at the dog park. Beats going to church in my book. And Ralphie's.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Here in Portland, we're adding another light rail line along the path of the original Transit Mall, which opened in 1978. The track will run from Union Station on the north all the way to Portland State University on Fifth and Sixth avenues, where the train will share spaces with buses and cars. Over the past weekend, trains were shut down through central Portland to accommodate construction on this intersection, where the new track had to be cut through the existing track from 1986.

What I find most amazing about the project is the speed at which the road- and trackwork is being completed. There are portions in Old Town where the work is already finished, at least at the road level. None of the work to put in stations, overhead power, or the multitude of other work has even been started. I'll get some photos soon of some of the finished brickwork; it's really beautiful and a significant upgrade over the previous road surface, which didn't appear to have been touched since the 70s.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

So go read the funny book!

Denis Cooverman has spent his school years (especially the critical pubescent years) sitting behind the exquisite Beth Cooper. Year after year, classroom after classroom, sitting in excruciating love, tumescence and devotion.

His big chance finally comes at graduation, in the guise of his valedictorian speech, where he finally and publicly declares his undying love for you, Beth Cooper. An unwise decision? Yes, in all probability, but it's a decision that is destined to change his entire life -- or at least the rest of graduation night, which is nearly the same thing.

Anyone who has survived adolescence, whether as a geek, a jock, the head cheerleader or a Goth, can find serious, important, life-affirming hysteria in I Love You, Beth Cooper. Larry Doyle, who is apparently young enough to remember the wrenching violations of high school and old enough to view it with amusement instead of agony, is a very funny writer, and Evan Dorkin is a very funny illustrator (each chapter features a new and more ravaged portrait of Denis -- see here ).

So, remember, I don't do book reviews any more. This is your only warning. Go get this book and read it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Simple is good. Here's a little snack to nosh on while the gumbo simmers: fresh from Bob & Patty's garden tomato and some Oregon raw milk blue cheese. Mmmmmm. This is a good time of year for food, with summer's bounty still available and the days cool enough to crank up the oven and the stovetop. It isn't quite time to put the grill away for the winter, but things slowly-cooking in cast iron are beginning to call to me. Sausage and chicken gumbo for starters, enhanced by Bob & Patty's bell peppers. Next year, they need to grow some celery!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chicks Gone Wild!

The chicks are a bit over three weeks old now, and completely transformed. When I first saw them they looked like Easter treats; now they're clearly chickens and the breeds are quite distinct from one another. They also have REALLY BIG FEET. I got to Bob's about 30 minutes after they started their first excursion outdoors and they were really uncertain about the whole idea. They huddled together near the wall at first, peeping like mad, but eventually they began to discover all sorts of things to peck at (mostly looked like dirt to me) and we spotted one snatching a big (maybe too big) bug that landed too close for safety. They have an enormous run to play in, but I imagine it will be a few days before they venture more than a few feet from the coop. More pictures of the chicks here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

I know that Portland has become a serious bicycle city, but I think this commuter is starting a little early. The bike lock is half the size of the bike and it still has training wheels! Oddly enough, it wasn't parked in front of a day care center, although it was right by a MAX station. Maybe he bikes to the station and then rides the train to his job. I dunno.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saturday Dining in Eugene

This was the weekend to move my son, Alex, into his Eugene apartment just in time for the Fall term at U of O. Which meant it was also another opportunity to recreate with Ryan and Jenaya! First up was a trip to the bar at El Vaquero, where the art and science of cocktails is in the hands of Jeffrey Morganthaler. We sampled a number of his creations, including a marmalade sour, Pisco sour, Richmond Gimlet, 43 Manhattan and a tomato daquiri. Everything was new and wonderful, with his own components (including the house tonic water) adding distinctive character to everything . . . but my heart belongs to the marmalade sour.

Alex passed on the cocktail hour, which was a big mistake, but joined us for a wonderful dinner downstairs at Marché, where Ryan happens to be the wine buyer. Lots of delicious appetizers, three different wines (I can't keep track; ask Ryan) and superb entreés including the salmon dish pictured here, a couple orders of duck, and Jenaya's paella. Oh, and it looks like we had dessert as well, judging from the photos here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Spiders in the Tub

I'm all in favor of spiders in theory. I imagine that without spiders we would have been overrun with bugs ages ago. Spider webs covered with dew are truly beautiful, although that Texas park covered in web, ick. Creepy. Spiders in person, I'm not such a big fan. And spiders in the bathtub?

Look, it's first thing in the morning, I'm still adjusting to the concept of being awake, and all I want is to suck on my coffee and have a refreshing shower. Why do I have to deal with a spider in the tub? I am getting efficient at this operation, because it seems to occur on a weekly basis. I have to put a robe on, open the front door, grab an unwanted section of the morning paper and then persuade a very skittish arachnid that the newspaper is a better place to stand than his other option: the drain. Once the spider has made his move, I quickly dash to the front door, balancing newspaper and spider, fling open the screen door and make damn sure he's off the paper outside the apartment. Slam door, slip tainted newspaper into the recycling, and get back to the shower business.

What worries me is how often this happens. It's obvious that any spider who wanders into the tub is stuck there, but if it's happening on a weekly basis, how many damn spiders are padding through my apartment at night? I never see them when the lights are on, and there really isn't a lot of available spider food in here anyway. Good screens on the windows means almost no bugs. So why are the spiders here at all? And what is it that they're up to in the apartment with the lights out?

Or is this the same damn spider every time?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

A young bloodhound, who was towering over scores of other dogs at the Basset Olympics in Lebanon, Oregon a few years back. At the time, my friend Ralphie (50% basset, 50% beagle) was just a pup, used to playing with the Labs in the park. This event was the first time he'd really come eye to eye with dogs his own height. The bloodhound, needless to say, wasn't one of those dogs.

Basset Olympics

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Havana? Miami? All those bright colors means Caribbean fun! Look at the beautiful blue sky. Who can forget those wonderful warm days under the beach umbrella, a big plate of ropa viejo or vaca frita on the table next to an ice-cold mojito. Sweet custardy flan for dessert. Mmmmm. Cuba!

What? Portland? Oregon? No way!

Pambiche restaurant, NE 28th & Glisan, five minutes from home (on a bicycle!). But it sure looks like Cuba. Or how I imagine Cuba. And the food is incredible.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Eatin' and drinkin' in Portland

One good friend came up from SoCal to visit this weekend, and two other good friends came up from Eugene to join in the carousing. We found some new favorite places to eat and drink, discovered the demise or downfall of several old favorites. Saturday dinner at Clyde Common, a superb new restaurant in the Ace Hotel (looks like downtown hipster heaven) was definitely on the plus side.
More pictures:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Random Photos of the Day

Those of us who have lived in Portland a long time tend to have a poor opinion of the manner in which an old industrial neighborhood has turned into the environ of Yuppies with way too much money. Most of the old buildings in the Pearl District have been torn down and replaced with hideously-expensive condos, which from an architectural standpoint are admittedly very attractive. All the naked display of conspicuous wealth and consumption does creep me out, personally, but no more so than the equally conspicuous hipster persona of the new Mississippi neighborhood.

This particular building is one I always admired while it was still a commercial building and I have to admit, if I had a bazillion dollars, I might think seriously about buying a unit in the conversion. There is a garden on the roof, but it's not possible to tell from my lowly position on the street whether it's a communal garden or whether one of the residents has even more money than the rest. I confess to a sick feeling of envy.

A similar building is just across the street.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Dram in Memory of Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson died a few days ago, apparently as a result of his Parkinson's Disease. Jackson was one of a rare group of people whose advocacy had a profound impact on the manner in which people came to view beer, for he was one of the first writers to take beer seriously, with the same gravitas given to wine. He helped to define the vast array of beers and breweries, and to awaken drinkers not only to the rising craft movement in the US, but to the obscure, the lost, and the disappearing beerstyles of Europe.

Jackson was likewise a booster and an educator on the subject of whisky, especially whisky from Scotland. I am sure he would have loved this dram of Laphroaig, 10 year old original cask strength, and I raise it in his honor and memory. The man lived a rich and bountiful life, with a planet full of friends to remember him, but he still left too early.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Another rose? Ah, well, it's Portland after all. This was taken in the Rose Test Gardens in Washington Park, and in the original photograph the red is almost blinding. The pity is that it's not possible to blog the aroma of the gardens, because there is something truly wonderful about the smell of thousands of blooming roses. More photos here.

Friday, August 31, 2007


My friend Bob has a smallish farm near Wilsonville with some cattle and a couple of layabout llamas. For years, we've talked about how much we'd love a source of fresh eggs, but there had been some resistance from his wife. Now he's built a beautiful coop and a huge run, incorporating it into his Labs' kennel (no coyotes coming around there!) and yesterday the first batch of babies arrived. Won't be the last bunch, either; Bob's already starting to get a funny look in his eye when he pages through the guide to chickens. Four varieties here, including Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Araucanas and Leghorns.

At any rate, I've invested funds in the chicken ranch because I loooooooooove eggs and fresh farm eggs from happy chickens who get to scratch and nibble all day are the best eggs of all.

(Photo by Bob Truhn)

More chicken photos here! Photos by me.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

As part of a huge campaign last fall, Budweiser Select was featured on outside advertising on a building here in Portland. Someone did a terrific and professional job of punking the ad, and it sat there for weeks before the ad company noticed and painted over the addition. I kept passing the sign and kicking myself for not having my camera, but I finally got this photo days before the ad was removed. Ironically, the outdoor ad company was responsible for treating me to a very nice business trip in Vancouver, BC a few months later. I thought it would be nice to send them all copies of this photo after I got back.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

The beautiful and still-functioning Union Station here in Portland. Up until January 2007, I had a key to the tower because we had some cranky old PCs in a room up there, used to send schedule displays to the bus shelters in Old Town. As much as I enjoyed my visits to the upstairs of the building, with all the oak flooring and beautiful construction, I certainly don't miss those PCs.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Portland is the City of Roses, after all. A lot of tourists (and locals) visit the test gardens in Washington Park, with a spectacular view of the city and Mt Hood, but few of them visit the Peninsula Park rose garden in North Portland. It's a beautiful old park, with a wonderful brick plaza centered around a big pool and fountain. I've been told by flower experts that the gardens are superior to those in Washington Park, although they're admittedly smaller. The park was close to my old house and a natural destination for walks with the dog. In June and July, the roses are always breath-taking.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Real Mousehole Cat

Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley have a beautiful picture book called The Mousehole Cat , that was a favorite story of mine to read to my kids when they were young. In the story, a fisherman's black and white cat saves the Cornish fishing village of Mowzel (Mousehole) when their fishing boats are trapped in the harbor by a huge storm. When I had the chance to visit Cornwall this spring, Mousehole was at the top of my list (well, right after the Pirate Inn pub in Penzance, great food and lovely ale). The tide was out, the tiny harbor was completely dry, and at least one crew member wasn't going anywhere. I had found the real Mousehole Cat--the only cat I saw in the village.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

I almost didn't want to post this photo, because my brain finally made the connection: Minneapolis, bridge . . . But this is a beautiful bridge across the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis and it didn't fall and no one was hurt. It's just for pedestrians and bicycles these days, although clearly built in a much earlier time for more prosaic functions. And I thought after a few days, that we should celebrate a beautiful city like Minneapolis and I love the symmetry of the arches and the stonework.

How Do You Lose a Dog?

It's something I've wondered about. I feel sad when I see flyers stuck to telephone poles, with photos of sweet-faced dogs and notes about "lost dog!!" or "have you seen this dog?", "answers to the name Maya", but I have to wonder how a responsible dog owner "loses" a dog.

Was it inattention? Was the dog running in the park off-leash when the owner get distracted by the ice cream truck? Did the owner really believe you could leave a dog alone all day in the back yard, that a fence would hold in a determined dog? Or that the meter reader wouldn't leave the gate open?

And no one ever tells us how the story turned out. No one puts up flyers that say "Never mind! We've found Maya!" And I want to know. I think these people have some responsibility to relieve my concern. The damn flyer has been up there for two months and I still have no idea whether Maya found her way home, or whether the owners had the good sense to have an identity chip inserted in the dog's skin so the Humane Society could track them down. Are they doing a better job of keeping an eye on the dog?

Maybe the Humane Society has a list of dogs that have been happily restored to their humans. And I hope those people got a good talking to, as well. "You can have your dog back and soon as you put up those posters apologizing for worrying your neighbors."

Don't even get me started on cats.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Just a reminder that summer never lasts forever. Some of us really love the snow.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

The still room at Bowmore Distillery, on Islay, the southernmost island in the Hebrides. Some of the world's finest malt whiskies pass through these copper vessels before spending years aging in wood. The Bowmore tour may be the most interesting on the island (there are seven other distilleries on Islay) due to the presence of the floor maltings, a tradition that most distilleries have long since abandoned.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Random Photo of the Day

Jenaya and Ryan about to dig into the entrees. This was taken at Roux, an incredible restaurant here in Portland, on the first anniversary of Katrina. We've already been through cocktails and appetizers (including crawfish pie!!!) and there will be huge desserts after this course. This may have been the best dinner I've ever had and certainly the most fun I've ever had eating. More photos.

Harry Up!

Three down, well into number four. I did take a break last evening to watch a little tv, but I'm not finding it at all difficult to "choke down" a continuous diet of Hogwarts. I think that's either a tribute to Rowling's writing . . . or to my admittedly low standards.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Harry Potter, Harry Potter

String that one out seven times, I guess. It appears that we’re never going to get to read Harry Potter and the Caves of Mystery, or Harry Potter and the Very Bad Day, and will have to believe that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (yeesh) is the real end of the story. But who knows? If Buffy the Vampire Slayer can come back in comic book form, why not a Season Eight for Harry?

Although I count myself a fan, I am not a fanatic, so I have never re-read the adventures of the boy wizard. When volume 7 arrived in the mail, though, I decided it would be a great opportunity to do so. Yesterday, I polished off the Philosopher’s Stone (on the bus, at lunch and during a Mariners game) and started on volume 2. The project looked pretty simple at first blush, because the first two books are relatively slim. I have no idea why Rowling super-sized Harry starting with volume 3, but now I’m looking at the stack of fatties that awaits me and wondering if I can choke down that much Hogwarts at once.

I didn’t remember the books as particularly jokey, but Rowling definitely gets in her little British humo(u)r in the Philosopher’s Stone, and not just at the expense of the Dursleys. I have a vague memory of people complaining that the books got progressively darker, and I wonder if she had such a plan when she started scribbling.

I find it interesting that the movie characters, for the most part, have not intruded in my imagination while reading the books. Most of the actors are fine for their parts, but their voices do not replace the characters. The exceptions are Alan Rickman (one of my all-time favorite actors, since I first saw Truly, Madly, Deeply) and Robbie Coltrane. Snape and Hagrid speak from the pages in the voices of those two actors.

We shall see whether I can persevere, but no Deathly Hallows for me until I do. I may need to take a break and read a good modern crime novel somewhere in the middle. Or maybe a post-modern graphic novel.

The Religion, a "review"

The Religion
Tim Willocks
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 640 pp

My days of writing book reviews are long over, but not my desire to recommend books or to “discover” new authors—which in this case means discovering someone who has been writing fiction for a number of years and who I’ve only just stumbled upon. The Religion is a big fat, incredibly satisfying historical novel set during the Siege of Malta in 1565. It is apparently the first of three novels chronicling the life of Mattias Tannhauser, and the historical period is rich in possibilities.

Tannhauser has returned to the West after spending years as a Janissary in the service of Suleiman the Magnificent and has been dedicating himself to trade and sensuality, both of which conspire to place him inside the beleaguered fortress with “The Religion”, the Knights Hospitaler’s headquarters in Malta, as thousands and thousands of Turkish warriors descend on the island, determined to put an end to the fighting monks, who they view as terrorists.

Willocks has chosen a fascinating period in European history and done an incredible amount of research. This is still a period preceding the rise of nations in the West, with a great struggle between the Church and the wave of Protestantism, the Muslim East and the great array of languages and principalities. Tannhauser is a terrific vehicle for the story, as a man who has lived among the Ottomans and the “Franks”. Willocks reminds me very much of the late Dorothy Dunnett, except, well, far more violent, brutal and explicit, much like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe only, well, far more violent, brutal and explicit. Willocks surrounds Tannhauser will a host (literally) of other fascinating characters, all of whom felt to me as though they were human and rooted in their time, rather than 21st Century characters transplanted to the 16th.

I am intrigued to see where Willocks takes the trilogy. Unlike so many other “first” novels in a series, Willocks leaves no obvious trails to be dragged out into other stories, and The Religion stands alone very well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ralphie the dog

3.5 miles is a much longer walk when your legs are only four inches in length.

My best dog friend, Ralphie, is a bagel. Which is pretty much to say, he's got a basset hound body with a beagle head stuck on the front. He also has a fierce heart and would probably walk until his stumpy legs wore down to nubbins, well after my much-longer legs gave out. Ralphie and I no longer live in the same house, but he's always ready for a ride in the car and a nice long walk.

This photo was shot as we rested up after our walk on Portland's Esplanade on a beautiful weekend morning. We walked north from the Hawthorne Bridge to the Steel Bridge on the east side of the Willamette River, crossed over on the walking path of the bridge (as MAX trains and cars rumbled overhead) and then back south on the west side, amidst scores of runners and bicyclists.

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