Part X: Portlandia

Portland Oregon was a place I knew little about when I added it to the list. It has a powerful music scene and it is the gateway to the Pacific North West, frankly these seemed like compelling enough reasons as any to squeeze it in.

The first time I was made aware of the apparently archetypal Portland hipster, was when I told my sister (an ex dweller of LA LA Land) that I was planning to go there. “You might as well turn vegan now” she quipped with a glint in her eye and a grin on her face. She instantly brought comedy web series Portlandia to my attention (yeah yeah, I know I’m late to the party on this one) thus underlining that this stereotype is not unique to those in and around California.

Portlandia is basically hysterical, and if you don’t know it you need to stop reading this and catch up with it. It is the brainchild of Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Emmy nominated Carrie Brownstein. The bite-sized webisodes live in a magical kingdom, which you can access free of charge by winking twice at the gatekeeper once you have clicked here

When I arrive in the city, I am delighted to see that this is a tag they are happy to brandish, embracing it wherever possible with a dollop of good humour. It’s self-effacing and disarming, I love it. Portland, which reveals itself completely under the flight path of our plane, immediately grows on me.

Checking back into a youth hostel after enjoying the 5 star quality of LA, Palm Springs, Vegas and Hawaii, is exactly what the phrase ‘coming back to earth with a bump’ was coined for. I head to the North West of the city to this little perfectly placed gem.

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Obviously Portland is a city known for its established music scene.

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There is a solid, dependable market here for music, not just through live shows but for the fact that they still have multiple record stores (mainstream and niche) on every high street.

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Some are even open 365 days a year. Take heed UK!

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So many of my favourite bands are playing here…admittedly mostly after I have left (cue gnashing of teeth.) But I just can’t see how a fan of good music could ever be bored here. I head to the Mississippi Studios to watch Talkdemonic who opened for Flaming Lips on a US tour in 2011. The two-piece are based round here, so it has all the added swagger that a homecoming show usually provides.

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What Portland is less known for is its network of independent cinemas, many restored from their original wonderment. Some are not-for-profit, like the exquisite Hollywood Theatre in North East Sandy Boulevard, which first opened its doors in 1926. Alongside the film schedule, they also host B Movie Bingo.

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Others are owned by independent local companies, like the Bagdad on South East Hawthorne Boulevard, complete with stunning post-flick cocktail and pool bar.

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The key thing to note here is not how rinky-dink the cinemas themselves are, but the price tag of the tickets. The cheapest I bought was $4, and the most expensive $8. The Portland tradition is to watch the movie with a beer from the local microbrewery and a slice of pizza. Naturally I embrace this.

Put simply, this means that for two thirds of what you would pay in London for a ticket only, you can put away two beers, two slices of pizza and a packet of Reece’s Pieces. Not to be sniffed at.

I watch the following during my week there (click on the link for the trailers):
End of Love A touching portrayal of a single father’s struggles after the death of his partner, written and directed by Mark Webber
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone A laugh-out-loud all the way Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi movie that you can’t help wondering how much funnier it would be if Will Ferrell had a hand in it
Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie Super low budget, rollickingly amusing and long awaited return (in cartoon form) from Kevin Smith and Jay Mewes. Roll on Clerks III.

All very different movies, I am sure you will agree. In the latter, Kevin and Jay rock up for a chinwag after the show. Somebody in the crowd has brought their 9 year old son with them, and draws Kevin’s attention to it through twitter. That child is going to need a bucketload of therapy.

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Another surprise in Portland is the proximity to frankly stunning nature. Just ten minutes walk from North West district is the International Rose Test Gardens. Over 7,000 plants with 550 variants are tucked away on a hill overlooking the city.

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Of course, when I am there very few are in bloom. It’s all in the…timing. But a stroll through the Shakespeare Gardens and the Amphitheatre is still beautiful.

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I manage to locate a few pleasing blooms.

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And I am delighted to hear that the Amphitheatre is used for gigs too. Bands like Flaming Lips play for nish in the summer.

It is a stunning walk home…

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…even the greens are in radiant spectrum.

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I pass quite a few abodes that I decide I want to move into.

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Further afield is the stunning Colombia River Gorge, still only 30 minutes drive out of the city. A day spent hiking to the Bridal Veil falls…

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and Multnomah falls…

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…is a day spent happy. The views from the top of the latter out over the river are mind boggling. Douglas Firs as far as the eye can see.

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You might even spot some of these guys, who apparently are vegetarians (I’m sorry but when did the word herbivore fall out of parlance?)

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Then, take your trusty motor over to Hood River to watch the windsurfers.

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Be sure not to miss the formidable Mount Hood.

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Then make your merry way home.

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If you are waterfall intolerant, head out to stunning Willamette Valley in Oregon’s wine country. Spanning 60 miles at its widest point between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, and just 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean, there are over 16,800 acres of vines. Predominantly these are Pinot Noir, and the region was made famous by 2004’s ‘Sideways’ directed by Alexander Payne. *Adds film to list of books to reread and films to rewatch*

This valley accounts for 74% of Oregon’s wine production, and we centre on the Dundee Hills for our tasting tour. My favourite Pinot Noirs were Domaine Serene (the flashy Rolls Royce) and Winter’s Hill (the dependable family-run Volkswagen.)

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The views from Colene Clemens are show stopping.

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Back in the city, I need almost a day to lose myself in Powell’s Books, a bookstore so comprehensive it has its own map.

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Naturally, I focus on the Blue Room. Those classics just cannot get away from me on this trip…

I’ll drink to this.

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Spending time in the city, you are never far away from the distant honk of a train’s horn as the MAX light rail criss crosses the metropolis. Imagine the intro to The Kink’ ‘Apeman’ and you know how it sounds to live in Portland.

Whilst I am there in early May, the sun beats down 28 degrees on the city from a cloudless sky. The locals soon put me straight that this is not normal meteorological behaviour. It seems that Portland can draw parallels with Glasgow in many ways, wet but wonderful. The comparison is even stronger when crossing any of the Colombia river bridges.

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The lofty temperatures have kids running through the Salmon Street Spring fountains…

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…and locals out in Pioneer Square playing chess.

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The city’s many statues look on, including Portlandia herself. 1878’s Miss Commerce, she is the second largest statue in the US after that brash New Yorker with her arsonistic tendencies.

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Even with some of the best restaurants in the North West, Portland is withholding yet another surprise…its humble food carts. From gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to delicate Korean dumplings, Da Nang pork sandwiches and soft shell crab subs, all tastes are satiated here.

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And if you want to indulge in a beer en plein air, ditch the motor.

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Only in Portland.

When it is finally time to leave the city, I have to be wrenched from its clutches.

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Portland Oregon, you have my heart.

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And the soundtrack was:
The Kinks ‘Apeman’
Talkdemonic ‘City Sleep’
Portugal, The Man ‘In The Mountain, In The Cloud’
Oxford Collapse ‘Remember The Night Parties’
The Shins ‘Oh Inverted World’
Maximo Park ‘A Certain Trigger’
Pavement ‘Brighten The Corners’
Daughter ‘Youth’

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