In Which I Act Like I Invented Portland
Although life has been beddy, beddy good to me, the last month has tested my fortitude. Men with scalpels hacked at my husband’s Special Softies; rain on top of snow turned the immediate world to ice; Niblet was diagnosed with shingles; I have—ewww!–ringworm; and our fish is depressed. Of late, I have felt that the house should be dipped in Lysol, a helicopter should aggressively spread sand across the fair hamlet of Duluth, and my open mouth should be sprinkled liberally and repeatedly with vodka.
In short, I’m ready to see a tulip already. But the first tulip is a couple of dark-mooded months away yet.
Thus, our trip to Portland these last four days, under the auspices of my attending a conference, provided just the boost my fragile spirits needed. I was so excited to get out of Minnesota that I had to exclaim upon arriving in Oregon (as though I haven’t already been to Portland at least ten times in my life), “Kick my Auntie Mame, but they have rivers and grey skies here! How thrilling! We don’t have rivers and grey skies where I live! Such rare sensoral stimuli are causing within me a cultural awakening!!”
Oh, all right. We sometimes have skies of grey in the Midwest, roughly 274 days a year, and we have some river things, too (they connect all 10,000 lakes so that the kids in the state can go on an extended flume ride, starting at the Canadian border and ending with a crash in Iowa. Kind of like Buddy Holly).
But what we don’t have is this:
–The hot chocolate at Sahagun Chocolates.
I am someone who has 65% cocoa running through her veins. I wear rosewater truffles for earrings. I sport Dagoba flip-flops. I shoot Ghirardelli chocolate chip bullets from my Colt revolver. Honeypies? I know my chocolate.
However and Holy Willy Wonka, but I’ve never had a chocolate experience that equals the hot chocolate at Sahugun, and I’m not really someone who orders hot chocolate, as a rule. At Sahugun, they take single-source chocolate, melt it, toss in some hormone-free milk, and hand blend in some angel wings and cocaine, with the end result being a drink that caused Groomeo to lick his empty cup in a fashion that made me holler at him to take it to the bedroom.
It’s so good, it’d be like if it were 1984 and Journey lead singer Steve Perry decided to take the Howard Jones song “What Is Love” and turn it into a hair metal ballad, a beautiful and soaring cover that would make you cry so hard at the laser light show in your hometown that you’d have to wipe away your tears with the “party-in-back” section of your mullet.
Indeed, this hot chocolate is a total mullet wiper.
–An elegant boite called Ten 01.
Normally a bit spendy, this place offers a prix fixe lunch of three courses for $15. As a side-benefit, the cutie waiter will write out a list of the best local breweries, and not just because he wants a huge tip but more because he really wants you to go to his favorite place, where you can buy a replacement bike tube while you order your coal-black porter.
–The Hoyt Arboretum.
This is where they keep their paths.
Hey, so there’s an arboretum, too, at the college I went to. Unfortunately, they didn’t put a bar in the arboretum, so I was never motivated to find them trees out there in that place. In fact, it was Groom who showed me my college’s arb a few years ago. What a pretty place, even without rum and Cokes in it. The Portland arb is lovely as well, although I think it would be outright gorgeous if it had gin and tonics under the hemlocks.
–A shop called Voodoo Donut.
Yea, so okay, first off, I live in a city with no doughnut shop.
Portland, however, being a civilized place that understands the beauty of a good glaze, has an awesome punk-vibed shop that turns out whimsical concoctions, like ice-cream-cone-shaped doughnuts and doughnuts with Captain Crunch on top and maple-iced Long Johns bedecked with bacon.
And if you fall in love with that bacon—who wouldn’t?—you can marry it on site in the wedding chapel.
–The crispy and cracker-thin crust at Pizza Schmizza.
Sometimes, if it’s rainy and foggy, and your husband has a blister on the bottom of his foot, it’s a particular delight to limp across the street and suck on warm cheese.
–An import store covering a square block.
Wee Niblet, in addition to being a fan of Julia Child and This Old House, also loves Japanese and Chinese culture. When he heard Portland has a Chinatown, he expressed a Large Kindergartener Hope that he would get something dragonish from that place. Sadly, the reality is that Portland’s Chinatown is more a remnant of a district, and all the dragons and chopsticks have been vanquished, save for a few that live on shelves in the dreamy warehouse store called Cargo. Now we have paper lanterns, a fierce pleated dragon, a porcelain pagoda set, and some prayer flags (which we may hang on our gargantuan compost bins, just in case the neighborhood had any lingering questions about our level of boho crunchiness). If we had $42,000 more dollars in our travel budget, we’d have toted home the rest of the joint in our carry-ons. Er, carrys-on.
–Uno caffe Italiano autentico.
We happened upon the Caffe Umbria at approximately yawn o’clock, at just the moment when we were ready to dip our creepily long pinky nails into some ground espresso beans and rub the grit into our gums. Fortuitously, the Umbria took that notion and packaged it with froth and crema and drowned our dopies with doppio.
Sweet Basil has an elegant feel to it, and the food was plenty fine, but its outstanding feature was a tight-bunned waiter who skittered about dramatically, giving the impression he could barely take an order because he had so many buttons to push on the cash register as he settled the bills of other patrons. After tapping 72 beeping buttons, he would dash off to another table, breathlessly deliver an appetizer, and then hustle back to punch another 48 buttons on the register. The thing is, there were only 8 people, total, in the restaurant. I imagine, with that kind of efficiency, it takes him half an hour to zip his fly.
—A pub theater that gave us the best Oscars watching ever.
Admission was free, beer was tastily brewed, and the screen was huge. When a screen is that ginorm, and you’re sitting smack in front of it, you damn well better believe you’re going to cry and massage the crick in your neck enthusiastically when Shirley Maclaine comes on stage to pay tribute to a Best Actress nominee. Or maybe you’re just crying at the sight of Sophia Loren’s horrifying facelift as it’s pummeled into your every pore.
–Entire parking lots full of food carts selling ethnic delights.
Bento boxes + Pho + Tacos + Crepes = Jocelyn taking her pulse.
–A nearby outpost of Anthropologie, a store that makes me exclaim loudly to Groom, “I need to go in there right now and hug the clothes. If you try to stop me, I will push you down. Slowly, now, love: step away from the Jocelyn.”
–A place described to us by the hotel concierge as “organic” and “very committed to local food”–yet it managed to be low-key and unpretentious.
We dithered about a bit before heading to Veritable Quandary on our last evening, but ultimately, the choice was a good one, for it gave me a chance to sink my face into a melts-like-butter short rib while my beau cut into a poached egg atop a salad.
Oh, yea, and there was really thick, smoky bacon. You might have an inkling how I feel about bacon.
Finding ourselves quite moved, we both spontaneously made out with the waitress during the course of the evening.
Sometimes a meal is so good that a special gratuity is in order.
Now we’re home. I’ve wiped the spittle off my lips, done heaps of laundry, gotten back into the homework grind with the kids, and continued to apply anti-fungal cream.
Even without a hint of sun, everything seems a little brighter than it did four days ago.
Then again, I have this new hive-rash-crusty thing that’s popped up on my sternum.
Nothing a trip to Taos couldn’t fix.