Tuesday, September 15, 2009

#1 Highlight of Trip to Portland


There are certain scenes from my childhood reading that remain indelibly etched in the crevices of my brain. With the smallest provocation they can be recalled clearly and tangibly, overshadowing the mundane moments of my actual childhood. Many, many of those moments can be claimed as a companion to the Klickitat gang - Henry, Beezes, and Ramona.

I remember when Henry brought Ribsy home. As awkward as the situation was, I agreed it was worth the trouble he went through to get such a fine and dandy dog.

I remember Beezes’ chagrin at being called an embarrassing and blasphemous name by obnoxious boys, and the humiliation of having her little sister rush to her defense.

Mostly I lived and suffered with Ramona. We were always a little too loud. We were often misunderstood by adults who seemed to applaud good manners before good intentions. We were never able to stay quite as clean as the other girls. And we never, ever were to have hair that spiraled in tantalizing boing-boing curls.

Klickitat Street and its environs felt so like the streets I rambled about as a grade-schooler, I was thoroughly shocked to find that right in the middle of Portland Oregon they actually existed. A few years ago when my sister first clued me into this astonishing fact it was like finding out I could go to the back of my closet and run into a goatman.

It should be no surprise that when this visit was discussed, a plan was devised to set aside a day to invade the current avenues, shops, parks, schoolyards, and haunts of the famed neighborhood. In search of a fictional past made ever relevant through the magical pen of the Queen of realistic childhood fiction. We were armed with The Beverly Cleary Handbook, which lays out in pictorial accuracy, various locations where scenes from her books took place. As you may have noticed this helpful piece of literature was not titled The Beverly Cleary Stalker’s Handbook. In what I assume was a stab at protecting the current residence of some of the private homes, street names were given but no actual addresses. Never fear, we are very good detectives, and with a crime scene investigator’s ability to scrutinize the growth patterns of landscaping over the ensuing years, we were able to deduce the current location of several of the homes listed. Our other useful tool was a pamphlet produced by the Multnomah County Library system. We picked it up at the Hollywood Library, which would have been the Quimby’s neighborhood library if it had existed at the time Ramona was looking for her steam shovel books. The Beverly Cleary’s Neighborhood pamphlet was dead useful in ferreting out various destinations in our quest to “dork-out” in Kid Lit nostalgia. OK, so the map is really not to scale, but we were intrepid and undaunted.

It is an old dictum that a writer should write what she knows. A dictum that was not lost on Mrs. Beverly Cleary. Her fictional children ran about the same streets she had as a child. Want proof? According to the above resources these two houses were former homes of little Beverly. I wonder how often the current residences wake up in the mornings only to find Cleary voyeurs out their window? (If said current residences should happen to stumble across this blatant exploitation of their homes, my humble apologies.)

As I mentioned above, the current neighborhood library did not exisist at the time Beezes took Ramona to get her first library card.

Although you can no longer find a copy of Big Steve the Steam Shovel at the Rose City Library (Glenwood Branch Library), you can get a scrumptious croissant in it's current incarnation.

Remember the great night-crawler escapade - when Henry, in order to earn enough money to buy a football, spends long hours into the dark doing his best to empty Grant Street Park’s lawn of worms?

Here is that very park on a hot August day 60 years after Henry first wrangled those squirmy little money-makers.

Several years ago, the city’s park department immortalized Mrs. Cleary’s beloved characters in the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, located in the upper corner of Grant Street Park. Ramona and Ribsy and the small fry of Portland will perpetually frolic in the fountains on hot summer days as Henry looks on from a safe dry distance.

That's what new boots were for - showing off, wading, splashing, stamping (Ramona the Pest)

"Jeepers I don't know what this neighborhood would have done without Ribsy," said Beezes (Henry Huggins)

This next shot made me ridiculously happy.

You may wonder why the parking lot of a ubiquitous grocery store would give me chills, and cause little pin-pricks of moisture to sting my eyes? If I were to show you this next picture and explain that this brick building is the former Fernwood School (Glenwood School), currently sporting the name of Beverly Cleary Fernwood Campus - the place where Henry was covered in green paint, saving him from the fate of playing the bekissed Little Boy - the place where Ramona met her dear Miss Biney - the place where Ramona set justice to rights by scrunching Susan’s copycat owl. Now do you understand the significance of the nearby grocery store parking lot?

Think back to that very spot, long before the current franchise, or its many predecessors, was in existence. Back when workmen and their big machines were hard at work churning the landscape in preparation to build the new shopping center. Back to the rainy day when Ramona, finally in her shiny red, girl boots, discovered on her way to school the unpaved parking lot void of construction workers, but full of “the best mud, muddiest mud, the most tempting mud Ramona had ever seen.” She was warned not to venture in. Did she heed the warning? No she did not.

Stuck up to the tops of her glorious new boots, she fantasized on possible means of extraction.

(This is possibly my favorite illustration of all time)

Only to be rescued by a disgruntled crossing guard, one Henry Huggins. Upon being brought back to safety Ramona swears her undying love to her rescuer and promises to marry him.

I read this chapter from Ramona the Pest every Valentine’s day to my fourth graders. It never fails to captivate these kids that showed up more than 50 years after Ramona and Henry first showed up on Klickitat Street.

I realize that to many of you the stories of Henry, Ramona and the rest are just that - stories. I, who have now seen tangible proof, have little doubt that somewhere out there Beverly Cleary kids are alive and well. They will always be relevant not only to a middle-aged librarian who may perhaps spend too much time rewriting her own childhood, but to the young readers of today. After-all every child knows that new boots are “not for keeping your feet dry, but to show off.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

#2 - Highlight of Trip to Portland

Brought to you in Haiku
Stand on Holy Ground
Sacred to Book Addicts All
The Temple of Powell's

If this massive bookstore presiding in downtown Portland, with all of its gastronomic and cultural allures, were to be situated in a cornfield in Iowa, miles from any other touristy delights, it would still be worth a multiple day car-trip in a decrepit vehicle, with only mediocre hamburger stands available to stave off starvation. I have spent days sharing the many attractions in visiting The City of Roses, both personal and universal. Let us not delude ourselves for one moment that there wasn’t one destination, and one destination only, that this fanatic of all things bound in ink and paper, had focused and fixed in her sights.

The opportunity to walk into a bookstore roughly the size of a small village, with its towering shelves, loaded with the wisdom of the ages, and the delights of the most fanciful and creative minds of all generations, is like overdosing on an addictive substance that has hitherto been meted out only in responsible doses. I have to confess, that of the number of times I have been inside Powell's, I have spent 99% of my time in one section, and one section only: The section that has an aisle labeled Klickitat Street, the section that has diminutive furniture that only allows one portion of my seating implement, the section that does not require a reading ability over 12-years-old. When I go I really plan to visit other floors and venues, but really there is no need. The youth section, AKA the Rose Room, is an intoxicating mix of variety, (oh so many choices), and juicy bargains. My principal and I have an understanding that if I ever have the opportunity to walk into this pantheon of excess I will be spending a portion of my budget before I find the exit.

The picture book section is nothing if not enchanting. It is a mix of the new, the recent, and the classic. My sister claims that preceding our visit during the week of humidity, there was a much more trying week on the temperature front. I’m not sure she has me convinced it was worse than what we lived through, but she did pass on this delightful antidote. During the fabled heat wave the unair-conditioned were forced to flee to venues that would lend them aid and comfort in the form of electrically cooled air. Movie theaters and libraries became popular hang-outs. During this time she managed a visit to Powell’s. When she walked into the picture book section she was greeted with the heart-warming, and slightly troubling, sight of countless parents and their children sprawled about the picture book room, sharing the love of reading in cool comfort. She compared it to news footage of refugee camps on the borders of war-torn countries. If I ever need to flee for my safety I want a room full of luscious reading at the other end.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

#3 Highlight of Trip to Portland

The Chance be Fed by, and Dork-Out
with My Little Sister
WARNING: overly sentimentally personal and more food talk

Born ten years apart, at either end of six siblings, it took many years into our adulthood, for my younger sister and me to discover that our DNA helixes stored a frightening amount of identical code. Being a fully functional 10-years-old when she joined our family, I alternately found her delightful, adorable, insufferable, and annoying, and then I left home to be grown-up. At some point in our infrequent reunions we discovered we had the same taste in movies, literature, and to our mother’s horror, political leanings. We had both inherited our mother’s love of cooking, and shared the family trait of obsessing over whatever might be leading us by the nose at the moment. She is the one person on this planet that can finish my sentences, and would know exactly what I am referring to given the less and concrete, “Remember the time, we were at the place, and the thing, did that thing with the other thing.” Portland, with all of its many allures, is only more delightful with such a resident.

As I mentioned before we both share a passion for cooking, although the younger of us took it to obsessive heights quite some time ago. In a desire to become proficient at making sublime cuisine from the best ingredients she could round up in her diminutive kitchen, she took the study of cooking to extremes, stopping just shy of cooking school. She has more cookbooks than the 641 section of my public library, although she claims to have culled them at some point in the recent past. If you are lucky enough to have her cook for you, you will wonder why we ever bothered to eat out while we were there. What she can do with her weekly share of fresh produce from her CSA, (community sponsored agriculture), a little olive oil, and preserved lemon, would make Nigela Lawson and Ina Garten sit up and take notice.

A few years ago, possibly after listening to me blather on and on about the wonders of my trade, she decided to go back to school and become a legitimate children’s librarian (unlike myself who merely feigns legitimacy); thus cementing our shared interests into something beyond the superficial to a deep and abiding obsession for the greater good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

#4 Highlight of Trip to Portland

Food Part 2

Imagine waking up every day and having the foods of the world at your beck and call all within a city block radius. If you were so inclined you would have the opportunity to breakfast in Europe, lunch in Eastern Asia, have a mid-day snack in South America and dine in the Middle East. Downtown Portland offers just such a wonderland. An entire city block, with some spillage onto a few side streets, is lined with food carts of almost every conceivable ethnicity. Say you have a hankering for falafel, but would rather include a side of sesame noodles rather than a cucumber salad, no problem just slide down a few carts, and why you are at it grab an empanada to round out the meal. I didn’t verify the fact, but I believe that every continent was represented. Well maybe not, I didn’t happen to see any Vegemite or Penguin offerings.

The tragedy was that we only had one afternoon to enjoy the cornucopia, limiting the experience to a frustrating few choices. If I never have the chance at a Vietnamese Banh Mi at some point in the near future my life will become a pale shadow of what it should be. And who would have thought those Bosnians could whip up such a tasty sandwich, spinach pie thingy. Yum.

I would like to know who I petition to get a Cartland installed in my Utah suburb? Within walking distance of my school, if you please.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

#5 Highlight of Trip to Portland

The Portland City tour of Matt Cartwright’s Whimsy and Function

As I mentioned before my Brother-in-law is an artist who rescues unwanted objects from wasting away their retirement years in the wasteland of the municipal landfill, and resurrects them into amazing and whimsical pieces of functional art. I also stated before Portland is a biker’s paradise; the type of biker that might require a secure object to attach his transportation vehicle to when it is not in use. Portland’s city streets are lined with utilitarian bike racks, most of the unmemorable type. But there is a growing trend for businesses to declare their personality through the type of hitching post they provide for their cycling clientele. Matt has a passionate interest in furthering the bicycling community of his city, both as a participant, and purveyor of utilitarian and aesthetically amusing paraphernalia to facilitate the cities mania. Not only are many of my favorite sculptures of his bicycle related, but most of the raw materials at use in them are the skeletons of former Schwinns and the like.

Mama bike waiting to suckle her young

Giant toothbrushes tied together with floss in front of a dentist's office

Yoga man bike rack

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

#6 Highlight of Trip to Portland

The Food, the Food, Oh-my-Sweet-Aunt-Agripa THE FOOD.

There is many a bragging point the city of Portland, Oregon can print up and wave about. If you visit you won’t need to pump your own gas nor pay sales tax. There are possibly more bicyclists than motorists. OK most likely not the last one but it sure feels like it when your GPS interpreter (yours truly), malfunctions and sends the Little White Van motoring off on unplanned side streets, which are infested with enough two-wheeled motorists to make a van driver feel like a Lane Bryant rep at an anorexic convention. But hands down the most enticing selling point of the city has to be its cuisine.

My baby sister, whom we were traveling to see, works at Toro Bravo one of hippest-happeningest restaurants about the town. As misfortune would have it she was forced to work the night of our arrival, obliging the weary travelers two, along with sculptor-boy Matt, to make the pilgrimage and partake of some of the most scrumptious Spanish fare, this side of Barcelona. No lie, on our first drive-by at about 8:00 PM the line was out the door and clogging the waiting area, AKA the sidewalk out front, on a Monday night no less - heretofore only seen in Utah at Outbacks and Olive Gardens, during the 5:00 rush. If you are ever lucky enough to visit, there is plenty of Tapas and Paella to tantalize any pallet, but don’t miss the Salt Cod Fritters with Aioli, or the Seared Scallops with Romesco, and if you have room for dessert the Molten Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream is a treat.

Toro Bravo also manages to keep the Kid Lit link alive by boasting prints from our favorite bovine Ferdinand the Bull on it's walls. No we didn't get our own pics, but they are there trust me.

Having a restaurant in the family did not stop us from hitting various other eateries about the city, by all means, no. Of the assorted establishments including Dim Sum and pastry shops galore the other stand out has to be Pok Pok, where Thai food breaks with the standard Americanized version of itself and materializes in the sublime. If you go order anything you like, but it is pretty much all about the fish-sauce-caramelized BBQ chicken wings. Oh if only they did mail order.

Never fear, this will not be the last you hear about food.