Bridges and Giants: A half-day in Portland

Growing up somewhere doesn’t mean you know it well. Actually, I’ve met adults who’ve lived in a place their entire lives and still don’t know much about it. I suppose some people just don’t care. Me, I was a kid in Portland. I grew up there, going where my parents took me. I could care less about old bridges and pretty buildings. Just bring on the ice cream (I still like ice cream). Though I spent a couple adult years at Portland State, even then my life was constrained by obligations of time and budget, so, though I walked a lot and did as much as I could, my mind was elsewhere and I certainly didn’t learn everything or see everything.

That’s a blessing now because I’m never bored. There’s always something new to see and do and learn.

Today I met a bridge that I’ve seen as part of the landscape and never really considered.

We had three objectives in going to Portland today.

  1. Drink a Sleeping Giant
  2. Buy red Hunter boots
  3. See Herbie Hancock

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The Sleeping Giant is a yummy coffee concoction made at the Bean and Tree where baristas brew up the local Stumptown coffees and decorate their tiny shop with eclectic art. On the walls an Oregon artist mounted boards covered in random objects. He put nails around the board and then wound colored wire from nail to nail. It was interesting, but what struck me was the little box of vintage black and white photos sitting near the window. Most of the photos were of Portland. I flipped through and found two that I loved, a street scene from 1920’s downtown and a view of this bridge.

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I thought aloud I should walk across it someday.

“You could do it now. It’s not very far.” The voice came from behind the shiny espresso machine.  (Way to stop procrastination in its tracks, Mr. Barista!) Ok, why not? It’s a quick walk and a coffee in hand makes any walk happier. There was some sort of gathering/protest thing going on in the lawn to our left that made the space a bit loud and slightly weird. It seemed to be a protest about everything from immigration to oils and random environmental issues attracting a few of the oddities behind the “Keep Portland Wierd” motto.

The Hawthorne Bridge, built in 1910, is the country’s oldest operating vertical lift bridge and one of Portland’s busiest. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and… it’s just pretty. There’s a walking path on either side and a biking path as well. The traffic is crazy, but it’s a lovely bridge to stroll across and enjoy with wide enough pedestrian space to feel safe even on the busier days.

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Tiara and I walked halfway across this old steel bridge, looking back to see the perspective between the bridge and waterfront trying to recreate the vintage photo I’d just bought.  The above shot is my first attempt. The perspective isn’t quite right. I think I needed to get farther across the bridge, but I was in a hurry (always a bad thing when it comes to creativity) and didn’t allow myself the time to play. Guess I have to go back?  Not a bad thing.

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Before heading to Pioneer Courthouse Square for those red rain boots, we stopped at McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside for a really delicious lunch. At the corner with large windows and a view of the harbor, the location defines class and relaxation. Though people were eating outside, it was just chilly enough for the sweater I didn’t bring, so I opted for inside in their spacious tiered dining room that allows for more tables to enjoy the view, conversation dreamily interrupted by those big windows and some really fantastic food. Lobster bisque, maple-glazed alder plank roasted salmon, loaded salads, creamy shrimp andouille pasta… I enjoyed my own meal and happily tried hand-out bites from others.

The boots. Hunters. Quick, easy, done. Almost too quickly as we ran in just as the store was closing. The shopping in and around the Pioneer Square is just amazing. Nordstrom and Starbucks sit just across from each other. A beautiful Banana Republic sits on the other side. And no sales tax. It’s a good thing we were short on time or I’d be a lot shorter on cash.

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Objectives 1 & 2 done, it was time for Herbie.

Herbie Hancock played tonight at 8 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall where I used to see symphony concerts regularly. It’s one of those places that just makes me happy no matter who’s playing. Ornate carvings and gold. It feels elegant and regal, like walking into a movie set where time stands still. Casual Portland brings out a diverse crowd. From too young to quite old, from sequins and velvet to denim and flannel, it doesn’t really matter here as long as your comfortable. I checked T’s hunters at coat check and we headed to the dress circle seats that my mom had splurged for. The view and sound from those seats is heavenly. (I didn’t know until days later that this concert hall I’ve loved began as a movie theater. It blows my mind to envision sitting in a place that opulent just to watch a movie – but then, movies were events once. Now while I prefer the comfort of my sofa and big screen, then it was a dress up affair – the red carpet nightly.)

Factual tidbit: Built in 1928 in the Italian Rococo Revival style, it served Portland as a vaudeville theater for two years before changing its name from the Portland Publix Theater to the Paramount. From then until the the 1970’s it was a movie house playing many Paramount films.  The well-known Portland sign we all love once said Paramount. During this time, ornate murals covered the walls. Now they’re neutral. After deteriorating over time, in 1976 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places and in the 1980’s it was restored both externally and internally. Known as the “Schnitz,” it’s named after the local woman who generously donated to its restoration.

So Herbie scared me at first. If you know Herbie’s music, you know that his career is ridiculously long which means that his range of style is older than me and as diverse as, well, Portland. He fits well here.

The first song in any jazz concert is usually long and varied and often one of those unrecognizable improvisations that enables each instrumentalist to show off a bit. This one was showy and LOUD and all over the map. Skill, yes, but could I sit through 2 hours of that? Not with my sanity in tact. Thankfully, I could listen to Herbie talk forever. He’s funny and mellow, the kind of guy I’d like to share a coffee with and just chat. The music calemd after that just enough that I could hear melodies and appreciate the complexities. He played with Sting’s drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the great guitarist I’m forgetting, and Lionel Loueke who soloed with a combination of singing from both his guitar and voice. I’ve never heard anything like it from either instrument.  Herbie warned us to watch him. “He pulls rabbits out of his hat. There will be rabbits bouncing all over this stage.” Yep. Lotsa rabbits.

I heard Fantasia (made more widely known by US3’s Flip Fantasia) which was cool since that’s a song I know and can appreciate.

Jazz is special. I think, like any art, the more you understand it, the more you can appreciate the complexities of it. Herbie’s a legend and tonight he played with others of equal talent. Four giants of jazz one one beautiful stage and I was happy to be there to hear and see it all.

The Heathman Hotel awaits show goers next door, it’s restaurant and bar open and ready. We sat in the lounge at a tiny table and each ordered a small snack and a drink. I had a cucumber lime cooler and the tuna poke, a Hawaiian raw fish salad. For dessert, we split the trio of Pot de Creme. I could eat here daily.  There was never even the slightest hesitation to return that fork back to my plate for more. Every bite- perfection.

I like this place though. It’s elegant and regal. Insanely tall floral arrangements fill over-sized vases in the center of the room. There’s opulence in every detail, but it’s not stuffy. Instead it feels like a living room where you can relax and stay a while, or at least until last call. This is where I thought my husband would propose. He must of known that because he waited (and made me anxiously wait too) until the beach later that week, years ago.

Oh I just love this city. There’s never enough time and we did feel that today with just three things to do, but food in between and that beautiful bridge. It was memory making time – more minutes with my girl before she has to fly – or until I have to fly back home and leave her here. (Lucky girl, sad me)

Mentioned in this post
  1. Bean and Tree
    Restaurant in Portland Oregon

    0315 SW Montgomery St
    Portland Oregon
  2. Hawthorne Bridge
    Portland Oregon
  3. Pioneer Courthouse Square
    Attraction in Portland Oregon

    715 SW Morrison St
    Portland Oregon
  4. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
    Attraction in Portland Oregon

    1037 SW Broadway
    Portland Oregon
    (503) 248-4335
    http://www.portland5.com/arlene-schnitzer-concert-hall
  5. The Heathman Hotel
    Hotel in Portland Oregon

    1001 SW Broadway
    Portland Oregon

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About Tiffany

I'm eclectic. Sometimes that's a good thing because I can do bits of everything. Sometimes it's aggravating because I get distracted by so many amazing things. Mostly, I love photography and family, travel and writing, cooking, reading, art, and coffee. Sundays are church days to regroup and refocus. God's in charge here.

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