Archive for May 31, 2011

A Day in Portland

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

I have already written about our first half-day in Portland, last Friday. Now I’ll go over the highlights of our one full day there, Saturday.

1. Heathman Restaurant. We couldn’t get in the night before, but no problem Saturday morning. We had a fine breakfast. Then we headed up to the room and got ready for our outing.

2. Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. We drove up to the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, which includes the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District, and parked just a block up from the center. It opened at 11:00 and we were there a few minutes early. At 11:00, we headed in. There’s an on-going exhibit, Oregon Nikkei: Reflections of an American Community, that we were enjoying when a guide came up to us and asked if we’d been to the center before. Once we said no, she began to give us a tour. This was a mixed blessing, given that the exhibit itself seemed up to that point to be extremely well laid out, with excellent explanations of the photos and objects. She raced us ahead, not allowing us to absorb all the items, but she also had much to say that was of interest. Then another group walked in and she dropped us in mid-sentence. Fair enough. By that point, we were on the threshold of the exhibit we had come to see, a temporary exhibit scheduled to end a day later, Taken: FBI.

The exhibit is no longer listed online at the Center’s website. Too bad. Here’s a series of photos someone has posted. It was a small exhibit, focusing on a handful of the men and one woman who were rounded up by the FBI on December 7, 1941. Some of the relevant background is laid out in a series of signs as one enters the exhibit, the key point being that already in the 1930s, Roosevelt gave the FBI permission to start collecting information on Japanese Americans, so they would know who to pick up first if war came. Mind you, the people to round up were not dangerous. They weren’t spies, or collaborators. They were simply successful members of the community, community leaders. Those focused on in the exhibit led exemplary lives. Extraordinary lives even. As you read about how each of them lived before the war, and how they tried to restore their lives afterwards, the message of national madness, irrationality, and hysteria comes through clearly.

How could it happen? Well, the exhibit takes pains to remind the reader of the racial stereotyping taken for granted 70 years ago, not that that justifies anything. Only in the final exhibit signage is it hinted that we really haven’t advanced all that far, as we continue to narrow the rights of certain ethnic groups in response to war, a war we now find ourselves in that by definition will never end. And indeed we seem willingly to take away everybody’s rights. Witness last week’s extension of the Patriot Act.

But back to the internment of Japanese Americans. Just a week before our tour, the acting solicitor general of the US, Neal Katyal, wrote about errors made by his office at the time of Pearl Harbor.

The Ringle Report, from the Office of Naval Intelligence, found that only a small percentage of Japanese Americans posed a potential security threat, and that the most dangerous were already known or in custody. But the Solicitor General did not inform the Court of the report, despite warnings from Department of Justice attorneys that failing to alert the Court “might approximate the suppression of evidence.” Instead, he argued that it was impossible to segregate loyal Japanese Americans from disloyal ones. Nor did he inform the Court that a key set of allegations used to justify the internment, that Japanese Americans were using radio transmitters to communicate with enemy submarines off the West Coast, had been discredited by the FBI and FCC. And to make matters worse, he relied on gross generalizations about Japanese Americans, such as that they were disloyal and motivated by “racial solidarity.”

See also the LA times editorial on this last Friday.

3. Japanese American Historical Plaza. From the center, we walked two blocks over to the Willamette River to see the Japanese American Historical Plaza, a part of Portland’s Waterfront Park. As the park site explains, “On August 3, 1990, the Japanese American Historical Plaza was dedicated to the memory of those who were deported to inland internment camps during World War II. In the memorial garden, artwork tells the story of the Japanese people in the Northwest – of immigration, elderly immigrants, native-born Japanese Americans, soldiers who fought in US military services during the war, and the business people who worked hard and had hope for the children of the future. A sculpture by Jim Gion, Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, also graces the plaza.”

We walked around, read the poetry on the stones, took in the atmosphere, examined the Gion sculpture. Most people milling around were overflow from Portland’s Saturday Market , which was in full swing just south of the plaza. We’d gladly have checked it out, but time was running out on our parking meter, and we had to get on with our plans. We could easily have spent the full day in Portland. Or we could have spent the day visiting wineries. We had decided to try to squeeze both in, and it was time to head out of town for our one winery visit.

4. Red Curry Thai Restaurant. We weren’t looking to eat Thai food. All we wanted to do was drive out past Beaverton to Ponzi Vineyards, where we thought we might hook up with our niece Leigh Anne. But when we were on the highway headed out to Beaverton, she texted us that she was a ways out, so once we got off the highway, we decided to stop at the first reasonable restaurant to eat lunch and kill time. The first reasonable restaurant turned out to be Red Curry. In fact, it was the first restaurant period. Just past the exit was a new strip mall. We turned in, found a 7-11, an Indian food market, and Red Curry. It didn’t look like much as we drove past. It’s extremely narrow, though deep, and we couldn’t see much. Once we walked in, we found it to be surprisingly elegant. I see now that it’s been open only two months. The reviews at urbanspoon that I’ve just been looking at sum it up well: “A very nice, elegant Thai restaurant in the ‘burbs! Nice decor and tasty menu!” “Don’t let the small store front fool you. They did a very good job decorating the place. The food can rival some of the better Thai restaurants.” “just the best food ever. … a fantastic meal. Service was very gracious. Decor is way above caliber for a restaurant in an office park.” We weren’t looking for much, but we had an excellent meal.

5. Ponzi Vineyards. Why Ponzi? No good reason, but there were reasons: (i) It must be the single closest winery to downtown Portland. As one heads west, past housing developments, one crosses Roy Rogers Road and all the development ends. I missed it, but Gail says there’s a sign saying you’ve entered an agricultural district. And moments later, there’s a turn down a small road that deadends at the winery entrance. (ii) The hotel gave us a card for a free tasting for two. Not that the tasting would have been so expensive. But we decided to take advantage.

The tasting room was crowded, and became even more so while we did our business. They start everyone off with a free tasting of their pinot gris. Then one can get a three-wine flight for $10. This is what our card entitled us to for free, so we took it. A rosé, a white, a red. I think they call their first one their rosato. Next was their new release arneis, which we were told would be sold out within the week. And then their lower end pinot noir. From there we could pay another $5 for their pinot noir reserve and $2 for their dessert wine, the gelato. We tried them. Then we asked how the reserve compared to the next level up in their pinot noirs, which was not available for tasting. She did pull from somewhere a chardonnay for us to taste unasked. And then we proceeded to choose wines to make up a case, with the 15% case discount. Four of the gelato, a few of the higher end pinot noirs, three of the arneis, a chardonnay, another white. Now we have some tasting to do.

6. Japanese Garden. We never did meet up with our niece. It was time to head back to Portland so we could visit the famed Japanese Garden. First we had to find it. I knew it was in Washington Park, just above downtown. I suspected we could get off US 26 at the zoo exit before reaching downtown, on the assumption that the zoo is in Washington Park, and then drive around until we found the garden. But I didn’t trust my suspicion. Or listen to Gail’s advice to take Canyon Road, the next exit. Instead, we drove right into downtown, back out to the park, but entered the park on a road that bypasses everything and puts you right back onto US 26 heading out of town. At that point, when the zoo exit appeared again, I took it. This had the benefit that we did in fact get to drive through much of the park and see what it has to offer. The zoo. The children’s museum. The world forestry center discovery museum. The arboretum. Holocaust and Vietnam memorials. The famous rose garden. And finally, the Japanese Garden. We couldn’t find parking, and suddenly we were right out of the park, into a fancy residential neighborhood that looks down from the hills to downtown.

We parked, walked back to the shuttle stop, took the shuttle up the steep hill to the garden entrance, paid our $9.50 apiece, got a map, and entered. Map in hand, we followed the suggested route and saw many of the sights. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the amazing view that would have awaited us on another day of Mount Hood, sitting above the city. We never did see Mount Hood. It was quite a weekend of weather, with showers, hailstorms, sun, rain, but never views of the Cascades. And our time in the garden was probably the hottest, sunniest time of the entire trip. Highlights? Gosh. It’s all really quite lovely. I’d like to go again earlier in the day. We were near our limit in terms of taking in new sights by the time we got there.

We walked down the hill to the tennis courts, considered going down below the courts to the rose garden, but decided instead to call it a day. Minutes later, we were back in the Heathman.

7. Lacrosse. This was Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that means I’m watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship semifinals. I wrote last week about the earlier rounds. We had already missed the first semifinal, in which Denver’s historic ride came to an end against Virginia, 14 to 8. But we were in our room in time to pick up the Maryland-Duke semifinal. Maryland won an amazingly low scoring game, 6-3. Time for dinner.

8. Pearl District. We headed up to the Pearl District, anticipating a meal at one of Portland’s renowned brew pubs. Alas, when we got to Deschutes, we were looking at a one-hour wait. We headed back to Henry’s Tavern, which sits within the old Blitz-Weinhard Brewery building. The doorman had warned us didn’t have the greatest food, though it did have the largest beer selection. And the wait was only 15 minutes. Soon we were seated. What we didn’t know was that we would then have a 40 minute wait for our appetizer, hummus and bread, which Gail wasn’t convinced we even needed. And 3 minutes later, our dinner came. A fiasco. The waitress apologized, I suggested we needed more than an apology, she said yes, of course, the manager already knew and would be coming to discuss adjustments. When the manager did come, she told us several tables had the same problem. The bread, it turns out, is really a thin pizza, essentially, with herbs but no toppings, and the pizza guy somehow flaked out. She assured us we wouldn’t have to pay for it, and we could have dessert on the house, which we did. Not the best experience. What can you do? Maybe next time we should wait at Deschutes.

9. Hotel. We had anticipated wandering through Powell’s Books after dinner, it being just the next block over. But dinner was so long that we were ready to call it an evening. We headed back to the hotel and our day came to an end.

Categories: Food, Garden, History, Travel, Wine

Portland Art Museum and Tony

May 31, 2011 1 comment

I wrote Thursday night about how, in getting ready for our Friday-Sunday trip to Portland, I looked up what was going on at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. I discovered that the center has several components, the principal one being the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, which abuts the Heathman Hotel, where we would be staying. The hall seats 2776 and is home to the Oregon Symphony, which gets a rave review from Alex Ross in the latest New Yorker for their recent appearance in Carnegie Hall.

I thought maybe we could see them, but they weren’t performing this past weekend, at least not in Portland. Instead, the symphony was sponsoring a special appearance by Tony Bennett and his band. After consulting with Gail, I bought tickets. There were no pairs together on the main floor, so we checked in the balcony and got the last two seats in the dress circle, which consists of the first four balcony rows. (As we would discover, they hang down below the level at which one enters the balcony. The rest of the balcony seating rises way above the entry level.) I had never thought I would go out of my way to see Tony Bennett, but this didn’t qualify as out of the way. All we would have to do was walk next door from our hotel. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got.

Friday, we pulled out around 11 AM and headed south, stopping for lunch in Centralia and arriving at the hotel around 2:45. The Portland Art Museum is just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Once we were unpacked and settled, we headed over. The museum has an older building and a 2005 addition, connected underground. We wasted a few minutes figuring out how to get around, but eventually worked our way through the underground passage to the new building. I think we might have proceeded differently if we took even a moment to look at the map the receptionist handed me. The old building houses the older art — Asian, Native American, American and more — but we found ourselves embedded among the newer art, from a modest display of impressionists on to contemporary artists. An enthusiastic guard urged us to take the elevator to the top and work our way down, which we dutifully did, but which had the consequence that we viewed the art in reverse chronological order.

Highlights? Let’s see. Among many, a 1981 George Segal sculpture, Helen with Apples, that I can’t seem to get a decent image of from their online catalog. A Roy Lichtenstein Goldfish Bowl that I can’t find an image of. A large 2010 piece by Anselm Kiefer, Entrance to Paradise, that dominates the basement passageway between buildings. This seems to be on loan from Eli Broad. I can’t find an image of it either at the museum site or the Broad Foundation site. Oh well. Maybe I should move on. One more thing. There was an excellent selection of photos from the Fae Heath Batten Photography Bequest.

We headed back to the hotel. It was 5:30 by then, with Tony starting at 7:30, so we had to figure out a dinner plan. Just get room service? Go down to the hotel restaurant? We decided to go down, got changed first, and then headed to the lobby. To our alarm, but not surprisingly, what with those 2776 people due to descend on adjacent Arlene Schnitzer Hall within the hour, all the hotel eateries were packed — restaurant, bar, lounge. It was hopeless. We decided to retreat to our room for room service. As we waited for the elevator in the library, Gail nudged me. I couldn’t figure out why. The elevator door had opened, but a couple was coming out and I couldn’t very well run over the couple standing in front of us who were also waiting to get on. I looked at Gail in puzzlement. Then the couple blocking our way moved on to the elevator and we followed. Suddenly I knew what the nudge was for. The door shut and there we were, sharing the elevator with Tony Bennett and his wife. I said hi, he said hi back, we ascended. We had 8 pushed. They had 9. Do I make conversation? Leave them in peace? We chose silence. Then, as we reached 8, Tony wished us a good evening and I reciprocated. If I didn’t know it was him — if moreover I hadn’t checked concert events the night before and had no idea he was in town — I would have known the moment he spoke to us. There was no mistaking that voice.

I proceeded to spend the next few minutes imagining all the missed opportunities, all the comments I could have made, like that we were definitely going to have a good evening, we were going to hear my favorite singer. Maybe it’s just as well we didn’t make a fuss.

After dinner, we walked over to the concert hall and took our seats. Just after 7:30, the lights went out and the band came on: Lee Musiker on piano, Gray Sargent guitar, Harold Jones drums, Marshall Wood bass. A voice over the PA system then asked us to welcome Antonia Bennett, Tony’s daughter. That was a surprise, and not an entirely welcome one, especially because we had no clue how much of the program she would occupy. Four songs, as it turned out. She was okay, but nothing special. On the other hand, the band was fabulous. She thanked us after the fourth song, headed off stage, and Tony came on. I can’t imagine a more receptive (or older) audience.

The rest was pure magic. Okay, so, he’s 84. His voice is fading. His stamina too, no doubt. But he sure knows how to pace himself, how to entertain us, how to put on a show. For many songs, he would barely sing, which is to say, he changed pitch a little, but it was as much talking as singing. That voice, though. And the band. It worked. He would sing quietly, the band would play at just the right level to ensure audibility, then perhaps he’d hit a climax and shout out three words, leading into a musical interlude during which they cranked it up, and just as quickly they’d settle down and he’d sing softly for the rest of the song. Add in a few well timed twirls, a few steps, and he had us in his hands. Antonia came out once for a duet with her father of Sondheim’s Smile. He wove in some of the expected songs: The Way You Look Tonight, The Best is Yet To Come, I Left My Heart in San Francisco. And for his final encore, he talked to us about how this hall, this intimate setting, is where he likes to perform, not arenas or TV shows to millions. (It turns out that he was on TV just the night before, on American Idol.) He then asked the tech to shut down his microphone, and he closed with an unmiked performance of Fly Me to the Moon. I didn’t really think a concert hall that seats 2776 was quite the level of intimacy he had in mind, though it sure beat a sports arena, and he was indeed audible. Hearing him unmiked was a splendid way to end the evening. We walked out grinning, in awe of his consummate professionalism. If he makes it to Seattle, I will happily hear him again.

Categories: Art, Museums, Music, Travel