Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Meaningless Travel Guide to the Greatest City in America (Not Counting New York, San Francisco, and Plains, Georgia): Yes, It's Portland, Oregon

One of my many great Facebook friends is a Dutch writer, Richard de Nooy. We've never met, but we seem to have the same sick sense of humor. A few months back Richard asked me to answer some questions on his humorous KLM travelblog about Portland, Oregon where I live most of the time now.

Richard's blog is widely read in the Netherlands and other flat places. The whole online interview is here:

Best place to kiss someone in Portland for the first time?
On the mouth. They have those in Portland, too. If that answer is too esoteric, may I recommend Washington Park overlooking the city and our two snow-capped volcanoes in the distance? Or how about the strikingly beautiful Colombia Gorge, just 45 minutes away where you find small waterfalls, hiking trails, and the odd bobcat? For city people, I'll recommend the hippie cafes where Portlanders love inhaling herb tea and eat tofu sandwiches with organic bean sprouts until they fart.

Anna Bannana's on NW 21 & Northrup and The Pied Cow on SE Belmont & 33 are great places if you aren't right in the head. Paradox, a few blocks south on Belmont, is wonderful for healthy hippie food. Portland is fun and weird. Fred Armisen and Connie Brownstein's TV-comedy about the city, Portlandia is right on.

Best place to take your 70-year-old mother-in-law?
Your grandmother will absolutely adore The Chinese Garden downtown which supposedly is the most authentic in the world outside of Asia. It's beautiful in a non-threatening Mah-Jong-kind-of-way and has a nice pond, so you can push her in as well.

Best place to take your 12-year-old twins, Beelzebub and Bodicaea?
Beelzebub will absolutely enjoy the strip clubs, Bodicaea not so much.

What surprised you most about Portland and Oregon?
How friendly everybody is. This is far cry from New York and Chicago where people will be happy to maim you. In Portland people are generous in traffic; they even smile at you to the point of insanity. Portland is an awesome place to take advantage of strangers. Some people claim that Portlanders are passive-aggressive, but then again so are most poodles.

Another great thing about PDX is that it's a city of rebels and so-called left wingers. (In the US, everybody with a hint of social consciousness is considered Far Left). George Bush the Elder, bless his arthritis, called Portland for "Little Beirut" because of its dislike for Republican Riff-Raff - you can't get a bigger compliment than that.

What should change in Portland and Oregon?
The weather. It's a soft core version of Denmark and Holland. Apart from July, August, and September, it rains way too much. Seattle is even worse, which makes us all feel a lot better.

What should we definitely see/avoid?
Every book lover has to go to Powell's downtown, a city block of books, the largest book store west of the Rockies. It's a fantastic but dangerous place. You walk in thinking you'll buy some Ken Follet and come out with a truckload of Dostoevsky. Powell's even has a Danish and a Dutch section where we can buy books in our own ugly languages. And best of all, you can take any book and bring it down to the cafe and read it for free if you're a cheapskate.

Why is Portland called the Rose City?
Because it has one or two rose gardens that it's nauseatingly proud of - plus a cheesy parade. Rose City is a ridiculous name. It makes a s much sense as Utrecht calling itself The City of Crocodiles after buying 12 alligators in Florida.

But do visit Portland, the 23. biggest city in the US. America doesn't get much better than here. And you'll definitely find your share of benign weirdos, funky food carts, and radicals who will recycle your toilet paper in this West Coast metropolis where every barista you meet is an artist.