Cultural Learnings


I live in a town with approximately 12783 really great places to eat. Most of them are comfortable, reasonably-priced, and apart from the occasional line-around-the-block-for-brunch scenario, they are welcoming and easy to access.  Even with all that being true, I tend to eat at one of the same dozen or so restaurants over and over and over.

I suppose it could be said I am a creature of habit, though I bridle at classifying myself that way since it seems to imply I am a stick in the mud with no sense of adventure. More, I think it is that by the time I want something to eat, my adventurousness is eclipsed by my need to be sure that what I am about to consume will be tasty and satisfying. This impulse can and is frequently overridden at the urging of almost any dining companion apart from my child who is even worse than I am when it comes to new food ideas.

It occurs to me that the best way to overcome this tendency is to schedule into my restaurant circuit the introduction of at least one new option per month. Considering how often I eat out, this would still represent a small fraction of the opportunities I could be taking. And though I think about doing this pretty regularly, it happens most often that I leave the house with good intentions, see the Casa Del Matador come into view and think, “Fuck it, I’m getting some flautas.”

This is also the pose I tend to adopt most when it comes to music. Though I know that both as a lover of the medium and an artist I should be listening to new material in the service of broadening my experience and inspiring my craft. For the first time in years, I can listen to music at work, which means I have hours every day where I can access streaming music in several formats. Not only do I function better with a melody in the background, I am afforded a huge swath of time in which I may now experiment with hearing new artists at my leisure. The trick here is not to get sucked into the Simon & Garfunkel vortex that is my Pandora…

To that end, last week I plugged The Head & The Heart into the algorithm to see what it would come up with. To the discovery of TH&TH – and many other favorites besides – I am forever indebted to friend Les. As much as her direct recommendations, the benefit of lazy post-run mornings at Naramore Acres listening to “College Rock” on her Direct TV feed has yielded a wealth of recent discoveries; Broods, Beach House, Goshen97, and James Bay to name just a few. I could just follow her around and discover new music with near constant success, but she is inconveniently located for such and I must content myself instead with a semi-monthly inundation instead.

Pandora, when presented with the morsel of my favorite band in recent memory, produced some stellar things in response. First to the plate was The Lone Bellow, which is perfectly characterized by the band as “Brooklyn Country” Though I’m vaguely irritated by their hipstertorian affectations, I have always been a fan of the kind of vocally driven, melodically opulent and emotive style they embrace. I was at first completely convinced that the vocalist was the lead singer from The Black Keys, but apparently he’s in The National (who I also love) instead. I probably listened to their track “Marietta” on repeat for about 4 days straight. Poor Hodie.

 

Why isn’t SHE wearing a vest?

 

Next in the mix was a band I had heard recommended on NPR, but failed to follow up on; a pair who performed under the name The Civil Wars. Her voice, utterly luminous coupled with lyrics that found an echoing place in my heart to take up residence. His musical presence lending foundation and nuance to places she could only light. Together they created some of the most compelling music I have heard in as long as I can recall. That they are no longer making music together is poignant in the way that only discovering a band after it has broken up can be. So much the better to cherish what is there to enjoy, I suppose.

 

If we never look at each other, maybe we can keep the band together a little longer…

 

Their EP “Bare Bones” is one of the most singularly nourishing experiences I have had musically in a good long time. Stripped down to acoustic essentials, this records is truly bare. Speaking for myself, it settled in under my skin. This music feels resonant and familiar and mine. Hozier had a similar effect on me, but what The Civil Wars made is so much exactly the kind of music I do and want to make I think it’s impact is naturally more profound.

Clementine came with me to Bend, and though I was so completely without my voice I wasn’t able to do the kind of songwriting I’ve felt inspired to, holding her in my hands and simply playing other music that touches me seems to have an electric effect. By opening myself to something out of the routine, I am confronted by new horizons within.

Too bad there isn’t a Pandora for restaurants…

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I hate reggae. I know I’ve mentioned this before (and quite recently) but it cannot really be overstated. Though raised by inveterate potheads, I was thankfully never subjected to the Caribbean Oom-pah music by my parents. They preferred Foreigner, The Scoprions, and Led Zeppelin, and for this I am eternally grateful.

It was not until I was romantically involved with another inveterate pothead – one who was incidentally raised in the Caribbean – that I spent more than a few minutes at a time listening to the inevitable Bob Marley song on whatever radio station happened to be on at the moment. Though I can’t say I enjoy the music any more than I ever did, I am forced to admit that listening closely to some of the things that Mr. Marley had to say made it clear to me why so many people were such devoted fans.

Bob Marley was, in my opinion, nothing less than a modern-day prophet.

I have heard this estimation before, and I make no claims to originality stating it here. That I dismissed it as the enthusiastic praise of permanently stoned was a function of my own bias rather than any evaluation of his message. Once I stood in the face of it, and let it sink in without the filter of my assumptions, I was moved to agree with the assessment wholeheartedly.

I know very little about his personal history, other than what I’ve absorbed through the cultural lexicon; he died young, advocated for peace and justice, and believed cannabis was a gift from Jah meant to liberate the minds and souls of man. That the last of these is his most prevalent legacy is something of a shame, because my own knee-jerk reaction to dismiss the source of the lesson without examining the lesson’s merit very closely mimics that of the mainstream cultural paradigm.

His words, stripped of all context, are luminous. His message is unwaveringly one of peace, compassion, understanding, and love. He acknowledges his own flaws and the glorious lovable imperfections we all possess with equanimity and grace. His pose is never that of preacher, but of humble apprentice vulnerable to the lessons life has to teach.

Much of what he offers has strong echoes of the words of Jesus, Buddha, Tich Nat Hanh, and many of those both wise and open-hearted. The fundamental belief is that we should extend ourselves to understand each other, to practice tolerance in all things, and acknowledge that we are each of us imperfect, glorious, and strong.

Situated as this message is, at the fringes of the larger collective consciousness, it is all too easy to dismiss as wishful thinking, romantic fantasy, or hippie-speak. Embedded in an art form I found personally unpalatable, it went entirely unnoticed until the right person insisted I pay heed to it despite my disposition. That wisdom can emerge from unexpected places has long been known to me; that I might have to look for it through a cloud of pot smoke and the sound of steel drums was a complete surprise.

I’d considered dragging the child out on a bike ride today but the weather wasn’t as dry as I was hoping. A slightly less risky endeavor was a shorter stroll with an excellent effort-to-reward ratio. Thus, Elk Rock Garden at Bishop’s Close.

As we got out of the car I felt compelled to mention we were entering the environs of the Episcopalians, and to explain just what an Episcopalian was (in brief: A Catholic with a mind of their own and proper measure of empathy)

What ensued was a delightful early spring stroll + theological discussion of great breadth and scope. I enjoyed it immensely and continue to be filled with wonder and pride at the nuanced curiosity and expansive compassion my daughter expresses at every turn. Between that and the flowers, I consider her sweetness far more lovely.

 

I love Christmas. I am not sure why, since I have literally had like three good ones ever, but I do; unreservedly, unabashedly, and wholeheartedly fucking love Christmas.

One would think, considering my natural cynicism and gloomery, that I would be inclined to adopt an attitude more closely echoed by the following:

 image

But, no! While it did give me a chuckle, I find my attitude toward the holiday season to be utterly in earnest; I revel in the shiny things, I make crafts to keep and give away,** I leave candy out in bowls and boxes scattered in my wake; undermining the most devout efforts at weight control. I basically ooze Christmas. It totally gets on everything.

In this vein I went out this weekend to tame the piney beast, and cut down my own tree***

My friends Allison and Michael were also going so we decided to band together and conquer the forest en masse. We headed for Parts East and climbed Wildcat Mountain. We saw some lovely sights, as well as people tailgating their Christmas tree hunt, and located a likely spot to hunt us some tree.

The main difficulty, apart from finding a tree that wasn’t either:

a) 18ft tall

b) a bushy beautiful beast on one side and a sad dearth of foliage on the other

was getting through the “clearing” to even spot a likely candidate. Even accessing the “clearing” required elbowing through the tree break with the gusto I usually associate with navigating a crowd of hipsters on most-ironic-t-shirt-gets-half-price PBR night.

Once in the “clearing” Allison and I, both being less than 6’4″ were tree-ted to the repeated violation of our personal lady space by a range of rhododendrons, pines, and firs. Damp pants did ensue****.

Eventually, Michael, who is 6’4″ managed to spot not just one but two excellent Christmas trees. And cut them down. He beat me to it. Really.

 

 

Brought home, and lit (but not decorated further; I’m waiting for Hodie) my tree looks like this:

 

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 I’m pretty excited about it. Once it was all set up, I was super happy to cozy up with a good book and hang out with it for the balance of my evening. I enjoy having it so much, I began to wonder why I don’t keep one year-round; apart from the obvious – The profound tree shortage in Oregon.

 

*Not tits the season, you pervert.

**Sorry if you have been on the receiving end of such efforts; I enjoy crafting, I am not particularly good  at it.

***Ultimately, Michael ended up doing the actually cutting part, but I set out with good intentions.

****It had recently rained. What kind of degenerate are you??

   [sal-voh]  

1. a simultaneous or successive discharge of artillery, bombs,etc.
2. a round of fire given as a salute.
3. a round of cheers or applause.
I had always heard this in the context of an argument or debate. As in:
 
“That was an excellent point! Senator Blowhard has fired the first salvo in this round.”
So, to my mind a salvo is the signal of launch. Not just in the strictest sense of artillery, but also of verbal barbs meant to incite a response.
I have also, perhaps incorrectly, used it in the sense of a greeting or hailing someone from afar. For some reason it brings to mind trumpets: a panoply along with that salvo, if you please!

   [rep-ruh-beyt]  

noun

1. a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person: a drunken reprobate.
2.a person rejected by God and beyond hope of salvation.
This is a term I had always thought of as fairly prevalent. Calling someone a drunken reprobate was par for the course plenty of old movies. I had no notion the word didn’t enjoy widespread use in the common vernacular.
 
When I’ve tried to explain what a reprobate is, I’ve said that it’s essentially interchangeable with being a scoundrel. But upon further reflection it occurs to me that to call someone a scoundrel implies an impish or playful element to their behavior, whereas to my mind, a reprobate is someone who is willfully wicked and relishing their misdeeds; unapologetically wayward. 
 
In my own usage, I most often apply it to licentiousness rather than intoxication. Which, while utterly in the scope of the proper definition, isn’t the reference most commonly made in common conversation, so that can cause a cocked head here and there as well. 
My commitment to helping enhance understanding is such that I wonder; perhaps I could clarify matters by pointed demonstration? Make a t-shirt that says “Reprobate” and then behave accordingly?

I used to get phone calls that went something like this:

“Well, I was on Greeley, but then I accidentally took the wrong ramp. I was trying to find Portland Blvd, but this looks like kind of an industrial area?”

“What can you see around you?”

“Well, the streets are all one way, and… wait… If Darth Vader was a building, I found him.”

“You’re on Swan Island. You can follow Channel Ave back to Going. Follow that up to Interstate, turn left, and head north for about a mile and a half or so. But they call it Rosa Parks Way now. Just so you know”

 

I am basically useless at giving directions outside of the Portland area, but having lived here pretty much my whole life made me a reasonably decent resource if you were lost within the city’s confines. The now ubiquitous GPS features in cars and phones have made this particular skill nearly obsolete. I do have a few other functions:

Gentlemen’s Club Zagat Guide:  Due to the institution of Strip Club Thursdays, I have spent a greater than average amount of time in the naked-lady-dancer establishments in this town. Since I have a short attention span, I tended to seek out variety in my venues, and while I have by no means been to every club in town (it’s Strip Club Thursdays not Strip Club Everyday) I do have a breadth of experience that means I can usually offer a meaningful recommendation. People who have out of town guests who are interested in Portland’s seedier side often ask me to suggest a place. Then I have to ask things like

What kind of girls would they prefer? Girls next door? Tattooed and Trampy? Fake Plastic Shes?

Are they more interested in lap dances, stage shows, or acrobatics?

How important is ambiance? They looking for more of a burlesque club or as skanky as possible?

Armed with this information, I can generally make suggestions that people find useful.

Random Trivia Fact Spewer:  I know a lot of junk. My mom was a Jeopardy! fan, I read pretty much non-stop as a child, and I seem to have a nearly limitless capacity for inanery. Portland history, musical facts (mostly due to the Gay Robot) pop culture, and who invented the swivel chair. It’s all rattling around in there. Sometimes this is useful, in the context of beating someone at Trivial Pursuit, or contributing to a Pub Trivia win, but otherwise I think it’s like whistling; only fun for the person doing it.

 Unusual Word In Place Of Common Word Replacement Specialist: Now, it isn’t all that hard to accuse me of being pretentious. And, you know, sometimes I am. But when it comes to language, I genuinely ain’t. Rather, I care deeply about the nuance of language and have spent a lifetime acquiring the tools to use it better. Subtle variations in meaning are important, as is taxonomy, so if I use a rather less common word in place of something more recognizable, it is not so that I can impress the listener with my big vocabulary, but rather to impress upon them a very particular meaning. This aim, however, is thwarted when the listener doesn’t recognize the word I’m using and has no clue what the fuck I am on about.

So! To remedy this, in some small way, I’ve decided to start a series wherein I define the words in my lexicon that most often result in blank stares or someone reaching for a dictionary app on the same phone that made my navigatrix skills less valuable. 

Requests are welcome!

 

 

 

We ask each other all the time. It occurs to me, that though we mean aught but well, we cannot know the weight of them, always. How many times in a given day does someone ask,

“How are you?”

In the service of politesse, of simple conversation, and usually, it is not to be expected; an answer of any great significance. But among the things my mother taught me, was to always be a truth-teller. And sometimes, the answer isn’t as simple as either of us would like. I always find it the tiniest struggle to simply say

“Oh, fine, thanks!”

unless it is strictly so.

I know the proscribed social ritual, I have learned the call and response by wrote. It is a litany we perform countless times, and I wonder at the tracks it leaves behind, in our conciousness, to attempt to use our experience of the world as social lubricant.

 

Till you go to the doctor and have bloodwork done. But that is a matter for another post…

What I refer to here, rather is the situation in which I find myself, some 130 miles south of where I have spent the bulk of my life, young and recently aging. I have spoken more than once of the privilege  of being a Portland native. I took pride in having spent my life there, of knowing what it was like before the descent of Hipster Blight. One thing I heard consistently, from transplants, was how excellent the food was, and how spoiled I had been by my lifelong access to it.

While I could agree that indeed, most of the restaurants in town had at least one decent thing on the menu, and from time to time my mind and mouth would be blown away by something I encountered, I didn’t imagine that to be all that unusual.

And then, I moved to Eugene.

I thought, originally, how different could the culinary options be, really? It’s a liberal, prosperous college town flooded with vegans and Portland ex-pats. Surely the 2 1/2 hour drive wouldn’t have thwarted a southern migration of decent eateries?

How wrong I was. 

I have been consistently disappointed with the fare I’ve come across in town. Turtles, which is very close to both work and home, and has the advantage of being relatively inexpensive has disappointed me repeatedly. I keep hoping I’ll find something tolerable on the menu since it is so convenient, but they have managed to fail at items I consider nearly unfuckupable; chicken strips? Seriously? How can you screw up chicken strips?? Chicken+breading+deep fry=delicious! Also of note, the grilled cheese sandwich. This is my go-to default can’t-go-wrong option when I’m unsure about a menu. But somehow theirs goes wrong; oh how wrong it goes. Worse than either of these are the nachos. As a lover of all things Nach (including, but not by any means limited to: tot-chos) I am personally offended at the hideous use of alfredo sauce in the dish under any circumstances. By all means apply liquid cheese, but for the love of all that is decent, not alfredo.

The Sixth Street Grill had won me over at first, with its small plate offerings which are generally tasty and reasonably priced, but they betrayed me profoundly by removing the best offering from their menu after I had only been able to have it twice. The Olympus was a grilled turkey sandwich with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives on a toasted ciabatta with a jalapeno cream cheese spread. It was fucking fantastic. Now it’s gone, and all I can do is lament its loss and fail to find anything in the place that compares favorably.

The Beer Stein actually has totally decent food, and coupled with that, they offer a fantastic beer selection. They also always have a mead offering, which makes me pretty happy. The last time I was there I had the Father Guido Sarducci which is thinly sliced turkey, honey ham, pepperoni, red onion, lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, olive tapenade and provolone on a toasted hoagie roll. It tasted pretty amazing. However the boyfriend has vetoed any further consumption of the sandwich based on the “vile, repulsive, and persistent” nature of my breath once said sandwich was had.

The only place in town that has fed me something I consider equal to my spoiled rotten Portland expectations is a little place right around the corner from my new office called the Agate Alley Laboratory. The place is just adorable as all get out with it’s laboratory chic schtick. The chemical formulas for Chocolate, Cinnamon, and several other goodies are stenciled on the wall. The periodic table is emblazoned against the side wall of the bar. Beakers and flasks everywhere. Aside from that, though, the offerings are amazing. My Moscow Mule was made with genuine ginger ale and a heavy handed pour. The food is locally sourced, lovingly crafted, deliciously realized. So. Fucking. Good.

 

 

So, I was happy to find it, even if it is a bit above range for more than an every so often treat, it’s reassuringly extant at any rate.

Nothing, however, will make me stop missing the taquitos at Pepinos. Covered in the salsa that made me realize I had completely reversed my position on cilantro. Or the Muu Muu burger, crammed onto a crusty roll right along with the fries and that magic crack-sauce. Or the Salted Carmel Ice cream from Fifty-Fifty which I am not kidding you I have fervid passionate dreams about.  And by no means the Squashed from Tin Shed; butternut squash ravioli drenched in creamy mushroom sauce and covered in parmesan. Oh, god. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Eugene has a great deal to recommend it. It is beautiful and friendly and a lovely place to live. I am genuinely much happier than I have ever been before. Yet I long for Portland in this one unexpected inexorable way. When I come to town I think first of who I will see, but only moments before I think about where I will eat.

 

 

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in.”

Haruki Murakami

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