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Sunday, February 28, 2010
I read Margie Boule's final column in the Oregonian this morning. The editors stuck it on page two of the "O!" section. Not a very grand send-off for someone who has been a staple of the publication for going on 23 years. Still, as Boule points out in the column "as a rule, people's beginnings and endings are untidy affairs. They're so often beyond our control." It's a very sweet, elegant piece. I would add a link here but it has yet to be posted on the Oregonian's website.
Boule and her column helped me out of a goofy jam back in 2006 and I'm still grateful. She somehow discovered a blog post I wrote about a car that was abandoned outside of my house over Super Bowl weekend and whipped-up an article about it. Within a few hours of it going to press, a member of the Portland Police Dept's Neighborhood Response team called me and made arrangements to haul the car off the property. Boule even wrote a second follow-up column about the incident.
Her column will be missed and it's a sad state of affairs for the Oregonian that it has to cut such an iconic veteran journalist from the payroll. I spent a year trying to make it in print journalism back in 2005, as things were taking a turn for the worse, and I admire anyone willing to jump into the fray at this point. With the Oregonian hemorrhaging money and staff at this rate, what will the paper and many other dailies look like in another few years?
While wandering around Powell's a few weeks ago I picked up a copy of The San Francisco Panorama. It's a recent edition in McSweeny's ongoing quarterly literary series. Typically, they're released as books but this edition was presented as a newspaper covering issues and events around the Bay area, in addition to including a usual slew of short fictional stories. The goal of the editors was to create a publication that would appeal to younger readers while demonstrating various methods the newspaper industry might incorporate to save itself.
Ultimately, the project is a mixed bag. While the layout is gorgeous and the comics section is a marvel, there's little that separates the Panorama from the Sunday edition of the Oregonian. They both contain the same long-format news stories and expanded sections. For the first time in a very long while, I sat down with the paper on a Sunday morning a few weeks back. I flipped through the Panorama for about an hour and tossed it aside, vowing to take another look when I got the time. That was three weeks ago and I haven't taken so much as another glance at it.
And that's why the industry is dying, I think. Who has the time to shift through all those stories and all that paper these days, especially with all the easily navigable blogs, news sites and Twitter pages out there? What place is there for newspaper in a world of on-demand journalism? It's easy to romanticize papers but, honestly, I don't know if I would trade my iPhone's news and Twitter apps for a subscription to one anytime soon.
C'est la vie...
Friday, February 26, 2010
When in Canada do as the Canadians do
On Sunday night I found myself in a downtown Vancouver sports bar surrounded by people covered in red maple leafs. The leaves covered their hats, their boots, their shirts and their jackets. They even had temporary maple leaf tattoos on their faces. We had all gathered together to watch a men's hockey game between the US and Canada. While there were other Americans in the room, I was apparently the only one not decked out in red, white and blue. With the US in the lead I wasn't about to announce my national heritage, especially given how fast my Canadian cohorts were tearing through the contents of their pint glasses.
Little separated them from wild animals at this point and even the staff didn't want to intervene in the melee. Instead of kicking me out after I stumbled down the stairs and slammed into him, a manager helped me up and nudged me towards the bar. Over the course of the second two periods, only one patron was kicked out and that was for puking all over himself and a table.
After a near comeback, an empty net goal by the Americans sealed their win and drained all the life out of the place. Moments prior, I was watching a woman in an aviator hat jump around on a stool while madly waving a Canadian flag. Now she was slumped over at a table staring into a half-empty pint of beer. A drunk in a jersey slung his arm around me and lamented this sad state of affairs. "It's ok, man," he slurred. "We'll get in the finals, we're gonna get the gold. This is *our* game, eh?" I nodded and shrugged, afraid to open my mouth. If I made a mistake such as inadvertently pronouncing "about" as anything but "aboot," my true identity as an American citizen would have been revealed. This guy would have no doubt started shrieking like one of the clones from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Or not. A table full of Americans began cheering when the clock went down to zero and one of them even did a little dance. The Canadians only glared in return. They paid their tab and managed to escape the bar without incident.
During our stint at the 2010 Winter Olympics, my colleagues and I stayed with a few Canadian relatives. One of our hosts wanted to know why we hadn't brought along USA paraphernalia or at least a tiny American flag. After all, European tourists and the locals had absolutely no reservations about displaying their nationalistic pride so why should we? Over the course of our six days in Canada we encountered plenty of Germans decked out in gear from their native land. Numerous Norwegians were running around town dressed in viking hats. One of them even had enough national pride and competitive spirit coursing through his veins to carry a large bone with him, merrily conking spectators from other countries gently on the head during photo opps.
So why not us? Continued guilt from the Bush-era, I guess, plus we're not the sort of people that typically want to draw a lot of attention to ourselves on unfamiliar ground. Furthermore, we witnessed a father and his young daughter get heckled by locals in a Sky Train station for wearing Uncle Sam hats. I don't know if there have been any acts of violence between Americans and Canadians at the Olympic games but perhaps our paranoia was completely unwarranted. At least we weren't alone. With the exception of the fans in the bar and a few others, they were the only Americans I encountered that were willing to reveal their identities through clothing.
Plenty of media coverage has been devoted to how the games have drawn out fevered patriotism in the typically reserved Canadians. The entire city of Vancouver is practically covered in national flags right now. Maple leaves can be found on everything from mittens to doughnuts. One building downtown has a gigantic flag draped across its entire 10-story exterior.
Several local school districts in Vancouver declared a two-week holiday during the games and, ultimately, the city seemed like it was in the middle of a gigantic Fourth of July-style celebration while we were there. The downtown streets were jammed at all hours. The Bay department store had three hour long waits for Canadian apparel. People were standing in line for up to eight hours to take a ride on a zip line that crossed over several blocks and the heads of thousands gathered in a public square near the Hotel Vancouver. Dozens of pavilions and "house" drinking halls were scattered across town offering food, booze and free music to all. The spectacle had grown so large that city authorities had considered shutting down all the city's liquor stores on Saturday for 24 hours.
In short, it was an epic scene and one on a scale I haven't seen since, well, Burning Man last summer. One of my favorite moments from the trip: watching what appeared to be a very shy, very uptight wallflower couple begin madly swing dancing after The Great Lake Swimmers went on stage at the Ontario House. I wish I could be back up there for the closing ceremonies this weekend.
Click here for a Flickr gallery filled with more photos of international fans and Canadian uber-patriots, including Chewbacca.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
At the Winter Olympics
I'm heading to Vancouver tomorrow for what's quickly becoming known as "Worst. Olympics. Ever." It hit something like 50 degrees on the slopes of Mt. Whistler this afternoon. It's a chance of a lifetime that could quickly become a cluster$%! of a lifetime.
Either way, it should be interesting. I'll be posting photos and updates on Twitter through the weekend. Feel free to follow the whole melee over here.
If things get really bad I guess I can always spend the entire time chugging "screech" while reciting slam poetry. I'll fit right in!
Sunday, February 14, 2010
It's not too late to...pass around idle gossip
In the spirit of the holiday (didn't you know that it's Anna Howard Shaw Day?), here's some idle gossip about Sherri Hiner, the owner of the Mattress World empire. Mattress World's ads have been all over Portland television for nearly a decade and the company's "It's not too late to sleep like a baby!" jingle has cemented itself permanently into the brain of many a local. For years, Sherri and her husband Jon starred in these commercials until Jon mysteriously disappeared from them in the spring of 2008. Sure enough, they had filed for divorce earlier that February.
Sheri's been going solo in the ads since then but, low and behold, a new Olympics-themed ad aired during the opening ceremonies on Friday night co-starring a long-haired guy who kinda, sorta looks like one of the bad guys from Die Hard. Could this bloke be Sheri's new "Mattress World Man"?
Jack Bogdanski saw the same ad and ran a post about it over on his blog. Word out on the street is that Sheri lost a good deal of weight a few years ago and took a liking to a few of Mattress World's delivery guys. Her marriage to Jon didn't last much longer after that. Infidelity, power struggles, heartbreak, mattresses- this whole thing sounds like it would be a good plot for a Lifetime Original Movie...or at least a solid parody of a Lifetime Original Movie.
This ad from January obviously hints at a tryst with Joey Harrington. Man, Sheri's quickly becoming the Wilt Chamberlain of Portland television.
(Yep, this is all I've got for this week. I've been cooped up inside with midterm projects for the last nine days and I'm running short on blog fodder. C'mon, cut me a break over here...)
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Cosi fan tutte
I saw Portland Opera's production of Cosi fan tutte last night. The title roughly translates as "thus do they all." Who are they? Women. What exactly are they doing? Being unfaithful and fickle. Really, what better show to take a date to during Valentines?
That's not to say that the men in Cosi fan tutte are any better. The premise: two officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, make the mistake of boasting about the faithfulness of their fiancees in front of a cynical bachelor named Don Alfonso. He lays down a wager of a 100 lire. As a test of the women's devotion, the two officers will pretend to go off to war but return in disguise to seduce the other's lover. Urged on by a world-weary maid named Dorabella and these two "mysterious strangers," the fiancees' resolve quickly begins to crumble.
It's a farce and the music, written by Mozart, is both whimsical and melodramatic at times, perhaps to offer a further satirical commentary on the plights these characters are putting themselves through. The reflective Plexiglas set is gorgeous and splits apart, serving as a parlor in the first act and both a garden and a chapel in the second.
Angela Niederloh and Robert Orth liven things up as Alfonso and Dorabella but, ultimately, the opera's premise isn't enough to sustain its three hour running time. Despite the vibrant score, there isn't enough plot to go along with it. There are several sections during the opera where the electronic translator over the stage goes off for minutes at a time, as the cast repeats the same lines over and over again.
This one's a mixed bag, I'm sorry to say. The production and cast are fantastic but the source material could have used some trimming. Taking scissors to Mozart?!! Just being honest here...
Friday, February 05, 2010
Many of us who grew up in Portland have a story about Le Bistro Montage. It's a place much like the Roxy, the Pied Cow or the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. At one time, at least, these places were refuges for a certain brand of teenager, usually the sort that takes drama classes and/or makes the mistake of getting started on the Velvet Underground and vintage clothing too early in life. They wind up there after curfew on a night out at the movies or a Laser Light Show at OMSI. The Montage is open until 4 AM on Saturdays and Sundays, it's kitschy, it's weird, it has an element of mystery about it and its ratty, burgundy exterior can be found beneath the Morisson Bridge. Oh, and its former owner, Jon Beckel, died under mysterious circumstances on a night just like this one after watching his girlfriend's band perform downtown.
I don't know if trips to the Montage are still a right-of-passage for local teens but I remember going down there late one night after getting my license. I probably had a group of fellow drama nerds with me and we were probably riding around in my hand-me-down, bumpersticker-covered Toyota van. This would have been the mid-90s, back before MacForce and the Esplanade, when the area had even fewer oases amidst all the warehouses.
We probably roamed the streets along the waterfront for a while, past forgotten shopping carts and slouching train tracks. One of us would have been fretting about how we were all going to be attacked by vampires at any second. That person was no doubt me and the following scenario was probably playing out in my adolescent mind:
ME: (hours later, covered in blood) "I don't know, officer. One minute we were looking for the Montage and the next the doors were getting torn off the van. They came out of nowhere!"
FATHER OF ONE OF THE KIDS WHO HAD BEEN RIDING IN THE BACKSEAT: "Why couldn't you have just driven to Banning's Pie House?!! Where's my daughter?!!"
COP: "We see this sort of thing all the time, sir. A group of kids goes looking for the Montage and they get attacked by vampires. You'll never see her again. By now she's an undead concubine in allegiance with the forces of darkness. If she does show up on your doorstep, don't give her any money. Oh, and you'll probably want to chop off her head and take out of her heart. If you have any further questions, head on down to Hollywood Video and rent Bram Stoker's Dracula."
FATHER: "Curse that foul Montage! If only my girl had gotten pregnant or addicted to heroin instead of going off in search of alligator jambalaya!"
Yup, they serve alligator jambalaya down there. From the outside, the Montage hasn't changed much in the last 14 years. It still looks like a tavern a Tom Waits' character would hang around in on Tuesday mornings in January, chain-smoking and gloomily drinking whiskey until he could work up enough motivation to drive his fist through something.
The inside is more of a cheeky, hipster paradise- a Spaghetti Factory for artsy-fartsy teenagers and their older counterparts who are faced with the task of making Portland seem appropriately weird for out-of-town guests. The Montage is gimmicky, customer's leftovers are wrapped up in tinfoil art displays, the tables are communal and the staff serves wine in drinking glasses, just like they do in Europe! The menu consists of seafood, Cajun options and something like a dozen different types of macaroni and cheese.
I wrote about the Montage way back in 2004 and John Beckel's niece wrote me an email that explained all the artwork in the restaurant and the secret imagery it contained. Sadly, it was lost to the ether in an old Hotmail account a long time ago.
I still get down there about once or twice a year. I stopped in during a free afternoon a few weeks ago. During daylight hours, the Montage is much more low-key and their lunch menu is pretty solid. I went with the gumbo.