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October 21, 2006

Portland: Coming and Leaving II

Bernie dropped me off at the hotel and I met my friend Joan Schrouder shortly after to go to Oregon Ballet Theatre. Joan is a knitting buddy. She teaches nationally; she and I met a decade ago at Stitches. After a quick Thai meal we walked to the Keller Auditorium. The crowd milling in front of the theater was more dressed up than I had anticipated; I forgot this was the opening night of the season.

When I invited Joan, I described the program as being “a great program for someone who doesn’t get to go to the ballet all the time.” This isn’t an insult; that’s 99% of OBT’s audience. We’re spoiled in the dance capitals. The company was bringing The Four Temperaments and The Concert to Portland for the first time. It was heartening to see the house very full. OBT danced 4Ts as I’ve seen other smaller regional companies do it – like a precious gift. It’s great to see it from a fresher perspective. Francia Russell, artistic director Christopher Stowell’s mother (and director emeritus at Pacific Northwest Ballet) set this version – which is slightly different than City Ballets (think pink lampshades instead of white ones). We know each other tangentially from the series of interviews I did with her in 1997 about Agon and Melissa Hayden’s coaching sessions at the Balanchine Foundation but we’ve talked more often than she’s seen me. I waved at her from my seat and she returned the greeting with the sickly look I recognized from the times I’ve had to warmly greet someone while I was racking my brains trying to figure out who they were.

A group of PNB dancers (I recognized Benjamin Griffiths and Jordan Pacitti) were two rows behind me to cheer on their fellow dancers; sure enough, there was Peter.

“You again!” I pointed at him in mock accusation.

“You’re everywhere,” he said, bemused.

The best part of all was that Joan loved the evening. It’s such a joy to take someone to the ballet that doesn’t usually get to go.

Sunday morning I was scheduled to meet internet knitting buddies at Mabel’s, a yarn shop/café. Just as I was about to find the #4 bus Gary called and asked me if I wanted a ride in the rain. We drove through bohemian neighborhoods across the Willamette River. I met Duffy and Melissa there and we spent a relaxing morning knitting and gabbing. I worked primarily on the sleeve of Owen Robert’s Aran. Duffy was starting the toe of a sock; Melissa was working on afghan squares in a mauve ombre alpaca and Gary was making a very simple scarf but in the most tactile yarn – Jo Sharp Alpaca Georgette. Really tasty stuff; we were all copping a feel. I took a tour round the shop, but beyond the Blackberry scone (thank you, Gary!) and the almond hot chocolate; I remained on my yarn diet.

I met Bernie and his daughter Gwen at the matinee. Gwen is getting ready to go down to Miami City Ballet to study at the school. Unfortunately but understandably, the Keller auditorium was more sparsely populated than at the opening and the performance was slightly weaker. One of the big differences between a smaller company and a major one is the depth of the company in casting. That’s a direct function of size. OBT may double cast each ballet, but they don’t really have two casts.

After the performance we walked around the fountain directly opposite the theater and I took a picture reminiscent of the Japanese Gardens.


We then went out for the seafood I had been craving at Jake’s. When in Portland, go to Jake's (Yes, it's part of a chain. No, it doesn't taste that way at all.) Get the crab and shrimp cakes, and also the Dungeness Crab Leg cocktail. They go perfectly together. If you ask nicely, the waiters might do half orders (ours added a crab cake to the plate to make for even splitting). I placed myself in the amiably pushy waitress' hands (I like waitresses who tell you what’s particularly good on the menu) and she insisted I have the locally caught wild salmon and then the Chocolate Bag for dessert. The salmon was cedar plank roasted with slight woody tang and exactly as she promised, the chocolate bag containing white chocolate mousse and berries in raspberry sauce was lighter than the description made one suspect. It was an absolutely wonderful meal, as was the company.

On Monday morning the sky began a sodden gray, but as in Vermont, the weather in Portland changes rapidly because of the mountains. It brightened up about an hour later and I had just enough to have time for a walk along the river – the hotel was right next to it. There were flocks of geese, leaves turning colors, boats and joggers.


I bought a blueberry muffin from a shop on the walk and sat down on a bench to watch the river.



By the time I rode back to the airport on light rail it was overcast again, but the scenery was still lovely with grays, greens and yellows. Portland, like Seattle, is a city that prides itself on quality of life; clean public transit and free wifi in the airport. It seems almost quaint to a New Yorker, we don’t do “quality of life” here. But then again, we can’t.

On the walk back from the river just as I got back to the Four Points, I paused to admire a climbing rose on the side of the hotel. Most of the flowers were fading, but lower down one was still in full flower.


It was a lovely way to say goodbye to the City of Roses.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at October 21, 2006 1:00 PM

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