For some reason, I've discovered this weekend, I'm helplessly bewitched and wholly besotted with the city of Portland. Jacob had to borrow a crowbar to pry me out of it so that we could catch our plane home.
It could have to do with the fact that it's smaller than San Francisco and cleaner than Oakland, and that for all my best pretense of gritty urbanity I'm still a suburbanite who likes things neat and unintimidating. It could have something to do with Powell's, where I think I saw the face of God on Saturday in a clearance rack of $1 anthropology books. It could be that every surface in the city that isn't otherwise used and aggressively cleared is covered in an impenetrable tangle of my beloved blackberry vines; on a related note, it could have something to do with the fact that driving 20 minutes north to Salmon Creek means passing roadside farms selling the most incredible berries I've ever imagined. Speaking of purely seasonal delights, it could be that the unusually beautiful weather this weekend has me imagining Portland as an Eden of warmth and sunshine all year long. It could be that we spent a couple of lovely evenings wandering around the abnormally scenic downtown, the intriguingly schizophrenic Pearl District, the unsurprisingly lovely waterfront, and the hell if I know where else. It could have been the discovery of an excellent vegan restaurant located right downtown and doing an encouragingly thriving business.
But I think it is not those things.
Instead, I think I love Portland because it has so many of something I detest: bridges. I hate heights, and I fear water, and ever since I heard of the Tacoma Narrows bridge fiasco I've thought of engineering as a rather speculative and unfinished science. Trusting my physical well-being and general dryness to a strip of roadway plunked down on spindly legs that stand in the middle of a rushing torrent of water has never seemed terribly appealing to me. Portland, apparently laid out by someone who failed to notice a great big river in the middle of the city site, has 8 of these despised marvels of modern engineering, and they're of every description one could hope to imagine. Some of them are swooping concrete highways of thin crusts and plain stems, and some arch delicately in classic curves with the road laid gently across the top. One clings to horizontality by delicate suspension cables; another is a heavy, flattened steel cage dwarfed by its own massive elevator mechanism. A view of the river is a view into acrophobia and waterborne peril, over which cars, bikes and people glide serenely as though resisting gravity were as natural as breathing. Navigating the city without flying suspended from one side of the river to the other is an impossibility.
It's inescapably reminiscent of a future city from a sci-fi book, in which the last unbuilt space is the sky and humans have moved to build upon it. In the fictional metropolis the skyscrapers crowd each other to such dizzying heights that descending to ground just to move to an adjoining building is ridiculous; bridges are built to connect levels that come nowhere near the earth. Portland, where raising three new towers near downtown makes a noticeable mark on the skyline and the bridges rise higher than the buildings in any case, is hardly there. But it's close enough to be awfully compelling.
For more information on why this aesthetic municipal love affair was doomed from the start, write to the Portland university community and inquire about the lack of biochemistry postdoctoral work available therein. For more information on dazzling future metropoli, borrow a copy of the C.J. Cherryh collection Sunfall from your local library. To see the forest of bridges from the air, click here. To end this blog entry, press the star key.Posted by dianna at July 24, 2005 10:17 PM