July 24, 2005


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

It says a great deal for the city of Portland that I remember my one trip there very fondly, despite the rampant fucked-upness (aaarg) of the person I was there to see (aaaaargh). What I Like About Portland: 1. It's a grid and you can navigate the quadrants easily by bus 2. Powell's 3. Hippies = good food 4. Surprisingly high-quality dyke bars 5. It has a cool river 6. It's pretty. I could live there, although I would have died before I told whatserface that.

Posted by: katie at July 25, 2005 10:07 AM

here is the comment i want to write:

do not move to portland (in case the biochem stuff wasn't preventing you anyway). if all our friends leave the area, gene will have nothing keeping him from wanting to move to seattle. and i am not ready to kiss the sun goodbye. in conclusion, me.

now here is the comment i am compelled to write:

this post was beautiful. huge nod. you can move to portland if you keep writing like calvino. in conclusion, me.

Posted by: didofoot at July 25, 2005 11:23 AM

Goddamn sneaky Calvino and his goddamn sneaky writing. I had a project for an architecture class where we had to do a series of drawings and models based on a Calvino story. The story I was assigned talked lovingly about a city that grows up in rings around an ancient center, growing itself all the way up to the tip top of its own little world like a fairy-tale tower. I did my drawings, made my models, and was getting all of my work ready to display the next day when I happened to glance back over the story and notice that that entire description was about how the city in question wasn't. I had to insert the word "not" in the titles of my drawings and make up an explanation about how I'd been thinking outside the box and drawing inspiration from the characteristics that were conspicuously absent, which was of course a limited success. Goddamnit.

Seattle! Gene, don't listen to her! Move to Seattle! God, I should have my mouth taped shut. I'm too unrealistically in love with the Northwest to be allowed to make any decisions right now. But it's so pretty, and it has food and coffee and dyke bars and bookstores and buses, and of course I can't get any of those things here.

Posted by: Dianna at July 25, 2005 01:26 PM

Funny. I just went up to Portland this past weekend to visit a friend [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8...whew].

Unsurprisingly, I have been spending the last 24 hours trying to figure out how I can move up there.

Posted by: Chester at July 25, 2005 06:27 PM