Mississippi and Failing
Friday, June 26 2009
setting: Concordia Neighborhood, Portland, Oregon
While Gretchen and Gilley went into Portland to see the world's only vegan mini-mall (among other things), I set off for the first time on this vacation to explore things by myself. I didn't go very far, just a few blocks in various directions from Gilley's house on a quest to find pizza and coffee (I'd had coffee that Gilley had made, but now I wanted more). It was a beautiful day, with nary a cloud in the sky. Strangely for the middle of a working day (it was a Friday, but still morning), I saw that some people were having yard sales. Evidently the concept of the nine to five working day is so degraded in Portland that any time the sun is shining is an appropriate time to have a yard sale. As I was picking through some things (there was a battery-powered scooter and a telescope, always fun things for me to find at a yardsale), the people running the yardsale were talking about a new flavor of whiskey that was bacon-flavored. What the hell is it about bacon, alcoholic beverages, and the Pacific Northwest? It's the one vegan food item everyone can agree on, and here they're adding bacon to it. It must be compensation for all the animal products whose absence non-vegans see being celebrated in other items on the menu. Eventually one of the yard sale staffers told me that the Concordia Neighborhood Association had organized numerous yardsales for this weekend and had even printed up a map, a copy of which she handed me. It looked to indicate that over fifty yardsales would be happening. How exciting! Too bad I was traveling with an aversion to checking luggage.
The nearest commercial area was down on Killingsworth Street, where I found both a pizza joint and a place willing to sell me coffee. Since this was Portland, the pizza place had a vegan option ("vegan" foccacia) ready to pop in the oven, though I got myself a plain cheese slice instead. There was something a little off about it; I've been told that pizza isn't really a West Coast thing (and I didn't discover its retail "by the slice" incarnation until after I'd moved back east).
When Gretchen and Gilley returned from their outing, it was time to head out once more, this time to an Ethiopian restaurant where we'd be meeting up again with Isa the cookbook author, as well as some of Isa's friends. The restaurant was the E'Njoni Café, and we arrived only a few minutes late, reflecting a trace of the flakeyness that Isa considers one of Portland's downsides, up there with poor prioritization of expenditures and inability to cope with irony (she wants to import more "Jews," which, under her broad definition, includes anyone presently living in New York City). Isa and friends had already started eating, and, because it was a buffet, it didn't take long for us to catch up. Since everyone at the table except Gilley and me were vegans, lunch conversation was mostly about veganism (which I find incredibly dull, mostly because I find any discussion of food to be incredibly dull, and self-righteousness doesn't seem to help).
But while we're on the subject of discussing food, I should say that though Gretchen wasn't impressed, I liked the food at the E'Njoni Café. It certainly helped that it was presented as a buffet, allowing me to subtly (and perhaps unconsciously) tweak my selections based on what I saw and smelled and later tasted and went back and got more of. Making the experience seem a bit more Indian than Ethiopian, rice had been provided along with the injera. Injera varies a lot and I didn't especially like the stuff they had here.
I'd actually met one of Isa's friends back in Manhattan during the Barrack Hussein Obama inauguration party. She seemed to be the one most interested in vegangelism, wanting to know if Gilley was in fact a vegan. (I didn't get this question because she naturally assumed someone like Gretchen wouldn't be married to a non-vegan.) When Gilley said she was not but that she fully supported her vegan friends, the vegangelist made the odd observation that Gilley looked like a vegan. I didn't know what she meant, but then the vegangelist went on to imply that back before she became vegan, she used to be thin. It was beginning to sound like she'd found a round-about way to say she thought Gilley was fat (which she isn't, and certainly not when compared to the vegangelist).
This brings up an interesting point first raised by Mary back in Seattle. Being a professional nutritionist, Mary knows a lot about the diets of a lot of people. She'd made the observation that many of the vegans she knows seem to be a bit hefty, to, if you will, have an abundance of tattooable real estate. This isn't what one would expect from a diet devoid of animal fats and proteins, and indeed back on the East Coast the vegans we know tend to be thin (although it's possible some of them have underlying eating disorders). Once my eyes had been opened to the possibility of fat vegans, I started seeing them everywhere. Maybe it's something about the climate of the Pacific Northwest.
After lunch, Gilley drove Gretchen and me to Mississippi Avenue, one of Portland's up-and-coming neighborhoods. Not so long ago it was so crime-ridden that a pedestrian bridge over I-5 had to be closed, but now all sorts of new corrugated-metal façades are going up (they're popular in Portland) and the boutiques keep getting trendier and trendier. But much weirdness remains, a legacy of lower-rent days when many experiments in retail were attempted. For example, one store near Failing Street (I kid you not) appears to sell nothing but lightbulbs. And since lightbulbs don't take up much space in a window display, several of the store's windows feature spaceships built from LegoTM kits. A store across the street seems to specialize in vintage bird cages. And then there's the Rebuilding Center, a now-familiar kind of store that resells old kitchen cabinets and other architectural detritus ripped out during remodels. Such recycling centers need a lot of square footage by necessity and are always located in the low-rent part of town. We spent a good amount of time in the Rebuilding Center, which had a section where various pieces of furniture made from salvaged wood and other things were displayed and could be purchased (though they were expensive).
As we were walking up and down Mississippi, I couldn't help but notice the Amnesia Brewpub, a kind of open-air party of festive people drinking microbrew at picnic tables served by a bar. The bar also had its own barbecue pit tended by a gentleman with fashionably enormous glasses who was, it soon became clear, not wearing any underwear. So we went and ordered ourselves some beverages (India pale ales for Gilley and me, some sort of cider for Gretchen). Gretchen was delighted to note that amongst the food items was a vegan sausage. There's always a vegan option in Portland, and attention is always drawn to it on the menu. That's just the way it is.
Our last stop in Mississippi was at The Meadow, a store whose main product was artisanal salts. They also sold a bumpersticker reading "Throw out your Mortons," and it was possible to purchase chocolate, cooking oil, wine, and vinegar there as well. But, absurd as this might seem to someone who thinks heating a can of beans is cooking, salt was their emphasis. You could buy pinkish slabs of it the size of a trade paperback and even bowls that had been carved from the same material. Then there were the tiny corked glass jars of it, some pink, some black, some red, and some ordinary-looking white. Gretchen had read a recipe in Isa's brunch book calling for black salt because its sulfur content simulates the rotten-eggs smell of boiled eggs, perfect for a big greasy vegan brunch. That's all well and good, but one of the important benefits for me of so much veganism in my life is the absence of food that smells like sewer gas.
In the evening the three of us went out for dinner at the Bye and Bye down on Alberta, which was initially billed as a "vegan dive bar." That sounded pretty exciting, but the Bye and Bye was hardly a dive. It was all very hipstertastic and stylish, with a big stenciled mural of a vintage motorcyclist and his ride behind the bar. The customers made me feel old, unfashionable, and severely undertattooed. But a few pale ales later I was really loving the place, at least the little side-alcove where Gretchen had claimed us a table. The lighting is murky, so a new lady friend can't really tell if you're old enough to be her grandfather, and the music playing on the jukebox tends to be punk and post-punk classics that should be familiar to any Caucasian who was listening to college radio back in the early 1990s.
I'd ordered a "meatball" sub, a sort of the ultimate vegan junkfood, and it was delicious. It wasn't just the meatballs and the bread that made it this way (though they played a role), it was also the red sauce. That same sauce was on the spaghetti Gretchen had ordered, and I found myself mopping up the last traces of it using the corn chips that had come on the side (these chips appeared to be Bearitos-brand yellow corn chips, one of the best corn chips in the corn chip industry).
We'd yet to see Alan, Gilley's live-in boyfriend, still supposedly up the Columbia River somewhere doing fish-related things (he works for Trout Unlimited). We were beginning to wonder if he might be an imaginary friend, although the number of plaid shirts in the closet of the room where we were staying seemed to support her story. But then late tonight, not long after we'd returned from the Bye and Bye, he suddenly showed up. Gracie the dog went totally nuts.
Telephone pole hardware at the intersection of Killingsworth and Michigan in Portland.
(Check out the Google Street View.)
Gretchen (not waving) and Gilley at the Rebuilding Center on Mississippi Avenue.
A wall of recycled windows at the Rebuilding Center.
Me drinking a fine Pale Ale at Amnesia Brewing in the Mississippi Neighborhood.
(Check out the Google Street View.)
The intersection of Failing Street and Mississippi Avenue.
A storefront on Portland's Mississippi Avenue for a business evidently specializing in lightbulbs.
(Check out the Google Street View.)
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next