Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Reading Life- Year in Review 2008

I'm a nerd for lists.

I read 44 books in 2008. I read primarily fiction books- and of that most were mystery and thrillers. I picked up books by 21 authors I've never read before and read 8 additional titles by them. The high number of new authors was because I was trying to find a good series to get into.

Breakdown of Books Read in 2008

Memoirs- 1
General- 4

Mystery/Thrillers- 17
Kids/YA- 12
General- 10

Total- 44

1. Cirque Du Soleil: The Spark by John U. Bacon and created by Lyn Heward
2. The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
3. The Prophecy by Kahlil Gibran
4. Black Coffee by Agatha Christie and adapted by Charles Osborne
5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
6. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
8. The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie*
9. Born On a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Artistic Savant by Daniel Tammet*
10. The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
11. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova*
12. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
13. The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall
14. Posted to Death by Dean James
15. Faked to Death by Dean James
16. Decorated to Death by Dean James
17. Baked to Death by Dean James
18. A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage by Mark Twain
19. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
20. I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
21. The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith
22. The Grave by Christopher Pike
23. Spooksville #23: Phone Fear by Christopher Pike
24. Magic Fire by Christopher Pike
25. Jumper by Steven Gould*
26. The Death Artist by Jonathan Santlofer
27. The Society of S by Susan Hubbard
28. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie*
29. Dracula by Bram Stoker*
30. Reflex by Steven Gould
31. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin*
32. The Appeal by John Grisham
33. The Once & Future King: The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White*
34. The Testament by John Grisham
35. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle*
36. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger*
37. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
38. 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (1989) by the Earthworks Group
39. 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (2008) by John Javna, Sophia Javna, and Jesse Javna
40. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne*
41. The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne*
42. The Red House by A.A. Milne*
43. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
44. Wicked by Gregory Maguire*


Thursday, December 4, 2008

My First First Thursday

I officially officially don’t like wine.

After missing out on all the previous ones since moving to Portland, I finally went to First Thursday- a monthly art event in which the galleries stay open later than usual and hold receptions. I didn’t really know the best way to approach it but I did settle on staying in the Pearl District because I didn’t want to be in Old Town at night.

There was an article in a local weekly publication about a photography exhibit at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art. One piece entitled “Loneliness” caught my eye. It was of a sleeping man lying next to a bloody fish almost the same size as him. After doing a walk around of the small space, I came to the conclusion that I don’t consider photography as art. That probably sounds horrible but art to me is more of creating alternative ways to present or represent reality. So if someone just takes a picture of a previously existing subject no matter how awesome, my reaction is “so what?”

I decided to try and avoid other photography galleries and since Portland has about as many galleries than it does coffee shops, I still had a lot to choose from. My next stop was the Museum of Contemporary Craft, a place I had gone to a couple times before. I was really impressed by the things I saw in their current exhibit- Manufractured: The Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects. My two favorite ones were spools of thread that if you looked through a glass ball it would form the shape of a Campbell’s soup can and then there was a dress made of face peel. There were also carved out plastic containers, dresses made out of zippers, and melted toy soldiers. These and the knick knacks found in their shop were for sale but they just made me want to create my own. To prove my obvious lack of art knowledge, I kept asking people if there were other “museums” they’d recommend when I should have been saying “galleries”.

My next move was to find where other people were heading or leaving which led me to the Lawrence Gallery. This was probably one of the much nicer, reputable ones as they had big name pieces like their Dali’s Argillet collection. There were kids running around which was kind of annoying and I was afraid (and secretly hoping) they’d break something. They were selling wine but I knew I could get it for free in other places and the night was young.

In the Beppu Wiarda Gallery, the artist whose works were featured was there to talk about them. He did cartoonish drawings which had some misspelled text on some so I wasn’t that impressed. Right next door was the Bella Perla Gallery. Their current exhibit was paintings that all had piano influences but the pieces that got my attention were from an older show depicting Portland drawn in a way that just seemed simple and different. In the Blackfish Gallery, there was a puppet of Sarah Palin and a slew of woodland creatures which just showed how art was current and topical.

My first freebie was a lollipop at PDX Contemporary Art. If that was going to be all I was getting, I would have been greatly disappointed. I thought it was cool to see Ken Shores’ Feather Fetish display again at the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery. I had first seen it at the Museum of Contemporary Craft during the Craft Party and it was interesting to me that the galleries do indeed share.

I finally had my first glass of wine at Chambers@916. I still did not like the taste but it was all for the experience. With glass in hand as I looked at art- or “art”- I just seemed to fit in more and know what I was doing.

The best place I went to was this wood craft gallery whose name I can’t even remember. Not only were the store made crafts touchable but they had a meat and cheese platter- and sangria which I assume was the fruity drink I had. And it was while I was recommending the jalapeno salsa tot his middle-aged married lady that we got to talking about art- her with her graphic designing and me of my aspirations to be a writer. It’s amazing how much people will reveal of themselves to complete strangers. She thought I was interesting enough to ask for my email which just proves there is a first time for everything. I always like it when I give off the impression I know more than I actually do.

After that drink and conversation, I was hoping to find something I was more accustomed to. Luckily there was the CHAP’s Holiday Bizarre- an art and crafts workshop/store whose profits go to a children’s organization. I’m not sure which. All I know was they had apple cider and cookies. As I contemplated whether I should check out more galleries or go home- and leaning towards the latter, I saw a sign for cake tasting at Nuvrei Pastries. I had samples of their festive cakes. They were sweet and decadent, delicious and free. With everything I had drank and eaten, I was getting quite full.

I made a quick stop at the Adidas store because they had a DJ and breakdancing going on. Then, right outside, there was a guy in a unicycle playing Christmas music with his bagpipes. I thought that was a perfect end to an evening full of activities I normally didn’t do.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day By Day

I cashed my first paycheck in over seven months today. I feel officially employed now even though I started my new job at the beginning of this month. I’m technically a “bookseller” at a calendar store which is a subsidiary of a company I used to work for. It’s a temporary part-time position for the holidays but I’m just glad to be working again.

The first few days was spent setting up shop in a space previously owned by an Ann Taylor. I like to joke that since we’re the only calendar store with its own dressing rooms, customers can check out if their calendar matches their shoes before buying it. That sounded way funnier in my head. On my second day there, I cut myself on one of the fixtures I was building and I don’t think it’s good business to be bleeding all over the merchandise. At first, I was worried I’d be stuck doing something I didn’t like. But as the days have passed and we’ve gotten more non-calendar items in- some books even- and we’re actually making money, I’m really happy.

One of the lessons I’ve learned living in Portland is gratitude- being thankful for all the positive things happening in my life. Getting this job just makes me appreciate them even more.

I was able to get my FICO score for free and I was surprised to see such an increase from last time I checked. At these times of financial uncertainty, having a high score of 788 makes me feel I’m doing something right. In fact, I think it was because of it, my request for a credit limit increase on my credit card got approved. Now I can spend more money I don’t have if I so want.

I also reached my reading goal of 36 books this year. Of course, I’m not going to stop reading for the rest of this year but I think it’s I’m meeting the tiny goals I set up for myself. This also included writing everyday for at least 30 minutes and, as much as I grumble while doing so, exercising for at least half an hour four times a week. I’ve lost at least 10 pounds since moving to Portland.

But one of the most positive and rewarding experience for me has been volunteering at the Friends’ Library Store. While in between jobs, it was something to pass the time- and not just idly so. I got to interact with people and freshen up on my customer service skills. A highlight was when another reader would come in and we’d get to talking about books and recommend titles to one another. I’ve also felt encouraged to share my ideas on how the store can be better and they’ve been well-received. It’s been a great feeling to be part of something that supports an institution I’m very fond of. And having volunteered over 75 hours, I automatically became an official Friend of the Friends of the Library. Luckily I can still volunteer and not have it interfere with my work.

I’d say things are looking up and for that I’m grateful.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

September 27th kicked off this year’s Banned Books Week. Its purpose is to raise awareness of how many books are being questioned or challenged by certain groups who then want those books to be pulled from schools, libraries, and bookstores. Some reasons for objections are the content is too sexual, too violent, too vulgar in terms of language, too offensive to certain racial or religious groups, and/or too supportive of homosexuality. Not only do some of the reasons sound outrageous but to allow books to be pulled from the shelves because they go against someone’s point of view takes away not only the author’s right to express his or her opinions but the reader’s right to read whatever it is he or she wants.

Through the efforts of the American Library Association (ALA), books are no longer being banned. They are however still constantly being challenged- which is the attempt to remove the books from the shelves or school curriculum and restrict people’s access to them. The ALA makes sure that they remain available for everyone.

In lieu of Banned Books Week, I decided to read one of the most challenged books of 2007- “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. (I was surprised to see most of the titles, as this one was, were children’s books.) Based on actual events in New York City’s Central Park Zoo, this picture book tells the story of two male penguins who’ve partnered up and became “adoptive” fathers. The reasons for challenging this book includes “anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group”.

I thought the story was sweet. Despite the subject matter, there was nothing offensive or preachy about it. It’s not like the penguins were doing the deed. I don’t understand how this can be considered “anti-family” when it’s just showing another type of the modern definition of what makes a family. As for “unsuited to age group”, I did wonder if kids should be reading about things they can’t fully comprehend. (“And Tango Makes Three” is targeted for the preschool and early grade school crowd.) But some people might actually find it comforting there are books aimed for kids that deal with controversial topics- not only of homosexuality but death, racism, terrorism, etc.

Books sometimes have a way of reflecting the unsettling parts of society and its people and I think the offensive faults people find in others or in books are just what they’ve been afraid to tackle in their own lives. While we can’t control people’s opinions even if they are hateful and offensive, we can choose to listen to them or not.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Neverending Stories: Sequels, Prequels, & Spin-offs

Is it impossible to leave good enough alone? In Hollywood, classic films are often being remade with disastrous results or getting franchised with unnecessary sequels. While I suppose it’s nothing new, this trend seems to be more prevalent in the publishing industry these days as well.

“Rhett Butler’s People” by Donald McCaig was the much touted authorized novel based on Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone with the Wind” released in late 2007. This is told through the eyes of the hero hoping to complement- or complete?- the original.

As much as readers would wish to find out more about the characters they’ve come to care about but unfortunately the pages have run out, a continuation of the story might actually ruin their experiences if the new stories are not written properly or for the right reason. Of course, no one is forced to read the recent incarnations but wouldn’t you want to know what happens next? Or even before?

To celebrate the centennial anniversary of L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables”, her heirs thought it would be fun to release a prequel hence the publication of “Before Green Gables” by Budge Wilson earlier this year. It looks at Anne Shirley’s life before she was adopted by the Cuthberts.

I was browsing through the children’s section of a bookstore- I forget which one- when I came across “The Diamond of Darkhold” by Jeanne Duprau. Just recently released, it’s supposedly the fourth and final title in her Books of Ember series. Then again, I thought the first three books were it so this came as a surprise. However, I guess this was inevitable since “The City of Ember” movie comes to theaters next month. I don’t know what the author’s original plan was- if this book was a natural progression to the story or not. Unlike “The Prophet of Yonwood” which was a prequel, “The Diamond of Darkhold” is a direct continuation of “The City of Ember” and “The People of Sparks”.

I also saw a display for Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” and related merchandise like journals and calendars. Not that it needed more publicity considering its success on the bestseller lists and as a Tony award-winning Broadway musical. I didn’t realize that a third volume was coming out next month. “A Lion Among Men” would be a return to his reimagined Oz after “Son of a Witch” and focuses on Brrr, the Cowardly Lion. Of course, this trio of tales were based on L. Frank Baum’s original Oz series. This is a release I’m actually excited about.

On the other hand when I found out there would be more releases from J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, my first thoughts were, “Enough already! I get it. Your books are popular and you guys are super rich!” Even though not a continuation of the Harry Potter series per se, Rowling’s upcoming December release of “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, it’s still a part of that world.

Maybe I’m still reeling from all the hype and hoopla that came with the release of Meyer’s “Breaking Dawn” and the overwhelming disappointment on how the Twilight saga “ended” but I was not happy to learn she planned on continuing it by retelling the series through the vampire’s perspective with “Midnight Sun”. And I only found out because of the news that someone had leaked a partial copy of an early draft online without her permission. Despite her claims, this seemed like a publicity stunt- not that she or her books need it. I would go so far as to compare her to the cast of MTV’s “reality” TV show “The Hills” as just another fame whore. Of course, I could just be jealous of her success.

There’s apparently also going to be a “Sex and the City” for teens. Or, at least, its author Candace Bushnell has just signed a deal with HarperCollins to publish at least two books targeted for a younger audience. The first will be about main character Carrie Bradshaw’s life in high school. “The Carrie Diaries” has a publication date for fall 2010.

Characters are not the only things that can be carried over. Ann Brashares is using the school in which the characters of her popular “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” attended as the premise of her new trilogy. “3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows” will be available January 2009.

The biggest news and shock for me was learning that Douglas Adam’s widow has approved a sixth installment in her late husband’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. Entitled “And Another Thing…” (due out next October) will be written by Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame.

Whether most of these sequels, prequels, and spin-offs can live up to the quality of their original counterparts is still left to be seen. But sometimes I think it’s best to leave the characters to their happily-ever-after.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Something Unexpected

I thought my night was going to be like every other night I’ve been having- uneventful, quiet, and spent all by myself. I had settled myself at my building side patio dining on my specialty peanut butter sandwiches and a Java Monster energy drink. I had my journal and a book to keep me company. And, really, it was quite nice just sitting there watching the leaves fall and scatter themselves across the Park blocks.

Then I caught sight of a very distinctive looking truck passing by. It parked on the university grounds and the passengers then proceeded to transform the vehicle into a makeshift kitchen putting up “wings” on three sides creating awnings. Rugs and pillows were thrown around and they put out a “free tea” sign. They were obviously setting up for something. I thought it was another concert performance by a local band that always seem to be going on. Or, worse, some kind of hippie demonstration to try and legalize marijuana or something horrible like that. But when a patrol car went over and then let them go about their business, I figured it was all good.

I even thought it was just some experiment to see how many people they can get to stop by- something along the lines of “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Despite how much I want to know what’s going on, I don’t ask and end up forming my own conclusions and scenarios which usually turn out to be wrong. This time, though- maybe it was the caffeine- my curiosity got the best of me and I walked over and asked one of the people setting up what they were doing.

They were from the City Repair Project- a non-profit organization who crate naturally-friendly and artistic places for people to gather and be more of a community. They were responsible for many of the colorful benches, murals, street paintings, memorials, and other funky looking structures all over Portland. In one part of town, they drew a Fibonacci-inspired sunflower design in a busy intersection to promote their togetherness initiative. A project they did with PSU was the benches outside the library shaped in stacks of books.

The truck was their mobile teahouse- or what they called a “T-horse”- and it obviously got people’s attentions as it did mine. I learned all this throughout the night as I had decided to stay around awhile. I grabbed a cup of herbal tea and a plate of homemade carrot cake- later I went for seconds on banana bread which I originally thought was meatloaf- and sat down in their lounge area. Normally, I’m a shy guy but I ended up socializing with the volunteers and other curious passers-by. A few people from my building were there as well. A band even came out to play their “world twang” type of music and some people danced.

Once again, I was amazed by how everyone seemed to be dedicated to a cause or two. Even I had started volunteering since moving to Portland. I thanked the volunteers for the nice event and good food and told them I’d definitely be checking out future “place-making” activities. It was an unexpected fun night and something different for me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Literary Arts

Portland is probably the most literary city I’ve ever lived in. Literary Arts have done their fair share in “enriching the lives of Oregonians through language and literature” since 1984. At first, the Collins Gallery exhibit at Central Library focusing on the organization’s contributions seemed kind of boring to me but as I looked around and found out more of what they were about, it ended up being quite fascinating.

There were books by, pictures of, and correspondences from authors who have participated in the company’s various programs or won their Oregon Book Awards. The letters were fun to read, especially the ones in which the writer would explain for whatever reason why he or she was turning down the invitation to take part in the Portland Arts & Lectures series of talks and readings. It just seemed to prove how immensely guarded and private some writers are. One of the more famous rejection letters came from science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and, during the exhibit reception, the executive director of Literary Arts shared that a more recent rejection was from Barbara Kingsolver who was the most asked for author. On the flip side, there were also letters by those who’ve enjoyed participating in the program. Matt Groening, of "The Simpsons" fame and Portland native, even donated back his speaker’s fee to them. The curator also explained there were even some meanly written letters by authors who just refused to come at all, ever, but he decided not to put those in display.

I liked seeing how Literary Arts have promoted literature and encouraged interactions between the writers and readers. There were examples of Poetry in Motion cards, which I’ve seen and read while riding public transportation. Writers in the Schools (or WITS) was a fairly recent program they’ve started in which they bring a professional writer to a high school and for one semester would teach creative writing to the students. Literary Arts also offers grants and fellowships to writers. In the panel discussion following the reception, one of the panelists (which included famous local author Ursula K. Le Guin and the owner of Powell’s, Michael Powell) told a story of how one writer used the money he was given to fix a leaky roof over his writing desk. I think it’s small simple acts like those that sometimes make the difference. Other topics included a short history of Literary Arts, their impact in the community and cultural landscape, and future plans and programs.

The audience seemed highly educated for the most part. But the refreshments of wraps, fruits and vegetables, cheese and crackers, cookies, coffee, and lemonade also attracted freeloaders and homeless people. One such person actually stationed herself by the food during the reception and then another one attended the panel discussion only to snore through the whole thing. Overall, though, the event was attended by people who were appreciative of Literary Arts and everything they’ve done to make Portland a city of readers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Six Months In: Not a Case of Premature Evacuation

It’s been six months since I’ve moved to Portland. I really couldn’t have picked a more perfect place suited to my lifestyle and personality. I have a nice studio apartment overlooking the Park Blocks and Portland State University. I can take leisurely walks to my favorite places- the Riverfront, Central Library, Powell’s, and Pioneer Courthouse Square- or ride the streetcars and trains in the Fareless Square to get there. What’s been so wonderful about living here is getting to do and see new things.

I’m living a truly independent life and all the ups and downs that comes with it. I’m volunteering at a library bookstore but it’s kind of strange that it has helped me more in terms of giving me something to do which I enjoy tremendously than I seem to be of any real service to it. And Portland has also enriched my life with art and culture. I’ve attended bookstore and library events, community celebrations, and museum exhibits- all for free.

Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in Portland. I am still unemployed and my bank account continues to dwindle. Without a source of income, a part of me can’t really give in to the idea that this is my home now because I might have to leave it all behind. I also find myself struggling for simplicity. Even I who has no job have let superfluous things clutter my life and made it more complicated than it needs to be. I wanted every aspect of my life to be simple and perfect right away but I realized that those things take time.

Moving to Portland definitely marks a new chapter in my life and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to share my experiences in this blog. Even though there’s still a lot to be desired for, my life is not as bleak as I sometimes make it seem. Leaving Las Vegas wasn’t a case of premature evacuation. I was all about goals and lists- actually I still am- but I’m also about the experiences and the adventures as well now. Maybe that’s what I needed to learn- to enjoy the journey, enjoy life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Coming Up Roses in the City of

I like free. So, when I learned the Portland Japanese Garden was having a free admission day, I figured it was something I should check out. Located in Washington Park, I thought the only way to get there was by train and bus which weren’t free- and, in fact, just had a recent fare increase- so I wasn’t as keen on going after all. (I had actually walked to the southern outskirts of the park before and with Portland being such a hilly and foresty city, I thought I had reached a dead end.) Fortunately, I had just checked out “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster- a travel book exploring different walkable and scenic routes in and around the city. The book showed me an alternate access through the northwestern edge of the park. I’m not an outdoorsy kind of guy but for the sake of doing something different, I decided to take a hike.

The walk I was undertaking was a 3.5 meandering trail through a small section of Washington Park’s 40-acre. Of course, that distance didn’t factor what I had to walk to get to the starting point which was on 24th and Burnside. I wanted to follow the book’s directions as closely as possible but that proved a bit difficult for me. I think a little knowledge of what trees were which would have helped me as they were sometimes used as guide posts. And some routes ended up being closed for construction or the sprinklers were on but I had no desire to walk in mud.

Even on the first stretch of the walk, under the shadows created by the overlapping branches of the giant trees and surrounded by the strange sounds of nature, I was already worried about getting lost and being bitten by wild animals or crazy homeless people. I was relieved then- in more ways than one- to see the first building mentioned in the book- a restroom in the style of Snow White’s cottage. After making use of the facilities, I checked out the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. The cobblestone path leading to the wall of names were littered with bronze statues of what the victims might have carried with them and dropped along the way as they were led to the concentration camps- a pair of shoes, a child’s doll, a suitcase, etc. That and reading the quotes by people who lived through the horrific ordeal made for a very somber experience.

Part of my trek took me to the Arlington Heights neighborhood which boasted an avenue of various architecturally styled houses. From a tract home next to a Colonial, then a Tudor and a Mediterranean villa, the one I liked most had a magnificent stone staircase with grottoes and benches that seem to invite anyone to come and sit awhile but really wasn’t allowed since it was on private property.

Back in Washington Park, the first major attraction I came across was the International Rose Test Garden, I didn’t think I would enjoy myself there but the beauty of the place with its roses and roses in every color imaginable- intense and vibrant- coupled with their sweet fragrant scents made it quite a highlight. There was even an amphitheater where it was easy to imagine concerts being held there during the summer nights. It would have been silly of me if I didn’t take the advantage of the creative and positive energy coming from the place so I sat down on the grassy steps and wrote in my notebook as children played across the lawn and stage.

I was lucky to have gotten there in time for a tour of the grounds- and for the garden’s final bloom of the season. A volunteer guide or Master Gardener from the Oregon State University showed a tiny group of us around the over five-acre land through the thousands of roses there. Each of the varieties were given such fanciful nicknames like “Sweet Inspiration” and “Lavender Dream” and some even after famous people like “Julia Child” and “Diana, Princess of Wales” for no discernable reason to me. I found it interesting that in “the city of roses”, it is illegal to pick them, a fineable offense of $500. With its free admission though, anyone can enjoy the International Rose Test Garden practically anytime they want. There were also great views of downtown Portland and Mt. Hood in certain spots.

After that, I went to my original destination- the Portland Japanese Gardens- which was just a short walk away. I took the complimentary shuttle to the main entrance where the staff was holding a membership drive trying to get the increased number of visitors to join or renew. With its prime location nestled in the hills of Washington Park far away from the noises of downtown traffic, it was like being in an authentic Japanese garden. An art show and sale was finishing up its run in the Pavilion. Overlooking the verandah was the Flat Garden, and like the Sand and Stone Garden, its sand was carefully raked with symbolic designs. There was also a traditional ceremonial Tea House but what I liked most were being near the waterfalls and crossing the Moon and Zig Zag bridges over the ponds with the koi swimming about minding their own business. I decided to take the meandering pathway I saw riding up the shuttle out of the Japanese Gardens, passing through the Antique Gates. Unfortunately, there weren't tour guides so I had to show myself around with the aide of a map. I’m sure I missed a lot of important and interesting details and for that I was disappointed with the experience.

It was then time to continue back on the trail so I made my way back towards the International Rose Test Garden, walked past it downhill, and true to what was written in the guidebook, heard the sounds of the children laughing and playing in the Rose Garden Children’s Park before actually seeing it. Further down was the converted Elephant House- now a picnic area and restroom. The rest of the walk was uneventful since it was on the same road as what the cars used to come and go. After passing two reservoirs, I came to the formal entrance of Washington Park. Up the brick staircase were the Lewis and Clark Memorial with its 34-foot rectangular granite column and the bronze statues of “Sacajawea” and “The Coming of the White Man” which were both unveiled during the early 1900’s. This was also where some of the paths mentioned in the book were closed off for construction so I had to use the best of my abilities to find my way back. Luckily, the walk was a loop and I saw the very familiar English Tudor restroom.

Now that I was semi-familiar with this portion of Washington Park and found a beautiful place I wouldn’t mind visiting again in the International Rose Test Garden, I think I’ll end up taking this hike again (and other hikes mentioned in the book) because there are still trails I have yet to explore.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Music to My Ears

After some very unsummery days of wet weather- this is Portland after all- the sun decided to shine just in time for this year's Oregon Symphony in the Neighborhoods. The annual community celebration of the arts boasted an impressive schedule of events- concerts from both the Portland Youth Philharmonic and the Oregon Symphony with accompanying performances from the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Portland Opera- for free- further proof of how Portlanders are spoiled with all these great programs.

I went down to Waterfront Park just in time to find a choice seat in the shade of a tree. Any later, I might have had to sit in one of its branches. The area in front of the outdoor stage (situated on the south side of the Hawthorne Bridge) was covered with blankets and folding chairs and people with their picnic baskets. The boaters parked along the mini-beach and the guests from the Riverplace Hotel were also there to enjoy the music.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic were first to take the stage. Apparently, the PYP was America's first youth orchestra. Members range from seven to twenty-two years of age and obviously require a committed mindset and intensive practices to learn all the numbers they play and sound good while doing so. Their set consisted of four varied compositions and it was impressive to learn that the violinist who earned a solo performance was just about to enter high school.

In between the concerts, there was a tent set up that people could visit and participate in mini vocal and instrumental lessons. And while not as fancy as other people's meals of sandwiches and salads and platters of cheese and crackers and their bottles of wine, I did have the same idea of bringing food along and brought with me a Snickers bar and a cup of iced coffee. Writing in my journal also helped pass the time during the intermissions.

The Oregon Symphony was conducted by an amusing old man from Austria by the name of Carlos Kalmar. I don't know how necessary conductors really are when the musicians have the sheets in front of them but watching him move around with his wild arm gestures provided another element of entertainment. Listening to the pieces reminded me that classical music was more than what was played during cartoons and used as commercial jingles. And it was interesting to learn that the musical number playing in the beef (“It’s what’s for dinner”) commercials was from a popular ballet- "Rodeo".

The program featured a scene from "Swan Lake" with two of Oregon Ballet Theatre's lead dancers (or principals) playing the roles of the Prince and the Swan Queen. As graceful as the choreography was, all I could think of was how almost obscenely tight and skimpy the costumes were. Ballet to me is very reminiscent of ice skating (without the ice of course)- or vice versa, whichever came first.

Michael Allen Harrison- "one of Portland's most beloved musician"- also joined the Oregon Symphony to play an original piece he wrote- "Starry Night"- for an astronaut friend of his. It may just be because I'm ignorant but I've never even heard of the pianist. Of course, classical music is not my preferred musical genre.

After awhile, all the music began to sound the same. The crowd was getting restless as the night had crept in. I don't think I had any feeling from the waist down after sitting on the grass for so long. But things picked up the Portland Opera played a scene from Verdi's "La Traviata". Even with this being my third time being exposed to opera, I can't say I like it any more but I definitely appreciate it.

The final piece brought the PYP and Oregon Symphony together. I'm sure the kids felt an incredible sense of accomplishment getting to play with the professionals. The "1812 Overture" was followed by the firing of cannons (or howitzers to be exact) and a very lengthy but spectacular fireworks display.

My only suggestion would have been to have some sort of music playing during the fireworks so people like me knew when it was really over. Aside from that minor detail, it was truly another unexpectedly pleasant new experience for me. I am in constant awe and admiration of how Portland treats its people by providing them free access to the arts. And I don't mean imitations of it since even the panhandlers play the violins but getting to see the real deals like the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Opera and getting the opportunity to decide if they like it or not. I never once imagined I'd end up listening to a symphony in a park.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fun at Festa Italiana

Portland's 17th annual Festa Italiana just came to a close. A grand Mass and a bocce tournament preceded the transformation of Pioneer Courthouse Square into a "Piazza Italia". For the past four days, it was the center to celebrate the Italian culture and all its contributions to the world.

I was reminded of my going to Las Vegas' own San Gennaro Feast some time ago but that was a rather windy and overpriced experience. I was determined to have this be a more enjoyable time. With free admission, it was already looking good as I wanted to see the many events scheduled for the weekend. Naturally, the items at the food court, wine garden, and merchandise booths had to be paid for but I stayed away from those areas but the smells and sights of the food were tempting! Raffles were also being sold to help support the "festa" with the lure of a trip for two to Italy or a Vespa motor scooter.

A concert was held by the Portland State University's Opera Department. While at times it felt like sitting through a school recital, it was still quite impressive that they've dedicated themselves to singing that particular style, which does not look to be easy with the voice control and everything else that goes into it. A few students managed to stand out for me because they did more than sing but actually seemed to give an actual performance. One of them even got a scholarship from the Festa Italiana Association which I thought was nice.

There were a lot of accordionist acts, a few singers, and an eight-piece band from Ohio called the Eurorhythms who really got the crowd going. I liked seeing how the music affected the crowd in different ways. I did my fair share of hand clapping and foot tapping but somehow always managed to miss the beat. There was an old man in particular who seemed to be a performance in his own right with his arm gestures like he was orchestrating the whole affair. All the acts included "That's Amore" in their setlists.

When the band played songs that asked the audience to join and dance in a circle, I wished I could be as free and uninhibited as they were. The high energy of the place also reminded me of the fiestas in the Philippines- or just about any large parties there- which had mostly everyone participating and caught up in the moment.

Another crowd pleaser seemed to be the Italian folk dancers. Although they were rather anemic in number with only six out of their regular fourteen members able to make it from Sacramento, I appreciated the effort they put in to their dancing. Their moves involved a lot of finger snapping, hand clapping and occasional tambourine playing choreography. One of their final numbers was the chicken dance.

Other events included a pizza toss and grape stomp. There was even a street artist flown from Italy. I also watched a marionette show put on by a family from Seattle who runs their own puppet theater company. This was not held in the constructed center stage like the other performances but at the Square's echo chamber. It was quite a charming production of an Italian-style "Cinderella" called "Cenerentola". There were some slight noise issues from the busy traffic and the sound system but overall it was still highly entertaining and professionally put on.

I'm glad the weather held for most of the celebrations- only raining during the final hours of the event- and I'm sure the many people who went had as much fun as I did and perhaps learned a little about the Italian culture in the process.

Long Live Libraries!

Libraries are some of my favorite places in the world. They have been my homes away from home, places where I've worked, and somewhere I knew I could go to to gather my thoughts before continuing on with my apartment search. Central Library in downtown Portland was that temporary retreat for me on my first day in this new city. Opened in 1913, the building underwent major renovations in the mid-1990's adding modern day conveniences but retaining its historic characteristics. Some of the more architecturally interesting features are the first floor stairs with its "Tree of Knowledge" artwork and the Beverly Cleary children's library housing a magnificent bronze statue of a tree carved with images from everyday life and classic literature.

Libraries have the reputation of being these ancient stuffy buildings with out of date books and stern librarians waiting around corners ready to "shoosh" you with the slightest sound from your lips. But that's not the case anymore. Not only do they have the latest releases in books and a whole array of reference materials but they also have the most recent DVD's and CD's ready for check out. They even hold all kinds of free activities like book club discussions, writing workshops, and computer and language classes just to name a few. I think one of the best and smartest things anyone can do is to get a library card and take advantage of all the services it has to offer.

This past Sunday, I attended a special screening of Ann M. Seidl's documentary "The Hollywood Librarian" at Central Library. The film takes "a look at librarians through film" and, in fact, that served as the subtitle. Since it's no secret how much I love and laud libraries, this was definitely something I had an interest in seeing. There was a good turnout for the event- a majority of whom were librarians.

The film was mostly inteviews interspersed with movie clips. It was nice listening to the librarians because they clearly loved what they did and I felt a bond with them since ultimately we were all readers, lovers of books and of the written word.

An interesting segment was how in the town of Salinas, California, famously known as the birthplace of John Steinbeck, an election was held to see if they could overturn the measure that threatened to close its three public libraries. I find it hard to imagine living in a city without one. And it's disheartening to think how funding for their continued presence becomes less and less every year. Fortunately, that little drama had a storybook ending with 61% of the voters deciding in favor to keep their libraries open.

Watching "The Hollywood Librarian" just reinforced my belief how libraries provide such a great and valuable service to their communities, not only as a source of knowledge and information but of enjoyment as well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pulling Strings

It's not everyday I walk pass supersized skeletons. Although they weren't actual remains of any previously existing creatures but more like giant cartoon characters let loose in the real world, they were still mighty impressive. I saw them through the windows of the Oregon Historical Society Museum. What one has to do with the other beats me but I was curious about the whole thing. After visiting the website, I found out the skeletons were part of a puppetry exhibit featuring the art of award-winning Michael Curry and his design studio team. Even more impressive than that piece of information was the fact that every third Saturday of the month, the OHS holds a "Barbara Davies Free Day" in which they offer free admission to the museum courtesy of a nice lady who wanted to share its resources with the community. Not needing to pull any strings to see a puppet show for free and with the suddenly sweltering summer weather, a day in a museum never sounded so good.

In the lobby was a table set up for visitors. They were giving away freebies. What use I have for a magnet, a book about sports achievements, and two sets of postcards is anyone's guess but I took them anyway. After stocking up, I headed for the "Puppetry: An Out of Body Experience" exhibit.

There was so much to see. In fact, I needed to do a complete walk around of the whole room before I could fully take in and focus on any individual object and appreciate each one- and then try to form coherent thoughts. There were masks, props, conceptual art, prototypes, marionettes, "meganettes", photos, and, of course, puppets from the various productions he's done. And his list of clients is indeed impressive- Disney, Cirque du Soleil, and the Olympics just to name a few. I was fascinated by the pieces that moved on their own like the paper puppet model from "Cirque Du Soleil- Love". There was a blacklight room in the pieces glowed in the dark. There were also a couple of videos showing behind the scene footage from the studio and the Broadway play of "The Lion King". The words that came to mind were: beautiful, amazing, fantastic, and fantastical. I had to remind myself that for every already incredible costume and prop made, there were people- performers- who made use of them to put on a show. What I liked best about the exhibit was the interactiveness of it. I played with a mechanical prototype of Simba from "The Lion King". My favorite part though was getting to move the skeletons that attracted me in the first place. "El din de Muertos" or "Day of the Dead" is a couple of skeletons- one male, one female- designed for Disney's California Adventure. There were a set of strings and each moved an arm or leg so it was fun to make them move and dance. "Puppetry" was truly innovative and I would have been happy to have just seen that and left but there were many more things to see.

"Hungry Planet" sounded like something I'd be interested in but all it was were photographs of families from various countries showcasing how similar and different our eating habits, choices, and preferences are. It would have been nice if they had food samples from the exotic places but then again I always think things would be better if I had something to eat.

I originally thought those two exhibits were it but looking at a map, I saw the OHS had four floors, the topmost reserved for their research library. I had come in from the Park Avenue entrance and so I was on the second floor. On my way to the first level, there was a display of "Great Athletes, Great Oregonians" on loan from the now closed Oregon Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. The only thing I was remotely fascinated with in the midst of all the memorabilia, artifacts, and photography was the statue of three umpires looking at the sky. Entitled "Bottom of the 6th (or Game Called Because of Rain)", it was based on the famous Norman Rockwell painting which first appeared on the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post".

The Northwest Art Gallery was basically just a hallway of paintings, which I understood they change out from time to time. Also on display was a restoration of "the Benson Automobile"- the first car built in Oregon.

I was lucky I went to the museum when I did because many of the exhibits on the first floor were scheduled to end their run. In "Oregon's Legacy: The New Deal at 75", I liked looking at the artifacts from earlier times. (Although, to me, "artifacts" makes things sound more ancient than they really are. Perhaps "antiques" would be a better term?) There was the "President's Chair" which was specifically designed and built for Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Timberline Lodge. Also there was something called a megohmer- a device used to measure the amount of electrical current leakage. In "Battleship Oregon: Bulldog of the Navy", it was cool to see miniature models of the ship because they must have been time-consuming to create. The other exhibit was dedicated to "Western Native Basketry". Some pieces were on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Craft. Also on the first floor was the Museum store, which had its own entrance on Broadway Avenue.

The other highlight for me after "Puppetry" was the award-winning interactive exhibit "Oregon My Oregon" taking up the entire third floor. There were the usual old stuff including a collection of hats and shoes representing various occupational and cultural communities throughout the state's history. There was "Margaret Frank's Remarkable Wagon" packed full of what they would have needed to hit the trail. It's amazing to imagine how they must have lived their lives back in those days. The best part was being able to get hands on with the surroundings and seeing certain spaces recreated like being in a "Plank House", the "Yasui Grocery Store", and the Hudson's Bay Company trade ship complete with creaking floor boards and trunks you can rummage through. There were also a couple of theaters but my favorite part was the "Newberry Lunch Counter" video presentation. The actual diner it was based on had a downtown location from 1927 to 1996. A menu provided the available videos you can view, each tackling a different modern Oregon issue. The jukeboxes is what the visitors used to play their selection on the large flat screen TV.

The whole experience at the Oregon Historical Society Museum was completely enriching. I was inspired by the beauty of the things I saw. I learned things and was exposed to historical and culturally significant information presented in unique interactive ways. I had great fun and would definitely recommend anyone visiting Portland to stop by the OHS and see for themselves what I can't stop raving about.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun at the Movies

Summer in Portland is filled with fun and free activities for everyone. In Pioneer Courthouse Square alone, there have been a lot of events already as part of the "Summer at the Square" celebration. Every Tuesdays and Thursdays, they've been having their "Noon Tunes" mini-concerts featuring regional bands I've never heard of. Then they held a sand sculpting contest last weekend. I went there when Starbucks was sampling their new seasonal drink- Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino with Chocolate Whipped Cream- and when a soda company was giving out free root beer floats. I'm not a big soda drinker anymore but I decided they were nice little treats.

And I just got home from a fun night at the Square with their first "Flicks on the Bricks" outdoor movie series. This is I believe the third year in which for four consecutive Fridays they've been screening movies for the public for free. I wasn't going to go at all because the films weren't new by any means or even classics by the list they provided- "The Birdcage", "Ghost Buster" and "National Lampoon's Vacation". The kick-off film, though, was "The Goonies". I've heard of it but never watched it and falls into the type of movie I might have watched if there was nothing else on TV at the time- back when I still had a TV. Then I heard there was going to be free popcorn so that kind of changed my mind. I figured I'd at least stop by to check it out because it would at least have been something to do. And for me, especially now, life is all about experiences and adventures- or "non-adventures", in my case.

The movie was scheduled to start at dusk but I thought with the sun setting so late in the summer days that they were actually going to start sooner than that. So I got there at 6pm and as always I was way too early again. But I grabbed a spot by the waterfalls and watched as they inflated this big almost-movie-theater-sized screen. Aside from the regular food carts around the Square, there was also a yogurt stand- Active Culture Frozen Yogurt- who were sponsors of the event.

People were already there or coming in and sitting on the steps or on the chairs and cushions they brought along with their blankets, pillows, snacks and other things to make themselves all comfortable. A family even brought along an inflatable mattress. I thought there was a sizable number there already since I didn't realize just how popular "Flicks on the Bricks" was but the Square got packed. There was hardly any room to move. Truly, Pioneer Courthouse Square transformed into Portland's "living room" as it is described by some people.

The movie didn't start well after 9pm- when the sun wasn't able to cast a glare on the giant screen. For 3 hours, I occupied myself by people watching, writing on my journal, and reading a book- and, eating popcorn, of course. The free bags were courtesy of Cricket, another sponsor, and they had enough for 2,000 people. I ate 6 bags waiting for the movie to start- and another 8 while watching. Naturally, that meant I broke my rule of not eating after 8pm but once again I didn't mind because it just completed the experience. Popcorn and a movie- they just go together like peanut butter and jelly.

"The Goonies" was a fun enough movie and everyone else seemed familiar with it already and had a fondness or affinity towards it. They were clapping and hollering and just enjoying themselves and the feeling was infectious. I'm really glad I came.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Block Party

The Craft PDX Block Party was a free community event put on by the Museum of Contemporary Craft. On its second year, it was also to celebrate the Museum's one-year anniversary in its new Pearl District/ North Park Blocks location- although it's actually been part of Portland's cultural landscape for at least 70 years.

Funny thing- I got my dates mixed up and I mistakenly waited in the park for almost two hours the day before the actual event. And there I was thinking they were being disorganized since they were still having to set up mere minutes away from when I thought they were scheduled to start.

Anyway, a craft block party was not what I was normally into but it was something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Boasting of lectures, live music, and art demonstrations, I decided to see what it was all about. The venue was held not only in the Museum itself but also spilling out into the streets on three sides of the building under tents to provide shade from the sun.

Out there, I walked by stalls where different guilds were representing a specific craft- sculpting, woodworking, weaving, and glass blowing just to name a few. There was also a place for kids to play with clay and make figures. Another area was reserved for making your own raku pots- a specific way of firing pottery which creates designs on the wares. Food carts were also lined up to provide nourishments for those who had more than a hunger for the arts and crafts.

I then went inside the Museum of Contemporary Craft. Needless to say, I felt out of place there as I knew nothing about art. I just looked at each piece, lingering longer on those that caught my eye for one reason or other. One of which was a collection by John and Robin Gumaelius. (Information were provided by pieces of paper next to each display and not from my inherent knowledge of artists and their works.) They made sculptures that were a mixture of bird and human forms. For example, the body of a bird was also a human head. They were definitely different.

Then there were these cool movable glass sculptures by Andy Paiko. One was called "Spinning Wheel" which was very elaborate in design. Another was "Balance"- a glass-blown scale. Mostly there were ceramic vessels- like bowls and vases but there were also furniture, jewelry, and some tapestries. A popular piece was of a bent over happy child with flowers stemming out of its butt appropriately entitled "Flower Child".

On the second floor was a retrospective exhibit of a Pacific Northwest artist named Ken Shores. What was cool was his "Feather Fetishes" display in which he combined ceramic sculptures with feathers to create something new and interesting.

I also sat through a lecture on the Museum's history that was commemorated by the publishing of "Unpacking the Collection". The curator and author- Namita Gupta Wiggers- was the speaker. While the lecture was comparable to being in class again- and it did kind of drag towards the end, I found it fascinating how deep people can sometimes get with art, finding meaning in what I'd call just very colorful bowls.

After that I went back out where a stage was set up and listened to the Scrambled Ape- one of the five bands scheduled to play throughout the day's festivities. Their sound was what I thought of as catchy funky music because I really can't describe music well either. But as put in better terms by one of the members, they played cartoon jazz which is exactly what it sounded like- a very fitting background music if Wile E. Coyote was chasing the Road Runner at that very moment.

All in all, the Craft Block Party was a very pleasant enriching experience. It was incredible that the Museum would hold a free community event giving people a chance to explore the world of arts and crafts when they normally wouldn't be exposed to those things. I was also amazed once again by how supportive and encouraging Portlanders were of their local talents and by how volunteerism really helped with the running of these kinds of events.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The History Boys

"The History Boys" by Alan Bennett won a Tony Award for Best Play during its American run in 2006. But like all things Broadway, I had never even heard of it. Then there were posters for a new production playing in Portland earlier this year and I was surprised there was a film version so I checked the latter out to see what all the buzz was about.

One of the reasons I liked "The History Boys" was because it shared many elements with another favorite movie of mine- "Dead Poets Society". Both take place in schools so the cast of characters center around students pressured to do well not only with their education but also with life in general. The students are taught by teachers with very eccentric methods of teaching and they all ultimately learn more than what's in the lesson books. And while "carpe diem" was the catchphrase for "Poets", the "Boys" had "pass it on". Yet for all their similarities, each movie was unique in its own way.

Another thing that made watching the film version such a treat was that the original cast that performed it onstage revived their roles for this movie adaptation. It made me wish I had seen the play but I did the next best thing by listening to the audiobook version of it. Although I would say it was more of a dramatization than just a straight out reading of the play in the sense that there were no stage directions being read out loud. (But I guess they don't really do that since that would be weird if they did.) It was just like having it all played out but with no visuals. This did cause some problems as you didn't immediately know the setting or if a special technique- like a flashback- was being used. I would say though the movie captured all the important moments- and the spirit- of the play and even managed to make it much more moving.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fireworks and Free Chocolates

Riverfront was bustling with activity. People searched for areas to get a good view of the firework displays later that night and to enjoy the music from the Waterfront Blues Festival. Parties were being held in the many boats that were docked in the marina.

Even if it weren’t a holiday, I still would have been there because I liked the energy of the place and it made me feel relaxed and calm. Any negative thoughts I may have had seemed to temporarily be forgotten as I enjoy the scenery around me. I think it must be having the four elements of nature that does the trick for me. Basking in the heat of the sun, cooling off from the occasional breeze, watching the rippling surface of the river, green grass below and green leaves above, it's a perfect place for a picnic. Restaurants and shops also take up a strip of the esplanade.

It would be nice to live in this part of town. Or to have friends with boats to idly pass the afternoons drifting slowly down the river.

I'm glad I didn't pay for the festival since the music could be heard from blocks away in every direction and it's not like blues is my type of music anyway- although the admission was only $10 plus a donation of 2 cans of nonperishable food items to support the Oregon Food Bank.

I really hadn't planned on getting there so early but for the sake of festivity I decided to just wait it out to the end. A family of five set up camp to my right and a cordoned off area for a private party of festival staff and volunteers was to my left. I think it might be cool to volunteer for next year's festival.

The fireworks were naturally a dazzling display of lights. I liked the ones that reached higher than the rest and their burst was a wide range, ending in rains of twinkling stars. From where I stood, I saw fireworks being shot from two different barges- one stationary and the other moving down the river. Of course I could be wrong about that second part as I got distracted towards the end of it, not only because it had been going on for quite awhile but also because someone from the private party was passing out a box of chocolates. And sadly I broke my rule of not eating after 8pm but this was a special occasion- not specifically for me but in the sense that it was a national holiday- so I wasn't going to beat myself up over it. And, just a reminder, it was free chocolates. Free. Chocolates.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Kite Runner

I finished watching "The Kite Runner"- a good enough movie but it just goes to show how much is lost between the book and the film. A positive thing that the movie had going for it was how it was able to skip the parts that dragged the book down especially the melodramatic incidents of the last chapters. It was also fascinating to learn through the bonus features how international the whole film project was from the cast and crew to the locale- Afghanistan was shot in China!

"The Kite Runner" is such a story about friendship, redemption and forgiveness that it was easy to get emotional while watching the movie but not necessarily because of the scenes playing out. My mind was going off on all kinds of tangents. It's sad that war and poverty is still so much a way of life. And, equally sad is how religion gets twisted to justify violence. And I thought of simpler times in general. Oh, nostalgia! The movie also made me wish I was more aware and in tune of my culture.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Murder on the Orient Express

"Murder on the Orient Express" is a movie I've been wanting to watch but was never really in the mood to actually sit through it. Old movies just aren't my style and this was from 1974. But once I got around to it, I found the film highly entertaining.

The movie is, of course, based on Agatha Christie's mystery novel featuring her famous detective- and my favorite- Hercule Poirot. When you've formed your own idea of how a character looks, it's hard to get into someone else's portrayal of them. However, Albert Finney played the part of Poirot well and even had the detective's famous moustache. The rest of the cast was very star studded. The names I was able to recognize included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and Wendy Hiller.

The movie mostly stayed true to the book and without having it seem like a lifeless re-enactment of it. I think that's what makes any adaptation good- if it can retain the spirit of the original source but can bring its own interpretation and energy into it. The cleverness of the crime and solution was captured as well. I also enjoyed the small jokes I caught in reference to the casting like the reference to "Psycho" with Anthony Perkins' character's close attachment to his mother on this film.

According to the "making of" documentary, the movie was meant to be a throw back to old-fashioned glamorized filmmaking. With the cast, costumes and music, I think "Murder on the Orient Express" achieved its goal. In another bonus feature- "Agatha Christie: A Portrait"-, it was nice to see pictures of the literary legend in her later years. This movie just reminded me of how much of a genius she really was.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I figured that while I was still terminally unemployed, it would be a good time to check out what volunteering opportunities there were out in the world. Or, at least, in my immediate vicinity. I was hoping there'd be some at Central Library since it was close by and I was familiar with that environment. I was thinking I could check in and shelve items. I attended a meeting there last week to see what was available. I felt so old that day. I was surrounded by mostly teenagers and some were so young they had a parent with them for supervision. It lasted about an hour- going over some background information on the library district and the different areas in which to volunteer in. Unfortunately, there were no spots at that location but finding out about my work history, one of the coordinators suggested I check out the Friends' Library Store. So I did.

Friends is a non-profit organization run by volunteers that helps support the library system with its sales of not only donated materials like books, CD's and DVD's but also of greeting card, postcards, bookmarks, book ends, literary gifts, shirts, hats, posters, drinks and snacks. For such a small space, I was surprised they could fit all that in.

The interview went well. While my previous work experiences were impressive enough, I think what made them decide to take me was talking to one of my ex-bosses whom I was told said "great things" about yours truly. I'm not sure what the exact words were but it felt nice that someone would have "great things" to say about me.

I just finished my first day there even though I was practically doing everything I would have done working in a bookstore- but without getting paid. The highlight was definitely interacting with the customers. There was a nice lady, who was not only a reader but a booklover as well, and we talked about some good books we've read and even recommended some titles to each other. I missed those connections.

I enjoyed myself and am glad I've rejoined the ranks of the contributing members of society. I look forward to volunteering some more with Friends.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Starlight Parade

The Starlight Parade kicked off the annual Portland Rose Festival- over a week long celebration that included the Waterfront Village (a sort of carnival with rides and food booths), a fireworks display, Fleet Week, and the Grand Floral Parade.

I wasn't exactly sure what it was but someone described it as Portland's version of Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade. I was definitely curious and it had an interesting name. Many streets in downtown were closed off and spectators had set up camp on the sidewalks since that afternoon.

I found a spot by Central Library at about 8pm. Kids were enjoying themselves- running around, playing with light sabers and eating cotton candy- while the grown ups kept watch and talked amongst themselves. There was a sense of excitement and community all around.

It started with the Starlight Run- a marathon that runs the entire parade's route of 3.1 miles. At first I was wondering why some of the runners were dressed up as Dr. Seuss characters, clowns and why one guy was wearing a huge cardboard cutout of the Brady Bunch board with him taking the father's square. Apparently, it was also a costume contest for individuals and groups. The run was for all ages with kids running on their own, being pushed in strollers or riding on the shoulders of a parent. It looked really fun and something I'd like to do next year- sans wearing a costume.

As I was in a corner, part of the fun was seeing how the big vehicles would maneuver the sharp turn without running anyone over. Then there were those people who kept trying to cross the streets in the midst of a procession. I wondered where the homeless people went as there weren't any offensive smells.

Then there was the actual parade of lit-up decked-out vehicles, floats of various businesses and local clubs and associations, and high school marching bands and cheerleaders.

It didn't end until a little after 11pm. I'm sure the parade would have run smoother had it not been for the MAX trains that crossed the route. The weather actually held out (meaning it didn't rain) although a little on the chilly side. It was my first time watching a parade in its entirety and it was definitely interesting.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mark Twain

I watched a film on Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain. It was directed by Ken Burns who has made a name for himself with other acclaimed documentaries, most recently "The War". Told through photographs and Twain's own words with insights from scholars and writers, it was an enjoyable way to learn about someone who I was only familiar with through having read a couple of his books- "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"- as a schoolboy.

Mark Twain became a hugely celebrated public figure for his incredible way with words, using them not only to make people laugh- which he did so successfully- but also to explore/expose certain faults of American society. His private life was full of one heartbreaking loss after another and a rollercoaster ride of triumphs and failures. I was just in awe of the way he lived his life and the talent- especially his wit- that I can only wish to fraction of. He was an amazing man and I think deserves all the praise he gets. I will definitely be reading more of his works.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Library Events

Libraries are one of my favorite places in the world- as a reader, naturally, and as a saver. They have the reputation of being these ancient stuffy buildings with out of date books and stern librarians waiting around corners ready to "shoosh" you with the slightest noise from your lips. But that's not the case anymore. Not only do libraries have the latest releases in books and a whole array of reference materials but they also have the most recent DVD's and CD's ready for check out. They also provide computers with internet access and rooms to hold meetings and special events.

Central Library is one such library. I have already written about how beautiful and interesting it is architecturally but I have been lucky enough as well to check out a few of their programs and exhibits.

The library held a Portland Opera preview of "Aida". Opera isn't my type of music at all and it was for lack of anything else to do that day and with a bit of curiosity that I decided to check it out. I was glad I did for I had a surprisingly wonderful time learning a little history about operas- Verdi's in particular as he created "Aida"- and listening to wonderful performances. I was surprised how his music was familiar in that its been used many times in movies, TV and other media. It was amazing how powerful the voices were and incredible the effect it had on the audience, including myself.

Central Library also holds monthly exhibits in its Collins Gallery. In April, it was the Tears of Joy Theatre's 35th celebration of its puppets and masks. I particularly liked the Pinocchio, Aladdin, Greek mythology, and Arabian Nights displays. I was amazed by the craftsmanship and detail that was put into each one.

May's exhibit is dedicated to Pierre Lecure, a French poet who made beautiful books with the help of printmakers and other artists to showcase his work. I've always loved books but it was usually the words that captivated me so it was incredible to see the books themselves as part of the art. There were about 40 books in display. Different textures of paper were used ranging from rare Mexican bark and airy China paper. Each book had its own unique style and design and housed in different materials like woodcuts and in an ultra light balsa wood box. Often times the poetry themselves would complement the colorful collage of pastel paper or mirror the etchings made on the opposite page creating a sense of movement with the words. The opening reception on May 6th talked about Lecure and his works and offered refreshments not only of cookies, vegetables, cheese and crackers but also of very filling wraps.

I am looking forward to future events Central Library will be holding. The ones I mentioned were just what I've taken part in but it has also had swing dance lessons, writing workshops, computer and language classes just to name a few- and all for free. I think one of the smartest things anyone can do is to get a library card and take advantage of everything it has to offer.