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.