I arrived at Portland exactly on the first rainy day of the season. That was just fair because a sunny Portland wouldn't be Portland. The minute you get into the city you feel like your car doesn’t fit in. You may want to make it disappear because there is no place to put it. But once you left it behind, you realize that this city is one of the most walkable urban areas you would ever find. The downtown itself is relatively small and you can get to every point by bus or train. The city is absolutely better off without cars.
The first thing I notice is that the population is very young and very white. I’ve been living in the US for nine years and this is the first time that I find a place that matches the branding or America. This is a vibrating spot for liberal artists. You can see their expression and you can tell something is ticking in their brains all the time. It’s not the neutral gesture of someone that goes to the office every weekday but the distressing face of someone who is not contempt with the world as it is. You can see them writing, drawing and reading in every corner.
The selection and quality of cafes and restaurants are overwhelming for such a small area. Looking for a regular breakfast late in the morning I got into a place called Irving Street Kitchen. Any of these restaurants are worth driving twenty miles in any city, and here they are, one after another, with a bright and inviting design that pleases the eye.
I went for a Salmon Gravlax Benedict. The service was so good that I felt guilty. None of the waitresses let my cup of coffee go empty while I was waiting. When the plate came out and I tried it, I felt like Julie Andrews in the famous opening shot of “The Sound of Music”. But I was afraid that the check would make me feel like Edward North in “American History X” in the scene when he got raped in the showers. Surprisingly the price was comparable with a regular IHOP meal, while the quality was Paris like.
In most cities, you find square and unorganized stores and sporadic elegant spots with personality. In Portland the equation is inverse: Most businesses have a very inviting atmosphere with cutting edge design and a generous use of space; so the regular Payless store looks ugly in the same block.
The little plazas are conceived in such a minimalistic and asserted way that you get into the habit of buying more coffee just to be seated in there doing nothing. Actually, the whole city smells like fresh coffee.
I passed by the iconic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and found that the Oregon Symphony will be playing the Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” the same day. I asked if there was any space still available and the guy in the ticket box told me that someone actually canceled and he gave me his entrance for free. I enjoyed the passionate direction of Carlos Kalmar and the immaculate performance of a first class Symphony.
I’ll have a hard time trying to remember how my life was before all this.