Wednesday, March 25, 2009


If nothing else is gained... we have officially conquered the Costa Rican postal service. That's right mis amigos... I got mail today!!

Arthur apparently sent me some mail that I was blessedly unaware of, full narrative address on there, on March 2. It's the 25th! That's some good turnaround time for a city with no addresses! Juan Manuel, my favorite guard, was perplexed by the mail today, but was sure it was for me.

Awesome! Mission Accomplished.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I promised some fun facts about Panama. Now I've forgotten a lot of them. One thing that is great is the money. Their currency, the balboa, has nifty 1 cent, 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent, 50 cent and dollar coins. The paper money, though is familiar.

There are USA coins and paper, and then also Panamanian coins. But the "balboa" is the ol' greenback. How strange it must be to use money with some other nation's name, historical figures and symbolism on it.

More Panama trivia includes the magic of the words "Darien Gap". The Darien - where CAVU made a film - is the lush southern province of Panama, and the Darien Gap is where the Pan-American highway ends. There is just no more road. You can walk to Colombia, but it is not recommended. Isn't there just mystery and chills and perfection in "the famous Darien Gap"? (Darien = pronounced dare-ee-en.)

Also, Panamanian airport security is for real. However, while my bag was thoroughly searched and while every single piece of clothing was unfolded and removed - including underwear - my toiletry bag was tossed aside with a brief squeeze. Isn't that where liquids, gels, powders and more would be?

The Panama Canal dictates the size of ships built around the world. Some ships have less than a meter on all sides when they pass through the locks. How amazing is that? The world agrees on something at least, and works on it together.

I have seen a few Kuna people... The beadwork is a sight to see, the molas, and I've read and heard that Kuna revere albinos. This does not mean the whiter your skin... they have a high incidence of albinism, and those people are treated specially.

Next up - for real this time - is the trip, from yesterday, to Casco Viejo. In the meantime, picture the Central America of your dreams. The architecture, the weather, the smells and the mood. I'll be back with some photos of it.

The Two Missing Photos.

That's the runway. Ain't it something?

And here's the causeway.

Maybe I'd be a runner if I could run that thing everyday.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flying to Panama Like A Rock Star.

The biggest perk about working for a little non-profit that uses flight and film as our educational tools... sometimes I get to ride in a sweet plane. Yup, the same aircraft as the trip to Uvita... this time, to Panama City!

I've been in Panama exactly 12 hours, and I have, like, four blog posts already. really. For tonight, let's start with the flight here.
This is northern Panama... although one of many factoids I will be sharing with you like a know-it-all is the actual experience, finally, of understanding how Panama is a country that runs east-west, not north-south. Check it out on a map, it's true.

This is a shrimp farm:
I know, I need to stop eating shrimp. You can see how the aquaculture replaces what was a healthy, functioning mangrove.

As you approach the city, you start to see ships.
Then a few more.

Then a few more! All the world's ships, waiting their turn. So awesome.
I was trying to show you the causeway, a recreation area for Panamanians, and really beautiful from 500 feet up. But the internet just jammed. Tomorrow!

And this is the city!!!! Great light, great pilot, great landing. I like to think... technically... see, the runway (pictured in a sec) is to the right of the Canal... as in, South America. Now I've been to South America, right?! Right? (The city is to the right, seen here.)

And then, the really effing awesomest part, sorry folks for the faux-profanity. But here is the Bridge of the Americas.... the bridge that links the Americas, the Pan-American Highway. So awesome.
Yes Meggie, that is the plane dashboard, and some instruments. A small plane is just that... small. You sit nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. It is much, much smaller than a car. Louder, without air-co or a radio. (Well, the music kind.)

And then I wanted to give you one pic of the runway, because runways are so much cooler and more welcome than I ever thought, when you start jetting around in a Cessna 206. This is an international airport, Albrooke, but for small planes - not the one Delta flies to. It's for smaller airlines and civil aviation. (But again, internet jamming. So tomorrow. It's a beaut of a runway.)

Yup, civil aviation is now part of my vocabulary.

Tomorrow... Casco Viejo and Fun Facts About Panama! Plus tapas and an after-dinner drink with a stranger. (I wasn't alone, sheesh. Stop worrying!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Office and A(nother) Trip!

This is where I sit to do a lot of my work. My other "office" is the second floor conference room, which right now...

And I found out today I'm going to Panama City on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday! Woohoo! I hear great things, and we'll be flying in the small plane over the canal, eating out in some great old spots, and having some (hopefully) excellent meetings.

Beyond that, I've got a new farmer's market to visit tomorrow and some phone calls from the guard to field. I just had a three minute conversation with Miguel, but I really don't know what it was about. I hope it wasn't/isn't important... I think it was about whether I'm expecting guests tonight and if I would like to practice my Spanish a little more, because he is also learning English? Hmmm.

Might take a cue from Meggie's playbook... she taught her French kiddos really bad American swear words, like they wanted... except they were fake! So there were 5th graders running around La Rochelle saying "GUMDROP!" when they crashed their bikes, and calling their enemies "PETUNIAS!"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

I've now taken two trips into/around/through downtown San Jose, Costa Rica.

First we have one of the central plazas, near the National Theater, which is lovely, and a couple other buildings are like this - a courthouse, perhaps, and the national bank?

But the rest of it looks like this:

The peeling paint, covered windows - gates or bars or wood, lots of overhead wires... the best description depends on where you've been. It's not the best photograph... so instead, let's compare it... have you been to:

Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC?

NE 82nd and NE Sandy Blvd in Portland, OR?

Downtown LA, in an alley somewhere near the LA Times building?

After dark in Brooklyn, along Navy Street just north of Nassau?

20th arondissment in Paris, 10:30 PM, windy and desolate weeknight?

These are all places very reminiscent of downtown San Jose. Dirty, intimidating, alternately full of people (not necessarily kindred spirits) and creepily empty, swirling garbage, loud music, slamming doors, fireworks (I think) and a general sense of foreboding.

I know I should be used to it now, but the barred windows and buzzers to enter the simplest of businesses still catch my attention. The funniest part of downtown San Jose is that it has... sidewalks!! It's old enough to be the pedestrian part of the city, where I live in Escazu has intermittent sidewalks at best. I wonder, sometimes, if I overreact to the foreignness of the city, and then, in the car, on the way to dinner, Grace said, "Oop, there was the pedestrian street. Gotta drive fast across it so you don't get mugged!" She's full of mirth and confidence, but I asked about why she lives in a city so full of challenges and danger and bureaucratic nightmares (we talked driver's licenses and permanent residency)...

The answer turned out to be there in my question. It's about surviving. It's about thriving. About enjoying the mess, the madness and lawlessness of a foreign land. It's about being so strong in the face of something so unknown and dangerous, and feeling totally alive.

Tonight, I'm not so sure, personally. I'm feeling just plain tired. But isn't it a thrill - a spine-tingling, rah-rah-rah'ing, pure, perfect thrill - to know that there are people in the world committed not to a week's adventure, a month or season's adventure... but committed to embracing and living a messy and gritty and real adventure for a long period of years in their life? I'm glad to know about it, and I'm glad to have driven through downtown San Jose in order to find Cafe Mundo... seen below... where we had a delightful dinner and great conversation, a sultry, tropical night that became a surprisingly cool, windy evening.

(on the deck and the bar inside...)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Few Pretty Pictures.

Truly, AA is everywhere around the world.

A Peruvian creche vendor at a craft market in Santa Ana, which is about five miles from where I live in San Jose, and it feels like another world. It's small and cute and has a little downtown, it is precisely the sort of little town I pictured in Costa Rica - far from the grime and crime and bustle and mess of San Jose. It has (some) sidewalks! It has buildings that are not strip malls! And it has this amazing little church in the city center:

But five miles away there is this...

(This is the expansion of a sort-of-freeway-but-it turns-into-a-regular-road-in-two-miles thing. I will be navigating it in a week when I pick up John at the airport, in the dark! Ack!)

... and this too.

They're not jacaranda nor are they cherry trees, but they are similar, they remind me all the same of springtime. At my childhood home, the center of the backyard has a huge pink-adorned cherry tree in the spring. I was once in Washington DC in April, and have wanted to return ever since for the extraordinary cherry blossoms along the Reflecting Pool and Mall. And I know that when I return to Portland, it will be just in time to enjoy all the blossoms on the waterfront, outside my windows and in all my favorite haunts. As you can see below, the pink flowers only come here once a year as well... so I feel like I'm cheating the system, and getting two springs in 2009!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

One Thing Makes Sense! Or, The Farmer's Market.

So, I've been wondering... I read that Costa Ricans have an average yearly income of $7500. Yes, there is a larger middle class here than anywhere else in Central America, but still. I've been to the grocery store. Things are roughly comparable to the United States. Half-gallon of (non-organic) milk? $1.85. Pound of coffee? $6. Dozen (unrefrigerated solamente, claro) eggs? $1.65. Bakery baguette? $1.25. Not much different than store-brand items. With luxury items taxed like crazy, gasoline and rent the same price, I wondered, how does this work? It just don't make sense.

Well, on Saturday, I went to a neighborhood farmer's market, and this one thing, at least, fell into place. As you can see below, it is a closed off street, with carts provided, on Saturdays in Rohrmoser, San Jose, Costa Rica. (The onions are so awesome, I took like ten pictures.)

I was with a fabulous coworker who answered my questions about 95% of items... and then, there were 4 or 5 fruits we had no idea about, a type of strange shelling pea we tasted and loved, and this:

Yeah, no idea. Some sort of awesome tonic to cure what's ailin' ya. Another stand said their similar-looking item would "Cleanse The Blood." Looks like a recycled Coke bottle to me, and I'm all for recycling, as you know. Maybe I'm all for cleansing the blood too. Perhaps I'll try next week.

Here's a view of the market, up close and far away...

It was a nice long road, on a hill, full of families and shoppers of all nationalities, filled with items like red cabbage, lettuce, cilantro, apples, potatoes, mushrooms... and then also starfruit, mango, papaya, homemade pupusas and tortillas, pineapple, yucca, berries, frijoles, tonics and highly aromatic fish, shrimp, chicken, calamari as well as a cheese monger. (Erin, Nikola: I'm sorry I was not courageous enough to brave the cheese monger this week. I can never remember if it is 2.2 kilos in a pound or 2.2 pounds in a kilo, and I was too scared to get it reversed when ordering.)

But back to the point... which surprisingly is not the variety or the kind and polite vendors or the variety of customers. The point, the one that's the same the world over, is price. And this is how the annual Costa Rican salary suddenly made sense.

To illustrate, here's what I bought, since I was a bit shy and wanted to be sure I'd only buy food I will use this week, having a fridge already well-stocked:

That's a fresh pineapple for 85 cents, a pint of strawberries for 95 cents, ten mandarin oranges for 45 cents, organic arugula for 75 cents, two packages of Brussels sprouts (I am addicted to them, what can I say?) for $1.35 each.

TEN MANDARIN ORANGES... for a TOTAL of 45 cents!! I am excited about this.

They really kick a cocktail up a notch, they make water nice and flavorful, they garnish the heck out of grilled fish, they are great in a salad dressing... but it turns out they make Brussels sprouts taste a little like marijuana. (Or maybe the Brussels are grown near it?...)

Anyhow, next time I'm going to the market with an empty fridge at home, and buying mushrooms, onions, potatoes, mango, papaya, melon, berries, tortillas and herbs at, like, a third the grocery store price.

In closing, I am still a bit befuddled, even tonight, by the idea that in United States, farmer's markets I've been to in Brooklyn, Montana, Portland, San Francisco... they are all grocery shopping for rich people. We rich people like buying organic, we like meeting the men and women who grow our food and we like being part of the community. We like taking a whole morning to shop, because we have just that much time. We like how it makes us feel European.

But here in the developing world, rich people shop at speciality meat markets and clean, Muzak-playing, "American-style" grocery stores. The regular people and the poor people, THEY shop at the farmer's markets. They know their neighbors, the farmers, and they pay less and get more. It's a way of life to shop all morning for the week, it's the way of life that's been passed down and is normal.

I'm not sure how this makes me feel.

Partly, I feel like a poser at the farmer's market in Portland. I feel like my effort to culitvate a European attitude towards food is pretentious, expensive and annoying ... out to imitate an awful, reductive, stereotypical cliche of a culture that's better, more in touch with daily rhythms, simpler and purer. (This does not exist, I know, thanks to the popularity of Tony Roma's and TGIFriday's in my 'hood.)

And partly, I feel like I'm making a grand cultural statement about returning to our best human roots. To continue the theme from the last post, in the way that breastfeeding was inferior and gross to my grandparents but is now lauded and elevated by my parents and peers, perhaps buying local will eventually be cheaper, of higher quality and done by folks who are proud to be part of their neighborhood, culture, community. Perhaps in the midst of this economic meltdown, the economy and culture will vastly restructure, as some are saying. We'll stop buying on credit with no down payment and zero interest, we'll try for a slightly quieter, slightly simpler, and a bit more streamlined existence. I would like this. I like that shops are closed on Sundays here. Am I bored? Maybe. But it's better for everyone. So the farmer's market makes me hope for this change, for myself and my life, which will include buying only the ingredients I need for the week. A healthy change, a conscious approach to eating and life - a way of making myself eat the last bit of lettuce before it goes bad even if I don't feel like it.


Do I have to get rid of my Costco membership now?

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Moment of Acceptance.

So I'm walking to the little market for some groceries, around 5 PM, and the streets are full of honking cars and exhaust, the sidewalks full of manual laborers, making their way home after a long day, and the strip mall cafes full of diners.

And most of you know how frustrated I am by the language barrier... I don't know who these people are who just "pick up a language" but they're not me.

Nikola pointed out that oftentimes really social people, who rely on their intelligence and verbal wit to relate to others, have the hardest time with language-based culture shock, because they have nothing to fall back on. No way to engage people around them, and their whole skill set - that's always worked - is useless in every way.


Anyhow, today is a lighter note. Today I was walking midst the blaring music, the shouting drivers, the conversing cafe patrons, and I thought of pregnant women.

Not what you thought I'd say, eh?

Well, I have enough experience around pregnant women to know that towards the end of the pregnancy, when they just start being over it, they feel like it will go on forever. They'll be pregnant the rest of their lives. The unwieldy body, the discomfort, the lack of sleeping... it feels, 100%, like a permanent state.

So I felt like that today... I will never again be able to chat with a store clerk (as you know I love to do) or laugh while eavesdropping. This state of isolation is (or feels) permanent. But the weird part was that I felt fine about it. I thought, oh well, who needs language? I have a few people I can talk to, and I get by on smiles and gestures and the most basic of phrases, and that's OK. It's like monks who choose to be silent. There can be a grace in it, in the permanence of being Other.

But thank god it isn't. Like the babies who finally come, I realize that Saturday marks the halfway point of this journey, it will end, and before it does, I must - I must!! - learn the difference between the verbs poner and poder.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

OK. Seriously.

We just had another noticeable earthquake. Marcela's poor little bonsai tree here was really shaking! (It was a good six or eight seconds. Ay dios mio!)

Dairy. Babies. Earthquakes.

The much-anticipated CAVU baby arrived on Monday night, and she is a beaut! Plus, everyone likes to feel useful, and the current preferred outfit is a tiny pink onesie from Hanna Andersson that I bought... (thanks to K!)... H.A. makes the most awesome, functional, long-lasting and not ugly organic cotton kiddo clothes. There are no jump-roping frogs or singing airplanes or "Mommy and Me Love You!" taglines on them. And the healthy little princess looks great in her pale pink onesie, IMHO.

In other news... I experienced my first earthquake yesterday:

Like, my first one where I was awake. And the first one where we were all talking and stopped, and my chair was rocking around a bit, and it went on for a while, and we had time to talk about it. It was scary and totally awesome.

Then a couple hours later, I experienced my second earthquake:

It really shook the sliding glass doors and was a tad scarier, only because I had time to think, "Uh, are these quakes building up to a Big One?"

And finally, in today's collection of random notes, Costa Rican dairy products.

As you can see in the picture above, if you want milk, you can buy MILK/LECHE. But I challenge you, if you're a skim milk drinker, to find that. Or 1%. All milk here is MILK/LECHE. Now, I love full fat dairy. I think it's good for your brain, and when a dear cousin of mine was undergoing cancer treatment, she had to stock up on full fat dairy in preparation for the incomprehensible challenge of the treatments. I take this as a sign that full fat dairy is great for humans, and so the milk is NOT a problem, but please allow me to introduce the little container next to it. Costa Rican yogurt.

So I ate some descremado yogurt - skimmed? (De-creamed?) It was fine. It was normal yogurt. Then I wanted to try the orangey tropical looking kind, and I only half-noticed that it was NOT descremado.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It's not like Greek yogurt, or sour cream, both of which I love, though it is similarly decadent. It's somewhere between the mouth feel and hedonism of melted ice cream, but the balanced flavor and slight sweetness of a tangy, fresh yogurt. It's full fat dairy at its very, very best. I'm off to have one now.

(And yup, that's mayonnaise in a bag, as aforementioned on this very blog.)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Indian Name.

No offense meant, but I have been christened with a Native American name... no, I am not "Dances with Wolves", and nor am I "Lady with a Green Backpack" or "One Who Buys Groceries at AM PM" ... though I could be those, too.

Instead, my dear friend Miguel, the very serious and dedicated night guard, has unknowingly given me a name.

Grace, a co-worker of mine's fantastic wife, came to take me out to a ladies-only dinner at Taj Mahal. (Their take-out menu says they're the only Indian restaurant in Central America. I don't know if it is true, but I've eaten there three times now, and it is so, so, so good. I like that it took Costa Rica to get me into Indian cuisine. Hot, flat and crowded indeed - right Mr. Friedman?)

So Grace, who is gringa like me but fluent in Spanish, of course, since she lives and works here, pulls up to the gate, and explains that she is here to visit Emily, the woman at the CAVU casa.

"You mean... the girl that sleeps alone?" Miguel asked with concern.

Stifling her laughter, Grace said, "Uh, yes. The Girl That Sleeps Alone. The gringa girl?"

But Miguel still called me to ask if it was OK to let in a "Grace" (which is even harder than "Emily" to pronounce in Spanish!). I told him it was, and he explained on our way out, "I'm a friend. I will call to make sure only other friends are allowed to visit."

Oh, Miguel. Whatever will you do in two-and-a-half-weeks when John arrives, and I become the Girl That Sleeps With Strange Gringo Men?

PS. For what it's worth, at least he can be "Juan". I have to spell it... A-Emmay-E-Ellay-E Griega. Say that five times fast.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sounds I No Longer React To.

Dogs barking viciously.

Cars honking. (When crossing the street, when making an unprotected left, when falling asleep, when anything.)

Dogs whining or crying, from near or far.

What I thought were gunshots... but so did the Germans at breakfast I talked to. It turns out Ticos *love* fireworks for any and all celebrations.

And the sound I keep reacting to... the wind. The gusting, constant, terrifying wind. I am so surprised it can be such a large presence for someone, like me, who is not used to it. ¡Feliz fin de semana!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

For Those of You Who May Be Visiting Portland in May.

I could spend a week eating out three meals a day in Portland, and just skim my favorites. So please write if you're looking for a tiny, industrial-style French appetizer joint or a grand, city-chic four course meal or the perfect Czech lunch cart (oh, Tabor, I write sonnets for your schnitzelwich). But if you're doing Portland in 2 or 3 or 5 days, here is my highlight-reel version. For additional help planning a fun time, see:

My Favorite Places To See

  • Japanese Gardens and International Rose Test Gardens: The Japanese Gardens take about an hour total, they're gorgeous in any season and any weather, and a wonderful interlude in Portland. (I've been in heat, in rain, in the fall, in the morning and late afternoon. They really are always amazing.) The International Rose Test Garden is free, and across the street from the Japanese Gardens. It is, literally, one of the gardens in the world where new rose hybrids are tested, designed, pollinated and grown. It is really amazing, and a great place for a picnic or for pictures.
  • The other "must-see" spot is Powell's Books... in the next section!

My Favorite Neighborhoods
You can't get a feel for Portland without walking these two neighborhoods: Hawthorne and the Pearl District. They're totally different, equally fun and in very different price ranges.
  • On SE Hawthorne Avenue, I recommend parking around SE 32nd, and walking up the street. If you can please eat breakfast, brunch or lunch (or dinner!) at Chez Machin, SE 35th Place and Hawthorne. It is a darling, rustic, delicious French creperie and bistro - the service is slow, but it's worth it. All along Hawthorne there are little shops and galleries, and the street is perfect for people watching, shopping, eating and coffee. All the way up to 50th it is great, but my favorites are 32nd to 38th and 46th to 50th.
  • In the Pearl District, the shopping is expensive, the people are pretty, the restaurants are hip and delicious --- I recommend Happy Hour at any of the fancy places: roughly, 4 to 6 pm, $5 to $8 cocktails and $1 to $4 small plate of food. But the Pearl also contains Portland's biggest landmark, and you cannot miss it. You must take the time to visit it. Beware, it can swallow you up. Make a game plan of where to meet your friends because someone inevitably gets lost. It's Powell's Bookstore, Portland's legendary City of Books. It is an entire city block and while I love the Red Room, the other colors are great too. Please visit it, and enjoy! The Pearl is a big square - on the map it is bordered by NW 6th, NW 14th, W Burnside and NW Lovejoy. Drive through till you can find parking, and Powell's is at W Burnside and NW 10th. It's magical.

My Favorite Restaurants: High and Low
  • If you only want to spend a bit, say between $8 and $13 for an entree, you must visit La Buca, on NE 28th and NE Couch. It is Northwest-style Italian - pasta, soups, panini. If you can, eat in the bar - it's kid-free and much quieter. Otherwise, it is plain wooden chairs and fresh, simple food at great prices. A full bar, beer and wine, too. No reservations, first come, first serve.
  • My other favorite low is an experience. It's called Biwa, a nontraditional Japanese izakaya with grilled meats, fish, rice dishes, even some Korean specialities and the crowning dish... homemade ramen. Noodles like you've only dreamt of for $9 and they're filling, handmade each day and sublime. Beer, sake, cocktails and no reservations. First come, first serve.

On the high end, if you're ready to shell out over $20 per person (and up to $50, depending on how many courses and how hungry you are), there's a lot to choose from. My personal favorites are Toro Bravo and Le Pigeon.
  • Toro Bravo is Spanish tapas... I always order too much and it's great. In a very up and coming neighborhood, this is the darling of the restaurant scene. They open at 5 PM and if you get there after 5:15, you're guaranteed at least an hour wait - they're first come, first serve. The cocktails are amazing, the food is award-winning, and the atmosphere is hip and fun. You can spend only a bit of money if you snack lightly, or you can go all out. Dishes are small and to be shared, ranging from $4 to $15 each.
  • Le Pigeon is another national food scene darling - a young chef, creative dishes, family style seating and French inspired. It is like going to France, actually, and the food is something you'll always remember. In a bustling, growing part of town full of hipsters and traffic! (But parking is easy, actually.)

More Food You Will Be Happy About: Please Check 'Em Out
  • St. Honore Boulangerie (please, please get a pastry from here! Or a salad! Sit and listen to the Portland French Club and read Le Monde!
  • Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge (This is probably the number one spot in Portland, and the Fish Sauce Wings will make you cry with happiness. It's affordable and busy - go early or order takeout.
  • Pix Patisserie (Two locations for the perfect evening of chatting, sipping champagne or a beer-and-ice-cream-float (homemade ice cream and stout beer!), and trying perfect, beautiful desserts. This is quintissential Portland.
  • Cafe Castagna (I just like it. A fun neighborhood, fancy without breaking the bank but higher end than other stuff. - there's the regular side and the cafe side.)

Best Trips to Take in Under a Full Day (6 to 7 hours each)
  • The Oregon Coast: It's about a ninety minute drive each way, a gorgeous drive from city through farmland and then through the rainy mountains of the Coast Range. Just when you think you should be there, Highway 26 West turns into Highway 101 South, and you arrive at Cannon Beach... the closest thing to Cape Cod you'll find. The whole coast is public property, undeveloped and gorgeous. The rocks and trees meet the beach, it's amazing. Park in Cannon Beach and walk to the shore -- it might be very busy on Memorial Weekend, but a simple walk, a simple meal and a doughnut at Cannon Beach Bakery are enough to restore your soul.
  • Wine Country: About forty minutes outside of Portland by car is some of the planet's best pinot noir wine country... and the pinot blanc, pinot gris and more is also fantastic. Most places charge between $5 and $15 for a tasting fee, and Memorial Weekend is when they roll out new releases. Almost every winery is open - a change from the rest of the time - and most have cheese, crackers, snacks and live music on Memorial Weekend. It can get crazy, so I recommend going early - being out there by 10 AM, and wrapping up in the early afternoon. The Willamette Valley Winery Association has all the information you need at, but my personal favorites are:
  1. Natalie's Estate Winery
  2. Argyle Winery
  3. Tyrus Evan Winery
  4. Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
  5. Ponzi Vineyards
  6. WillaKenzie Estate
Stick to one, or all, of these, and you'll be wowed by the wine, the scenery, the people. It's a fantastic experience.

Finally, I must add... if you need hotel recommendations, email me. But some comedian once said that any city with a Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, has a crappy part of town in it, which is: Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. This holds true in Portland: it's an ugly street, its a thoroughfare that gets you where you need to go, it has a few amazing spots on it ( is the BEST), but it's not "nice", as they say. So if you're staying on MLK, you're far from unsafe (its fine), but you're just on a street that's ugly. Sorry about this, but I promise you're a short walk, MAX (lightrail) ride or cab from something you will love.

I wish I could spend a week with each of you, sharing Portland's awesomeness, but since I can't, I know you'll be happy with these tips.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In like a lion...

... is what March should be. Well, here it was pretty quiet. I had a quiet little weekend and there was no 'weather' to speak of, as the Midwesterners say. Just the regular wind, the regular sunshine, the regular coffee on the patio in 82 degrees.

So, a brief diversion tonight. A few things:
  • I have now bought things I would never, I mean never, have bought in the USA. The first is bottled water. I broke down after a week in the new place. Costa Rica has treated water, it reeks of chlorine and should be a-ok for the digestion... but, ah, no. So after seven days, I've bought a huge bottle of water for this week as I reset my Delicate System. You can just call me Josh Lyman.
  • The second: I also bought mayonnaise in a bag that pours from a spout. I will photograph this if you have not seen it. Now... me buying mayo should come as no surprise. But in a weird plastic bag with a spout? It is interesting. (I skipped the incredibly popular Mayo-with-Lime this time. Lime is in EVERYTHING here. In plantain chips? YES. In mayo? Eh... NO.)
  • The third: I spent too much money on a sweater from MANGO today. MANGO, or MNG, is the more upscale Argentinian department store. I tried it on, I loved it, and I thought, nope, you can't spend 25,000 colones on a sweater. Then my shopping companion asked, "Yeah, but will you wear it?" And I realized, yes. Yes I will. This is the sort of sweater that I will wear for ten years and then bemoan not buying two. I will debut it around the wedding time, I promise. It is perfection in a light pink, vintagey-looking package.
In closing, Arthur and his magical Mac skills are not lost on many of you. This weekend, it meant that he figured out some way of transporting to me, through Advanced Transfiguration classes maybe? or his innate non-Muggleness?, copies of both "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." (Teh Internetz Rool!) There is a chance I have made you watch these films. If I have not...

Look, really, I love being your friend. I love being part of your family. But if you don't at least like these movies a bit (or hopefully love them to a sort of unhealthy degree) we can't be friends or family anymore. I'm sorry. I really am. But this is more than cinematic perfection, though it is that. It is life at its best, it is the ages of 23 and 34 captured with vision, understanding, compassion, humor, heartbreak and artistry. We just can't be friends if you don't love these two films. (Though if you do, can we debate which is better and why? I might die of excitement.)

And now! And now! I can watch them anytime I want and I will never, ever, ever, forget them again. I watched "Before Sunrise" on VHS for the first time when I was 15, a year after it came out. I dragged John to "Before Sunset" in 2004, when we were first dating, on opening weekend. They are probably unnatural influences on my life, but there you have it. (Not probably. They are.) I can't blog with a focused mind anymore, because I am off to watch "Before Sunrise." Again. Thanks to Mom for buying the DVDs many years ago - they're nearly worn out! - and thanks, muchisimas, to Arthur. Either for appreciating my obsession with the films, or for sending me a digital fix, mainlined. Uh, you know. Whichever way you like to look at it.

(Side note. These films remind me of many people, many times in my life, many memories good and bad. But I am often, recently, reminded of Adrienna the most when I watch them. She is very amazing.)