Thursday, July 01, 2010

The City of Roses

...if only in name. What we smelled straight off the train was exhaust, hot tar, cooking grease, and Willamette River's curious chemical admixture. If you love the smell of napalm in the morning, Portland is the town for you.

If on the other hand you prefer the smell of victory, the City of Books should top your list.

Calling Powell's a city falls short somehow; with multiple locations and enormous of breadth and width, it certainly assumes civic dimension, but what leaps to mind is something more sacrosanct than a place governed by mere humanity. Lofty phrases and ideals are evoked and the temptation to call it a temple or monastery is, dare I say, nigh irresistible.

As a treasure vault, there is little to disappoint. You cross the threshold and limits are gone. Ordinarily frugal with discretionary funds -when they are available -all bets were off once inside the many rooms of Powell's. We came away with a righteous haul.

Making a beeline from Union Station, the gal and I fairly sprinted through the bright morning streets to reach our destination. Kids on Christmas morning doesn't begin to describe our excitement. The passing years have removed the uncertainty that lent those storied mornings a nervous edge of not knowing whether your parents got you exactly what you wanted. Now we could be confident. Now we could be sure. The power was in our hands.

Both of us SF aficionados, it was only natural we hit that section first. There might have been some maniacal laughter in the aisles, but it wasn't us, I swear. We kept our happy noises to a minimum; it's not like we were in the Madhouse of Books. Self-control under these circumstances is a challenge, but we persevered. The selection, as expected, was divine. Where else but Powell's can you find multiple copies of all the best books of your favorite authors? A bit spendy in the end result, admittedly, but worth every penny. It's like giving money to your favorite charity, it really is.

You would think we spent the entire weekend roaming Powell's, and don't believe for a second that the temptation didn't nearly got the better of us. I caught myself eyeing paperbacks for their value as pillows. Resisted that little urge. We visited other smelly, happy places.

Perfection is achieved by paradox. A flaw is needed to create contrast and remind us why we love something so much, and it can take many forms. To know the perfect happiness of this weekend meant that there was a not-so-happy part. That note of sadness was the US team's World Cup loss.

In extra time Ghana took them to school and outclassed our talented players at every turn. That was the end of a long morning spent watching the game at Bakery Bar, a wonderful cafe with killer eats. The salad of the day had strawberries in it: pure yum! And pictured here you can see their scrumptious banana bread lathered in chocolate, an earthly delight beyond compare.

Speaking of dessert, it was the smell of vegan audacity that lured us to Voodoo Doughnuts. But for our bibliophilic adventure, this would have been the highlight. I seek out holes-in-the-wall like this, even when they have been featured on Man vs Food, and the range of crazy in this find alone is worth the wait in a line snaking around the corner. Not only that, our lives were also at risk. A monster wasp harried those of us waiting outside and got one woman so worked up that she threw her car keys at it. Sadly her accuracy wasn't that good and she only managed to hit the sidewalk. No Kabul sniper duty for her. Next thing we knew, this poor woman in her pink flower dress was lifted in the air and carried off by the winged beast to an unknown fate.

Okay, the last thing didn't happen. Just seeing if you're still awake.

The donut selection at Voodoo is awesome, and confronts you with a major decision of which to choose. Would you prefer a bacon-covered maple bar or perhaps the Voodoo Doll, a "raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake" is more to your liking; the gal went with the latter.

Standing in line, which I imagine only grows longer when the sun goes down, is painless. Knick knacks cover the walls, and overhead is the wildest chandelier on the planet. Very entertaining. You almost want the line to go slower so you can take it all in -almost.


FishHawk said...

Have you ever read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson? If you haven't, that book store looks like the kind of place that would have the series.

James MacAdam said...

Hi FishHawk! I devoured both trilogies (before there was a third) in my teens, read them twice through. The word "anathema" will forever be associated with Tom Covenant. What a great premise -leper-as-anti-hero in a Tolkienesque fantasy. You are right that they had Donaldson's books in plenty. What they didn't have was his short story collection, Daughter of Regals, which contains that great outtake from The Power of Preserves; I'd have been tempted to buy it.

FishHawk said...

Oh, I had forgotten that there was more than one trilogy associated, and I have actually read the others! Although, I don't remember much of the particulars. I do remember recommending them to an extremely attractive girl in an extremely awkward way long ago. For to set it up, I asked her, "Are you interested in deep fantasies?" When she looked at me funny, I realized what I had said, and it all went downhill from there. Anyway, those are the only books by Donaldson I've read, and I rate them right up there with Battlefield Earth (the book--not the movie!) as being some of the best science fiction I have ever read.

James MacAdam said...

Great story, FishHawk! Depending on where you are, that could be a very effective pick-up line. Have you read Iain Banks? From the books that you like, he might be right up your street.

FishHawk said...

No, I don't believe I ever have. Sounds like something to check out. Thanks!