Back From Portland!
We are very bossy, always giving out a flood of unwanted advice, telling people what to wear this very second, how to meet men to fall in love with, rearrange the apartment, become a rock star, etc. But some things can't be handed out in words. For instance, we could describe all the benefits of a trip to Portland, to no effect. You must actually go. If you are sad, stuck, bored, lonely, or nervous: go on a trip this week! (Even if just a bike ride to the edge of town.) Jason Warshof, scholar of secondary American cities, totally gets this. He dragged us, one rainy Sunday not long ago, to Newark for an unguided walking tour. Our grandfather, William Sanders, who turns 89 today, also knows the mysterious power in unguided journeys--to overgrown Appalachian cemeteries, river banks where his and other people's ancestors farmed centuries ago, dusty courthouses. He insists on seeing for himself, even into the past.
When a New Yorker hangs out in Portland for five days, she can see that New York City is a not a giant dome of neon ambition enclosing her soul like an serrated iron vice (oh, the materials science research that goes into this site!), but just another rectangle on google maps. In Portland we ate mushroom pie in the darlingest apartment you ever saw, biked through wide, rainy streets, went to a club crowded with nervous twenty-somethings, and dined at Amber Bell's place. Amber quilts maps onto small squares of cloth. Here's thirty city blocks of Portland. See the two-inch green muslin park?
We flew home in a window seat: The cars below were too small even to be toys (a choking hazard). Several automobiles got stuck under our fingernails. Whole lakes like sequins, rivers like silver threads, or slenderest, glinting lines of shrew drool. And do those farmers know how perfectly square they've managed to make their alfalfa fields? Do the Iowans know how flat they're living? Just outside Chicago there's marshland shaped just like a man with his mouth open. "Hey, you, move your farm slightly to the left, and plant golder crops."