We have a lot of birds in Portland, but our most visible and noisy feathered friends are the crows. They are comfortable around people and don’t mind sharing our snacks or their opinions.
There is a healthy flock (called a ‘murder’, in crow jargon) in our Lone Fir Cemetery, and a lady who comes to feed them every afternoon. She says she doesn’t know if she is their queen or their slave.
All this avian beauty is inspiring! I have photographed dozens of crows, and other artists have honored them, as well. Julianna Paradisi, a Portland artist, created the wonderful “Quickened Towards all Celestial Things” in 2018. That same year, I photographed it at the Artbar downtown.
Browsing old photos for inspiration yesterday, I found it again and hoped to reimagine it as a collage. I must admit, in my “I’m not an artist” days, I had assumed that artists just picked up a brush or pair of scissors and ‘whoosh!’ Art happened. But during my ‘quarantine art education’, I have learned there is a lot of making mistakes, starting over, and just keeping at something until it looks right.
This crow took many sketches and lots of staring and trimming before I was happy with it. Cut out of black card stock, it joined magazine clippings, the remainder of a few envelopes, and just enough paint to make it interesting.
For such a big city, Portland has a large animal population.
We see this when the ‘dog parade’ heads from the neighborhoods to Laurelhurst Park for their evening walk. Cats greet us from sunny porches as we pass, and chickens talk amongst themselves when we go by Sunnyside School.
The squirrels, of course, have the best commutes ever, up trees and across power lines, chittering at everyone who will listen, but freezing on tree trunks to become invisible.
But by far the most vocal and numerous animals are the crows. Unlike their more reclusive cousins the ravens, crows thrive in close proximity with humans, and some even enjoy our company. And it’s not just people in general; studies show that crows remember certain humans, reacting positively to those who feed them and negatively to those they see as a threat.
There is a lady who walks every day in Lone Fir Cemetery, bringing a large bag of dry cat food, just to feed the crows. She loves their attentions, and they love her, too! She is like the crow’s queen.
The art in Portland reflects this affection (some might even say a fixation) with crows. This painting greeted us last week at The Artbar downtown.
And Laurelhurst hosts a fair few of the feathered fellows, as well.
I like having all these living critters in the neighborhood. Since I have fewer small people to talk with, crows and cats can be good conversation. Also, learning how critters get by and help the area (eating all that fallen fruit, for example) lets me see the neighborhood as an ecosystem rather than just a bunch of houses.
Last night was New Year’s Eve and we celebrated in downtown Portland. The weather was very cold, but delightfully dry…no rain, and just a few clouds, so getting around was easy and everything looked bright and festive.
We walked around downtown for a while, looking at shop windows and people walking by. We visited Powell’s City of Books and the Apple Store. Around 5, we got hungry so we stopped off at Case Study Coffee, at SW 10th and Yamhill for snacks. They closed at 6, so we wandered some more, finding the lobby of the Hilton a welcoming place with comfy sofas and friendly people.
By 7 o’clock we were ready for dinner, so we walked over to the Raven and Rose. Located at SE Columbia and Broadway, it is in what used to be the carriage House ( a combination of garage and barn, built in 1883) of William S. Ladd, one of the real movers and shakers of old Portland. The big estate and mansion have been torn down and built over, but this wonderfully restored barn, built in what they call the “Stick” style, has a restaurant downstairs and the Rookery Bar upstairs. It is one hundred and thirty year old, sits in the midst of modern brick and glass towers, and stands out as a jewel from another age.
Our dinner of beet salad, shrimp gnocchi, swede fondant, treacle tart, french fries and ice cream went well with the Pinot Noir and apple cider, and we felt indulged and sated. We chatted about our resolutions for the New Year and our hopes and plans for buying a house in Portland.
Wandering around some more, we stopped in at the ArtBar of the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and looked at a wonderful Steampunk art show. Steampunk art is a style that uses old industrial things like machinery and combines it in new ways with plants and animals. It is weird and spooky and delightful. After some tea and coffee, we headed across the street to the Arlene Schnitzer Theater at SW Park and Salmon for our main event, a concert by Pink Martini and the Portland Symphony.
“The Schnitz”, as it is called by those who love it, was built as the Paramount vaudeville theater in 1924. It must have been the most elaborate thing in Portland in those days, because it still dazzles the eye. The lobby is enormous and ornate, and every inch of stair banister, ceiling, and wall has been carved, painted, or plastered. We spent 20 minutes just walking around the place!
Once the show started, the fun really began. Pink Martini is a talented four person group that plays a delightful international salad of music. Backed by a hundred member choir and symphony, the vocalists sang dance hall tunes in French, popular American tunes in English, Opera arias in Italian, and frenetic rock songs in Japanese. The audience, which had kids as young as 10 and folks well past their 80s, clapped and sang and, when invited, many women joined the band onstage to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”.
At midnight we all stood and sang “Auld Lang Syne”, but the show wasn’t over yet.
Full choir, Symphony, jazz band and four operatic soloists joined forces to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in German. It was powerful and wonderful. But it was after midnight, and during some of the quieter moments, I think I might have…dozed off. Just for a moment.
Once the show was over and thousands of happy people filed out of the theater, we caught our Lyft ride home and I was asleep in two minutes.