Chinese New Year Downtown

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I was heading downtown to meet a friend at the Art Museum, and I got distracted by drums! I crossed the street to the Oregon Historical Society where about a hundred people were gathering.

Coming down the street were a couple hundred more, lead by a hundred foot long Chinese dragon! Then came smaller dragons of blue and yellow, even black! It was delightful and amazing.

The line of dragons and folks paraded up the ramp to the Jin and Julieanne Park Plaza in front of the Oregon Historical Society and did a rousing dance. The thumping drums were so big they had to be pulled in a wagon. People kept surging up the ramp, with people shimmying into gaps in the crowd to be able to watch, until we were all shoulder to shoulder.

People were dancing along, taking pictures, and boosting children onto their shoulders. When all the dragons had taken their turn, bowed their bows, and the last drum had thumped, the dancers removed their dragon heads and chatted with the crowd. The dragons, which had danced so fiercely, now seemed to be big fluffy muppets. They even let some kids touch their delicate trim.

The Lunar New Year Parade was presented by the Chinatown Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, and they had paraded from the one to the other, and I had known nothing about it. I felt so lucky to have been in the right place to see the grand finale!

It’s good to live in such an interesting city.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Bistro Agnes

Dear Liza,

Bistro Agnes, sparkly with Christmas lights

Just about a year ago, we three went to the delightful French restaurant, Bistro Agnes to celebrate our anniversaries. It is in downtown Portland at the corner of SW 12th Avenue and Alder Street. We enjoyed it so much, we went back again this year!

Bistro Agnes is the perfect place to celebrate special occasions. The food, from escargots to moules mariniere to creme brûlée, are classicly prepared and delicious. The wines choices are local, Californian and French, and all good.

My loving people

The service is friendly and expert. Our same waiter, Justin from last year, took care of us expertly.

A very happy Grandma Judy

When we ran into our friend Nicole celebrating her birthday, we sent Justin on a spy mission to find out what she was drinking so we could send her another as a birthday surprise. It was a happy conspiracy which got her absinthe frappe!

We enjoy the decor and mood of the place, which is very French and politely chatty, but not loud. Although we could hear the other people, no one’s conversation overpowered the place. This is the usual in France, but sadly, not always the case in the U.S.

Cognac for dessert!

We finished our meal with ice cream and coffee, and a cognac for Auntie Bridgett. We bundled up and were home by 7:30, full and cozy and happy to all be together.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lighting the Tree in Portland’s Living Room

Dear Liza,

Crescent moon hovering over the traffic downtown

Last Friday was an event we have missed the past two Christmases here in Portland, the lighting of the City’s Christmas tree. But this year, we went!

The 1876 Pioneer Courthouse, lit up for company

Pioneer Square, between 6th and Broadway and Morrison and Yamhill downtown, was the location of the elegant Portland Hotel from 1890 to 1951. President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there in 1903. It was the fanciest, tallest Hotel in town!

All the trees are dressed up!

But by 1951 the hotel had become outdated and it was torn down, leaving a vacant lot used for that urban black hole, a Parking Lot. The city of Portland decided to create a public space and in 1984 the stair-stepped, brick covered City block opened and was quickly dubbed Portland’s Living Room.

Summer view of Pioneer Square from the Cupola of the Pioneer Courthouse

It is home to food trucks, a Starbucks, and a tourist information office. But mostly it is where folks go to meet friends, people watch, have a cup of coffee or eat their lunch, or enjoy some free music.

For the ceremony Friday, we took the number 15 bus downtown. We had a quick, tasty dinner at Killer Burger before joining the flood of folks heading to Pioneer Square.

Looming dark tree

The still-dark tree, a 75 foot sustainably grown Douglas Fir, stood like a tall shadow in the middle of 25,000 of winter outfitted people. Spirits were high and we were packed in shoulder to shoulder.

Pink Martini, one of our favorite music groups, was on stage (which we could hear, but not see), leading the crowd in Christmas Carols.

Happy, illuminated Tree!


At about 6:15, the countdown began and we all ooohed and ahhhed as the white lights twinkled and then colorful and Christmas-y lights came on, signaling the beginning of the season and the end of the ceremony.

The river of people reversed course and began flooding toward bus and train stops, still in good spirits but also chilly and foot sore.

This is one of the things I love about being in a big city, the chance to be part of Big groups of people doing things I love. Now, it is full speed to Christmas!

Lights and crowds heading back to the bus stops

Love,

Grandma Judy

Japanese Garden with Cousins

Dear Liza,

I love visiting the Japanese Garden here in Portland. It is a wonderful collection of smaller gardens situated on a hilly section of Washington Park. There is always something new and delightful to see.

Stunning fall light in Ladd’s Addition

Yesterday, Cousins Jasper and Kestrel went with me! We usually visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden downtown, but Jasper suggested going up the hill and Kestrel agreed.

Jasper being scrambled eggs

After we caught the number 2 bus and got downtown, we had fifteen blocks to walk and about half an hour to catch the 63 bus that would take us up the hill. We strolled through the city streets, playing with public art and making up stories about the statues.

Kestrel at Providence Park bus stop

There was a long line at the entrance to the garden, and the kids worried about not being able to enjoy it because of the crowd. We decided to risk it.

Finding the space between the crowds

It turns out, crowds in a garden are like freight trains in a neighborhood. They are noisy and annoying, but if you wait a minute, they blow through, leaving peace behind.

There is an art exhibit at the Pavilion Gallery called “Re-Fashioning Beauty”. The brochure says it is about “embracing past icons of Japanese beauty while looking forward.” There were several articles, never meant to be worn, showing the natural but ridiculous evolution of the platform shoe.

They make my toes hurt just looking at them!

There were also three foot tall Geisha-style hairpins, but they weren’t as interesting as these swords and other pieces of sculpture set into perfectly clear blocks of resin. We all became fascinated with the refraction of light though the blocks and spent a long time just moving, squinting, and looking.

“What am I seeing?”

Because of the way the art was displayed, I would never have noticed the refraction on my own: The kids found it because they were at exactly the right height. Playing with light became the new game.

Multiplying Jasper

We told stories, climbed steps, crossed bridges, and had a high old time.

Our trip home became a cascade of bumps on the road. We got hungry and checked out the Umami Cafe, but found food not acceptable to picky eaters. I remembered our friendly vendor at the Rose Garden. We headed down for kid friendly snacks, but he had packed up for other locations for the winter.

Fabulous, but stinky, Gingko tree

We made do with a candy bar from the gift shop and went to catch the bus back to town. But (another snag!) that bus wouldn’t arrive for almost an hour! I made an executive decision. We would walk down the hill.

The last of the roses for this year…

This was not a popular idea, as it turned out, but one I was willing to stick with. We actually had a nice surprise, running into our old friend, Rabbi Bruce Kadden, on the way! But energy and patience were running out, so a quick hug and how do you do, and off we went.

The cousins and I chatted and rolled balls down the path until we got to Burnside, where we caught a bus to another bus and eventually ended up at Auntie Katie’s store. Minutes later, Auntie Bridgett picked me up.

It was time for a quick dinner and restful evening. Being a Grandma is fun, but hard work!

Love,

Grandma Judy

More Out and About

Dear Liza,img_2655.jpeg

After we had seen the Chinatown Museum, Grandpa Nelson suggested we walk south and see what we could find out about Dr. Wo’s neighborhood on Alder and 3rd. We walked, looking around at the buildings. I took pictures as we went past old buildings so I could look them up later.

It turns out, there are quite a few buildings in this neighborhood that were standing in 1903. The Hamilton Building has beautiful clean lines and a modern look, but another (whose name I didn’t see) is very ornate and looks almost too pretty to be real.

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Too Pretty to be Real

The Bishop’s House from the Old Portland Cathedral is still standing, next door to where the Cathedral used to be. It was torn down and another cathedral rebuilt over on 19th Street, away from the danger of floods on the Willamette. But the Bishop’s House is still here.

We stood on the corner of SW 3rd and Alder, where Dr. Wo’s office stood in a small building. There is now a four story parking garage in its place. All the buildings at that intersection are modern and less interesting that I had hoped. I have to take a deep breath and chant “cities have to change or they die” a few times to come to peace with so much history coming down to make way for … cars.

Heading back to our car (yes, I know, I hate parking lots but I do sometimes use a car) we saw this old tiled entry in front of a deserted building. It means the building is probably from the 1890s, but there was no plaque to tell me.

It turns out Grandpa Nelson wanted some ice cream before we headed home, and there is a branch of Salt And Straw, a fabulous ice cream shop, in the Pine Street Market. It is called The Whiz Bang Bar and was delicious…chocolate shake for Grandpa Nelson, a vanilla custard swirl for me.

As we got into the car to head home, I noticed that we were parked behind the Kells Bar, which is famous for being “haunted”. But what I loved was the silly sign on the back, to make sure you didn’t forget where the bar was.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Portland’s Chinatown(s)

Dear Liza,

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The Hazeltine Building

In the story I am writing, there is a character who was also a real-life Chinese doctor here in Portland, Dr. C. Gee Wo. He advertised every day in the local newspaper, The Oregonian. He was very successful, also investing in other businesses and donating to charities here in Portland and all along the west coast.

In order to describe his neighborhood and office, I have been trying to learn what the Chinatown here in Portland was like in 1903. So you can imagine how happy I was when I learned that a brand new Chinese museum had opened up! Yesterday, Grandpa Nelson and I went to visit it.

But first, there was a doctor’s visit and then, lunch. We parked by a wonderful old building called The Hazeltine, which was built in 1893. Amazing stone work right out on the street!

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Pine Street Market

Across the street was the Pine Street Market, which is another old building that is now being shared by about five different restaurants. Checkerboard Pizza, Pollo Brava, Markum Ramen, and the Kim Jung Grill all vied for our attention.

We ate at “Bless Your Heart” Burgers, and they had wonderful burgers, fries for Grandpa Nelson, and Mexican Coke! I only have about two sodas a year, so I need to make them count.

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Cool Dragon Logo

Then we walked across Burnside, past Voodoo Donuts, and to the Portland Chinatown Museum. As I said, it is brand new. There are still pictures resting on the floor, waiting to be hung, and the model that shows how the museum is laid out is still sitting on a back table. But there are wonderful displays of Chinese stores and restaurants, and essays and photographs that show when Chinese folks came to America, what jobs they did, and where they lived.

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Mr. James Wong

I met James Wong, a retired teacher  who is on the Board of museum. He told me that he was born and raised two blocks from this museum in the 1950s. He explained that there were really TWO “Old Chinatowns” in Portland. The one from the time of my story, 1903, was south of Burnside, along 2nd and 3rd Streets. The later one, from about 1905 onward, is north of Burnside. That would explain why Dr. Wo’s office is so far south, on Alder.

We read, looked and walked all over the museum, bought a book called Sweet Cakes, Long Journey by Dr. Marie Rose Wong, and went off to see what else we could see.

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Model of the Chinatown Museum

I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow!

Love, Grandma Judy

Mr. Frank Dekum

Dear Liza,

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Mr. Dekum as he was

Yesterday Auntie Bridgett and I went for a long walk. We enjoyed the dogs and trees at Laurelhurst Park, and the pretty houses of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. We wandered for quite a ways before we decided to turn back towards home.

When we did, I realized that we were very close to The Lone Fir Cemetery and that it had been a long time since we visited the folks there. So we went in.

As you already know, I love the peace and perspective of this old cemetery. We saw familiar headstones; heroic pioneers and shady ladies, revered doctors and just plain folks. And, as so often happens, something new caught our eye. Mr. Frank Dekum.

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Auntie Bridgett with Mr. Dekum

We know the name, because a big stone and brick building built by and named for him is on the corner of 3rd and Washington and we pass it every time we go downtown. Mr. Dekum came to Portland in 1853 with his family and started a very successful fruit business. He was also a candy maker, so obviously, a lover of good things.

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His tallest namesake

When he had made his fortune in fruit and candy, he started investing in real estate development. He was involved in every building that went up on Washington Street between First and Third. He was on the Boards of banks and water companies, helping bring railroads and fresh drinking water to the city.

When the city was hit by a financial panic in 1893, property investments crashed and Mr. Dekum was badly impacted. He died the next year with only a fraction of his fortune intact. He is buried in our dear Lone Fir along with his eight children, so I can visit the whole family whenever I want.

Gone, as they say, but not forgotten.

Love,

Grandma Judy