Friday, May 26, 2017

a blue day in newport

Yesterday was a day at the Oregon coast. Newport, to be specific.

Every time I visit the coast, I wonder how people can make a good living here. There is, of course, tourism. And that is a about it ever since the government and environmental concerns effectively shut down the only two high-value commodities the area had to offer -- fishing and timber.

Young people have three choices. Serve in tourist-oriented jobs. Leave the area. Do nothing. The most talented usually choose the second option. And that is just as true for the area around my house in Mexico.

But I did not come to the coast to think about the future of young people. I was there simply to do my part as a tourist.

The goal was to take a look at Lady Washington -- a Revolutionary War replica ship built to celebrate Washington's 1989 centennial as a state. Of course, few of the visitors were interested in its history. They wanted to see the ship because it is a movie star, and would be open to visits in the late afternoon.

When we arrived, Lady Washington was motoring (Yes, motoring; not everything is authentic about the ship.) around the Newport harbor. So, we decided to do something I have not done in a long time -- to walk across the Yaquina Bay bridge.

The bridge is a star in its own right. The Oregon Highway Department in the 1920s had a grand plan for building a highway that would stretch the full length of the Oregon coast -- what we now know as Highway 101.  Up until then, the coast highway was the beach itself.

But there was an enormous engineering problem. Eleven rivers needed to be crossed. Some of them major estuaries.

Conde McCullough was hired to head the highway project. But we remember him most for his eleven coastal bridges.

He had three goals for the bridges. They had to be efficient, economical, and beautiful. And he succeeded.

Some of the bridges have already been replaced. But, in my opinion, the most beautiful is the Yaquina Bay bridge.

At almost every angle, the bridge has classic proportions. And that was difficult for McCullough to accomplish because the south ramp is much longer than the north ramp -- and requires the ramp to be slightly oblique in approaching the span.

What is most striking is the use of neo-Gothic cathedral supports tied with art deco decorations on the span itself. The style would be at home in Cole Porter's Manhattan apartment.

Then, we were off to see Lady Washington. My first reaction was the same as most of the visitors. It seemed so small. That is because when it is used as a movie set, it is packed with people. Pirates, at times.

In reality, the crew consists of a dozen members. Just as a ship of that size would have had during the Revolutionary War. It was in Newport to raise money for its operation. And, of course, to amuse the Memorial day crowd.

What interested me most was hearing about what the ship represented. The captain said they do their best to experience what a crew in the 18th century would. On board, the crew suffers deprivations. But they have the joy of experiencing sailing at its most primitive.

We topped off the day with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants -- The Bay House in Lincoln City. What could be better than dungeness crab cakes and duck confit?

And that leaves today as my last day in Oregon. At the moment, I am sitting in a blimp hanger at the Tillamook Air Museum.

Who says there is nothing to do in my former home state?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

driving to the edge of the world

If Joshua Bell had not been performing in Salem last night, I would have been in Barra de Navidad learning to use my new telephone and Fit Gear.

But Joshua Bell did perform last night. And it was worth the wait.

He is a consummate performer. That is why his name is one of the most recognized violinists in the world. For me to say much more than that would be presumptuous.

The fact he was in Salem was what amazed me. It would be very easy to toss off a Groucho Marx line about Salem. After all, the guide in my hotel room contains a half page of things to see in Salem (and a third of those are  not in town) and three pages of emergency and evacuation instructions. But cheap shots are not my style.

When it comes to entertainment, Salem is not a backwater. While I lived here, the Elsinore presented lectures by Gregory Peck and James Earl Jones, the music of Herbie Hancock and Bernadette Peters, as well as the ever-funny Elayne Boosler, who met Professor Jiggs.  I used to wonder if they belonged to a club of performers who had lost a bet.

The real reason is that Salem was blessed with several organizations who took the time and effort into attracting the type of entertainment that people in Salem normally would see only if they drove to Portland or Seattle.

In the case of Joshua Bell, it was the newly-minted Salem Symphony that attracted him to my former little town in the long valley -- and what I assume was a cartful of money. The Salem Symphony is another example of how impresarios are ambitious in these parts.

Oregon has a world-class symphony that travels throughout  the state. But that is not the same as having your own city or regional orchestra. And I heard two of them during this visit -- the Salem Symphony and the Central Oregon Symphony.

I am glad both exist. They offer live serious music in regions where people may no longer have access to thart form of entertainment.

And, of course, the music that is offered usually lacks challenges for audiences. But they are challenging pieces for the players. The result is a tad bit provincial, but that is exactly what the orchestras are -- reflective of their province.

Then there are groups who offer both challenging pieces for both the audience and the players. The Crown City String Quartet, who I saw perform in Bend, is a perfect example.

I am glad I spent the two extra weeks in Oregon and Washington. Not only did I enjoy the music, I spent time with old friends enjoying their company -- something I sorely miss in Mexico.

But, my trip is not yet over. I am off to the Oregon coast for a day to see Lady Washington -- a replica of an American Revolution-era ship. She played a cameo role in Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Trek. (And this is how far American culture has sunk -- when a ship can become a celebrity.)

So, avast me hearties. Here be dragons. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

burning my salem witches

Nostalgia is not what it used to be. But it never was.

Today I am in Salem -- my old hometown. My only planned event is the Joshua Bell concert tonight. And that almost didn't happen.

I decided to walk around Salem and see what was new and what was just the same. Mostly, it was just the same. But it was a great day for adding 12 more miles to my walking regimen. Sunny. Pleasant temperatures. And a town in springtime blossom.

Because I ordered my concert tickets on line, I needed to stop by the theater to pick them up. The Elsinore is 90 years old and has seen service as a vaudeville venue, a movie house (I first saw Star Wars there), and a concert hall -- John Philip Sousa himself appeared here. It is now primarily the spot where Salemites come to hear live music.

For a moment this morning, I thought I was not going to be amongst them. When I gave the box office my name, they could not find anything. The very helpful woman looked in several spots, but my request was a stranger to her and her computer.

With my electronic receipt, help from a theater staff member, and a lot of preternatural patience on my part, I finally had my two tickets in hand.

I had hoped to have lunch with a friend or two. But one was heading to the optometrist. Another was winging her way back from New Orleans. Instead of striking out again, I walked through one of the neighborhoods where I had once considered buying a home.

I liked the neighborhood because it is nestled in a small forest inside the city boundaries. And it has character. As you can see.

But the house I looked at was rather plain in relation to some of the surrounding properties. I am not certain, but I think this may have been it. A pleasant place, but with the character of vanilla frozen yogurt.

My realtor called it an "executive" residence. I called it something I would not buy. But I did like the forest.

Because I started this day at 4:45 AM, I took a quick 20-minute nap to rest up for the concert tonight. Most of the music on offer will not be challenging enough to keep me alert without that nap. I am now ready to go.

In walking through town, I recalled a lot of good memories. But Salem has very little to offer in the way of adventure. And I have enough memories.

It is about time to return to Mexico -- but not before I hear Joshua Bell. And do whatever it is I am going to do on Thursday and Friday before I fly out of Portland on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

the bell tolls for thee

This trip north is entering its last leg.

Early tomorrow morning, I will be boarding an airplane to Portland then a shuttle to Salem to attend Joshua Bell's concert with the Salem Symphonic Orchestra. Then, by late Saturday evening, I will be back home in Barra de Navidad.

My erstwhile traveling companions Roy and Nancy happened to be in Bend today. So, we arranged to have lunch together. The restaurant was only four miles away. That made it an easy walk from the house.

I was even healthy with my lunch choice (a small Greek salad with a cup of tomato-basil soup -- after my breakfast of hot and sour soup, and ginger beef.

 We caught up on what had been happening in our lives since the Australia cruise -- and started planning the details of our next jaunt. This time in Denmark. In October.

When we finished, they offered to drive me to their next destination to save me some steps home. I declined. I have been rather disciplined in getting in as many steps a day as I can.

That got me to thinking. I wonder how many miles I have walked since leaving Mexico earlier this month? Thanks to the memory on my telephone and my new Gear Fit, I have the answer. And here it is. Day by day. The date in May first. The miles second.

  6 - 16.68
  7 - 10.72
  8 - 18.72
  9 - 21.82
10 - 10.66
11 - 11.61
12 - 10.68
13 -   7.82
14 -   6.22
15 - 15.63
16 -   8.35
17 - 10.60
18 - 12.41
19 - 11.23
20 - 21.39
21 -   8.24
22 - 13.83
If I had started walking to Boise from Bend on the 6th (and walked no more than I have), I would almost be there now. And there are days, when I get into my walking groove, that I feel as of I could just walk all day.

And at a 4 MPH pace, that is about 70 hours of walking spread over seventeen days.

Why am I telling you this? I encountered another scientific study in The Oregonian this morning.

Electronic devices that record exercise routines are a great source of accurate information. Anecdotal information from people who exercise are always subject to data entanglement. That is a nice term that includes forgetfulness and lying. Electronic devices report what they experience.

Some exercisers publish their results in such place as Facebook. I don't. But I appear to be in the minority. Fit people like letting people know they are -- fit, that is.

You have run into them at dinner parties. They are the people who cannot stop talking about "My Numbers" and who keep sticking their fit bits in your face to prove their point as if it were the desiccated left toe of Saint Servatus.

Digging through the data, scientists have concluded that the fitness crowd can actually influence their friends and acquaintances to exercise more. They have even quantified the effect. For each kilometer run, a friend will run 0.3 kilometers more.

But not everyone has the same influence. It appears that the people who are most encouraged to exercise more are the ones that already exercise more than the person who encourages them. They are the people who dread the steps of even their friends creeping up on them.

If that is true, I have just written a note of encouragement to those of you who have run or walked over 300 miles over the past two weeks.

If you have not, and the study is correct, I have come off sounding like a self-righteous prig. It seems as if the confessions never end.

At least, I will be sitting still for a bit during the Joshua Bell concert.

Monday, May 22, 2017

live like a hobbit

Some things never change.

Take housing bubbles. When the last one popped a decade ago, Bend was one of the hardest hit communities in the country.

Foreclosures soared. People walked away from their dream homes. And the community stopped growing.

There is a housing development not too far from my brother's house that typified what happened ten years ago.

Bend was riding high in the real estate bubble of the early 2000s. Small bungalows that could not be sold in the 1990s started selling for Bentley and Rolls Royce prices.

And, as if often the case when irrational exuberance starts driving prices, people came up with imaginative ways to earn money that would normally be rejected as "you-need-to-take-your-meds" ideas.

In 2004 a developer thought of a doozy. He would build homes in the million dollar range with architecture based on Tolkien's Hobbit village, The Shire.

And that is what he called it. The Shire. The homes would evoke the romanticism of living in a hole in the ground while not having to live underground. It was the type of development that appeals to people who want something different, but who are not encumbered by an excess of taste.

The developer talked a local doctor into signing for a loan. And the building was off and running in 2005. Running is not even close to what happened. Only one house was built, and a second was under construction, when catastrophe hit. The houses did not sell like hot cakes. They did not even sell like elven bread

And then the housing bubble popped in Bend. The Shire was not the only development that Hindenburged. The entire Bend housing market collapsed -- with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. The Shire suffered along with the rest, but it had the disadvantage of being just a bit too fantastic to survive.

There was an additional tragedy. The doctor, who put his good name on the line to obtain the development loan, died. One day, he disappeared. The next day his body was found in the Deschutes River.

As is true with most tragedies of this nature, the small town gossips played out a tapestry of possible death causes. Accidental drowning. Suicide. Foul play. Whatever the cause was, it did not make the story any less Sophoclean.

The story is now a decade old. But the underlying moral is again raising its head. Housing prices in Bend are astronomical. A tiny bungalow in my brother's neighborhood just sold for $300,000.

Bend is currently positioning itself for another housing bubble that will inevitably burst. There are lessons to be learned. But not remembered.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

scooping up the culture

Today starts the cultural portion of my Oregon tour.

One thing I truly miss in my area of Mexico is biting into a chewy bit of culture. I should add an immediate caveat. We do have some artists who produce challenging paintings near my home. Several of those hang on the walls of the house with no name. Paintings, mind you; not the artists.

But when it comes to string quartets, oratorios, operas, or orchestras, there are not so many. Of course, there are in Mexico City and Guadalajara. But I do not get there as often as I would like.

So, that leaves my travels to feed my cultural jonesing. And I try to take advantage of anything of interest that is offered while I travel. That is why opera in Sydney, orchestra in Barcelona, and string quartets in Venice are such a treat.

On this trip, I have found three days of cultural diversion, starting tonight with the Crown City String Quartet in Bend. Crown City is Pasedena-based, but the quartet play often in the Pacific Northwest, including for the series sponsored by High Desert Chamber Music. I saw them perform two years ago here (staging the day). Tonight's performance is the finale of the HDCM's 2016-17 season.

Pre-concert discussions of the pieces to be performed are now quite common. And they are a great idea.

Most people who attend these concerts have a vague idea of what the music might offer. But they often do not have the tools to analyze the music's depths. These mini-lectures help bridge the gap.

I often write that I want my music to be challenging -- just as I want paintings or sculpture or opera to be challenging. Once the listener understands the sonata form, there are potential signposts to understand the composer's statement and restatement of themes.

It also helps if the program is populated with pieces that are almost entry-level (but still extremely good). That is what the Crown City String Quartet is offering tonight:

  • Schubert "Quartettsatz"
  • Mozart String Quartet in B Flat Major K.589
  • Schumann String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor 
On Sunday afternoon, Darrel, Mom and I will attend the season's last performance of the Central Oregon Symphony -- an orchestra that used to bill itself as "the largest symphony in Bend." An appellation that has all the weight of  being "world-famous in Poland."

Tomorrow's guest is Linda Wang, who I saw perform in Bend on one of my earlier visits. I look forward to seeing her perform again. The performance will also be noteworthy because the second piece on the program, Cascades, was commissioned by the orchestra to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

And here is the full program:

  • Brahms Violin Concerto
  • Barnes Cascades Suite
  • Marquez Danzon No.2
The first and third pieces are not very challenging, but I look forward to hearing the premier of the commissioned piece. Anything new is always worth a listen.

And, of course, even though it is not very demanding music, the Marquez is one of my favorite pop concert pieces (sex on the floor). I suspect it will be a fun afternoon.

Then there is the concert that kept me in Oregon this long. On Wednesday night Joshua Bell will be the guest performer with the Salem Symphony.

The Salem Symphony is a recent creation -- reminiscent of the days when every town had its own band. Or boys' band, as Professor Harold Hill would have it.

I have long-admired Joshua Bell's work. Including his off-stage antics. It is not every day a performer of his quality shows up in the town where I once lived.

The program for Wednesday is:

  • Saint Saens Bacchanale
  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
  • Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor
  • Sarasate Ziguenerweisen
Bell will perform with the orchestra on the last two pieces. Both are well-designed to showcase his show biz style, but not his subtle virtuosity.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to each of the three performances. The Bell has all the elements of being a memorable night. But I may be surprised at what the other two performances offer, as well.

I do know, though, that when I return to Barra de Navidad, I am going to miss having all of these options available.

Guadalajara and Mexico City may get to see a lot more of me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

packing it all up

Friday was shopping day. And shop I did.

"Shop" may be the wrong word. I associate that verb with aimless wandering through stores occasionally fondling the random piece of merchandise and slouching away looking as if the holy grail had just evaded my grasp.

I like to call what I do hunting. I know where the elk were last seen. I swoop in, and, if they are not there, I move on.

By that definition, Thursday was a mixed bag. I stopped at four stores (REI, Eddie Bauer, Columbia Sportswear, and The Foot Zone) knowing what I wanted in each.  Some had it. Some didn't.

What I ended up with was a pile of shirts, shorts, socks, and shoes. And a new Eagle Creek duffel bag to cart them home to Mexico.

When I first moved south eight years ago, I would drag a shopping cart of stuff back to Mexico. Mostly foodstuffs. The type of thing I craved, but could not buy in my little village on the beach.

Food is no longer on my list -- with the exception of hard-to-find spices and herbs. My tastes have not changed that much: the availability has. Almost anything I need can be found at Hawaii -- a grocery store in San Patricio.

However, the clothes I prefer are not readily available near my house. So, about every two years I purchase a new pile of duds that make me like like a colorful version of Steve Irwin. Lots of cotton angling shirts and shorts.

Today's purchases should hold me until I head north again in September for my 50th high school reunion. I am looking forward to that. But I will need something other than khakis for the evening.