Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Portland

Five Stars

The Nines is a five-star hotel in Portland. In fact, it’s the only five-star hotel in the city. That’s an important point.

On my return trip to Portland, I booked a room at The Nines for a few nights. It’s in the old Meier & Frank building in downtown Portland, overlooking the Pioneer Courthouse.

Pio Courthouse View

It’s a pretty cool place. They hollowed out the building from the 8th floor up, to create an atrium that houses a fancy restaurant and several common areas, including a wood-paneled library/billiards room.

Before I get too far, I’d like to share the secret of how I was able to afford a room at The Nines: because it’s the only five-star hotel, you can use filters on Hotwire.com to make sure you get the best deal. Here’s how it works: usually you tell Hotwire what city and star-rating you want for a hotel, along with other things like how far it is form the city center. Hotwire comes back with a low price for the type of hotel, but doesn’t give you a name. That means you might get one of several different hotels in the area. It’s a bit of a gamble, but allows you to get a good deal on a room. However, if you plug in “Portland” and “five-stars”, the only option is The Nines, even though it won’t show you the name of the hotel. Excellent. What that meant for me is I paid the same for The Nines as any other big, downtown hotel, and a good bit less than if I’d booked direct.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s the skinny on The Nines. It’s beautiful. The rooms are decorated in white, turquoise and silver. My king room had a huge flat-screen tv, a desk, minibar, marble bathroom and velvet chaise lounge.

Nines bath

It’s the kind of place where they have a turn-down service every evening. When I returned from gallivanting around Portland, I found my bed turned-down, my terrycloth Nines robe arranged artfully on the bed, the tv remote and room service menu out, jazz playing on the clock radio/ipod speaker, ice in the bucket, and little chocolate cakes on the nightstand.

Turn down Ice bucket Cakes

The hotel is a fairly quiet one, despite its downtown location. Atrium view rooms are available at a premium, and cut down on the street noise, if you’re really looking for a quiet retreat. The hotel houses two restaurants, one in the 8th floor atrium, and one higher up. It has a nice business center with faxing and copying services, as well as printers, computers, and an Ethernet hookup for your laptop. It also has free wireless internet if you’re feeling anti-social.

The only thing it doesn’t have is cheap parking. The only hotel parking is valet parking, an expensive indulgence in a city that prides itself on its mass-transit and pedestrian-friendly streets. I took the Max light-rail from the airport to my hotel for a few dollars. No transfers and it dropped me off a half a block from the hotel entrance. Portland is a great place to explore on foot, but there is on-street parking that is free at night, and a “smart park” city-owned garage a few blocks away if you insist on having a car.

My nights at The Nines were a welcome retreat. I found myself thinking that a decompression period in the hotel might be a nice post-leap ritual.

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December 29, 2009   1 Comment


“How was it staying in someone else’s house for a couple of months?”  My bro, Matt is always good for interesting conversation.  “Did you feel like you were imposing?  Would you trade the experience?  Would you do it again?”

When I left Portland for Italy, it was with a certain set of expectations.  I really tried to have as few expectations as possible, but I still tried to prepare myself for certain things.  Like not having a place of my own, or the loss of language and humor.  I expected it to be hard in some respects, in truth the hard is part of what I was looking for.  Stripped of my day-to-day routine and defense mechanisms, maybe I’d be more able to hear the guiding voice I’d finally noticed screaming at me my first day in Barga.  I did find some of that.  I also learned some things about myself I hadn’t expected nor really wanted to learn – painful things that I’m sure will come in handy some day.  (It makes me feel better to think that painful things are of great value.  It sucks to think that they just hurt because I’m a dumb-ass.)

As my return to Portland drew closer, I found myself conflicted.  I had so much enjoyed the time with my Italian family, and had learned a lot, from the way to eat cheese and honey to the way my feelings of inadequacy can color my interactions with the people I love.

I also learned how much I value having a door.  This is a lesson I’ve learned before in work contexts.  But even after nearly a decade of unsuccessfully struggling to secure an office with both a door and a window, and analyzing the status that such an office carries, I still didn’t fully grasp the importance of having an actual door in my everyday life.  By taking this first leap in the way I had, I put myself in a position where I would not have a door of my own in any aspect of my life.  Without an office job or my own house, the symbolism of a door was intensified.  While I blogged about what I ate, and what I felt, I consciously opened myself and my adventure to the world.  While I slept on someone else’s floor, they opened their world to me, and I shared the minutia of my existence, right down to my underwear drying on the radiator.  And I felt both the freedom and the exhaustion that came with it.  I started the journey ready to be responsible for nothing but myself, not fully realizing how dependent I would be on others not only for the shelter I had chosen, but for the many lessons I was hoping to learn.

When I had the opportunity to rent a fantastic, cheap apartment I turned it down.  I could isolate myself and prove that I could do this on my own, but if I really wanted to know about myself I needed to prove that I could do this with others.

Throughout my life I have struggled to find a way to accept the assistance of others without resentment.  To realize that, accepting the nourishment, or even the flat out help of another person is not tantamount to failure.  That I am not weakened when I reach out, but rather strengthened.  It’s a lesson I have learned intellectually, one that I have shared with others, but one that I struggle to embrace in my own life almost daily.  It’s a lesson that I really want to learn on a deep level.  Someday I’d like to be appreciative of a partner who wants to take care of me, instead of resentful.  I would like to feel built up by the gifts I receive instead of torn down.  I feel like that would be a healthy thing.  Seems like a good idea.  I wonder why it’s so hard?  I kind of want to vomit and work-out compulsively while I’m writing this.  Maybe I’ll just eat.  Crap, this one’s hard.

In Italy, I found myself falling into a routine.  Between the metronome of my meals, I unwittingly sought out the regularity that would stop me thinking about my life.  Waking up at a regular time, making breakfast, catching a ride to the top of the hill, writing, shopping, cleaning – these things were welcome distractions.  It was almost the end of my trip when I realized that, halfway around the world, with the intention of changing my life, I had found a way back into the patterns that had made me so unhappy.  It wasn’t until my last night in Fornaci, the last night on my little bed on the floor, that I realized how I had traded an office without a door for a life without a door – that I had traded the lack of control and self-worth that I felt in my life in the US for the equivalent in my life in Italy.

When I returned to Portland, I would have no place of my own, but many friends who would happily invite me into their homes, even give me my own door.  It’s a nice feeling to know that I am welcome.  I have beautiful friends in Italy who opened their homes and families to me.  People who treated me like their sister or daughter or aunt.  They allowed me to see myself and the tricks I play to keep from addressing my own demons.  I have wonderful friends and family in the states who would do the same.  Before I left for Italy I wasn’t often able to accept any of these gifts.

As I prepared to return from my trip I wasn’t sure much had changed.  I still felt out of control of my life.  I still felt pretty darn inadequate.  And, in a fit of self-indulgent misery, I called my mom to tell her how I was feeling.

And a miraculous thing happened.

When she suggested that I take control and book a hotel room so that I wouldn’t have to worry about where I was staying or who I was inconveniencing, I listened.  I heard her.  And I accepted her advice.  Without resentment.  Without thinking that I knew better.  I just saw it for the good suggestion that it was and acted on it.  And I felt better.

Yes, I was choosing to rent a door for a few days, a place where I could retreat and deal with the emotions that were enveloping me.  It wasn’t that I was rejecting the gifts that were offered me.  I was simply taking responsibility for the way I felt and recognizing what part of my life I had control over.  It was what I needed.  The night I checked in, I wondered if I’d find myself withdrawing to a dark place.   When I woke up the next morning, it was with at the intersection of sleep deprivation, jet lag, caffeine withdrawal and PMS.  I was emotional – but energized.

I got a great deal on a fancy downtown hotel that was a few blocks from my old office, which meant I woke up to familiar sights and sounds.  I shot an email off to my friends at the office, the people I’d spent 8 hours a day with for three years, and I headed out.  I spent nearly the entire day with people from the office.  We got bagels and coffee at my favorite places, talked for a couple of hours and then headed to the Indian cart for lunch.  I realized how interesting it was that the first place I went was the place that had been so difficult for me.  Sure it was comfortable.  Yes, I knew the people there.  But there were a lot of dynamics I wanted nothing to do with.  On this trip into the office, I found a couple of things.  First, I was able, and even excited to have long conversations with people I had previously had conflict with.  I was a little more aware of my feelings and how they were coloring the interactions.  And I steered clear of the dynamics that didn’t work for me anymore.

Second, I was able to open up to my friends.

I’m a pretty open person.  I’ll answer almost any question as honestly as I can.  But I rarely seek out advice regarding my personal life.  I’ve often said that I’d rather make my own mistakes than learn from the mistakes of others.  I think I’m finally ready to let that go – at least I hope I am.  My first few days back in Portland allowed me the opportunity to seek help, to seek advice on topics ranging from my next travel destination to my career plans to my personal relationships.  In accepting the support of friends, I felt stronger.

And every night, I closed my door on the world so that every morning I could open it again when I was ready.

There are things you miss when you’re out of your element.  Little things like sounds and smells, bagels and Indian food.  Things you take for granted.  For me, one of those things is a door.  I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but I’m content just to know that it’s something I need.  Would I trade my time in Italy?  Asalutamente No.  But I think there’s one comfort I’d rather not live without.

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December 27, 2009   Comments Off on Comforts

Home again

The flight back to the states was alright.  The first leg from Florence to Amsterdam took us over the Alps on a clear day.

Alps view

And we got cookies for breakfast.  I like cookies.

Airline cookies

It was a quiet flight; not even close to full, so almost everyone got their own bank of seats.  I grabbed an exit row and frightened the nice flight attendant when he tried to debrief me in Italian.  Two hours later we were in the Amsterdam airport.  I think it’s an interesting place.  It’s got a museum on its upper floor, and has entertaining art sprinkled throughout.

Airport art

What wasn’t so interesting was getting a note at the self-service transfer machine telling me I had to go see an agent.  It also told me that my flight was boarding – an hour and a half before the flight was leaving.  I’d chosen to take the non-direct flight back to Portland in order to have a little more time in Amsterdam, just in case.   The just in case, it turned out was a good idea, due to the combined factors of a Japanese tour group that was waiting in line at the agent desk, and the fact that I’d been flagged for security checks.

When I finally talked to the agent, she looked me up and down, told me I’d just been flagged, handed me my boarding pass and sent me on my way.  I arrived at the gate an hour before my flight, to find the reader board flashing “boarding.”  I thought this was a little extreme, but hopped into line.  The boarding process, it seems, was so long, because each person was being escorted from the line, by an agent, to one of about 6 tall, small desks for interrogation.  “Did you pack your bags?  When?  Where?  Are you carrying anything given to you by anyone?  Anything that you did not make with your own hands?  Anything you did not personally witness being produced in the factory?”

Now, I knew the easiest answer would be “no,” but I have this annoying compulsion to try to tell the truth.  I was carrying gifts from friends.  And while I could see the concern if it had been electronics or chemicals, I didn’t think that a jacket or poster was likely to compromise the international security of the flight.  Still, I’m not a professional, so I said, “well, yes, I have gifts from friends.”  She stopped cold and looked up from the ticket she had been examining.  “You do?”  Based on her reaction I’m guessing not a lot of people give that answer.  “What kind of gifts?”  “Well, like posters, but I packed them and I know what they are.”  “One moment please.”

I found this experience curious.  It was an international flight into the US at Christmas time.  I actually sat next to a woman who was visiting her daughter in Seattle.  Were people not bringing presents home?  Or did the airline really want people lying to them?  What?  One woman standing next to me had gift-wrapped presents in her carryon luggage.  What did she say?  If I couldn’t bring a poster given to me by a friend into the US without creating an international incident, it might be time to reconsider the rationality of our security systems.

The  security woman  stepped over to a man in a blazer with a walkie-talkie.  I understood enough to catch “poster” and “gift,” and was able to smile at him at the right time in the explanation to get a returned grin and nod.  From the extent of the conversation that ensued, I’m fairly certain that the woman who was interrogating me was somewhat new to the position, and being a little over-diligent.  I don’t really speak German, but I’d say the gist of the conversation was, “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.  Move along.”  She returned my ticket, said “Thank you ma’am, have a nice flight,” and I was on my way.  The guy next to me wasn’t so lucky.

He’d been there when I walked up to my little desk.  The poor soul only had carry-on luggage – and brown skin.  “You are visiting your parents?  And do they work?  Only your dad?  What does he do?  And your mother, what does she do?”  He was still being questioned by an agent with a Pakistani accent when I walked onto the plane.  I simultaneously chuckled and shook my head.

The flight from Amsterdam to Seattle was 10 and a half hours.  That’s too long.  ‘Nuf said.  We did have a lovely pasta dish and individual pizzas, as well as personal entertainment devices that allowed me to watch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince over and over.  It almost made up for the ridiculously tight spaces between seats.  Almost…

There is one thing that makes the re-entry to the US less than glorious – the customs process.  I’ll say that it was better than my last experience in New York, but I was astounded by the baggage claim area and the insane pile-up of bags.

Baggage claim

Apparently it’s common to have luggage stacked 3 or 4 deep, because there was an airport employee stationed just in front of the ramp where the baggage enters the carousel, waiting to position each bag in the mêlée.

After filling out several forms designed to make you lie, and reviewing the forms with at least 3 different people, I had my cheese-laden luggage in hand and was on my way to Portland.  My first ground view of the US made me smile.  I was back in the northwest for sure.

Rainy airport

One short plane ride and I’d be back in Portland.  And that was a nice feeling.

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December 23, 2009   5 Comments

Full is a good thing

A couple of weekends ago, our friend and carpenter, Derek, took us to a new breakfast spot in Portland.  It was new to us, but not new to Portland.

Fuller's Clock

Founded in 1947, Fullers has seen it’s share of Portland diners.  Black and white pictures of Portland landmarks like the St. John’s bridge in construction, hang on the plain walls.  Derek kept talking about men in flannel suits and fedoras.

The counter (which is the only place to sit) is in a “W” shape, allowing the well-practiced waitresses access to everyone without leaving the kitchen area.  Sidenote:  These waitresses are amazing.  They’re working in a place that’s roughly 4 feet wide, serving hot food and slinging coffee.  We watched as 3 of them worked silently to replace an empty coffee pot,one removing the pot, another removing the basket and yet another replacing the basket and a clean pot, in a dance that only comes from years of working together in close quarters.

The food was excellent.  The kind of food you expect from a good, old-fashioned diner.  Hashbrowns and eggs and big-ass bacon.

Fuller's big-ass bacon

I had the fanciest thing of any of us – a scramble/hashbrown creation full of veggies and cheese.  Yum.  I even broke my coffee embargo in favor of some really great black coffee served in a brown diner mug.

Fuller's Scramble

Somehow, it seems that Fuller’s has been missed by the Portland breakfast-crazed masses.  Either it’s been explored and rejected, or remains unfound by the hipsters standing in hour-long lines at any number of other breakfast spots.  We arrived on Saturday morning at about 10AM, and waited for maybe 5 minutes before a couple of people who could have been my parents moved over to make room for the three of us.

I’m a big fan of diners.  Fuller’s is one of the best I’ve ever been to.  If you’re looking for a good place to grab some breakfast and a large amount of coffee, head to Fuller’s.  Just don’t tell the hipsters.  Let them wait in line.

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October 17, 2009   1 Comment

Let’s Chaat

One of the great things about working in downtown Portland is the access to great, cheap food.  When I lived in DC for a semester, I fell in love with street vendors.  There, the kind of food I got from carts was “Chipwich” ice cream sandwiches and big, soft pretzels.  The kind of food I enjoy from Portland food carts is some of my favorite food ever.

Just around the corner from the office where I worked for three and a half years there is an Indian food cart – actually there are two.  It’s a long story, but basically, one cart operated for a number of years, and after a divorce, a second cart opened up in the stall next to the original one.  (It took a coworker and me about two months to figure out which one we were loyal to.)

There are three great things about eating at the Bombay Chaat House:

1.  Food:  The food is excellent.  It’s all vegetarian, and has vegan options.  Along with a complete menu, the cart features a 5-item lunch special that changes slightly every day.  You can follow the menu on their twitter feed, or on my sidebar.

My absolute favorite Indian dish is Navratan Koorma.  The Bombay Chaat House has it ALMOST EVERY DAY.  It’s amazing, with nuts and fruits and spices and creaminess.  I heart Navratan Koorma.  And their naan is amazing.  It’s soft and fresh and yummy.

For $5 you get naan, rice and three fabulous dishes, one of which is almost always a dal (lentil).  And you get free chai.  Not chai from a box, mind you, real chai.  Yum.  The food is far too much for most people to eat in one sitting.  For about a year I ate at the Bombay Chaat House.  I went every other work day, ate half, and put the other half in the fridge for the next day.  (Tip: if you put the naan on top of the food when you warm it up in the microwave and add a little water to the dish, it steams the naan.)

2.  Friends:  This is a great place to go with friends.  They have a little covered seating area, but I prefer to head one block over to the public corner of the garden at First Presbyterian Church on Morrison and 12th.  Hardly anyone uses it, so it’s quiet, and it has great seating.  (If the gate is closed, just reach around and push the lever to open it.)

3.  Family:  The folks who own the Bombay Chaat House are some of the warmest people you’ll meet.  I think food is a marvelous way to know people.  I love cooking for others, because it’s a way of sharing something personal to me.  I love food, and food made by people from their own recipes is special.

Every time I go to Bombay Chaat House, I feel like I’m going to someone’s house for a meal.  People waiting in line talk with each other about the food and about the people cooking it.  The owners recognize the people who frequent their cart and greet them like old friends.  When I became a fan of the cart on Facebook, one of the owners thanked me the next day.  He just recognized me and wanted to thank me for supporting them.

I’m really going to miss the Bombay Chaat House.  When I went last week for what might very well be the last time for a while.  I asked one of the owners for a picture.

Bombay Chaat House

He consented and then told me that he reads my blog.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him I won’t be around for a while.  I think I’m in denial.  Did I mention how good the navratan koorma is?

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October 12, 2009   Comments Off on Let’s Chaat