Tag Archives: Portland

Portland dresses up for the high-fashion parade

Joe Btfsplk, honorary grand marshal of Portland’s High Fashion Parade.

I was shocked — shocked! — this morning when I sat down to make my daily blog rounds and discovered Mighty Toy Cannon’s report at Culture Shock on Portland’s rankings in Travel + Leisure magazine’s latest assessment of America’s Favorite Cities.

Sitting in my plaid pajama bottoms and red T-shirt (not the best choice, granted, in a household with a 16-pound white lap cat) I tugged with frustration at my hair — which, all right, was already a trifle on the unkempt side, and three weeks overdue for a trim.

The nerve! There it was, as Mr. Cannon so indignantly pointed out: Portland, 17th out of 30 cities for “Attractive People.” As the magazine so delicately put it, Portlanders “… may not conform to most visitors’ standards of ‘normal’ beauty.”

Mrs. Scatter was lucky she’d departed for her spacious corner office overlooking the sartorial splendors of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, or she’d have got an earful.

The larger of the young lunks known collectively as the Large Smelly Boys had taken his carefully curated rumpled clothing and his head of organic free-range pasturage off to high school. (His last haircut was in April or May; we believe he’s planning on attending Halloween functions as Cousin Itt.) The smaller lunk, also a few weeks tardy from the barber chair, is taking on a mildly stylish Prince Valiant look. He’s the fashion pate of the family: All of his T-shirts, the only kind of shirt he wears, must be single-colored and devoid of words or company logos.

The ultimate in Cleveland style./Wikimedia CommonsPortland didn’t do as badly as Cleveland, which rated this jab: “(T)here’s no getting around the fact that its residents are uniformly hideous to look upon.” Ouch! Except for a night spent sleeping on the grassy knoll of a freeway cloverleaf around 1970, I don’t know much about Cleveland. I do know Drew Carey and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame come from there, and I know Mr. Carey usually wears a nice suit and tie. (He still looks like Drew Carey, but he makes himself presentable, and what more should an upscale magazine ask?)

What do Travel + Leisure’s travelers and leisurites want, anyway? It’s not as if Portlanders were babes in the backwoods when it comes to fashion. Just last night Mrs. Scatter and I were driving through our Highly Cultured Pearl District when we spotted an Eddie Bauer outlet. “I thought they went Chapter 11,” I said. Yet, there they were, scant blocks from REI, “the world’s premiere outdoor gear store.” L.L. Bean catalogs arrive at the Scatter house regularly, and I eagerly flip through them to find out which plaids are in fashion this season. You won’t catch me visiting North Portland’s Paul Bunyan statue in last year’s lumberjack shirt.

I own a tuxedo, and I try to make sure to wear it once a year. It blends nicely, I think, with the black turtlenecks and berets at our more cutting-edge neo-Marxist coffee shops. Plus, how many cities can match Portland for the style and lavishness of our tattoo designs? “I like your arm,” I found myself saying the other morning to the newish barista at our neighborhood coffee joint.

She looked at me a little funny, but I assume that’s because she’s new to town.

Temporarily incapacitated: Please go away

Old Sol, with spots. NASA/Wikimedia Commons

The temperature on the surface of old Sol, often referred to as “the sun,” is 5,510 degrees Celsius.

The temperature in Portland, Oregon,
United States of America, western and northern hemispheres, planet Earth, is 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

Close enough.

Art Scatter gives up.

If something eventually gives, we will emerge from the basement.

Until then, we are OUT OF ORDER.

Our apologies.

A “Laramie” lawsuit: Footing the bill for censorship

Here we go again: More trouble over a school play. Don’t these people ever learn? I mean the principals and school boards who do the censoring and always seem to do it so clumsily, as if critical thinking were anathema to education and free speech were a legislative inconvenience to be swatted away on a whim — usually the whim of a frightened administrator or a few right-wing parents determined to make everyone else line up with their rigid view of the world. Where do they think they are, Guantanamo Bay?

The play in question this time around, almost predictably, is The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman’s moving and mostly even-handed exploration of how the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in 1998 affected the people in his town of Laramie, Wyoming. This one’s just too much for the great 16th century thinkers who seem to be running, and running roughshod over, our public schools. Controversy? Perish all thought.

As Melissa Navas reported this morning in The Oregonian, Portland actor and onetime teacher Wade Willis has sued the Beaverton School District for $125,000, claiming he was “harassed, intimidated and humiliated” for his attempt during the 2005-06 school year to bring The Laramie Project to the stage at Southridge High School, where he had been a music, drama and language arts teacher. Shattered by the experience, Willis quit a job that he presumably loved.

His lawyer argued, Navas reports, that “a wrongful discharge lawsuit can be filed when an employer ‘maintained specific working conditions so intolerable’ that a person would resign.” Navas also reports that Kaufman had given permission to take out the play’s profanities to make it appropriate for a school audience, and she points out that although the play is about a hate crime against a gay man, it’s not about sex.

I don’t know Wade Willis, but I’ve seen him many times on stage, and he’s always struck me as an actor who approaches his job in a totally professional manner. (Right now he’s on stage in Broadway Rose Theatre Company‘s critically hailed production of the musical Les Miserables.) The loss to the students who no longer get to learn from him is of course impossible to measure, but I imagine it is significant: Here is a man who understands music and theater from the inside out, deeply respects his craft, is exceptionally good at it, and was willing to pass that knowledge along. Further, he wasn’t afraid to confront his students with topics that demand critical thinking — and what greater skill can a school hope to impart to the children in its care?
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Feeding the masses: What would Tolstoy do?

Reading William J. Broad’s fascinating report in the Science section of Tuesday’s New York Times about a possible breakthrough in world rice production got me thinking about Leo Tolstoy‘s masterful War and Peace, which I’ve been enjoying, in small gulps of 20 to 40 pages a sitting, in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s lively 2007 translation.

For all of the novel’s cinematic scope and dense cultural and moral observation (the closest thing to an American equivalent of this amazing piece of writing, which Tolstoy himself referred to as an “epic” rather than a novel, is Herman Melville‘s similarly discursive Moby-Dick), Tolstoy could draw a character and an intimate conversation like nobody’s business: Reading this translation, you feel like you’re in the room, observing with the invisible narrator himself, smiling or shuddering at facial expressions, nodding in agreement with Tolstoy’s acute descriptions.

So let’s drop in, early in the going, on a conversation about the old roue Count Kirill Vladimirovich Bezukhov, who is on his deathbed and has no legitimate immediate heirs, although illegitimate ones are apparently scattered across Russia like seed from a flock of migrating birds. One of this prodigious offspring, the fine, fat, clumsy bear of a fellow Count Pyotr Kirillovich, or Pierre, looks to be on the ascent:

“Princess Anna Mikhailovna mixed into the conversation, clearly wishing to show her connections and her knowledge of all the circumstances of society.

” ‘The thing is,’ she said significantly and also in a half whisper. ‘Count Kiril Vladimirovich’s reputation is well-known … He’s lost count of his children, but this Pierre was his favorite.’

” ‘How good-looking the old man was,’ said the countess, ‘even last year! I’ve never seen a handsomer man.’

” ‘He’s quite changed now,’ said Anna Mikhailovna. ‘So, as I was about to say,’ she went on, ‘Prince Vassily is the direct heir to the whole fortune through his wife, but the father loved Pierre very much, concerned himself with his upbringing, and wrote to the sovereign … so that when he dies (he’s so poorly that they expect it at any moment, and Lorrain has come from Petersburg), no one knows who will get this enormous fortune, Pierre or Prince Vassily. Forty thousand souls, and millions of roubles. I know it very well, because Prince Vassily told me himself. And Kirill Vladimirovich is my uncle twice removed through my grandmother. And he’s Borya’s godfather,’ she added, as if ascribing no importance to this circumstance.”

Fine, witty writing. But what’s it got to do with the price of rice in China? Hold on. We’ll get there.

Forty thousand souls, the princess counts among the old man’s fortune. That means 40,000 serfs — in effect, slaves — whose lives and labor are in the power and patronage of a single man. Tolstoy finished writing War and Peace in 1868, seven years after the emancipation of Russia’s serfs; America’s Emancipation Proclamation was even fresher news. But the novel is set during the Napoleonic wars, from 1805 through 1812. And at the beginning of that period the world population was about 1 billion (up from a scant 1 million in 10,000 B.C.E.), or roughly one-seventh of today’s estimate of 6.7 billion. So with the same equivalent of the population, Count Bezukhov today would have directly controlled the destinies of 280,000 men, women and children — an astonishing figure, even in the contemporary world of runaway wealth and the new Russia of extreme fortunes got fast and furious. And how does a master feed 40,000, or 280,000, or 6.7 billion souls?
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Sondheim speaks, we gladly listen

51cy5ayyqql_aa240_.jpgThe Stephen Sondheim-Frank Rich question and answer session, staged by Literary Arts at the Schnitz Tuesday, was about as delightful as it possibly could have been. Rich was a terrific interrogator: smart, prepared, completely aware that his role was to spark Sondheim into memorable bits of reflection, story-telling, even emotion. He succeeded brilliantly at all three, succeeded to such an extent that the nearly full house (which would be 2700 or so) sang “Happy Birthday” to Sondheim at the end, in anticipation of his birthday on March 22 (when he turns 78, by my count). Sondheim had won us over completely, as though we needed winning over to begin with.

What did they talk about? Musical theater, of course, from Sondheim’s particular, insider perspective. So there were anecdotes about Oscar Hammerstein II (Sondheim’s mentor and father-figure) and a couple of great Cole Porter anecdotes (more about these a little lower), recollections of putting West Side Story together, Gypsy, Company, Sunday in the Park With George and of course Sweeney Todd, which led to observations about the difference between film and theater (film is more propulsive; theater allows more imagination from the audience), and much more. Marty Hughley gives an account of it all on Oregonlive. With actual quotes!

Many of the anecdotes were familiar ones, especially to those who’ve read Meryle Secrest’s biography of Sondheim. But what a difference hearing the stories from Sondheim’s lips. So, he describes walking over to play his songs for Cole Porter in Williamstown, Mass., (where he went to Williams College) and we can feel the trepidation he must have felt, the awkwardness, the Porter-esque parody he played and his relief that Porter not only enjoyed it but helped him make the ending even better. Sondheim helped us understand the meaning of the encounter for a young artist, the joy it gave him, the inspiration. All of which is missing from Secrest’s book, which deals with the incident quickly. Ditto, the last time Sondheim played for Porter, when he was seriously ill, both legs amputated, and managed to elicit a gasp of recognition from the dying man, a smart turn and unlikely rhyme. And this is in microcosm the power of theater itself — to attach feeling and meaning to words that might slip by unattended by either.
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