Thursday, January 27, 2011


We happened to visit Portland, Ore. the same weekend that the city was parodied in a new IFC comedy sketch show called "Portlandia." It was clear, reading the local media and the local mood, that residents were both slightly defensive and slightly tickled to be in the national spotlight.

Many of the silly stereotypes in Portlandia seemed all-too-true, at least to casual, short-term visitors like us. Plaid shirts and beards are the norm for men; and yes, the hot girls all wear glasses. You don't eat anything without hearing about its provenance.

The city is an odd mix of uber-progressive young adults and old-fashioned, elderly white people who still seem perplexed by the last couple of decades. My mother grew up in Portland, so we tracked down one of her old addresses. When she took us there in the '80s, the neighborhood had deteriorated badly. The old Portland Foursquares were crumbling and the once-glamorous local movie palace, the Bagdad Theater, was a sad shadow of its former self.

But due to still-controversial urban planning, "in-fill" is the norm for Portland's neighborhoods, as opposed to the ugly, pollution-generating suburban and exurban sprawl found outside of so many other cities.

Most of the homes in mom's old neighborhood have been lovingly restored and sport creative paint jobs. The Bagdad is part of an entrepreneurial chain of brew pub-movie palaces that have been reclaimed and refurbished. A fancy market selling locally-sourced meat, cheese and produce is right around the corner, along with a Powell's outlet, record stores and lots of terrific restaurants.

I only wish Mom could have seen it. She would have been proud.