Tuesday, August 17, 2010

pardon while I brood

Gradually, as we've been surrounding ourselves with boxes and the collapsed frames of collapsible bookcases, we've been amazed at just how much a single shelf can hold, and we have many shelves. The only place I know for sure that has more, aside from (possibly) the Library of Congress, is Powell's World of Books. This is a picture I took in the Red Room - home of books devoted to religions, cults, psychology, travel, foreign language, and their collection of maps, religious statues and travel accessories. Upstairs from there is the Pearl Room - art gallery, arts, architecture, and a beautifully constructed Rare Book Room with old glass windows, hanging lamps and fine furniture for the comfort of perusers.

I've started off describing areas deep in the store that many first time visitors never see. Shall I tell you about the others? Why not? I'm sitting here with a cup of tea and thinking about the place in this city I'll miss most of all. We've lived in Portland for the past 17 years and rarely has a week gone by that we haven't made a pilgrimage and left the appropriate donations on our way back out. Michael Powell probably isn't aware he owes a significant proportion of his wealth to us. Although it's situated on always busy Burnside, when we arrived it backed on a wilderness of old and crumbling railroad yards and warehouses. Parking was never a problem and walks in the area were frequently entertaining, especially because real estate rentals were cheap.

The Church of Elvis was on the upper floor of a building nearby - Elvis was known to be cranky and bad-tempered. I remember hearing loud yells and thumps one day we were near the church and seeing a frightened tourist running out the bottom door with Elvis swearing and waving his guitar in hot pursuit.

The Science Fiction Museum was just up the street. Nothing was for sale there but the guy who ran the place had an amazing collection of memorabilia large and small going back to the 30's. He'd even built a couple of space ships based on ones he'd traveled in himself and a room designed like the inside of one where you could recline on a starship couch and listen to theramin music. Yes, I tried it.

There was a fabulous record/music store called Django's across the street from Powell's and Spartacus further up that sold seriously exotic kinky gear. Django's had been a landmark for 25 years but when they tried to take their business on-line they failed badly and had to close; Spartacus is still there but looks like a Frederick's of Hollywood now. Comic book stores, vintage clothing stores, 50's furniture stores and all sorts of cheap eateries have disappeared but the real estate is valuable.. or maybe not.

But I was going to tell you about the other Rooms at Powell's. Have I run out of time? No. Have you run out of patience? Maybe, but I'll go through the colors anyway. I have time.

The Green Room is the entrance area off Burnside and is where they sell magazines, feature all the new arrival books in every category, and display cards, and maps and books about Oregon. The Blue Room, up a short ramp from Green, specializes in English Literature and poetry. Then there's the Gold Room where you can check out their huge collection of science fiction novels as well as mysteries, thrillers and Manga. If you feel like sitting down with a book or a stack of books while having a snack and a beverage the Coffee Room is right beyond the Gold and you can stay there all day and evening if you like. It's also where they keep the Romance novels, fashion and home decorating books. Did I mention the long balcony corridor that opens on to the Green, Blue and Gold Rooms? There are places to sit and spaces where they have journals, calendars, cups and t-shirts for sale and also staircases up and down (or an elevator). Down is the Rose Room with children's books, young adult books, a play area, toys and puppets and science books and doors to the Orange Room. It really is a very big store. Orange is the entrance from Couch (pronounced cooch) and 11th where you can sell your old books then look for cookbooks, craft books, gardening books, business books or find more cards and literary inspired knicknacks or chopsticks. The only one remaining now is the Purple Room. It's out the back door of Green, across the balcony and up the stairs if you're looking for books about history, political science, archeology, paleontology or books about those topics in foreign languages.

I know I've missed mentioning a few subjects and sub-subjects I've come across in the hundreds of hours I've spent there. I haven't even mentioned Powell's Technical one block down on 9th that overlooks the North Park Blocks. Across the park was a wonderful and enormous old fabric store called the Daisy Kingdom - the building is still there but it's been empty for more than 5 years because the owners could no longer afford the lease.

I'll miss Powell's but I've long been missing the little places that gave the heart of this city it's famous motto 'Keep Portland Weird'. It's still a beautiful city but we'll take our personal weirdness and our collection of books to a city that's one of the oldest in North America, one that is guaranteed to be new and strange to us.

for La Belette Rouge who will visit soon


  1. What a wonderful bookshop We have one moderate sized bookstore in Romford but all of the truly interesting shops have gone replaced with chain stores, some of which will be utterly familiar to an American mall or shopping street

    At least London still has many wonderful places and Foyles which is a monster of a book shop

  2. I think if that bookstore were in my neighborhood and I was moving away I would miss it too. We don't have nearly any bookstore as neat as that here :(

  3. I want to go there and spend days and days.

  4. I love Powell's; we visited Portland once and had to go there as a pilgrimage. Will go back to Portland again one of these days, it's a lovely city. Good luck with your move!

  5. Thank you, Lovely you, for this beautiful post! I am honoured to inspired such a post.

    I can't wait to be there and to meet you!!! Maybe after brunch you could give me a tour of Powells. I am so happy that I get to see you before you go. When I think of Portland Powell's is almost my first association.

    I have been to the Church of Elvis and we even had a little ceremony there. Aaah, Portland!! Long may it be weird.:-)

  6. jams - Bookstores like this one are very rare everywhere but even Powell's isn't as good as it once was in having all of an authors work available on the same shelf in both new and used editions. Foyles I do remember but my dream is to visit the Bodleian.

    liberality - It certainly made living in Portland an extra treat for readers like us.

    lisa - You would love it.

    mauigirl - Yes, it really is a very nice place - the closest in the US to a Canadian city. Thanks for the good wishes.

    belette - I'm looking forward to meeting you and Lily but Crow has left on a scouting expedition to the east coast and may not return in time for your visit. He left a peck for you both.

    Yes, I'll be happy to give you a tour of Powell's.

  7. I do know that bookstore! I love the weirdness of Portland. It always has a cool vibe compared to all of the other cities I've lived in and around. Of course, we can't wait to hear about your new home. I'm sure it will have many new things to tell us about. Isn't it nice to be able to move and still have your bloggy friends? You ARE taking, aren't you?? Please say yes...

  8. I wonder if there's a decently-sized loft because I think I'd like to move there.

  9. i'm afraid of bookstores. given a choice between a book and groceries, i'm apt to go for the book..... so i tried to avoid book stores while raising the kids.

    a fellow named Goran Yovanovich from the University in Portland did a brilliant talk @ a biofuel conference here in northern alberta some years ago. very cool guy. a bio engineer or something far beyond my ken. he'd devised a biodiesel production unit that's slightly bigger than his briefcase. normal size for such-like at the time was a warehouse. his wife was with him, and said Portland was a beautiful city well ahead of its peers in many ways.... lots of greenspace and walking paths, environmental initiatives for public transport, etc.

    is it 10 sleeps? have i lost count?

  10. nancy - I still like Portland for a number of reasons but we're leaving anyway. It's a delight having on-line friends and so long as we find hotels with internet access along the way I do plan on keeping keeping up the blog as we travel.

    randal - There isn't. We tried. On the other hand I do know of a couple of hidden areas where your sleeping bag could be stashed.

    gfid - Our addictions to books, music, and video games might be why we're both a bit scrawny :-)

    Maybe I'm just old and cranky but downtown Portland has had a little too much building done too fast these past 5 years. It does have nice parks, green spaces and fountains but there are also too many homeless people and empty retail and living spaces. Sometimes it reminds me of a movie set.

  11. i was wondering today what you must be thinking about with so little time left before your move. i was going to ask you what you are feeling, what thoughts sit foremost in your mind; are you excited, or scared, or glad to be rid of a part of your life that you outgrew?
    and of course, you are thinking of all those things.
    those shelves which you will put up again somewhere else, you were right about them. they will hold a lot more than you'll expect.

  12. dear sera - I really appreciate you asking. It seems to me this morning that if I'd outgrown this part of my life I wouldn't have so much to pack and account for when we go through customs. Other than that your question rates a whole other post - one I'll attempt later.

  13. I especially like your Church of Elvis story. :-)

    I love bookstores, too. Wow, you've been in Portland a long time.

    I am thinking about you and your boxes and the places you will miss...but looking forward to seeing what your next life will hold in store...

  14. pagan sphinx - The day we leave Portland will be only a day or so before the anniversary of our arrival 17 years ago. Yes, a long time. I said good-bye to Powell's today and got choked up.

    I look forward to seeing you on the east coast. It will be nice.

  15. i saw a show once called the beverly hillbillies. they traveled across country with granny sitting with the family possessions on the back of the truck-- in a rocker.

  16. sera - It seems now like that would be pretty relaxing so long as it doesn't snow.