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