Sunday, September 26, 2004

Franz Ferdinand, my mother-in-law and half a cow

Friday is dress-down day at the lattice semiconductor corporation and - oddly - it really does add a mildly laid-back vibe to the proceedings. The weekly team lunch at the local indian was however a "disappointment". That's a polite way of saying it was vile. After work I drove straight downtown to rendezvous with the family before our appointment with the Franz Ferdinand boys. We went to a(nother) brewery for pizza and beers, then walked together to the Crystal Ballrooms when the gig was too happen. Only Rachel and I had tickets, but Leon wanted to go to the box office to see if there was space left for Saturday's Bjorn again. FF was sold out and scalpers were trying to flog their tickets for 60 dollars a throw. A few sk8ter boiyz were hanging out in Elephant black bemoaning their bad luck. Then something amazing: to no-one's amazement (or even recognition) the FF lead singer setps off the tour bus and starts chatting to the sk8ter kids. Even though he looks much shorter in real life, I am sure it's him: "it's the lead-singer," I say. A small, self-effacing sort of chap he puts the sk8ter kids on the guest list. Then Julie starts chatting to him. Ten seconds later, Leon, Linda, Julie and Ben are also on the guest list. How cool is that?

The Crystal Ballrooms are quite the venue. Capacity must be around a thousand or thereabouts. The whole dancefloor is built on springs, like a giant mattress, not enough to lose your footing, just enough to be able to bounce really really high. The band were fantastic: super-tight and energetic, happy to play all the crowd-pleasers, it seemed like they were realy enjoying themselves. If you get the chance to see them live, you probably should.

On Saturday we went for a walk along the Columbia gorge. We took a six mile trail following the course of one stream up the mountainside and another back down again. It was so beautiful: waterfalls and bubbling, freezing water cutting through dense green forest. If you come and visit us, this is one thing you have to do; it reminds me a lot of a scene from Last of the Mohicans. Without the mortal danger of course. Unless you slip.

a photo from the somewhere in gorge

Last night celebrated four weeks since Ben and Julie's wedding and one month since Rachel and I arrived in Portland. Leon took us out to "Morton's of Chicago" for the full-on American steakhouse experience. And it was an experience. Before you eat, a waitress wheels around a trolley displaying all today's items in raw form. This includes, somewhat off-puttingly, a live lobster. Personally I find lobsters quite terrifying to behold; nevertheless the only emotion I felt at that moment was one of intense pity for the poor creature, out of his element and trollied around a restuarant with his claws bound, still jet-lagged - no doubt - from his red-eye flight from Maine. Rachel and I were all for adopting "Mr Pinchy" and taking him home to his own personal tank. As the waitress went on tp explain the various ways he could be split open for our culinary pleasure I felt my stomach twist. The trolley also displayed some extremely large cuts of meat which I assumed were there to display the type of cut from which a steak could be taken.

How naive.

I ordered the new york strip au poivre. It arrived some fifteen minutes later, at least two inches thick and about the size of my forearm. It must have been 20oz plus (I later discovered that a 48oz steak was available, though it is recommended this be shared by two diners). I hadn't eaten all day and I'd had plenty of exercise. It was, I'm ashamed to say, quite delicious. Even so I had to harness every last ounce of gluttony within my soul to finish it. And yet, following the exertion, I felt something other than comfortable satedness; I felt rather guilty.

It's a once a year trip. But if any of you fancy it, I'd be prepared to take you there. It's certainly quite an experience.

Monday, September 20, 2004

It rained

On my way home on Friday night it rained. No, you don’t understand: IT RAINED! Like a swimming pool dropping onto the freeway. I thought the windscreen was going to cave-in. Four-by-four’s aquaplaned along the road at sixty, whilst I hugged the steering wheel in the slow lane for dear life. Apparently this is by no means uncommon.

So far the weather has been pretty good; always a couple of degrees warmer than London and sunny more often than not. But I’m told November is a different story. I will learn why grunge was born in the Pacific Northwest.

Work is going to be OK I think – am still finding my feet, but so far so good. Need to find a way to get more exercise though: no sports teams at the office and no daily cycle ride + Richard = fat bastard quite soon no doubt. Although at least when I do have that coronary I’ve got private healthcare.

Rachel and I spent the weekend looking at houses. We even put an offer in on one, but they weren’t interested in our money. Nice to see the kind of market we’re in though: we’re going to be able to afford a fairly big house for our money. On the checklist: hot tub, front porch, large kitchen and – if I’m really lucky – enough room in the basement for a pool table…

Rachel and I both passed our driving theory tests last week, so just an actual driving test to pass and we’ll have our Oregon licenses. I also have a green card (not actually green, which is a bit of a disappointment, though it has a data strip on the back of sufficient dimensions to contain my entire life history + every website I’ve ever visited + a tracking device), a social security number and a bank account, all of which probably sounds quite trivial but has in fact been a royal pain to collate. So, I’m nearly sorted…

Sunday, September 12, 2004

...and relax

This is really the first weekend Rachel and I have had to relax for well over a month, so we have elected to do virtually nothing!

Stayed with Julie and Ben last night (they have a flat in the area of downtown known as the pearl district, or simply "the pearl") and took the opportunity to go bar-hopping. Found a great martini bar called "the vault" with an enormous selection of the aforementioned: the lemon-basil martini was particularly fine. It will take a while and some dedication to tick-off the entire menu, but I intend to give it my best... Have found two excellent dedicated cocktail bars so far, plus two wine bars that really just serve wine - plus the odd bit of imported cheese. Top.

This morning - after a suitably substantial breakfast - we took a walk through the woods near Rachel's parents before driving to Petmart to buy some toys for Conker and Peanut, who are a bit down re their current confinement to barracks. I have now constructed a cat fishing line using a mop handle, some string and a Brazilian looking (yellow and green) mouse toy with a bell inside. Some preliminary interest has been shown.

Rachel's folks have gone to Seattle today to watch the Boston Redsocks play the Seattle Mariners. The redsocks are inexplicably popular here - inexplicable, that is, until you realise that about half the city are exiled Easterners. I probably would be prepared to watch overweight American men play a dull game for absurd sums of money - were it not for the six-hour round trip involved. One day I will take a trip up to Seattle though, if only 'cause it's not too far from the double-R diner (Twin Peaks fans). I shall wear a suit, buy a slice of cherry pie and a cup o' coffee. And I will have a photo taken as evidence. No doubt the staff are sick of that, but hey, it pays the bills.

Work is going to be okay, I think. The first couple of days were extremely intense; it's a pretty big operation and there are an enormous number of people to get to know, systems to comprehend, business concepts to digest and marketing strategies to realise. Most everyone seems pretty friendly though, if focused and unselfconsciously 'eager' in a very un-British way. Overall it's no bigger a job than the one at the University, just with a very different emphasis - so I think I can handle it. The hours are on the long side; they are published as 8 to 6 with an hour for lunch, but in fact most people don't arrive til nigh-on 8.30. So that's a 42.5 hour working week. The commute's not too bad from Lake Oswego, about 40 minutes in the Audi (nice motor by the way, by far the best car I've ever driven, will be a shame to have to give it back when we move out!). At the moment it's knackering because it's all so new and there's so much to take in, but I reckon it will calm down after a bit. The worst thing about the job by far is the working environment: a big, open-plan office with offices around the perimeter for the top-brass (who therefore get all the windows) and harsh fluorescent lighting. All furnishings are grey. It's just a matter of time until Kraftwerk shoot a video here.

On the subject of music, the weekend after next should be great! On the Friday we're going to see Franz Ferdinand and on Sunday - presuming we can get tickets - we should be seeing Muse.

The house is wonderfully peaceful today... most of Rachel's family stayed on after the wedding and the place has been a madhouse. It's been great seeing everyone, but it's good to just have some time to flop too... The wedding was great by the way - really good fun. Ben and Julie are really good together and the ceremony and reception were on the relaxed side of formal. I even made a speech - not sure what got into me there (apart from the booze, of course).

And, sooner or later I'll get some pictures posted here! Love to you all...!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Random thoughts...

Washing Machines
Relieve youself of the bother of dropping your laundry into the giant top-loading washing machine and dump it straight into the dustbin instead - saving yourself minutes. Nothing of any quality whatsoever survives the infernal machinations within.

Ben and Jerry's
A comfortingly wide selection awaits me at the local supermarket. This is an enormous boon.

Rachel's paternal grandfather aka Jack or - oddly - Ritchie. A disconcerting combination of the grandpa from the Simpsons meets Jo Pesci from Goodfellas, he'll buttonhole you at any opportunity with an irrelevant, non-linear 'tale' from the old days and / or expound on the virtues of Republicanism - which you too would embrace if only you had an 'open mind' like what he has. Best value: get him to talk about his childhood in the South Bronx. Eye opening.

Ali G in Da USA
The second series is now here on HBO. Went down surprsingly well with Rachel's family - Borat and "Funkyzeit mit Bruno" considered the better segements.

Size matters
Everything really is bigger here. The houses, the cars, the portions, the cartons of Orange Juice, the roads, parking spaces and sky. Smaller versions of anything are unavailable - and the very idea that you might want anything smaller is considered perverse. The smallest car I've seen here is a VW Golf; sporty little numbers aside, everything is big - the new mini and the Ford Focus are considered miniature. I have yet to see a French car...

After even a short while you begin to adjust. Why would you want a small car?

A bumper sticker: "Freedom isn't free"
...Indeed, it's very expensive. Given how rarely it's exercised, you begin to wonder if it's actually worth it.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Mmmm booze

As you know, I'm fond of a tipple. So it's fortunate that I find myself in what must be the US's premiere city for alcoholism. There are several "micro-breweries" and a huge number of "brew-pubs" in town. The former make and distribute beer as well as selling direct; "micro" simply distinguishes them from the massive industrial operations of budweiser, coors etc. The brew-pubs knock together there own stuff and sell it in their own establishement. Each place seems to brew red and amber ales, an IPA, a porter and some lighter lager-like stuff. The red's are fairly close to bitter. Personally, I prefer the IPAs. There's a bar called Henry's downtown that sells about sixty beers on draft, which is fairly impressive. I'm not sure what you get for drinking the lot, but we'll find out if Swanny ever visits.

Then there's the wine: they make a lot of Pinot Noir around here; Rielsing and Pinot Gris are the popular white varietals. Over the river in Washington they make Merlot on the South-facing slopes. It's all pretty good though in my opinion a little over-priced. The supermarkets all stock an impressive range of wines, all slightly more expensive than in England. They seem to have everything you could ever want although the big Aussie brands are notable for their absence. You can even by port at 15 dollars a pop, so I'll be alright through the winter.

Yesterday we went house-hunting. Much to my surprise two of the homes we looked at were late Victorian and retained their original features: beautiful staircases and moldings, recessed sliding door panels, old gas lighting fittings (now converted to electric). The larger of the two even had a separate staircase at the back for the servants, which was a nice touch. We're not ready to buy yet, but it was great to see what was out there and what we could afford. I would say that property here is probably about 60% the price it is in Lewes, like for like.

Last night we went to the remake of the Manchurian Candidate. I've not seen the original -which is probably a good thing - but the film was pretty good: a well above-average thriller with some great acting and superb direction. 7/10

Friday, September 03, 2004


Rachel and I explored the city on foot, attempting to get a feel for where we'd like to live. The factors in the equation are:
  • room for the cats to roam safely
  • easy walking distance to shops, bars and restaurants
  • commute time to Hillsboro, and access to public transport in general
The city is divided Eastside from Westside by the Willamette river and North from South by a road called Burnside. We've managed to narrow our choice of area down to two options: an extremely convenient but slightly yuppified area near downtown in Northwest ("trendy-third" avenue) and a more bohemian but slightly less convenient neighbourhood in the Southeast called Sunnyside or Hawthorne depending on who's talking. Sunnyside is far cheaper, but this is not necessarily a blessing as it just means that the houses are ridiculously enormous rather than less expensive. Today we're off to see a few houses with our estate agent ("realtor")...

The city is, in general, laid-back and hip, a bit like a less-frenetic Brighton. I think we're going to be very happy here. Later!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Far too much has happenned already to detail it here and now, so please bear with me and expect little in the way of plot for the time being!

Today we've been walking in the woods near Rachel's parent's house. The trees are tall and more often than not covered in ivy or moss, small wooden bridges ford streams bound for the river; it's tranquil and very beautiful. This has been our first opportunity to draw breath since we arrived here just about a week ago and it's much appreciated!

I guess I could start with a geography lesson:

Portland lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Columbia, which flows from the East and continues West to the Pacific, and the Willamette which flows from the South. To the North of the Columbia river is the state of Washington, and to the South, on either side of the Willamette, sits Portland. Follow the Willamette further South and you're in wine country. Follow the Columbia East and you're in an enormous river gorge - hiking country with impressive views and some equally impressive waterfalls. About fifty miles East of Portland and capped with snow lies Mt Hood, where everyone seems to go skiing. It's volcanic. Several other volcanoes are also visible form the city on a clear day. No-one seems in the least bit concerned about this. About 90 minutes drive west is the Pacific coast. Long sandy beaches, often with rocky outcrops, often very misty.

About 500 000 people live in Portland, making it about twice the size of Brighton and Hove. It's a really wonderful city - more on this another day. Rachel's parents (Leon and Linda) live about 7 miles South of the city in a town called Lake Oswego. In fact they live right on the lake front and sometimes take their speedboat to go shopping at Safeway - which is fun. I'll be working in a town called Hillsboro which is about 15 miles East of Portland. When we move to the city I'll be able to take the train to work, but for the time being I'll have to drive. It should take about 45mins or so. There's sweet FA in Hillsboro of note except for the Intel headquarters which is enormous and sprawling and seems to comprise about half the town. Around and about lie perfectly civilised but anonymous suburbs which remind me a lot of Denver.

More soon!