Good evening, friends and neighbors!
On my current schedule, Thursdays are my first day off of the week. While there is plenty to be done around the house- cleaning, planning, organizing, errands, and so on- Thursdays are MY day. While wandering the city, I learned of the existence of the Oregon Jewish Museum and decided to mosey down and check it out- get a little bit of my family’s history and culture in this strange new land.
Which is why I am currently sitting in Lan Su- Portland’s Chinese Garden in the heart of its Chinatown.
Looking at the outside, the walls are sparse. They seem out of place in the thoroughly modern Portland, but not very noticeable otherwise. Once you enter, however….
More than once since traveling and living in this city, I have been struck dumb by my surroundings- and as a poet and blogger, it completely frustrates me. Driving over valleys and canyons, watching the sunset as you are caught between the ageless Pacific and only slightly younger mountains, you invariably run out of vocabulary and start repeating yourself- and that’s when words and pictures seem in any way adequate.
I have always felt that while food and writing are both about communication, poetry is unique in that it communicates the same WAY as food- that is, it is a person, be it poet or chef, telling you a story about themselves and their experiences, but using the reader/diner’s emotions and voice. As Roger Verge once said, “A cook is creative, marrying ingredients in the way a poet marries words.”
In some places, however, the emotion is complex and dodgy. You really can’t break it down to a word count, or dig it out of a thesaurus (Stephen King said, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word” anyway.
The best I can do is try to draw a picture, and then describe the picture. I remember the “5 W’s and H” of Journalism (that I learned in 5th grade for some reason) and try to put it all together.
I’m sitting in the corner of the upstairs room of a Teahouse
in the Chinese garden. It’s my Saturday, and I am losing my thoughts of the last week and coming week in the momentary atmosphere of hot tea on an unseasonably warm day. I am enjoying a marbled tea egg, and am struggling for words while scanning the room. An elderly pair discuss their work, and the women occasionally smiles in my direction. To the side, an older man sits getting ready to demonstrate Chinese calligraphy. I am eager to hear about it, and shy to get up and ask. The chair is slightly uncomfortable as I have long legs, but I am careful about shifting and squirming for fear of disturbing the tranquility of the room. I am by an open window, and I can see the tops of trees starting to bloom and heralding the arrival of spring.
I know I will eventually leave the teahouse, explore the remainder of the garden, and then continue on into the city I call home. I feel slightly guilty I found this place while making a wrong turn trying to find the Oregon Jewish Museum, and chose to stay here instead.
I am quietly hoping that, this being the Year of the Monkey and having seen exhibits and decor for it around, I might find a likeness of one of my literary heroes- Sun Wukong, the Monkey King
– in the gift shop. I look about at the Chinese calligraphy everywhere and think about the short poems and couplets I have already seen engraved in small spaces, doorways and arches.
Maybe I’ll come up with a poem about it all later.
But my tea is getting cold.
Part of me wanted to dress up dapper and find another one of my favorite spots in the city- a whiskey library that recalls old wood, soft lounge chairs, scotch and cigars. All told, I think I made a better choice.
EDIT- 8:30 that evening
The calligrapher had started when he was a small boy, and had been doing calligraphy for over 50 years. I asked if he could do something special for me- it reads “The Art of Cooking.” I’m hanging it in my kitchen.
P.S.- The gift shop had some children’s books based on Journey to the West, but no statuettes or anything Sun Wukong. Ah well.