Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Prelude to the Fair

Witch Head at Enchanted Forest
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
On our way down to the Oregon State Fair, we made a slight detour to visit the Enchanted Forest, an emphatically noncorporate theme park and the location of this terrifying walk-in witch’s head. You enter via her mouth—her tongue serves as the welcome mat—and then climb a spiral staircase inside her cranium that leads to her eyeballs, where you can peer out at people if that's the kind of thing you enjoy doing. You might possibly be able to spy on people from her ample nostrils, but I can't personally vouch for that. To exit, you have the option of sliding out her ear. And that’s about the most exciting thing the Enchanted Forest has to offer.

The cheese/cornball factor at the Enchanted Forest is simply off the charts. The conceit is that the moment after you pay your $8.50 at the entry gate, you enter an enchanted forest populated with just about every nursery rhyme and fairy tale character you can think of. For example, here’s a villanous-looking Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty

And here’s a scene from Alice in Wonderland and one of the Three Bears .

As you can tell from the photos, the talents of the artists who rendered these works of art were modest. The bear is just a garden-variety plush toy, a bit worse for the wear. She’s also permanently yoked to her wooden spoon by a cobweb.

There’s plenty of stuff at the Enchanted Forest for a pair of cynical, childless adults like B and I to mock and ridicule. The puns in the fakey Wild West town were painful: Dr. U.R. Hurtin was the town dentist, for example. And what was Abe Lincoln doing dressing up children in Confederate Army uniforms and handing them rifles? Not historically accurate. And not a lot of other things, too.

Abe Arms the Children

But as you can see, the kids were digging it. Big time. Granted, I didn’t see a single kid over the age of 10, but these little kids were having a great time—even though there was not a computerized special effect to be found. The most sophisticated thing was a Pinocchio doll (located inexplicably in the Olde England part of the park) that twisted jerkily to the right and left (was he supposed to be squirming?) as Geppetto sermonized.

By the time we left, though, I had developed a mushy soft spot for the Enchanted Forest. No theme park like it would ever be built today. It is actually in a forest (of sorts) with trees of respectable girth and sword ferns and other native plants. What modern theme park isn’t completely flat, paved over, and vegetation free? It's hilly, too. Some of the adults were really wheezing as they made their way from Rip Van Winkle to the bumper cars.

There were only about three exceedingly tame rides. No self-respecting theme park today would be so heavy on the static exhibits. The statues are amateurishly hand painted (and chipped) and the costumes are hand-sewn. Everything in the little cottages and castles is coated with a thick veneer of dust and/or cobwebs. It’s more museum than theme park really. They don’t even put much effort into the food. I didn’t make a full survey (we were on our way to the fair, after all), but as far as I could tell, there were gas-station nachos (I saw Abe Lincoln buying some), candy bars, sno-cones, and popcorn. That's it! No ice cream, even.

I don’t know how this place stays in business, honestly, but I found its lack of sophistication and techno-dazzle encouraging and refreshing. Little kids, at least, still were able to have a great time without all that. They probably even got a bit of exercise, what with the dearth of sit-on-your-ass rides and with having to run up and down hills to get from the Wild West to Olde England.

OK. This post is long enough. Tomorrow, I promise, we will get to the fair.

Monday, August 29, 2005

My Weakness for State Fairs

When I was in 4th grade, my mom insisted that I join 4-H. We lived in a ranch style house in a suburb of Chicago; we kept no sheep, goats, poultry, swine, or cattle, but, still, she insisted--for reasons I have never fathomed. Our 4-H club was called the Junior Wonder Maids, named--I later found out--for a defunct brand of “training bras.” Very odd.*

The meetings were a crashing bore. We sat in folding chairs in a church basement and listened to someone drone on about something. Then someone else would get up and drone on about something else. Since there was no agricultural component to our 4-H group, it seemed that we were supposed to be learning to sew and cook, but I don’t recall any instruction of that sort ever occurring. We never did anything--just sat on our bums and yawned (at least that's what I did).

Until one day. We were informed that we were going to start working on a skit/musical number. We were to sing “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music while pushing two halves of a rainbow together. Each girl was to wear a sash with the name of a country on it. (I was to be Sudan.) The message of our skit was...WORLD HARMONY! So subtle.

Incredibly, at the county fair we kicked the butts of all the other local 4-H clubs as we warbled our way through our saccharine little skit. We swept the top honors, which meant we were ready for the big time: The Illinois State Fair!

I cannot express how thrilling it was as a fourth grader to be able to travel sans parents to Springfield, Illinois in school buses and check in to a Howard Johnson motel. I shared the room with three other girls my age. I remember one of them, who was far more sophisticated than I saying, “I wonder if we’ll see any celebrities?” “What’s a celebrity?” I asked. “You know, movie stars!” she replied. In Springfield, Illinois. Haw! That still makes me laugh.

Anyway, it was totally great. We stayed up until 4:00 AM watching old movies like The Blob and made midnight runs in our nightgowns to the vending machines and had hot fudge sundaes (instead of dinner) in the HoJo restaurant. It really is rather astonishing, but there was almost no adult supervision. I seem to remember someone’s mom popping her head into the room at, like, 9:30 PM to say good night, apparently laboring under the misapprehension that we were all good little girls and would be going right to bed. Didn’t she realize there was a TV in the room and we were going to watch the hell out of it, hopped up as we were on hot fudge and vending machine contraband?

But even better than the TV and all the sweets was the “free day” on the Midway. Again, there was no real adult supervision. Our little quartet (we were the youngest girls in the club) became the albatross around the neck of an unlucky high school member of our club. She was supposed to chaperone us around the Midway, making sure we didn’t get sold into white slavery (or some similar fate). Naturally, she shed us as soon as she possibly could, simply telling us to meet her back at a certain funnel cake stall five hours hence.

So we had five hours in which to gorge ourselves with cotton candy, popcorn, corndogs, sno-cones, ice cream, and, of course, funnel cakes. And! Our participation in the skit had earned us all a free pass to all the carnival rides! In short, it was total paradise for a fourth grader--especially a fourth grader like me who was rarely allowed to eat sugary and/or deep- fried foods and who went through agonizing deliberations at the once-yearly carnival since she only had money for three rides and if she made the wrong choice, well, too bad, because there was no way she was going to wring any more carnival-ride money out of her mom. Gosh, my childhood was Dickensian, wasn’t it?

So I wandered the Midway blissfully, a cotton candy in one hand and a corndog in the other (if memory serves). There was something along the Midway I hadn’t expected at all. Sideshow “Freaks." People billed as the Rubber Man, the Snake Lady, the Living Skeleton, and the Man with Two Faces. These “attractions” were all advertised with the most luridly painted trailers (in which the "freaks" lived?), which I’m sure promised way more than they delivered. Actual old-timey carnie hucksters tried to reel people in. I remember really, really wanting to check the freaks out, but they wouldn’t let kids in. Nowadays, when I think back on it, I find it hard to believe that “freak shows” were still mainstream then (the 1970s). At some point, they were deemed exploitative and that was that. Interestingly, though, this article, argues that the banning of sideshows didn’t benefit the performers, since it deprived them of their livelihoods. Something to ponder. Apparently some of the performers fled to Canada or Mexico, where the PC police must be slacking off at a Tim Hortons or a churro stand, respectively.

Anyway, I had intended to write a post about the freakiness I observed over the weekend at the Oregon State Fair, but I got bogged down with my prologue to the state-fair-going experience (totally necessary, of course). I will recount my latest fair experiences in the next post, with lots of freaky (but nonexploitative) photos!

*Especially when you consider that 4-H is supposed to be co-ed. Our club was all girls. Evidently, the leaders were trying to keep it that way. What boy would join a club named after a bra? So very bizarre.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Star Wars, Nothin' But Star Wars

I finally got around to seeing the latest Star Wars. Revenge of the Sith, is it? Something like that anyway. Let me first say that the last Star Wars I saw was The Empire Strikes Back, from which you might conclude that I am not a big fan of the Star Wars movies. And that conclusion would be correct.


I absolutely loved the first Star Wars. Granted I was a wee and unsophisticated lassie when it came out and had very little movie-going experience under my belt, but as soon as I heard the opening bars of John Williams' splendid score and saw that prologue scrolling horizontally through Deep Space, I knew it was going to be like no other movie I’d ever seen. It had my full attention. I just marveled at how innovative it all seemed: the planet with two suns; the way the stars blurred when the Millennium Falcon went into warp speed (the term warp speed!), the primeval scariness of Darth Vader, the comedy duo of R2D2 and C3P0. It was all just so well imagined; I really felt I had entered another world.

Naturally, I was super excited when The Empire Strikes Back finally came out. Eh. I found it boring and remember very little of it, except that Harrison Ford gets turned into pencil lead. I wasn’t motivated to see any more effete Star Wars sequels after that. But when the original Star Wars was re-released in 1997, I did go see it again, just to see if it was as groundbreaking and awesome as I remembered it.

As an adult I could tell that the acting was, for the most part, cringingly bad. The plot and character development was rudimentary, but I suppose the characters are meant to be archetypes. Also, Luke Skywalker’s haircut! All winged out on one side. Did Mark Hamel just cut his own hair or what? I’d forgotten that guys’ hairstyles were so unpremeditated back in the 1970s.

Still. Despite the fact that as an adult I could see flaws, it’s still a great movie. And it truly was innovative for its time.

So. The new one. Revenge of the Sith or whatever. My interest in the movie was so tepid, that I hadn’t even bothered to find out who was in it and spent most of the movie wondering why they had such an incompetent actor playing Anakin Skywalker. An actor who made Natalie Portman, whom I normally cannot stomach at all, look good. I was shocked to realize at the end of the movie that it was Hayden Christianson, who did such an excellent job portraying the fabricating journalist and top-notch dork Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass, who played Anakin Skywalker. I guess that just goes to show how awful the script and story were. I also had no idea that Obi Wan Kenobi was being played by Ewen MacGregor. The beard totally neutralized his usual lustworthiness. Note to Ewen: Accept no more parts that require you to grow a beard!

I guess the movie was supposed to be all about wowza special effects, something I have little patience for--especially with the absence of story and character development/motivation. Of course, it was CGI all over the place. It made the movie look phony and cluttered. There were too many light-sabre fights; too many spaceship battles; and too many things that blowed up. Plus, are we really supposed to believe that one Jedi knight, armed with one light sabre, is going to be able to defend himself against a droid with six arms (and six light sabres) and a cadre of droid henchmen? What? The droids never thought to sneak up behind the Jedi and slice his head off? Hmmm. Let’s just say that I wasn’t the only person in the audience guffawing in disbelief.

There were a few things I liked.

  • R2D2. Who knew he was such a talented computer hacker and assassin? I wonder why he didn’t use those skills in the original Star Wars, where all he did was beep endearingly.
  • The cityscapes. I’m a sucker for any movie that is set in a sinister futuristic city with a lot of weird-ass skyscrapers (Batman, Dark City). I could have done without the constant visual noise of traffic—all those air vehicles buzzing about in the background. Very distracting to the eye.
  • The transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. This is something I’ve been waiting for ever since I saw that one scene in one of the earlier movies, where you get a brief glimpse of the helmet being fitted over Vader’s horribly deformed head. I was suitably impressed with the Skywalker-to-Vader operation until, transformation complete, he asks about the status of his wife (FYI: dead) and lets out a girly squeal of anguish.

Most un-Darthly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fear and Loathing

To explicate: Fear of leatheriness and loathing of sunscreen. With all this high-country hiking I’ve been doing recently, I’ve been more than usually aware of the Sun’s potential to transform pallid northern European skin (such as I possess) into tough brown leather. Sure, I grease myself up like buttered corn-on-the-cob before I head out on a hike. But do I “apply the sunscreen 15–30 minutes before sun exposure”? Do I “reapply after swimming, towel drying, or extended sun exposure”? No and no.

Spritzing myself with Neutrogena Healthy Defense Oil-Free Sunblock Spray SPF 30 is the last thing I do before I head up the trail, simply because I don't want to feel all disgusting while en route to the trail. And the reason I use the spray-on stuff is so that I don’t have to touch it to apply it. And even if I’m hiking all day, during peak hours for ultraviolet (UV) radiation, up high (where UV is stronger), I never reapply the stuff because my skin is already covered with a repulsive, sticky patina of sweat, sunscreen, trail dust, and a few embedded gnats (or similar) that had the bad fortune to fly into the unsavory concoction and meet an untimely death (by drowning? suffocation?).

I hope no one’s eating right now.

So, yeah, I’m really stupid about sun protection. I’m sort of in denial about it, since my half-assed one-off application of sunscreen does keep me from burning, but in the back of my mind I know that those invisible UVA rays are attacking at all times and probably making great progress in turning my hide into top-grain leather. And, of course, I should be worried about skin cancer, too. More worried.

The problem is that I’ve tried all sorts of sunscreen, especially the ones that boast of being “nongreasy” or “oil-free” and they are all appalling and loathsome and viscous. The “sweatproof/waterproof” ones are the worst. They (and whatever entomological components they may contain) do not come off in the shower unless you scrub yourself with a pumice stone or something equally abrasive. So vile. Why can’t manufacturers come up with a sunscreen that isn’t thoroughly revolting? If anyone has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

So short of some new miracle suncreen that isn’t goopy and gunky materializing, I am going to have to think about maybe wearing something a little less skimpy out on the hiking trail if I want to stave off leatheriness. Something involving long sleeves and long trousers, although I don’t know how you are supposed to keep from getting way overheated dressed like that. So I’m not at all convinced that covering up is the route to go. We shall see. Just so you know, though, I will not be wearing the previously derided legionnaire-style sunhat.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cloud Cap

No, Cloud Cap is not the name of a Foghat tribute band (at least I don’t think it is). Cloud Cap is the site of the amazing, Cloud Cap Inn, the oldest high alpine ski cabin in the U.S., built in 1889 on the northeastern slope of Mt. Hood. It’s located at 6,000 feet and even today, it’s a “slow ride” (heh, heh) up a deeply rutted, unpaved road that’s strewn with rocks as big as cantaloupes. After chugging up all 10 miles of it, painstakingly dodging the melon-sized rocks, in our low-slung 1989 Honda Civic, I felt like my skeleton had been somewhat rearranged. Back in the 1800s, visitors arrived under their own power or by stagecoach. (!) You can bet the road was even more marginal back then. Harrowing. The photo above is the view from the Cloud Cap Inn. (You can see why people then [and now] were willing to endure the punishing road up to the inn.) Note how Mt. Hood obliged me by producing a sporty little cloud cap for my photo.

Anyway, getting a chance to see the Cloud Cap Inn, which is no longer in use, was really just a nice serendipity. B and I were up there there to hike.

The Cooper Spur area, as it is known, is one of the few parts of Mt. Hood where I’ve never hiked. We started off on the Timberline Trail, which goes all the way around the mountain—not that we had anything nearly so ambitious in mind. We were headed for this stone shelter, which—despite being on a treeless ridge—is hidden from view until you get within a few feet of it.

Stone Shelter on Cooper Spur

Don’t you love it? It’s got a front row view of Mt. Hood and the massive Eliot Glacier (and a bunch of other glaciers). Backpackers who are circumnavigating Mt. Hood can spend the night in the shelter. We had our lunch there and then hiked back down to sample another of the ultra-tempting high-country trails that crisscross the Cooper Spur area.

We set out on a trail toward Elk Cove, knowing full well didn’t have time to get all the way to Elk Cove, but once you’re up that high, just about any trail you’re on is going to be spectacular, even if you take a wrong turn and find yourself on a knifeblade-edge ridge heading straight for the icefields. Whoops! It was great, though, I felt like I was part of the sky. I could see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles—all the way north beyond Mt. Rainier and and east well into the High Desert. It still blows my Midwestern mind to be able to hike at such exalted elevations.

It was an exhilarating day. And I now understand more fully why so many conservation groups have banded together to stop logging sales and to try to prevent a giant-ass ski resort from being built on Cooper Spur. If that happens, the Cooper Spur area will be ruined forever. Corporate greed and selfishness know no bounds.

At least we were able to see it while it's still unspoiled. It will be a disgrace if future generations don't get that chance.

We had dinner at the Elliot [sic] Glacier Public House, a brewpub that had gained mythical status in my imagination, ever since a Chicago friend told me that she had once visited her brother in Portland and they’d taken an old-fashioned train up a mountain to a brewpub. That sounded like heaven on earth to me. As soon as I moved to Portland, I started asking about this Brewpub at the End of a Mountain Railway Line. No one knew what I was talking about. I figured it out only a couple of months ago (we've lived in the area nearly four years now) when I was showing my brother and his girlfriend the Mt. Hood area. Turns out the Elliot Glacier Public House is at the end of the Mt. Hood railway, a very touristy little enterprise that travels from Hood River through picturesque pear and apple orchards to the tiny hamlet of Parkdale. For the record, it's not at the top of a mountain as my friend led me to believe, which is why it took me so long to find it. (I'm usually pretty good at finding brewpubs.)

It’s very cute. A former movie theatre, it's now on the National Historic Register. (I just love the way tumbledown buildings are always getting transformed into booze halls here in Oregon.) After all that hiking, I had a hankering for a hearty platter of fish and chips, but it was not to be. The menu was limited to things like nachos and burritos (very heavy on the black beans) and a few sandwiches. Alas, they had no deep fryer. However, the beer—I had the Gnarl Ridge IPA—was highly satisfactory. And that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Plus, look at the view from the patio.

Mount Hood Viewed from the Elliot Glacier Public House

After dinner we mustered enough energy to tour the town (all two blocks of it) and ran across this monument to equine-human companionship.*

Barbed Wire Horse and Barbed Wire Girl

The entire thing is fashioned out of barbed wire. Don’t believe me? Get a load of the little girl’s hair. Still don’t believe me? Check out her muscled calves. Freaky!

Speaking of freaky--when I got home I discovered that I had 8 angry, itchy mosquito bites on my arse. How does a thing like that happen? My only theory is that the skeeters were lying in wait in the pit toilet and managed to zoom in and get a snootful as I hovered** over the horrifying vault to take a leak after the hike.

*I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I could see the back end of the horse from the pub patio and formed the impression that I was viewing a real horse's ass.

**No way was I going to let any part of my flesh touch the pit toilet seat.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll

Infamous Spanking Scene
Copyright by The Estate of Dare Wright

What do you make of this? A stern-looking teddy bear spanks a blonde doll—clad only in a petticoat—while a smaller, anguished teddy bear looks on. Hard to believe, but this photo appeared in a popular children’s book of the 1950s called The Lonely Doll.

Weird and seemingly kinky as that photo is, it isn’t half as bizarre as the life of the woman who took the photos and wrote the book, Dare Wright. I heard a story about her on the radio program This American Life a couple of years ago by a women who was in the process of writing a biography of Dare. I was totally intrigued.

I managed to find a copy of The Lonely Doll at the library and I have to admit I was rather stunned when I got to the spanking page (it hadn’t been mentioned in the radio story). I mean, you would just never see anything like that in a contemporary children's book. But, hey, my parents spanked me, and I know that even though middle/upper-class white Americans frown upon corporal punishment today, lots of parents still spank their kids. As recently as 30 years ago, most people wouldn’t have flipped out about it. But apparently the spanking scene (restaged in other books in the series) was one of the reasons The Lonely Doll series was allowed to go out of print.

But spanking aside--the book is just plain spooky. The doll, Edith, really is palpably lonely, and the story line is surreal. Edith lives in some sort of boudoir totally by herself. Then one day these teddy bears show up to be her friends. There’s a sort of mischievous little bear and a larger martinet-like bear (the spanker). And the reason Edith gets spanked? She writes “Mr. Bear is just a silly old bear.” in red lipstick on a mirror. Or something along those lines. My point is--the punishment doesn’t really fit the “crime.” It’s a bit harsh! Clearly, the author of the book has some issues! And I needed to find out what they were.

The biography of Dare Wright, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, finally came out about a year ago, and I just picked up a copy. Turns out Dare Wright wrote a whole series of Lonely Doll books that, one assumes, replay Dare’s own childhood fears and air her inner demons.

I found out that the doll in the book was given to Dare in the 1920s. Dare’s mother, Edie (note the name), a portrait painter of some renown, bought the doll for Dare after an article about Edie stated that her poor little girl had nothing to play with but a few “decrepit” dolls. Edie, hypersensitive about keeping up appearances but always on the brink of financial ruin, purchased an extremely expensive doll for Dare and paid for it in installments.

Flash forward 30 years or so. Dare has a well-established career as a model, although she’d really rather be a photographer. She is still eerily childlike and depends on her svengali of a mother to direct her life. They do everything together and even sleep in the same bed. Edie is also fond of having her daughter, draped in seaweed and seashells, pose for nude photos on the beach.

One day Dare receives a box of her childhood possessions, including her long-lost doll, Edith. Dare's delighted to see Edith again and gives Edith, a baby doll with curly brown hair, an extreme makeover. Off comes Edith’s brown wig to be replaced with a wig fashioned from a snippet of platinum blonde hair from one of Dare’s hairpieces. Dare pierces the dolls ears and inserts gold hoop earrings. She applies makeup. In short, Dare makes the doll look just like her.

Edith, the Lonely Doll
Copyright by The Estate of Dare Wright

Dare Wright
Copyright by The Estate of Dare Wright

See what I mean?

Anyway, I’m only about halfway through the book, but it’s quite fascinating. Dare really had only the most tenuous grasp on reality and adulthood, but she was a very clever and accomplished person—she was an expert seamstress, sewing all her own clothes (and all the doll’s clothes); she taught herself photography and built herself a darkroom; and was a talented painter. Plus, she was breathtakingly beautiful. Men were always falling in love with her, but she would stiffen up like a board if they even tried to kiss her. One guy reported that she once grabbed Edith and used the doll to try to fend off his unwanted amorous advances! Picture that. Despite her fear of physical intimacy, she was once named as co-respondent in a divorce case by a woman who was eager to jettison her husband. Dare had an iron-clad defense—two gynecologists were willing to testify that she was a virgin. She was in her late 30s. Again, I’m only halfway through the book, but I just know it is going to get stranger. Hopefully, some light will be shed on that spanking motif.

Monday, August 15, 2005

More Buffoonery

America, the Beautiful
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Hasn’t my blog improved, like, 300% ever since I got my binky-little digital camera? I think so. That’s because I can now subscribe to the fashion-photographer technique of photography in which you snap photos just as fast as the shutter will allow. And when you do that, you sometimes get unintentional brilliance, as in the photo to the right (click to enlarge and get the full-on effect). I call this photo “America the Beautiful.”

Some background. Saturday B and some friends and I went to the world’s biggest Elephant Garlic Festival in the tiny town of North Plains, Oregon (about 20 miles west of Portland), where the elephant garlic crop is, apparently, a major contributor to the local economy. The photo above was taken during a somewhat poorly attended parade. Other than a couple of old school, frighten-the-children-type clowns—the kind who ride in golf carts as opposed to Portland’s own tall-bike-riding Alberta Clown House clowns*—there were a few homemade floats including this rather alarming float and even more alarming sign—it doesn’t bear thinking about does it?

Back to the backsides. What are those folks flanking the clown doing? They're picking up some of the excess candy that the clowns and float people and garlic kings and queens were pelting the sparse crowd with. It was like dodgeball, but with candy—including these, which, as we all know, are the worst candy ever invented and, therefore, lethal. I nearly got beaned by these things (as well as root beer barrels and starlite mints) several times.

The parade was something of a letdown (not a single marching band!), but the real reason we went to the festival was for the food (of course). In case you’re not familiar with elephant garlic, here’s what it looks like. B’s fist provides scale.

Elephant Garlic

Almost immediately upon entering the food area, a strolling garlic eater with a handlebar mustache sliced off a poker-chip sized hunk of raw garlic for each of us and insisted that we try it. He did not move on until he had witnessed that we had all ingested some. Now I am not the kind of person who normally eats garlic raw, but I have to say that it did seem to live up to its reputation of being bigger, milder, and sweeter than “regular” garlic. Still, I was relieved that cooked garlic was also available. In addition to predictable and pedestrian offerings such as cheeseburgers (with garlic), pizza (with garlic), and Thai noodly thing (with garlic), there was also garlic ice cream and garlic wheat beer. I tried the garlic wheat beer and it was pretty good, but that may have been because it really didn’t taste like garlic at all. Sadly, they ran out of garlic ice cream before we got around to it.

Despite the modest scale of the world’s biggest elephant garlic festival, I must say I had a good time. The entertainment was cornball (and probably cornpone, too)—dunk tanks and a steel-drum band consisting of five white people pretending (embarrassingly) to be black, but the food was yummy and the utterly unpretentious, small-town atmosphere was great, even though we saw a toddler that looked eerily like George W. Bush (complete with a shorty [and just as bulgy] version of that infamous green flight suit). Extremely unsettling.

I’ll leave you with this.

Old School Clown

Am I a clown magnet or what? As soon as this buffoon saw that I had a camera, he slithered up to me and got right up in my face, forcing me to take a picture of him with my “PhD camera.” (?)

*Speaking of the Alberta Clown House—Dingo Dizmal of the Alberta Clown House e-mailed me to let me know that he has been inspired (by me?) to start a blog, Da Dingo Dizmal Digest.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Grizzly Dude

This is going to be another post about an eccentric bachelor. Yesterday B and I went to a screening of Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog’s new documentary about the life and death (by bear mauling) of Timothy Treadwell. In case you haven’t heard of Timothy Treadwell (I hadn’t), he was a self-styled bear expert who spent something like 13 summers camping (sort of illegally) up in Alaska's Katmai National Park “protecting” the grizzly bears that live up there.

Treadwell documented a lot of his “work” on film, so much of Herzog’s film is an edited compilation of Treadwell’s own footage. It features many a quirky soliloquy showing Treadwell, a fringe of his blonde Prince Valiant haircut peeking out from under a camouflage bandanna, waxing lyrical about the loveliness of bear poop or flipping out when foxes steal a baseball cap that is "very important" to the "expedition." In manner and appearance, he reminds me a bit of a heterosexual version of Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (although there is a segment of the film where he bemoans not being gay. "Timothy Treadwell is not gay. Bummer!")

Herzog avoids passing judgment on Treadwell's interactions with the bears and I’m no expert on grizzlies, but to put it kindly it's unorthodox. To put it a bit more harshly, it's intrusive. Treadwell gives all the bears cute names like Mr. Chocolate and Banjo and gets right up in their faces. In an endearing surfer dude voice, he constantly tells them he loves them and at one point even says he’s “in love” with the animals. And he clearly thinks the affection is reciprocated. Basically he talks to them like they’re cuddly pet bunnies.

It is really a testament to something (I’m not sure what) that he wasn’t killed in the first five minutes of setting foot on the peninsula. I don’t want to give too much away, but once again Werner Herzog has found an absolutely fascinating subject for a film and he mostly lets Treadwell tell his own story in his own exceedingly eccentric, and actually quite charming way. It's impossible not to like the guy, even if you feel (as I do) that his actions ultimately endangered the bears by encouraging them to abandon their natural (and self-preserving) fear of humans. Herzog steps into the film only to insert interviews with friends and acqaintances of Treadwell’s—interviews that range from being so funny that I sprayed the water I’d been drinking onto the back of the person in front of me (sorry!) to one that was so chilling it made my stomach clench and my mouth go dry.

Go see the movie. That's an order.

It would have been more or less impossible not to make an interesting film, given that Treadwell was such a colorful and entertaining character, but the film still carries Herzog’s trademark fatalism. In one of the few instances where Herzog actually interjects his own perspective, he remarks upon Treadwell’s sentimental and romanticized view of life and the world and then says something about how he, Herzog, believes the world to be filled with injustice, chaos, and despair. I know I didn’t quite get the quote right, but I know he definitely said chaos and I’m 80% sure injustice was mentioned as well. At any rate, it’s safe to say that Treadwell was a "glass half full" man; and Herzog is a "glass half empty" kind of a guy.

So, yeah, the film just reminded me of what a great filmmaker Werner Herzog is—I know I’ve written nothing here that quite illustrates that. (It’s late and I suck suck suck at film/literary criticism.) I’ll just say that I’ve been a fan of his since I was in college and saw my first Werner Herzog film, Aguirre, Wrath of God. I encourage you to read the linked review if you haven’t seen the film. Also, there are a couple of photos of the late great Klaus Kinski, looking exquisitely unhinged. Even if you don't want to read the review, take a second to click and scroll down to the photos.

My god, what a great movie.

Other recommended Herzog films:
My Best Fiend (documentary about Kinski) A+
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Burden of Dreams

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mount Bachelor

Mount Adams
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Here in Oregon, there’s a mountain called Mount Bachelor. This isn’t it. This is Mount Adams, which is, in fact, in Washington. Isn't that misleading of me?

Periodically, I sign up to go on hikes with one of the several hiking clubs we have here in Portland. I’ve never not had a good time. In fact, I’ve often had a great time. In part, owing to the fact that these hikes invariably attract bachelors of a most eccentric variety.

On Sunday, I went on one of these hikes, a wildflower ramble on the north slope of Mt. Adams. A “native plant expert” met us at the trailhead.

I may not be able to tell the difference between a subalpine fleabane and a Cascade aster, but I do know all the distinguishing features of an eccentric bachelor and our native plant expert was unmistakably of that species. My first tip-off was that he wore one of these Lawrence of Arabia-style sun hats. I'm sorry, but wearing one of these is a one-way ticket to dorkdom. I'd rather get skin cancer than wear something like that. I know that's not the right way to look at it, but we were in the state of Washington, thousands and thousands of miles north of the equator. The guy also had his pants stuffed into his socks (an alternative route to dorkdom). I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to accomplish. Is it to keep mosquitoes from flying up your britches? Whatever. All in all it made for a pretty outlandish get-up!

Don’t get the wrong idea. Just because I don’t exactly approve of the guy’s sensible-to-the-point-of-absurdity hiking attire, it doesn’t mean I don’t approve of him as a person. The guy—who will henceforth be known as The Guy Who Knows Everything (TGWKE)—really did know everything. You could point to anything in sight and ask him a question and he would have an authoritative, and often multipart, answer for you. What's the name of that peak over there? Out come the binoculars. Not only would he identify the peak, he'd reel off the names of three or four hikes in the area and suggest campsites. What's that flower? Is it native? What’s the Latin name for it? Out come the superpowerful, yet miniaturized, set of magnifying glasses. What's that tree? Is it sick? What’s wrong with it? What kind of grass is that? What kind of lichen is that? What’s the the most difficult climbing route on Mt. Adams? Where can we get a huckleberry milkshake in BZ Corners*?, Who won the English Football Cup in 1949? Jay-sus! One of the other guys on the hike started referring to the TGWKE as the Encyclopedia of Mt. Adams. I was totally impressed and awed.

How does one come to be an eccentric bachelor of that caliber? I should have some idea, because I seem to know an awfully high percentage of them. In fact, I suspect that before B met me (and the process was arrested), he was well on his way to becoming an eccentric bachelor. And quite a few close male friends of mine are now bonafide eccentric bachelors. I've observed the trajectory—a passion/interest, unimpeded by obstacles like relationships/commitments to other people, becomes an all-consuming and isolating obsession. Not that that's necessarily a negative thing. It's absorbing and fascinating to hear about these obsessions. Really, the only reason I myself haven't become an eccentric bachelorette is that I lack the requisite stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Anyway, I will keep collecting data and will perhaps be able to refine my theory. Don’t forget that I recently joined the Oregon Mycological Society, which virtually guarantees that I will soon be meeting even more eccentric bachelors. Fine with me. I’d much rather hang out with someone who has an obsession a passion for something—native plants, postage stamps, antique vacuum tubes, edible fungi—than a noneccentric, nonbachelor whose interests extend no further than what's on the dinner table or the TV.

*The hamlet nearest to where we were hiking. Probably about 20 miles away as the Clark’s Nutcracker** flies.
**A bird with an intensely harsh squawking call, identified effortlessly for us by the TGWKE.***
***If this post makes any sense to anyone, I will be highly surprised. I started writing it late at night, and it totally got away from me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Oompa Loompa Doompity Doo

There’s an inverse relationship between the temperature outside and my willingness to see any old crap they might happen to be serving up at one of the cheapo (pizza and beer) movie theatres. By 6 PM last night, I was all set to go see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the Bagdad Theatre. Based on that, you can deduce that it was kill-crazy hot.

I’ve never even watched a full episode of the Star Trek TV show. I’m not certain I know the difference between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, but it was 96 degrees outside and 88 degrees inside our house. B assured me that The Wrath of Khan was one of those movies that is so bad it’s good. And I was ready to believe him.

Fortunately, I made a final pass through the newspaper before we set out and discovered the St. John’s Theatre (which only recently started serving pizza and beer) had Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—a movie I actually wanted to see. B had serious reservations, but he almost always lets me have my own way (I’m sort of a real-life Veruca Salt), so there was no more talk of The Wrath of Khan.

I should say that I am a fan of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). And unlike many of my friends, I do not swoon over Johnny Depp. How could he possibly hope to achieve the subtle balance of charm and malice that Gene Wilder managed to exude as Willie Wonka? There were other question marks, too. Would the kids be any good? Would the special effects be too techno and polished for me? (I like a good cheap, quick-and-dirty special effect or prop, e.g., the rickety egg-o-meter that dispatches Veruca in the 1971 version.) And what about the Oompa Loompas? I’d heard that one guy plays all of them in the new one. How would that work out?

Stop reading now, if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want my impressions to taint your experience.

I enjoyed the movie very much. The casting of all the kids is wonderful. They are all beastly and repulsive (with the exception of Charlie), just as Roald Dahl intended them to be. (Mike Teevee is especially odious.) Depp’s Willie Wonka is about 10 percent mid-70s Elton John and 90 percent Michael Jackson in the here and now. In a word: he is creeeeeee-py! His ghastly skin tone and bone structure are Jacksonesque; his voice is Jacksonesque; his mannerisms and vocabulary are Jacksonesque; his detachment from reality is Jacksonesque. The one non-Jacksonesque thing about him is that, of course, the Wonka character doesn’t like children, although Depp’s Wonka doesn’t loathe them quite as much as Wilder’s Wonka did. (Don’t you love how I’m analyzing this as if the Wonka character is complex enough that it requires a nuanced interpretation from the actor who portrays him?)

CGI is used effectively and judiciously for the most part. There was a marvelous scene featuring a massive chocolate palace that had nothing to do with advancing the plot, but who doesn’t want to see something like that and then watch it melt into a revolting mess? I did miss the old Oompa Loompas and their execrable dancing, but the new songs (with lyrics by Dahl) are cleverer and more satiric. Oddly, the chocolate river and the chocolate waterfall still look like water from a particularly muddy section of the Mississippi River. Why can’t they get the water to look like molten chocolate? That shouldn't all that difficult. Hershey's chocolate syrup would work, I should think.

Anyway, I recommend the movie if you’re looking for some well-crafted, fun escapism. It's visually stunning, too, and there are some hilarious scenes that must have been custom-made for my own personal consumption. (I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but when the clockwork welcoming committee does their thing, be sure to note the Gloops' reaction and contrast it with everyone else's. Hee, hee, hee. My kind of humor. Plus, I fully appreciated the Big Boy-like qualities of the committee. Thanks, Tim Burton!).

Even if you’re a die-hard fan of the earlier version (for nostalgic reasons or whatever—because, let’s face it, the original isn’t all that great), I think this new one can hold its own alongside it and in some respects is superior.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Clowns Check In

In my last post, I announced that there would be no more mention of the Alberta Clown House for at least a week. But how was I to know that Dingo, Pepto, Servo, and the illustrious Chlorine Enema Jones would stop by my “stupid blog” and share with us “plain faces” their views on gentrification and the clown house’s mission?

I’m very glad they did. And they did so with humor and humility. And--yay!--they are going to be able to hang on to the clown house after all (at a much higher rent, sadly), thereby throwing a huge tall-bike-shaped monkey wrench into any developer’s plans to turn the clown house into a mega-Starbucks (or similar). I officially retract my labeling of the clown house as an “eye sore.” That was wrong. Very wrong. Check out what the clowns have to say here (click on the comments link).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Phantasmagoric Neighborhood

Carolyn mentioned that she’d like to see me to use the word phantasmagoric. Never one to turn down a challenge, I eagerly accepted. However, when it came right down to brass tacks, e.g., using the word correctly in a blog post, it turned out I really didn't know what it means. I had to look it up. Fortunately, one of its meanings*, “a bizarre or fantastic combination, collection, or assemblage,” provides me (if I use it loosely) with the perfect opportunity to post some bizarre and fantastic photos of my neighborhood. I would have posted them last week had they not been edged out (as far as the phantasmagoric quotient goes) by mud wrestling at the Alberta Clown House.**

Believe it or not, these photos were all taken during the space of one evening walk. I do, indeed, live in a bizarre and fantastic neighborhood.

Mystery House

B and I do not understand this at all. As far as we can tell, someone has gone to great expense to jack up this very modest (to put it kindly) house, presumably, to add a basement to it. I’m sure that will make its value skyrocket. Not! If anyone knows what’s really going on here, do tell! I've not seen anything like it in all my born days.

Last Ditch Effort to Make Money

OK. This is Portland. We drink coffee and beer here—not tea. This tea shop is always deserted. I guess they finally got the message and are making a last ditch effort to bring in some customers. I sincerely hope it works—it's a nice little place—but you have to admit, it does give the appearance of desperation.


Here’s something for the “fantastic” category. A cup of tiramisu gelato, which has long since joined the choir invisible.

Heebie-Jeebie Girl

Love is...stealing your lover’s stash of weed and feeling too paranoid to say you’re sorry.

Reclining Raccoon

I fear there was something terribly wrong with this raccoon. She was just lying on her back in the middle of someone’s yard—in broad daylight. We spoke briefly with the owners of that yard and they said she had been there all day. And she let me take half a dozen photos of her without attempting to protest or flee. Abby Normal. Very.

Abby Normal Behavior

For Rusty,*** however, sleeping on his back with his vulnerable bits (not to mention his naughty bits) open to attack is not abby normal behavior, although it should be. He does this all the time. Bizarre.

*The other meanings of phantasmagoric are: 1) describing an exhibition or display of optical effects and illusions; 2) describing a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined; 3) describing a scene that constantly changes

**I promise I will allow at least a week to pass before I make any more references to the Alberta Clown House.

***Our very own personal kitty.

Monday, August 01, 2005

King Gambrinus and the Change of Plans

Sounds vaguely like the title to a knock-off Harry Potter series doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. King Gambrinus, in case you didn’t know, is the “patron saint” of beer—at least according to the orchestrators of the Oregon Brewers Festival he is. Why he isn’t king of beer, I don’t know but perhaps Budweiser (ugh) has some sort of watertight patent on anything containing the words king and beer.

Anyway, this weekend was the Oregon Brewers Festival, an event I look forward to all year, because I love beer! The festival is held on the banks of the Willamette River and this year featured beers from more than 70 microbreweries, most of which are located right here in the Pacific Northwest. There's an impressive variety of standard and unusual beers—brews ranging from Düsseldorf-style altbier to robust porter to unfiltered India pale ale (IPA) to watermelon wheat beer. On Friday evening, we headed down to the waterfront with a couple of friends to hang out and drink some great beer. Next to all the great varieties of beer available the most amazing thing about the festival is how well organized and mellow it is. This was year four for me and even though the fest always draws large crowds, the lines move quickly, and people are polite. Never once have I seen an obnoxious or rowdy drunk.

Not that certain people don't drink a bit more than they should. And one of those persons would be me. I just cannot drink very much without there being dire consequences. Six (4 oz) samples should be my limit. I learned this two years ago, when I drank something like ten samples on an empty stomach. (What was I thinking?) I later had to endure an agonizing trip home on the MAX (light-rail train), clinging ignominiously to a pole and groaning to B and our friend about how green about the gills I felt. Very embarrassing. The kind of amateur bacchanal you might expect of a freshman in college—not a woman well into her adult years.

Last year, I ate something before I stared drinking and stuck to the six-sample rule. No problems. This year, well...there were just too many fantastic-sounding beers. Being the hophead that I am, I simply had to have a full mug (12 oz) of Pliny the Elder Double IPA—with an IBU rating of 100!!!! That is one hoppy beer. Plus, the name—gotta love that the brewers named a beer after a guy who claimed that a race of dog-headed people existed and that unicorns were real. I simply had to have it. Too bad I’d already had three samples and a mug before I got to the tent in which Pliny resided. It was wonderful, though.

Here’s what all I imbibed (if you must know):

Kolsch 45 (Big Time Brewing, Seattle, Washington)
“El Jefe” Hefeweizen (Hales Brewery Seattle, Washington)
Oregon Trail Wit (Oregon Trail Brewery, Corvallis, Oregon)
Pliny the Elder Double IPA (Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California)
Standing Stone IPA (Standing Stone Brewery, Ashland, Oregon)

Really, that’s not so much. Most people could handle it. And truly, I felt fine all evening. In fact, we took the MAX part of the way home (no ignominious pole-clinging necessary) and then walked the rest of the way home. But the next day? And our plan to go hiking in the Indian Heaven Wilderness? Did not happen. An impossible-to-ignore headache woke me up at 7:30 AM (on a Saturday!). I took some aspirin and lay around listlessly on the couch until about 9:30 when I finally felt well enough to drag myself from the couch to the kitchen. I did next to nothing all day except make this blueberry pie,* go grocery shopping with B, and complain about the heat. I guess in drinker's parlance, one would say I had a hangover. That evening B did manage to haul me to a free concert in Cathedral Park, where I sat sprawled in a lawn chair, listening to the throaty warblings of a Peruvian pan flute. It would have been a golden opportunity to get some knitting done, but that would have required effort and forethought.

In a way it was good to be forced into doing nothing for a change. I realized that I spend most Saturdays pecking away insanely at a never-ending list of energy-sapping chores. But this Sunday, I woke up feeling well-rested, energetic, and ready to hit the trail. After a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and blueberry pie, we set off and hiked the Larch Mountain loop—a moderate hike that skirts the crater of an extinct volcano through some lovely old-growth forests. There's a stunning reward at the top—a view of five snowpeaks, stretching from central Washington to central Oregon. From north to south: Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson.

*This is the last pie I will be making until apple season. There have been entirely too many pies (three blueberry and one cherry) in the house over the last six weeks or so. And they’re making my tummy slightly pooky. Can’t have that.