Rocky, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Irvington anymore - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

August 23, 2019

Rocky, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Irvington anymore

Jazz in the Garden

Before leaving Irvington, we want to remember our last night here.  

As seems to be our lifestyle now, we’re on a cultural binge while we’re back in Portland, cramming as many films, concerts and plays as we can into our stay here before leaving for three months in Iberia.  This week we’ve pieced together a small music festival, with four events in four nights.  Tonight, it’s a jazz concert set in Lan Su Chinese Garden.  It’s the last performance of this year’s Jazz in the Garden, a series of concerts cosponsored by Lan Su and PDX Jazz.

This is the third year for this new series, and even though we’re PDX Jazz members this is the first of these concerts we’ve attended.  We haven’t gone before because we’ve mostly been out of town, but also because I couldn’t quite get the vision.  The Chinese Garden is a small space, occupying a single city block.  I’ve been inside it once for a Chinese New Year celebration, and it was hard for me to picture how it could work as a concert venue.

It works wonderfully.  It’s an intimate setting, with the performance space set up at one end of the fish pond and with the audience arrayed around the edges.  The evening had a magical feeling, with the music backdropped by the sights and sounds of the day’s end - the huge carp languidly swimming in the pond, the reflections of sundown mirrored in surrounding buildings, the crows streaming in toward the waterfront to roost for the night, the wail of the Amtrak arrival coming from nearby Steel Bridge.  The fact that there was a concert underway was almost a secondary part of the experience - it was just an exquisite way to end the day.  I’m sure we’ll be back when we’re in town at the right time again.

What’s this creature? A septicycle? We’ve never seen one of these.
Heart 2 Comment 1
Andrea BrownIt's called a Tourist Mobile and trying to cross the Steel Bridge when they're out and about can be a challenge.
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3 months ago
I’ve seen worse jobs than being captain of this craft. Looks like fun.
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Jazz in the Garden, in Lan Su Chinese Garden
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Jazz in the Garden, in Lan Su Chinese Garden. Tonight’s concert: Remembering Woodstock, with the Bobby Torres Ensemble. Torres was a performer at Woodstock fifty years ago, backing up Joe Cocker as a member of the Grease Band
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Jazz in the Garden, in Lan Su Chinese Garden
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The Empress Hotel

Wednesday is moving day.  We hang around in our Irvington basement quarters until checkout time, say our last goodbyes to the Three Yippers, and move on.  We mark time for the next four hours in our own way, meet up for a light snack lunch, and then move on to our next stay: the old Empress Hotel.  No, not that Empress Hotel - this is Portland’s, at the corner of 16th and Burnside.

We haven’t got much time, because we’re moving on to this afternoon’s free concert in the Music on Main series.  We dump off our belongings, stay just long enough to form a decidedly poor impression of the place we’ll be living for the next two weeks, and then rush out the door.

So what’s wrong with the Empress?  First off, we don’t think much of the neighborhood.  It’s right next to busy Burnside and the I-405 freeway; there’s a small homeless camp on the next block; there’s a sex object shop a block away; and the woman entering the hotel at the same time as us is sullen and shaking. Not a great first impression.

And the unit itself is quite unappealing at first.  With a minimalist decor to the point of severity, it feels almost institutional.  It feels to me at first like we’ll be spending the next two weeks in a cell or hospital room.  And, when we lower the Murphy bed from the wall, we find that it has no legs at its base.  The end just sits on the floor so the bed slants at about a five degree slope.

The performer at the Music on Main concert, Gina Chavez, is terrific.  From Austin, she was the 2015 Austin Musician of the Year.  Unfortunately we don’t enjoy it as much as we might have because in our haste we both forgot our glasses so she’s just a blur.  And, you can’t see a photo of her because I forgot the camera too.  And, in the back of my mind during her performance are glum thoughts of the Empress Hotel and how we were going to get through the next two weeks there.  We’re missing Irvington pretty badly.

Pretty spartan look, don’t you think? On the other hand, the Straggler blends right in.
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Yes, this should work fine.
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Bruce LellmanLook, the pillows have already begun their slide. I like the color of the walls.
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3 months ago
Jen GrumbyWell - if the room came with Velcro sheets and Velcro pajamas it might could work ...

Glad you got the scoop on the hidden legs before your first night!
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3 months ago

And then, back at the Empress, things gradually look up.  First off, we’ve heard back from our host.  She explains that the bed is not broken, the legs are just concealed.  It sits flat now, and is just OK after all.  And, bit by bit we start getting an appreciation for it and decide that it will work out fine.  A day later, I’m surprised to find I’m starting to become just a bit fond of the place.  It’s the sort of old, historical hotel I’d find interesting if we were on the road, and I just need a bit of an attitude adjustment.  Irvington spoiled us for a few days, but we’re fine now.

The Empress is pretty interesting, really.  Built in 1927, it was one of the city's first extended stay hotels.  Designed with luxury features targeted to Portland’s emerging upper middle class, it must have been a fine place ninety years ago.  It was renovated and converted to condominiums in 2006, and quickly sold out as it provided one of the most affordable residence options in the urban core.  

And it even comes with some decent vintage trees - red maples, I think - but then again maybe they’re just more of those lime trees that seem to crop up everywhere you turn.
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Jen GrumbyI can't think of many places in Portland where there are NOT lime trees.
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3 months ago
Such a long, minimalist hallway. It reminds me of the hallway in the Murray Hotel in Silver City, where we were staying on the night Trump was elected.
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Bruce LellmanOne never forgets where one was when Trump was elected.
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3 months ago
Ron SuchanekReminds me of the Stanley Hotel, which where I felt like I was when Trump was elected.
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3 months ago
The elevator adds character and class, but there’s a learning curve. Both the door and gate close automatically unless you hold them open. It took a bit to figure out how to prop them both open long enough to push the bike in or out.
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There’s a lot to like about the Empress, really. Nice stairwell!
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The front lobby has a warm, inviting air in an old fashioned sort of way.
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There’s a good side and not so good side to the hotel. The west facing rooms face the trees and the west hills, and the east facing ones look down on the freeway. We’re on the good side.
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We’re in an interesting neighborhood. In one direction we have the sex shop. In the other, we’re just a block from Saint Mary’s cathedral.
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The campanile of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Built in 1925, its architectural style is described as Twentieth Century Romanesque and Byzantine.
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Freddy and Francine

Still in the middle of our small music festival, Thursday night we head over to the White Eagle Saloon to hear Freddy and Francine, a couple we first heard at the Sisters Folk Festival in 2015.  We were charmed by them then, and were excited to hear that they were coming to Portland.  Of course we’re going - and at only $11 each it feels almost like a free concert.

We’ve driven past the White Eagle many times, but never had reason to stop in before now.  Built in 1905 , in its early years it was a center for Polish immigrants.  Now it’s a McMenamin’s property, a pub and music venue, and surprisingly still offers rooms upstairs for only $65/night.  That, and a free concert downstairs - what more could you want?

Freddy and Francine (in real life, Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso) are every bit as charming as we remembered - probably more so.  Their act is a bit hard to classify - Americana?  Pop? - they describe it tonight as sort of late 1950’s prom music.  Whatever it is, they have a wonderful act, great voices, and a warm, completely engaging stage presence that sucks you in immediately.

Rooms aren’t $25-45 any more, but surprisingly not that much more.
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Carla Baker, the warm-up act, warms up.
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Freddy and Francine introduce themselves and welcome the crowd.
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Freddy and Francine have one of the most endearing acts we’ve heard. They make me think of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the film Once. Impossible not to fall a bit in love with.
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Jen GrumbyAny chance you'll be seeing a movie at Laurelhurst Theater while you're staying at The Empress?

That was always one of our favorite places to go.
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3 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyBeen there, done that - we went to two films there last week while we were in Irvington. On the west side we like Cinema 21.
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3 months ago