PDX International Rose Test Garden

After living in Portland for a year and a half, I finally made it to the International Rose Test Garden.

I have to say that I never thought it was necessary because Portland is already called the “City or Roses” or “Rose City,” or whatever, all the time. They’re everywhere! There’s a medium-sized rose garden near my house at Peninsula Park, and every residential block you walk through is bound to have at least two rose bushes growing in front lawns.

However, I was impressed with this International Rose Garden. It is situated on top of a hill in a wooded area and manicured almost perfectly.

Each bush has a different type of rose displaying its particular color to the world, whether white or red or white with red tips, or small purple ones or huge pink ones. It was an interesting experience to get up and personal with the roses and examine their lovely form and sniff what they have to offer, and compare it to other smells I have come across in my life, whether sweet tarts or lavender or perfume or sugar or cucumbers or the other rose I had just smelled.

I think the best way to experience this place is to get really close with the specific batches of roses with all of your senses and display their unique differences, and then step back a bit, walk around, gaze over some new bushes from a distance and see and smell and hear their collective make-up.

This place also made me nostalgic for a small rose garden I would frequent in Prague. This one was up a hill in a big park near where I was living, behind that psuedo Eifel Tower and before some other strange-looking socialist dormitories. I would walk through it almost daily when the weather was nice or almost nice, and do what I did at the new rose garden, by touching and smelling and observing their individual characteristics and collective whole. Gardeners would often trim this garden to keep it neat, so I would pick up the expired flowers and their thorns from their piles on the ground so that I could bring them back to my tiny, spartan dormitory for subtle decoration. I think all rose gardens in the future will always remind me of this one…

New Times in Old Places

My much anticipated trip has been set, and now I’m in a state of half-doing and half-reflecting. I think back on my first 12 hours as the most interesting time so far.

I took the red-eye flight out of PDX. Unfortunately I was unable to sleep because some inconsiderate people thought it would be a great idea to bring their babies on the 5-hour plane ride. I kept checking in with the air map to see what state we were over, from Idaho to Minnesota to Pennsylvania, and finally the slow-down and gradual descent over Long Island.

Upon finally landing, I gathered my half-conscious state to wake up in the aircraft. The flight attendants said welcome home to some of us, or enjoy your visit to others, I guess I was somewhere in between.

I waited to be picked up, and watched people caravan themselves and their luggage into the line of yellow taxi cabs to take them to whatever metro-region location they needed to go. After getting picked up and then driving along the pothole infested highway roads, we somehow got lost and ended up in Nassau County, Long Island, and determined we should go the other way.

We drove back into Queens and then into Brooklyn, where we were supposed to be. Walked out and walked around the boro, observing the scene just past the rush of 9-5 commuters who had already boarded the subway and were off to their air-conditioned offices. It seemed now the time of shipments, where trucks full of cargo were unloading themselves into the many convenience and other crowded retail stores.

Brooklyn was a fun escapade, in contrast to JFK and then ending up in Long Island. At a friend’s apartment, an interesting technique to kill time is to sit at the edge of the building’s rooftop and watch pedestrians, coming and going and observing their range of surroundings, but never looking up. And then turning your personal range of vision upward from the street to take in the vast New York skyline.

The next task was a bicycle journey to Coney Island. We started off in Bushwick, and cycled our way through about five or six different neighborhoods. Biking in New York City is definitely a different universe than biking around Portland, full of taxis and jaywalkers and a whole lot more one-way streets which you cross and navigate anyway and try to figure out the correct arrangement of traffic without obvious red and green lights.

The most interesting part was the bike path down on Ocean Parkway, which was lined with benches of senior citizens, dressed up in scarves and strange floral patterns that were apparently in style 30-some years ago. Trying to guess their ethnic background, not sure if they were new immigrants that brought over something from their home culture, or old immigrants who never really left the neighborhood or learned English, but stayed in some sort of static existence that they will probably never leave.

Brighton Beach and Coney Island certainly have their own thing going on. We locked our bikes on the boardwalk, then walked on the sand which was covered in green and brown broken glass shards and assorted cigarette butts from angry New Yorkers who make a choice to pay $11 a pack.

We set down in front of two overweight young men and listened in on their conversation, one asking the other if a girl would like him if he had a nicer car. The lifeguard sat above us on a high chair, watching the panoramic make-up of people set down on the sand for a few hours, all the while wearing an uber sun-protective outfit of a heavy rubber jacket and baggy pants, their way of beating the necessity of sunscreen re-application. I took a walk above the boardwalk and Russian-speaking voices elevated up and echoed from the below, through the voids between the wooden boards. In the woman’s restroom, all of the women in there over 30 were having a slow grooving dance and sing a long to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” and I had to stand back and wait to exit to not ruin anyone’s moment.

This southernmost tip of Brooklyn was quite an extreme concentration of stimulation, considering I was still delirious from no sleep, worked by the 12-mile bike ride and fried by the hot sun above.