Well I lost my heart it didn’t take no time, but that ain’t all. I lost my mind in Oregon.”
So warble Loretta Lynn and Jack White on the track, “Portland, Oregon.” It seems that Loretta and Jack are not the only ones to lose it in Portland. I study the expansive mural on the wall of my room at the funky Ace Hotel for some time and am not entirely sure what it is telling me. It details the plight of “The Oregonian Gentleman,” who is “alert, wide-eyed, ear to the tree and hand on the ground,” and pleads with the guest to save him. It fails to suggest how. Puzzling
Portland is refreshingly eccentric – and proud of it. Even car bumper stickers proclaim, “Keep Portland Weird.” This is a city where evening class offerings include Sculpting Horses in Clay, Visioning Collage and Cement Leaf Casting. Since the 24-hour Church of Elvis, the reason for my first visit to Portland back in 1999, closed down, Voodoo Doughnuts has stepped up to fill the Church’s place as Top Quirky Wedding Location. The grungy donut emporium recently had to stop selling Pepto Bismol donuts, since the indigestion aid is considered medication and therefore not appropriate for pastry filling, but they still serve person-shaped Voodoo Donuts with stakes in their heart and a tasty dribble of jam blood. The city is as eco-conscious as it is offbeat. The best way to horrify a Portlander is to mock their attempts to build a solar oven or to express mirth at their favourite restaurant having a well and a flock of free range chickens on its roof.
No such modern eco-ethics affect the shelves in my first stop in the city. I’m prospecting in Portland’s Scottish Country Shop, confused by their array of imported chocolate bars, kippers, Irish black puddings and jars of Sharwood’s curry. Looking in the freezer is like peeking into the cupboards of an eccentric, elderly Scottish aunt who hasn’t added to her shopping list since the 60s.
I examined the website before setting out. It promised, “all manner of things Scottish,” as well as “ghillies, Scottish accessories and other items of Scottish attire,” but apart from an impressive shortbread aisle and a generous supply of Cadbury’s Curly Wurlys, I am underwhelmed. I should have been prepared: the site did also inform visitors that the store’s best selling items included “College of Piping Green Tutor Volume 1” and “Rimmed Soup Bowls.” Those two were narrowly beaten out for top place by an 80-pack of Tetley Tea. If this is what it takes to be officially Scottish, I’m in trouble. Outside the tea I am in alien territory here. I try on a tartan golf visor at a jaunty angle, but just look even more out of place. I find a lot of music guilty of overusing the word “bonnie”, but find out nothing about how to be a better Scot or any explanation of what a ghillie is. Disappointed, I stock up on chocolate products, head back out and give up for the day.