Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.

6 December 2009

Wednesday 2 December, Green Valley AZ to Guaymas, Sonora

Nogales

I missed the breakfast as it ended at 9:30 Mountain time and I was still on Pacific time. Headed out to Nogales AZ to get auto insurance. Mexican insurance is compulsory in Mexico, and it is available at the border. One insurance company seems to be recommended in most of the guidebooks: Sanborns. They also publish a series of guidebooks (Logbooks) which describe what there is at different mile points along most routes through Mexico. Something similar to the Milepost, for those who are familiar with driving on the Alaska Highway, but the Milepost is much better.

Their insurance also allows your vehicle to be repaired in the US. However, why one would want to do that given the obvious competence of Mexican mechanics, judging by the vehicles they manage to keep running. I stopped at an insurance/real estate agency. For some reason, they don’t want to insure my truck for road breakdowns, it couldn’t be ‘cause it’s only 20 years old. I did live to regret this, twice but it only happened on Saturday and Sunday.

I crossed the border into Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona around 10:00AM. The difference was immediately obvious. At first I thought it seemed a bit European, but then I corrected myself: definitely not European or USian. I first tried to stop at a bank to get some pesos. I couldn’t figure out what the big “E” in the traffic signs meant. It dawned on me after a while, of course, that it means Estacionamiento—Parking. That was weird to me because even in Québec they use the “P”, even though, like in Mexico, they like putting the local language on stop signs. Anyway, I ended up parking on the street, went to the bank machine and collected some pesos. I didn’t stop any longer in Nogales but continued on.

The customs offices are 20 kms south of Nogales. First you need a tourist card, then a temporary vehicle importation permit. They also need photocopies of all the relevant documents, which can be done there for a quite reasonable 25 cents US each, or M$2.50. But it took the cashier at the Banjercito almost an hour to check my stuff and make two credit card payment. As I waited, I saw a pick-up truck full of federales in full battle gear—flak jackets, machine guns and stahlhelm—go by. I thought oh-oh!

Then to the customs. I decided to declare the wine I was carrying. In theory, you go through and if there is a green light you don’t get checked. If you are unlucky enough to get a red light, they go through your vehicle with a fine tooth comb. I didn’t want to take a chance in losing all that expensive wine I bought in Oregon and California. It seems I am allowed six litres of wine, so I had to pay duty on 4 bottles of a $M450.00 or so. This was totally and completely above board, with two customs agents taking my money and giving me a receipt which we all signed. Not even a hint of a suggestion that anything that was not completely honest would be acceptable. But the custom guards were a lot friendlier than I usually experienced in Canada and the US.

As an aside, it seems that Mexico has got rid of most of the corruption, at least at the lower levels. Like Canada and the US, I am sure it is rife at the higher political levels, especially (but not exclusively) among the right-wing parties. There are signs everywhere for phone numbers where once can anonymously denounce corrupt officials. It seems the days of the mordida are gone. Sanborns’ guide has this to say about the police in Mexico:

“You’ve probably heard nothing but bad stories about Mexican police. Most of them are helpful, polite and honest. While it’s true that many years ago, mordida was a way of life, things have changed. The best advice is to approach each policeman with the attitude that he is honest and just doing his job. … Some travelers have told us about policemen went out of their way to help them or guide them out of town when they were lost.”

I would act that the actions of the federales against the drug traffickers in the border towns—many of them actually losing their lives—is not exactly indicative of a corrupt police force.

Back to the chronology, I decided to stop for tacos for lunch. I saw a lot of taquerías along the way, but usually too late for me to stop. Finally, I saw one where I managed to stop at about 12:30: Taquería Lupita.

Taqueria Lupita

A customer eating there told me they were the best tacos in Sonora, made with home-made flour tortillas. They were certainly the best tacos I ever had. Birria and cabeza tacos, both with meat and covered with lettuce and tomatoes. I asked what birria meant, and the owner told me it was cow meat (carne de vaca), it turns out it is some kind of beef stew. When I first saw the word birria, my Italian mind’s immediate thought was that it was beer, birra. The tacos were served open-faced and you had to fold them yourself. I had an interesting conversation with the owner about languages and the similarities between Spanish, French and Italian. He knew some Italian from seeing movies. Lupita, his wife was rather shy and did not talk very much although she beamed quite obviously when the other customer complimented her home-made tortillas.

According to my Lonely Planet Mexico guide, it turns out that there is one of the best roast meat places in Mexico right next to the taquería: Asadero Leo’s. I should have eaten there too. This is a problem with Mexico: too many good places to eat and too much stuff to try. An unlike Europe where I know something of what the regional specialities are, I have a lot to learn about Mexican food. So much for being on a diet. But at least I am no longer snacking at night, which was one of my major downfalls.

The road continued in the Sonoran desert, which makes sense because I am in Sonora. Interestingly, the Okanagan first nation and others claim that the Sonoran desert continues into the southern end of the Okanagan in Osoyoos and Oliver. I guess some of the vegetation is the same. A lot of the desert looks like a giant orchard, with small trees or bushes evenly spaced. The saguaros (or sahuaros) were more impressive in Sonora than in Arizona, and there seems to be many more kinds of cactuses. I stopped for a break south of Guaymas on a side dirt road and took pictures of the vegetation.

Sahuaro forest

Sahuaro forest

A couple more things struck me: the colourful cemeteries and the roadside shrines. All of a sudden, there is this splash of colour and bight white, and it turns out to be a cemetery.

Sinaloa CemetaryI made it to Guaymas, stayed at the Armida hotel, which also has a famous steak house. While the steak house was full, I was directed to the hotel restaurant which featured the same menu. I had an overcooked filete (filet mignon wrapped in bacon) with mushroom sauce. Maybe I did not make myself clear to the waiter.

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Through the desert on a truck with no name …

2 December 2009

1 December Palm springs CA to Green Valley AZ.

Got up at 8:00 although I had wanted to get up earlier to do my laundry. I must be more tired than I think, or it was the LA traffic that did me in. Had breakfast at the hotel, did the laundry and left Indio around 11:00AM.

I-10 in the desertDesert scenery all the way except around Blythe CA where there is some agriculture. I saw my first saguaro cactus just after I crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. I took a lot of pictures of saguaros. Here is this icon of the western desert, seen in innumerable cowboy flicks and cartoons.

The second one was taken from far. I thought og getting closer, but then I thought; “Hmmm, desert, rattlers, scorpions, maybe not a good idea”. Grizzlies I can deal with, you see sign, you hear them and generally can see them coming, but those small poisonous critters, I don’t know.

ratty 1st saguaro

ratty 1st saguaro

classic saguaro

classic saguaro

No lunch stop: I survived on fruits and nuts left over from yesterday. I took the highway 95 bypass to Gila Bend on I-8 to avoid the rush hour traffic around Phoenix (Is there a rush hour in Phoenix? I don’t know but did not want to repeat the LA & SF experiences.) Turned off on I-19 towards Nogales around Tucson.

On I-19, I did a double take as I saw a road sign in kilometers, but the speed limits are still in mph.

I arrived in Green Valley around 7:30 PST, went for supper at an American restaurant (pot roast with corn and mashed potatoes, washed down with a Sam Adams) and checked in to the hotel where I had an interesting conversation with the desk person.

Driving in the States

I didn’t realize how thoroughly metrified (metricated?) I had become until this trip. I had to convert distances back into kilometers and speed into kph. Same for temperatures. Overall, it seems that Americans are slow drivers, generally respecting speed limits (always with some exceptions), unlike Canadians who tend to drive 10-15kph above the limit. They are also polite; I never got honked at once, except as a thank you after I let someone pass in the curvy Highway of the Redwoods. However, the rush hour driving around LA was just as crazy as Montreal, with some people trying to create an additional lane. In Montreal, it doesn’t bother me as I usually know where I’m going, but I did miss an exit around Riverside. Also, Americans do not see that the left lane is for passing and the right for driving: they will take any lane to pass you.

I have to say that the sanest expressway drivers are—believe it or not—in Italy where they drive at crazy speeds (speed limit is 130kph (80mph), so the minimum speed is 140kph (87mph) except for the trucks who drive at 100-110). But they stay in their lane, signal that they are about to pass by flashing their high beams, signal when they change lanes (suicidal motorcyclists excepted). The calmest heavy traffic driving I ever did in an urban area was around Rome, where everyone was driving at 130-140!

Mañana México!

California is the place I oughta be, loaded up the truck and drove to …

1 December 2009

Fort Bragg. OK, not as sexy as Beverly Hills. California! Where it seems so many things in our western culture get their start: Hollywood and stars and celebrities, Disney and Mickey and Yogi, surfing, expressways/freeways/motorways and the automobile culture, blondes in convertibles and hot tubs, fast food and McDonald’s, Haight-Ashbury and hippies and massive recreational drug use, Berkeley and the peace movement, fern bars and sushi and fusion cuisine, varietal wines (the point that now even the venerable burgundies are putting “Pinot Noir” on their labels, as if they could be anything else), JPL sending us into space and Silicon Valley into cyberspace, etc.

27 November, Highway of the Redwoods to Fort Bragg

Got up fairly early & drove down the curvy and twisty Highway of the Redwoods to Crescent City on California’s coast, not without occasionally stopping to admire the big trees.

I stopped at a Home Depot to buy a crescent wrench for the propane tank and took a look at the lumber. I was appalled: “construction quality” doug fir full of loose knots, waney edges, rot pockets. I won’t speak of the unspeakable “Whitewood”. That stuff should have gone into the chipper to make ass-wipe or termite puke board, not construction lumber.

I had a bad smoked salmon omelette in Crescent City and continued along the curvy and twisty coast road.

View from Crescent City dock

Vista from Crescent City dock

I managed to piss off quite a few Californicators in their sports cars with my slow driving. Par for the course, revenge for these Californian old farts in their bus-sized RVs who are always slowing us down on the Alaska Highway and who don’t bother to pull over. Maybe we need signs like they have in California telling slow traffic to pull over at pull-outs to let others pass.

I got to Fort Bragg around 4:00 PM. Lymond Hardy took me to the College of the Redwoods http://www.crfinefurniture.com/ woodworking school where I met a number of his fellow students as well as Brian the man responsible for their amazing stash of wood. For those not familiar with wooddorking, the woodworking school at the College of the Redwoods is probably the best school in North America and notoriously difficult to get into, so it is quite an accomplishment for Lymond to just getting accepted. The school was made famous by its founder and inspiration – http://jameskrenov.com/ James Krenov – who died recently. While I am not a particular fan of his designs – they look spindly and unbalanced – I recognize Krenov’s incredible workmanship.

Lymond and Brian

Lymond and David Welter

Lymond is making a blanket chest for his first project: coopered sides and top, held together with dovetails. Its mass and solid look make it decidedly un-krenovian and respects Lymond’s style: he is into mass.

Lymond's chest

Lymond's chest

Both of us were to tired to cook that night, so after drinking the bottle of bad lambrusco and some even worse Sangiovese (which will get turned into vinegar, shouldn’t take long), we went to a French restaurant where we had the mushroom tasting menu and crab cakes. It was OK, not bad, maybe even pretty good but we were nevertheless disappointed.

28 November, Saturday, Fort Bragg & Mendocino
Finally, sunny t-shirt weather! Well over 10 degrees Celsius! I am in California!!

After a lazy morning, we drove to south to Mendocino where we bought a bottle of California sparkly to celebrate Louise’s (Lymond’s mother’s) birthday. They were having a party back in Whitehorse. We also visited a furniture gallery full of furniture made by graduates and teachers at the college of the Redwoods. Nothing really grabbed me except for an Ash chair made by a woodworker who is to teach next semester. We also went into a place that has massive wood slabs, mainly of local reclaimed wood (redwood and cypress),  some of it old growth.Luigi with curly redwood slab

We had lunch outside in the sun where I actually started sweating even though a guy next to us had a fur hat and quilted jacket and most people wore jackets. We Yukoners are tough!

We then went to a winery right on the coast: http://www.pacificstarwinery.com/ Pacific Star. Lymond had previously met the owner, Sally Ottoson, and talked about me and how I was disappointed in the quality of the grapes I was getting and the wines I have been making in the past few years. She said she wanted to meet me and might help in finding grapes.Pacific Star winery

Anyway, there were a lot of people when we got there and Markus, her partner who used to be a chiropractor, was hard-pressed to keep up.

Pinot noir on the shore

Pinot noir on the shore

We did try a number of wines and she does use a couple of grapes I have never heard of: Roussanne—a white from the Rhône—and Charbono—a red from Savoie but also used in the Val d’Aoste. The wine is also aged in barrels which are left outside, to be exposed to the sea air. And it is aged in barrels for a long time, like up to 8-9 years. This is pretty impressive, I would be very fearful of barrels going bad in that time.

The wines I really liked were a white Viognier-Roussanne, the Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. I have to note that Lymond is a bit of a Zin addict: he started drinking wine when he was about 10 or 11 when I fed him my Zinfandel cut with ginger ale. So he has been more than partial to Zins ever since.

As there were still a lot of people, we got a bottle of 2002 Pinot Noir and went to drink it by the sea. I also had a piece of cheese I had bought in Seattle: a cheddar with the consistency of Port Salut. So we cut off the mould and had that with the wine. I also lent a sweater to Lymond as the wind made us decide to give up on our northern tough guy act. The Pinot noir was quite disappointing when we first tasted it, but it greatly, massively improved with time, so that by the end of the bottle, it was excellent. It needed time to air out. I finally got to talk to Sally after almost everyone had left, and jokingly complained that she should have opened the Pinot Noir a couple of hours before we got there. She got us to try a Charbono-Barbera, which was excellent. I then remembered I had some Vidal ice-wine in the camper, so I went to get a couple of 200ml botlles. We tried one and it was disappointing, not as good as I had hoped. I think I’ll have to let Lymond in our wine cellar at Christmas time and bring Sally back a really good bottle of ice wine.

For those not in the “know”, ice wine is quite appropriately a Canadian specialty made with grapes frozen on the vine. The grapes have to be harvested when it’s at least -10 or -12 Celsius and immediately pressed at low temperatures to extract the freeze-concentrated juice. It was originally a German thing, called eiswein, made in special years when it got cold enough. But in Canada, we can do it consistently as it always gets cold enough.

After that we went home where Lymond cooked up an excellent meal: abalone wrapped in prosciutto, battered lightly and deep fried. Superb! I also had some raw abalone, equally excellent. But it does require a serious beating. Lymond had invited two friends, Doug a colleague at the College of the Redwoods and Jennifer, his girlfriend.

29 November, Fort Bragg to the Central Valley.

I took it easy in the morning, updated the blog and had a few cups of coffee. Tim, Lymond’s roommate, came back from visiting his family in Marin and we went out for a coffee.

Lymond and Tim

Lymond and Tim

I got ready to leave and needed to get some stuff in the back of the camper. A total mess! One of the hatches had opened and a bottle of olive oil had spilled all over. Yuck!!! I had to go buy a mop with Lymond and cleaned up the camper. The floor is now cleaner than it’s ever been since Marilyn last went at it. Lymond made lunch of home-canned albacore on toast. Excellent as usual, his room-mates sure do appreciate his cooking. He gave me a can of albacore and I gave him a pound of Yukon Midnight Sun coffee and a can of my sauerkraut, which he had never tried.

Finally got going around 1:30. Drove through southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma county on highway 99. The countryside reminded me very much of Italy, with low hill, vineyards and the narrow autostrada, except that the cars were going at 140kph. Not surprising that Italian immigrants found the place so congenial. The pictures I took through the windshield don’t do it justice.

Got stuck in traffic around San Francisco. I really wanted to spend time there, but I do have to get to Cancun to meet Marilyn and time is getting short. Continued south, stopped for a subway sandwich and then went into a Best Western Motel Apricot, where I crashed out after quick call to Marilyn.

30 November, San Joaquin valley and LA traffic.

Had breakfast at the Apricot restaurant, French toast smothered in apricot syrup with canned apricots on the side. Went down the San Joaquin valley, which reminded me very much of central Spain: the dry almost desert flat plain with the Sierra Nevada in the background. Saw a number of signs on empty fields saying “Congress created this dust bowl”. Apparently, there is a shortage of water due to some smelt in San Francisco Bay or the delta of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Rivers. The one farmer I talked to was slightly incoherent ranting about environmentalists. While we can blame politicians for any number of things, I don’t think dustbowls are one of them. They are usually caused by farmers planting inadequately drought resistant and inappropriate crops.San Joaquin valley view from hotel

One thing I found interesting in the San Joaquin was the intensity of plantings: fruit trees 10 feet apart, intensively panted vegetables all obviously dependent on massive irrigation, next to fields of sagebrush and other desert vegetation. What clinched it for me was seeing pear cactus growing at the end of an orchard. When I drove through Spain many years ago, the fruit tree and vine plantings were much further apart and adapted to the amount of water available.
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Anyway, I bought some fresh fruit at one roadside fruit stand (persimmons and grapes) where I got to speak Spanish, and mandarin oranges, almonds and pistachios at another. The fruit and nuts were my lunch. I was surprised to see a skiff of snow at the Tejon pass, near LA, which went up to 1,400 metres according to my GPS.

I got stuck in traffic twice around Los Angeles, and probably wasted a total of four hours. I got there around noon and did not get out of Riverside until 5:30. I then stopped at the Best Western Date Tree Hotel in Indio, just past Palm Springs, in the desert, where I am writing this.

T-day: It never rains in California

29 November 2009

26 November, Thanksgiving Thursday , Dayton OR to Grant’s Pass to California.

Today is the most important American Holiday. Just a four day weekend spent eating Turkey, giving Thanks and Travelling. No gifts, no commercialism until Black Friday (the US equivalent to Boxing Day, but they start shopping at 6:00AM). The day is spent with family and friends, and maybe watching football for the guys. Much more significant than our early October Canadian version, where we get a long weekend and eat turkey, maybe.

As Americans cannot stand the thought of anyone spending Thanksgiving on their own (much to their credit), I got two invitations. The first was from Larry Jaques in Grant’s Pass, Oregon and the other by Lymond Hardy’s friends in Fort Bragg, California. I ended up accepting Larry’s invite just because it was more likely that I would get there in time. And I also wanted to finally meet a wrecker friend for the first time in person. For those of you not in the know, wreckers are participants in the rec.woodworking Usenet group. It’s also available on Google Groups. I have been participating in this group since 1995, and have made many virtual friends, including Larry “C-less” Jaques (never spell the name with a “c” – he gets annoyed – which is very difficult for us with a francophone background; it’s even worse than spelling Georges without an “s”). Larry and I, among many others, have been trading barbs, quips, and ocasionally actual woodworking information and insights and all kinds of other information in the rec.woodworking group. We two go back to 1995 in the internet’s infancy.

I-5 in the Willamette Valley

So I had to get to Grant’s Pass by 1:00 PM. Larry had also asked me to get an apple pie, preferably sugarless for his diabetic neighbour’s father. I left at 7:00 AM in the rain. It cleared up eventually in the southern Willamette Valley. I stopped in Eugene to try to find a pie. I found a nice bakery, but their pies had sugar. They directed to another bakery and a grocery store (Market Choice). I found sugarless apple pies there and also some organic Bonaterra wine that Marilyn had like in Whitehorse. Oh, and a bottle of cheap Riunite Lambrusco. Riunite, which was made by a Communist cooperative in Italy, was the best-selling wine in the US in the 80s. I like fizzy reds, must be genetic.

On the way, there were hardwood forests that looked like oak, but all the trees were covered in moss. Larry had warned me about fog and the possibility of snow in the passes before Grant’s Pass. I told him (I should say wrote) that I did have some experience driving in snow. It started raining again as I gained altitude, but no snow.

It stopped raining by the time I got to Grant’s Pass and i finally met my first wrecker in person. I embarassed myself by not reccognizing a maple in his front yard, thinking it was an oak, but all the bark was covered in moss. Larry also has a giant tree in his back yard which i first took for a cedar, but it’s actually a coast redwood. My first view of a real redwood, I should have taken a picture of it. It’s unfortunate that it, along with its doug fir neighbour will have to come down as they are destroying his foundation.

We eventually had our birds, yams, salad. I contributed some pickled beets I brought from home and the apple pie. We also had long talks about woodworking, our current lives, the US health care system, and totally disagreed about climate change.

Larry

I left around 6:00 PM to try to put on some miles so I don’t get to Fort Bragg too late. Raining heavily most of the way on the Highway of the Redwoods, US199, a curvy narrow road with giant redwoods on both sides of the road. I crossed over into California and finally found a campground in the Smith River National Recreation area.

In Portland’s clutch

28 November 2009

24 November, Tuesday, Portland Oregon

Slept in and after posting the blog entry and consuming the hotel room coffee, I headed out to another Stumptown on 3rd Avenue for a cappuccino and a blueberry-cranberry scone.

Just walked around on 3rd and then went up Burnside. Lo and behold, I saw Powell’s technical book store. Well I went in, found a manual for 1990 Chevy trucks as well as a used copy of the Joinery book by Gary Rogowski from Taunton Press and some other discount wooddorking books. I tried paying for them and getting them to keep them until I could pick them up later, but they wouldn’t do it On the other hand, they were perfectly willing to put the books on hold for me if I did not pay for them. Go figure!

I walked a little more and decided to take the streetcar to 23rd Avenue, known as Nob Hill; an upscale shopping and restaurant area with most stores in old Victorian era mansions. Interesting street full of shops and good restaurants. I had an excellent piece of halibut at Jo Bar and Rotisserie, then a salad with warm squash. I also went for a gelato & coffee further down the street.

Then I took the streetcar right to the other end of the line, hoping to go to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). There was the Aerial Tram, which I took to the top and took a number of pictures. I couldn’t get to OMSI by foot from there, so I went back to the hotel.

Mount St. Helens?

Mount Hood

By that time, it was almost time for supper. I settled on going to a French restaurant. When I got there, it no longer existed. I then went to Dan and Louis Oyster Bar on Ankeny Street. Great oysters and good beer. I forgot my credit card there, but retrieved it the next day. The server also prevailed on me to translate the text a t-shirt for her boss. It was in French and was about the Rolling Stones. She was going to do it using a word-by word translator on her cell phone. She did give me a free drink She also suggested that I go a bar at the top a building nearby (the Portland City Grill, at the top of the Big Pink) and enjoy the view. Reminded me too much of the Altitheque disco in Montreal of my younger days, including the crowd. I was starting to feel pretty tired and went back to the hotel room.

Musings US toilets.

I observed a custome in all those American Cities and Townes through which I passed, that is not used in any other country that I saw in my travels, neither do I thinke that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only the United States. The American, and also most strangers that are commorant in the United States, does alwaies, at their aisance use a circular strip of paper to cover that part of the seat that their arse doth touch. This form of shitting I understand is generally used in all places of the United States, their seat covers being for the most part made of paper. The reason of this their curiosity, is because the American cannot by any means endure to have his arse touch the same place other men’s arses have touched,  seeing all men’s arses are not alike cleane.

On the other hand, not a bidet to be seen anywhere, to the disgust of most Italians and Frenchmen. If arses are not washed, I guess one needs to cover toilet seats.

Now I don’t want to rest, I want to pee, take a dump and certainly wash after either one. So why call them restrooms? What’s wrong with calling them toilets or washrooms? We do wash or do our toilet in there, but unless you’re really weird, you don’t rest there.

November 25, Wednesday, Portland to Dayton, OR

Woke up late and then drove to Powell Technical books to retrieve my purchases of yesterday. I also looked for a “Car Toys” store to see if I could buy a Mexico map for the GPS. The store was no longer on its older 9th Street location. By coincidence, Nerissa Rosati had suggested that I go visit Gary Rogowski, who is in Portland. So after a bad piece of Pizza and another Stumpcity cappuccino, I headed across the Willamette to Gary’s studio and schools (The Northwest Woodworking Studio). Gary was not there, but I had an interesting conversation with Joe,

Joe

who is one of the mastery students there and then checked out the shop.

Aircraft Carrier

Gary came back, had a short talk with him as he was quite busy and I bought a t-shirt that reflects my philosophy about building. The quote from John Ruskin is: “When we build, let us think that we build forever.

I then went to http://www.woodcrafters.us/ the woodcrafters’ store for a good drool. I did buy Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s book on power tools, on sale for $19.95 from $40.00 ($65 in Canada).

. I had tried calling the dealership, but my cell phone subscription had run out of money. Headed out to Russ Chevrolet, stuck in traffic most of the way, it took more than an hour on US99. The . truck was almost ready. I had a coffee while the mechanic took it for a test drive. Finally back on the road with my Koolatron smelling bad because of the milk not being refrigerated fro three days.

So I went to another Car Toys store not far from the dealership on US99W. They did not have the maps, but did carry cell phones. As the Chinese lady in Seattle had warned me, they could not sell me additional time, so I had to get a new phone number and SIM card and got $50 worth of time at 10 cents a minute in the US. It took the woman at the counter over an hour and she could not get through to AT&T to validate my amount. I would have to do it later as either their system was down or screwed u in some fashion. She also showed me how to use the camera on the phone and I will post her picture as soon as I figure out how to download it.

I looked for a campground/RV park along the way and found one in Dayton, in the Willamette wine country. I headed there, got my site and looked for a restaurant. I found a “Cielo Blu” restaurant on the GPS, so I figured let’s go for non-ethnic food. The restaurant no longer existed, but there was an entry for the Joel Palmer House . Well, it is clearly one of Oregon’s best restaurants and the best meal I’ve had so far.

It started with a little amuse-gueule of porcini-truffle risotto every bit as good as the one I make using Italian porcini and Umbria black truffles. Except this was made from Oregon boleti and truffles picked by the chef’s father. I had a somewhat disappointing truffle in Seattle, which the chef explained was due to commercial pickers harvesting them before they are ripe. Unlike Italy or France, they do not use animals (pigs or dogs) to find them but just rake under Douglas Firs and sell everything.

I asked the server what her favourite wine was and she brought a wonderful Pinot Noir, Willakenzie Estate Pierre Leon 2006. It was so good I had to buy a bottle. I also tried a Pinot gris, which was too much like the Italian Pinot grigios for my taste (thin and acidy), and a chardonnay which was pretty good but nothing to write home about. The first course was the chef’s incredible version of won-ton soup: a mushroom consommé with shrimp broccoli and two wonderful meat-filled wontons. After that An absolutely perfectly and flawlessly cooked piece of fresh halibut, the meal crowned with a piece of flourless chocolate cake, an espresso and a shot of Muscat grappa. It sure made up for the bad piece of pizza I had for lunch. Off the bed at the campsite as I had to get up early to be at Larry’s for t-day at 1:00 PM.

Waiting for the clutch

24 November 2009
Russ Chevrolet, Tigard OR

Russ Chevrolet, Tigard OR

23 November, Monday, Portland Oregon

Headed out at 7:00AM to the dealer in Wilsonville to try to get the clutch fixed. Luckily, I had left-over coffee from yesterday. The Wilsonville dealer said they couldn’t do anything today, so I called Russ Chevrolet in Tigard, south of Portland. The service rep, Robert Murphy, said they could look at it. Diagnosis was clearly what I feared: clutch is burned and needs to be replaced and flywheel turned. They looked for a clutch and found an aftermarket one, available tomorrow. It turns out that GM’s parts depot for Portland is in Reno Nevada and it generally takes 2-3 days to get parts from there. Anyway, estimate is about $1,200 and the car might be ready tomorrow if I’m lucky but Wednesday is more likely. Yuck. I blame Larry Jaques and my brother for jinxing the truck. It has nothing to do with Malcolm’s driving over the track (road would be to generous a term) over the pass to Seagull Creek where we went to sexually harass gentle innocent moose or the steep hills on the streets around Seattle’s Pike Street market

Rented a car (a Hyundai something or other, or maybe some other small Korean job, I forget which, but they all look alike anyhow) and headed to Portland’s visitor centre, which is now open. I talked for a while with a volunteer and he gave me a number of tips and ideas of where to go and where to eat. He also told me about Powell’s book store. I found a room at the Hotel Fifty on the waterfront using Expedia.com, so I headed out there, checked in and parked the car. By that time, it was almost lunch time, so I decided to go to Portland’s oldest seafood restaurants: Jake’s Famous Crawfish Grill. I took the MAX, their light rail system which operates directly on city streets in the downtown area, and then turns into a more conventional system like underground in other parts. The neat thing is that transit is free in the downtown area.

Food Stands

Food stands

On the way there, I saw this series of ethnic food stands surrounding a parking lot. (There was only one non-ethnic one serving gelato and coffee).

At Jake’s I had four different kinds of oysters, three from Washington and one from Fanny Bay in BC. My favourite was the BC oyster, which is from near where Ted, Marilyn’s brother, lives on the Vancouver Island side across from Denman Island south of Comox. After that I had a salmon stir fry, which was excellent with the fish cooked to perfection.

Luigi drinking beer at Jake's Famous Crawfish

Luigi drinking beer at Jake's Famous Crawfish

I had a couple of local brews to accompany the salmon. I noted in their menu that the Arctic Char came from Iceland. ICELAND??? When they could get fresh char flown in from Whitehorse. I talked to the server and got the executive chef’s name (Billie), who wasn’t there at the time. I left him/her a note pointing out that Icy Waters and Ying Allen’s Wild Things could get them arctic char the next day and that the Icelanders probably got their eggs or hatchlings from Whitehorse. So there, I did a little export promotion work.

Luigi eating oysters at Jake's Famous Crawfish

Luigi eating oysters at Jake's Famous Crawfish

I then had an excellent coffee (short double espresso) at Stumptown coffee and headed to Powell’s bookstore, which may or may not be the world’s largest bookstore. Pretty amazing and tempting. As the guy at the visitor centre said, you could spend one hour or one week there. I resisted temptation fairly well, only bought two economics books and one old used Terry Pratchett (Guards, Guards!), which I hadn’t re-read in a long time. I resisted the temptation of buying a hardcover version of his latest. I also found a used copy of Alma Guillermoprieto’s Looking for History, which was recommended to me by Karyn Armour. What I especially like about this store is that used and new copies of each book are side by side and you can choose either, depending on what you want.Powell's bookstore

After that, I headed out the World Forestry Centre in Washington Park on the MAX. it went from being a streetcar to a subway, 300 feet below the park. Some interesting exhibits. I tried the harvester simulator: I will never make it as a machine operator.

I then went back to the hotel & tried to do some work. I have to start getting more disciplined about getting work done. This is supposed to also be a working holiday. The fact that I very little done has obviously nothing to do with the 3 glasses of wine at supper and the half bottle of Pinot noir leftover from last night’s supper.

Anyway, then went for supper at the hotel restaurant (H50 Bistro & Bar) where all they had was a tapas menu. Good tapas at that. I tried three different local whites (pinot Gris, Chard and a sweet Gewürztraminer which I liked a lot), and ate salmon fritters, clam chowder, a Caesar’s salad and “torched” salmon. The salad had an interesting presentation: the romaine leaves looked like a bunch and were held together by a ring or short tube of dried bread. The torched salmon was excellent: crispy on the outside and sashimi on the inside & bottom. I have to try that when I get home. It was served with soya sauce and square cucumbers slices garnished with thinly sliced jalapeños and sesame seeds.

Tomorrow I have to decide whether I go on a drive to the Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood, a wine tour in the Willamette, or stick around Portland.

In the clutch of a slipping clutch (groan!)

22 November 2009
Pioneer Square, Portland

Pioneer Square, Portland

22 November

Took it easy this AM & cleaned up the camper a bit. I left around 11:30 to go to the tourist information office in Portland to get details on a wine tour. Of course, it’s Sunday and it’s closed.

Nevertheless, I had checked things out on The Oregon government tourism site . I had a big sushi lunch in anticipation of imbibing a bit and not wanting to get drunk, even though I intended to spit most of the wine I tasted.

Ponzi Vineyards

Ponzi Vineyards

I first headed to Ponzi Vineyards but my clutch started slipping. Ponzi had a great Chardonnay, some good to excellent Pinot Noirs. I bought a few bottles and a magnum and then headed to an RV park in Wilsonville to while away the day.

Maybe I’ll go on an organized winery tour tomorrow while the truck hopefully gets fixed.

From Seattle to Portland

21 November 2009

November 21

I couldn’t leave Seattle right away, I had to go back downtown. I was going to the cell place in Chinatown but it did not open ‘til 10:00AM, so I went downtown to look for a camera first, and bought a nice little Nikon coolpix. Works a lot better than the old POS. Here is a picture of the sales clerk who sold it to me, the very first picture I took with it. I should have gotten her name.

I then went back to the Pioneer Square area to check out the Woodworking coop I saw yesterday. Some pretty amazing pieces at the (Northwest Fine Woodworking ), and it’s nice to see they manage to sell them at decent prices.

<rant>which might seem very high to all you non-wooddorkers at $1k per chair, but if you know the amount of time and effort and love that goes in producing one of these  rather than the cheap Chinese-made Ikea/Sauders termite puke (i.e. particle board) crap that ends up in the landfill in no time but not before it has had a chance to spew out copious amounts of formaldehyde and other pollutants in the meantime. </rant>

Fine Woodworking Coop Store

Fine Woodworking Coop Store, Jackson Street, Seattle

They also have an annual box-making contest that anyone can enter. Because of the depression, they have had to lay off some of their staff and they haven’t been able to put up all the pictures. Anyway, I voted for a box that looked like to old leather-bound volumes, done in different veneers. Beautiful work, but there were a lot more examples of beautiful work. We’ll see who wins on their web site.

Then I went to the cellular phone place in Chinatown and got a WiFi capable cell. The current number, while I’m in the USA is 206-390-8104. Please only use in case of emergencies. It will change when I get to Mexico.

A couple of final observations about Seattle: there is little traffic downtown: I can cross most streets easily and can find parking spots relatively close to where I am going. I don’t know whether it’s Seattle or the depression. One thing that is clearly a result of the depression is the number of people– mostly young men of all races: white black and oriental – who accost you begging for money or a meal. It is pretty shameful for a country that is supposedly the richest in the world. And supposedly is also the most religious and Christian of all the advanced economies. So much for the Sermon on the Mount and Christian charity.

Drove to Portland and arrived immediately after 5:00 PM. The tourist information office had just closed. I looked for a wine store & tried out a number of Pinot noirs (5 actually). None overly impressed me, but I bought two bottles of the one I like most (2007 Cameron Ashleys Leap). Maybe I should get some for David Ashley.  I then drove back to an RV park on the Columbia River.

Tomorrow the Willamette, tonight the risotto with porcini and truffles.

//

Sleepy in Seattle

21 November 2009

November 20

Woke up around 8:00AM despite the late night. Had the two coffees from the room coffee machine. Only one guess for what the brand of coffee was.

Went to get my new glasses, had a really good coffee and muffin at the shopping centre where the eyeglass pace was. Went back to the Pike Street Market, has a prosciutto & parmiggiano sandwich for lunch. Boy, I love that place!

Luigis placeI went to the RV park in Bellevue, signed in ($25.00) and had a long nap. Woke up around five PM and drove downtown to Pioneer Square where they have Seattle’s underground. Walked around the area but most places were closed, despite it being a Friday night. Had an Italian supper at Luigi’s place. The waiter did not want to give me a discount because of my name. I had a so-called piadina, which was like a small pizza cut in four. This is not the real piadina from Rimini, which is more like a calzone or pocket filled with yummy stuff.

wooddorkers store

Wooddorkers' store

Got my tickets at 7:00 PM for 8:00 underground tour. Walked to Chinatown and found a cellular place that I need to investigate tomorrow morning. Another place to check out is a furniture place catering to local craftspeople.

Just one bit of oversharing, but I won’t get into graphic details: it’s nice to have a camper when you can’t find a public washroom. J

The underground tour was replete with references to prostitution and drugs, especially around servicing and fleecing the Klondike Gold Rush hopefuls. On a more historical note, I had not realized how important the Klondike was to Seattle. In the words of the tour guide: “It put Seattle on the map. Before that, Portland and Tacoma were more important.” Imagine, if it wasn’t for the Klondike, we wouldn’t have Starbucks and Microsoft.

Camera is, as we say in Quebec, complètement fuckée. It won’t close or take pictures.  I’ll have to buy one today.

Then on to Oregon and the Willamette.

Sleepless in Seattle

20 November 2009

November 19th

Left the campground at 8:00 AM. I saw a Lowes at a shopping centre, so I had to go check it out. Same as a home Depot. I bought some AAA batteries for the digital voice recorder and some S-hooks so I can hang some things from the clothesline. Nowhere to buy an umbrella. Yesterday I talked about being ½ an hour from Seattle and how wonderful driving on freeways was. Well, today, I didn’t get to Seattle until 10:30: heavy crawling traffic all the way for no good reason except the rainy weather, at least according to the radio. You would think that a little rain wouldn’t paralyze their traffic, but there it is. Along the way, I got off and stopped at McDonalds to use the washrooms (it was the closest to the expressway). At least MickyD has clean toilets, won’t say anything about the food.

Seattle: one of the most influential cities in our globalized late 20th/early 21st centuries. Three brands/corporations that define our era stand out: Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks. Three mixed blessings: the jumbo jet that allows us to flit economically around the world in airborne cattle cars and spew massive amounts of CO2; the MS-DOS and Windows and the MS Office that have monopolized the personal computer and that I am using to write a draft of this blog; and the espresso-based (using the term loosely) “latte”. I have ceased railing that latte means milk in Italian, not coffee. But Starbucks has made espresso ubiquitous around the world (I once read about a place in Prague offering “real Seattle-style latte”), and I no longer have to search for the Italian neighbourhood to get a decent coffee.

Not that Starbucks’ espresso is any good, but that of many of its imitators is clearly excellent including our very own Yukon coffee roasters, Bean North and Midnight Sun Coffee. (To those of you from Outside, the Yukon is a coffee exporter. We get it from secret tropical valleys Jack London wrote about.) Would Zola and Michael & co. have gotten anywhere without Starbucks pioneering the whole thing? Even Tim Horton’s tries to sell espresso but they should stick to providing the men in red serge with double-doubles and doughnuts.

Pike Street MarketGot to the convention bureau at 6th and Pike around 10:30 and then headed to the Pike Street Market to replenish my fresh food stocks. Bought some good smoked salmon, fresh porcini, a truffle (only $5.00, not bad), fresh local fruit and greens. Lunch was heart medication: a yummy and messy to eat grilled salmon sandwich on baguette. I intended to make a porcini risotto with truffle tonight, but I ended up going out for supper. Also bought a bottle of the best Washington Syrah at $60 odd dollars a bottle. I am feeling flush today as I just got paid by YTG.

I love Seattle! I have to come back with Marilyn and stay for five days exploring the food at the Pike Street market.

After the market I went to the Seattle Art Museum where there is an exhibition of some of Michelangelo’s sketches for the Sistine Chapel that he somehow forgot to burn and another on Calder. Some of Calder’s later mobiles are amazing: how did he do it? I also took a brief look at other exhibits. Apart from a couple of Warhols, two things caught my eye: an Italian renaissance wood paneled room and a 16-17th century Dutch wooden display chest/bureau. Why is it that the woodworkers were who made such wonderful creations remain anonymous, while the most minor daubers of paints on canvas or least competent stone chiselers all have biographies and books written about them? Pisses me off!

Dutch cabinet

Similar Dutch cabinet from Van de Ven Antique dealers in Baarle-Hertog-Nassau

I went back to the Convention Centre Tourist Information Bureau as I couldn’t find the address of the RV park they had suggested earlier. Ann and Janet were extremely helpful and I decided to stay in an inexpensive hotel rather than in a RV Park. The hotel (Belltown Inn) is fairly nice and inexpensive and has parking, but is in a neighbourhood that turns quite seedy at night, with obvious drug deals going on allover the place.

I got new glasses made at Lenscrafters: one hour service. But I didn’t get there in time for their 8:00 PM closing time as I was talking to Marilyn for too long. I forgot to say that a lens fell off my glasses while driving last night. A little scary as I had to hold the lens over my good eye while driving. (For those who don’t know me, I like to refer to myself as a one-eye-talian, having lost my left eye in a car accident in 1977.) I stopped at the first exit and retrieved another pair from the camper.

Anyway, I also went to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of Paul Theroux’s book on the Patagonia Express. I started reading it last night as I had a hard time falling asleep. The room was way too hot and the book interesting. I fell finally asleep at about 3:00AM.