October 10, 2005

Oregon: It's another country

This weekend, E and I took a mini-vacation to meet up with friends from Manhattan in Portland, Oregon.

I've traveled to many foreign countries. I'm familiar with culture shock. But, I didn't expect to experience it merely one state north from my roots. I suffered from the idea that since I was raised in Northern California, Oregon just couldn't be that different. I was wrong.

At first, we were baffled by the amazing beer and relative lack of public celebration thereof. Then, we were confused by the sub-Italian pace of life. Finally, we all sheepishly agreed that the Willamette Valley made some good Pinot, but with nowhere near the consistency that the acclaim it has received would indicate. While enjoying the Meditrina release party at Sokol Blosser, we were given an explanation. No doubt, the man with the fake leaf wreath hat had no idea that he was explaining our entire Oregon experience. But explain it, he did:

This valley? Well, it's famous for 6 products. All of them agricultural.

#1? That's ornamental nursery plants. (makes sense, I thought, reminiscing on the multiple fields of pretty flowers we'd passed on our drive.)

#2? Well, that's hazelnuts, of course. This valley makes 95% of the hazelnuts consumed in the United States. (Huh. Roasting on an open fire, indeed.)

#3? Christmas trees. (Yup. We'd seen many fields of those in various stages of growth.)

#4? Unofficially. Marijuana. (An unofficial lightbulb went off in each of our heads. The explanation for the culture shock is that the whole state is totally roasting on an open fire, as it were.)

#5? Wine. (Number 5? This explains our underwhelm. When the wine is outranked by the unknown previous 4, well, California wine will spoil you. Seriously, though, we tasted some excellent Willamette Valley Products, and the scenery was gorgeous. But, overall, the hype was a bit too much, when the entire region is taken as a whole. In particular, we recommend avoiding Archery Summit if you're not into driving long distances to be treated like crap for the privilege of paying $10 to taste a $120 Oregon Pinot Noir that is the poster child of inexplicable trendy wine rag fame.)

#6? Huckleberries. (They are crazy about 'em up there. Who knew?)

The short story is this: if you are looking for a great, cheap destination with fabulous regional food options and the opportunity to feel as if you didn't leave anything undone after 3 days of walking and driving around to experience the northern bounty, we *HIGH*ly recommend Portland. (Caveat #1: If you are single and are looking for a night scene, this may not be the best option for you. Caveat #2: Despite what seems to be a slower pace of life, you will not have enough time to do all of your work for the weekend if you are a 3L taking a full load. You will return relaxed, fat, refreshed, full of beer that is better than the wine, and even further behind than when you left on your schoolwork.)

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