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Put a bird on New York

Written by Chaz on 6 May 2012

As has been discussed extensively before, Emmy and I think the show Portlandia is pretty great. It’s clever, funny and catchy. But one of the biggest reasons we love it is the relationship between the two actors who star in the show, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. It’s very clear that they’re best friends who are having a really good time making something together.

“We would email a link [of our sketch-comedy videos] to our friends, but they were mostly for us. It was very understated and silly, and we were just sort of reveling in the absurd.” — Carrie Brownstein to NPR

Reveling in the absurd mostly for our own selves is essentially what Emmy and I do on this blog, so we naturally feel some kinship to Fred and Carrie, who, even though we’ve never met them, feel like our really good friends. So when Fred and Carrie announced that they were taking Portlandia on tour, I immediately emailed Emmy and told her to get tickets for the New York show, promising that I would find a way to be there.

We actually attended two Portlandia events in one day. The first was a panel discussion with Fred and Carrie at the Paley Center for Media. I had never heard of the center, but it seemed like a pretty neat media organization.

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The moderator left a lot to be desired — she didn’t really get the pair talking about anything that mattered, and considering that we were at a center for media, it seemed like a missed opportunity to ask searching questions about their contribution to pop culture. But we were still in awe of being in their presence, and during the question and answer session at the end, Emmy asked them a question that we have frequently pondered ourselves: What makes your friendship different from other friendships you have? Carrie called it the hardest question they have ever gotten.

Seeing the two of them in person was just about everything we had imagined it would be. And the afternoon event was just an appetizer, to use a technical food-blog term.

After the panel, we walked over to Pure Thai Cookhouse, which Emmy and I had visited once before when it had a different name thanks to a recommendation from our most reliable source for everything under the sun. At first, we just ordered curry puffs and a papaya salad with salted blue crab, because we were just having a snack, really. But we were still a bit peckish afterwards, and we were intrigued by the sound of pad kee moa with calamari.

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Though the curry puffs were state of the art, both of the other two dishes were lackluster. This doesn’t speak very well of our food blogger credentials, but we were literally unable to figure out how to eat the crab in the papaya salad, and the texture of the calamari was just a bit off for our taste in the noodle dish.

We retreated to Emmy’s apartment to rest up for our evening, and took the subway down to the Bowery Ballroom for Fred and Carrie’s evening performance. It was, essentially, a live version of their sketch comedy television show — they joked, they sang, they told stories, and they were all around awesome.

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Fred and Carrie also welcomed Kyle MacLachlan, who played Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks and plays the mayor of Portland on Portlandia, and jammed out on the Portland theme song that the Portlandia version of themselves wrote at the mayor’s behest.

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And they dressed up as two of our favorites characters from the show — feminist bookstore owners Toni and Candace, who are more exclusive than inclusive in their attempts to create a safe space for women. At this point, we were just about losing ourselves with delight.

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But perhaps the moment most relevant to us came during a slideshow of old pictures of themselves, including an adorable one of the two of them. They talk a lot about how they live on opposite sides of the country, Carrie in Portland and Fred in New York, so they need a project to keep them together. This resonates a lot with us.

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In short, seeing Fred and Carrie in person didn’t do anything to dispel the idea that we know them really well without knowing them at all.

After the show, we met up with some friends before heading home, still giddy about our day in Portland in New York.

Not within reach

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2011

Much like in Thailand, our trip out west was marked by a couple phrases from pop culture that found particular resonance in our minivan.

One, from the show Portlandia, proved particularly useful when trying to unearth an item from Dorothy’s vast and often uncharted reaches. Sometimes, an item that should really be quite easy to grab is just, well, not within reach.

“Could you grab the paper bowls?” Rummage in the trunk. Spot them far away, wedged between hiking boots and a sleeping bag. “Oh… oh, no. They’re really not within reach at this time.”

And the second, perhaps a more timeless one, comes again from Friends, as Rachel and Chandler try to help Ross move a couch. I think Ross’ pronunciation of the word pivot has left a mark on our entire generation.

This one, naturally, came in handy when setting up the tent (“We need to piv-at the door around a bit”) or when moving a picnic table around our campsite (“We need to piv-at it closer to the fire”).

Put a bird on it

Written by Chaz on 6 September 2011

After leaving Joanna in Los Angeles, I headed up to Portland to visit my friend Sophia, who was interning for the summer at the Oregonian, the city’s newspaper. I’d heard a lot about how wonderful Portland is, and I was very interested to see it for myself — especially after watching Portlandia, a niche TV comedy about the city, when it ran earlier this year. Portland certainly lived up to its reputation.

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I spent my first day in Portland exploring the downtown area. The city has no major tourist sights to speak of, but I didn’t mind that. I was mostly interested in walking around and getting a feel for the city’s famous coffee-sipping, skateboard-riding vibe.

IMG_4077The Portlandia statue, a symbol of the city and the TV show’s namesake.

But one major landmark and highlight was Powell’s Books, a bookstore the size of a city block. I spent at least two hours there, combing every section. The selection was incredible. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought there was a single bookstore in the country in which I could compare ten different Swedish grammar books.

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As I walked around, a few things really stuck out. First, of course, the streetcars, for which Portland is well-known. I was able to take a few steps out of the airport and hop right on a light rail train that took me right into the heart of the city, and they’re equally useful for getting around downtown and to a number of suburbs. To top it all off, they’re free in the central area.

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Another was the parks, which are everywhere and beautifully kept. My personal favorite was Tanner Springs Park, which is a reclaimed wetland nestled into an extremely urban setting. It’s in the Pearl District, a trendy neighborhood just above downtown.

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Sophia and I had dinner on my first night in Portland at a place that could not have epitomized Portland better: a worker-owned vegan cafe. It was actually pretty good, too. We had a bunch of different veggie-based dishes that were inexpensive and, I’m sure, nutritious. Sophia is a vegetarian, and we spent most of dinner talking about how difficult being vegan would be.

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Afterwards, we explored another scene that Portland is known for, its craft beers. We checked out two places that were near dinner. One had a wide selection of local beers and the other made its own line of sour beers, which were sour like sour candy. Not my preference, but an interesting idea, I guess.

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Sophia and I went hiking in three great parks just outside the city center: Forest Park, a huge park that extends from downtown out to the northwest; Council Crest City Park, which had gorgeous views out of the city; and my personal favorite, Tryon Creek State Park, a lush oasis of green still within the city limits. Here’s Sophia, doing what she does best and reporting live from the scene.

We also took a longer expedition down to Oregon’s wine country, where we visited a few vineyards before stopping for a delicious dinner at Cana’s Feast Winery in Carlton. The view from our table, out over the rolling fields into the mountains, was spectacular, and dinner was very good too. Wonderful, fresh produce.

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The next morning, we had breakfast at Bijou Cafe, which all the guidebooks called a must. It was very FLOSS — a Portland term that means “fresh, local, organic, seasonal and sustainable.” I had a (vegetarian-fed) beef hash and Sophia had a beautiful omelet.

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Because the news never stops, not even when I’m in town, Sophia had to work the last afternoon of my visit. I took the opportunity to get a little closer to Mt. Hood. I took a short hike out to Mirror Lake, which reflects the mountain in its waters.

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I drove back through the beautiful Columbia River gorge, stopping at the incredible Multnomah Falls. As I approached Portland, the sun was setting, and the colors of the sky were amazing.

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I got up early the next morning and headed back to the airport and Philadelphia. Portland seemed similar to Philadelphia in only one way: a perfectly nice place to visit, but a fantastic place to live. I definitely understood why people love it.

IMG_4154Taken at a vineyard by a random person; highly suitable for wedding invitations.

Guided by Miss Chanandoler Bong

Written by Chaz on 20 June 2011

When we first arrived in Bangkok, we were totally disoriented. The city’s sprawl, combined with the in-your-face commerce happening on the street and off, totally overwhelmed us. Thanks to our guidebooks, though, we found Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok, which both oriented us and gave us lots of ideas for things to do and see in the city.

Because the bookstore in which we found her Bangkok map had stocked her map for Chiang Mai right next door, we were able to arrive in the northern city with a map already in hand. Which means that, for almost two weeks now, we’ve been making jokes based our mapmaker’s last name and a scene from one of our favorite television series, Friends.

“I need to take a quick look at Chanandoler” is not an uncommon thing for us to say on the streets of Chiang Mai. “Did you remember to bring Miss Bong?”

So if it’s 11 a.m. here…

Written by Emmy on 17 June 2011

There is much confusion that results from being on the other side of the world. For one, everyone here drives on the left side of the road — something I ordinarily only associate with the Brits. The language and the foods are, as previously discussed, so foreign from anything I’ve ever known. But perhaps the most unnerving thing about being so far from home is the extremity of the time difference.

When I was abroad in Spain, I adjusted to thinking that lunch for me meant breakfast for my family. But 11 or 12 hours is a whole other ball game. I spend the whole day gallivanting around Thailand, and everyone I know is asleep the entire time. I wake up in the morning and have a full email inbox, exhibits of a day’s worth of activity. And trying to figure out the time when 16-hour airplane rides are thrown into the mix? Forget about it.

I keep thinking of this video, and hope it will help to illustrate the brainteaser I feel like I keep trying to work out: