Many pictures circulate about this alternative city in the northwestern United States. That’s good, they’re all justified.
She is so different from the others that she even owns her own eponymous TV series: “Portlandia”, a program created to make fun of this trendy city. With this unstoppable joke in it: “This is the city where young people come to retire!” A way to tease the “megalopolis” of Oregon (less than 600,000 inhabitants) for its gentle pace of work, its eternal youth (average age under thirty) or its obsession with respect for the environment. Portland has a lot of pictures, and a little intramural walk confirms it: they are all real, and that’s good.
Here, we meet a group of bearded men with imaginative and varied mowings. There, it is a gust of colourful hair, with a clear trend for purple and parma in the fall of 2015. Here, a young lady wearing a hat by 32 degrees, with so many piercings that you’d think she was crucified. And this umpteenth hipster, walking around with his all-white bichon, and spontaneously taking news from you… Portland is sometimes a caricature of itself. We always smile about it, because added to the fatigue of the eleven hours of flight and the comfort of the pleasant temperatures, this atmosphere of teddy bears almost makes us want to believe in a better world, in a humanity finally saved from its demons. It is no wonder that one of the most surprising albums of this century has been created here, marking the great return of pastoral folk music to the planet: the first Fleet Foxes opus (2009), an ode to communion among men.
We are resuming our walk and we know, definitively, that it is the city of all encounters. Speak, and we will answer you; walk, and we will come and talk to you. We hesitate in front of a Japanese restaurant, and a passer-by swears it: “That’s excellent, go ahead!” Well, it wasn’t necessarily, but it doesn’t matter… We try to decipher a plan, just long enough to unfold it when a man appears: “But what exactly are you looking for? Ah, Washington Park? Then you must absolutely follow the Overlook Trail, you will have a view of five mountains at the same time.” Washington Park, a green haven on the city’s immediate border, the result of a fundamental urban development plan enacted in 1972, which has since prevented any construction at the city’s gates. “It was the vision of a group of citizens who wanted to prevent any potential for anarchic development. Elected officials are being monitored, and forests, orchards and vegetable gardens have been preserved,” said Laura Guimond, Director of Communications. Who also swears that this trend is anything but a fad: “The culture of sustainable development is already that of the first arrivals. It has remained throughout the decades, and the 1970s only accelerated it.” Actually, we’re not really in the United States here. Cars are not allowed on the brand new downtown bridge. Everything is done to ensure that bicycles can circulate without fear, and that they can be placed in buses and cafés without cluttering up. And the courtesy of drivers is even more striking than in the United Kingdom: not a horn honk, and priorities given to pedestrians without even having to put a toe on the asphalt.
A know-how that can be found in the field of food. Portland does not have its own kitchen, but claims to be proud to grow top quality ingredients in the region. This excellence is not only found in downtown restaurants or farmers’ markets, but everywhere else. Especially in the “food carts”, these immobile caravans which number more than 600, a real local particularism. The impressive line-ups at lunchtime confirm that the food is more than good, as well as the virtual absence of the usual fast-food chains (if not a local one, Burgerville). A website is even dedicated to them to better identify the world specialities you will choose.
“Keep Portland Weird” is the city’s official slogan. A demand for its liberal and alternative side that also affects food (a glacier that makes goat cheese sorbets, can you believe it?) and drink. Known as Beervana, Portland has 53 microbreweries, and also a good number of winemaking cellars. A world record made possible by the proximity of the necessary ingredients, but also by a law dating from the 1970s that allows anyone to sell the beer they make. Impossible there not to find a place to fall in love with. We elected two of them dear to our taste buds. First, the Multnomah Whiskey Library, with its unbeatable wall of spirits. More than the most complete map of all time, we will focus mainly on the golden scales to pick up the high-perched bottles, the never-failing service (here, no one will offer you ice to brutalize your whisky), the dark-sweet lights for a timeless atmosphere, and the very light attendance, the willingness of the establishment to keep us comfortable, even if it means not increasing sales. A very dangerous address, because it is absolutely perfect.
To recover from the shock, the next morning, we will head to the Cup and Bar: coffee roasting, chocolate factory, and a large bar that looks like a tasting room. An immediate success, Portland obliges: “It’s a very small town, word of mouth runs very fast. Here, you are never like a small fish in a large aquarium. The customers will sit at the table, taste the products and ask which farm it comes from. Seriously, they want the name of the farm, not the region,” says George Domurot, co-founder of the place. The only black spot: the city being famous for its very developed help to the homeless, they came in large numbers. Too many. Enough to worry the locals a little, even if they too have merged into the zenitude of the city and they never show themselves aggressive. Weird, to the end.