Oregon 2011: Plays, Pinots and Peaks
After three days in Ashland, I drove up to Portland for a stay of two days mainly to visit the Willamette Valley wine region, but I was lucky to also find things to do in the city. I stopped in Dundee, the main appellation in the region, on my way into Portland and started to work down the list of recommend wineries. To fortify myself for the task, I lunched at the Allison Inn on the best burger I have had in decades. It had been marinated in Pinot Noir and was served with a huge helping of fries with hints of garlic and basil. The Pinots, for which the Valley enjoys an international reputation, at Four Graces Winery were very good and expensive. They were excellent at Archery Summit, my next stop, and even more expensive, reaching $100/bottle for the Arcus Estate, their top wine. Expensive as these wines are, they cost a fraction of Burgundy Pinots. I lingered at the winery to savor the taste and enjoy the scenery from its hilltop location. I also needed to sober up before driving into Portland. Sadly, age has eroded my capacity for alcohol.
Expectedly, it rained in Portland the next two mornings. I had read about an exhibit of antique sports cars at the Portland Museum of Art. The dozen sports cars were from 1930-1960 and included the usual suspects—Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar, Aston Martin, etc. For me, the Aston Martin DB4 had the simplest sleek design. Outside the museum, locals put many of their own antique cars on display as well, their sparkling polish dulled by the rain.
I drove back to Dundee, now in a dense fog and drizzle. My GPS led me into remote small gravel paths, totally lost with no one in sight to ask directions. Eventually, I found my way back to paved roads and the couple of wineries I wanted to visit before lunch. The wines were good, but not at the level of Archery Summit, which was also true of my afternoon tastings. I lunched at the Inn at Red Hills on a very good and inexpensive fettuccini with vegetables and morels. In the afternoon, I visited the famous Domain Drouhin winery where the wines were good and the scenery better with the fog lifting from the hills covered with rows of vines and pine trees in the distance. Even after a few days of visiting wineries in both valleys, vineyards surrounded by pine trees still felt odd. I chatted with a knowledgeable local fellow wine-taster, who later asked if the very-stretched Hummer limo parked outside was mine. It’s amazing how much the perception of Indians has changed over the years and obviously reached remote areas of the US.
In the evening I had dinner with Roger and his wife Cynthia. I knew Roger from when he worked at the IFC in Washington. He had been posted to Russia in the early 1990s and then left the organization. His Russian connection brought him to Portland five years ago. I had lost touch with him, but had heard he lived there. I found him in the phone book and he was kind enough to invite me home for dinner. His ultra-modern house was situated up on a hill behind the downtown area providing a great view of the city. His other guests were a couple from the Philippines where the husband had been the Minister of Agriculture a few governments ago. We had a lively conversation about the political economy of the world, literature and wine.
I headed back to California the next morning, breaking journey in Ashland for the night. The distance between my house and Portland is about 625 miles. The beginning and ending 200 miles were through flat farm country with mountains and hills in the distance on both sides with streaks of snow at higher elevations. Despite the heavy and prolonged rains this year, Northern California’s hills and un-irrigated land had turned brown, but remained green in Oregon. On the way up, near Redding I passed Mt. Lassen National Park, a volcanic area where I had camped with the Hamids (Nassim, Mohsin and Naved) and the Downings (May and Blake) thirty-five years ago.
A little further, I noticed a huge snow cone in the distance. I thought it was a mirage or an unusual cloud formation. It turned out to be the snow-capped Mt. Shasta, rising to 14,000 ft. Days later, a similar sight of Mt. Hood while approaching Portland came as no surprise. The middle 200 miles through mountains covered with Pine forests was scenically much more interesting, especially at Lake Shasta, a deep green body of water with forested mountains rising from it on all sides. In Oregon, I passed more habitable areas that are uninhabited than anywhere else in the world that I can remember. The whole state has 4 million people, with just over half living in Portland. Its population density is 40 per square miles compared with Bihar in India, also an agricultural area, with a density in excess of 2000 per square mile.
Since my separation/divorce 18 months ago, feeling lost I visited places where I have lived before such as New York, London, New Delhi, Washington DC, hoping to revive contact with people and places and resuscitate roots. While those visits were enjoyable and helpful, reaching back into my past also constrained my thinking about the future. This trip, with its long drives and country music or bible preaching as my only options on the radio, I had plenty of quiet time to think freely. Amazingly, I came to some important decisions. I won’t tell what they are in case you hold me to them.