Greetings from Portlandia

Portland - Sellwood Park 2

Portland - squirrel munch

Portland - park path

Portland - bocks at dock

There’s an irritating ticker in the upper-right corner of my Facebook homepage that continuously quantifies how inactive I’ve been — “Your page this week: It’s been 72 days since fans of Literary Vittles have heard from you!” After passing the 100 days mark, even Facebook gave up on me. Languish for too long, and you pass into the realm of the forgotten.

The past three months, though, have been anything but inactive. I made the difficult decision (or rather, it was made for me by the persistent immigration office) to leave New Zealand and move back to the United States. In between, I spent a glorious three weeks in Australia, where glowing red sunsets transformed the long horizon each night and strange animals from childhood songs and stories flew from tree to tree, munching on sweet-smelling eucalyptus leaves. I came within 10 feet of a mother kangaroo with a baby in her pouch, went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, and got a nasty cold while crammed into an unbelievably tiny and overpriced apartment in Sydney. I also shelled out for not one, but two days of frosty skiing glory while in New Zealand’s exquisite Queenstown, and somehow made it through the stupendously beautiful, but incredibly dangerous, Milford Pass to interact with green alpine parrots and marvel at the waterfalls tumbling hundreds of meters down the faces of cliffs in an otherworldly fjord.

If this all sounds very exciting and romanticized, it is. But returning home to the United States — note the use of that word, “home,” — has not been the deflated ending I expected. That corny bit of travel wisdom, which claims that visiting strange countries and places only makes you appreciate your own that much more, has turned out to be surprisingly true. Towards that passionate post I wrote about fleeing America and moving to New Zealand I now feel a slight sense of embarrassment, of reluctance toward my youthful hastiness to dismiss all I knew. Many of the things I decried as evil and shortsighted I now see as multifaceted or, at the very least, two-dimensional. I no longer expect America to collapse, and my doomsday prophecies are more limited in quantity and scope. Put more simply, having access to Amazon again after a year of limited consumer choice is literally and metaphorically a panacea.

I’ve also moved to Portland, subject of that famous SNL spinoff mocking hipsters and millennials with tunnel vision when it comes to ethics and supply chain management. But I find myself seamlessly inhabiting many of those parodies, and not minding it at all. Casual conversation is easy again. After growing up in the friendly South, where twisted conservative ideologies lurked behind many social assessments, and then facing the Midwestern Nice/Midwestern Ice of Chicago for five long years, I was still not prepared for the social gulf I encountered in New Zealand. Conversation was stilted, dull, and rarely if ever of substance. The weather was awful, and we all knew it, and yet the houses were not insulated. Cold days and cold nights were mirrored by superficially friendly, but ultimately disinterested, social interactions. After all of that, I’m finally comfortable again. There’s a lot to be said for picking a destination based on perceived ideological alignment. It may seem like the easy way out, and going to the local version of Whole Foods may indeed be indicative of peak whiteness, but isn’t there something to be said for accepting your deeply-rooted life preferences, however basic they may be?

And so, the whirlwind of yoga, tennis, running, organic produce, careful recycling, guerrilla composting, ethical clothing, streaming movies, IKEA furniture, espresso machines, solar-powered balcony lights, indoor plants, and non-stick cookware has begun. I’ve stepped back into my role as an American consumer, hopefully this time with a little more grace — and with a little more forgiveness for myself and for the nation for structuring life in this way. Besides, there is so much to enjoy: the evening sun turning the wide Willamette River into liquid iridescence; the mythically tall trees that loom over the infinite parks and walkways; the scarlet Japanese maples and the uninhibited enjoyment of Halloween as evidenced by the sheer number of decorative gourds cluttering the front porches of this semi-urban idyll. I am obviously not in graduate school, nor will I be before the start of 2016, or maybe even 2017; but my sister and parents are only a short phone call away and for the first time in a long time, I feel settled. And as luscious and ridiculous a statement as that may be, I’m singularly pleased that I’m able to say it.

Greetings from Portlandia.

Photo credits: First photo taken by me. Remainder are by Greg. 

Odorous Rotorua

We smelled Rotorua before we saw it. Driving up the Thermal Explorer Highway, plumes of yellow-gray vapor intermittently bubbling up from either side of the road, we had no idea, even then, of the sulphuric assault that was soon to overwhelm our senses. Sulphur Bay, Rotorua Continue reading “Odorous Rotorua”

Hiking Through Mordor

Probably the single coolest thing we’ve done in New Zealand was the one-day, 19.4-kilometer Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This tremendous “day walk” weaves its way between two active volcanoes, past jewel-colored lakes made famous by their mineral deposits, to a summit of over 1800 meters from which you descend through patches of snow and reddish-tinged alpine plants with steam vents billowing all around you. It was inspiring, very tiring, and one of our top three recommendations for what to do in New Zealand.

We drove to Tongariro National Park from our AirBnb place in Taupo, which took just over an hour. The road winds around the Lake and the little towns scattered along its shores, then through deep, dramatic pine forest. We parked our car in the Ketetahi Car Park, then paid for a shuttle (at $30 each! sheesh) to drive us to Mangetepopo Car Park, where the start of the track is located. Since it’s a one-way track, unfortunately there’s no way to avoid the shuttle fee. I would, however, highly recommend booking the shuttle at the start of the day, and not the end; we passed several tourists who were panicked about not finishing the crossing quickly enough and being stranded. And this is not a walk that can be rushed.

Volcanic Risk Normal
Starting the track at Mangetepopo Car Park – Volcanic Risk Normal

Continue reading “Hiking Through Mordor”

Review: Marshland (La isla mínima)

In a now hopefully less-rare cinematic outing, we decided to go see Marshland [Spanish: La isla mínima] based on the three reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes. Encouraged by its comparison to (presumably season one) of True Detective, I expected a hollow, aching murder-mystery involving female victms and two conflicted male detectives.

Marshland - aerial opening

I was not disappointed. Continue reading “Review: Marshland (La isla mínima)”