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Although I wanted to mark the Feast of the 3 Kings with some celebratory almond paste and flaky pastry (aka Galette des Rois; visit Meredith to see pics), I wasn’t able to. There was a combination of reasons. One, I am technically trying to cut down on my intake of buttery, flaky pastry as part of my cunning plan to lose, oh, many many pounds this year and amaze everyone with my stunning amounts of will power. (How am I doing so far? Um… poorly. Let’s leave it at that.) Two, we went to a meeting about alternative high schools in our school district.

These are exciting times. Although Ilsa is dancing about the place at the thought of going to an art school for high school. Could anything be more cool?

Yesterday we went to Powells and then Donn went out photographing. He’s trying to get the definitive photo of this one building on Burnside Street, where a street goes off at an angle and the building is shaped like a wedge of cheese or a pizza slice. So far that’s involved going downtown on a bitter, freezing night and on a rainy dull grey afternoon. Today was dry and clear and even showed glimpses of blue sky but it was very cold, so I managed to stay inside the bookstore, where I had promised Donn I wouldn’t buy anything. This was made easier by the fact that while I was buying books for people at Christmas I accidentally bought myself 2 or 3. Well 4.

I moved to Portland when I was 18 and stayed 16 years; I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. I came to go to college and met a boy and just stayed, going to another college, working, having kids, buying a house. I remember practically living at Powells when I was a student. This was before they added some of the extra storeys. Even then you could get lost for hours. My friend Tom worked there, and always gave me great deals on books, which you could do back in the day before every single thing was computerized. A typical used book cost $2; now they’re $8. Only an old woman would think to mention this, I do realize. And there are still marvelous deals to be found; for example a like-new hardcover of a fascinating book called “Educating Alice” for only $6.

It’s strange to wander round that part of downtown, once so familiar and grungy, now full of  trendy boutiques and large-windowed, linen-tabled restaurants pumping enticing smells into the frosty air. Some things haven’t changed but many have, and we pause on a corner, straining our memories for what used to be there, arguing whether or not this was the corner where that one art gallery used to be, now a store selling overpriced clothes in neutral shades for thin women, or a Pilates studio.

Memory plays tricks. Things rise in the mind’s eye, half-formed and misty-edged, and I grasp at them, not sure if I am remembering something from 3 years ago or 20, all of these street corner reincarnations layered one on top of the other like posters stapled to a light pole. Was this place a Thai restaurant when we were students, or was it the place we took Elliot when he was 2 and we couldn’t believe all the spicy food he’d eat? Or was that another corner, another hole-in-the-wall ethnic food experience? I’m not sure. My life is fragmented; childhood in Canada, high school in Seattle, adult years in Africa or Europe. I remember when things happened by what house I was living in at the time.

Donn takes a picture of a recently repainted sign, edges and lettering crisp, and remembers taking a picture from an empty parking garage on Christmas Day in 1989 with his first professional camera. The sign then was muted and faded, left over from years previous. This much is clear in our heads. But Donn can’t find that old negative, made before digital was even thought of. How can we be that old?

When we drive home, up Burnside through the west hills and past the big cemetery, it’s foggy and still. Snow is forecast but there’s no sign of it so far. I make enchiladas for dinner. We’re planning to watch a movie as family, huddled round Donn’s computer because we still don’t have a television. A quiet weekend.

January 2011

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