London stories: A feast for the eyes

George at the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London’s finest.

I don’t want to jinx myself, but things seem to be ramping up quite nicely for the 2.0 version of my Media Literacy in London course.

As of Tuesday, when I held the last of four information sessions about the course, a total of 14 students on two campuses have opened applications to be part of the class this year, with a couple more expected in the coming days. Six students participated last year in the inaugural year, and I hope to register 10-12 for the two-week program in July.

While Portland State’s Education Abroad office has been amazingly supportive with suggestions and resources, it still falls upon the individual faculty member to market a study abroad course like this one. So, in addition to getting the word out by speaking to several Communications classes since September, I’ve been sharing photos from last year’s trip during the info sessions.

And, hey, that gives me a good excuse to share some of my favorites here.

From the moment I landed at Heathrow Airport, I knew I was in for an amazing experience in London. It’s an incredibly diverse, dynamic city where centuries-old buildings can be found alongside modern structures, and the history and traditions are everywhere you go.

Thanks to a panoramic bus tour on Day Two and a walking tour of Fleet Street on Day 8, both led by professional guides who were born and raised in London, my students and I got a wonderful introduction to the city and its history and many of its most famous landmarks.

With my students outside Buckingham Palace, the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth.

In between, on a Sunday morning, we also enjoyed a narrated tour of the city skyline as we floated along the River Thames toward Greenwich, a borough in southeast London that is a World Heritage Site and offers spectacular views from Greenwich Park.

I can’t possibly name them all, but I can say that I still remember fondly seeing such attractions as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here are some of the images from the summer of 2018. I’ll follow up with more, tied to specific themes, in the weeks and months to come.

Click on an image to move easily through the photo galleries.

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Spacey Kacey in Portland

On Monday night, I was among the lucky fans who filled the Schnitz to see the remarkable Kacey Musgraves.

When tickets for Kacey Musgraves’ Portland show went on sale last fall, I wasted no time getting mine. I’d missed her on a couple of previous visits to the city, and I didn’t want it to happen a third time.

Well, talk about great timing. Monday night’s sold-out show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall brought Kacey to town riding high on her Grammy Award-winning laurels of the previous weekend: Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, Best Country Solo Performance.

During a 90-minute set, she drew heavily from “Golden Hour,” her third and most accomplished album yet. She was great, almost effortlessly so.

I’ve been a fan of Kacey since she burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Same Trailer Different Park,” the debut album that earned her Best Country Album along with Best Country Song (Merry Go ‘Round) at the 2014 Grammys. It was a track from that same album, “Follow Your Arrow,” that I especially liked — a song that’s as un-country as you can imagine, with references to marijuana and a girl-on-girl kiss.

Kacey hails from a small town in Texas, and her voice is unmistakably country. Yet she continues to evolve as a songwriter with a sound that ranges from classic country to pop to ethereal to disco — yes, disco.

On Monday, I found myself appreciating several songs with lush melodies built on layers of instrumentation.

During mid-show introductions of her excellent band members, there were the usual ones on guitar, drums and bass, but also on banjo, pedal steel guitar, cello and keyboards.

Kacey says of her music: “Undeniably, I’m a country singer; I’m a country songwriter. But I feel like I make country music for people who like country music and for people who don’t.”

If you’ve never heard Kacey Musgraves, give a listen to the videos below, recorded live in Los Angeles, London and New York. All are from the new album. “Wonder Woman” is mid-tempo. “Golden Hour” is mellow. “High Horse” is a throwback to the days of disco. It’s the song she saved for last Monday night, the one that got everyone out of their seats.



From my seat in the upper balcony, I could hold my thumb and forefinger an inch apart and squint toward the stage, where I could see Kacey: a distant, slender figure in a shimmery outfit, with long dark hair and a relaxed stage presence that invited everyone to enjoy a golden hour and a half of wonderful music.

There she is. A tiny figure as seen from Section 1, Row V, Seat 1.

She calls herself @spaceykacey on Instagram, but she came across as pretty down-to-earth to me, relaxed and relatable.

At just 30 years old (yikes, one year younger than our youngest child), Kacey Musgraves has already collected six Grammys and won a worldwide following. I don’t know what she’ll do to top “Golden Hour,” but I’m pretty sure she’ll find a way.

August & Anthony

Anthony Bourdain and August Wilson: a pair of authors forever combined in my mind.

If you were to tell me that the famed playwright August Wilson and the chef-author-TV personality Anthony Bourdain had virtually nothing in common, I would say you’re right.

Wilson was born and raised in Pittsburgh and won two Pulitzer Prizes just three years apart for “Fences” (1987) and “The Piano Lesson” (1990). He died of liver cancer at age 60 in Seattle.

Bourdain was born in New York City and grew up in an affluent New Jersey suburb. He was the executive chef at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant, then became a best-selling author, and later the world-traveling host of two television programs centered on his culinary adventures. He died of suicide last year.

But as different as these two men were, they are likely to be linked in my mind for time eternal.

Why? Because I read their literary works back-to-back during the recent winter break from school. That alone wouldn’t be enough to seal them together in my memory. But the fact that I purchased Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” and Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” at the same time. thanks to a gift card from a friend, is what did it. (Thank you, Lydia Ramos!)

Both were enjoyable reads, for very different reasons, and I only regret that I didn’t get to them sooner.

I had wanted to read Wilson’s work ever since seeing the big-screen version of “Fences” (2016) with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the leading roles as Troy and Rose Maxson. The feeling intensified after having gained some familiarity with Wilson’s hometown as a result of three visits to Pittsburgh in recent years, including a brief stop at the August Wilson Cultural Center.


August Wilson discusses his play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Conn., in May 1985. (Bob Child | Associated Press file 1985)

“The Piano Lesson” did not disappoint. The play centers on the fate of an ornately carved upright piano that has been gathering dust in the Pittsburgh home of a woman named Berniece Charles.

Her brother, Boy Willie, comes up from the South bursting with restless energy and a plan to sell the antique piano that has been in the family for generations, dating back to when his and Berniece’s grandparents were slaves. The way he sees it, his share of the cash from selling the piano will give him the money he needs to stake his future.

But his sister refuses to sell, seeing the piano as a tangible link to the history of their family. In her mind, the piano is priceless, a stark reminder of what their ancestors endured.

The dialogue crackles. Boy Willie declares that as a black man, he has got to make this mark.

“That’s all I’m trying to do with that piano. Trying to put my mark on the road. Like my daddy done. My heart say for me to sell that piano and get me some land so I can make a life for myself to live in my own way.”

***

Likewise, I had been meaning to read “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” for some time.

Like millions of others, I was a big fan of Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series on CNN. To me, it seemed that Bourdain had the coolest job on the planet, traveling all over the globe to sample the native cuisine while dining with local residents and chatting it up with the chefs.

Bourdain was insatiably curious about food — its origins and textures and tastes — and, in his weekly travelogue, he conveyed his sense of adventure, generous spirit, and appreciation for the men and women who prepared what he ate.

It was in 1997 that The New Yorker published an article by Bourdain that provided “a scathingly honest look at the inner workings of restaurants, specifically their kitchens.” The article led to the book “Kitchen Confidential” (2000) and sent his career on a different path focused on writing and television.


Anthony Bourdain films in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2015. (David Scott Holloway | CNN)

He found great success with both. One thing I enjoyed most about “Kitchen Confidential” is that Bourdain writes just as he sounds on TV — well, absent the frequent F-bombs and other crass terms found throughout the book. In other words, he tells stories in a fluid style that captures his unique voice, alternating between the elegant and the profane, and with descriptive detail that puts you there on scene.

For example, recalling his early days as a line cook in NBC’s famed Rainbow Room, he said he made an interesting discovery one day as he moved through the halls, back stairways, offices, dining and storage areas of the building.

“There was, in an unused area, a narrow passage through stacked tables, where employees could actually crawl out an open window. On my union-mandated fifteen-minute breaks, I would sit out on a narrow precipice, sixty-four flights up, my legs dangling over the edge, one arm wrapped around a hash, smoking weed with the dishwashers. Central Park and upper Manhattan splayed out before me. The observation deck on the roof was open as well, for a little mid-shift sunbathing.”

I had two “family” reasons for wanting to read the book, as well:

— Our oldest son is a line cook at a Northwest Portland restaurant. From listening to his stories over the years, I knew there was a special camaraderie among the cooks and kitchen staff he’s worked with, and I figured (correctly) Bourdain’s book would shed some light on that. though with nowhere near the level of shenanigans as described in the places where Bourdain worked his way up from dishwasher and fry cook to esteemed French chef.

— Our daughter attended Vassar College in New York, and Lori and I took her to the nearby Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park for a fancy graduation dinner. Bourdain had attended Vassar, too, though he flunked out in his freshman year in a haze of drugs. Years later, after he discovered the cooking life, he gained a foundation for his skills at the internationally-known C.I.A.

So, two authors, two books. One fiction, one non-fiction. One by a biracial, working-class playwright. One by a debonair media celebrity of French-American heritage. Both books a delight to read.

Reclaiming my Fridays

George and Brian, scraping off the rust at a Portland bowling alley.

When the year began I pledged to regularly set aside time each Friday to step away from my schoolwork and do something for my mental or physical health. Otherwise, my four-day work week can easily slop over into a fifth weekday.

Yesterday, I got a belated start on that little promise to myself. I arranged with a buddy to go bowling during the middle of the day. In the evening, I was part of a group of guys who took in a Winterhawks hockey game.

Talk about dude time.

My friend Brian Wartell and I hit the lanes during the noon hour at Kingpins in Southeast Portland. Now that we’re of a certain age, those senior bowling prices look pretty good — $2.25 per game.

We brushed the cobwebs off our bowling balls, bowled three games each, and shared a couple of menu items that definitely did not involve kale.

Brian and George between bites of quesadilla.

Brian and I had bowled together for years on a team that saw a revolving cast of characters, but had to give it up when the places we used to play were sold and redeveloped for other uses — a hardware store (since gone out of business) and a Target store.

Friday was so much fun we agreed we need to reunite with some of our teammates in the coming months.

In the evening, I met up with David Quisenberry, a friend I met through our years-ago service on a nonprofit board. We both enjoy watching hockey (he’s actually a former high school player) but hadn’t been to a game together in a while, owing partly to David’s responsibilities as a young father and my own workload as an adjunct on two college campuses.

A friend of David’s and three other guys joined us and we all enjoyed the action in the old-school Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a far more intimate venue than the Moda Center, where the NBA Trail Blazers play.

The Winterhawks beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 3-0, and sent us home happy. We each got a trucker-style souvenir baseball cap, so that was a bonus.

Portland players celebrate a 3-0 win over Vancouver.

Actually, the entertainment began well before the puck dropped. There was a KISS farewell tour concert going on at the adjcaent Moda Center, so there was a festive Halloween-like vibe with crowds of people lining up to get in to see the old rockers. Some had done up their faces like the band, while others settled for black lipstick or T-shirts proclaiming themselves fans of AC-DC, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper and the like.

It was quite the scene inside Jack’s, with the KISS crowd mingling inside the restaurant alongside hockey fans in their Winterhawks jerseys.

I know every Friday won’t be like this, but yesterday felt like a good first step toward a New Year’s resolution I’d be happy to keep.