CCCC 2017, Portland Oregon: Experience and Setting
Reviewed by Natalie Malin, Texas Woman’s University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last year was my very first CCCCs and if you read my review from then, you might remember how overwhelmed yet thrilled I was, not only to attend, but to present in Houston. Being a part of one CCCC had me hooked on the collegiality that permeated every workshop, elevator, dinner table, and hallway, and I made sure to give the next CFP priority. Plus, the next CCCCs was to be held in a city I had always wanted to visit: Portland.
Sadly, a huge snowstorm crippled much of the northeast this past March, so many colleagues could not attend the annual conference due to flight cancellations. Listservs were blowing up as presenters frantically tried to find someone else to read their papers or show their PowerPoints on their behalf. I am mostly writing this review for them, but also for those of you who were fortunate enough to attend, but might not have had time or inclination to venture away from your hotel room or the huge MLK Convention Center. It can be terribly difficult to tear yourself away from such stimulating conversation where so many intellectuals from our field are gathered, so I do understand this predicament.
When I arrived, I saw that the airport was clean and small and easily navigated. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I noticed that Powell’s Bookstore (touted as the world’s largest independent bookstore) had a satellite shop inside, nor could I hold back when I smelled (first) and noticed (second) the also famous Stumptown Coffee. I don’t think my fellow Texas Women's University graduate student and traveling buddy Kathleen became aware of how overtired we both were (with the time change and our ridiculously early flight) until she had to wait on me while I pored over the many, many glossy magazines, maps, newspapers, and postcards free for the taking at the information-packed Visitors Information Center. It was so well stocked, and I love to hold paper in my hand when reading. I didn’t know if I would find such a helpful area so conveniently located again, so I made sure to grab a stack of future reading material. I also took a video of all the local brews stocked in one of the food stands because there seemed to be so many, and the labels were fun.
Once in our rental car, we headed to our hotel room in Gresham (about 15 minutes north of the Convention Center). Neither of us could afford to stay in Portland, but this turned out to be in our favor. The lack of sleep hit us and we both became giddy. We knew we needed to check in to our hotel and drop off our luggage before we explored anything, and both of us wanted to find our way to the Convention Center before the conference officially kicked off the following day so we could find our respective presentation rooms. We didn’t care that it was raining, because we'd prepared when packing.
The Oregon Convention Center is even larger than the Houston site, and is the largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest. Once inside the spacious LEED certified building, I marveled at the beautiful gigantic glass poppy flower sculptures that hung from the ceiling. In fact, there were sculptures and artwork throughout the building, (an additional mini Visitors Center inside the Convention Center noted $2 million worth of art inside), and throughout downtown Portland as well. Much of the walls were clear glass so attendees could absorb natural light and see the pretty landscaping outside. After learning the layout of the conference, we decided to head out and explore downtown and get something to eat.
So here are my first impressions: Portland is one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited. While there was a bit of graffiti here and there, even the spray paint was artistic. I did not see one piece of litter or any rundown storefronts among the buildings. The seven bridges the city are known for are also artwork; each is different and magnificent in its own right, hence the proliferation of related tourist t-shirts and similar memorabilia with the 7 bridges logo. The big steel aqua double decker bridge was my favorite, but the rusted train-car was super cool too (forgive me but I cannot remember their monikers). I was determined to head to a book lover’s paradise come hell or high water, and since my sidekick Kathleen was game for pretty much anything (and of course, is also a bibliophile), we used our maps and iPhone GPS and found the mecca of literacy: Powell’s City of Books.
Although parking was a bit frustrating for us out-of-towners (lots of one-way streets and confusing oversized green parking meters we didn’t realize were parking meters for a bit because they sort of look like mailboxes), driving downtown was so worth the endeavor. Ah-may-zing! Three full levels all of which encompass a city block. A handy color-coded map is helpful for those unable to allow themselves to get lost in a time warp, so although I did wander a bit, I ended up turning to the well-done, full-color sturdy stock paper map to hunt a few treasures.
I found myself laughing at many of the quirky displays, such as the collection of sarcastic name plates and goofy coffee mugs and socks, but ended up spending most of my time in a rare book room (free pass required) on the third floor. Leather bound gilded edged marble paged books called to me and I had to fight the urge to just stay enveloped in their presence and do nothing more. The room was smallish, but they had books in French (for example, Chansons de Pierre circa 1833 and Les Ephesiaques de Xenophon circa 1736), one of my favorites, as well as signed copies of first editions, cartography collections, and journals. The woman working behind the desk was delightfully interactive too. Of course, as a poor graduate student, I could not afford to buy anything, but window shopping was fun, so I settled for a couple of photos.
I was also impressed by the purple staircase that had white lettering asking “What do Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Beatrix Potter and D.H Lawrence have in common? They’ve all self-published. Are you next? This way to the Expresso Book Machine.” A machine to publish our own books? Wow! There was so much fun to be had in this store; readings, book signings, used books, buying of books, music, the obligatory coffee shop (Portland is heavily spotted with them everywhere), groovy hipsters and down-to-earth peeps. I decided on some kitschy stuff, a cool pencil bag (I know, I know, I’m a nerd), a purple Nalgene water bottle that listed famous philosophers such as Foucault at 32 ounces down to Aristotle at the 4-ounce mark, and a recycled tote bag with a drawing of the seven bridges that only cost me $5, plus the obligatory flyers and free newspapers.
Both of us suddenly noticed how hungry we were so met up with each other with our wares and agreed to find a good ethnic restaurant. Here’s another pleasant observation: Portland has a wonderful variety of ethnic food offerings, and I do not mean Chinese buffets and Mexican restaurants. Thai food is my absolute favorite, and less than a block from Powell’s was the perfect corner little place called Thai Peacock whose seasonings, portions, and ambience was exactly what we both hoped for. After Kathleen scored a pair of purple Doc Martens at the little shop next to Thai Peacock, we agreed to head back to the hotel to prepare for the next morning’s start of the conference, and decided to order in dinner from another Thai place as we tweaked our presentations and looked over the fat conference program. I spoke Thursday at 1:45 and she spoke Friday morning, so we let ourselves sleep in to try and help the time difference and hopefully calm our adrenaline.
The next morning we ate the typical continental breakfast offerings at our Days Inn and drove down to the convention center. It was practically a straight shot and parking was conveniently offered underneath the conference. Every hallway was full of conference goers and the buzz of conversation was invigorating. Booths were set up and the exhibit hall was packed already so we went our separate ways to enjoy the morning with our fellow English professors. After a bite in the convention center, I headed to my presentation room to meet up with my fellow panelists. The attendance was wonderful, and the follow up questions and sharing reaffirmed that this was the best conference out there to date.
So that this entry is not too long, let me cut to the chase. Public transportation was clean, affordable and well done. How do I know? I wanted to experience as much as I could while there so made sure to ride the train and the bus when I left our rental car parked at the conference center. Street performers abounded if you wandered the streets, which were well lit and populated with people always. I even bought a CD from a two-man group called Urban Shaman, mostly because one guy was playing the digeridoo. Dinner at tiny Nicolas Lebanese restaurant was fantastic, and although we sat very close to other patrons, no one seemed uncomfortable. In fact, a local couple sat next to Kathleen and me, overheard us discussing all the things we wanted to do if possible, and were so friendly and engaging, they offered tips. They go to Multnomah Falls (one of the places I starred and hoped to visit) every weekend to hike up the mile or so trail and said it was worth the drive. Other than meeting with Stuart Selber, a foundational theorist in my dissertation, the highlight of my fast and furious visit to Portland was the gorgeous Multnomah falls in the Columbia River Gorge.
Gresham, where our more than basic hotel room was located, was less than 15 minutes from the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. It too was a straight shot up the highway, just in the opposite direction of the conference center. Both of us were finished presenting and had attended the offerings we wanted to, and since we once again had to fly out at a ridiculously early time (that’s part of the reason we could even afford to attend), we knew if we were going to visit the falls, as I desperately wanted to do, we had to go Friday afternoon.
The gorge was gorgeous. Lush deep colors and to my surprise, several mini falls cascading from the mountains on the way to the main one made me feel like I was entering some sort of Eden. I was a bit worried we might miss our exit, especially because we were told that a landslide had closed one of the exits to Multnomah, but it was impossible to do so, much as the locals noted. You cannot miss the 850-foot, second largest waterfall in the United States and most visited place in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest; it was absolutely stunning.
The last time I remember being in awe of natural beauty to this degree was when I first visited the Grand Canyon many, many years ago. I tried to pace myself and look at the Park Department’s signage but was pulled to explore even though it was raining and probably in the mid to upper 40s. Kathleen, who is diabetic, said she needed to eat, and I agreed, especially if we were going to go hiking. There was a beautiful log cabin restaurant at the base of the falls. Multnomah Falls Lodge’s windowed ceilings and walls teased us with scenic views while we dined, so we did spend a lot of time relishing our elk burgers.
With each step closer to the falls I felt this growing sense of excitement coupled with immense peace at the natural beauty and hundreds of shades of green. Creeks ran down the sides of the mountain and ferns and all sorts of foliage seemed like a scene from a movie at every angle from the switchback trails. In fact, I took more than 200 pictures on my iPhone just at Multnomah Falls! The sound of the falls was soothing as well. Everyone who hiked past us on the way up or down smiled and everyone seemed to be in a great mood from being immersed in such beautiful unspoiled nature.
To get my point across, because even pictures of course won’t be sufficient, I found myself crying softly while standing in front of such power and beauty. Surrounded by mile high pine trees and moss-covered boulders and tree trunks, I literally became so overwhelmed with my surroundings that I could not help myself, and to be honest, I didn’t care who saw me. I stopped hiking several times on the way up just in attempt to soak it all in, especially on the serene bridge, and process the mountains across the road, the stunning gorge, the trails of snow, and the profound beauty all around me. It is a feeling and experience I hope to never forget, and at the suggestion of my son, have made one of my best photos my screensaver on my cell phone now to help me remember how that magical place made me feel.
I am sure you can Google all of the places that I mentioned, and I hope you do, but I also want to share some of my pictures. I am a novice and used to really be into photography with all the lenses and my SLR camera, but I must say my iPhone did a great job too. If you did not get a chance to go to Portland or did but did not make it to Multnomah falls, you must find a way to go back. I know I will.