12 May 2014

[pdx] The Autumnal City, By Way Of SE Division Street

In another missive, I said that sometimes I find the theme, sometimes, the theme finds me. 

This is true, and relevant. Also, living in the most violently adorable photogenic city on the planet, sometimes you go out for great vistas, and sometimes, you just stumble and fall flat on your face in front of one.

This is true, and relevant, and what happened later in the evening after our visit to Piccolo Park (see missive 3081, just previous to this one).

SE Division Street is one of those infinitely-long east-west straight (well, mostly) streets that give Portland's east side its structure, its intent, and its character. It's a sweet character, and remains so even though the rents on the inner portion have become, in some areas, precipitously lofty. The lowest end is a little tricky, though. Division Street from its true beginning … SE 3rd Avenue just south of Caruthers … runs diagonally, along the rail lines that have gone through the area since it was all industrial.

It's still mostly industrial, but it's changing, slowly. Good sides and bad sides to that. That's for another program however. While travelling west on Division, with no specific agenda except to get to Powell's Books ultimately and enjoy our time there, just west of SE 11th Avenue, where the street doglegs northwestward (actually, the line of the street continues as SE Division Place until it gets as close to the Willamette as it can) we're presented with this undeniable photo opp:

BAM, as they say. There's this thing about sunsets; while there are, statistically and practically speaking, infinitely more sunsets than I'll be able to biologically endure, each one is, like the notional snowflake, never to be duplicated. The mood that each one generates is as individual as possible. Never to be synthesized, and in the end, ineffable.

Very Taoist.

The funny thing is, I immediately put  my hand out the window and pointed the camera that way, and in adjusting my grip I fired the camera three or four times. I cursed loudly, thinking I had really got some unusable photos (well, at least for this wise). Turned out perfect.

The view that is named is not the view.

The amber tone, in retrospect, makes me think of the opening lines of the Samuel R. Delany epic Dhalgren. Maybe he wrote that because every big American town is something that consumes itself from within, at the same time replenishing itself from within, borning anew constantly, and will continue to do so until it eventually collapses from within because no fuel, no matter how regenerative, would regenerate forever.

It's a an echo of majestic ruin, while still being astoundingly vital. Kind of like people.  And humanity. We contain our salvation and our ruin in one, I think.

The area, as I said, is still very industrial. If you buy anything Darigold, it came, as likely as anything, from this dairy plant between Division and Powell between SE 8th Avenue and the river. That dairy complex has been there forever. On the left there, supporting the trademark Darigold sign, is a tall column which is limned in red neon. When we lived on SE 8th near here, we would most often come in on the Ross Island Bridge. The Darigold sign was a big nightline showing us the way home. Most reassuring. 

A big old building wedged (literally, that's its shape) between Division, 11th, and the tracks is the Ford Building. That's what it started out at … a place that sold Ford automobiles back when the most popular car in the world was the Model T. These days, it's been gentrified, which means that anything in the building currently is either so cute it's uninteresting or overpriced but I guess it beats decay.

Not decay, decadence actually. But I carp.

The area has seen massive remodelling as a result of the extension of the MAX into Milwaukie. The Tilikum Crossing is just one thing. Streets have been spruced, realigned (you used to be able transition straight east from Division Place onto Division Street, now that link is gone) and, as is our adorable wont, enigmatic public art has been installed. Just this one square of the new sidewalk pavement reads:


I was unable to deduce what the theme here was or the intended meaning, indeed, I couldn't find any other squares so adorned, so I was left wondering. Of course, given the verbiage … maybe that was the point.

The cloud above the railroad crossing here, The Wife™ called the "greater than" cloud. Why should be obvious.

The opening lines to Dhalgren look something like this:

to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.
All you know I know:


It's our city, but I know it differently than you. I see shining possibility and incipient decay; I see Portland triumphant over the ages and Portland deserted and ruined; you see a group of tall buildings against a setting sun and no more.

Each view is equally valid and invalid in the human heart.

The new MAX line, looking toward Milwaukie

SE 8th Avenue and Division Place. This is a new signal.

Day is ending; night is beginning. One death is another birth,
only to eventually die and cause rebirth in return.

The autumnal city. So howled out for the world to give him a name.
Putting ones' back to the above moody scene, growing in a vacant lot at 8th and Division, beginning to blossom because of or in spite of or both, this. The in-dark answered with wind.

All you know, I know.

The hack poet and blog author finally did make it to Powells, and just to prove that all is not darkling self-absorbed poetry, a sparkling view of NW Couch Street between NW 10th and 11th Avenues, where the upside is that, for better or worse, we're still here, there's grim news abounding but the world still seems to work, and a life where you can see things like this certainly isn't entirely broken.

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