Saturday, July 28, 2012


Alaska and beyond -- Salem & Portland, OR

The blogger (left) and his husband in the Wilderness Discoverer's skiff waiting to be taken on the final
exploration of the cruise.  

I recently filled out an evaluation and comments form that consisted pretty much exclusively of superlatives about the Alaskan cruise experience.  These small boat trips are not inexpensive but the directness of contact with the land, water, glaciers, wildlife and the chance to learn personally from the naturalists among the crew in areas that the huge cruise ships could not begin to navigate, is worth every penny.

On our tour of the engine room, by the way, we had also learned of all the regulations on garbage and used water disposal that our boat observed in order to keep the land and water of Alaska as clean and undisturbed by human presence as possible. 

It had been pouring rain in Juneau when we sailed, then the weather quickly cleared and we had perfect weather all week.  As we put in at Ketchikan the morning our cruise ended, it was foggy and raining--Ketchikan has an average of 280 days of rain a year.  I can't quite imagine living there and not going a bit crazy, but our waitress at dinner had come for a visit eight years ago and had never left.  The big cruise ships (at one time five were docked immediately adjacent to the downtown business district) fuel the town's economy during during the late spring, summer and very early fall before they sail south to ply the Caribbean for the winter.

Ketchikan has developed out into the waters of the straight on whose narrow shore it was founded as its fishing and tourist industries prospered and expanded.  All the buildings that you see and a good deal more behind have been built out over the waters of the straight.  We didn't tie up near the big ships that towered over the three story town but at a separate town dock a bit away from the center.  A courtesy shuttle took us to to a hospitality room from which we all departed to the airport or, in the case of the six of us, to our hotel as we were spending the day to explore the town.

Michael Rockwell (left corner), who collects and has good chops at interpreting the art of the Northwest, led us to the big totem park and cultural exhibit south of town.  This pole is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.  If you look closely, you'll see that Lincoln, very tall in real life, is portrayed as having thighs but no calves or feet.  The photograph from which the native artist worked was framed only down to Lincoln's knees, so that is what the artist carved.  I wonder if the Tlingit people thought Lincoln was a little person.
 This pole on the other hand, is a pole of shame and humiliation.  The subject is William Seward, the Secretary of State who arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.  Seward came to Alaska and was greeted by the native people with a huge Potlatch, a multi-day gathering of clans that was meant to honor all who came, and frequently meant the hosts expending all their wealth in the process.  However it was not a one way street -- reciprocation was part of the deal, the honored leader of the other clans was expected to match and indeed top the Potlatch at which he had been entertained, throwing one for those who had honored him.

Seward failed completely to make the expected response.  He simply packed up all the art, artifacts and other gifts he had been given, and sailed away.  He sits in shame forever on his pole, seated on a box representing all the crates in which he packed his swag when he gave the Tlingit leaders the cold shoulder.   

There were a great many totems, more than I could show in a regular post, but this one is interesting as it memorializes the death of a child.  The Alaskan inner passage has very high tides, around seventeen feet plus or minus.  The story is that villagers were harvesting clams one day and a child ran up to a giant clam and stuck his arm into it, causing the clam to snap shut and hold him prisoner.  The tide was coming in quickly and all efforts to smash the clam or cut it open had failed.   An animal skin was filled with air and put over the child's head in hope that it would be enough to sustain him until the tide retreated but, alas, when the tide went out the boy was dead.

After an enjoyable day in Ketchikan exploring Creek Street, the town's notorious red light district back in the 19th and early 20th centuries when it was a national scandal for open prostitution vigorously protected and indulged in by Ketchikan's mayor, we went out of town to an excellent dinner overlooking the straight and airport.  The next morning we flew out on Alaska Airlines to Seattle where we said good bye to Michael, Someone, Doug and Leon.  We then continued on to Portland Oregon and by rental car to Salem, about 45 minutes south.

My older daughter had asked if I would be willing to build a playhouse for my granddaughter like the one I had built for her and her sister when they were growing up.  That one was built out of exterior plywood faced to look like board and bat siding.   It was 4'x4' with a simple roof, three windows with shutters, and some pieces of children's furniture inside to entertain friends.

Since the idea of trying to put whole plywood sheets on the roof of a rental car wasn't all that appetizing and as I wouldn't have all my tools with me out there, I searched the web for play house kits, rejecting the cheap-looking plastic ones in favor of one made entirely of cedar that would look great in their back yard.  A lot of assembly was required but the diagrams and drawings that were the instructions (very similar to Ikea products, with which we are familiar) looked fine and I ordered it in time to be delivered before our arrival.

The instructions estimated assembly as taking three to four hours by two people.  I think we came in just under five, but that included working with my son-in-law to level a patch of the yard and install 16" square paving blocks as a base, covered by 5/8" lock-together rubber exercise floor tiles that I wanted so the children wouldn't be playing on rough concrete.  It also included regular delays to recharge his cordless drill because one of its two batteries was no longer functioning.   In any event, here it is.  Once we got the walls placed on the base we couldn't keep Sasha out of it, so delighted she was with it.  The roof was installed with her in it.

And here's the young lady herself, soon to be officially three years old at the beginning of next month.

From Salem, we drove back to Portland for lunch with a former student of Fritz's and then we drove high above the Willamette Valley to the beautiful home and stunning gardens (floral and vegetable) of Mark and Rodger, friends encountered first through blogging, then delightfully a couple of times since in person.  Once we settled there, it was off to Stephen and Rolfe's place back down in Portland in the wonderfully assembled interior of their house and the garden hideaway known as the Boys Fort. 

Rolfe, a theatrical designer like myself, redoes the house and the Fort at regular intervals, mostly out of objets trouvĂ©s that he selects, combines and deploys with great imagination and skill.  Above is this year's reconfiguration -- previous versions have included a small crystal chandelier hanging into this delightful outdoor room from an overhead branch.  I was hoping very much to see Rolfe's business, also called Boys Fort, that is now established in the Kenton district of North Portland after a tremendously successful birth as a pop-up boutique in Portland last fall and early winter.  Everybody loved the idea and off we went. 

Do visit for a look at the "eclectic male vernacular" garments, objects of all kinds, art of all kinds, and indescribably inventive things of all kinds purveyed by Rolfe and Jake France that  includes work by a variety of very hip Portland area artists.

From the Fort we went to a first rate Mexican restaurant with Rodger and Mark (L to R above) where I finally lost my Margarita virginity (and enjoyed doing so very much) after which it was back to their place for the night.

The next morning we flew back home across the continent and the vacation was over.


This text appeared on Facebook and seemed WAY too good not to pass on.  Culturally, it is another indication of post-WWII attitudes about the dutiful wife making certain that all household chores are done and that she always looks just perfect, especially when her husband who has been working hard all day (as opposed to her, who has merely been cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing, sewing and taking care of the children all day) comes home expecting everything to be just as he likes it.  This is the blueprint for June Cleaver and all those other late 40s and 1950s wives in the print ads, TV shows and commercials who hang out the wash and scrub the toilets in their pearls, bouffant skirts and freshly permanented hair so they will always look perfect for their men. 

I wonder if the Singer instructions for 1949 also included any advice for men, like me and a lot of other guys I know, who sew regularly . . .  oh, wait . . .  

No wonder I've never liked saying. I'd have to wear a clean dress!

Great post. Love those totem poles. Can't believe you didn't ship one home!
SEWING... not "saying" ... DAMN autocorrect!
Mitchell -- you should see what autocorrect does to my last name, which is Fregosi.
Great stuff, as usual, and you are the perfect grand-pop for putting together that house!

I can't help but laugh at that sewing bit. I mean, dated attitudes towards women notwithstanding, can you imagine any business these days using words like "lackadaisically" and "predominates?"

Those 40s and 50s domestic goddesses had a better vocabulary than a certain Chick-fil-A orderin' former governor of a state you recently visited, dontcha know! ;)
Your photos are wonderful
I am mad-jealous you got to see Mark and Rodger
Fie on OREGON margatritas! phooey Real proper ones are made here in AZ. do come visit.
Wow! Lincoln, Seward, Mark & Rodger & then our very own Boys' Fort. Maybe we can be added to the tours.

Thank you for your kind words & the spirit of your friendship. I long to get Rolfe to New England before we need to use walkers.
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