Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yesterday’s 6:40 a.m. train to Portland had me up at 5:00, drunk with fatigue. Seems the difference between 6.5 hours sleep and 7 is everything, though I think it was more like 6.

My last trip on Amtrak was to Seattle, in September, 2009, for Dimitri’s sentencing. What has changed since then, besides wireless internet, is the tone, with staff performing more self-consciously, as if their scripts were dramaturged by the ad agencies behind WestJet and Alaska Airlines. I laughed at their jokes until it started to feel like 5:00 a.m. again.

Around Bellingham it began to snow, and further south, evidence of past snows. A backyard ride through the United States had suddenly turned Zhivago, and I was starving. Amtrak makes a big deal out of their “green” campaign, yet the food in their “bistro” is straight out of the 1970s. A plastic wrapped cinnamon bun looked like an organ from an alien autopsy.

One of the hallmarks of fascism is the punctuality of its nations' trains, and I was relieved to arrive fifteen minutes late. The United States is more comforting as a Weimar Republic than what followed. At the same time, the “downturn,” like Portland's NO PUBLIC WASHROOM signs, are everywhere.

After checking-in I was met by Matthew Stadler, who took me to Andina, subtitled “Novo Peruvian Cuisine”. A pisco sour for me and a surf ‘n’ turf medley to share. Locally sourced Willapa oysters, octopus, and the ultimate turf – beef heart. (I can still feel the iron coursing through my veins.)

Matthew is the reason I am in Portland: to celebrate his new book, Chloe Jarren’s La Cucaracha, a novel that borrows its narrative structure from John le Carre’s A Murder of Quality (1962), and to talk further about his Publication Studio, which has invited me, along with a dozen other authors, to make books using material posted on Wikileaks. For those in the area, Matthew’s launch is at the Publication Studio storefront, 717 SW Akeny St., 6 p.m.

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