March 21, 2018
I ended up staying 2 days at Memaloose State Park, although I hadn’t meant to make it such a long stop. There was not, really, a whole lot to do there although it was pretty. The Columbia River Gorge is just jaw droppingly gorgeous all the way, crazy round hills rising to the sky, patchworks of green and blue skies and clouds and all in all, it looks like a hybrid between the Hudson River School and very early 19th century primitive American landscape painting. I kept thinking, photography just isn’t doing it for this landscape: it needs painting. I keep meaning to make some kind of stab at it but so far I have not dug the art supplies out of the deep dark hole where they lurk accusingly.
I’ve been on I-84 since I got through Portland. I’m doing a lot of interstates these days because I’m in the mountains and I have learned my lesson about the terrifying truth about Western mountain roads: in a nutshell, they’re terrifying. There also aren’t a lot of them. One of the things that’s been the oddest for me to adjust to as an Easterner in this Western world has been the sheer emptiness of it all. In the East, if you don’t want to take the interstate, no problem! There are lots and lots of other roads you can take. Sometimes they run right alongside the highway, even. But once you get truly out to the real West, those roads go away along with the hamlets and small towns and even, for the most part, the Dollar Generals (Dollars General?) that mark each rural village. The West is deserted. You can drive for an hour or more and see maybe a cow or two. The coast is definitely far behind me now and I’m back in the empty land of tumbleweeds and cows, mountains and wind. Tumbleweeds! I really like tumbleweeds. One day I will secure a grant to put huge googly eyes on all the ones I see and then LOOK OUT WORLD.
On Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, I drove from Memaloose to Boardman and on the way I crossed the river into Washington State so I could spend a couple hours at Maryhill Museum of Art. LO! That place is a revelation. It is a real museum – a very nice museum, actually – in the middle of what I believe is technically referred to as FUCK ALL NOWHERE, or, actually, I guess it’s in EAST BUMFUCK. It’s a very beautiful part of FUCK ALL NOWHERE, but damn, I just kept wondering where the staff lived. They quite clearly have a real staff and a good, very professional staff at that – this is not one of those roadside “museums” run by one 87 year old eccentric and his pale, hulking, silent grandson. It is wildly incongruous – you drive along a beautiful river road bordered by a couple of wineries and nothing else, like, no houses, no stores, no nothing at all, not even cows. Then BOOM there is a big art museumy mansion on the right complete with manicured grounds scattered with pretty decent contemporary sculptures. And just to keep the cognitive dissonance rolling, I don’t know what I was expecting as I walked into the entrance hall, but the court regalia of Marie of Roumania was most assuredly not on the list. This is how I found out that everything I thought I knew about Marie of Roumania, (which is to say nothing: a snippet of the Dorothy Parker poem*, which had somehow led me to believe she was a famous imposter) was wrong.** She was the real deal and she had a lot of peculiar friends, like the Folies Bergere dancer Loie Fuller, who was a wild character in her own right. There’s an exhibit on her, too, as well as quite a lot of very good local art, a really nice and comprehensive Native American collection, an entire room of Rodins and apparently another room full of chess sets, which I inexplicably did not get to. I think I was too absorbed in the Theatre de la Mode exhibit. The Theatre de la Mode was the way just post WWII Paris fashion got back on its feet: rather than try to mount actual fashion shows, which require, oh, fabric and room and stuff, they made tiny puppet theatres showcasing their designs. One of these theatres was designed by Cocteau and, just, the burned out garret, the skeletal marionettes in ball gowns, the whole thing, MY GAWD. And then you walk out of the museum; you’re back in FUCK ALL NOWHERE and, if you are quick enough to catch the turn (I was sadly not, damn you again, Garmin) there’s a concrete replica of Stonehenge. Of course there is. And of course it is also the tomb of Maryhill’s founder, Sam Hill, of whom it is famously said, what in the sam hill? For pure unadulterated yet classy weirdness, I recommend the Columbia River Gorge. ***
I spent the next two nights at the Boardman Marina RV Park, which is an absolute delight of a campground right next to a small marina. It’s just a lovely park, with lots of grassy space and tons of geese and, best part (besides the wonderful cheapness, ah, back to the land of $20 campgrounds, yes!) a long, long, long riverside walk. I walked along it, both ways, and chatted with the geese, found out that the black waterbirds I kept startling off the playground were American coots and saw a hawk, although I did not, alas, get a good enough picture to identify which hawk exactly. It was really nice in Boardman. I sort of wish I had stayed longer, but onwards, onwards, and so I drove on through mountains to arrive in Baker City. On the way there I stopped in Pendleton, bought groceries in the Safeway (which had cowboy art in the ladies room, go figure) and gaped for a while at the Pendleton Woolens factory and outlet store (I love wool shirts but not, somehow, $140 worth, and I want a real Pendleton blanket, but not, apparently, quite enough to buy one.)
The road through the mountains to Baker City was hairier than I expected. There are real mountains to cross – they were snow covered and everything – but I cannot quite figure out what they’re called. I mean, they have to have names, right? But all the maps I keep consulting fail to name them. If they’re not considered mountainous enough to be named than damn, I am going to be in trouble when I get to the northern Rockies. They were mountains enough to have their own weather systems and so I drove through snow showers and fog and huge signs warning people to pack chains in SNOW COUNTRY. I grant you that I am more neurotic, particularly about driving, than the average but still, these were not really roads or mountains to fuck with. When the signs say DEAD MAN’S PASS I tend to pay attention.
The RV Park in Baker City was perfectly nice if a little trailer parky. It backs up on a huge, huge empty field and I had a wonderful time traipsing around taking moodily lit pictures of sheds and background mountains. I would have had no problem with the park at all (the shower was amazing, a wonderful, wonderful shower) if there hadn’t been a trailer in one corner flying a large stars n’ bars. I came up with all sorts of things I could say about that but I said nothing and wrote no passive aggressive notes. I may yet send one to the park owners, though, because – and I say this as more or less a lifelong Southerner, one whose Southern roots go back well before the Civil War – FUCK THAT SHIT. The only thing that flag is good for is identifying the assholes.
And so I drove on to Boise. I am staying here for several days – Weather Bug lied to me and told me there were going to be snowstorms and hail and sleet and probably demonic activity, so I thought I had better not drive. I also need to get some important mail, so I am sitting here in a huge RV park with which, frankly, I am not enamored. I did not stick up for myself when I was checking in and so I ended up in a not great site – they really jam them in here – and I can’t leave until Sunday, since there’s no refunds. Of course, it is expensive as hell. It is right up against the Boise River Greenway Walk, though – I most heartily approve of this trend of long, long walking paths by rivers! – and so I am getting all my 6000 daily steps in, go me, so very fucking healthy, oh yeah. Yesterday I took an Irish coffee with me and it made the hiking vastly more entertaining. The river walk is nice and all but, uh, how to say this politely? It’s boring as hell. There are a lot of ducks. So many ducks that I began contemplating abandoning vegetarianism. The coyotes here should be fat. Still! It’s great that it’s there and I suspect I’m just on the most boring part of it. I have not yet seen anything else of Boise (there is a big music festival going on and I wish I was a) younger and b) richer and c) more interested in doing things late at night) but I have several things on the agenda, so it’s time to discover Idaho!
* Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Roumania
** Why did I think this? Was there a real late 19th / early 20th century famous impostor who said she was a member of some royal family and managed to get quite a few people to believe it? Or is that just an Agatha Christie plot that has gotten all mixed up with reality in my always somewhat reality challenged brain?
*** An old friend of mine passed away on Thursday. I am not going to say much about that – this is not supposedly a personal blog, ha! – but she was a dancer and an artist and she would have LOVED the Maryhill museum SO MUCH. She probably would not, like me, have snickered wildly at the 1920 film of Loie Fuller waving fabric around in her DANCE OF THE SWAN or something (well, actually, she probably would have, because Noelle, like me, could snicker at anything) but she would have gotten why that dance was important and not just silly. Anyway, while I was there I kept thinking about her, wishing she was there, thinking about how much she would have liked it, and that was oddly comforting. The only tiny silver lining to losing your friends and family as you get older is that you bring them with you wherever you go. I imagined my mother and aunt in the theatre de mode gallery, Noelle in the Loie Fuller room and, you know, it’s good to think that a little of them lives on in me, helping me see things I otherwise wouldn’t notice.