Its Been Rough

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

2020 left its mark on Portland. My wife and I saw it in the boarded-up windows and graffiti. We saw it in the empty buildings of businesses shuttered during the pandemic. We saw it in the mask-framed and haggard eyes of passersby.

But we also saw affirmation. We saw a city hurting for its black communities. We saw labors of love tucked in unfamiliar corners. We broke bread in a city which treasures its past, celebrates the present, and finds pleasant ways to surprise you.

Based on advice and guidance from a dozen Portlanders, here is a free roadmap for a great time. It’s to Portland’s credit that the initial form of the list was two pages long. We nevertheless winnowed it down with a few peculiar requirements.

One: each location must have less than ten people present on average and less than its closest related landmark — no crowds, no notoriety, nothing a travel group would see on its tourists’ guide.

Second: the spots must be within a half-hour of each other. This may seem like an odd criterion, but it has a flavor of logic to it. While it may be functional to leave suggestions for the whole city, it’s inhospitable. The joy of traveling asks for as little time in the car as possible.

Lastly, we insisted on a combination of physical and mental exercise. While food (and chocolate!) may feature here, this won’t be a cleverly disguised restaurateur’s guide to Portland.

With all that out of the way, here’s a catalogue of our journey. Perhaps on one sunny day, it will become yours as well.

Latourell Falls

latourell falls

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

In chess, the best opponent is a rival, and the even playing field provides the best satisfaction. Barring that, you want an even playing field. Failing to take skill level into account leads to frustration. If your opponent is more skilled, then your mounting failures will take a psychological toll. If you are more skilled than your opponent, then there’s no challenge.

While that’s said of chess, it describes the most fruitful aspects of life. Challenge leads to joy; hopelessness and boredom do not. A balance of skill is essential.

Latourell Falls pleases both intermediate hikers like myself and inexperienced ones like my wife. It isn’t as long or as punishing as Silver Falls and it’s studded with similarly spectacular falls of its own. Arguably, it has even better views. Overlooking the Columbia River and the Latourell Creek, the trail wends up and down a wide escarpment for two miles. Twisted and verdant trees mount the rich earth like they’re crawling uphill. A lush carpet of green surrounds waterfalls straight from a TOR fantasy cover.

More importantly, it lacks the multi-level parking lots and national pull of other Oregon falls. We were on the trail for about two hours and never saw more than five others. Furthermore, the handful of available spots for parking attests to a local, less claustrophobic experience.

Large enough to amaze and small enough for seclusion, Latourell is more than worthy of your time.

You can find it near the small town of Bridal Veil

Dar Salam – Alder Street

Dar Salam - Alder Street

Photographer: Amanda Weeks


There’s no more satisfying a meal than a long awaited one. After working up an appetite on the trails, we made our lunch at Middle Eastern eatery Dar Salam.

Dar Salam immediately catches your attention with its bright, colorful displays and assemblage of thematic trinkets. The most conspicuous and dazzling of these is a large mural on the far wall. Painted in brilliant shades of blue, orange, and yellow, it depicts the gates of a mythical kingdom. The highly elaborate piece makes lovely use of foreshortening and shading. While the uncharitable could easily dismiss this as mere kitsch, it serves to jolt the observer into a different perspective. As someone new to cuisine from the Middle East, I appreciate the decor for how evocative it is. It might not be the most erudite of settings, but it arrests and gives you the right frame of mind.

But enough about the frills. No amount of presentation can improve a bad meal. What of the food?

The Food

Dar Salam - The Food

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

We started with an appetizer sampler and got a crash course on far east cuisine: baba ganouj, tzatziki, and hummus paired with flatbread fresh from the oven. That flatbread, our server informed us, came from Alexandria’s Bakery, which is just around the corner.

We live in an age of specialists, where everyone has thought deeply about something. It’s always satisfying to see restaurants sourcing their food from local culinary experts. From that point of view, Dar Salam found a great resource in Alexandria’s.

To the layman, baba ganouj, hummus, and tzatziki are about as different as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. With some finesse and fine ingredients, however, the chef brought out the personalities of each. The tzatziki was slightly chilled in order to enhance the yogurt’s cool, refreshing taste, for instance. We took turns with them, discussing our palate and preferences. I suggest this as an icebreaker for any date. It’s like that age-old question: “Pepsi or Coke?”

The shared “Grill Plate,” a medley of onion, lamb, chicken, and greens, continued that trend of straightforward and tasteful. Tender, but with a hint of char. Again, we jumped between chicken and lamb and savored the differences and similarities.

While my wife was the beginner when hiking, I confess that I was similarly out of my element. She makes her own pasta for fettucine alfredo. I rely on the humble PB & J. Imagine my surprise when we both left with smiles on our faces and contented bellies.

Oregon Historical Society

Oregon Historical Society

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

Portland’s Art Museum is a monolith, a palace erected for the humanities. The Oregon Historical Society’s building across from it, on the other hand, looks like a summer cottage. It is four stories tall and well furnished, but hardly ostentatious.

It is also criminally under-trafficked. I first visited in 2017 with my then-girlfriend. The Kennedy family was the subject of the exhibit at the time. A projector played newsreels of Jacqueline “Jackie” Onassis Kennedy showing off her domestic life. Next to it, one of her pastel dresses stood free and without glass. A timeline of the Cold War ran along the room on its wallpaper. Kennedy’s original rocking chair, custom made to address a war injury, lay nearby. An impressive assemblage on a touchstone figure of the 20th century. I was the only one enjoying it on that afternoon.

I consider this an asset, not a defect. History and viewing environments (like museums) blend together in ways that often diminish the former. Tour guides and groups subtly affect our communion with artifacts — social pressures and awareness of, say, loitering shift us. Envisioning the life of a 19th-century woman becomes challenging when hearing a 21st-century woman rifle through her purse. For that reason, silence in curation is a rare gift. We run our hands along canoe replicas and imagine the swells of the Columbia River bearing them out to sea. We imagine ourselves marching with suffragists to “Daughters of Freedom, the Ballot Be Yours.”

Second Encounter

Second Encounter

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

The current exhibit is about women’s march for voting rights. I read through a reprinted program that would have been handed out at those rallies. I saw the original specimens of 1840’s day wear alongside versions from the 1890’s. I compared buttons and brochures from that era with examples from 2020.

From this exercise arose two general historical observations. Firstly, you can learn a lot about a culture from its necklines. 1840’s day wear was even more restrictive than its 1890’s counterpart (my wife couldn’t help but comment on the discomfort she’d feel in both) and correlates with the expansion of women’s identities in America. Secondly, political campaigns haven’t evolved much over the last 100 years. Buttons, brochures, and pamphlets repeat arguments about gender relations which we read today, and there’s not much cultural difference between a button reading “I’m With Her” (sic) and another “Votes for Women.” Take that how you will.

votes for women

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

vote badges

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

For those interested in social justice, the exhibit doesn’t whitewash or revise history. For instance, the offered literature reminds visitors that a vote for women didn’t equate to a vote for people of color. One of the showcased Oregon suffragists was a staunch eugenicist with all the racial baggage that comes with it.

womens dresses

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

The OHS also doesn’t bury anachronisms or sanitize motivations either. Arguments for the women’s vote actually agreed with man’s position as intellectually superior and dominant (in accordance with the apostle Paul’s opinions on marriage). It instead asserted the chastity and moral purity of women in a sort of “separate but equal” rhetorical gambit. Suffragists spoke the language of religion fluently, and their goal was empowerment through the prism of Christianity.


The OHS’ curators devoted more than a little thought to Oregon’s past. It was a state that functionally let women vote in 1912, eight years before the federal government followed suit. It famously drummed African Americans out of the state until 1926. The OHS mediates these truths and presents Oregon’s flawed politics thoughtfully.

Azar’s Indulgences

Azar's Indulgences

Photographer: Amanda Weeks

Long and intense stuff. How about something short and sweet?

Chocolatiers typically come in two forms: gilt or whimsy; high-end boutiques or the candy store from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Azar’s is neither. Located in a corner of the Heathman hotel, smaller than a doctor’s waiting room, Azar’s specializes in handmade Belgian chocolates.

Silver and tinsel are tucked in the corners for a cozy aesthetic, but every square foot matters and it’s clearly a craftsman’s workshop. Christine Azar is a gracious and pleasant host despite the demands we made on her. We arrived at the tail-end of her new (pandemic) hours and she not only insisted on serving us, but also included complimentary raspberry cheesecake chocolates.

Her creative energy is evident. We enjoyed a wide range of flavors ranging from the experimental to the simply excellent: orange creamsicle, pistachio and rose petals, and white chocolate berry cheesecake. Azar’s doesn’t serve chocolate — it engages with it.

Azar’s radiates passion. For those who yearn for the touch of an artist and cringe at the word “product,” Azar’s Indulgences is for you.



Site: Wikimedia Commons

This last stop requires some adjusted expectations and some preparation for what you want from it. Portland has no end of deluxe finger food and good drink. Mummy’s does not excel on those merits.

No. Like a Raymond Chandler novel, Mummy’s thrives on atmosphere. Its founders, two Egyptian brothers, tucked this bar beneath the corner of an office building. With its wood paneling and tight booths, it feels like a speakeasy; you almost feel a fugitive’s excitement when you descend the stairs.

“Chiaroscuro” refers to the artistic contrast of light and dark. Visually, it’s strongly associated with horror and film noire. Mummy emulates them. The recessed lighting acts like a spotlight for a sarcophagus and hieroglyphics-themed shadow boxes. Somehow, it evades the eerie ambiance of a tomb and the smokiness of a speakeasy while eliciting their nostalgia.

I can’t say the food is great. For discriminating tastes, it might not even be good, although the drinks are excellent. But that’s not what you’re there for.

Sometimes you want the razor’s edge of sophistication. Killer food. Live shows. A nightlife that’s a kick to the teeth. Sometimes you want a small slice of an increasingly impersonal universe. You want to share a cold drink with someone special, draw a line around your booth where the world ends, and forget about the night closing in on you.



Photographer: Amanda Weeks

All travel guides must foolishly confide in their readers. Out of necessity, they assume agreements on values, outlooks, and priorities. Like me, do you prefer unknown quantities over the known, safety over danger, and character over class? In this writer’s opinion, travel seeks the untraveled. Barring that, it seeks the extraordinary. Barring that, it settles for the strange.

Yet despite our best efforts to describe and account for every person, we are slaves to our own tastes. I can’t guarantee that Dar Salam will tickle your palate. I can’t ensure that Mummy’s will charm you. I can only report what I see and hope that your curiosity does the rest.

Bonne chance!