Friday, August 20, 2010

Literary Mecca

Next up in the "Kristin's Favorite Things Queue" is a place that needs little to no introduction (if you've been there, of course): Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. Powell's is the world's largest independent new and used bookseller. It pretty much lives up to its reputation.

Jon wisely brought me here on our first trip to Portland several years ago. We walked in the door, I wiped the drool from my chin, and we dispersed to our respective interests...for 3 hours.

Powell's is so large that it encompasses an entire city block and is three stories high. There are maps at the door to help you navigate through the color-coded genres. I spend the majority of my time in the bargain book section and the blue room (fiction). I also buzz through the rose room (children and young adult), while Jon prefers...well, I don't know what Jon prefers as I don't see him until we reconvene at the cash register with our treasures.

I have a weakness for used books. I tried to cut myself off a couple of months ago by deciding not to buy any more books until I read the ones already on my shelf. And then I saw a sign for a library book sale. How could I pass up $3 for all the paperbacks you can fit in a grocery bag?!? So, needless to say, when we went to Portland a couple of weeks ago, I was finished before I even began. It's a good thing I picked up a new (IKEA) bookshelf this spring.

Shakespeare in the Park

This post will be the first of a series of at least two describing my favorite things. Woo hoo, get excited. One of my all-time favorite things about summer is Shakespeare in the Park. I was first introduced to SitP by a beloved high school English teacher (no, not me) and was instantly hooked. The Heart of America Shakespeare Company puts on a fantastic production in Kansas City's Southmoreland Park. Elaborate settings and costumes, lighting, and sound enhance the incredible perfomances by a professional troupe of actors. Best of all, it's absolutely free. (It helps to make a nominal donation at the door so that the men-in-tights don't harrass you throughout the evening, though.) I, along with a couple dedicated friends, attended faithfully each summer. Sometimes we dragged others along, and once I even convinced a few students to meet me (but were unfortunately foiled by a classic Midwest thunderstorm). So, maybe we didn't always understand some of the lesser-known plays, but we always had a good time. Plus, the people-watching is fantastic. SitP attracts an interesting crowd, ranging from mature adults to families with small children to adolescents. A self-proclaimed "professional people-watcher," I often try to guess people's life stories; that's the writer in me, I suppose. One way that we have categorized the SitP audience is by what kind of food they brought. For our first show, we brought teenage snacks: Soft Batch cookies, microwave popcorn (already popped, of course), Twizzlers, etc. Total amateurs. Looking around, we observed other people similar in snack status, but also had our first glimpse of the "wine and cheese people." These people are the ones with the mini table and low-backed chairs, plastic wine glasses, fancy (re: smelly) cheese, exotic deli meats, and elaborate summer salads usually involving olive oil and balsamic vinegar from the specialty market. Beyond these delicacies however, this crowd exudes a particular sense of self-confidence. They're the ones who laugh at all the humorous lines, making you feel kind of stupid because you don't get what's so funny. Summer after summer we watched the "wine and cheese people," one day aspiring to be them. We had to wait several years, of course, to actually be able to drink wine, but we did slowly increase in sophistication. We steadily went from Twizzlers to fresh strawberries until the day we finally broke the wine barrier. Mini bottles with screw-off lids, but wine is wine. When I moved out west, I figured Seattle would also do some type of outdoor theater and I was not disappointed. Seattle's version of SitP is a little bit different from Kansas City's. There are a couple of options for SitP: Green Stage and the Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O productions. Both companies perform in multiple outdoor venues, which means that the sets are much simpler and the crowds are slightly smaller. But Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and I've been treated to great performances both times I've been able to attend.

2008 production of Hamlet in Woodland Park

And in our own special way, Jon and I became "wine and cheese people." We did disguise our wine by putting it into a plastic water bottle, but that was mostly because we figured we'd spill and/or break a glass one. But we did hit up the specialty market before the show and picked up fancy meat and cheese. Now that's classy. This summer, I convinced a motley crew to join me for the final show of the season. Even though our view was pretty obstructed, it was still pretty neat to watch a play I read with my seniors this fall. We didn't quite attain "wine and cheese" status (I was so enthralled that I didn't even open the bottle), but still had a lovely afternoon.
2010 production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Seattle Center
The "wine and cheese people" we aspire to be