I accomplished so many firsts on this trip. A lot of them were to do with food (I might have to do a separate blog post about just the food) and quite a few were to do with wildlife. I wouldn’t go as far as call hummingbirds wild, but there you go – my first wildlife encounter in the US.
Since my first morning in Leon’s house I`d been stalking humming birds. I`d never seen one before, so when one hoovered mid-air, the rapid beating of its wings producing the characteristic hum that gave the bird its name, I was startled and jumped aside. Hummingbirds beat their wings up to 50 times per second! I was mesmerized the blur of their wings and the way they seemed to disappear – suspended by the bird feeder one second and then suddenly gone, with a slight vibration of air. So I sat with my phone held high, trying to be still and my efforts paid off. I even managed to capture a hummingbird’s encounter with a bee.
I also recorded a slow-motion video of a hummingbird, which doesn’t even look slowed down at all (50 wing beats per second, remember?).
Michael finally arrived on a Friday morning, angry at the way he was treated by the Canadian custom and immigration officers. While I breezed through into the US, he was subjected to suspicion, questioned about living abroad and the contents of his medicine bag. He almost missed his flight because his tiny travel tube of toothpaste was being taken for a chemical test. Still, he made it and was now reunited with his family.
In fact, the following weekend was all about family time. On Friday we had a big family dinner followed some Macedonian dancing. And I mean, a BIG family dinner.
With Michael’s parents and siblings. The last time the family was together like this was at our wedding 5 years ago! And now we have two more people in the picture, both figuratively and literally – Eleni’s men: her husband Wilder and their son Teddy.
Chichi Michael bonding with Teddy. (Chichi is uncle in Macedonian)
On Saturday there was an even bigger dinner. A 200-people dinner. If you are wondering what it takes to feed such a crowd, the answer is a week worth of cooking. And this.
A whole. Roast. Pig. On. A. Spit. With an apple in its mouth. And its butt.
Can I just remind you we spent the last two years living in a country where’s virtually no pork available? And then to see this? I actually knew this was going to be there. I had been looking forward to this pig for a year. And here it was! Slowly spinning, sizzling and emitting crazy delicious smells.
I wasn’t the only person mesmerized by the slow spin of the spit. The smell of the roasting pig and lamb attracted many curious guests.
Nicole Ishida from Lyrebird Images (the photo above)
Even Leon himself came to check on the lamb.
As I was taking this photo, I was already contemplating the caption I would assign it. The meat masters? The spit magicians? The roasting generals? See, in Turkish it would have been easy. They have lots of words for jobs that we don’t have an equivalent of in English or Russian. Consider this: hamurcu – a person who makes the dough – not to be confused with a baker though, that’s fırıncı, so a dougher? Üzümcü – a person who grows grapes – a graper? grapist? Then there’s kebabci – a person who cooks kebabs, a Turkish dish of meat on skewers, a kebaber? So that would make these guys spitters I guess. Or porkers/lambers!
The delicious food was followed by more Macedonian dancing, which went late into the night. Even little Teddy joined in. One of the dances including dancing with a traditional round loaf of bread. Various member of the family would take tuns holding the bread and leading the dance circle before passing it onto the person to their left and making them the lead. I felt honored to be a part of this family and their traditions and beamed with joy as the loaf was passed to me.
Photo credit Craig P Markham Photography
All in all, it was a beautiful celebration with people coming from all over the country to be with Leon on this special day. It made me happy that we were able to be here as well.
The following morning we ventured into the city of Portland. Our fist destination was Saturday Market which despite the name is also open on Sundays. We wondered aroound the stalls and aside from a huge piece of fried dough, appropriately called elephant ears for its size (it took 4 of us to finish it) I bought a print of a sausage/wiener dog (even though we have a lab puppy now, dachshunds will always have a place in my heart), a baseball hat and a herb-filled seeping mask.
Shopping out of the way, we joined a group of Mike’s cousins for lunch in an oyster bar. The first time I tried oysters was when I was working in an Italian restaurant in London years ago. The manager put one oyster each on our plates as part of the special Christmas lunch. I can’t say that I was very impressed at the time. They do say oysters are an acquired taste, but I haven’t had a chance to acquire the taste until now due to either lack of funds, fresh oysters or both. Now, however, I couldn’t get enough and happily slurped Tabasco-sprinkled oysters out of their shells.
Afterwards, we split into two groups. Unsurprisingly, I ended up with the shopping group while Mike joined the bar and pool group. I was on a hunt for a dress to wear to my dear friend CeAnn’s wedding that we would be travelling to in Arizona and a sim-card for my phone. While negotiating with a sales clerk in AT&T, the vibrant hippy city of Portland showed its darker side when the clerk wouldn’t let Michael’s sister Eleni charge her phone in the store stating a store policy instated because of the fact that prisoners routinely got released from a nearby courthouse and would ‘hang about’ the store. Aside from a brief brush with the darker side of life, the shopping expedition was a success and I had the perfect dress and a beautiful Sunday behind me.
The following day we said goodbye to Michael’s sister and brother, who flew back to Nashville, and drove to Portland once more. This time we were going to a Portland institution – Powell’s Book City, the headquarters of a chain of book stores, and supposedly the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Rated by CNN as one of the ten “coolest” bookstores in the world, it occupies a whole street block and holds around 4 million books! Even though I happily read books on my Kindle and even my iPhone and the fact that we had a limited space in our luggage, the allure of real paper books was too hard to resist. Once we were inside, we set a time limit and split up.
For the first 20 minutes I just walked around, drinking it all in. I was afraid to start looking at the bookshelves to closely, convinced that I’d be lost forever. Rooms upon rooms upon rooms of BOOKS. Finally, I made a decision and headed for the dog training section. Unbeknownst to me, Michael did the same, and had we not met at the checkout, we would have ended up with two books on dog training, although when our demon puppy is involved, you can’t have too many training tips.
Ah, books, wonderful books. If I can’t have you all, at least I can take pictures of you. When I lived in England, I used to think that my perfect job would be a librarian. I would get to do all of my favorite things – talk to people, talk to people about books and read books! If there are still libraries around by the time we move to an English-speaking country, I might revisit that idea.
And so of course we left the store with a stack of books (I needed mine! They are forever trying to get me to turn off my Kindle during takeoff, and I need a book to read whenever I`m not doing anything else! And of course Michael needed to get the prequel to Ender’s Game! I might read it also!) and all that book shopping made us hungry so we stopped by another Portland institution for dinner.
Oysters again? Yes, please
Deliciousness upon deliciousness – prawns wrapped in bacon
No photos exist of the main course because it was too good not to eat right away. But that piece of Alaskan salmon stuffed with Dangenous crab will always live on in my memory.