Friday, January 25, 2008

My Night of Cultural Riches

I started taking this belly dance class at our local rec center (the Taj Mahal of rec centers). My teacher's name is Ruby and she's a lovely elderly, yet ageless, lady who encourages us to "shake it, ladies," with a big smile on her face. She is the definition of "lovable." Ruby hosts some belly dance nights around the area, so I drove into Portland last night to partake.

This happened at Pasha Restaurant downtown--live music featuring an amazing two-man band, who played all manner of Persian, Arab, Turkish and Afghanistan music, with merely some handdrums and a few synthesizers that sounded like Arab flutes. The dancers were really good. First up was a scientist who had been studying dance for years. She resembled an intelligent, graceful Paris Hilton, if your mind can go there. And her sparkly brown costume mesmerized. Next was a Liza Minelli look-alike who opted for more traditional style undulations. She was more modestly attired in brilliant pinks, sea-foams and burgandies. Belly dance is never subtle. My favorite was a Dawn-doll apparition named Rena who spun so rapidly for so long that it looked physically impossible, all the while with a little-girl smile pasted on her face. Instead of falling over, she did rapid-fire hip drops to an insanely pulsing drumbeat, then twirled a giant green scarf in all sorts of configurations. She was like a mid-western belly dancing cheer leader--very athletic. After each performance, the girls would dance through the audience for tips. It felt very strange to stuff a folded-up dollar in a girl's sequined hip strap. And since I was alone--it was slightly lecherous in tone. But belly dance is not seedy--not at all--it's way classier than many artforms I've partaken in. I just didn't want to spend too much money before I headed to...

Powell's City of Books which is so aptly named. You need a really big color-coded map to work this store, and it's still overwhelming. It's book heaven. Keith needed me to pick up a gift for his friend, Fast Company, a memoir of riding motorcycles in Italy with gay motorcycle-marketing overtones. Keith says it's well-written. I also picked up Snake Hips by Anne Thomas Soffee. Another memoir; this one's about how Anne got over a terrible break-up with yet another bad boyfriend through belly dance. She's a very funny writer and this book is an enjoyable exploration of her half-Lebanese roots, her struggle with sobriety, several botched attempts at dating middle-eastern men, and the intense, yet nurturing world of belly dance. Her first book is Nerd Girl Rocks Paradise City--about her attempt to make it as a hair-metal journalist on the cusp of the grunge rock cultural take-over. Hapless hopeless hilarity: worth the read.

While stumbling around Powell's, I came upon the gallery where Autumn de Wilde's Elliot Smith photographs were on display. Best were the quotes alongside the photos of Elliott looking pensive and unassuming within an urban landscape. Fellow musicians and friends tell of his love of all sorts of music, from pop to country-&-western. He had all sorts of interests during the indie 90s when it was totally uncool to admit to liking certain aspects of Chicago, or Rush, or George Jones. But Elliott liked little bits and pieces of musical ephemera, often tuning out his friends to listen more closely to a car radio's top-40 selection. He was before his time

On the way out, I picked up a flier for Super Trash, the 72-hour fest at the Bagdad Theater--a very cool old movie house that's now a brew-pub/retro-theater. February 1st through 3rd will feature such greats as Return of the Dragon, Night of the Living Dead, Psych Out and (heh) Road House, starring the indominatble Patrick Swayze. There's oh-so-much more, of course. Also on the bill is Tease-O-Rama, a talk-show format which will feature Sky Saxon, singer-songwriter of The Seeds (and featured in Psych Out). I have a slight connection with Sky. Dubious, but a connection nonetheless.

I finished up the my cultural whirlwind today by watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (once more for the Harry juggernaut: great effects alongside a barely comprehensible adaptation of a good book). Then I took Jackson to his school's movie night, where we saw Peter Pan, which I haven't seen since I was about his age (5 or 6, something like that). Despite an unfortunately very un-p.c. native American scenario; awesome Disney film. I loved the flying scenes (loved how Wendy had to flap her arms to get around and could never quite catch up with Peter--very dream-like). Loved the action--so many funny physical movements and slapstick (emphasis on "slap"). Anything featuring the crocodile was automatically funny, as was Mr. Smee. In fact, the crocodile might be the best animated animal ever (I haven't seen Ratatouille yet, so I'll withold judgment). And Tinker Bell, that jealous wench, darts around like a pixie on another kind of dust. Jackson squeeeed with laughter, causing many sedate little girls to look at him increduously. Worth noting was the fact that all the kids in the school library were either wearing their pajamas, or dressed like characters from the film, so we were surrounded by pirates, fairies, pillows and blankets--perhaps the best way to see a film. Jackson knows how to have a good time. And now, thanks to my ridiculous drive for cultural enrichment, so do I.

photo reference: Fremont Bridge by PhotoInference

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