My two-year anniversary of moving to Germany came and went on August 25th without much thought on my part. Last year, it was a red-letter day on the calendar. A whole year, the first year. A big year. Maybe it’s a positive indication that life is moving on and moving fast. I didn’t have much time to take a breath and reflect back on what was, what is and what will be until now, the middle of September.
Corona closures, riots and now the wretched air from the fires fill the news headlines about Portland. Admittedly, I have stopped going down the rabbit hole of news about the rioting. Scrolling occasionally through Instagram, I see clips of acquaintances protesting and I feel so distant from my former home of thirteen years. Where would I even have fit into all that? Pictures of the wildfire smoke skies are also filling up social media. It looks like an apocalyptic nightmare. A feeling of panic, doom and hopelessness fills me up when I see the pictures and scan the numbers. Acres and acres scorched and mayhem in downtown Portland make my stomach fall and my heart race.
Corona has gutted Portland. Left and right business are shuttering, taking with them one of the biggest parts of Portland’s personality itself. When I think of Portland, I think of singular brew pubs, unique restaurants, quirky bars and cozy coffee shops. Independent bookstores small and large. Boutiques full of curios and wonders. Shops full of shoes gleaming like jewels and clothes in a rainbow of silk and cotton. Specialty weed and specialty vintage light fixtures. Every time I look up the local news, more and more small businesses have bitten the dust for good, never to be resurrected. Even restaurants like bluehour and Le Bistro Montage, in business for twenty and twenty-seven years respectively, are now history. Not just Portland, but the fragility of America itself has been revealed. I wonder if I would have survived financially in such a cutthroat economic environment, vacillating as I had been from temp job to temp job before I’d left.
My husband disparaged Portland for being what I dubbed an “adult Disneyland.” Booze, food, weed, live music, films, even strip clubs: PDX had everything needed to be a hipster-approved Vegas or a cheaper Amsterdam. Even before we’d left, he’d ask, do people only eat and drink around here? Is this just a “happy hour” economy? As if there was something wrong with a lifestyle that heavily featured going out. I don’t know, maybe it is frivolous and maybe I’m shallow because I enjoy it. Though it’s not as much of a focus in my life now, I still miss it. My friends say many of our old hang-outs are gone. Maybe in a year or two some chain restaurants will venture in to fill the empty storefronts, but who knows if and when old cool Portland will ever come back in full force.
In personal stories, a couple friends in Portland have been laid off, victims of the recent economic downturn. Even the formerly reliable unemployment system in Oregon is so taxed it’s taking longer than normal to receive benefits, aggravating an already dire situation for those who need the relief. Friends who still have their jobs and now work from home wonder what there is to even leave home for. When we video chat, the normally plucky attitudes are now shaded by something darker and more sinister. There is real fear that this shall not pass. Or if it does, what dire shape will the situation take in the aftermath? Everyone is paralyzed, seemingly unable to make significant decisions about life. There is so much we just don’t know right now.
To contrast the total collapse of many businesses in Portland, besides the nightclubs, the Stuttgart area businesses are now up and running as before. Besides the requisite hand sanitizer and masks, you can’t really tell a difference from how things were before. There were a few little bars and shops I worried might shutter, like a bar the size of a postage stamp that only serves gin, and an independent stationary store. However, both reopened in May after being closed for a couple months and have stayed open ever since.
Life is moving on. There are a few friends I reliably keep in touch with. Everyone else? I send a couple messages or emails, saying we should video chat again soon. The spaces of silence grow wider. We say, “I miss you,” less and less. Part of this dimming of connection is that I haven’t been able to visit Portland since I moved. It makes me sad, but I have a lot of company in this regard. Travel was disrupted worldwide, my pain over my canceled visit is a shared one. But I know I will arrive, when I can eventually travel to the States with confidence again, in a vastly changed landscape. Also, I accept that change is the natural order.
The nights are coming sooner and are now colder. The apples and quince are weighing down the tree boughs. I try to squeeze the last drops of sun out of the Indian summer by heading to beer gardens on any remaining sunny afternoons. It is a melancholy protest against the passing of time, the precious summers that I feel are too short. The persistent homesickness was lessened by this year none of us will ever forget.
I feel I have lost my old home. Those still living there also feel the end of an era. Bittersweet, the memories. I don’t know though if I will ever know a city like I knew Portland. We joked that by the time Portlandia became a hit, it was already a parody of a time gone by. Rent was cheap, we made art, the skyline was still open and there was hardly any traffic. I still dream of walking her streets at sunset, the spring breeze scattering the fallen cherry blossoms.