Last Saturday, May 14, was my birthday. As a child I had actually had mixed results with respect to enjoying my birthday for the ridiculous reason that it actually made me nervous. I worried about things going right on my birthday, and that in and of itself actually took away from enjoyment of the day.
But luckily I've grown out of that, and learned to take my birthday as it comes. And fortunately this year, my 33rd birthday was a particularly good one.
It started off ominously. There are very few things in life I enjoy more than sleeping in, so it was frustrating when our cat, Ruthie, started nuzzling me at 8:30am, a good couple hours before I had hoped to rise. But she was so cute falling asleep on my chest that it was almost worth waking up early for.
Later that morning Valarie and I met Paul and Rosie for brunch at The Heathman, where I dined on my favorite breakfast dish in the city: the restaurant's sublime gourmet version of a blue collar classic, corned beef hash. The potatoes were wonderfully crispy and the meat was succulent, and the whole thing was topped with a slightly tangy creme fraiche that was to die for.
In the mid-afternoon, while Valarie napped, I relaxed on our new sofa, which we waited 12 weeks to be delivered. We had had the same $50 Goodwill couch for the last eight years, and this baby is a welcome yuppie-furniture-porn fantasy.
We dined early at clarklewis, our co-favorite restaurant in town along with Bluehour. I started with an appetizer based on an old peasant-food classic: a soft boiled duck egg over a slice of artisan bread with thinly sliced porcini mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. It was one of the best things I've ever tasted. My entree was homemade pasta with a lamb ragu....mmmmm.
After dinner we went to see the Oregon Symphony, with Carlos Kalmar conducting a show called "Discovery". The first half of the show was my favorite, with Mendelsson's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Samuel Barber's Concerto for Piano + Orchestra, the latter of which included a rapturous piano solo by Englishman Peter Donohoe. The second half featured the world premiere of Oregon composer Kevin Walczyk's Corps of Discovery symphony, commissioned by the Oregon Symphony to commemorate Lewis & Clark's voyage. Valarie and I thought a lot of the music was too literal in its evocation of various stages of the journey: melodies literally seemed to go over the mountains and through the woods, or suddenly the beat would change to Native American rhythms to represent meeting indigenous tribes. It felt like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist. But the concert concluded with two pieces by one of my favorite composers: Claude Debussy. First came La Mer, which does a much better job of evoking a type of geography ("la mer" is French for "the sea") while remaining a unified whole and not resorting to such obvious evocations. Then came a surprising encore of Debussy's superior and classic Claire de Lune. We went floating out of the concert hall.
But the evening wasn't finished. We stopped home quickly for birthday cake, a Duncan Heinz sheet cake courtesy of Valarie that I found as delicious as a high-end dessert at any gourmet restaurant. Soon after I blew out the candles and chomped down a piece of cake, we were off to a party at our friend Ned's house to welcome friends Nathan and Christine, who were visiting from Hawaii.
It's amazing how I've been able to keep in touch with some of these friends at that party for so many years. There are college friends I've already lost touch with. But meanwhile I've known Nathan since high school, Paul since first grade, and Ned since preschool, and our friendships are strong as ever. It was a perfect way end my birthday -- after three more slices of cake before bed, of course.