Let’s Go Flaneuring in Portland, Oregon

Today’s Flaneuring post takes us through Portland, Oregon with Alexis Putnam. While she walks and takes note, she goes through all the senses so we can enjoy the neighborhood with her, reminiscing now that December has struck with a vengeance, about Halloween and crunchy leaves.

I go walking at night. In early October it is not yet cold, and everything is dusty and overgrown – the result of a long, dry summer.


I think, “Welcome to Portland, Oregon.” Home of unusual donut flavors and flocks of food carts, light-rail trains and bicycles, ironic mustaches and fancy espresso – we are literate, educated, hippie or hipster depending on the generation, communally oriented but fiercely independent, elitist with a scruffy beard, mostly white and continually gentrifying, progressive, hypocritical, environmentally sustainable, fond of bacon and craft beer. Portlandia, a television show comprised of comic sketches detailing the absurdities of our micro-cultures, is, at times, startlingly accurate.

But my particular neighborhood is less trendy, less remarkable. Less suitable for a show on cable TV. A few blocks east is a seedy strip of convenience stores, pawn shops, medical marijuana dispensaries, used car lots. It’s an area known for prostitution and human trafficking and meth addicts on bicycles recklessly crossing traffic. To the north sits a large park and busy community center with expansive windows and a pool. Sometimes there is free lunch at the park in the summer, and in general, it is equally convenient for families with small kids in need of a playground and homeless wanderers in need of a tree to lie under. Toward the west, a comfortable middle class poverty commingles with casual, moderate wealth. There’s enough elbow room for eccentricities to settle in next to cliches and convention.

I see Halloween decorations cropping up under streetlights, and the remnants of summer glory wilting in the gardens – basil, green beans, tomatillos, grapes, lavender, peppers, kale. Though it’s dark, I know the lawns I pass are brown, and the tall, tall black trees are actually evergreen. I see shadows of rusty clotheslines, ghostly blue solar powered LED garden lights, greenish fluorescent bulbs in porch lights, and red plastic toys scattered behind low fences. Oaks, maples and birches swell huge overhead with bright orange and yellow leaves.

Tomorrow is garbage day, and rows of identical waste bins stand guard, four to a house: huge green and blue roll carts for yard waste/compost and recycling, modest green cans for trash, small yellow boxes for glass.

A raccoon family scurries across the road a few blocks ahead. A cat slinks by, regarding me suspiciously. But the crows and squirrels that dominate the neighborhood during daylight are absent, sleeping who knows where.

I feel leaves crumple and slide beneath my feet, while acorns and maple whirligigs pop and crunch. I run my fingers along a low section of gritty steel cyclone fencing – ping!ping!ping! and then reach up to grasp at an impressive crop of banana leaves. They are smooth like thick, cool vinyl.

I eat “locally” as a general philosophy (local being within 50, 100, 1000 miles?), but in this season of harvest, my neighborhood is truly a horn of plenty. My kids love to find things to munch on, so on morning walks we forage hawthorn berries and rose hips, rosemary sprigs, red clover, wild growing mint, and plums and blackberries in alleyways. Generous neighbors have offered cherry tomatoes, raspberries, chard, nasturtium flowers. Beyond these fresh offerings, should one need sustenance, on the corner there is a small family-owned bakery, and a dive bar my husband and I have patronized exactly once.

I hear snippets of conversation leaking out of doors and windows, and restless dogs behind hedges. The urgent voice of a TV advertiser floats through venetian blinds, and productive hens squawk and chatter from someone’s backyard as they settle in to roost for the evening. Most people seem to be eating dinner and slowing down before bed. A siren slices through the general hush, and I stiffen. Several weeks ago a man was fatally shot in his own home, while being robbed – just a few blocks away. They said it was the 19th homicide of the year in Portland. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

I smell patchouli and mold and tropical air from dryer vents – warm and wet and sweet. I bend to sniff a rose – there are so many still in bloom! But the scent of dying foliage hints at coming decay. Cigarette and pot smoke drifts fragrantly across my path from time to time, and I cross a busier road, breathing in exhaust from cars, trucks, motorcycles.

I sense the rains coming to wash much of this away: mild, endless, gray and wet, lasting 7 or 8 months. When I round the corner, my unremarkable house is waiting, tucked under a mammoth southern pine tree. I am home.

Alexis lives in Portland, OR with her family and enjoys candy, naps, and vacations. She occasionally blogs at: www.minedlikeadiamond.com

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Battambang, Cambodia

Today we are flaneuring through Battambang in Cambodia with Allison Smith. I like saying that name. Battambang. Battambang. I also love how Allison reflects on returning to the city and seeing it again, fresh.

This is Battambang.

It’s a small city in northwestern Cambodia where I lived for a year, though I moved away a few months ago. Like so many people around the world, I was lured to the big city by the promise of better job opportunities and restaurants open later than 8pm.

Now I live in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, but I visit Battambang often, and this is the street I spend much of my time on: Street 1 1/2.

Shopfront homes line the road, narrow buildings where families live upstairs and have shops downstairs, opening out onto the street. There are cars parked along the street, signs of increasing disposable wealth in Cambodia. Young children recite the alphabet — gau, kau, go, ko — at lessons held in a home. Tour groups pass on mountain bikes, wearing helmets and sweating. Mobile food carts selling ice cream or noodles go by. An art gallery opens and closes at seemingly arbitrary times. Power outages strike without warning, bringing the whirring fans to a halt and, even more upsettingly, cutting people off from wi-fi access.

When it’s sunny, women drive by on motorbikes wearing long sleeves to protect their skin from getting darker, no matter how hot it is. Cats sunbathe on the tin roofs and geckos scurry along the walls. When it’s raining, the street floods and cockroaches scuttle inside, searching for higher ground. Miraculously, the torrential showers never seem to dislodge the power lines, which criss-cross the street in a pattern right at home in a modern abstract painting.

On Street 1 1/2, I run into everyone I know. The Australian NGO workers, the Cambodian artists, the French teachers and everyone else. Sometimes the absences are more noticeable than the presences; the foreign community in Battambang is transient, with people leaving all the time.

When I last visited, I ran into a friend who had just returned from five weeks in Australia. He said Cambodia was different than when he left. I looked at the street we were on and felt the same about Battambang.

It’s cliché to personify cities, but it’s also understandable, given the complex and fragile relationships we have with them. Returning to a city after time away is like seeing a friend after a long separation: they’re familiar but different, and even the small changes are disorienting. A friend’s new hair colour means updating your mental image of what they look like; a favourite restaurant closing in a city means finding a new place to gather with friends on a Tuesday night.

When I visited, I could see all the small changes to the city. The coffee shop at the corner didn’t rent bikes anymore, though the staff let me borrow theirs. There were few tourists, and the tables outside the restaurant at the end of the street were empty. Hotels were being constructed and a new arts house was hosting a party that weekend.

This street was drier than the same time the previous year, when the flooding was so severe the highway from Battambang to Phnom Penh was impassable and the river running through Battambang nearly overflowed. In contrast, there’s been too little rain this “rainy” season. The drought will drive many rice farmers to Thailand to make ends meet, leaving their families behind in Cambodia.


But though some things had changed, much was still the same. There was a power outage Sunday morning, geckos still ran past my feet, and motorbikes whizzed past, the women wearing long sleeves.

The changes were cosmetic, like a haircut. Battambang was still the same and still familiar, like an old friend.

Allison Jane Smith is a writer and communications professional. She is a contributor to Beacon and has had her work featured for ONE, Matador and the Ampersand Review, among others. She currently lives in Cambodia, where she drinks a lot of coconut water and even more iced coffee. For more Allison, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Mexico City

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Samantha Loesch. Feel the refreshing rain fall as she takes us through her neighborhood in Mexico City and reveals the source of her hope.

I spend a lot of time on the roof of my apartment. From there, laid out in front of me is a metropolis called “The City of Hope” . . . maybe that’s why thousands flock here each year, pushing the greater population of the city closer and closer to 25 million . . . for hope.

During reprieves from the season’s persistent rain and hail, I mount the final stairs to the top of the building. Standing at over 7,000 feet above sea level, the short journey always leaves me short of breath. I take several gulps of the brisk air that smacks against my cheeks before making my way towards the edge.  Since living under the smoggy, polluted skies, I’ve come to appreciate the rain. It freshens the air and tears down the thick, low hanging curtains over the valley that hide the surrounding mountains from view. I take in another mouthful, knowing it won’t be much longer until the soot returns and dirties the inside of my nose and ears.  Beneath my feet, the red painted rooftop bakes in the sun. My skin warms as I linger and I peel off one of the extra layers I always seem to be wearing. And finally, I look out.

There’s something about being so far above the traffic jammed streets that helps me see more clearly and make sense of their chaotic melody. A chorus of car horns plays alongside the sing-songy chatter of the romantic language that I work so diligently to master. Rising above are the calls from young men selling tamales from their bicycles, the swift ringing of a hand-bell to signal garbage pick-up, and the long whistle of a passing camote cart. From around the corner, the wail of a lone saxophone grows as it serenades those sitting at the restaurants’ outdoor tables.

mexico city

The wind picks up, lifting and mixing the scents from those same restaurants and food stands. Just several doors down, a stern woman presses fresh tortillas through an old machine, depositing tall stacks into thin, plastic bags for the line of people crowding the sidewalk. Some are mothers, holding the hands of their uniformed children with perfectly gelled hair returning from another day of school. Others are construction workers with worn boots and dirt stained pants from the building project down the street. Several steaming kilos will make their way to my corner store. Other stacks will be used to catch seasoned, flame-licked pork cut away from a pineapple-topped trompo.

I pull my eyes up, away from the views that so captivate me, to look towards the sky. The first raindrop splashes off the tip of my nose as dense, dusty blue clouds quickly tumble closer, choking out the light from the setting sun. The approaching darkness reminds me of the deep hurt and darkness that scars my city: results of violence, mistrust, and injustice. I’ve witnessed it and mourned it, but I also celebrate the hope that exists in spite of it.

When I see young girls standing on dimly lit street corners, waiting to be chosen out of a line-up by men behind tinted car windows, I can have hope.  When I pick up my phone to read urgent notices about disappearances, deaths, and demonstrations, I can have hope.  When the world around me looks broken and all feels hopeless, I can yet have hope.

People are being drawn to this city for a glimpse of that hope; but I came because I already have it. I serve a God who is hope; a God who raises beauty up out of ashes, grants gladness in the place of mourning, gives liberty to captives, and offers praise to those of a faint spirit. He is the One I call out to; He is what the city is desperately longing for and only He can fill its deepest needs.

So as I stand here on my rooftop, looking out over a broken city, I can see beauty – because I see Hope.

Samantha lives in the center of Mexico City and works with an EFCA ReachGlobal team to bring the hope of the gospel to her community and city. One of the team’s initiatives is the restoration of under-aged and abused women rescued out of human trafficking. She is passionate about living intentionally within her community, developing discipleship relationships with young ladies, and being a continual learner of the culture (especially when that involves tacos or pozole). Samantha enjoys photography and the way it acts as an invitation for others to join into her story and challenges her to find beauty in crowded city streets…or from rooftops.

Blog:  http://www.throughlifeandlens.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaLoeschInMexicoCity?ref=hl



Let’s Go Flaneuring in Haiti

Today we are flaneuring with Ruth Hersey in Haiti. Enjoy! I have to say I love one photo in particular, I think you’ll be able to guess which.

I step out of my gate and try to look at my street with fresh eyes.  I’ve lived in my house for 13 years, and the general area for longer than that, so each sight has layers of memories.

Sure, the rocky road is peaceful now, but remember that time protesters were burning tires right in front of the gate?They raise chickens at that house for cockfights.  The cockfighting ring used to be right there, but they knocked it down to make room for the house next door.  Come to think of it, there used to be a lot of colorful characters that hung out there; probably that move raised the general tone of the area.

That wall is a second attempt; the first one fell right down, into the ravine.  The neighbors pulled out chairs and watched while the owner worked on pulling his truck up the side of the hill!

I remember running down this road at 5 PM the afternoon of the earthquake, seeing fear in every face.  I remember seeing people sleeping in the streets because they didn’t trust that their houses wouldn’t collapse on them.

I remember when those houses down there were new; a friend used to call that area Miami because of the paved streets and because the houses were so big.  Also, because she hadn’t spent much time in Miami.

It’s a mostly quiet residential neighborhood.  Quiet except when someone’s having a party, or when dogs or roosters chorus at all hours.  Quiet except when there are gunshots, either rejoicing at someone’s soccer goal or scaring off intruders.  Quiet except for the calls of merchants, selling their wares from buckets or baskets on their heads, describing loudly what they have today.

Everyone in my neighborhood lives behind walls.  The walls have barbed wire or broken bottles across the top.  The houses have dogs.  Some have security guards with guns.

And yet, the people you meet are friendly.  They greet me, and though they call out “Blan,” it’s not usually insulting, but almost informationally, as a way of pointing out to me, as though I’d forgotten, that I’m a foreigner with white skin.  People are selling kitchen equipment, clothes, notebooks for school, soap, matches.  Some practice their English on me.  Others ask for money.

There’s a school, a government building, a church; there are chickens, goats, and stray dogs; there’s the chicken man, whose cooking we sometimes buy for dinner on the way home; there’s a lady selling candy and sodas.  Sometimes there’s a dead rat in the road; sometimes there’s a vehicle shaped like a rat belonging to the exterminators.  There are some abandoned cars and there’s a carwash.  There’s a spot where kids regularly play soccer in the middle of the road.  There are shoeshine men and people carrying brooms on their heads.  There’s a corner bar.  On New Year’s Day, the air is fragrant with pumpkin soup, the traditional celebratory meal.

rat car
I never feel unsafe walking in my neighborhood.  Even at the height of the kidnapping time, it felt fine.  After the earthquake my husband showed around a journalist from a major publication who was horrified to be out on foot because her editors had told her it was much too dangerous.  It wasn’t, he told her.

There’s a ravine full of trash.  When water pipes break in the streets (and they often do), people come from everywhere with buckets.  See that transformer?  We got together with our neighbors to buy it, because the city power company wasn’t going to replace or fix the one they had issued us, without which we couldn’t get their service.

From first light until well after dark, there’s always something going on in my neighborhood.  Maybe it’s a domestic squabble, maybe a teenager is going by way too fast on his ATV, maybe children in uniform are hurrying to or from school.  On Saturdays, the flower merchant brings a fresh bouquet to my door.  One morning last week, there was a fire burning in the center of the street, but it was just someone’s trash, not protesters.

Who am I kidding?  I can’t look with fresh eyes.  But I can look with amused eyes, curious eyes, loving eyes.  Lakay se lakay, home is home, they say in Kreyol.  This street, this neighborhood, this is home.

Ruth has spent 18 years in Haiti.  She is married with two children, both born in Haiti, and she teaches seventh and eighth graders at an international Christian school.  She blogs, mostly about books and poetry, at www.thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in the Eternal Spring City

Today’s Let’s Go Flaneuring post comes from a city nicknamed the Eternal Spring City. Take a walk with Jessica Bretz around her temporary and fascinating corner of the world. I have to confess I’m a bit jealous of her average temperatures and I love seeing the contrast of street side vendors and brand name stores. Enjoy!

How do I explain that my city won’t always be my city?

Its temporary…..

My roots are normally planted in Minnesota, surrounded by cornfields, pine trees and long country roads, the perfect rural setting. In the winter snow heavily blankets the ground and the temperatures are bitterly cold.  I run on these country roads through snow, rain and sunshine, putting in the miles, my feet pounding the pavement.

But I am not there.

I am here, in a city half way across the world. An ocean and a landmass separates me from my family as I am sole caretaker of a special needs orphan, while her foster family is in the states, getting much needed surgery for their youngest.

I am only here till January but when my plane finally touched down in this far east Asian city I felt like I was home.

In a way I was.

I had lived here before for a short eight months, leaving a piece of my heart deeply buried in the amazing food and the friendships I had formed.

The city is nicknamed the city of Eternal Spring where the average temperature is seventy degrees for most of the year. A small city by the country’s standard yet it seems huge to this rural Minnesota girl. Sky scrapers are everywhere and there are more being built, threatening to block my view of the mountains that surround the city.

Yet, the city hasn’t totally become  modernized. There are still little squattie buildings, barely seven stories, grime slowly creeping from the top down.

I live in a large building in a two story apartment. From my front window I have a beautiful view of one of the ring roads that lap the city. I can sit at the dining room table sipping coffee and observe the traffic on the two story road, the pavement stacked like children’s building blocks. At night one can behold a myriad of lights all different colors, signs declaring in characters each building’s name. From the opposite side of the apartment where my room is located, I get a view of the sunset and at night a gorgeous access to the moon.

To get out of my complex I must walk down a long avenue, trees on both sides, apartments on my left and on my right a building that’s use is still unknown to me. If I hang a right, walking along the ring road, I will come to a short tunnel, full of vendors sitting with their open vans. They sell mostly fruit and vegetables and an occasional van will be selling accessories for the electric scooters that are everywhere. If I keep going, there is a Walmart, similar to our American ones, yet it still feels perfectly Asian, with live fish, crabs and frogs in the meat section.

asian walmartIf I walk to the left, there is a Carrefore and a KFC housed in several tall buildings decorated with rectangles of red, green, orange and yellow. At night they light up, the lights running up and down the tall buildings. Across the ring road is a market  where I buy my vegetables, eggs, candy and fruit. The market is inside a building framed on the outside by stores. Inside there are tables and tables, covered with vegetables and meat. The sides of the room framed with little inset shops selling rice, spices, breads, and cooked duck.  The first time I came to this country, I almost puked at the smells, the churning in my stomach from a bug I picked up not helping matters. Now I hardly notice the smells and enjoy walking by the vendors with fresh fish, staring fascinated at the vendor who is cutting up live eel with his bare hands.

The city is both dirty and yet beautiful, trees are everywhere, flowers line the streets. At night trash litters the sidewalks  but instead of using trucks to clean, people from a certain ethnic group  sweep the streets and sidewalks.

How do I explain in words why I love this city? Why I enjoy walking the cracked sidewalks, the tiles threatening to shift under your feet when it rains.

Maybe its because I got to come back a second time and experience afresh all the things I missed when I left. Many of those things I have just described.

Maybe its because the second time my eyes are opened just that much more to the little things, the little beauties that are unique to this city.

Maybe its because I get to see friends that I have made, and enjoy anew relationships that were formed.

Whatever the reason, I know when I must leave, yet another piece of my heart will lie buried in this Eternal Spring city.

jessica bretzJessica normally lives in rural small town Minnesota, where she enjoys running, reading, and quilting. She also enjoys traveling and currently she lives in Asia loving on a special needs orphan. You can read more about her life on www.mylovelypatchworklife.wordpress.com

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