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Thanks to all those who showed up at my "MNB Parties in Portlandia" event earlier this week. (At right, you'll see a picture of just some of those who came by.)

There was one thing I was struck by - the total devotion almost all these folks have to the Pacific Northwest. A number of folks told me that at various times in their careers, they'd had the opportunity to go elsewhere. Sometimes they did, but they returned. And sometimes, they just stayed, because they cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Boy, do I get that.

This place just gets in your blood.

I've been a Starbucks addict for a long time,but I got seduced away this week by the Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a fabulous place on Third and Pine, where they have the most amazing coffee and a laid back vibe that I've found to be totally captivating. I've developed this routine - I go jogging in the morning on the Westside Riverwalk, then go back to the apartment up by Portland State for a shower and change, and then pull on my backpack (I never used one until I got here) and walk down to Stumptown, where I drink coffee and read or correct papers from my students.

It's heaven.

Last night, I had an amazing dinner at a place called Pok Pok on the city's east side. We started with Chicken Wings served in Vietnamese Fish Sauce, which were sweet and spicy and absolutely phenomenal. We then moved on to lightly fried catfish medallions served over noodles, and then spicy boar collar meat that was rubbed with garlic and served in this amazing knock-your-socks off sauce. Unbelievable. I washed it down with an ale called As Sweet As Pacific from the Good Life Brewing Co. in Bend, Oregon, that was absolutely perfect.

For dessert, we had ice cream from Salt & Straw, this incredibly popular spot that serves all sorts of off-the-wall concoctions. My choice was Chevre Ice Cream with Marionberry Habanero Jam ... and let me tell you, it was extraordinary.

I get shivers just thinking about it.

Onto other things...

I loved The Dark Knight Rises. Loved it. I've never been able to warm up the Marvel superhero movies, because they just seem so inconsequential to me. But The Dark Night Rises is filled with consequence, as director Christopher Nolan completes the trilogy of Batman movies he started with Batman Begins.

I don't want to overstate the issue here; in the end, it is still about a guy who battles criminals while wearing a cape and rodent mask. But there is no question that Batman is an important part of American mythology, and Nolan is deeply aware of it.

Ironically, I think, The Dark Knight Rises isn't really about Batman at all. it is really about Bruce Wayne, played with tortured excellence by Christian Bale. The movie is about despair and redemption, about pain and survival, and ultimately about paying the price for the decisions you make in life.

Operatic at times, the movie never drags in the almost three hours that it takes to unfold. It is exciting, well-paced, nicely acted (especially by Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, who is one of those actors who makes any movie better just by being in it), and a fitting conclusion to what I think has been an extraordinary series of movies that transcend the genre.

The reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, just seems like a trifle when compared to The Dark Night Rises. To me, despite some nice performances and production values, there just seems like no reason for it to exist other than to make money for the studio. I feel like we've seen it before and will see it again, and I just don't care.

As much as I loved Midnight In Paris, I have to admit that Woody Allen's new movie, To Rome With Love, is a disappointment. Rather than seeming cinematic, it feels like he has adapted four different short story ideas for the screen, and they somehow don't gel. I liked some of the performances - especially Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, and Allen himself - but it just didn't work for me.

That said, I love the idea that even in his seventies, Woody Allen continues to make a movie a year. There are hits and misses, but it is the work ethic and constancy that I most admire.

That's it for this week. have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Fins Up!
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