We used to be serious travelers – and I remember how much joy and fun we’d always have, even when things didn’t go well. Ah youth.
Now-a-days, Sandee has to drag me out just to go into town – I’m embarrassed to admit it, ’cause I know that’s a bad sign. But last week, she dragged me off to Eugene (the closest thing we have to a real city!) for a 4 day adventure. And I even managed to have fun!
I’ll bet that not many of you realize how important music is in our lives (I mean San and me) – blogging is sometimes a world of second identity and bloggers often create an alternate world, consciously or not! And I recognize that I’ve never done anything to open that part of my life in this forum – but you can believe me when I tell you that music is an important part of our life.
So we determined to take advantage of the rich cultural experience available to us in the form of The Oregon Bach Festival, a yearly event happening in Eugene, our own personal little cultural goldmine. We bought our tickets (just the cheap senior offerings – fine seats in these small venues) and secured our lodging at our favorite modest little motel in midtown Eugene, The Timbers, which just happens to be located smack in the middle of walking distance of all of the venues to which we were going – and of course, we were also quite close to many of Eugene’s best restaurants – it was just a cozy, comfortable little setup at a reasonable price as well. Hard to ask for more.
When I suggest that Eugene is a cultural gem, that is due to the fact that The University of Oregon is located in the city – and many would say that Eugene IS the UofO. Interestingly, although the reputation of Eugene is closely tied to the environmental ‘green’ movement, the UofO is not Oregon’s agricultural university – that honor falls to Oregon State in Corvallis. The UofO is much more respected for its school of music – and it is the UofO which annually sponsors The Oregon Bach Festival.
Our musical adventures this trip would center on a segment of the OBF called, The Discovery Series, where maestro and OBF director, Helmuth Rilling led an in-depth look at a piece of music and the often not-so-obvious facts and background – in this case, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, one of Bach’s most dramatic creations incorporating both choral and orchestral elements, which had to be broken into 4 segments, due to its length – just so you can have an idea of what we experienced, here is a video capsule of this year’s OBF St Matthew:
But I would be remiss were I not to share with you the absolutely beautiful finale of Bach’s St. Matthew, for it is a piece of music made to bring tears to the listener – here is Karl Richter’s wonderful 1971 performance, splendidly captured on video – the heart of the finale begins about 3:15 into the video:
Ah, but as beautiful and emotional the experience, one cannot live by music alone – one must have bodily sustenance, and no adventure would be complete without a few meals – especially a drfugawe adventure. Of course, our planning included a few scheduled re-visits to old favorites, such as Cafe Zenon, strategically placed just two blocks from our motel, and positioned perfectly between venues for a too quick bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and appetizers on their delightful sidewalk – and then on to our next musical adventure.
And what did we do between our musical happenings? Well, on day one, we undertook an extensive exploration of the UofO campus, because it really is a beautiful park-like environment, and serves as Eugene’s arboretum as well – day two was devoted to shopping, and day three became the de rigueur rest day (some of us can only do so much walking). Day four? Would you believe saved for getting a new windshield installed on the SUV? Hey, life is not all fun.
Some of you know of my weakness for tastes of an Asian ilk – show me a new restaurant even only suggestive of an Asian pedigree, and I’m making an excuse to try it – this leads to some quite awful meals, but since my love of the genre is so deep, I’ve also developed very tolerant tastebuds. Well, there’s a Japanese place in Eugene named Toshi’s that’s been simply begging me to stop in for several years now – and I’ve been resisting just as hard.
Why? ‘Cause it’s a ramen joint – and I can’t get it our of my head that ramen in a restaurant is really going to taste better than grocery store ramen – I know, I know, but I’m a creature of the 10c a pac Top Ramen generation – and even if they use fresh, hand made noodles, I can’t get my old prejudice out of my head. But on this trip I forced myself – and I can’t even begin to tell you how stupid I feel for not trying Toshi’s sooner!
We walked in at 1:30, and it was still jammed – there’s my first clue. Then I looked at the huge menu board behind the counter, and I was immediately intimidated – the board is divided into 33 squares, each of which details a variation of ramen – a young Asian kid eating at the counter right below my elbow looked up and said, ‘It’s not all that confusing, there are only 3 kinds offered, the most basic on the left all the way to the most deluxe on the far right. If you’ve never had it here before, just get the original in your favorite broth, and you’ll love it.’
So, I did – and I did.
I came away from Toshi’s with a new attitude toward ramen – and lest I give you an idea I never eat the packaged stuff, I do – but it’s not Top Ramen – it’s a better option kind I got from Amazon in a weak moment (I still never use the foil pacs of flavoring – I make my own broth – but I do use the noodles). But the fresh noodles are so different that it’s really a completely new dish.
Toshi’s is really offering two basic improvements to ramen, better noodles and better broth – and then they begin to improve on the improvements. If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time thinking of Top Ramen as you eat Toshi’s – and then you’ll have a hard time justifying why it took you so long to finally try it for the first time.
I had just two thoughts when I left Toshi’s: how could something that cheap be that delicious? and when can I get back here for my next bowl? But not to worry – Eugene is a cultural magnet, and we’ll find lots of excuses to go back, again and again – and when we do, Toshi’s will be a regular stop.