If you could peel the roof off Portland and get an unimpeded bird's-eye view, you'd see some odd goings-on. Subcultures spring up here like mushrooms. We live in a city of people with secret identities: gamers, strippers, artists, bikers, punk rockers, Zoobombers and soapbox derby racers, to name a few.
But you might never know these mini-worlds exist until their inhabitants get together to celebrate publicly, as pagans and pirates both did recently in Portland.
The recent Portland Pagan Pride festival might as well have been a yoga workshop. A dozen people in a Portland State University student union room wore normal street clothes and sat meditating, arms out in a zombie stance, nothing noticeably bizarre about them. A craft show in a nearby room displayed homemade candles and dreamcatchers, same as every craft show.
"When I chose paganism as my religion 15 years ago," says event organizer Anne Lenzi, "almost everyone was underground, and the general consensus was that if we kept a low profile, no one would hurt us. As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I can say with absolute certainty that keeping quiet about religion will not keep you safe. When we remained hidden, it fostered all sorts of rumors about what pagans are or what they do.
"The truth is that pagans are pretty normal people, with jobs, kids and mortgages," Lenzi says.
At least 100 people attended the one-day event Sept. 9, which gathered 150 pounds of food for Esther's Pantry, an organization that provides food to people living with AIDS. There was a scavenger hunt for kids based on knowledge of Oregon history and geology. And there were belly dancers.
Belly dancers also turned up at last Saturday's Portland Pirate Festival. The event, at Cathedral Park in St. Johns, drew at least 2,000 people, half in pirate getup. There were goth pirates, Scottish pirates, Nordic-looking Viking pirates, even a skater-boy pirate. There was a wild-looking Far East pirate with a skinny black mustache spidering down his face. There were half-assed Margaritaville pirates, in shorts, T-shirts and head-kerchiefs with stuffed parrots on their shoulders. And there were a lot of buxom pirate wenches. There was pirate music courtesy of Captain Bogg & Salty, and in front of a replica tall ship, the Lynx, a band of pirates vanquished enemies with black-powder guns and cannon fire.
Pagans and pirates agree that Portland's live-and-let-live culture attracts like minds who are open to pursuits that might be out of the mainstream in Cincinnati or Dallas.
"It's always been this way," says Kevin Hendrickson, a.k.a. First Mate McGraw of Captain Bogg & Salty. "I grew up and went to college here. There've always been offbeat little groups doing things. It's an attractive place to live. It at least used to be an affordable place to live, which attracted people wanting to live an artist kind of lifestyle. "
Lenzi has a similar view. "The overall atmosphere of Portland is basically, 'Do whatever you want, just don't bother anyone else,'" Lenzi says, "which is pretty conducive to any group that is a bit outside the mainstream."
To learn more about pagans, go to pdxpaganpride.org. For pirates, visit portlandpiratefestival.com.