We’ve thought from time to time about moving to Portland, Oregon. It’s a famously nice place, and it would be very convenient for my work with the Rose City Chamber Orchestra, who are based here, and the OES which is not exactly next door, but Portland is the nearest major city.

However all of those rational reasons seemed insignificant compared to the simple shock to my senses when I finally escaped the clutches of the travel industry yesterday afternoon on my arrival here. The sheer joy of being in a place that smelled nice and looked good was almost more than my frayed nerves could take.

No need to sigh sympathetically here, but we finished the session with the BBC on Tuesday evening just in time for us to grab a quick celebratory drink before racing home so I could pack. My bus from Cardiff to Heathrow left at 1:50 AM, which meant leaving home at 1:15. Yuck! Given that the whole previous week had been a bit of a mad dash and that Tuesday’s work on the Nielsen was especially grueling (albeit rewarding!), I felt nothing short of awful as I began my journey.

Of course busses, even those of the slightly posher variety which carry the jet-set crowd to and from the airport, seem all to have a very specific smell in common. Yes, that one…. In all of bussing’s long history, they’ve been unable or unwilling to shield us from that smell.

Then Heathrow…. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Heathrow airport is a place humans should be in at all. I can’t think of a single good architectural or design choice that has been made there. It’s claustrophobic, airless, noisy, dark, and feels like a prison. People should not be expected to stand in line for a half hour before anyone from the airline shows up, which happened. There’s really nothing like showing up at 5 AM to a line of hundreds of people to sour your mood.

One other thing that sours my mood- self check in kiosks. Surely these things are a terrorist’s best friend. More to the point, they always seem to freeze or crash or to eat your passport, so the airline still has to have a surly staff member stood next to each one telling the poor passenger who to get their seat assignment.

After Heathrow, O’Hare seemed like an oasis of calm. Actually it was hell, just a better designed hell. It was one of those United Airlines days, where all flights are delayed because of “weather,” when it’s not raining, not foggy, there’s no lightening, no wind and no atmospheric disturbance of any kind.  I was lucky- I got my flight rebooked at the international arrivals desk, where I only waited a minute or two. At the main United terminal, it was lines of hundreds and hundreds of people. One lady ran over another lady and left her bleeding on the floor with a broken nose. It’s amazing how people will start to behave if you pen them in like animals at the slaughterhouse.

Anyway, this is not a travel horror story. I got here, only 3 hours late, and so did all of my luggage. I can’t complain.
The point is that here in Portland they took me on the shuttle to pick up my rental car, and when I got to the parking lot, I could smell pine trees and fresh-cut grass. I could have cried. Even around the airport, there is landscaping and green space. You can see out of the city and into the mountains. After spending so much time in places where human well-being is treated as a joke, it’s amazing to find yourself in a city which takes such pride in being a healthy and pleasant place to live. The leaves are changing, and the streets are alive with color everywhere. People actually seem happier here. I’m off now to have the best cup of coffee money can buy before heading off to rehearsal in Pendleton. It makes a difference!

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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