Floating Lanterns in the City of Roses
The Perfect Date for Your 10-Year-Old Rapunzel-Loving Self
Spending the Day in Portland for a ‘Tangled’-Worthy Water Lantern Festival
June 8, Portland, Ore. — It all started in 2010 when Rapunzel and Eugene Fitzherbert gazed into each others’ eyes singing “And at last I see the light…” with hundreds of floating lanterns melting the air around them and the hearts of every pre-teen viewer in the universe.
I’d argue that to be the most magical scene of Disney Princess history. If you haven’t seen Disney’s Tangled, then, well, you need to go watch it and come read the rest of this post later.
Who can watch the lantern scene and blame Rapunzel for being so completely enchanted by them? Who can watch that scene and not want to see the floating lights for themselves? Well, certainly not this wide and slightly teary-eyed 10-year-old girl.
Fast forward a decade and here I am, toes in the water, the most blonde I’ve ever had in my hair, getting my own Tangled moment in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park version of the lantern festival.
We spent the day leading up to the event scampering around Southeast Portland in true Rapunzel-fresh-out-of-the-tower fashion. My boyfriend, Alex, has been cooped up in finals-prep at Oregon State in a handful of math classes the names of which I can’t even pronounce, and I’ve been spending every day of the past two months either with wires hooked up to my brain or sleeping off treatments. We were both excited to welcome the adventure.
I wore a pair of velvet culottes I recently made with metal zip pockets, a raspberry beret, small-net tights, a cropped black sweater, and my beloved TUK platform shoes. Alex even pulled out his cowboy boots for the occasion.
The West side of the city was pretty hectic and full with Rose-festival activities so we started in one of the mini rose parks near Hawthorne Blvd to avoid the masses. We discovered it when I was living in Portland last year because it’s just down the street from the delicious but often crowded Cartopia food pod. We liked getting a treat from the food trucks and taking it down to a bench in the garden to escape the noise and enjoy the flowers.
Next we wandered down Hawthorn to take in the vintage shops and record stores. We explored the retro fashions of Magpie Vintage before heading over to Clinton Street’s truly vintage collection at Xtabay. Alex tried on a Charlie Chaplin style Bowler hat but I couldn’t quite talk him into the purple bell bottoms. We raided Magpie’s sunglass tree where I nearly bonded with a massive pair of perfectly round 60’s sunnies and Alex channeled his inner Elton John in a square pair of orange-tint plastics. Xtabay was brimming with airy summer prints and cottons with the typical-to-them 50’s prom dresses tucked away. My favorite was a flowy bias-cut dress in brown paisley from the seventies that one could spend an entire summer living in.
We checked in at the Water Lantern Festival around 6 p.m. and wasted no time in making our way to inspect the food-truck line up for the night. There were tacos, tri-tip, gyros, crepes, steamed buns, and a few other standard fair options. We went with a traditional lamb Gyro and a Vietnamese steamed bun with beef brisket and kimchee from Nom Nom. The D.J. was set up in the middle of the park between the carts and the water. He played a variety of songs from the Lumineers to Luke Bryan to the Beatles.
There were still a few hours before sundown, so we decided to walk a few blocks to our favorite ice cream parlor, 50 Licks, where they make their small batch custard ice cream from flavors such as Thai Rise, Lavender and Honey, and Huarache. You can just taste the waffle cones sizzling on the iron when you walk in the door. If you like Chocolate, you’ll never taste anything MORE chocolate than their signature '“Chocolate AF” flavor. It knocks Alex out every time — I almost had to carry him back to the park. Once there, found hundreds of people lined up at every food truck. We were glad we had taken the opportunity to eat as early as we did.
Next we opened our swag bags to find our lantern kits and a marker for decorating. Alex created a self portrait on one side, a mooing duck on another,(there wasn’t enough room in the speech bubble for “quack” so he settled for “moo”), and some trees with a fancy math equation on the third side. He wrote his name across the fourth side and then remembered we were on a romantic date so he added my name on there too. Nice job, Alex.
Everyone gathered around the water as the sun started to set. People of all ages cradled their lanterns with various decorations, quotes, and memorials scribbled across the rice paper sides, and one by one they knelt to gently boost their little vessels into the water. Before we knew it the sky was completey dark, save for a tiny sliver of a recent moon and the entire pond was alight with hundreds of lanterns gently rocking in the breeze to the soft beat of the music. The D.J. even played the song I See the Light from the movie, Tangled. My day was made.
There were at least 3,000 people at the event. Each one had a lantern and a story and each one was represented in colorful clusters of lights on the water. You couldn’t look out over the water without feeling an acute awareness of that representation under your ribcage.
For me, the festival was about living out a childhood dream pitched to me by the makers of a kid movie, but for many it was about letting go of or remembering something that’s been lost to them. It was an honor to share a piece of that process with strangers and consider some of the things in our own lives that could use some letting go of and/or remembering.
It was a light show of lives, sparkling in the water and lighting up the faces of their people on the shoreline. It was a lingering glow of memories and possibilities spun into a real non-Disney world where people go through hard times but make the most of it by finding what’s important. It was raw and real with just enough magic sparkling on the water as I sat next to my own sweet brown-eyed Eugene Fitzherbert.