A Trip to Ashland
July 25, 2011
Regular readers will realize this column gets more interesting when I have experiences that are not quotidian. Driving to Ashland, OR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was once a regular part of my life (when I was a boy, 1962-1970), but hadn't been for decades. When my daughters were living at home, they spent time every year with my parents in Oregon, and my mother took them regularly to Ashland, where I sometimes drove up from Orinda to pick them up. My younger daughter, R, probably went for the last time in 1996 or 1997, so it's been a while for her.
She wanted to go to Ashland again this summer, and I said yes. We made the long six-hour drive, and checked in at the Windmill Inn (all my recommendations from May remain in force). We stayed four days to see three plays.
We ate breakfast and lunch in our suites at the Windmill Inn, but for dinner we went out.
There are actually a number of restaurants right along Ashland Creek in downtown Ashland, and we wandered from restaurant to restaurant looking for an interesting menu. In 1965, my mother, my brother and I ate at a restaurant along here (now long gone) twice during one visit. I remember how astonished I was that the dinner sandwich, superb on the first visit, was barely edible on the second. At the tender age of 12, this was my first exposure to the importance of the chef.
This time, the health food menu at Greenleaf caught our eye:
49 N. Main Street
Ashland, Oregon 97520
In particular, although I am not much of a pie fan in general, they serve marionberry pie, the greatest pie in the world (an aside: are you a crust person or a filling person? Me: filling. See Jon Carroll on this important distinction--and if you can find the earlier column to which he refers, please pass it along). The thai chicken wrap and the baked potato, which I had (R wasn't hungry) were large enough that they will also serve as lunch on Friday.
The continental breakfast at the Windmill all-suite hotel is called "Suite Awakening." Isn't that just the cutest thing? Of course, I fell down the Google Hole for hours before breakfast, cutting into my exercise time (something about being on vacation and having a computer). We suplemented the continental with hard boiled eggs left over from the trip down that we didn't eat in the car. The say was spent reading, exercising in the gym (too hot outside to walk) and just generally relaxing.
We drove into town on old Highway 99, formerly the main north-south route from Canada to California (101 is on the coast, at least in Oregon). I am sure 99 is still quite the deal in the Central Valley, but I don't see it that often. It is also still quite the deal in Ashland, Or. Unlike the stretches in Portland which are lined with decrepit businesses and motels, it still seems to be a thriving strip down here. Kind of like traveling in a time machine.
There is no whole foods, but there is something called Market of Choice, a nice cross between Whole Foods (good produce and organic stuff) and Safeway (more normal grocery store stuff than a Whole Foods). We passed it on our way into Ashland (there is also an Albertson's and a Safeway on Siskyou)
Market of Choice
1475 Siskiyou Boulevard
Ashland, OR 97520-2336
On Thursday night, a guy in a cup of yogurt costume gave us a card from this froyo (soft-serve frozen yogurt) store, just a couple of blocks from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, serving YoCream frozen yogurt flavors in the serve-yourself, 39 cents an ounce format:
140 Lithia Way
Yogurt on the Rox opened on Saturday! It is a lovely place, well decorated, and much quieter (probably because it is new). It is right on the main drag, East Main Street across from the Hempatorium! (Summer hours were 10-10)
Yogurt on the Rox
295 E. Main Street
Dinner was upstairs at Taoko, a fusion place. No creek view (we were blocks inland from the creek), but amazing pork pot stickers. We both had the dungeness crab roll, the Taroko salad (complete with tempura red snapper). Way too much food. We put it in the car. R worried it had gone bad, so I got the leftovers to myself for Saturday lunch.
Taroko Pan-Pacific Bistro
62 E. Main Street
Ashland, OR 97520
We got to the Elizabethan stafe too late for the "green show" in the courtyard. When I came to my first Shakespeare festival in 1960 or 1961, women in Elizabethan costume did period dances in period costume in the courtyard, accompanied by period instruments. Other women in costume sold pecan tarts. The dancers and tarts were gone by the time I came back with my mom and my children in the 1996. Mom always hated modern dress Shakespeare. We saw Coriolanus with the cast dressed as fascists and toting machine guns. She never went back.
But the courtyard is decorated with plaques (they used to be on the walls inside the Elizabethan Theater) going all the way back to 1935, showing the plays produced each year. From this, I can tell my first year was maybe 1961, when I was 9. We were there for sure in 1962, when we saw Coriolanus, because of the cute family story. My brother, who was 7, was disappointed that Coriolanus, killed in the last scene, came back out for a bow. "I thought he was dead!" He wasn't really that naive; I think he was just being cute. Anyway, mom, my brother and I went to Ashland yearly (sometimes with my grandmother Gert) for about six years. I think 1967 was my last year; after that, I had summer jobs. One cool thing Ashland has done since the end of WWII is to put on one of the history plays each year, in order. I've seen more history plays than most people, for sure.
In 1978, I first wooed my wife on a trip from Portland to Ashland to see the Shakespeare Festival. Based on recollection (my journals are in a box at home) we stayed two days. I am pretty sure we saw Taming of the Shrew, and either Richard III or The Tempest. In any case, five hours down and five hours back in the car cemented our relationship, now in its 34th year.
R and I saw Love's Labor Lost. You remember that one; Kenneth Branagh made a film version. The King decides he and his three buddies will swear off women. If you know Shakespeare, you can guess how well that works out and how long it lasts. A French princess comes and is forced to sleep in the field, rather than in the castle. And then the fun begins. There is much swearing and foreswearing, and use of the word perjury.
Another quiet day, outside of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We read, exercised, and, in my case, napped, then took off at 5pm for a 5:30 pre-show lecture at Carpenter Hall. One of the company artists in residence walked us through the family tree surrounding Henry IV part two and pointed out the mistake made by Hollinshead, copied by Shakespeare, that slightly muddies the water. He also pointed out that the actor who plays Rumor also plays several other roles, but, in this director's concept, is really still Rumor.
Sesame Asian Kitchen
21 Winburn Way
Ashland, OR 97520
We had dinner at the Sesame Asian Kitchen, again eating creekside. I love eating near the water. We shared Korean BBQ pork buns. I had the duck pot sticker and the Beijing Fried Rice, Rae had the vegetable stir fry. She stopped at the Hempatorium and got herself a tee-shirt. We walked along the creek through Lithia Park for half an hour, a walk which I must have taken at least a dozen times previous during the preceeding 50 years.
Henry IV Part Two is the one where Hal, the young prince, hangs with Flastaff, then grows up quickly when his dad dies. In the final act, he, now Henry V, tells Falstaff to go away, he is king now. Actually banishes Flastaff on pain of death to stay 10 miles away. It's a long-un. Four hours uncut, three hours even with OSF's judicious cuts. Still, lively enough to keep us awake. In the lecture before the play, the lecturer imagined a scene where Richard Burbage pages through the script, "Box office gold, Will. Love it. We play in the daytime. We'll cut it here, here and here."
We decided to do something spiritual Sunday morning; our choices were to attend Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland, or go for the sunday morning meditation at the Ananda Yoga Center.
Ananda Center of Ashland
1625 Camp Baker Road
Medford, OR 97501
The center looks like a home--and half the property IS a home, but there is a building with a sign on it that says "meditation center." The leader won't teach you how to meditate, but she will lead you in a couple of prayers, a couple of bhujans, and encourage you to engage in one really long meditation (I don't know how long; 45 minutes? An hour? The longest one I've done in 20 or 30 years). Plus, the attendees are an interesting group of spiritual seekers. I don't know if they always do a pot luck, but they did the day we were there. Give them a call or drop them an email.
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine
212 East Main Street
Ashland, OR 97520-1829
In the evening, we ate at Lark's, a beautiful, fancy and expensive restaurant with a short menu of comfort food (Rae and I split the meatloaf and the chicken cordon bleu). It is located in the lobby of the lovingly restored Ashland Springs Hotel. The desserts (we didn't have one, but we were near the kitchen, so we got to see all of them go by) were exquisite in presentation. If they were anything like the entrée, they were perfection on a plate.
Our last play, Julius Caesar, was not in the Elizabethan Theater, which, to us old-timers, is the only theater in Ashland. We were across the street in the New Theater. The lobby was decorated with banners featuring information about slain political leaders. The theater was air conditioned, which I have to admit was nice as it was over 90º again at 8:30. It was theater in the round and modern dress, two modes I am not normally happy with. Still, the acting and dramaturgy were amazing. I'd never seen a drunk and sarcastic Marc Anthony. And, of course, there was stunt casting, most spectacularly in that Caesar was played by a woman. The cast did not ignore this fact; all the personal pronouns in the script were changed to "she," as in "Let's carve her as a dish fit for the gods." It was odd and jarring, but it worked. We saw the understudy, and she was great.
All in all, we saw some of the finest theater I can remember seeing in years. That it took place in Ashland, Oregon, a town of 25,000 people five hours from anywhere, no longer served by the great railroad lines as it once was, reachable (except at enormous cost) only by hours of hot driving, is a tribute to Angus Bowmer and 76 years of hard work by artists and marketers alike. When I was a boy, the slogan was "stay four days, see four plays," and while they no longer use that slogan, it is still true. And the fact that it is a repertory company gives you the added thrill of seeing how versatile the actors are.