Monthly Archives: August 2011

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, a city of 21,000 half-way between Portland and San Francisco, is an outgrowth of the Chautauqua Movement.  It began in 1935 with a production of Twelfth Night.  This year it’s staging 12 productions in 3 theaters for an amazing 400,000 people.  We saw two of them.

Unfolding with 87 actors, additional interns, youth performers, and musicians who all appear to be immensely enjoying themselves, the 2011 season began February 18 and ends November 6 in the two roofed venues, the Angus Bowmer and the New Theater.  The uncovered Elizabethan Stage, our nation’s oldest venue of this type (it’s like an updated Globe Theatre), wasn’t used until May 31 and closes October 9.

Since the season’s plays and musicals are performed in traditional repertory fashion, theater goers have lots of choices.  To Kill a Mockingbird ran off-and-on from February 19 until July 3, and The African Company Presents Richard III plays from July 20 to November 5.

We saw The Pirates of Penzance on our first night and it was sensational, about 90% Gilbert and Sullivan and 10% contemporary.  A prim female ensemble might be performing in 19th century style and suddenly they’re doing today’s dance moves and briefly being Katy Perrys.  It totally works for this production.  Eddie Lopez, Frederic the Apprentice, occasionally and slyly did Justin Bieber moves and vocals.  He also plays 4 roles in Henry IV, Part Two.

The second night we saw The Imaginary Invalid as the company turned Moliere’s laugh inducer into Hairspray meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  The audience is warned (“best enjoyed by playgoers 13 and up who can handle the potty humor, yucky medical remedies…”).   Hard working actors with perfect timing threw themselves into this somewhat unsavory stew and earned a standing ovation.

I don’t know for a fact but I suspect that nothing at OSF is done 100% traditionally. Julius Caesar’s Note to the Audience, “A gun with blanks will be fired in this production.”  OSF’s mission statement claims, “We reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays.”

Would I go again?  They’re doing Animal Crackers and The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa next year.

While you’re in Ashland, check out Gathering Glass Studio on the corner of Pioneer and A Streets…exceptional art glass at reasonable prices.


Crater Lake Again

Back from 6 days on the road, Ruth and I went to a lot of wineries, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Crater Lake.   I’ll be writing about each of these.

Lessons learned:

Two couples who don’t know each other very well can have fun and avoid trouble if they have similar interests and travel styles.

Some of the best wines in the world are coming out of southwest Oregon, but you won’t get to taste them unless you go there.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is standing ovation popular but not for the purist who likes his and her theater traditional.

Have something with you to treat bee stings, like Benadryl.  If you get into the car where the bee is trapped, you’ll quickly appreciate ice packs too.

If you want to dine at Crater Lake Lodge, make a reservation long in advance.

Bybee’s Historic Inn in Jacksonville, Oregon, serves a sensational 3 course breakfast on an outside porch when the weather is fine.

Chefs in the area use Bragg’s Olive Oil.  We bought some and it’s exceptional.

The most popular and perhaps best restaurant in Ashland is Standing Stone Brewing Company.  Their amber ale is especially appreciated on a hot day.

Crater Lake, still one of the most awesome sights anywhere, remains so clean that you can drink right from it.   Using a Secchi disk, an instrument for measuring water clarity, you can see 144 feet down from the surface.  At least that’s the Lake’s record so far.  You have to take the Crater Lake Trolley (highly recommended) and get Mike Frederick (the best) to learn this and other fascinating facts about the place.

Ground squirrels are killer cute but hard to photograph unless you get very lucky.


Australia, Part 15

After a few days in Canberra, Ruth and I took the train to Sydney.  We had been in Australia for 20 days by this time.  We always plan to spend 3 to 4 weeks when we go because of the distance.  When Americans tell me they’re going to Australia for a week, I feel sorry for them.  They remind me of the man who decided to drive from Boston to Alaska on his two-week vacation and never made it there.  By the time he reached the Yukon Territory, he had four days of vacation left and had to head back to Massachusetts.

Australia, as you surely already know, has weather extremes.  We experienced this in Sydney when a rain deluge with strong winds was the pattern for most of our time there. This was not typical. We slogged around in wet clothes each day without an umbrella. Ours blew inside out quickly and there was no point in buying another.  Despite the weather, we went to the 2000 Summer Olympics site and took a tour of the grounds, Australia Arena, and the Aquatic Centre.  Before the official event , Ruth and I had thought about possibly working at the Olympics, but then we learned that hirers were favoring Australians.  Makes sense.

Lynette felt very badly about my wedding ring and told me about a shop in Sydney’s Castlereagh Street that sold pre-owned jewelry.  Ruth and I went there under a dark cloud and picked out a plain gold band to replace the thick, rather elaborate one that I had worn for so many years.  When the jeweler, who looked like a proper, merchant-class Dickens character, heard my sad story, he gave me an especially good deal on the ring.   So I now proudly wear a band that represents both my love for Ruth and my love for Australia.   Win-win.


The Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park

The road rose 1,500 feet before we sighted the turnoff to Hawai’i’s Volcanoes National Park which was established way back in 1916 to become the nation’s 13th.   As Ruth and I entered, both lanes were so devoid of cars that it was difficult for us to comprehend that two million people come here each year.  We were lucky to be there on a somewhat slow day.

The Visitors’ Center showed us a film designed to scare the curious into cautious behavior  followed by “Born of Fire, Born of the Sea”, actual scenes of past volcanic cataclysm.

A short walk from the Center behind the Volcano House Hotel (Mark Twain was once a guest) provided a great introductory view of the smoking Kilauea caldera, which is crossed by a trail named Halema’una’u.  This must mean “you’re crazy to hike me” in Hawaiian. There were posted warnings that couldn’t be missed of  “Hazardous Volcanic Fumes” that other visitors were totally ignoring.  I was trying not to breathe at all.  Mark Twain surely witnessed the same grand view and irrational behavior (or engaged in it) and might have gotten it right when he said, “The smell of sulphur is strong but not unpleasant to a sinner.” The Hotel is currently closed for renovation until at least 2012.

The eleven-mile, easy Crater Rim Drive took us to the other end of the caldera, where visitors can, and do, test blunt warning signs by putting their hands over steaming vents.  Not me. The road passed over lava flows, which looked like the barnyards of the gods.   Signs documenting lava-meets-road closures–September 82, March 74, and the like–caused frissons.

The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum was perched right on the edge of the caldera. Nenes hoping for food greeted us and threatened other parkers who seemed more soft-hearted.   These endangered geese probably haven’t heard that their name means “to come together and talk softly.”  Inside the Jaggar, a must-see, and looking like a gigantic tape measure, the EDM (Electronic Distance Meter) that helped scientists predict the Mount Saint Helens eruption and study the Olympus Mons, a 16-mile high volcano on Mars, was fascinating.   A serious working place whose goal is to inform the uninformed like me about volcanoes, the Jaggar’s seismometers measure several places on the Big Island, or Hawai’i, at all times.  All of the displays either record or predict cataclysms.  Rather fond of breathing, I overheard a backpacked father asking a ranger about viewing molten lava at night with his son and had to walk away.

The Jaggar is opened Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm.  It’s free but it costs $10 per car to enter the Park.

Newgrange, County Meath

Drogheda, pronounced dra’ duh, is a busy commercial city of 30,000 bisected by the River Boyne in Ireland’s Wee County, Louth.  Drogheda is near some of the oldest inhabited places in the world.  We came here because Lonely Planet called it, “easily the most interesting town north of Dublin.”  If you go, plan for at least one full day to explore its attractions.

The most interesting of the oldest places was Brú na Bóinne in nearby County Meath, a short taxi ride from Drogheda.  Also called Newgrange, it’s one of 3 prehistoric passage tombs.  Already 1,000 years old when Stonehenge was erected, this ancient mound/structure predated the Egyptian pyramids too.  A huge human-made hill surrounded by 97 massive stones moved here without wheels or horses about 3,200 years BCE, Brú na Bóinne was excavated between 1962 and 1975.   During the investigation of the tomb, a roof box was discovered that allowed sunlight penetration to the very center of the mound for 6 days during the winter solstice.  In a typical year, 27,000 or more people hoping for a cloudless day apply for the 100 positions to witness this phenomenon.  For others like us, there’s a guided tour into the interior of this passage tomb that is not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia or fear of the dark.  Ruth and I found it utterly fascinating and our tour guide was also an archeologist, which made it even more informative.

Brú na Bóinne, an engineering feat by prehistoric, farming people, challenges every modern preconception about them.  Lonely Planet also praises Newgrange’s museum as a “superb interpretive centre…an extraordinary series of interactive exhibits…the building is a stunner,” getting it exactly right. Take some time to explore it thoroughly.