It was our 10-year anniversary (of making ‘googly eyes, as J. likes to say) and we decided to visit Ashland. Always a favorite, and also the first vacation we took together all those years ago.
Thursday February 28
Had a great drive down to Ashland. Left a bit before 7am, arrived at 2:30pm. Debated stopping in Portland to visit book-lovers mecca (aka, Powells’), but decided we didn’t need to. (I’d been to the Library the day before, and had about 12 books on Italy and novels. One of these was a book John had been wanting to read.)
Our room is lovely. A kitchenette with a 2-person table sits in the ‘foyer’, which opens into the mainroom. A full wall of windows overlooks a koi pond and a series of porches. (In warmer weather, breakfast is served out there.) We have a private balcony complete with a table and chairs. There is a large closet with shelves to lay clothes on, a gas fireplace, and a small TV/DVD combo placed high up on the wall. The room is called ‘Copenhagen’ and the furnishings reflect the design aesthetic of that country: blond wood, clean lines, sparse furnishings. The tub and toilet are separated from the sink by a pocketdoor, and there isn’t much room for one’s toiletries. The tub is LOVELY: deep and long with seemingly endless amounts of hot water. The tub, in fact, is the one I want to put in our bathroom at home. My only complaints are minor: there is no way to make the room dark, there really isn’t sufficient shelf space for clothes, and there isn’t enough space for toiletries (our bag sits on the floor). John thinks that the mattress is too soft, and I agree, but I also haven’t had any physical problems from sleeping. I do have one major complaint, but its such a refrain that I mostly make it out of habit: there is no good reading arrangement in the room. There is a chair, but its hard wood and not terrible comfortable. The mini sofa is really not comfy for sitting in too long. For a reader like me, its a bit of a problem.
As is our wont, we settled in and made a few plans. John walked over to the box office to get tickets; I had a bath. He ended up visiting with Amy Richards, the press lady for OSF. She always gives him the backstory, and they have a great time chatting about the season and the actors. By that time it was ready for dinner (early, yes).
We went to Omar’s, which is kind of an Ashland institution. I liken it to Sky City — the Space Needle’s restaurant. I’d been to Omar’s *years* ago when I was visiting with Michael (so, approx. 12 years ago). It’s bit of a time warp: red leather banquettes surrounding formica and linoleoum topped, chrome banded tables. There are pictures on the wall from the early days of Ashland, back when it’s suplhur springs were the only attraction. They specialize in steaks and seafood, and have one a people’s choice ‘best of’ award for 12+ years in a row. We had appetizers (escargot baked on mushrooms for me, egg rolls for him), a green salad, brown bread, and our mains: steak and sides. It was a lot of food, and it was . . . ok. Not spectacular. For all that their steak is dry-aged 60 days, it didn’t taste any better than the one’s I get at Melrose Grill. Nor was the texture better. The escargot were tasty, but overdone. The salad was nice, and apparently bottomless; if I’d known that I likely would have skipped the appetizer completely. The bread was tasty (nothing wrong with a bit of mollasses in the bread) but very soft, and once it lost its warmth, uninteresting. My baked potato was perfect. The chopped broccoli side was ok, but a little overdone. The prices were fine, but we agreed that we’d had far better meals in Ashland for $100 (incl tip).
On the way home we stopped at the store and got lunch makings for the next day. A little reading, talking, and plain ole hanging out . . . and I was in bed by 9pm, he followed soon after.
Friday March 1st
I was up at 6:30, and realized the error of our plans — I hadn’t prepared anything to tide me over until breakfast at 9am! The basket of tea and coffee was fully caffeinated, and I just didn’t feel like cheese or crackers. I toughed it out, but we were in the dining room promptly at 9am. :-) The coffee here is delightful, and they do a great strawberry-banana smoothie. The main meal was baked eggs in wonton cups with hollandaise sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and a caprese ‘salad’ of fresh mozzarella between two slices of fresh tomato drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I’m not a fan of hollandaise, but this version was pretty light and I didn’t hate it. The potatoes were great!
After that we hung out in our room, reading and relaxing. Then we headed over to the Blue Giraffe Day Spa for the indulgent ‘Suitehearts Package’. We began with heated (scented) pads over our shoulders as our feet were placed on warmed stones wrapped in towels. Then we slipped into a tub built for two, filled with very hot water and scented with poppy and tangerine. We soaked for 1/2 an hour, not incidentally talking about how we want to remodel our bathroom at home. (Yes, its true. But its not at the top of the list of things to do.) From there we went into a double treatment room for side by side 90 minute massages, followed by a sea salt and olive oil body scrub. At last we shared a steam shower and washed off with Bumble&Bumble products (which I love, btw). In the end we were relaxed, smooth, and content.
Home we went, to enjoy a cheese and fruit plate out by the koi pond. Dubliner, La Comte, Havarti, and Manchego were enjoyed with red grapes, sliced apple, carrot sticks and celery. It was a perfect way to slip into the afternoon. Which we spent lolling around. We talked about go out for a walk, but were so relaxed and comfy, it felt like too much effort. John took a nap for several hours, I did some reading on Italy and took noted on places to go. Before we knew it, it was time to dress for dinner.
We had a lovely walk. The weather was just beginning to turn chilly again. It was Art Walk, and the 9th annual chocolate festival is in town, so it was VERY crowded (for February). Our dinner tonight was a long-time favorite — Pasta Piatti. I am very pleased to tell you that they have updated their menu! Most of the old favorites are still there, but they’ve added a few more appetizers and taken out some of the more boring main dishes. I couldn’t decide, so we decided to order by course. I started with the mussels — delicately cooked in a prosecco cream sauce, it had a hint of ‘green’ and accomanied by their lovely bread; a lovely early spring dish. John has one of the new appetizers: arancini balls. Arborio rice is wrpped around fontina cheese and then deep fried. Placed over a base of marinara, they were AWESOME. For our mains, I chose the mushroom pizza. This is a ‘white’ pizza with wild mushrooms, fontina cheese, and spinach atop a thin crust. Arriving too hot to eat, it was delicious. John had the spaghetti carbonara. They make it with smoked bacon, and the flavor was simply divine. Neither of us could finish our meals, so they came home for midday snacks for us.
Our play was The Taming of the Shrew. This is a difficult play for modern audiences. There are scenes where it is clear that Petruchio is literally torturing Kate to make her submit (sleep deprivation and starvation). He clearly says that this is necessary, he does it for love of her, and he will continue until she submit and agree to whatever he says, completely. “Ay, and amid this hurly I intend That all is done in reverend care of her; …This is a way to kill a wife with kindness; And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.” Act IV, Scene 1
Kate is reviled and belitted, even by her father. She suffers not fools, and being inteligent and knowing how poor her lot in the world (being a woman), she has become — as they say — shrewish. Modern audiences are deeply in sympathy with her position. So it is a tricky play to try to ‘pull off’.
OSF has created a wonderful production that brought a well-deserved standing ovation from the mostly college-age crowd. They cleverly went with a 1950s rockabilly by the boardwalk aesthetic that allowed them to do some clever visual cues that supported the interpretation they were giving. Biana (Royer Buckus) is a lovely girl — and so awkwardly coltish (and doltish) that she is clearly *just* a girl (albeit one who is reading 50 Shades of Gray early on), which makes her whining unhappiness with her marriage all the more understandable. Petruchio (Ted Deasy) is a rockabilly god who’s command of verbal and aural cues is magnificent in its comedic timing. Gremio (played with broad wit by David Kelly) is a loser from the beginning, and Tranio (John Tufts) a clever fellow indeed (and I must say: more comedy Mr. tufts! More!).
But the star of the play, loudly and clearly, is the superb performance of Ms. Nell Geisslinger. When I first saw her in Bus Stop years ago, I knew she was something special, but her Kate is a magnificent scenery-devouring simmering (and oftern erupting) ball of energy that makes a potentially tragic figure into a woman we can identify with. The fact that they share a subculture in common (discovered when one of her sleeves is accidentally ripped off) was a wonderful visual cue that allowed the audience to see similarities between Petruchio and Kate. Petruchio admires Kate, from the moment he sees her; their word play, full of double entendre and lightning fast, is a revealing scene that shows Kate as a potential partner, and Petruchio willing to have one. And we realize that Kate stands up to Petruchio, even after he has tortured her; not out of spite, but intelligence. But then, on the side of the road on their way to her sister’s wedding, Kate shifts and becomes compliant . . . in words. But when they reach Padua, her actions speak differently, (and in a way that may make some viewers uncomfortable — I found it to be a perfectly logical ‘hook’ upon which to hang their relationship) and they are welcomed by her husband.
In the end, Deasy completely ‘sells’ Petruchio’s true and deep love for Katerina, just as Geisslinger makes Kate’s shift into compliance one that seems natural. Their love is a solid one, basing itself on mutual respect and clearly having a better chance for happiness than the other two that happen.
“If she and I be pleased, what’s that to you?” Act II, Scene 1
Taming of the Shrew has become one of my Top Ten productions in nearly 20 years at OSF.
Saturday March 2nd
Breakfast Saturday morning was wonderful: green grapes and honeydew melon, french toast with elderberry syrup, sausages, grapefruit, blackberries and kiwi in creme anglaise, alongside a blueberry pomegranate smoothie. YUM. Afterwards, we went for a walk through town. Walking the town meant window shopping and talking about who is still there, and who has closed. It was interesting to see who’d finally succumbed to the economy, and who was thriving. We did pick up an anniversary gift for ourselves: a piece of sand scuplture. (It look slovely just underneath ‘Dreamcatcher’ in our front hall.)
After several hours of wandering, we were feeling a bit peckish, so back to our room we went, and heated up last night’s leftovers. Yum again. John’s off see Two Trains Running, the latest August Wilson play, and headed for a long bath and a good read.
For our ‘fancy’ dinner, we chose Alchemy, the newly-named restaurant at The Winchester Inn. Recently given a bit of a facelift including the menu, this restaurant has been a favorite of ours for years. The new loook is marvelous! Deep gray walls, new carpet and subtly patterned tablecloths make for a sophisticated, but welcoming, interior; one that highlights all of the magnificent woodwork of this early 1900’s house cum restaurant and Inn. We began with a cocktail (mock for John) — a mojito for him and a Candy Coller for me. It was a bit more of a summer drink than I was expecting, but the blend of citrus vodka, blue raspberry infused vodka, lemon, and sparkling water was refreshing and tasty. For appetizers he had seared scallops and I had the mini Wellingtons. We both declared our dishes perfect. We shared a dish of baby greens, chopped well and tossed with a lemon honey tarragon dressing. Sliced beets formed a delicious base and candied sunflower seeds rounded off this exquistiely lovely salad. John had the grilled pork chop as his main: a thick cut, perfectly cooked piece of meat presented with mustard dressed greens atop and a brie mac n cheese on the side. The meat was cooked perfectly, tender and rich with smoky flavor. The mac n cheese was perfect: creamy but not gloppy, and gorgeously crispy. My main was a butternut squash raviolo — a single over-sized ravioli pan-cooked and served atop a tender roll of leeks and potatoes. Arugula dressed and sporting candied pecans nestled alongside. It was an interesting dish. A gastrigue of elderberries adds a sweetish flavor to the dish. The portions of the raviolo that contained squash were lovely — the pillow portion, if you will. But the outer portions were overcooked and tough. The potato/leek roll was tasty, but a overly salty in places. I don’t like the bitterness of arugula, and found its presence in this dish very odd. It wasn’t awful, but the dish needs work for my palate. We finished with a creme brulee — perfectly luscious and deeply delicious.
As many of you know, I’m not a fan of musicals. I don’t loathe them, but the ones I like are few and far between (Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages, both movies). I went into My Fair Lady with an open mind, knowing only the bare outlines of the plot, and hoped for the best.
The singing was wonderful — Rachel Warren plays Eliza Doolittle with strength and joy. Her singing is glorious, her timing impeccable, and her phrasing simply a joy to listen to. The rest of the cast is uplifted by her, many of them doing far better than I’ve heard them do in past performances. Jonathan Haugen is not known for his singing talents (although you know he’s been a long-time favorite of mine), nor is Anthony Heald (ditto), but each was wonderful, surprising and delighting me with their performances. I want to particularly call out Ken Robinson for his daftly perfect performance of Freddy Eynsford-Hill and David Kelly’s perfectly proper and quite self-centered Colonel Pickering was a perfect counterpoint to Henry Higgins’ rudeness. The cast was, simply put, just great — well done, all of you.
That said, I’m not sure I liked it. It doesn’t push musicals further into the realm of ‘ick’ for me, nor did it push them farther towards ‘I like’. I think, upon reflection, that my ‘meh’ feeling has a lot to do with the actual staging of the play. Two pianos on stage providing the music is a bold choice, and one I presume came from an economic decision. (By the by, the pianists — Matt Goodrich and Ron Ochs — were great. Each had superb timing and clearly a great deal of joy in their material.) Making it a kind of an ensemble and creating a stage where the focus is clearly, constantly on ‘My Fair Lady’ was clearly all leading up to the dramatic moment when Eliza leaves, not just the stage, but the theater itself (and the lights go out on the MFL sign). A very dramatic moment, but one COMPLETELY undercut by her return to him. Granted, she never actually goes back onto the stage, but I feel they so consistently broke the 4th wall that the entire theater was part of the stage. So, I was left confused. That said, having the other actors on stage and indicating changes in scenery by costume changes was brilliant, I feel. So, kudos for creating a musical I didn’t leave at intermission (Pirates, Imaginary Invalid) or refuse to see at all (Music Man). But I’m afraid you didn’t convince me to like them any further.
Sunday, March 3rd
We packed after the play, and Sunday was a prompt rising for breakfast. Another smoothie (I missed the concoction, but it was great), melon and blueberries with a touch of cremem anglaise. The main was two eggs baked with swiss cheese and a bit of green onion. English muffins and homemade jam accompanied the eggs, as did a salad of greens, grapefruit, feta, and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was just odd — far too much like a lunch salad and savory rather than sweet. The eggs were good, although I’m not a fan of swiss cheese.
We were on the road by 10am and home by 6:30. It was a wonderful weekend and celebration of our 10 years together.