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Ashland 6 October 2016

1506 : 750

Ode to Ashland

If I were ever to live in a city again, this would be my choice. As I said yesterday, this little city (pop 20,793) has all the earmarks of a big city, without the crowding. Handily divided into a tourist destination around "the Festival" and a downtown area a ways up the mountain to the south, and thoroughly gentrified, due in part to the influx of tourist dollars, it distinguishes itself principally by its thoughtful approach to growth. It's got a university (SOU) that specializes in the arts and feeds the Festival. It's got parks that put cities of similar size and ten times as large to shame ... due mostly to forethought on the part of its voters and city administration. It takes wonderful care of its children: this would be a great place to be a kid. 

This morning we walked up along Ashland Creek, that runs through Lithia Park for such a distance that we have never walked all the way to the top ... where there's a rim trail that runs through the woods at the city's top. At right, we're still in the lower, more populated park, but just beyond the trees the trail turns to cedar bark (delightful underfoot) and runs beside the now babbling (but at times roaring and destructive) creek up to the town's water supply reservoir ...and beyond.

1507 : 743

After yesterday's rain, everything is fresh-washed and bright. The ground is carpeted with fall color, and the creek chuckles happily. 

1508 : 727
<p>Throughout the park, welcoming sunny...

Throughout the park, welcoming sunny grassy spaces alternate with intimate tree-lined trails.

1509 : 725

We walk until we feel we've gotten half far enough, and then head back down the west side of the stream. There are a crew of middle schoolers diligently working on the trails, raking leaves and hoeing the grass encroaching on the path. "Hello," says one, surprising us. "Are we doing this right?" asks another. Perfectly, we tell them. Not a teacher in sight. I think, "trust the children, and they'll be fine." It seems like elsewhere we have created a culture of fear and over-protectiveness, but here we have a little enclave that might as well be in the 1950s. Walkers along the trail – many of them using their mornings to train for sitting through a plays in the afternoon and evening, just like us – smile, nod, often "Good morning" or "Hello." Not a cellphone in sight either. 

I'm reluctant to use the word "civilizing" because its root comes from "city" and what I'm trying to express is antithetical to cities as we have come to know them. "Socializing" might be better, except that society seems to be equally insane. Something in the climate here (and I'm not just talking about weather) makes this a gentler, more considerate place.

sign along the creekside trail

The plays, Shakespeare? The fact that it's a university town? Those undoubtedly have their influence, but there's more to it that I can't quite figure out ...and so I guess we'll just have to keep coming back until I do!

1510 : 708

1511 : 706

A delicious, simple lunch at Agave, a small Mexican themed place with food muy autentico, and then our afternoon play...

1512 : 704

Richard the Tooth, I remember everyone calling it, including Walter Jackson Bate, who taught my full year of Shakespeare, often dressed up in costumes appropriate to the times of the play in question. Usually classed as a history and the first of the cycle that includes both of Henry IV's parts as well as Henry V, this is more a tragedy of a man wholly unsuited to be king, yet condemned to that role by birth. 

1513 : 700

As is the practice in Ashland, this was played for current relevance, subtly, well acted and ingeniously staged in the Thomas (the smallest of the theaters, and so intimate you can see the actors spit) but, like so many of the plays in Shakespeare's canon, not particularly memorable. Almost a mitzvah to see it. Rochelle, still distressed by her greasy lunch in Eureka, left at the intermission.

And then, after a salad from the magnificent Ashland Coop's salad bar, we bundled ourselves up for a chilly evening in our least favorite Festival venue, the the enormous outdoor Elizabethan, for the season's big musical number, The Wiz. 

1514 : 699

For me, the feeling of settling into my plastic chair in this huge theater is almost atavistic. I first plunked myself down here for Taming on my 16th birthday in 1960, and immediately fell in love. Returning always sets my retrospection into overdrive: did that single lonely evening forever change my direction?

The Wiz also figures for me as a watershed moment, a "day in the life" when I took my Caspar Class of ten-year-old Montessori students to The City, where we went to see the movie, first run, at a theater at Fisherman's Wharf. Afterwards, late in the evening and higher than kites, we skipped nine abreast up Columbus Avenue singing "Ease on down, ease on down, the road..." The unapologetic, riotous, proud blackness of the movie was more than preserved in this production ...and the predominantly white-bread audience loved it.

It's always a challenge to prepare yourself to be delighted without expectations when the play coming up is something seen memorably before. Here, Michael Jackson in possibly his most sympathetic role, and a young Diana Ross as Dorothy, is hard to put out of mind. Evilene, and her iconic song "If you gotta bring me somethin', bring me somethin' I can use. Don't you go bringin' me No Bad News" is of course completely indelible. 

The cast did well to make us all forget; the staging was glorious even if we could never quite get past our regret that the movie's autonomous taxi cabs. 

1515 : 689

As I said, the audience belonged to the players from the first song, despite the fact that it looked like the Donner Party, bundled up and blanketed against the October night. 

You can't please everybody: we were surrounded on two sides by a group of biddies from Eugene whose pretensions didn't allow them to enjoy the play. The fat one behind us, after beating Rochelle over the head with her purse while preparing her nest of pillows and blankets and spilling her wine, went off to get another plastic cupful, lamenting all the while that her group had insisted on this play. Her pal Suzanne, sitting beside us, was apparently offended by some extemporaneous banter -- the Wiz's major domo protesting that he didn't need to be impolite, as this wasn't a presidential debate, and then the Cowardly Lion protesting that by the end of the evening, everything would be her fault -- and didn't stay for the second half. The other 1,188 folks in the sold-out audience, including lots of families, at least 45 high school drama students from Bend, and a good sprinkling of the upper middle class Ecotopian demographic, had a great time ...ourselves most definitely included.

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