Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pownal, Vermont.
It’s not even a dot on the map. Best Value Motel (recently renamed, which is why Barbara couldn’t find it) sits demurely atop a grassy knoll. It hasn’t got a proper address. Just Route 7, Pownal. None of the places have addresses. They don’t need them, because Route 7 – one lane each way – is all there is.
The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful in this part of the United States. Outside my door, acres of the greenest lawns I’ve ever seen roll gently down into a wood, and a babbling brook. The rooms are actually studio apartments. Mine is big as a small house. Its dawn, and the birds are singing and the mists are rising like Brigadoon. And there’s an internet connection -- although for reasons that remain unclear to me, it will not allow me to upload photos.
Bao and I took it easy, yesterday. Canada wore us out. I’d forgotten how tiring it is, being in a foreign country. And Canada is a foreign country, even though they speak English and drive on the right side of the road. They seem to resent Americans, the way you’d resent distant, very wealthy cousins who are perfectly nice, but bossy, and rich as Croseus. I found Canadians to be especially ambivalent towards tourists, and often got the impression they’d rather I’d just sent them my money, and stayed home. The theatre was awesome, the art impressive and the wine delicious. But I don’t know that I’d go back. I have to say, I feel much the same about Australia.
Although we’re technically in Vermont, New York (the state, not the city) and Massachusetts are only a few minutes away. In fact, the closest supermarket is in Massachusetts, and the closest drugstore is in New York. Here in Pownal, there’s a liquor store, several antique shops, a couple of B&Bs and a shop that sells maple syrup and homemade fudge. Really, what else do you need?
Canada was lush and green, but it was a different kind of green – floral, and disciplined. The trees were pruned, and the flowers bloomed tidily in beds, or pots. Here, it’s just mountains and forests and fields, as far as you can see in all directions. Most of the buildings are made of wood, and appear to be freshly painted, like the toy buildings that used to come with electric train sets. (Do kids still play with electric trains, or have they gone the way of mimeograph machines and carbon paper?) Quintessential New England, almost too perfect to be true.
It’s time for our morning walk. Bao doesn’t really need his leash and harness here, but he won’t budge without them. When you go for a walk, you wear your harness. That’s just the way it is. So here we go. Urban Dog meets Arcadia.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

You can't just have a quick look at Niagara Falls. At least, not on the Canadian side.
You can drive past it, but you can't park unless you pay big bucks, or park miles away and buy a ticket on the People Mover, which is what we did. It was hot, and humid, and crowded, and it took hours.
But yes, the falls are wonderful. Even Bao was impressed.
Crossing the border took even more hours.
First, there was the matter of the GST. The Canadians tax everything. However, tourists can get a tax refund, provided they apply for it at the border. This sounds good, but because the Canadians don't really want to give your money back, they make as difficult for you as they can. Here's now it works. You park your car and form a line in front of a window. There's only one window, and only one woman on duty. She's sitting inside an air conditioned cubicle which is part of the Duty Free Shop. You and all the other poor slobs are standing outside in the broiling sun and rising humidity. You stand there and you wait.
Nearly half the people who were in the queue when I joined it eventually despaired and left.
Half an hour passed. When my turn finally came, I handed over my sheaf of receipts and waited as the woman read through them, very slowly. I'd purchased two paintings and a sculpture. She said needed to inspect them. So we went out to the car, and I unpacked everything. This took at least half an hour, and when we returned, there were a dozen new people in line.
It was another fifteen minutes before the paperwork was done. But it wasn't over yet. I had to go into the Duty Free Store, and wait in another line to actually get my cash refund. I got it, though.
Crossing the border titself took another two hours. No problems, just lots and lots of cars. And I didn't have to pay duty on the art, or the wine.
I had a lot of difficulty booking accommodation in Utica, where (anticipating delays at the border) I'd planned to spend the night. I was a bit concerned about the hotel where I finally did succeed in getting a room -- justifiably. It was very basic. Comfortable, but basic. And they did short-term rentals. Three to four hours, no refunds. (Are you thinking what I 'm thinking?)
But, hey! I had Bao, I had Johnny, it was okay.
And Pownal, Vermont -- where I'll be for the next five nights -- is to die for!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

You could say that our visit to Fort George started with a bang.
Right after I took their photo with Bao, the Brits excused themselves and ambled off to fire their cannon. (Okay, they aren’t Brits. They’re Canadians, dressed up as Brits) They fire the cannon every day, at noon. And you wouldn’t believe the noise. It scared a couple of the little kids. It scared Bao. It even scared me.
Mind you, my nerves were already rattled. The machine that dispenses parking permits had eaten my credit card, and we’d had to go searching for help. It wasn’t a big deal. Apparently, it happens all the time.
Fort George is a collection of unprepossessing, two-storey wooden buildings upon rolling, green lawns within a wooden stockade. Unlike the French and the Spanish, the English didn’t go in for big, imposing fortresses. This one is a reproduction. The original was completed in 1799 to guard the strategic river mouth of what was then called Newark. I quote from the guidebook: “The strong presence of the British military at Fort George, the fort’s well-trained and well-organized garrison, the strategic supply routes, and the gallant commander in chief Major-General Sir Isaac Brook, fostered a sense of security. On the other hand, the presence in the Niagara region of many American-born settlers, whose loyalty was questionable, was cause for concern.”
The concern proved to be justified. In 1813, American artillery batteries and warships reduced Fort George to a smoking ruin. They burnt the town, as well “driving the inhabitants out into a fierce winter storm.” No wonder Canadians don’t love the Yanks!
The restored Fort George features a number of staff dressed up in historically accurate 18th century costume, giving you an uncannily realistic idea of what day to day life in the fort must have been like for those who lived and worked there.
Leaving Fort George, Bao and I went on to a matinee performance of Henry James’ The Heiress. (Remember the film, starring Olivia de Havilland as Catherine?) It was fabulous. All nine of the productions I’ve seen, both here and in Stratford, have been superlative.
The Shaw Festival began in 1962, which makes it ten years younger than its Stratford counterpart, but I have to tell you, the quality of the acting, direction and production is every bit as good here as it was there. Plus, there are more shops here. And wineries. And Bao and I were welcome in all the theatres, and allowed to see all the plays. So if you’re travelling with a service animal and only have time for one festival, I’d say Niagara on the Lake is the better choice.
As for Bao, he’s had his fill of theatre. He’s actually looking forward to a couple of peaceful days in the car as we head east, to Tanglewood.
If only he could drive, he’d be perfect.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bao celebrated his birthday with a horse-drawn carriage ride around Niagara on the Lake, an afternoon tour of the local wineries and a doggie cupcake. Having downed the latter in two gulps (I can’t seem to teach him how to let flavours linger upon his tongue) he curled up and fell asleep on his back. So of course he snored all night, just like a husband.
Niagara on the Lake was founded by British loyalists who were unhappy with the outcome of what was eventually known as the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, the Americans invaded three times, on one occasion capturing the town and fort and holding them for seven months, after which they torched the place. The fort survived, and we plan to visit it this morning, if it stops raining.
The old town is beautifully preserved, with nearly a third of its buildings historically designated and identified by little oval plaques that tell you when they were built. However, conservation doesn’t come cheap. A quite ordinary, clapboard cracker-box of a place will set you back $700,000 and the waterfront B&B across the road has a price tag of $2.2 million. This strikes me as moderately extraordinary.
As you’d expect, antique dealers abound. And art galleries.
I’ve been assured that original works of art are duty free. We’ll see.
Yesterday’s big surprise was the wine. It’s very, very good. There are 17 vineyards in the immediate area, the most amazing of which is Sunnybrook, where they make wine out of fruit. By fruit, I don’t mean grapes. I mean fruit – including strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, and apples. The only fruit wines I’d ever tasted before yesterday were dessert wines, highly fortified tipples that give me a splitting headache if I take more than a sip or two. These are different. They’re just like ordinary table wine, meant to compliment meat, fish, cheese and pasta. Cranberry will be good with duckling, and the apple will go perfectly with pork. But the piece de resistance was Chocolate Embrace, blueberries infused with Belgian chocolate. I’m going to be very popular when I get home, at least, until we've emptied the bottle.
I’ve been assured that American visitors to Canada are allowed to import two bottles of wine per person per day they’ve spent in Canada. We’ll see.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bao, our (canine) host Chester, and me.
Although it called itself a Bed and Breakfast, Sally’s Place in Stratford was more like a self-contained apartment. The Old Bank House, however, is a true B&B, and I’m amazed at how easily Bao has adjusted to the idea that one of the rooms belongs to us, and the rest of the rooms and the downstairs belong to other people.
It’s been very hot and humid here. I heard a couple from Florida muttering that they might as well have stayed home. But if you cross the street to the park and sit in the pagoda, there’s always a lovely breeze off the lake.
Bao and I saw Arms and the Man yesterday. It was an excellent production, despite the fact that Shaw himself apparently intended the play to be a tragic-comedy, rather than a comedy. After its first performance in 1894, he wrote “I had the curious experience of witnessing an apparently insane success, with the actors and actresses almost losing their heads with the intoxication of laugh after laugh, and of going before the curtain to thunderous applause, the only person in the theatre who knew that the whole affair was a ghastly failure.”
That must be so frustrating.
An intensive theatre-going experience like this (nine plays in less than a fortnight) does make you realise how much the impact of any theatrical piece is determined by the performers, designers and directors rather than the actual playwright. Is this as it should be? Or should a play remain true to its creator’s intent? More to the point, does the creator always know what he (or she) is creating? I’ve just finished writing a novel that’s turned out quite differently from what I expected. I’m thrilled with the way it’s ended up, but even so, it’s not what I thought I was going to write.
Bao says I worry too much.
Yesterday was George Bernard Shaw’s 150th birthday. Today it’s Bao’s turn. He’s seven years old.
If I can find a butcher’s shop, I’ll buy him a bone.
Or a doggy chocolate, from Barkery and Fitz.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Leo loves Gilda and Gilda loves Leo. Gilda also loves Otto, who loves her but also loves Leo. And Leo loves him. Leo, Gilda and Otto all love Ernest, and he loves them. Or rather, he thinks he does. But the only one he really loves is Gilda, who doesn't actually love him as much as she loves everybody else. In the end, this proves unfortunate for Ernest.
Noel Coward’s Design For Living was pretty hot stuff when it opened in Cleveland in 1932 – the Brokeback Mountain of its time, except that – according to the program notes – American audiences were so naïve they thought a married man couldn’t be homosexual.
Coward wrote the play for himself and his friends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. Everyone in the theatre world already knew Coward as gay, and Fontaine and Lunt were famous for their on-stage, erotic lovemaking.
Still, it was risky. One critic called it “decadent and unholy.” George Jean Nathan (writing in Vanity Fair) said the wit was stale and Coward’s philosophy “shallow as gin in a drained martini glass.” It worked, though, and the audiences loved it. Human audiences, that is. Bao slept through all three acts. But dogs are naturally open-minded, and tolerant of one another. Maybe that’s why they don’t bother writing plays.
The Shaw Festival is smaller than its Stratford counterpart, but it’s basically the same idea: A single company staging an annual cycle of plays (limited here to works by Shaw and his contemporaries) in three theatres. I’d say just about everyone at the B&B has come for the Festival.
Niagara on the Lake is slightly bigger than Stratford, and there appears to be a bit more to do. The shops and galleries are crammed full of gorgeous, expensive things. There are horse and carriage rides through the town, and tours of the regional wineries, and boat rides on Lake Ontario. And of course, Niagara Falls is just down the road.
Here’s our B&B, and Bao doing breakfast. I found WiFi.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Niagara On The Lake is very beautiful, very quaint.
They don't have WiFi. They don't have cable. Internet is dial-up, when you can find a signal. Sometimes, guests at the place I'm staying can pick up a signal from next door, but I couldn't. So I'm at the local library, where I can use a computer for 30 minutes each day, but can't post photos, which is a pity, as this place is extremely photogenic.
Home for the next four days is a B&B called The Old Bank Inn, overlooking the lake. (When I return to civiliztion I will definitely post some pictures!) The bed in our bedroom is so high that I've had to position a chair next to it, so that Bao can jump up. It's a big, soft, four-poster bed heaped with pillows and quilts, and we slept magnificently.
Breakfast this morning was poached pears and blueberry pancakes with sausages and whipped cream. Yesterday was Eggs Benedict. I will become big as a house.
Interesting tidbit: Although we're only a couple of hours east of Stratford (where it starts snowing in October and doesn't stop until April) they hardly get any snow here at all, and the winters are quite mild. Apparently, it's the moderating influence of the lake. Lush green lawns, lots of parks, and flowers everywhere.
But no high-speed internet. Not even an internet cafe.
Bao has a new friend, Chester -- the B&B's resident Australian Terrier. He's a real sweetheart, and just about Bao's size.
When I was a little girl, long distance telephone calls were such a novelty that people always began by shouting, Can you hear me?
Now I'm complaining because there's no WiFi.
Amazing, when you stop to think about it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

This is Stratford Courthouse, a magnifcent edifice that totally dominates the far end of the main drag, complete with a poster advertising this season's Stratford Festival and the ubiquitious hanging baskets full of flowers that grace every lamppost in town. How's that for getting it all into a single photograph?
Bao and I spent the morning wandering around the gardens, taking videos. There are lots and lots of gardens, one more enchanting then the next. Everything here is so beautifully, lushly green.
Alas! Even Stratford isn't perfect. This is a warts and all blog, so I'll tell it like it is. Or was.
When we arrived at the Tom Patterson Theatre yesterday afternoon for our final play -- The Duchess of Malfi -- we were summarily turned away by House Manager Eldon Gammon, on the grounds that he thought Bao might cause a disturbance. There was no appeal. Never mind that Bao is a Service Animal. Never mind that it was in the computer that I was attending with a Service Animal. In Canada, the House Manager is God. Another Festival official eventually agreed to refund the $93 I'd paid for the ticket, (Gammon wasn't even going to give me my money back!) but that's not really the point. People say Duchess of Malfi is depressing and I didn't miss much, but that's not the point, either. I really wanted to see the marvellous Lucy Peacock in the role of Duchess. It was embarrassing, and disappointing.
The six plays we did manage to see (including Henry IV at the Tom Patterson) were nonetheless excellent.
I'm finding Canada an odd sort of place. It's physically very beautiful, and slightly more expensive than the States. The restaurants are world class. They produce good wines here, and good theatre. But when all is said and done, there's a certain philosophical difference between America's committment to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and Canada's quest for "peace, order and good government".
Here in Canada, said Christopher Schmidt, we have a rule for everything, a fine for everything and a tax for everything.
That pretty much sums it up.
Today we're going to Niagara On the Lake.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

After a quiet morning of grooming (we both had a shampoo and blow dry, although not in the same establishment) Bao and I saw a matinee performance of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menangerie, starring Seana McKenna as Amanda Wingfield and Steven Sutcliffe (who could easily turn out to be the next Tom Cruise) as Tom.
Again, I was amazed at the scintillating quality of the production. After all, Stratford isn't what you'd call a metropolis. It's barely a dot on the map. Who would have dreamed that the theatre would be so fantastically good? Maybe it's because so much of the community is involved: Margo (of Margo's Dog Grooming, who did Bao's hair) has a daughter in Oliver! and Christopher Schmidt (of Century Salon, who did mine) had an autographed photo of Seana McKenna and Lucy Peacock (also his clients) hanging in the salon.
Seana McKenna was amazing. She had Amanda Wingfield's Missouri accent down pat. My late husband's mother was from St. Louis, and if I closed my eyes, it was like hearing her voice again. I suppose any decent actor can imitate a southern accent, but this wasn't merely generic; this was pure St. Louis. And Steven Sutcliffe -- if I was forty years younger, I would have been waiting breathlessly outside the stage door!
This is our last day here, and I can't believe I still haven't told you about the swans. There are about 30 pairs of swans, and they're a very big deal, here. They're also very big, which is why you're seeing one photo of Bao and another of the swans. Sometimes the swans attack dogs, and the dogs fight back, so lots of dogs wear muzzles when they're being walked along the river.
Someone brought the original pair of swans to Stratford from Florida, thinking they'd jazz up the river. They do. There are signs all over the place exhorting you to feed the swans corn, or greens, but not bread. Apparently, bread gets stuck in their throats and they choke on it.
There are ducks, too. And Canadian geese. And black squirrels. Bao finds it all a bit overwhelming, and prefers the theatre.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A day at the Stratford Festival, just so you know. Up early for Meet the Festival, an on-going event in which two actors from the company sit on folding chairs on a bare stage in a small theatre and answer questions from the audience. You soon get a sense of which performers (like Bruce Dow and Laird Mackintosh) you'd like to sit next to some night at dinner. Or not.
On to a Playwright's Circle talk by Stratford Festival Conservatory Director David Latham. Coffee, fruit and muffins. David explained the process in which 1000 aspiring actors apply for a position at the Conservatory each year, of whom 12 are eventually accepted for participation in a 20 week course during which they learn how to read classical texts. Performing classical texts isn't easy. If you don't believe me, take out your Shakespeare, select a longish speech, and try it yourself. Hint: It helps to know the difference between a noun and a verb, and most younger people don't, these days.
Tabletalk is a weekly series of buffet lunches. This one featured an analysis of Much Ado About Nothing by Alan Somerset, Professor of English at the University of Western Ontario. He also wrote the Program Notes for Much Ado. By the way, all of the Festival play programs are well worth keeping, filled as they are with photos, knowledgeable essays and interview transcripts.
After lunch, a quick photo-op in front of the wonderful gardens at Festival Theatre, and then on to a matinee performance of Much Ado About Nothing, which was originally called, Much Ado about Noting. (I didn't know that. Did you?) Noting (pronounced "no thing" in Shakespeare's time) referred to eavesdropping. The costumes were Edwardian, which I found off-putting at first. But the production, like everything else we've seen, was superb, although Bao slept through it. He prefers the history plays.
People are starting to recognize Bao. They come up to us outside the theatre and in the street, just to say hello and give him a scratch behind the ears and tell him what a good, quiet little dog he is. At this point, good, exhausted little dog might be more like it.
After the play, dinner at The Old Prune. (Is this starting to sound like Alan Bennett's diary?) French style, with a four-course Signature Menu by Chef Bryan Steele, each course accompanied by a specially selected wine, hosted by the inimitable Jules and Jo. The Old Prune is internationally famous, and rightly so.
We could have gone to another play, after dinner. People do, but we didn't. We went home, and Bao was asleep before his little head hit the pillow. True confessions -- I wasn't far behind him. I guess I'm not as young as I used to be.

Friday, July 21, 2006

At its peak, the Stratford Festival features fifteen plays running simultaneously at four theatres, plus enough other activities to keep everyone continually occupied.
There are weekly lunchtime lectures (with and without lunch) and special lectures. There's a concert program. There are backstage tours, Costume Warehouse tours, and garden tours. There are discussion groups, pre-show lectures and post-show lectures and there are restaurant dinners with members of the cast. We attended one of those last night, and were lucky enough to be sitting next to the talented Bruce Dow, who's playing the role if Mr. Bumble in Oliver! and Luther Billis in South Pacific and graciously agreed to appear on this blog.
Some of the plays are performed on a bare stage, but others -- particularly the musicals --require tons of complicated scenery. At the moment, Coriolanus, Oliver! and Much Ado About Nothing are all playing at the Festival Theatre. So sets are constantly being changed, put up and taken down and put back up again within a 24-hour period. This is called "Changover" and Bao and I got special permission to watch.
I had expected excitement, lots of shouting, noise, and general confusion. It was more like a ballet. A dozen men in hard hats moved slowly, quietly and purposefully around the stage, and as if by magic, backgrounds were hoisted and an entire section of the London Bridge took shape before our eyes. Every move was orchestrated, and every piece of the set fit ieffortlessly nto its place as if it was a gigantic jigsaw puzzle putting itself together.
We'd planned to take some photographs of the Shakespeare Garden in the afternoon sun but it rained, so Bao took me shopping. He really is the most delightful of travelling companions!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Question: What do Beatrice Lillie, William Shatner, Lorne Greene, Mary Pickford and Raymond Massey have in common? Answer: They're all Canadian.
Ben Cartwright? Captain Jim Kirk?
Maybe you already knew this. I didn't. (Neither did Bao) But yesterday morning, among several dozen wonderful ink portraits by Montreal-born Grant MacDonald being exhibited at Gallery Stratford, I found myself looking at a very young William Shatner depicted in his role as a character in Taming of the Shrew at the Festival's 1954 production of the play. Then I learned that Ethel (my friend Jo's sister) attended Continuing Education classes with "Billy" Shatner's mother. I admit it, I was impressed. (Bao says I impress easily. This is true)
Grant MacDonald created many portraits of actors and actresses in and out of character, both here in Stratford and earlier, in New York. In addition to those mentioned above, there were also vivid sketches of theatrical luminaries like Noel Coward, Tallulah Bankhead and Katherine Hepburn on display. My mother would have loved it. MacDonald apparently moved in fabulous circles, and possessed a rare talent. Sadly, like Van Gogh, he died penniless. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?
After lunch we saw "London Assurance" by Dion Boucicault (who, like MacDonald, died in relative obscurity after a scintillating career) It was one of those wonderful, 18th century, campy farces. and starred Brian Bedford as super-fop Sir Harcourt Courtly. Bedford also directed. The sets were absolutely magnificent.
One of the interesting things about the Stratford Festival is that company members play simulataneous roles in several productions, and direct as well as act. For example, Adam O'Byrne (who played Hotspur in Henry IV) also played Sir Harcourt's son Charles. How do you suppose they manage to keep their personas straight?
Bao says it's all concentration. But of course, he's a Shih Tzu.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sally fixed it! High speed, wireless internet up and running.
Yesterday morning we did a bus tour. The bus was one of those English doubledeckers, bright red and almost as old as I am, which groaned its way through the narrow streets while our Austrian-born guide Willi told tales of Stratford, old and new.
The Shakespearean connection was purely coincidental. (Stratford simply means, Where the road fords the river) Stratford's first building was an inn. Someone gave the innkeeper a sign with a picture of Shakespeare on it, so they called it the Shakespeare Inn. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thomas Edison lived in Stratford, briefly, when he was a kid. He worked for the railroad and fell asleep on the job (so the story goes) and two trains almost collided. So he left, and went to America where he invented the electric lightbulb, the phonograph and other things. Canadians tell this story with real gusto, although they tend to focus upon the train crash that didn't happen and leave out the part about inventing the electric lightbulb.
Norman Bethune was born in Stratford. You don't know who Norman Bethune was? Shame on you. Go look him up.
Stratford boasts nearly 1000 acres of parkland and the only double viaduct bridge in North American that's still in use. And of course, the Stratford Festival, now in its 53rd year.
The Queen visited the Festival, a few years back. A helicopter deposited her upon the lawn in front of the Festival Theatre, where she attended a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. I asked if she brought the corgis. Willi didn' t think so.
We spent the afternoon at an Australian play, The Blonde, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead, by Robert Hewett. One actress, Lucy Peacock, played all seven human roles . (There was also a dog, but it was invisible, much to Bao's irritation) The play itself consisted of a series of monologues, and was actually more about the acting than it was about the plot, which was almost non-existent. The acting, however, was excellent.
This is Lucy Peacock's 19th season at Stratford. She's also plays the role of the Duchess in The Duchess of Amalfi and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Talk about multi-tasking.
The squirrels here are black, with reddish tails. Bet you didn't know that.
And when Margaret Attwood visits Stratford, she stays here, at Sally's Place. Bet you didn't know that, either.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Everyone involved with the Festival takes a rest on Monday, and so did we.
Well, not exactly a rest. We spent the morning packing up and moving from Jules and Jo's condo to Sally's Place, the B&B where we'll spend the rest of the week. Once again, we've lucked out. The house is cute as a picture in a story-book, as you can see. (Can you spot Bao?) It's divided into three apartments, and we're in the Graham Greene Suite, comprising the whole downstairs and the front porch, complete with our own Jacuzzi.
There really is a Sally. She lives next door. Our larder has been stocked with enough food to feed the entire cast of As You Like It -- and this is definitely the way we like it! Strawberries, blueberries, cantaloup, muffins, Danish pastries, chocolate (oh, yes!) even a supply of Microwave Popcorn for munchies. This is bed and breakfast, plus.
As nothing whatsoever was happening on the theater front, Bao and I took an afternoon stroll around town. It's smallish, and looks a lot like Australia; pubs and dark, brick buildings, small windows, residences and businesses sort of muddled together, and a rather magnificent courthouse at the far end of the main drag.
There are flowers everywhere, baskets of flowers hanging from the lampposts, orderly plantings of begonia and impatiens in immaculate beds cut into velvety, green lawns, and cottage gardens overflowing with roses, daisies, hollyhocks and lilies in front of many of the houses, an inordinate number of which are for sale.
I wouldn't exactly call Stratford a tourist town. There are a handful of up market restaurants and a few more art and antique shops than you'd expect to find in the average, Canadian town of 23,000, but mostly, I think people here just get on with it. They accommodate Festival visitors, but they don't exactly cater to them. It's as if there are two separate populations, each with its own reality, and each viewing the other's reality as virtual.
Alas! Nothing is perfect. The bad news is that the high-speed internet at Sally's Place doesn't work. The good news is that there's a UPS store practically across the street. Sally is trying to sort this out. Her manager Rose is trying to tell me it's all my fault. Meanwhile, it's costing me $10 per hour. And that's why you've got to tip your head to see the photo. But hey! They're Canadian dollars.
Bao says to tell you he's writing a critique of Henry IV.

Monday, July 17, 2006

If a cat can look at a king, a dog can look at Henry IV -- and yesterday, this little dog did.
Bao ended up with his own seat next to me, from which he watched the entire production of Henry IV Part One.
No, I didn't buy him a ticket. But my original seat turned out to be in the very first row, as close to the stage as you could get without being part of the play. It was one of those thrust stages, so if you're sitting in the first row, you're close to reach out and touch the actors. (Or stick out your foot and trip them as they run past. I saw a little kid do this, once)
One of the ushers thought it might be a bit too close for comfort where Bao was concerned (He was very tactful about it. He asked me if Bao was accustomed to sword fights) and offered to change my seat to one a few rows up, and throw in a seat for Bao in the bargain. I accepted with alacrity, and I'm glad I did.
The new seats were excellent (there wasn't a bad seat in the entire theatre) and to my genuine surprise, Bao seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show. I thought he'd just curl up and go to sleep, but he didn't. He sat there, wide awake, watching everything, for three whole hours. He seemed particularly interested in Falstaff. I was quite amazed. I never knew Bao liked Shakespeare.
During intermission, quite a few people came up to say what a good, quiet little dog he was. I am always surprised at how effortlessly most people accept the presence of a dog in places where one doesn't usually encounter dogs. It's nice for me, too. When I'm with Bao, people invariably chat with us, and I feel like I'm part of the occasion, rather than just one more lone woman out on her own.
What do you suppose is going through his mind? a man asked, as we were leaving.
Maybe, said the man's companion, he's thinking about what he'll write in his column.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Startford, Ontario.
We saw Coriolanus yesterday -- this was one of the best productions of Shakespeare I have ever seen anywhere, including the plays I saw at the "real" Stratford in England. I think perhaps the Royal Shakespeare Company sometimes gets a bit ho-hum about it all, but this cast was vivid, energetic and dynamic, clearly enjoying themselves as much as we were!
The stage was round, almost all of it surrounded by audience. There were minimal costumes, but no scenery at all, just as it would have been in Shakespeare's time. Coriolanus isn't one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, and this was the first time I'd seen it performed, and true confessions -- I was a bit dubious about three hours of serious Shakespeare.
It was fabulous. From the tumultuous opening scene to the inevitable, tragic ending, I was enthralled. Coriolanus was played by Colm Feore, an absolutely outstanding Shakespearean actor. He does other kinds of roles, as well; but I have to say, his Coriolanus was simply unsurpassable. Later in the season, he's doing Don Juan, and I'm actually thinking of flying back just to see it. That's how good he is.
That's why I'm here, by the way. Stratford is a sweet little place, but you wouldn't drive thousands of miles (and brave Canadian Immigration) just to watch the swans swimming up and down the river.
The Stratford Festival is the drawing card, not just for me but for thousands of other people who love theatre. Seventeen plays (including four by Shakespeare) performing non-stop (except on Mondays, when everyone rests) in four gorgeous theatres.
Bao enjoys theatre. He especially likes it when there's an empty seat next to me, so he can watch. But he doesn't really mind sleeping under the seat, either. Applause used to alarm him, but he's gotten used to it. And he enjoys mingling with the crowd during intermission. Actually, he's a very cultured little dog.
The Stratford Festival began in 1951, when someone named Tom Patterson said, We've got this town called Stratford, and this river called Avon. Why don't we have a Shakespeare Festival? Now, one of the theatres is named after him.
The Festival is attended by 550,000 people and adds nearly $150 million to Canada's Gross Domestic Product. It generates over $55 million in taxes alone, and creates over 3000 fulltime jobs. It's a very big deal. It might be even bigger if they didn't give Americans such a hard time at the border.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stratford, Ontario.
Canada is green, lush, and very English. There's a river -- the Avon River, of course -- and a lovely, riverfront park that's internationally famous as one of the most beautiful, riverside parks in the world. All of this is wasted on Bao. You can take the dog out of Bondi Junction, but you can't take Bondi Junction out of the dog. The white ducks are bigger than he is, and the swans are bigger than the ducks, and he finds all the grass a bit overwhelming.
This is a very pretty little town. But lest you be tempted by the beautiful scenery, a word of warning. Crossing the border from the United States into Canada is not a piece of cake. Nor is it a sure thing. In fact, we almost didn't make it.
Is this your first visit to Canada? asked the Immigration Officer in the booth.
Yes, it is.
Have you got a passport or a birth certificate?
I said I didn't think I needed one.
It's not the law, she told me. But it's at our discretion.
So what does that mean, exactly?
In my case, it meant parking and locking the car and waiting my turn in Immigration.
Here, a young woman from Arkansas was in the process of being turned back. They'd been questioning her for an hour. They'd searched her car, which was packed full of personal possessions, including her cat. They'd found a signed, expired lease. She said she just wanted to visit, to have a look around and see what Canada was like. It wasn't good enough. They wouldn't let her in. She had to turn around and drive back to Arkansas.
I was next.
Where was I born? East Orange, New Jersey. American citizen? Yes. Where was I going? To visit my friends Jules and Jo in Stratford. What's their address? I told them. How did I know these people? Jo and I were docents at the Tucson Museum of Art. How long was I staying? Fifteen days. The computer did its thing and she gave me a bit of yellow paper, and told me to show it to the guy outside.
I asked him, Was all that because I didn't have my passport?
No, he replied. It's because it's your first visit to Canada.
I was lucky, because I didn't fit the profile (whatever it is) and I had a destination. If you fit the profile, you're in big trouble. And even if you don't fit the profile, you still have to have a destination, or they won't let you in.
So if you find yourself close to the border and thinking it might be fun to have a quick look at Canada, think again. Or make a hotel booking in advance, and be sure you've got proof of citizenship.
And remember, it's not a sure thing.
They do turn people away.
At their discretion.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Chippewa Indians say that long ago, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a terrible forest fire. They swam and swam. When the mother bear finally reached shore, she scrambled up onto a bluff to wait for her cubs, but the cubs didn’t make it. So the Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where they drowned, and then he created a huge, solitary sand dune – Sleeping Bear Dune – to represent their faithful, grieving mother.
A sand dune is simply a pile of sand deposited by wind. Beach dunes sit on the shore and are made of beach sand. Perched dunes sit high above the shore on plateaus, and are made of glacial sand. Sleeping Bear Dune is a perched dune. It’s about 2000 years old, with a geological history of growth, stability and change which is geologically interesting but not nearly as evocative as the Chippewa legend. However, sand dunes do migrate, burying trees and even structures. There used to be some US Coast Guard buildings here, but they were moved in 1931 because the dune was about to engulf them.
You’re looking at the far southern edge of the dune. Here, the young and the restless (and the totally irresponsible) can climb all the way down to Lake Michigan. The problem is that they’ve then got to climb back up again. Some people – like the bear cubs – can’t make it, and have to be rescued by helicopter or boat. A sign warns, The return climb is extremely strenuous.
All the sand confused Bao, probably because in his experience, where there’s sand there’s an ocean, and waves. Bao dislikes waves, and any other natural force that's bigger than he is, and kept stopping and looking with typical Shih Tzu caution back over his shoulder.
When we reached the lookout, he gazed with trepidation at the line of climbers struggling back up the side of the dune. Don't worry, I assured him. We're not going to do that. And we didn't. My friend Edwina and her husband Bob have a spacious house on Crystal Lake (that’s the one I told you about yesterday) and two cats who don’t like dogs and were therefore locked in the laundry room for the duration of our visit. There we are on the pier. Bao took one look at the lake and resolutely dug in his paws, so we couldn't go all the way out to the end, which would have made a much better picture. He's generally a wonderful traveller, but he definitely prefers galleries, museums, restaurants and shops to the great outdoors.
We had a quiet afternoon, and a restless night -- for the second straight night, hordes of unsupervised children were thundering up and down the corridors of this otherwise pleasant Best Western motel, screaming and slamming doors, until well after midnight. Give me a dog, anytime!
By the way, it isn't really 3 AM (although it feels like it!) I just haven't been able to figure out how to adjust the clock in my computer, which still thinks it's in Tucson.