Wednesday, July 30, 2014

forty two

For as many years as I've celebrated my birthday abroad (and I think this makes eight of the last nine) I've never done it where it seems most fitting: Stratford-upon-Avon. I'm a massive bardolator and I'm never happier in England than I am out in the country. So it was great to be in Warwickshire this birthday. I love London, but sometimes I need to breathe, too. I'm 42. Grandpa needs a nap!

We picked up our coach on Queen's Gate; our driver was Kelvin and he drove, I kid you not, a Mercedes Benz bus. This thing was posh. The seats reclined. Reclined! There was a hidden toilet on board - tucked away discreetly, like the lamppost to Narnia. And big, beautiful windows. Never has the M40 looked more verdant or glorious. And never have my students fallen asleep so quickly. Kelvin was clearly crop dusting them all through the AC vents with some kind of narcotic. I loved it! I got a lot of reading done.

Our first stop, sadly, was a disappointment. Downton Abbey was closed. A toothless gentlemen stood guard and wouldn't even let us close enough to take a picture. They're filming today, he said. No Americans allowed. So we did the next best thing: Blenheim Palace.

Blenheim looked fantastic in the sun, as always. We were daring and went directly to the new exhibition, a multimedia tour called "Blenheim Palace - the Untold Story". You move from room to room with a ghostly tour guide as interactive animatronic characters from the history of the house jerk awkwardly and breathe in sporadic puffs. You might think this sounds exciting - we thought it might, too. But it was kind of a flop. The stories are hard to follow and you stay way too long in each room. Fortunately, in my case, I went on the tour with a bunch of theatre majors. You can bet they made it twice as funny through sarcastic comments and witty retorts. At one point Kailey launched into some parkour.

But the gardens of Blenheim are always spectacular. We walked out into the secret garden and lay under a large tree for a few minutes. We also spent some time at the koi pond. Everything was quiet as the grave.

Then we boarded the coach again and headed to Mary Arden's farm. I'm not sure how many times I've been to Mary's farm; I just don't get sick of it. Naturally we attended the bird show, which is performed with substantial energy by the same man every afternoon. He's been doing it for years. He really, really loves birds. Caleb and Amber held hands and an owl swooped over them. Now they have to get married! We also spent time in the willow house, which every year grows taller and more mysterious.

Next stop was Anne Hathaway's cottage. Also beautiful and quaint, and barely anybody there this year. They've constructed a giant half-moon wicker chair just outside the cottage. I sat in it and took a little sun in; the students poked in and out of the house. We also hung out in the sonnet willow and braved the lavender maze, which was chiefly scary for the bees. The apples are in bloom in the orchard. It feels like Fall over here. Can you spot Miles in the picture above?

We checked into the Virginia Lodge and Aidan House B&B's, changed for the show, and headed into town for dinner. Per tradition, I had fish and chips at the Dirty Duck pub. Miles and I decided to save my birthday cake for tomorrow, since the Dirty Duck only had ice cream on the menu. Oh, we also had ice cream. Afterwards, we played Downton Abbey on the steps of the pub. Though in some ways, I sort of look like Henry VIII. Can you see it?

Tonight we saw the RSC's Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare's first, and possibly lightest comedy. They gave it a contemporary spin; elements of it looked and felt like The Talented Mr. Ripley. It was just ok, though. It didn't feel like a comedy - it felt like they were trying to make it more resonant and deep than it is. Two Gents has never been high art, so there's no point in trying to make it that. We want to laugh at the dirty jokes, mock the protagonist, and watch the dog. Save your tears for Hamlet, RSC. Make us laugh!

We ended the day in two ways: I affixed this giant button to my shirt, and we played several rounds of ghost in the graveyard at Shakespeare's church. Is there anything more thrilling than playing ghosts in the graveyard in a Tudor graveyard? Under a moon? And then telling scary stories? Happy birthday to me.

Also: Topher found a bone in the graveyard. Looks suspiciously human. And yes, those are his fingernails.