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Starting A Big Trip - Ashland and Culture

August 20-23, 2015
Written August 21+

Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

Finally, we are starting a "big trip".  When we returned from Germany, 18 months ago, our plan had been to travel the US and elsewhere with regularity.  However, between the complexities of moving and unforeseen medical priorities, it has taken us this long to actually return to the road. We plan to be gone about seven weeks, not our longest-ever road trip, but more than a weekend.

We will see Oregon and Washington, at least the Western side, but plans are still vague about seeing anywhere east of the Cascades.  Maybe, maybe not.  In any event, the trip started with a nine hour drive from Fresno to Ashland, Oregon.  Actually, the trip started with planning and packing.  It had been awhile since we'd planned and packed for a long trip, so we were a bit rusty.  At least we have a big Jeep to load instead of the more-limited Boxster, so we needed less discipline.  (Actually, we both miss the Boxster as a travel car!)  Proving some sort of law of travel, we filled the available space.

d150820_01_path.jpgThe drive itself started with breakfast at Farnesi's in Chowchilla, a "regular" place for any trips going north.  I do enjoy regularity, even when stepping off into "new" places.  From there, it was up through the northern San Joaquin Valley and the length of the Sacramento Valley, California's most productive farmland, important but boring.  Finally, north of Redding, we hit mountains - I think.  In fact, the valley around Dunsmuir and McCloud, normally surrounded with views of Mount Shasta and other peaks, was shrouded in smoke and haze, the result of fires in northern California.  Too bad, because the views can be spectacular.
Breakfast and lunch.  Pretty exotic
Along the way

By late afternoon, we reached Ashland and the Parkside Lodging, our home for the next three days.  Marianne's Mom#2 Klare had recommended it and it was a cute little bungalow.  (Picture later)
After unpacking and putting our feet up for a bit, we walked down Lithia Park into the center of town for dinner.  Nice walk.  Nice dinner. After eating, we felt the need to walk a bit and explored downtown Ashland.  I had last been here 45 years ago, when Ashland was a regular stop on my drive from home in San Mateo to school in Portland and Seattle, and it has become a tourist Mecca.  Dozens of restaurants, bars, and cute shops line the central streets and sidewalks, sidewalks that are populated by tourists in shorts and "hippies" in ... whatever.

We stopped by for the evening show at The Green Stage, just outside the entrance to the Shakespeare Theater.  Every evening, except Monday, the Stage offers a free show and tonight's offering was "Dancing Spirit", an authentic Native American dance group.  Colorful and dynamic, for sure.

d150820_38_quiet.jpgBy now, we were beat, and needed a few minutes rest at one of the peaceful benches in Lithia Park.  Reflecting on the day, I had mixed impressions.  Our nine-hour drive had been tiring, but shorter than my college-age drive of 14-hours.  (I was driving a very slow 1952 MG TD.)  I think the long, dull drive serves as a barrier to keep California people from invading Oregon on casual notice.  And Ashland itself?  First impression was too touristy and hippie, but I'm sure this will fade as we spend more time.

Day two would end with Anthony and Cleopatra, but the daylight events were unplanned.  After the early formalities of Starbucks coffee and diary writing, we headed out to breakfast at The Breadboard.  Recommendable, even if our diet choices are far more limited than the menu.

d150821_06_schnider.jpgOur next stop was the Schneider Museum of Art on the campus of Southern Oregon University, were we stumbled upon a wonderful exhibition of the work of Chuck Close.  (No photos allowed, but Wikipedia and other sites show some examples.)  The Exhibition, titled "Chuck Close: Face Forward", featured some of his most iconic and powerful images of expressionless faces, including his own.  His paintings are sometimes called "photorealistic", a term he himself dislikes.  While they are generally built of "pixel" arrays, in detail they are collections of abstract paintings. 

d150821_90_close.jpg And not just painting.  Close concentrates as much on the process of making an image as on the product itself and he creates work in paint, etching, lithograph, screen print, and even needlepoint.  His needlepoint self-portrait on display showed unbelievable skill and vision, as did his amazing examples of portraits done to be viewed in mirror-surfaced cylinders. (An art called anamorphoses.) Literally, we could not imagine how one could do what he did.

Close's back story, or personal history, makes his work even more remarkable.  As a child, he used his art to fight the effects of severe dyslexia.  He struggled with reading, but could perfectly remember anything he heard and used this sound memory to help make it through school, up through a Masters of Fine Art at Yale.  His choice of faces as subjects stemmed from a condition called prosopagnosia, where he was unable to recognize faces.  Every glance of a face was a new person to him, but his art helped him remember at least some of the people most important to him. 

His story became even more tragic and remarkable when, at age 48, a spinal aneurysm left him a partial quadriplegic.  Moving ahead, he shifted his style, and learned to paint with the brush strapped to his wrist.  The Face Forward exhibition showed videos of him working in his truly amazing, deliberate, step-by-step process.  At age 75, he continues his art, an inspiration on any number of levels.

d150821_08_moredeer.jpg The rest of our day was spent on normal day-to-day activities.  Lunch, nap (John), drawing (Marianne), and walks through Lithia Park, sharing space with the tamest deer I have ever seen.  Rod, the owner of Parkside Lodging where we are staying, said they are is filled with wildlife, and not-so-wild-life as well.  The deer manage to eat everything they want in essentially all planted areas.  A bear or two search through garbage cans looking for snacks.  Cougars have been spotted in yards.  Wild turkeys wander the streets and woodpeckers pick into the old, wood houses.  Rod seemed both unhappy and proud of the animals invading his Ashland neighborhood.

Of course the Friday highlight was an evening performance of Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra" in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.  We arrived early enough to enjoy another Green Stage presentation, this time of the folk trio "kites & crows".  Inside the Theatre we took what pictures we could, rented seat cushions for the outdoor seating, had a cookie and pretzel dinner, and settled in for a wonderful three-hour show.
The next day, we came back to take pictures and watch stage work.
Our seats in the green sea.
Shakespeare was why we came to Ashland, and the performance we chose justified the stop.   Every aspect met expectations, from the outdoor theater (or theatre), through the acting, and even the technical staging details. We are not live theater affectionados, I can not remember the last play we even saw, but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Anthony and Cleopatra reminded us of something we have missed.  Maybe we will catch up the next time we can.

Day 3 was completely unplanned, except for Marianne recovering from some sort of stomach bug she had "noticed" during the night.  Unfortunately, recovery was not sudden or quick and we managed only meals and a single tourist activity - the weekly open market.  The "thing" part of the Ashland market had some very nice arts and crafts, including some excellent wildlife photography.  There was a real hippie feel to some kiosks, complete with tye-dye and incense.  The "food" parts appeared quite authentic and representative of local farmers and producers.  In the old days, we would have stocked up on cheese, fruit, and local wine and then gone back to the cottage for a picnic lunch.  Nowadays, such feasts are off the diet.  (We DID have a nice, not-so-light, meal at The Loft, complete with drinks and wine.  Our diet resolve had just worn thin!)
d150822_24_sketch.jpgThe rest of the day continued quietly, Marianne sketching, me reading and trying to learn details of my two new cameras and all the assorted software.  With enough time, I enjoy the complication and opportunity to learn something new.  I hope I can make use of it and improve my pictures.

So, what was my overall impression of Ashland?  Nice stop, and the Shakespeare Theatre is a great experience. Plenty of shops to fill the normal needs of tourists: food and gifts.  Reportedly, there are healthy attractions in the hills and mountains around, but we passed.  The smoke from forest fires made breathing harder, but nowhere is perfect.  Will we come back?  Maybe, maybe not.

Now we are on to the Oregon Coast: Florence and Cannon Beach.

John and Marianne


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