The gentlewomen’s guide to Shakespeare and chardonnay, savoring Oregon’s sophisticated pleasures on stage, in the vineyards and on the waterfront. See Celebration Traveler Guide Music, Dance, Theater: Oregon for the day-by-day itinerary.
by Donna Peck It was June and Midsummer Night’s Dream spun its charms on an Elizabethan stage not in Stratford-upon-Avon but in the Oregon foothills.
Since my first reading of Romeo & Juliet, I’ve been a fan of the Bard, a love that I share with my daughter who was betrothed and busy as ever but easily bribed by tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As further enticement, I promised detours through the vineyards and sequestered evenings at Portland’s artsy hotels. “A leisurely trip,” I assured her: no hurtling between activities as we did in her childhood.
At the matinee performance of King Lear the following day, the king’s anguish cries tore at our hearts. Whether comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s plays pry you open.
Life mirrors art
After nightfall in Ashland, every street corner is a stage. Competing entertainment pops up in galleries, restaurants, wine bars and pubs. We drifted toward the brightest and the loudest.
Howls of laughter erupted from Oberon’s Pub. Prancing in the orange light, a poet in a leather jerkin and feathered cap contrived verses from audience call-outs. It was hilarious nonsense about Antarctica’s melting glaciers and Captain Nemo’s submarine.
Entertainment filled every inch of Black Sheep Pub. A barman collected $3 and gestured a tattooed arm to an empty table. Where to look first! Aerialists wrapped sinuous bodies in sheaths of red silk. The waitress danced toward us with menus then with steaming fish pies. Belly dancers clicked finger cymbals and bare-chested drummers pumped the crowd bringing everyone to their feet.
We entertained ourselves the next day in Lithia Park, center stage for the town’s recreation. A trail circled a lake and led to a geodesic dome constructed with dozens of wire rungs. My daughter regretted wearing a dress: it was a great spot to swing and hang upside down. In Lithia Plaza, fountains disperse lithium-laced mineral water. After the first shocking sip, the salty taste and chalky texture has a pleasant effect: lithium water makes you calm and mentally nimble.
Wine parties and hobbit holes
Our midsummer romp continued through Umpqua and Willamette valleys, bringing us to Portland and a posh bower at the Heathman Hotel. Our nest was Room 626 and our sleep-inducing potion a bottle of Reustle Vineyards dry Riesling. Wrapped in voluminous bathrobes, we revisited the golden moments of her childhood and early adulthood as humans as wont to do when everything is about to change. Night descended slowly, and soon the only light in the room came through the window from the white halo illuminating the Pioneer Courthouse dome.
Waking from phantasmic dreams…no twigs in our hair…we drove to Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge. The 45-foot-long ornate footbridge built in 1914 by Italian stonemasons gives visitors a dead-center view of the misty cascade. The upper trail winds through a temperate rainforest to Multnomah’s summit. “Yikes!” My daughter turned green looking at the drop from the platform when I coaxed her out for a photo.
She raced ahead on the return, a fern behind each ear. Each switchback offered another mossy glen and big leaf maple canopy in which to pose. She scrunched into a hobbit-size tree root for a photo, not minding the dirt.
That evening, the Hotel Monaco’s theatrical digs tipped us over the edge. As I unpacked and turned my head quickly, the birds on the wall paper, reflected in the wide mirrors, seemed to twitter around the room. My daughter opened her laptop and flounced into a lime-green arm chair the hue of woodland moss.
At 5 p.m. the wine cart appeared in the lobby living room and so did every guest. It felt like the Mad Hatter’s wine party. A blackboard introduced dogs in residence. People gravitated to the over-sized blocks, art supplies or the bookshelves, stocked with glossy art and design books.
The sky turned midnight blue and Portlanders and tourists strolled toward the waterfront. Luckily, we had booked a patio table at Veritable Quandary amid the azaleas and hydrangeas.
By now you have caught on that we had given ourselves over to the mood of midsummer. Chef Annie Cuggino, our Titania that evening, fed us bacon-wrapped dates and grilled pizza with porcini mushrooms. The dishes sang of summer: halibut with spring peas, asparagus and fennel; sockeye salmon with fingerling potatoes. From the salmon topping, we teased out flavors of olives, oregano, piquillo pepper, arugula, charred cipollini onion and smoked paprika vinaigrette. Everything tasted so fresh, I imagined our chef kissing the hands of the fishermen and farmers who deliver to her kitchen door.
The final morning we pedaled along the waterfront on Hotel Monaco’s cherry-red bikes. Stumptown Coffee Roasters, as reputed, serves thick, rich cappuccinos; and Powell’s Books entraps you in its labyrinth of book stacks. We emerged in time for a last look at the Willamette Riverfront.
Hugging goodbye at Portland Airport, we will soon celebrate a new chapter in her life. “Ever true in loving be” is the blessing Oberon gave the married couples at the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And so in happy times we will meet again, and she’ll walk down the aisle, a vision in gossamer and white lace.