Archive for July 2004


Aggh.  Hack  Ptui.  I went down to Lake Union tonight to practice kayak self-rescues with a few other guys.  I’ve never been capsized involuntarily, but my last class in this was over two years ago, and I’ve been a little concerned about being able to do it in dire circumstances.

It involves rolling the kayak 180 degrees, exiting the boat while you still are able to hold your breath, all the while holding onto the boat because it’s your only friend in the water.  When kayakers drown, it’s the boat they find, not the body.

That’s only the first part.  Because a kayak rolls so easily, you can’t simply grab the side and haul yourself back into the cockpit.  You detach the inflatable paddle float that you hopefully are carrying in an easy-to-reach place on your deck, pull it over the paddle blade, and inflate it.  This presumes that your paddle didn’t get away from you during the submersion and float away in the current, like Wilson did from Tom Hanks in Castaway.

Using the paddle with attached float as a sort of outrigger to stabilize the kayak, you haul your wet and freezing ass onto the rear deck, then carefully slip one leg, then the other, then the aforementioned sorry ass into the cockpit, all the while being careful not to shift your weight to the side of the boat not supported by the paddle outrigger, or you’ll roll right back into the water.

Once in the boat and reasonably balanced, you ascertain that the boat is nearly completely submerged because IT’S DAMN NEAR FULL OF WATER.  You reach back to the deck and pry loose the bilge pump that you usually forget on your way out the door on so many kayak expeditions, and proceed to pump water furiously over the side in hopes of getting your bow horizontal.  Although each stroke with the pump seems to eject a Guinness-sized pint of water (often the same color, with the same sudsy head, the same shade of viscous fluid that you’ve been horking out your nose and mouth since you went over), you notice that your sea kayak, whose capaciousness you were formerly wont to celebrate, holds a fuck of a lot of water. 

On the bright side, the energy expended on pumping gradually quells your hypothermic shivering, and by the time the boat is empty, you’re warm again but probably too exhausted to paddle to shore, which is not possible anyway because while you were concentrating on pumping, your paddle floated away on its journey to a rocky beach in the Aleutians and the perplexed stares of Stellar’s sea lions.  In this most inopportune moment, you recall deriding the Safety Sams who strapped spare paddles to their decks.  Yeah, the same guys who always bring extra food and water, have safety flares in easy reach, and soccer whistles around their necks to summon help, the guys now slurping hot chowder and Hale’s Pale Ale in the tavern in the harbor, wondering if enough time has elapsed that they should call the Coast Guard about you.  “Let’s give it another pitcher,” they agree, as your shivering recommences.

I’m glad I got my butt out and did this tonight, despite having one ear solidly plugged with water, and the creeping paranoia about coliform levels in our jewel of an inland sea.  I need to repeat it far more often, and in colder water and less beneficent wind and wave conditions.


Good Eatin’

My son visits some interesting and esoteric foods on us as he associates with girls and friends of various eating persuasions, some good and some you wish were double-wrapped in lead foil and kept submerged in a bucket on the back porch.  The last two days, however, I have been powerless to stop myself from filching basically his entire bag of Philippine Brand Dried Mangoes. 

Sweet baby Jesus on a runaway skateboard, they were tasty!  Now I have to find the rarified retail establishment that sold it to him, if it’s still in business this week, and replace it for him (plus purchase another bag or two to hide under my desk).

I’m serious.  You’ll love these things.

Sunday - Departing

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We enjoy our last meal on the balcony of Alex’s Plaza Cafe.  It’s a great place to have a drink or snack and watch people scurry around on the streets.  Even if there’s a noisesome and apparently deaf busker right underneath channelling a nightmare version of Bob Dylan.

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A last look at our abode for the week, the the Auburn Street Cottage.  I’m not a great fan of bed & breakfast places (where you pay Aunt Harriet and Uncle Irving exorbitant rates for Safeway muffins and weak coffee, and to suffer their disapproving glare if you sit on an expensive piece of furniture), so this place, a separate house in the owners’ back yard has been perfect for us the last few years.

Saturday - A Raisin In the Sun

(watch this space)

Saturday - Henry VI, Part I

Henry VI, Part I was staged in OSF’s most intimate theater.  I’m not sure there was a difference in the production of this play that made it more effective than the Parts II and III, which were staged at the outdoor theater.  There were a lot of empty seats at the outdoor production, so maybe by using the smaller venue, they were merely acknowledging that these plays aren’t going to be as well-attended as the comedies and more well-known histories and tragedies.

At first, I was a little concerned that we were seeing II and III before seeing I, but it really didn’t make that much difference, at least to me.  It helped enormously that they used the same actors to play the same characters in both productions.

One writer posited that Part I is the “military” one, featuring Talbot and Joan, while II/III was more of a “political” play.  If “politics” extends to displaying the severed heads of the losing candidates at the city gates, then I might go for this; otherwise, it seemed to me that there was a healthy admixture of war and politics in both plays.  Some of the most memorable scenes in Part I, to me, were away from the battlefield.  Henry has perhaps his only kingly moment in Act IV, when he upbraids Somerset and York for their squabbling in the face of military losses in France.  Warwick exclaims, “the King prettily, methought, did play the orator.”  Of course, it’s downhill from there, and the scenes where York blames Somerset and Somerset blames York, but neither undertake to rescue Talbot, presage the enormity of the political problems to come.

The Joan/Talbot thing didn’t do much for me, perhaps because I’m not as emotionally invested in hating France as an Elizabethan might have been.  In the play as written, Joan seems to be invested with supernatural powers by fiends and devils.  Curiously, the Ashland production showed her being aided by a Christian sponsor, perhaps Mary herself (a lady in blue).  Apparently this is part of an ongoing effort to rehabilitate Joan as a feminist heroine, and perhaps to get Shakespeare off the hook for indulging in a little patriotic misogyny.  I need to do a little closer reading to see if Ashland mischaracterized her.  Bloom says:

As a roaring girl, she has her own rancid charm, and is certainly preferable to Shakespeare’s protagonist, the brave and tiresome Talbot.  Joan is a virago, a warrior far more cunning than the bully boy Talbot, and properly played she still has great appeal.  Who would want her to be as pompously virtuous as the current Amazons who gratify male sadomasochism on television?

(What?  He disses Xena?)  But the Ashland production seemed to cast her as just that: pompously virtuous.

I’m glad to have seen the Henry VI series, even though it may seem a waste of resources to stage mediocre plays at the expense of the great ones.  Like regarding any artist’s early works, it makes one appreciate the soaring greatness that ensued.

Friday - Crater Lake

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We didn’t have a play to see on Friday, so we took our annual pilgrimage to Crater Lake National Park.  The lake was formed when a 12, 000 ft volcano (Mt Rainier is 14,000) underwent a massive eruption, then collapsed about 7,700 years ago.  The island to the left, Wizard Island, was formed later by continued lava activity.

The lake is so preternaturally blue because of its depth (1,943 feet) and because it has no streams flowing into it to bring silt and contaminants.  It is replenished solely by precipitation.  There is a road that circumnavigates the lake along the rim.  For the last two years, the eastern portion of this road has been blocked by snow when we’ve been here.  We’ve parked where the road is barricaded:

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and used it as an asphalt hiking trail that we can have all to ourselves.

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In the distance above is Klamath Lake, source of a major environmental battle between farmers in the area who want to divert its water for irrigation, and environmentalists and Indians who want sufficient water released into the Klamath River for salmon runs. As we drove through the area, it seemed like most of the area was used for grazing cattle, not growing crops, but I really haven’t done my research on the problem.

Can’t resist just one more:

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Thursday - King Henry VI, Parts II and III

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is presenting the Henry VI series this year.  Part I is staged in their intimate new indoor theater.  Parts II and III are fused together into a single play, and produced in the outdoor Elizabethan stage.  Due to ticketing anomalies, we saw II and III Thursday night, and are seeing Part I Saturday night.

The Basic Story: The action in this period involves a mind-boggling number of characters and, owing to Henry V’s conquest of France, is spread across two countries.  Shakespeare rearranged many lifespans and took more than a few historical liberties in order to render this dramatically.  There is also a question of authorship and of the order in which the plays were written.  Some hold that Shakespeare merely adapted Parts II and III from earlier plays, and wrote Part I later.  My 1971 Kittredge Complete Works (a tome of about 10 pounds that I dutifully tote down here every year) holds that they were written in order, and by a single author.  Since this text may no longer represent current scholarship. I vow to do some additional research, and maybe let go of my sentimental attachment to this green-bound behemoth.

The plays detail the Wars of the Roses, with Red representing the Lancaster kings and White the house of York.  The Lancasters ascended to the throne with Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV, who was installed after the disintegration of Richard II’s reign.  The Yorks, of whom Richard II was one, have always felt that Bolingbroke usurped the crown from Yorkian rightful heirs.  The success of the Henry IV and V reigns, however, has kept them at bay.  With the death of Henry V, Henry VI ascends as a child king with an appointed Protector, the Duke of Gloucester.  As VI matures, it becomes apparent that he is weak, irresolute and given to putting far too much into the hands of God.  Successive defeats and loss of territory in France create unrest, and opportunity for the Yorks to assert their harbored grievances.

Civil wars ensue with shifting alliances and intrigue.  As all of this bellicosity and hatred spews forth, it’s difficult to keep in mind that these people are all cousins of one flavor or another.

I don’t know enough about the texts of the plays to support or object to the fusing of II and III into a 2 1/2 hour play.  I’m sure that there are major excisions of language.  For instance, the entire Jack Cade “Let’s kill all the lawyers” thread was missing.  In the end, though, I felt that the production had asserted a clarity of plot, a clarity that I had been resigned to forgo when I first contemplated the thicket of characters and motives. 

One thing that jarred me and made me look askance at this production was a sequence where various folks were castigating York for plotting against Henry, and calling him a “fascist”,  since I was almost certain that “fascism” was a 20th century concept.  When we came back to our lodging, we looked up the lines, and the term used was “factious”.  I’m still not convinced that the word used on stage wasn’t “fascist”, however.  Suspending my scorn for now.

There were some opportunities, also, for strong performances - Margaret (VI’s French queen), York, Gloucester, and York’s sons Edward and Richard - with much stronger language than I expected from perhaps the first plays Shakespeare wrote.

The II and III plays (as I does, presumably, with Joan) also assert Shakespeare’s tendency toward, and perhaps fascination with, strong women characters.  Margaret takes command of the royal forces in the vacuum created by her weak husband, and dominates much of the middle section.  Gloucester’s wife, Eleanor, is a precursor to Lady MacBeth as she needles him to overthrow the king.

This production uses the last third of the play to portray the gathering force of Richard as a character.  A cripple often taunted by enemy and friend, he eschews love and the other pleasures of normal men, and sets his singular course to becoming king.  OSF will produce Richard III next year, hopefully with the same actor as this year’s Richard.  They ended Henry VI, P. II/III with a soliloquy by Richard borrowing the “Now is the winter of our discontent” lines from the beginning of Richard III.  It’s sort of a “trailer” strategy that I’m not sure I’m completely down with, but it was very powerful as an ending to a play that was already bastardized to an extent.

Thursday - Recreation

A picture named SnowboundMtAshland.jpgFor our outing on Thursday, we picked a hike along a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail as it passes Mt. Ashland and veers south to the California border.  Following the instructions in the book we were using, we dutifully followed the Forest Service road to a point about 3 miles from our starting point, and found it blocked by the patch of snow at right.

Since we’d tromped around in the Mt. Ashland area several times before, we knew that the PCT passed within a hundred feet or so of the snow patch, so we just parked the car, found the trail and hiked along it thinking to overlap our intended segment.  We read that the PCT in this area is pretty much as good as it gets, but it’s an intriguing idea to put the laptop in storage some summer and hike the entire trail from the Mexican to the Canadian border.

While our car progress was stopped by one of the last remaining snow patches in the area, we turned back on the trail when perhaps the only thunderstorm in the area started raining on us.  Since we’d already gone 4 or 5 miles, we were ready to turn back anyway.  We noted no moisture anywhere else in the area.

Sorry if the scenery “cheesecake” shots get boring and repetitive.  We can’t get enough!

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Wednesday - The Visit

A picture named TheVisitSet.jpgThe Visit, by the Swiss Friedrich Durrenmatt, is reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode, or of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.  A formerly prosperous town, Gullen, has fallen on hard times as commerce has dried up and trains have ceased making scheduled stops. 

Enter Claire Zachanassian, a former resident who dallied as a girl with a boy, Josef, became pregnant, and left town in disgrace and desperation when Josef got two others to testify at his paternity trial that they’d slept with her as well.  She became a prostitute, was rescued from her brothel by a rich man who became enamored of her, and now returns to town as a multi-billionaire.  It is a major event in town when her train actually stops.  The town prepares a grovelling welcome for her, hoping that she will invest heavily there and salvage their economy.

Josef has become a shopkeeper in the town, is married with two kids and is being touted as its next mayor.  Claire’s arrival doesn’t have much effect on him at first, though several men have encouraged him to warm up to her a little.

After some foreplay, however, Claire informs the town that she has no interest in investments, is still aggrieved at her treatment at the hands of its justice system, but has an offer: $1 billion for the town ($500 million for civic infrastructure such as schools, libraries and $500 million to be divided evenly among all its citizens) provided Josef is killed.

The citizens of course reject the offer out of hand.  Claire takes up lodging and says, “I’ll wait!”

People go about their business as before, such as it is, and accommodate Claire’s entourage as entertainment.  But the corrosive effect of Claire’s offer evinces itself in an interesting phenomenon: Josef notices that, little by little, people are starting to sport spiffy new items: shoes, tools, etc, and are buying more expensive things at his shop than they were wont.  All on credit.  (The stage production emphasizes this by using the color yellow - each new thing that someone acquires is bright yellow.)  Even his family joins the conspicuous consumption bender.

It soon becomes obvious that the only way this level of borrowing can be sustained is if Josef is killed.  At first, everyone seems to hope for a happy accident of some kind.  However, a movement slowly develops to revisit the “justice” that was served upon Claire.  Claire, for her part, makes no attempt to win hearts and minds - she is betting that new justice can be bought, that what we have come to regard as immutable social values springing from our rectitude as a species are really just a serendipitous and fleeting affectation that ebb and flow according to our economic well-being.

Turns out she’s right.  As the last bastion of ethics, the schoolteacher, caves in and buys a fifth of Irish whiskey on credit from Josef, a trial is held, he is condemned, the mayor proclaims simultaneously that justice has prevailed at last and that the Claire Zachanassian Foundation has been established.

Like The Lottery, this is a little over-the-top as a metaphor for the fragility of our civil structure.  However, it makes one think about how each of us, with our individual weakness, imperfect education and upbringing, has to make ethical decisions each day.  In one sense, the locus of these individual behaviors determines how well we conduct ourselves as a larger society.  In another, we implicitly rely on the state and its constitutional framework to nullify any negative outcomes from temporary individual weaknesses by striking down bad lawmaking and bad acting.  We sneer when we see a small company town commit outrageous legal contortions in order to mollify its only employer - think mining and lumber towns and spotted owls nailed to telephone poles - smug in our assumption that overarching societal values will assert themselves to achieve a noble outcome.

But then, we see a whole state (Washington, for instance) chronically underfund education but set aside a popular vote to the contrary and help fund a billion dollars worth of stadium construction under the threat of the franchises to move to more generous climes.  And we see a whole state (Washington, for instance) give away billions in tax forgiveness to retain a few shards of Boeing’s manufacturing operations, to a franchise that has already left town (moved corporate headquarters to Chicago).  And we see a whole country that has made the SUV its primary mode of transportation, borrowing against the future of the environment and the lives of those who will have to go to war for oil. 

Yeah, I think Claire’s still in town.  I hear she’s single again.  Wonder if she’s in a “marryin’” frame of mind?

Wednesday - Recreation

A picture named YoungGladiator.jpgSince we had two plays to see Wednesday, one at 2:30 and one at 8:30, we didn’t have enough time to drive off to an elaborate outdoor adventure.  Instead, we walked around the upper reaches of town with the goal of reaching the top end of Ashland Creek, and walking along the creek to arrive at the theatre in time for our first play.

As we approached town, we met up with this brigand, whose parent apparently had wandered too close to one of the many shops pushing Shakespearean kitsch.  His dad insisted that the kid had seen this costume and couldn’t be without it.  I’m sort of wondering if dad didn’t dress the kid up as bait to find a step-mom at the playground.  Either way, it’s a picture I couldn’t pass up.