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June 2, 2006

TT: Down in the valley

I'm in love with with Ashland, Oregon, and not just because it happens to be ringed by mountains and bisected by a brook. In addition to the three-theater Oregon Shakespeare Festival complex, which is the reason why I'm here, three other theater companies, Oregon Cabaret Theater, Oregon Stage Works, and Camelot Theatre Company, have their headquarters in town or nearby. The main drag is lined with bookstores and other enticing establishments, among them a CD shop that bills itself as a "patchouli-free zone" and an antique store whose front window is full of immaculately preserved vintage bellows cameras, all of them long ago rendered obsolete by the shiny, gadget-crammed 35-millimeter models which are now being superseded by their own digital replacements. Two doors down from my excellent hotel is an indie-flick house with an art-deco façade, and there's an old-fashioned soda fountain up the street. As if all that weren't enough, I ran into not one but two strolling minstrels in the town square. (I half expected to find Lorelai and Rory Gilmore listening to them.)

I spent my first morning in Ashland looking for a place to have dinner on Friday. The question of where to have dinner on Thursday had previously been answered for me by Mr. Rifftides, who told me in no uncertain terms that Chateaulin was the best restaurant in town. I don't know about that, not having eaten at every restaurant in town, but I made a point of going to Chateaulin in between performances of William Inge's Bus Stop and a new play called UP, and had myself a first-class meal. Needless to say, it didn't hurt that the management chose to play Paul Desmond's Take Ten as accompaniment to my dessert, any more than I objected to hearing Pink Martini while having breakfast at my hotel. When it comes to background music, Ashland is hip.

This isn't paradise on earth, at least not quite. For one thing, the altitude, combined with the lingering effects of a slight case of bicoastal time-zone confusion, made my head spin after my first brisk walk around town. I suspect that the prevailing politico-cultural winds would make it spin still more rapidly were I to stick around for much longer. (I smiled wryly at the sight of the poster for the "Honoring Our Indigenous Women Activists Speaking Tour" hanging in the window of the local laundromat.) Even so, I'm not looking forward to going home. It seems I have a weakness for small resort towns surrounded by mountains whose peaks are wreathed with clouds.

Posted June 2, 2006 12:00 PM

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