Shakespeare Geek in Stratford : Arrival

I thought for a long time about what we’d do the minute we found ourselves in Stratford-upon-Avon. I had no idea what I was walking into. Would it be everything, or nothing, that I imagined? Would I fall to the earth and kiss the ground? Well, let’s not get too silly. But the point is we were here and we needed a plan.

We scheduled nothing for Monday other than, “Walk around and learn where everything is.” I had my tickets to the Shakespeare Houses, and I had my invitation to come peruse the Collection, but that was all for tomorrow. Today was just for whatever today was going to be.  Getting our bearings about us.

Out the door we went and started walking around. No idea where to go. We knew that we were right up against the Birthplace, but my sense of direction is my Achilles’ heel, and the minute I get to an intersection with more than two options I’m lost.  So it wasn’t long before we were wandering aimlessly, just taking in the scenery.  And then this happened.

Two things of note about this picture. One, the taxi is an Othello taxi.  I shrieked with joy and had to get a picture.  “It’s an Othello taxi!” I grabbed my nearest child and shook whichever one it was. “Stuff is named after Shakespeare! Oh my god!”  (Little did I know!)

Second – that’s hail, people.  That’s not rain.  That is full on, “Hey, this hurts, maybe we shouldn’t be out in this” hail.  We took cover in some cool archway looking thing.  Luckily it didn’t last long.

We walked around a bit more.  Still haven’t seen any of “the good stuff”. My wife sees a woman consulting a map.  “Excuse me,” she says, tapping the woman on the shoulder. “Where did you get that map?”

“It was given to me!” the woman said, rather defensively, before walking briskly away.  I think she thought we were going to steal it.

Starving, we made our way into the nearest food looking place we could find. No idea how any of this works, how to sit (do we wait or just seat ourselves?), how to order (will it be table service or order at the bar?) and just a million questions.  There’s half a dozen stupid American tourist stories I could tell at this point but I’ll get to the one where I offended the waitress.  I mean, we’ve already been in the country a few hours, it seems like it’s about time.

My wife asks, “Can you tell us where we go to see stuff? You know, the tourist type things?”  I think this is a silly question and I am embarrassed that she asked it. We’re in Shakespeare country, everybody is here for Shakespeare, the universe revolves around Shakespeare at this point.

“Well,” she tells us, “If you go out here and over the hill you can go down to the river, that’s a nice walk. Or if you go to the intersection and turn by the statue that’s the street where they have the Shakespeare things. If you’re into that stuff.”

“Who in the world would be in Stratford-upon-Avon and not be into Shakespeare?” I ask, incredulously.

“Me?” says the waitress.

Oh, well.

I suppose it’s at this point where I can answer the question, “Was it what you expected?”  No.  What I had in my head was something more like a rock concert, where everywhere I went I’d see people like me, adorned in Shakespeare merchandise, staring wide-eyed at everything around them, just amazed to be there. What I got was a perfectly normal working town that just happens to be famous for its connection to Shakespeare.  Don’t get me wrong, they do have a very special connection to Shakespeare, and for certain events (like his birthday) they do very special things.  But do they all have the level of excitement that I had? Every day?  I don’t see how they could.  For many it’s a job.  For others it’s just kind of there.

I thought of a great comparison just this morning. I grew up next to Quincy, Massachusetts. Two presidents were born there. I would drive by their houses regularly. Depending on where you were in town relative to the historic areas you could go into gift shops and get merchandise. Did I go? Nah. Was I excited? Nah. Did I care all that much? Nope. It was just sort of there.  Cool that it was there, but that was it. I didn’t introduce myself by saying, “I live near where two presidents lived.” That’s kind of how Stratford ended up being. For me it was a life changing event. For them, it was Monday.

Anyway, back to the tour!  Found the statue!

And suddenly I’m looking at Shakespeare’s birthplace. It’s surprisingly plain, and without the coat of arms it looks a little bit like a haunted house attraction you might see at an amusement park.

“Is that it?” the kids start asking me. “Is that his house? What is that?”

Honestly I don’t even know. I think so? It must be. But I had no idea what to expect, and now that I’m staring at something, I don’t know what I’m looking at. It’s very non-descript. No one is going in. People are taking pictures in front, and tour guides are explaining, but there’s no obvious “in”.  (Turns out we’re looking at the back of it, but that’s for another story).

I see the entrance to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and tell the kids, “That’s where we’re going tomorrow.”  There’s a crowd there, that makes me happy. Someone that works there is hanging out in front so I take the opportunity to say hello. I’ve got this crazy idea that at one point someone is going to say “Oh damn, are you Shakespeare Geek? We’ve been expecting you!” But that does not happen. He’s nice.  I tell him we’ll be coming back tomorrow. He says that’s nice.  I say that we have plans to meet with Chris. This means nothing to him.

Having found where we’ll go tomorrow, we’re now free to explore. My wife wants to go see the river, so we head in that direction. I have downloaded an offline map of Stratford so we have a general idea of where everything is, and I realize that the church is down by the river. It’s at this point that the magnet takes over.

I once described the idea of going to on this trip by saying that it’s felt like a magnet pulling me in this direction for as long as I can remember, and suddenly I’m letting it take me. Reality gets in the way, there are schedules and airplanes and lodging and taxis, but at some point the only thing that stands between you and that force you’ve been feeling is your feet.

So we start walking.  It’s a bit of a walk, and part of my logic in heading right for the church is that it’s the farthest away thing we’ll see, so getting it out of the way first means we don’t have to find the time later.  That’s the practical reason. The more instinctual reason is that this is just what you do. You come to the castle, you pay your respects to the king. You go to someone’s house you meet the host. In the days that have followed and people have said what was your favorite part of the trip? I tell them the grave. Because that’s it, man. That’s the center. He’s there. Everything else that’s built up around him all comes from there.  And that’s where I have to go.

It’s quite a beautiful building. Surrounded by graves, and I want to go exploring, but we are on a mission.

 

As I wrote on Twitter at the time, Hello my friend. I’m sorry it took me so long. I wish I had a picture of myself here, but none of us thought to get it. I did get one with my kids. I call it, “The center of my universe at the center of my universe.”

BONUS! Over the next few days I’m going to be surrounded by Shakespeare stuff. It’ll be easy to lose track of where everything is. Where’s his birth certificate?  Right here.

Apr 26. Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere

I love that this is here. It bookends his life so nicely. This is how Shakespeare was born, this is how Shakespeare died.

To be continued…

 

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Shakespeare Geek In Stratford : Prologue

The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream
was.

Where do I begin?  How do you build up something in your mind for your entire adult life, until it becomes as close as you’ll ever get to a religious pilgrimage, and then one day, there you are?  How do you describe that? I’m torn between my desire to brain dump literally everything I saw and felt and did, and my knowledge that nothing I write will capture it.  Who do I think I am, Shakespeare? Even trying to craft this post a flood of Shakespeare memories came pouring back into my brain as I likened my trip to how the London Olympics both opened and closed with Caliban’s “I cried to dream again” speech.  But as you can see, I chose Bottom’s Dream. Because the experience was one of wonder, and when it came time to leave I was ok. I wasn’t sad.  But I was changed.

I don’t know how many posts I’m going to get out of the trip. There’s going to be at least half a dozen.  I don’t want to miss anything, but I don’t want to drag it out forever either.  As I post, I hope people with questions will jump into the comments or social media and ask, because though I may find it difficult to sit down and write about, I’m certainly more than ok talking about it.  So if I don’t get to something that you really wanted to know, ask away and I’ll answer.

How This Is Going To Work

To recap the details of the trip and put some context on the stories – we took a red-eye into London, leaving Sunday night and arriving Monday morning. We then got a car service to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we stayed in an Airbnb Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.  Thursday it was back into London for a week (including a show at The Globe) before heading back home.  Along the way there’s several dozen pictures I’ve got to share, including a number of pictures of things I’ll bet you’ve never seen before!

With that in mind I’ll leave you with the view outside the front door of our Airbnb in Stratford:

If you can’t read it, that’s the back of The Shakespeare Centre, home to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the spiritual center of my universe for the last several decades.  All we have to do is cross the street.

But first? Sleep.

To be continued …

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Leaving, On A Jet Plane

By the time you read this, I’ll be on a plane to London. From there we’re going straight to Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace and a town I’m still not sure I’m spelling properly, and my life will be forever changed.

For years people have asked me whether I’ve been to Stratford, and the answer has always been no.  Once I knew that I would be going I started wondering how to change my answer, because it’s hardly sufficient to say, “Not yet, but I’m going in August.”

The more time passed, the more I inflated the idea in my head as something I’d likely never do.  At times I likened it to a religious pilgrimage, then I decided that was a bit sacrilegious to folks so I stopped saying that. But it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t expect to ever go there. My wife had been to London shortly before we got married, and it didn’t seem fair, with the big world we live in, to say “Hey, I want you to go back to someplace you’ve already been, just for me.”  I don’t really work like that.  Worse, all I could think for myself was “I will want to spend every waking moment doing Shakespeare things, and that would be boring for them, so then I would deliberately cut back on the Shakespeare, but then I wouldn’t get out of the trip what I’d built up in my head….” and on and on and on.

Until one day the family got together and said, “We want to take you to see Shakespeare’s birthplace.”

That was probably a year ago. And here we are! Hours to go before I’m on a plane. Last night the kids asked me what I was looking forward to the most.  I said, “Checking it off the list.”  They said, “Wow, that’s a disappointing answer.”

I said, “Let me put it another way.  Up to this point in my life I can say – have to say – No, I’ve never been to Stratford.  After this trip?  I will be able to say I have.  This is a defining moment in my life.”

I can’t wait.  See you all soon!

-SG

 

 

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Orville and Wilbur Shakespeare [ A Geeklet Story ]

My kids’ interest / attention span when it comes to Shakespeare has waxed and waned over the years, to be sure. Although my youngest, my son, was running around quoting Hamlet when he was about 4 (and not realizing what he was saying, or why I enjoyed that so much), his interest in all things academic or educational has definitely waned throughout middle school. Some days I can’t tell if he’s tired, uninterested, or just trolling me.

Me: “So when we arrive in Stratford we might have the chance to see some special stuff like we did at Folger.  What kind of stuff would you want to see if you had the choice?”

Him:  “An airplane.”

Me: “An airplane.”

Him:  “Yes.”

Me: “I don’t think they have airplanes at the Shakespeare Birthplace, given that they were invented in America in 1903.”

 

 

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The Countdown Has Begun! 7 Days Until I Arrive

It’s now one week until my trip to Stratford Upon Avon!  Lodgings locations, travel there (from landing in London) arranged.  We’ve got our “Full Story” tickets to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which gets us into:

  • the birthplace
  • New Place
  • Hall’s Croft
  • Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
  • Mary Arden’s Farm

Additionally, here’s what I know we have to see (but I know nothing about their relative location to each other, whether they need tickets in advance, or what have you):

  • Must have a meal at the Dirty Duck
  • The school, of course.
  • The church / grave, of course

Does anybody know that “The Creaky Cauldron” is?  I don’t think it’s a Shakespeare thing but it seemed like something my kids might like, to break up the Shakespeare.

Alas we will not be seeing a show at the RSC.  A family member actually gave us tickets to a show at the Globe (when we go to London the next week) and I could not justify the cost/time of making my family sit through two lengthy Shakespeare shows.

If anybody’s got last minute tips I’m all ears!  Looking for any local knowledge about how far things are apart from each other (we’ve arranged no special transportation so I’m hoping everything’s a reasonable walk), what we might need tickets for in advance, what times of day might be better for some things than others, that sort of thing.  I’ve been waiting my whole life for this trip so anything and everything that makes it awesome, I’m interested!

Question!  How exactly does one hire a car? Say we did want to go somewhere just outside of town.  I hear Kenilworth Castle is nice.  Or Warwick? What’s my best way to get my family there?

Can’t wait!

 

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