The first chance I had to go to Ashland was in August 1974 a year after graduating from college. My desire to go to Ashland and see the plays is rooted in a young people's novel I read when I was in my very early teens. However, in 1974, I had another desire as well -- to see a man I with whom I'd gone to college, who lived in Eugene.
Ashland and the Shakespeare festival were everything that I had always imagined them to be and more. I stayed in a lovely older hotel (where the bathrooms were down the hall) favored by college students and actors. The town was lovely, very picturesque, especially Lithia Park with its pond and baby ducklings. I saw my favorite Shakespeare play -- Twelfth Night -- in the Elizabethan Theatre in on a perfect, mild, starlit evening.
I enjoyed quaint cafes, arts and crafts, and the "green show" of musicians and performers outside the theatres. [photos of the hotel and the Elizabethian theatre viewed from Lithia Park from Man in a Suitcase]
The visit with my friend did not live up to my imagination. No real human man could have ever lived up to my imagination. I craved romance and passion, no matter what I got it wasn't enough. I realize now that at that time I was incapable of recognizing those things, even if they had been in front of me. I wrote:
For an hour -- a closely watched and yet timeless hour -- there was nothing but blue sky, sunlight and shifting shadow of birch trees. I watched him sleeping; watched the hollow made by the sucking in of his breaths; golden brown skin, slender body, sleeping. I could study lingeringly and love unimpeded. What exquisite torture, hating to waste a moment of our short visit; wanting to talk and hear his voice, yet so enjoying the freedom to watch, knowing I could enjoy all my fancies.
Such a shame -- to have cared more about the fancies than about the reality.
My next visit to Ashland and the Shakespeare festival was in August 1987. I had made a life (at that time) in Pennsylvania, my friend had made a life in Eugene. We had both married and divorced. I made a stop to visit with him on a larger tour of the north west. I had just started learning how to live in the present (a lesson that takes a life time to learn), learning to see people and things as they are rather than what I fancied them to be. We had a delightful weekend of meals, movies, and fabulous conversation, and he drove me to Ashland to see a play -- a fabulous presentation of "She Stoops to Conquer." Only then did I realize how far Eugene and Ashland were from each other, and realized what an effort he had made all those years before to spend some time with me.
After a couple of days we went back to our separate trajectories. That was my first experience of what I call perfect days -- days that are valued for themselves, where the moments are appreciated and not marred by fantasizing, or craving what does not exist.