I’m in a park near the Southern Stratford Canal. Crowds of people gather under trees, grasses and steps leading up to the Royal Shakespeare Company theater. A man near the center of the park plays a violin; the sweet, sweet sound he makes contributes to the lazy splendor of the partly cloudy park on a Thursday afternoon; the midday sun shines down, framing the history of this town in a tantalizing light.
Children wheel by on their scooters, people lay on the grass and eat their lunches, young couples lounge underneath trees holding hands and older couples sit on benches and look into each other’s eyes, enjoying the violinist- like his music is the soundtrack to the budding years they have watched blossom into a beautiful marriage.
The wind picks up gently and ruffles my overgrown hair. I wonder what kind of life I would live in this sleepy town. A girl with brown hair could be next to me, her pretty hair flowing around her face and sometimes in to mine. Maybe our dog would be off the leash and would run around the park, chasing the swans and ducks in the water or nipping at the invisible smells of spring. I could offer to help her into her coat, because she would say it’s chilly out, or could hold her purse as she runs across the street to buy us sweets. Perhaps we would discuss our morning spent in a café drinking tea, a full English breakfast filling our empty stomaches while we waited for the Shakespeare exhibits to open.
Even so, this fabricated memory of the moment and the girl make me feel less alone.
The line starts to mount for the play I have paid twenty-nine quid to see. Hamlet begins around 1pm, and I have a nice seat in the theater. The actors are wonderful. They have authentic Shakespearian rhythm, and the modernized version of the play is well done from beginning to end. I vigorously applaud the actors before taking my leave back through the park- which has started to take on the hues of evening by the time the four-hour play ends- and drift my way through Stratford-Upon-Avon before settling in to a nice café to order drinks and English fish-n-chips.
I reflect on my day.
The early morning greeted me at 5:30am. I caught a London cab to Marylebone Station and took the 6:45am train for Stratford-Upon-Avon. I partially slept on the two-hour journey, and read pieces of Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close– a book that has quickly become one of my all time favorites. The English countryside whipped by me on the trip north. The bright green hills and sparsely clustered homes flipped by. I wondered about the people living in those hillside homes, and what kind of life had brought them there. The homes looked like freckles in a vast green ocean, where the trees give shade to sheep and horses in the distance, where the sunrise lifted upwards at a slower pace, as if time in the countryside is governed by a 48-hour day. The hills and open flats reminded me California, and the small rivers cutting through the land could have been the rivers I used to float down in Porterville when visiting my grandparent’s house as a child.
The train north ended, and I took my first, gravely steps onto the station at Stratford-upon-Avon. My first impression was…hmmm. The homes near the station seemed a little too modern, and the construction zone to my right hummed with the familiar sound of men at work, with all their machines drilling down into the earth, much like in Los Angeles where construction is more prevalent than the fresh ocean air that breathes life into the town filled with people who work too hard and play too little. How sad, I thought, to have come all this way to find disappointment waiting for me on my first steps outside of the station. But about a mile into the town, I began to find the excitement I was searching for. The businesses, homes and buildings took on that wise, aged appearance that comes with bricks and rooftops that have seen multiple centuries pass by. I thought, how funny, and I wondered if life has always been this way, the way people tend to long for the past, like what if the people in Shakespeare’s day wished the land looked like it did when William the Conqueror came, or if William’s people wished they had lived in Roman times, or if the Roman’s wished they had seen dinosaurs. Does it ever really end, this longing for the past? Or do people always want something more than what they have?
My tour through this fabled English town was spectacular. I visited the home where Shakespeare was born- a quaint two-story place with wooden floors that creaked and strained under the weight of all the tourists looking at the remnants of the great playwright’s life. I thought of Shakespeare’s poetry and sonnets, of his plays and the line I love the most, from The Winter’s Tale:
“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that.”
I took some photos of Shakespeare’s home, knowing full well my photography would never capture the essence of the place, as if my eyes begged me to put down the camera and enjoy the aroma of history. I waked to New Place, the last home Shakespeare lived in before dying, and found my way to the Holy Trinity Church, where his bones are laid to rest. The stained glass windows of the church threw the place into a carnival of lights- the sunlight coming through the glass transforming into reds, greens, oranges and blues that constructed an atmosphere of brilliance. I stood there for quite some time, listening to the hollow sounds of the church, remembering to breathe in the symbolic airs spiraling around, and left feeling inspired, even as I passed rows upon rows of graves outside that had been so weathered by time and the elements that their words were lost, covered by grime and moss.
I’m on the train home now, remembering this wonderful day, trying to make paragraphs and sentences out of all the people and places I saw. Nighttime has settled upon the countryside outside of the train window, and I think some of the shadows and stalking structures crafted by the moonlight- sifting it’s way between trees and homes- look playful. I can imagine myself sitting on that wooden fence in the distance, drinking a beer with a friend, or holding a lantern to light the book I might hold in my hand. So old, this land, I can feel it even though I am blazing through it all on a modern train that has wi-fi on it. Maybe someday I will make it back here, will be an older, more symbolic man who can take everything he sees and make a novel of it all. Until then, I’ll take pleasure in the sounds of the small chatter of the train, of the countryside foaming at the moonlit mouth, and will drink my ale, toasting this English country and all the inspirations it has given me while remembering the couple that rode so romantically across the Stratford Canal- clearly and so effortlessly in deep, deep love- and how one day I might find myself on a love-filled river paddling my way into a bright, well lit future.