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ReportsFriday, 13 June 2003
London --> Stratford, Ontario, Canada This Friday my host Edward Killian took me along to the famous Stratford Festival where we got to see the fascinating musical Gigi. Edward himself wasn't that happy with the entire act: "I didnít know it was a musical! If I knew it was a musical I would never sit on the first row!" It ended up that he was a bit blasted away by the orchestral sounds that came up right in front of the front row. "Now I understand why the front row is always empty at musicals!"
My apologies for the last two reports. I know you rather want to read happy adventures of my every day life, but I just had to ventilate my thoughts as I just walked around with these concerns in my head too.
Yesterday I moved from Kelly Anderson's home to the 12th floor of an apartment complex elsewhere in London. Kelly headed off to work early in the morning again, but she let me sleep in and do some more work until my next host came to the door to pick me up right there.
I stayed with Edward Killian, 56-year-old man ("I am a bachelor"), who has been following me for quite a while too. He is a retired mortgage broker and spent his days investing on the stock market through the internet. "I spent about six hours per day on the internet," he said.
"I invited you over, I guess with the same reasons many others do," he told me yesterday. "I want to show you that unique part of Canada right here, that I am proud of." And I already knew he wasn't only talking about London, Ontario only.
"That's why I invited you also to come with me to Stratford tomorrow. A lot of people from all over North America came to Stratford to enjoy the Stratford Festival and with you staying at my place it is a pleasure to take me along."
Edward let me catch up with some of the backstage work I had to do. It's fun to be in the national newspaper, but I still had to do all these things I could not yet do. Progress emails, prepare for the coming week, write chronicles for Dutch newspapers and keep this website up to date.
As he saw me work hard in his office room on his high speed connection, he was gripped about how much energy it all takes off me. "Now you are here I see what you have to do to travel the world and that's not only holding out your hand! Oh my God!"
Last night he took me out for dinner at the fine Czech restaurant Marienbad in town, where I had enjoyed a great wiener schnitzel while we either discussed world politics at a very high level or talked about my travels, with is of course not exceptional.
Today we had to head out to Stratford at 10.30 am. Surrounded by flat and fertile farmland, Stratford is a homely and likeable little town of 30,000 people thatís owns its existence by the Avon River, along where the first settlers set up their mills.
Stratford is about an hour drive north east of London, but it seems to be world famous for its theatres. It is the home of the Stratford Festival, which started in 1953 and is now one of the most prestigious theatrical occasions in North America. You can actually see it as the Broadway of Canada.
So guess why Edward took me to Stratford, ey?
He had booked a ticket for a show and a place to sleep way back in January this year. "I have been coming here every year, for years now, and if you are not on time, everything, everything is booked. You can not go to theatres anymore or find a place to stay."
When he found out that I was visiting him this week, he immediately searched for an available spot for me to stay and ordered a ticket to see a show with him.
"I never thought it would be that easy, you can consider yourself very very lucky, my friend!" he said. Maybe that luck comes from the fact that there are a few people cancelling out on a visit to this area because of that overrated scary virus named SARS, if I believe what this story from the news wire writes.
Edward booked me a room in the historic Queen's Inn and bought me an over $100 extra ticket for the theatre. I was very impressed!
Edward had the entire day already planned out for us and when something was interrupting, I could clearly see it made him uncomfortable. But I guess that's his character. "I always plan everything, that way I know nothing can go wrong," he said. So during our brunch at the pub of the Queen's Inn I asked him what if something in his plans changed. "Then I am very disappointed, of course!"
I gave him my thoughts as I never plan everything out, so everything will always be a surprise: the people I stay with, the things that happen on a typical day, everything will be just a big amazement to me. "If you don't plan things, you don't have expectations and you can never be disappointed," I told him in our lively discussion. "Oh," he replied, "I could never live that way. As long as things go according to my plans, I am happy too." I guess he had a point there.
Part of his plans for today was taking me on a bus tour through town. A unique British double-decker drives around for a city tour and I really had to get on it. When we arrived at that bus stop we were the only two people ready to board.
"We only leave with a minimum of four passengers," the tour guide lady said. "So how much are four tickets then?" Edward asked. Fortunately for him he did not have to pay for four people to get us on this ride, two other people joined us on the bus too. But at least you can see how eager Edward was to get me on this tour.
"I have done this bus tour twice already, and I would recommend it to everybody." Unfortunately, and there came my honesty from a very younger person around the corner, I would not recommend this ride to people my age. And I openly told this to Edward too, so don't think I am bashing his hospitality afterwards. He could understand my perspective.
The bus drove through the entire town of Stratford with a speed of 30 km/hr and stopped at every possible interesting building or street. And the tour guide told the entire history of Stratford and explained us everything that was ever to explain about this place in the 30 minute drive.
I heard about the Stanley Cup that once was exposed here, was shown black swans in the river (the symbol of Stratford), learned which television commercials were shot here, what building was built when and what it was used for and what it was used for right now (if it had not burned down in the the past), which famous people all had visited these buildings, which award-winning fine restaurants were now in there, what their speciality on the menu is right now ("you can also order a picnic here, many royalties have done that in the past") and everything had to be (again) related with famous (yes, American) celebrities that once had been here (and if they had already died a plaque on the wall of the building would commemorate them), etcetera, etcetera. "You know there used to be a chicken farm at your right, here, now you can look at some of the most beautiful and most expensive houses built in Stratford. These houses have appeared in numerous famous magazines, like Ö (many examples of American magazines followed)Ö"
I think I have given you quite an impression of how I experienced this over-touristy bus tour and you can easily conclude what their main target audience is like.
I was told the entire encyclopaedia of Stratford and heard everything there is possible to know about this town. Unfortunately it was that much, that I felt a bit dizzy when we eventually got off the bus at the end.
I think Edward had eventually fun by looking at me after this bus drive.
For dinner my host took me along to Falstaff's (hey, a Shakespeare character!) restaurant.
"It's a pity, because my favourite restaurant was already fully booked." And also Falstaff's was fully packed, but had a table for two for us. "I only go to restaurants that have a lot of people inside," Edward told me. "That way I know the food is good."
With these facts from him I had to laugh a bit when I had to call a waiter because my Oriental Stir Fry Noodles in Sweet Sour Sauce were, well, simply tasteless. I tasted noodles, beef and the veggies that were used, but (and with Edward's confirmation) it did not taste Oriental at all. The waiter took away my plate and came back with a entire new plate some ten minutes later, which was terrific. However that one minus point, they have a great and friendly service there!
At 8 o'clock exactly we had to be inside the Avon Theatre, around the corner from the restaurant. Here is where the musical named "Gigi" is performed here this season. As Edward had booked his ticket in January, he was sitting on the first row, but he managed to get me a ticket on row 8 in the centre of the big and extravagance theatre.
(Theatre regulations don't allow anybody to take along cameras, so I can't show you any photos of this event)
The story: "An endless round of parties, champagne and love affairs: no wonder Gaston Lachailles finds life a bore. The one thing that always lifts his spirits is his innocent friendship with the irrepressible young tomboy Gigi. But Gigi is being groomed for a new role in society - one that will turn Gaston's world upside down."
From the first minutes of the musical I was already sitting there with a great smile. I am not really raised with a lot of theatre visits, but the plays and musicals I have seen so far have been very fascinating to me. It's like a live movie, but I will always appreciate those great actors on stage more than those on television.
The history of Gigi all started when the movie studio of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) wanted to capitalize on the success of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" in 1956 and asked this team to write their next musical for the screen. The 1958 film Gigi won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture. In the 1970s Lerner and Loewe were encouraged to turn this film into a stage musical. It opened in 1973 but closed after a disappointing run. The story of a girl brought up to be a courtesan who decides to marry was pretty much 'irrelevant' in 1973. Now we don't have to care about these kind of social things and can enjoy the show for the delightful entertainment it is.
Jennifer Gould is a joy as Gigi and orchestra director Richard Monette has directed the show efficiently, bringing a nice balance between its nostalgia and hilarity. On stage "Gigi" is a confection that looks fondly back to the sensibilities of operetta. Anyone seeking mood-lightening escapist entertainment at Stratford need look no farther.
Yeah, I kind of like theatre, don't you think?
After the show we walked back to the Queen's Inn where we would try to have a drink at the downstairs Boarís Head Pub.
Edward himself wasn't that happy with the entire act: "I didnít know it was a musical! If I knew it was a musical I would never sit on the first row!" It ended up that he was a bit blasted away by the orchestral sounds that came up right in front of the front row. "Now I understand why the front row is always empty at musicals!"
The pub had no places to sit, therefore Edward took off to his room on the third floor, but he left me with $20 to enjoy myself and to get me some drinks. I only had one pint of Guinness and enjoyed the guitar player in the corner who finished his entertainment for the night at my second sip of my beer. However there was no place to sit (I stood happily at the bar), it wasn't very busy and when I finished my beer the pub was half empty. I guess the nightlife of a Saturday night does not take place at the Queen's Inn pub.
Good night Stratford!