You know you’ve had a marvellous three days away from home when you’re happy to come home, only to feel on the fourth day a longing to relive those three in Stratford, Ontario.
This Stratford is to Bieber what Stratford-upon-avon is to Shakespeare. Methink’st I never thought those two names would ever appear in the same sentence.
Anyway, when I think of this lovely city I think of high school trips to the Shakespeare Festival with my friend Diana Biuk, walks along the Avon River, bakewell tarts with Opa, bookshops and dramatic architecture.
And now, Vanessa.
Vaness is my poet friend. I can bust out in verse in a coffee shop and use words like ‘oxlips’ and ‘wistful’ and she’ll give me the wherefore dost thou stop smile.
So in January when you were making your New Year’s resolutions, we resolved to do something literary. For us, that meant leave the kids behind (her; me, Penny), pack the journals and love of words, and hit the highway for food-we-cannot-make-on-our-own, book browsing, A Chorus Line, and so much more. You cannot come to Stratford without seeing some kind of performance. That would be like skipping Macy’s shoe department in New York City; it just isn’t done.
Our seats were fantastic, the show spectacular. Words like upstage left and downstage right tugged at the former dancer in me. It was moving, it was funny; it was just the thing to do to break the spell of everyday life.
For those of you who know the area, we stayed at Mercer Hall Inn situated just above Mercer Hall the restaurant. Gentle notes of garlic and toasted fish wafted up the stairwell, giving us that sense of home away from home. The room was spacious complete with hot tub and Tom Thompson giclées and offered what every good hotel room should: tranquility and cleanliness and a TV remote that worked. Every morning I smiled at this black and white photograph of a bench on an outside stage. Dost thou know how much I wanted to steal this piece from the room?
Our bookshop browsing led to some greeting card reading. Here are a few lines that I liked:
THERE SHOULD BE A FOOD GROUP CALLED FUCK IT.
THE NEW SPONGE IN THE SINK JUST BRIGHTENED MY DAY. BEING AN ADULT IS STUPID.
I HAVE NO IDEA HOW OLD YOU ARE. happy birthday.
We could have sworn you said the ark wasn’t leaving till 5.
Bookshops also carry pins for your jackets, coats, and purses. How’s this one for you:
I’LL HAVE A CAFÉ-MOCHA VODKA MARIJUANA LATTE TO GO, PLEASE.
V and I bought less humorous but equally satisfying ones:
READ TO ME
Bookshops that make sidewalks inviting by selling used books for the price of a doughnut always deserve a second glance. If nothing else, you just have to read some of the titles and wonder:
DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM
Stratford is just the place to find blocks of fudge with paperweight heft. Now, this is what I call food porn. The baskets of fruity-coloured, discounted envelopes made my eyes twinkle, too. Aye, I have to have those!
But the most treasured purchase for me was finding – at long last - a great schoolbag for work. It’s quite pitiful when your professor uses a grocery bag to carry around her books. Fie!
For months now, I’d been looking for that one bag that screamed This Is You - you know whence I can pull my laptop in a café and be all Emily Dickinson? Aye, that one.
I bought a book (how original, I know) on (wait for it) grammar and usage. Now before you throw up, I have to share with you the line that made me buy this gem:
“Spelling is the clothing of words.”
Isn’t that beautiful? I almost want to write it down and slip it under the door of the tattoo parlour down the street that bears the spelling “ekcepshanal” in their signage.
Methink’st the words we use are also the clothing of our souls. We heard a man yell a word – let’s say it rhymes with chore - to a woman and child sitting on a bench with a girlfriend eating ice cream. This word just cut the air and caused, for us anyway, a momentary stop in the earth’s gravitational spin. The woman kindly apologized. “Sorry about that,” she said. “He’s saying it to me. It’s the boy’s dad. It’s ok. I’m used to it.” If I’d known that later I’d come across an inspiring book called Start Today by M.H. Clark with the lines:
“There is more risk in waiting than beginning” and
“Uncover the dream you’ve been hiding like a pearl and lift it to the surface”
I’d like to think I would have gone back and given it to her. Who knows what pearls lie beneath us all. And who knows what it takes to move a grain of sand.
Our day ended with caffeine and confectionary, a perfect pairing for any conversation. Ours was heartfelt and breezy, warm and sometimes not so PG-13. Sugar is the clothing of some truths.
Wilt thou return?
Aye, Stratford. Aye.
Love to all