Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Tanya and Chloe

During a trip to Dublin in 1997, I was shooting black & white film around the city.  On the opposite side of the River Liffey, I saw a dramatic black column of smoke.  I decided to go to see what was burning.  Following the smoke took me to a part of the city I normally wouldn’t visit.  It was down Queen Street, and I got right to the fire.  After I took some photos of the blaze, I noticed the locals who were watching around me.  There was a whole gang of kids who hammed it up when I turned my camera on them.  They dragged me to the flats across the street where they lived.  I was particularly charmed by a little girl named Tanya, who stole my heart.  Her little face had flecks of soot from the fire, and she put it right up to the camera.  Her little sister Chloe was also adorable.  I didn’t learn the names of the other children.

Fire from the River Liffey

Fire from the River Liffey

The kids on Queen Street

Chloe and Tanya are on the left

Chloe, Tanya and friend

Chloe, Tanya and another little charmer

Two years later, I returned to Dublin.  I was eager to visit my kids to see how they’d grown.  Tanya had lost her some of her confidence, and she ran away when I tried to get close-ups of her.  She was still cheeky, though, and she’s sticking her tongue out in most of my photos.  Chloe was older and even cuter.  The kids were jumping on an old mattress outside, and the boys lifted it up and accidentally dropped it on Chloe.  She was okay, just a bump on the forehead, but I think my heart stopped when she disappeared under the mattress.

Tanya is the one sticking out her tongue

Tanya is the one sticking out her tongue (r)

Chloe

Chloe

About two years later, I went back again.  The boys were a lot rowdier and tougher, and a boy I’d never seen before tried to run off with my camera bag.  One of the girls grabbed it back.  After I took a few shots, several of the girls escorted me back down Queen Street to the river.  They were obviously worried about me!  That was my last trip to Dublin.  The google street view of Dublin shows me that Smithfield Market, a shopping center, has now replaced the flats.  I wouldn’t find the kids there if I went back.

Queen Street kids, getting bigger and tougher

Queen Street kids, getting bigger and tougher

Tanya and Chloe

Tanya and Chloe, growing up fast

Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Here are more of my favorite  images from Swaledale, North Yorkshire. 

Tree and stone walls, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

3 sheep, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Thwaite, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Thwaite, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Yorkshire river, Swaledale, North Yorkshire 

wall with farm, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

stone wall, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

dog house, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

All Things Bright and Beautiful

I adored James Herriot’s books as a kid.  My love for animals, especially dogs, has only grown as I’ve gotten older.  I’ve always enjoyed a good story, and Herriot made me laugh, cry, and wonder what it’s like to have your arm up a cow.  I wrote James Herriot a fan letter, and I got back a form letter from his secretary.  Inside the letter was a small slip of paper with Herriot’s autograph.  It is one of my treasures.

 Fifteen years later, I visited the Yorkshire Dales for the first time.  My memories of the books had faded, but something mysterious happened when we drove into Swaledale.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling I experienced, and I know I run the risk of sounding like a New Age type.  I’m hardly that!  I felt like crying, full of the combination of joy and grief you feel when returning home after too long away.  It’s a feeling that hits me every time I go back to the Dales or even see those green fields and stone walls on film.  If past lives are real, I must have had one in North Yorkshire.  Even my favorite cheese is from the Dales, and I’ve never been able to find it in San Francisco.  Wensleydale is my Holy Grail of cheeses!

Here are some of my favorite images of Swaledale. 

James Herriot letter and autograph
James Herriot letter and autograph

Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales

Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales

Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales

Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales

Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales

Postcards from Camp Hell

A good friend told me that she envied people with fun summer stories.  Just to make her feel better, I got out some old photos of the nightmare YMCA camping trip I took when I was thirteen.  With the photos, I discovered a series of postcards I’d written to my family from the road.  I had begged my parents to go on the most expensive Y trip offered that summer.  Granted, $115 today seems like a bargain, especially if sending your kid away for thirteen days keeps her from sitting in the movie theatre watching Star Wars every afternoon.  The trip turned out to be torturous.  I was a terrible hiker, and I lacked many basic social skills.   The other kids came to loathe me as much as I loathed them.  The leaders?  Well, they were paid to be nice to me.  I didn’t dare tell my parents how miserable I was, so my postcards are desperate to put a positive spin on things.  I was as bad at writing cheerful, interesting postcards as I was at hiking.  I decided to publish them as written.   All the spelling and grammatical mistakes have been left in for authenticity and added humor.

Postcard and me in Star Wars tee shirt

One of my 1977 postcards with me in my Star Wars tee shirt, looking thrilled.

7/6/77    Zion National Park, Utah

Hi Mom & Family!

I’m doing fine.  On the way here (Zion) we nearly roasted. We stopped in Las Vegas and had lunch, then we went to 7-11.  Naturally I had a BIG slurrpee.  You know that boy, the one with the hat and very tall?  He is deaf.  He can sort of read lips, but we mostly write and signal.  Gary & Marcia are neat, too.  I’ll continue this on the next postcard.  Bye!

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 7/6/77    Zion National Park, Utah

Hi Again! (read other card first)

That card was yesterday.  Today we hiked up the narrows, in the water.  My poor shoes!  Then we hiked to Angel’s Landing.  I had to stop near the top.  It was a straight up hike.  Right now everyone else (except Gary & I) are at Emerald Pools.  I couldn’t make it.  My feet are killing me.  Tonight I get to make dinner!  Happy Birthday Pop!  Bye, until next.

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 7/7/77    On the road from Zion to Grand Teton

Happy Birthday again, Pop!  I cooked dinner like I said last.  It was spaggetti, rolls, salad, and pudding.  I though the spaggetti was gross.  Gary wouldn’t let me stir it enough so it was pastey.  Right now we’re headed for Utah Lake.  We took down our tent and junk this morning.  All us girls washed our hair.  Boy did it feel good.  Ann found a cockroach in the tent, and I saw a huge one on the trail.  But I’m o.k.  I touched a few frogs, saw lots of lizards, and one snake.  Boy, it’s hot. Wow, the stars are great here.  So many!  Guess what?  We might go to Provo instead of Utah Lakes and stay at Sundance Ranch.  Robert Redford lives there!  A Sacramento Y did it once.  I’ll tell you if we do.  I got a whole bunch of Space Dust, that candy that fizzles and pops in your mouth.  They don’t sell it in California.  I’ll write again.  Bye now!  (your kid)

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 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hello, Pop!

This trip was worth all the money.  Speaking of money (hee hee) I don’t think I’ll be able to get you much of anything.  The money goes fast on film and snacks when driving.  It hasn’t been as cold as I thought except for the morning.  Hope everything is fine there.  Bye Now!

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 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hi, Brov,

I am having a great time.  Gary, the one on this trip, is going on all the trips and he says you don’t have to cut your hair for Mammoth, but I think you should.  It is such a bother, besides, it’s hot.  We haven’t seen any bears yet, but I did get six pictures of a moose in a stream.  Your jacket I used this morning.  It was great.  See, it sorta rained.  But we all slept in the tent so it was o.k.  Read the rest of the family’s for more.  Bye.

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 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hi, Mom!

As you can probably guess, we didn’t stay with Robert Redford.  But we may pass it on the way home.  We stayed at Utah Lakes.  It was beautiful.  I showered and swam.  Right now we are in front of the gift shop in the Grand Tetons.  It’s pretty here.  There is a big hassle right now over fishing licenses.  Read the rest of the family’s for more.  Bye.

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 7/11/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hi Mom,

Everything is fine.  We arrived in Yellowstone today.  It is great.  Right now our clothes are in the dryer.  I just took a shower, my second, so I won’t really come home your dirty kid.  We found a beautiful camp ground and set up both tents.  Tonite I am sleeping on the van!  We switch off in fours.  Grand Tetons was really nice.  We saw a total of 8 moose.  So far we haven’t seen anything today.  I have a huge bump from a bite on the back of my thigh that’s killing me.  Did I tell you? On the first day driving (Tuesday) my blue foam thing melted to the floor, so now there is a long hole in it.  Boy it’s been getting cold.  Bye.

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 7/11/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hi Family,

Mom: we came in the south gate but I didn’t know what to look for.  Brov: from all the references being made here about Mammoth, it sounds hard.  Good luck.  Pop: there is nothing really to write to you.  Oh, by the way, I have been thinking about getting a rabbit, thanks to Watership Down.  Be prepared.  Bye.

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 7/14/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hi,

I’ve got some bad news.  See this bear? [on postcard] You won’t see many of them around.  A few years ago they moved all the bears into the back country, and the ones that kept coming back, they shipped to zoos or worse, destroyed them.  Isn’t that awful?  We haven’t seen one.  The fishing has gone to pot, too.  Every fish you catch over 13 inches goes back in the water.  See there somehow got to be a new kind of fish in the rivers, the long-nosed sucker, that eats the trout eggs, so they need all the help they can get to protect the eggs.  The gysers are nice though.  Bye for now.

Fed up. (I'm on the far right.)

Fed up. (I'm on the far right.)

 9/26/77   San Diego, California—Letter from group leader Gary

Hope your doin well.  Stop by & say hi some time.  Please make your check ($4.40) to me.  Thanks.

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 12/1/77   Aspen,Colorado—Postcard from group leader Marcia

Sorry I’ve been so long in writing but I’ve been real busy getting established here.  I live in a house with a huge fireplace about 10’ from the Roaring Fork River and have gotten a job at the local mental health clinic.  I really love it here.  Write when you get the chance.  My thoughts & love.

[After our trip, poor Marcia must have found working at a mental health clinic a real vacation!]

A Special Day

I can’t let July 7th pass without remembering my father, who was born on this day in 1936.  Here is a photo taken on his 30th birthday.  

My father's 30th birthday, 1966

July 7, 1966

Today is also special because it’s the 40th anniversary of the day I first set foot in England.  It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair.   I don’t have a photo of Liverpool, the place where we arrived on a ship from Montreal, so I am using a photo of Shropshire instead. 

Shropshire

Shropshire

Stage Door (6): Hugh Jackman

The sixth in a series of fan encounters with favorite actors.

Hugh Jackman first got my attention when I saw the trailer for Kate & Leopold in 2001.  Then I saw X-Men on video, and that’s when I became truly obsessed.  I started watching everything he’d done, including the West End Oklahoma recording and The Man From Snowy River television show.  The internet was still a novelty to me then, since I got my first computer in 1999 (not counting the Apple IIe I used for about five minutes in college).   I joined a Hugh Jackman online fan group and wasted many hours in chat rooms.

I heard that Hugh Jackman would be singing with a group of distinguished Broadway performers at Carnegie Hall.  It was going to be a concert version of  Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, with the actors performing the dialogue and songs in costume with the orchestra onstage.  There was only one performance scheduled, on June 6, 2002, and some of the other performers were Audra MacDonald, Norbert Leo Butz, Blythe Danner, Philip Bosco and John Raitt.  I decided it was finally time to visit New York City (even though 9/11 was just a few months before).  The tickets weren’t cheap, and I had to become a member of Carnegie Hall to buy one.   The Carnegie people were delightful to deal with, and they took great care of me.

The night before Carousel, I met up with the members of my online fan group who came to see the concert.  It became immediately clear that the leader of this group was not an ordinary fan.  She was a little scary in her obsession and definitely a control freak.  There were whispers around the table about how a few members had bumped into Hugh Jackman on the street near Carnegie Hall, and this woman was livid because they interacted with Jackman without her.  The other fans were nice and relatively normal, as normal as anyone who travels for miles and spends hundreds of dollars to see their favorite actor perform.

The weather in Manhattan was so hot and still, I had to buy a pair of shorts.  I was stunned at how much New York completely assaults all your senses.   I was especially struck by all the smells, which were heightened by the weird weather.  It turned out the hot stillness was a sign of a big rainstorm, and it hit when I was getting dressed to go to Carnegie Hall.  I wore a vintage outfit, but the only shoes I could find that didn’t hurt my feet were Chinese slippers.  It took me ages to hail a cab in the pouring rain, and my shoes were completely ruined five minutes after leaving the hotel.  We got stuck in a traffic jam a few blocks from Carnegie Hall, so I had to get out of the cab and run the rest of the way.  I stuffed my shoes with paper towels during the concert.

Once I started to dry off, I was able to sit back and enjoy the show.  It was marvelous, of course.  Audra MacDonald was lovely as Julie Jordan, Hugh Jackman was charismatic as ne’er-do-well Billy Bigelow, and Norbert Leo Butz was delightful as Jigger.  I thought I’d be focused on Jackman, but the rest of the cast were too talented to ignore.  Carousel is not my favorite musical, but it was a thoroughly entertaining evening.

After the performance, a large group of us gathered at the stage door.  Unfortunately, it was still raining hard.  The door had no awning, so we all huddled under umbrellas and tried to stay cheerful and warm.   We waited and waited and waited some more.  We were told there was some sort of dinner or party backstage.  After over an hour, many people gave up and left.  The longer I waited, the more I was determined to stick it out.   I passed the time chatting with the other drowned rats, those from our fan group but other diehard fans as well.   When Hugh Jackman finally came out after two hours, my group leader told him, “My people are the only ones who waited to see you in the rain!”   It was so unfair and wrong,  I had to say “That’s not true!”  I promised two people who gave up waiting that I’d get them autographs.  By the time Jackman signed the third one for me, his signature was pretty unreadable.  What I remember most was how warm his arm was, as I stood next to him, which just goes to show how cold I was.   He was charming and lovely, but it was really late.   He said he had to get home to take care of his little boy.  Everyone who stayed got their photos and autographs, so we had nothing to complain about.  I believe that if Jackman had known we were there, he’d have come out to meet us sooner and then gone back in to the party.

The following October, I took myself back to New York to spend a landmark birthday with Hugh Jackman.  It was opening week of The Boy from Oz.  This time I avoided all fan groups and had a much better experience because of it.  I had a great seat (row H) two rows behind Barbara Walters.  The Boy from Oz is about Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, a flamboyant showman who was discovered by Judy Garland, married Liza Minnelli, then had a male partner before dying of AIDS.   Jackman was incredible, and he won the Tony Award for his performance.  Stephanie J. Block was lovely as Liza (and later starred with Hadley Fraser in The Pirate Queen).  Isabel Keating made a very convincing Judy Garland, and I especially liked little Mitchel David Federan as Young Peter.   At the stage door after the show, Hugh Jackman didn’t keep us waiting as long.  He was just as friendly, and he wished me a happy birthday when I mentioned what day it was.  He also learned to shorten his autograph to HJ.  I went back twice to the stage door to take photos and to say hello.   Hugh Jackman was always surrounded by large groups of fans, and he was always genuine and friendly.  The guy is just plain nice, one of the nicest actors I’ve ever met.  And he’s gorgeous, of course.

Last month, Jackman performed some concerts here in San Francisco.  I didn’t attend, because the tickets were too expensive.  The word of mouth was that Jackman was wonderful, but the backup singers were unnecessary and distracting.

Here’s a video from Carousel, obviously filmed by an audience member.

[A funny footnote: the grammar check on wordpress just gave this as an example of the passive voice, when I ran it on this post: “Before: Wolverine was made to be a weapon.   After: The government made Wolverine. Wolverine is a weapon. “]

Stage Door (5): Matthew Rhys

The fifth in a series of stage door encounters with favorite actors.

When I flew to London in October 2002, I really didn’t have any plans.  My job had just been sacrificed on the altar of “corporate restructuring” (“We don’t have any hours for you, and we don’t know if we ever will”) so a trip to my favorite city seemed like a good way to re-group.  On the flight over, I watched a little film called The Abduction Club.  It was a cute movie, set in Georgian Ireland, about younger sons of the aristocracy who wouldn’t inherit anything, so they had to join the military or become clergymen.  They formed a club to abduct beautiful wealthy girls in order to charm them into marriage.  It sounds rather nasty, but the movie was actually funny and sweet.  One of the leads was Matthew Rhys, but I knew him only as my favorite actor’s best friend.  I’d been obsessed with Ioan Gruffudd since the first series of Horatio Hornblower, so I’d seen photographs of Rhys and was somewhat aware of his stage career.  Rhys had recently starred in the West End’s stage version of The Graduate.  Now that I’d finally seen one of his films, I wanted to see more.

Once I arrived in London, I picked up Time Out to read that Matthew Rhys’ play at the National Theatre had just closed!  I was so disappointed.  Then I read that the play was on tour at regional theatres around Britain.  If I was willing to take a train to Bolton, outside Manchester, I could catch the play at the Octagon Theatre.  I booked a train, a Bed & Breakfast, and tickets to two performances of The Associate.  I had a nice chat with the box office on the phone, telling them that I was coming  just to see Rhys.  When I arrived at the theatre to pick up my tickets, the staff told me that everyone was talking about me, including Rhys himself.  The box office had spread the word that someone had traveled all the way from San Francisco to see the play.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, of course.  Then I was told that Rhys hoped that I would join him in the theatre’s pub after the performance.  Wow.

Matthew Rhys autographed photo

My autographed head shot

The Associate, by Simon Bent, is a three-man play about two house painters who discover that the pensioner they’re working for is a mad serial bomber.  They attempt to blackmail the old fellow instead of rushing off to the police.  It becomes a battle of wits, for which the house painters are poorly equipped.  Rhys’ character is especially dim.  I think it’s a real challenge for an intelligent person to successfully play a dull-witted fellow.  Rhys was very convincing!  The other two actors were Nicolas Tennant as the second painter and John Normington as the bomber, both excellent in their roles. The Octagon Theatre is very small and intimate, so the audience is practically onstage with the actors.

Matthew Rhys, copyright M. Stacey Shaffer 2002

After the play, I waited in the lobby a little while, not wanting to appear too eager.  Then I headed upstairs to the pub that’s part of the theatre complex, where the three actors were already seated with drinks.  I walked up and said hello.  Rhys was gracious and completely at ease, greeting me warmly and introducing me to Tennant and Normington.  He insisted on buying me a drink, so I ordered a coke, since alcohol just makes me drowsy and stupid.  After everybody signed my program, I sat with them while they relaxed and talked.  I didn’t have anything interesting to contribute to the conversation, so I just sat there, both nervous and thrilled.  How do I describe Rhys?  Some people have an air of confidence that just makes you want to be around them.  I think it’s that intangible trait that we call “cool.”  Matthew Rhys is cool.  He never made me feel anything but cool, too, and I am hardly that.  He also has a lovely Welsh accent that rarely gets heard in his various acting roles.  So, after our drinks, Rhys and Tennant walked me to the front of the theatre and waited with me until my taxi arrived.

Matthew Rhys, copyright M. Stacey Shaffer 2002

I had a ticket to see the play again the following evening, which was the last performance in Bolton.  I went to the stage door after the matinee to ask for Rhys.  He came out with an envelope in his hand, saying it was a surprise for me.  It was an autographed postcard of his head shot.  I gave him a little bag of goodies, then pulled out my camera and asked if I could take some photos.  He let me take an entire roll of film before going off to meet a friend for dinner.  I took my film to a 1 hour photo lab, of course.  That evening I saw the play again, catching subtleties I’d missed the first time.  I went to the pub afterward, and Rhys came in a few minutes later, apologetic that he couldn’t hang out.  Since it was closing night in Bolton, everybody had to help pack up for the move to the next city.   We said good-bye, and then he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

The Associate autographs

The Associate autographs

I couldn’t have  asked for a more perfect fan encounter.  I went home from that trip with good memories and several movies starring Rhys, and I’ve continued to follow his career.  When Brothers & Sisters began in 2006, I watched it for the first two seasons because of him.  (Rhys plays gay lawyer Kevin.)  I have to confess, I stopped watching regularly after that.   I didn’t realize until later that I’d seen Nicolas Tennant in Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs in 1999.  If I’d read my program at the theatre, it would have given me something to talk about at the pub!  John Normington died in 2007 after appearing in Atonement, which starred another Stage Door favorite.   It’s a small world when it comes to British actors.  The proof?  A few years ago, Ioan Gruffudd married Alice Evans, one of Matthew Rhys’ co-stars in The Abduction Club. 

Note: Another version of this story appears at www.matthew-rhys.net, a wonderful fansite with great photos and up-to-date information.

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