Monday, August 08, 2011

When Life Imitates Art

I probably should have been suspicious about Saturday, simply because of how well it started out. Any sunny weekend day that begins with a sleep-in and a couple of chapters of John Grisham, followed by a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and asparagus can surely only go downhill, right? Dude, you have no idea.

Well-rested and with full bellies we walked to Grand Central Station (which is always manic but beautiful) and bought our tickets for the 1.45pm Metra North train to Cold Spring, New York. This was the train line to Poughkeepsie, which incidentally is a lot of fun to say (and I love saying things that are fun to say – huevos rancheros, anyone?). Anyway we were going out to Cold Spring because we had tickets to see William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” in a beautiful outdoor theatre, as part of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Meeting up on our carriage with Churley and Witt, the train pulled out of the platform and we settled in for the 80-minute journey to Cold Spring. K made some off-handed remark about wishing she had remembered the playing cards and/or iPad. I bemoaned not buying snacks. All timely regrets, as it turned out.

We made it about 3 minutes down the line, and were still in the tunnels, when the train stopped. Not only did it just stall, but the engine stopped and the air-conditioning went out. We all looked around at each other, not quite sure what was going on, but nevertheless grateful that the lights remained on.

After a couple of sporadic announcements, the conductor confirmed that we had lost power and would have to wait for another engine to come to our rescue and tow us back to the station. Groans all round, but mostly from me.

For the next hour (yes, a whole hour!), we poached in the near-airless train carriage, speculating on what was taking the engineers so damn long to reach us. I prayed aloud for the SWAT team or the NYPD, more out of perversity than practicality. Neither of them materialised. Nuts.

Just when I thought our carriage was going to descend into panic, cannibalism, or panic-induced cannibalism, the MTA Police appeared like guardian angels. They kicked us all off the train onto a narrow metal gangplank alongside, and shepherded us up a ladder, through a manhole, out onto Park Avenue. Like little urban voles we blinked at the afternoon sun, getting our bearings and cursing the train for only taking us 16 blocks from the station (we also quietly high-fived the idea of crawling through a manhole. So cool!).

A few minutes later, the MTA put we intrepid adventurers back down the manhole, back onto our broken train, and the replacement engine towed us back to Grand Central. Once at the station, we boarded our new train on the opposite platform and pretty soon, we were off and racing. We were almost 2 hours behind schedule.

The train journey along the Hudson River is actually really beautiful. Once you get across the bridge and off the island of Manhattan, you’re greeted with leafy green parks for cyclists, and the gunky but peaceful Hudson for the kayakers and jetskiers.

We pulled up at Ossining train station and saw an ugly grey building surrounded by rolled barbed wire. Thank heavens for Google and smart phones, because we determined that was Sing Sing prison (where Holly Golightly visited Sally Tomato each week, and then gave Mr O’Shaughnessy the weather report). Audrey Hepburn sure made it sound a lot more exciting cause in person, the prison – and the people visiting it – just looked rather sketchy. Well I guess maximum security penitentiaries aren't meant to be cute, are they?

A little further down the track, we could see the imposing US Military Academy at West Point, across the River from us. I thought it looked like the scary mental hospital in Shutter Island but perhaps I was a bit delirious by that point. I had given up seeing any men in uniform.

Ever so gently the train pulled into Cold Spring and the four of us piled out onto the platform, noting with some disappointment (though zero surprise) that it had started to rain. At any point I was expecting the locust plague to arrive and devour us all, but no such luck.

Weather aside, Cold Spring is a really charming little place. It’s very quiet, to be sure, but the lovely weatherboard houses with their wide porches and heritage-listed status give you the real impression you are 100 light years from Manhattan, not 100 miles. The air is cleaner there too – obviously, and I don’t know about the other girls but I know I really relaxed when I got there.

We walked down Main Street towards the River lookout and the gazebo, but by then the fat raindrops had started in earnest so we sought ‘restaurant refuge’. So we headed under the train station underpass to the other side of Main Street, past the almost-closed antique and jewellery stores, to see what food options were on offer.

As the rain fell heavier, we retreated into a little pub/restaurant where I think we all discovered we were hungrier than first thought. I even left enough room for the frozen yoghurt afterwards, which seemed an odd thing to eat while wearing a rain coat in steadily greying conditions.

By the time we got back to the station, our Lincoln town car had arrived to ferry us to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival venue. Our driver was kind enough to stop off at a liquor store so we could equip ourselves with the necessary libations to see us through until the 8pm “curtain up”. A few minutes uphill and the car turned into a verdant sixty-acre estate called Boscobel.

The rain was falling heavier now but we were not going to be deterred. We found a spot underneath the sprawling boughs of a huge tree and set up our temporary drinking camp while we waited for the theatre/marquee to officially open.

A little before 8pm, we hustled into the theatre and took our seats. I quickly skimmed the program to refresh myself on the “Comedy of Errors” plot (a summary of which can be found here). Our play opened with the Duke of Ephesus in head-to-toe leopard print, with a black cape and gold crown. It was totally farcical and I loved it immediately.

My heart really went out to the actors, who almost had to shout their lines in order to be heard over the relentless, pounding rain. It seriously did not let up for the entire performance. But their energy and their perseverance really engaged the audience and we were all invested in the production. This was not a traditional Shakespeare play at all – the script was authentic of course (except for the insertion of songs like “Sea of Love”), but I thought those departures were so creative and they really made the production work.

I think that keeping the energy high like that was helpful to keep the young kids in our audience engaged too – they enjoyed the over-the-top costumes and the often slapstick comedy. Much like the groundlings in the Bard’s time would have, I suspect. The thunderous applause at the end of the show certainly suggested that everyone had a really good time.

Because the play finished at 10.15pm, we just missed a train back to the City, so we had to wait around for an hour until the next one came. Still, the rain did not let up. Again, I whined for my lack of forward-planning to purchase any drinks or snacks for after the show, and while waiting for the train I mumbled incoherently about the lack of vending machines on the platform.

Given how our day had transpired, “Comedy of Errors” was not just a play at all; it was our life! Crawling into bed just after 2am never felt so good.

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