I suppose it’s a little late for this post, since we made the expedition at the beginning of December. But I promised to make blog posts (I promised!) and we had such a good time, I want to share it.
For years we have said, “We should just go there,” meaning to spend a couple of nights at the Sylvia Beach Hotel
in Newport, Oregon. For years. Perhaps 20 years. So when we decided that our Christmas present to each other this year would be to do something together, to go someplace, to have a weekend-long play date, the Sylvia Beach seemed the perfect choice.
For those who don’t remember, Sylvia Beach was a bookseller, born in America but living most of the time in Paris. Between the World Wars her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering place for young writers of the Lost Generation. Visitors to the store could buy or borrow controversial books banned in the U.S. and Britain. Sylvia Beach stocked the shop with her own preferences, she encouraged writers, she encouraged publishers to publish them, and she published, herself, James Joyce’s big, difficult, and banned for indecency book, Ulysses, in 1922. That was Sylvia Beach, the woman.
Sylvia Beach, the eponymous hotel, is another thing. Like the woman, it is imaginative. It is elderly (neither of them was always that). It is individual and fun and funny and beautiful. It is courageous: the hotel has no TVs, no radios, no wifi, no telephones in the rooms. But it has books. It is full of books, authors, writings, pictures, details, jokes, and good, good food at the Tables of Content dining room. It has a reading room with soft chairs and a fireplace and a view to the horizon across the Pacific Ocean, and a loft library above. It has jigsaw puzzles on a table and urns of hot spiced wine in the evening. It is a creaky, cranky old building that embraces its visitors, if they will let it. Inside, you can hear the wind outside. You can, without much effort, even feel the wind. There is a wardrobe in reception filled with rain gear, but the hotel makes you hope for such foul weather you will stay indoors.
The guest rooms are each assigned the identity of an author: Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Dr. Seuss (look for the see-through toilet tank with a red fish and a blue fish in it), Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway (with papier–mâché animal heads on the wall), Herman Melville (the floor slants), Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling (with a sorting hat on the bed post and a Nimbus 2000 hanging from the ceiling), Ken Kesey (watch out for the monkey wrench on the door), Lincoln Steffens, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Jules Verne (if you wake in the night, be prepared for the sense you are being watched), Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Colette…
We stayed in Shakespeare. Of course we did. We had tickets to the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet on Friday night.
The room is full of Things. Fun things. Some of them have tags attached with references to Act and Scene, though for most you might have to work it out on your own. Scrolls, daggers, crowns, a throne, images, books, and a nice writing desk (that’s a Kindle on the desk, and it came with the guests, I’m afraid, not with the room).
And a good mattress, too. If you tire of reclining there with your Complete Shakespeare on your lap, you can wander up to the reading room on the third floor
where you can work on the common jigsaw puzzle
or look out the windows to the Yaquina Head lighthouse.
The first evening we walked two blocks to the theater for the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet. Reviews of the show have been mixed. I understand. Cumberbatch did well with an enormous role. But he was not happily supported, we thought, by the rest of the cast. Recorded sound levels were not consistent (editor? editor?), the lighting design was dreadful (major speeches lost in the shadows), passages of dialogue I know well were unintelligible because actors were speaking to the back of the stage! Meanwhile, Hamlet himself, Hamlet seemed remarkably sane and measured. Benedict is weirdly lean and handsome, and he is athletic in ways that make you gasp. He holds onto the character and to the scenes despite some really odd director’s choices. I would rather have seen it than not seen it, but I would rather have seen it better. But to bed! We took ourselves back to our lodging, sipped a cup of warm spiced wine in the library, and vanished beneath the blankets.
On Saturday we visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center where we met the new octopus, Montgomery. I have no photos of him because he really was new to public display, and we didn’t want to compromise his experience on that first day of having lunch in front of people. But he is an engaging individual who understands spoken English and will hide his ball so he can have it later. And then we went on, to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where we saw
With weary feet we made our way back to the Sylvia, where a wonderful menu awaited us in the Tables of Content dining room. Garlic soup, duck breast with huckleberry sauce, barley risotto, a beautiful salad, and crème brûlée for dessert. Good, strong coffee — who would try to serve poor coffee to Oregonians? — and a delicious Port wine follow-up. Some after-dinner minutes at the jigsaw puzzle and we took ourselves again to a welcome bed.
Sunday dawned with heavy skies and a tossing wind. It was all the more tossing at the Head where we stopped on our way home for an ascent into the lighthouse,
ascent through the winding tower of iron stairs:
I have a history with these stairs. When I was 4, my great-uncle Gus took me up for a look around, and I simply could not come back down those 93 feet of open stairway. I’m sure I wept. What I remember is that the lighthouse keeper picked me up and carried me back to ground. I can still recall the smell of tobacco in his beard.
Inside, things seem tranquil. The bricked walls are thick enough you cannot hear the blustering sea outside. But we could see it through the tiny, heavy windows in the staircase:
It was a fierce day, the kind of day when sailors look for the light shining from that beautiful lamp through its first-order Fresnel lens:
Originally the lamp was oil fueled. Now it is electronic, and still as important as when it was first lit in 1873, when the day might have looked just like this:
Oh, the wind doth blow, and we left it behind to head for a hot bowl of clam chowder in Lincoln City before finding the long road home.