After the bustle of Philly and the freeway traffic piling onto two-lane country ‘pikes’ in South Jersey, I have escaped for the weekend to the fall-colour-blessed bliss of Princeton, barely an hour north on I-295. Still in New Jersey, this is one of the Ivy League universities that could give any European campus a run for its money in its stately demeanour, its fulsomely ripening architecture and its fearsome reputation in law and the liberal arts.
Even more than the dreaming spires of Oxbridge or St Andrews the place is shot through with greenery and a rather sensibly laid out combination of ancient quads with the necessities of a town. Unlike much of America, this place has history, with its main building—Nassau Hall—having housed a detachment of redcoats during the wars of independence who were dislodged by a well aimed cannonball that came in through the window hurt no-one but took out the portrait of George III on the wall
A long walk along the Delaware & Raritan Canal was a pleasant way to work off a very decent lunch on the patio of Sharon & Bill’s new home nearby to make space for one of the best seafood meals I’ve had in a long time at the Blue Point Grill which seems to specialise in fresh-caught catch from Barnegat, which is a fishing port on the Jersey shore as close as you can get to Princeton without dragging the boats overland. I hadn’t had swordfish in two decades and this was a reminder what I had been missing—a huge steak, grilled fresh, flavourful and textured almost like chicken. They put ketchup and tabasco on the table but that would be sacrilege.
After an obligatory stop at the local Bent Spoon Ice Cream Parlour with the obligatory myriad choice and superbly creamy product, it was time for a little culture. At the McCarter Theatre, the Elevator Repair Service was completing its trilogy of transferring classic American works to the stage with The Select (The Sun Also Rises) staging of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece novel. Their reviews gushed about “cutting wit, doomed romance, and a live bullfight that has to be seen to be believed“, claiming this to be “an exquisite, wine-soaked homage to one of the finest novels ever written“. It seemed like a worthwhile experience for the $38 price tag.
But, while it had its moments, with a creative staging, lively music and dance interludes and some real creative theatre, it completely lost track of itself and especially the era of Americans in Europe entre les guerres with its trademark flat, staccato pace of Hemingway dialogue. The costume department needs to be sat through the Powers/Flynn 1957 take.
Probably the most damning of all was to examine the other theatre-goers at the interval in the three-hour (and 1 1/2 hour too long) peeformance. They seemed, almost to a couple, to be the very same penguin-suit-&-tiara mafia against whom I railed in the previous blog, only this time in dress-down mode. Maybe all these Ivy League universities maintain a theatre as they maintain a football team—to be seen to participate. But the impression left is that they pour far more money and prestige into the players of the latter.