“There was a star danced, and under that was I born.” – William Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing II, i)

Yup, today’s my birthday, or for my Mom, the anniversary of “you-almost-killed-me-during-labor-with-your-huge-head-day.”  (Sorry Mom.)  I have some great UNunhappy birthday memories from the past few years that I’m reflecting on today.  I’m home this year, but I’ve been establishing a new birthday-abroad tradition that takes place every other year and that has provided me with some of my most joyful moments in recent memory.

As I mentioned in my recent Tour de France post, it was three years ago that I spent my 40th birthday on top of a mountain in the French Alps to be a part of the Tour, and it was breathtaking (figuratively and literally, the altitude made it hard to get adequate air).  Today’s stage of the Tour just happens to finish in Lyon, which is where I began my TdF adventure three years ago today in France, a nice birthday coincidence.

Then last year, I decided (on a whim, really) to pondhop to England during my summer vacation and spend my birthday at the World Shakespeare Festival 2012.  On my birthday I was in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace and hometown of William Shakespeare, and attended ‘The Tempest’ (one of my favorites) at the Royal Shakespeare Company theater.  It was simply brilliant, as the British say.

Shakespeare's Birthplace House Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

Shakespeare’s Birthplace House
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

It’s difficult to explain how special this was to me – first of all, it was a realized dream born of a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and a desire to visit Stratford-upon-Avon since being inspired by my high school literature teacher Mrs. Clara Sanchez.  Secondly, I’m an admitted Anglophile, so this was another trip-of-a-lifetime for me.  To be walking along the banks of the river Avon, in the place where Shakespeare lived and loved and wrote and died over 400 years ago, and then to watch his iconic words play out on the stage performed by the best Shakespearean actors in the world…it was surreal, and emotional, and almost spiritual for me.

Royal Shakespeare Company theatre Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

Royal Shakespeare Company theatre
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

I spent four full days in beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon and did not want to leave!  It was an iconic birthday vacation that filled me with happiness and gratitude.  I went by myself, but I don’t mind traveling alone (it feels empowering, actually); I took long walks in the town, ate whatever I wanted, rented a bike to ride along the river and canals, toured all the different Shakespeare houses and historical sites, saw all three “Shipwreck Trilogy” plays at the RSC, and savored every moment of back-in-time tranquility.  (I spent another week in London and a few other areas but more on that in another post.)

The River Avon from view of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

The River Avon from view of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre.
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

(By the way, the header photo on this blog was also taken by me on one of those riverside walks in Stratford-upon-Avon; those are boats on the River Avon just down the path from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the church where Shakespeare is buried. You can see the names of famous female characters from his plays on the boats.)

It seems that for most of us, as we get older, our birthdays hold less and less importance.  “Birthdays are for kids,” we say, and we don’t want to make a big deal out of it.  After a certain age, we grumpily interpret the yearly event as simply another date on the calendar that tells us we’re getting closer to all the negatives that old age brings.  Why is getting older seen by so many as an embarrassment?

Actually, I think we might need to blame Shakespeare for this one.  In his famous “All the world’s a stage” monologue from ‘As You Like It,’ he outlines the “Seven Ages of Man” that have been quoted throughout time and history when referring to the life cycle of getting older.  Beginning with the “mewling/puking infant” and the whining schoolboy, growing into the sighing lover and the hotheaded soldier, maturing into the wise justice with a formal beard, and finally shifting into the bespectacled “pantaloon” and the last stage, “second childishness,” he ends with the fearful prognosis that all of us will eventually end in “mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Extremely poignant, brilliantly written, but yeesh…incredibly depressing.  I bet you they never celebrated birthdays in Shakespeare’s time (although they should have, especially if one survived the plague!).

View of Shakespearean actors from upstairs window of Shakespeare's Birthplace house. Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

View of Shakespearean actors from upstairs window of Shakespeare’s Birthplace house.
Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012

I get it though, and I guess I also downplay birthdays sometimes to a degree, mostly because I’m still kind of a shy person at heart and a bit of a loner (which is not a bad thing, I’ve accepted).  But I think it’s ok to also make a pretty big deal out of your birthday if you want to.  I have friends who have overcome major illness, trauma, or other difficult challenges – why shouldn’t they celebrate each birthday as a major accomplishment, and we along with them?  Even for those that have been lucky enough to not have to go through extreme hardships, shouldn’t another year of simply surviving the stress and soldiering-on of everyday life deserve some kind of acknowledgement?  (YES.)

My favorite birthday message ever.

My favorite birthday message ever.

So do whatever you want on your birthday.  Do whatever you want every day.  Why the heck not??   I’ve started to look at my birthday as an impetus for organizing and taking the trips to places I’ve always wanted to see and visit, even if it is only every other year or so.  I hope to be back in England on my birthday next year, as the 2014 Tour de France will start in the Yorkshire region of the UK in early July.  It sounds like the perfect reason to get over there again and then stick around to visit some of the other places I didn’t get to see last time around (there’s so many on the list!) – or maybe even jaunt through the Chunnel to finally see Paris. 

My dessert on my birthday last year in Stratford-upon-Avon UK: Sticky Toffee Pudding of course!

My dessert on my birthday last year in Stratford-upon-Avon UK:
Sticky Toffee Pudding of course!

As for this year: I may not be in a quaint European café paying way too much for, well, everything, but I’m enjoying my extended self-imposed staycation on this birthday morning and appreciating what I do have.  I’m watching the Tour de France in all it’s beauty and loving it; I plan to buy myself some flowers and do some design practice later; I’ll be with family later on to eat some good food; and a simple “cuppa” English Breakfast tea and a French croissant with preserves is enough to remind me of amazing birthdays past and make it a pretty darn UNunhappy day. 

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi