“To be or not to be” is probably Shakespeare’s most famous line, but “All the world’s a stage” runs a close second. In that monologue from As You Like It, a human life is broken down into seven distinct ages, all with splashy entrances and exits. And while the Bard himself wasn’t much of a suitcase-toting kind of guy, here’s where we think his “one man in his time” could best play his seven parts:
Age One: “At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.” Get that infant to Bali ASAP. The Balinese adore children. Most of the resorts have kids clubs, babysitters and gushing employees who are likely to come to fisticuffs over who gets to hold that mewling bundle next. The food is not too spicy with lots of rice, noodles and other easily digestible items (cuts down on the puking) and when said bundle does toss the cookies, it’s easy to kick under the sand (there are beaches everywhere) and pull off as a lopsided sand castle. Not only that, but infants will feel like Julia Roberts (who did take her kids to this gorgeous Indonesian island during the filming of Eat Pray Love) with fans continuously cooing over “those cute little cheeks.”
Stage directions: Ubud, the cultural and craft center of Bali, offers a wealth of family friendly restaurants (think large gardens with cats, fish ponds full of tadpoles and day beds where tired youngsters can relax and color while waiting for opor ayam), rice paddies and a sacred monkey forest. Cheap bananas, sold in the nearby market, lure the long tailed macaques that, if have moustaches, are female. Go figure. http://www.balitourismboard.org
Age Two: “Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school.” Hello!!! Anybody who has set in a classroom lately knows those wooden seats are damned uncomfortable and no way to stimulate a mind. A much better approach is Italy (although it’s much debated, some think Willie S. had to have traveled there to write about it so convincingly) where Art History Abroad (AHA) trains young eyes to appreciate art, sculpture and architecture. But more than opening doors to hidden Italian treasures, AHA’s mission is to produce cultivated minds.
As its director, Nicholas Ross, likes to say, “We see students’ minds as fires to be kindled.” Whining schoolboys not only see the cream of Italy’s masterpieces, but they eat at local cafes, many that haven’t yet made the guidebooks, romp with 20-somethings who still believe anything is possible, re-enact gladiator flights in Verona, pretend to be wealthy Medicis in their Florence palaces and imitate sculptures by Michelangelo and Donatello.
Stage directions: AHA tutors, as they call themselves, teach with such infectious gusto that the end result is a life of endless devotion to art of all kinds. Ross, who was recently voted the No. 1 Guide in London’s Daily Telegraph, carries a sketchbook to explain ideas that don’t translate well into words and has a gift for recognizing the best channel for imparting his passion. In impromptu plays that he’s known to stage in the lively market square Campo dei Fiori, he’ll cast a shy students as Lorenzo the Magnificent or a student who’s full of himself as Pope Leo X, a not-so-closeted gay who died of an exploding intestine. http://www.arthistoryabroad.com
Age Three: “And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow.” Forget the ballad. Take the mistress to Paris which, as 473 million Google hits prove, is indeed the “city of love.” Although there’s no evidence that Napoleon thought of his capital as especially romantic, the rest of the world sure fell for this marketing ploy. And why not? With it’s famous art museums, historic churches, sidewalk cafes and penchant for turning food, wine and hand-in-hand strolls into a veritable art form, Paris enhances, if not out and out clothes ripping, at least romantic interludes.
Stage directions: Get ready for the games to begin with 2 a.m. strolls along the Seine and visits to the pond at Jardin du Luxembourg, the tomb of star-crossed lovers Abelard and Heloise at Pere Lachaise Cemetery and the Sully Wing at the Louvre. http://www.en.parisinfo.com
Age Four: “Then a soldier, full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon’s mouth.” Not totally sure I want a bubble reputation, but any kind of reputation can be furthered by hanging with outrageous billionaire Richard Branson. His Virgin Limited Edition portfolio includes South Africa’s Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, Morocco’s Kasbah Tamadot, Switzerland’s “The Lodge” and Kenya’s Mahali Mzuri that’s opening mid-2013, just in time for the Great Migration.
But when it comes to sticking your neck in the cannon’s mouth, the madcap entrepreneur’s first vacation home in the British Virgin Islands (where else?) is probably most apropos especially after one of its eight-bedroom, palm-roofed buildings went up in flames last year during Hurricane Irene. The fact that Kate Winslet and her family narrowly escaped that lightning-imposed fire on Necker Island only adds to the esteem juju.
Branson uses his private retreat to host symposiums (Tony Blair, Google’s Larry Page and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales met there to discuss global warming), but he also rents it to anyone who doesn’t balk at the $43,000 nightly rate. It sleeps 28, has 14 private beaches, a staff of 60, its own spa (where guests like Oprah Winfrey get caviar facials) and fleets of Hobie cats, windsurfers, boogie boards and a 3-person submarine. A Balinese drum calls guests to meals which can either be held in the Crocodile Pavilion around a giant table carved in the shape of a crocodile or in the bar where James Bond movies play in the background.
There’s also a floating sushi bar during Happy Hour, plenty of tree houses (Branson calls them love shacks) and pickup games of beach volleyball played with a coconut.
Stage directions: Steven Spielberg, Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro and Kate Moss are just a few with bubble reputations who have stayed at this exclusive island. Whether or not they donned the island’s signature pirate costumes, we can’t say. http://www.virginlimitededition.com.
Age Five: “And then the justice in fair round belly, with good capon lin’d, with eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws, and modern instances, and so he plays his part.” Now that Shakespeare’s man has achieved social status, prosperity and love, he’s fed up with canned tours. He wants his vacations (and the rest of his time on planet earth) to count for something. Thanks to that sentiment, he becomes a volunteer vacation groupie.
“When I started the voluntourism website in 2000, you couldn’t even find the term on Google. Today, if you Google voluntourism, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of hits,” says David Clemmons, long-time volunteer and founder of VolunTours that offers health, education, and travel programs. “People are taking the onus upon themselves to change the world.”
Part Peace Corps, part cultural immersion, volunteer vacations give the round-bellied justice the chance to lend a hand, to experience a place in a new way and to make friends with locals, not just take snapshots of them.
Stage directions: For more than 100 ideas for volunteer vacations, check out my National Geographic book, 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life. http://www.voluntourism.org.
Stage Six: “Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose, and pouch on side, his youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide, for his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, turning again towards childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound.” Ah, old age, when knees give out, faces sag and trips that sound most enticing involve some kind of inexpensive surgery. Nearly every country in Asia is vying for a share of the burgeoning medical tourism market. While Thailand, Singapore and India have been consistent growth leaders, my money’s on Malaysia that recently established a government agency (Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council) to promote health care travel and set up a global hotline for inquiries about their dirt cheap knee replacements, cardiac care and cancer treatment.
Stage directions: The Kuala Lumpur International Airport even has a 24-hour medical clinic and pharmacy. It’s near Burger King on the third level of the main terminal. http://www.malaysiahealthcare.com
Stage Seven: “Last scene of all…mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Los Angeles, California offers the most convincing proof that none of us is immortal, not Marilyn Monroe, whose crypt at Westwood Memorial has had to be replaced numerous times from slobbering fans kisses, not Rudolph Valentino who’s mausoleum at Hollywood Forever hosts a memorial service every August 23 at exactly 12:10 p.m., the anniversary of his death, not Douglas Fairbanks, whose lavish memorial at the same cemetery screens movies on weekends during the summer.
Stage directions: For a complete listing of more than 400 interesting graves in Southern California, check out Steve Goldstein’s, LA’s Graveside Companion:Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P.