Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Golden Gate

  San Francisco approved a resolution recently to build suicide netting under the Golden Gate Bridge and eventually fencing across the face of the span. In other words when you walk the Gate you'll be looking thru a scrim of metal across one of the greatest vistas on the planet.
  Bullshit. Madness.
  Sound cold?
  It's not the Bridge's fault people kill themselves. It's not our job to redesign every monument, bridge, mountain top, rooftop, cliffside, and seaside to keep someone from killing themselves. They wanna do it they're gonna find a way.
  The world should not be disfigured, cut off and wrapped in netting, so we can make a nod toward these tragedies, because that's all it is, a nod, a gesture to liability, to not wanting to engage with larger problems, to tamping down the fury of broken hearted people while in reality we shuffle off the problem.
  They're crushed. Who wouldn't be? A son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a child took their life. Someone has to do something. Something has to change. Someone should pay.
  Problem is what that boils down to is as long as anything is changed it's considered something, some good. One platform for suicide is gone.
 Are you kidding? A distraught, deeply depressed person is not going to find another? A fence on a bridge will make them whole again? That's how we do good?
   Nonsense. Childishness.
   "The Bridge of Death" they called it.  What? Is the bridge somehow evil in its design? It entices people to kill themselves? It's Charybdis? It's a witch and one can tell by the cast of its face that it harbors the devil? No sorry, it's just a bridge, made by hand, by thousands and thousands of desperate men and women, during the depression who by dint of their labor created one of the most astounding objects humans have ever imagined.
  And now we get to see thru a fence what they gave us. Inspiration, beauty, strength, astonishment, fear, awe, all of it, covered in netting to put a salve on the horror those who lost someone feel and on the guilt some of us project outwardly from the heart and mind, those parts of us that are truly responsible for all this misery.
  For it is in our stars that the "guilt" lies. It's in us. Not in bridges or rooftops or rafters or in a medicine cabinet. It's in us. And build fences where you may, around the roof of every skyscraper in the country, erase the views, the experiences, which have inspired and comforted generations of people, deny access to the rougher edges of what God built, sue every single person who owned a piece of someplace your beloved died and you'll have accomplished nothing but a kind of institutional vengeance weaker than oaths into the wind.
  The issue here isn't how do we stop them. Fences won't do that. This isn't a question of a view being more important than a person's life. Erasing that view won't save them.
  The heart of all this is silence.
  Because the real horror of death, of suicide in particular, is its silence. Its emptiness. The lack of response. They do not move anymore. They do not speak when spoken to. They won't tell you why.
  That's what's unbearable. But ultimately it's what must be borne.
  You can't reach in after them and make it better. Wrecking the house won't bring them back.
  Perversely, one place you might find an answer, where you might find salve for your broken heart is someplace like that odd orange bridge in the fog, any given morning, 200 feet above the water, as the sun rises. A place like that, or a cliffside in the Grand Canyon, or leaning by the short little railing which is all that stands between you and anyone and the soul shaking beauty of the Niagara, a beauty which stands hand in hand with oblivion. Places like that, left to themselves and you, might bring you peace. They've certainly talked me off the edge.
 Maybe that's what's so hard to bear - the fact that the void you relish and the void you throw yourself into are the same thing. Pretending it's not won't change a thing. Being alive is messed up, we are not simple, simple acts of violence won't fix a thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


      This was printed in the Pgh Post Gazette last week- for those of you who don't subscribe or live in Pgh - I offer it up. 
    Used the "number of steps" thing again. Ah well. Themes, motifs…

  Ten years ago I was running around London going to see a play or two a night and chasing a girl I'd chased ten years before and buying bespoke shirts for 100 pounds apiece made by some guy named Oswald Boateng. Now who wouldn't want to buy something from Oswald Boateng, a name dripping with cool.
     I had discovered the Brits could outdrink the Russians. I confirmed this truth every afternoon at about 5 pm. I walked 6 hours a day. I was unemployed.
     I was, in short, acting like an idiot.
     And then I saw what day it was.
     June 4th.
     I hopped on a train to Paris. Crossed Paris by Metro from the Gare D'something to the Gare D'something else, grabbed another train to Rennes, rented a car which is surprisingly easy to do in another country, and drove to Bayeux where I slept in the massive attic of a Monastery turned Hostel surrounded by 60 snoring Germans.
     I mean I tried to sleep.
     Didn't happen.
     I swore at them, I cursed, I felt like it was okay because they were Germans and then I gave up and at 4:30 in the morning drove toward the Atlantic shore.
     I parked in an empty lot beside a small chapel surrounded by gnarled trees and hedges and then wandered down a hedgerowed lane which led me to the beach.
     The sun had risen, a few joggers went by, a french guy walking his french dog smiled at me and nodded. " Good morning," he said in English.
     That pretty much told me, today was not gonna be a normal day.
     I said Good morning to him in French and then looked up- from one side of the ocean horizon to the other grey shapes stood on the water. Carriers, cruisers, a battleship, scores of war boats in a line, waiting.
     Now I knew today was not gonna be like any other.
     Turns out I'd parked right beside the St Mere Eglise chapel and now I was staring back at the American flag flying over the cemetery of the same name. Dumb luck. Thank the Germans.
     It's 683 steps from where the surf ends, where you get your feet wet, to the first thing you could call cover.
     I walked it at about the same time the soldiers did 60 years before. Around 6:30 in the morning. A few more joggers crossed my path. I looked to the left and saw some comfortable homes built into the sea side hills. Happy upper middle class life in the 21st century.
     And I thought to myself, God in heaven there's no way in Hell I could have made my feet move across this nightmare of open space 6 decades before.
     Simply no bloody way.
     It screams kill zone. It must have been made for the machine gunners on the hill in front of you. A runway right into their sights.
     And yet.....
      For some reason the guard at the back of the cemetery where 4 presidents were about to meet and speak let me in. Looked me right in the eye and opened the gate. I didn't have a pass, I didn't have an 80 year old man by my side. I joined the procession of soldiers and ex-soldiers and their families. Some smiled at me and nodded, I smiled and nodded back. A full bar Captain led me to a row where I could stand with a full view of the cemetery. "Thanks for coming," he said.
    And that's when I figured it out. They thought I was an actor. Well, I was an actor but they thought I was a different one. And not even a famous actor or a particular actor. I was simply, possibly just one of the guys who'd been in " Band of Brothers" or "Saving Private Ryan" and that was enough for them.
     It didn't really matter that I was not one of the guys in Band of Brothers or Private Ryan. I was a symbol of what these old men had been. I was the face this decade had put on their myths and memories. I was "one of them." What they looked like, what they must have sounded like when they were young and alive in 1944.
    And this completely blew me away. Freaked me out. First off because I didn't deserve it period and secondly because it made complete sense.
    "If only we could see them move again...hear their voices......tell their stories and then see the story become life once more......"
     And how amazing that it never quite works but again and again and again we try. We never stop. Go to Gettysburg. Go to Agincourt.
     That was ten years ago. I'm sitting in my not yet unpacked new apt in Pittsburgh listening to the BBC play out a ceremony happening 3000 miles away. A decade ago I stood with the men who stormed Normandy beach. I listened to our President promise "for our friends, we'd do it again", I watched both, together and without regard to rank file away thru the gates. Children left among the graves to play and wander. I wandered among french homes with their windows open to the evening cool as families from both sides of the channel broke bread and smiled and emptied bottle after bottle once more.
     I went back down to the beach. The sun was almost gone, the surf farther away, the joggers kept coming and I thought, Life never quits, does it? It keeps coming at you come war or come boredom, come the birth of a child or the daily commute, it pounds away at you until you're history. Within 100 yards of me in either direction 3000 guys had died 60 years ago. Not even close to what the Russians lost daily for a year in WWII, not even close to Cold Harbor in our Civil War but numbers counted in places like this are a kind of obscenity. Sometimes, you shouldn't try to add up what you know.
  They fought. They walked, they ran, into those guns.

  In an age of endemic hyperbole - "Godlike dark roast, Greatest Dub step in History, Possibly the finest remake of Spiderman yet!!"  I think it's fair now to say they actually saved a civilization. 
  We must, until we are the ninety somethings, doddering in a defiant row, fight to tell their tales. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Memorial Day

  I had dinner alone in a swank restaurant in the basement of a hotel built in 1850 in Milford PA last week. Guy who built it started Delmonicos in NYC before the Civil War. Bartender went to find me a copy of the Times - "Look no offense but I just can't watch you read off your phone, man"- but they'd thrown it out so he grabbed the local weekly. "I mean if we're gonna talk and all." I agreed. He was a Mets fan, from Brooklyn, if you couldn't tell. 
  Things I learned reading the Pike County Register over some fine spiced kale and a decent ribeye.
  Did you know Norway used to be run by Sweden? Till like 1910.
  Did you know their used to be 4 billion chestnut trees up and down the Appalachian corridor? Then came the fungus.
  Did you know:
  It's 60 minutes from Milford to the nearest hospital with a maternity ward. A local author gave birth halfway along the ride. "I'd like to thank the good officers of the Jersey State patrol for helping my husband and I as we waited to deliver the placenta."
  French Huguenots settled along the upper Delaware in the early 18th century. There's a red brick church in…umm "Huguenot" NY….. that their descendants are trying to save. A good number of them are catholic.
   Did you know the Delaware Water Gap was gonna be an inland sea- dammed up for the tap water benefit of Philly and NYC- until they realized the place they'd picked for the dam would have failed. So the Fed did an about face to save face and said it was supposed to be a national park all along.
  JFK signed the law. At a house about 3 miles from my barstool. Grey Towers. I went up the next day to see the place and talked to the gardener for 20 minutes, which was far more informative than the tour. He was 14 when Kennedy got up to speak, happy simply to be out of school, "He landed right over there on the big lawn. Spoke right here in front of the records building. Under the Copper Elms…..and then, who knew, they shot him a couple weeks later…"
   I didn't ask but when he went on less about the great home of Gifford Pinchot founder of the National Forestry Service and more about what a tragedy LBJ was, I did the math. 14 in 1963. 18 in 1967. Small town. Not much for the books. Vietnam. 
  Rich was his name. Lanky, sunbaked, happy to be the care taker of the mansion he'd watched fall apart as a boy, playing in its ruins. "We put 30 million into it, bought back 400 acres, used local materials again and local people just like Pinchot's dad did way back. It's a rock."
   I liked that when he said "we" he meant the Federal Government.
   He walked me thru the forest Pinchot had planted - "By God I do wish I could return in a hundred years and see my trees.", the old man had famously said - at least that's what Rich said- but as we climbed thru the Pines and the Elms and the Maples and Cherry trees 4 feet in diameter, I thought about all the times I've gone hiking back East in the parks and state game lands of my youth and how you realize it was all clear cut, was all scoured fields and mountainsides of nothing for so long until guys like Pinchot pounded it into people's heads that if you erase the forests you'll drown the towns and destroy your farms and end up in a wet desert.
  Look at photos from the Civil War, look at panorama shots on the opening days of the great museums and libraries of the Progressive age, and what you might notice is the things stand in barren ground.
    There were no trees. We'd cut them all down. We mowed Pennsylvania. What you walk thru now unless you're deep, deep in the woods is third and fourth growth replanting, or random species that have blown in and can live on nothing.
  "I think this place is still here cause the Kennedys have a soft spot for it….doesn't make much sense otherwise. Must be earmarked every year."
   I had to agree that a multimillion dollar pile of stone in honor of a conservationist of wood didn't make much sense but I was glad it gave him a job.
   Rich waved me off, "Next time park in the lower lot, there's shade in that corner." And I drove 5 hours on back roads to Gettysburg, and it felt like I'd crossed a continent. From the gouged out valleys of the Lehigh and the northern Appalachians to the God blessed open fields of Lancaster. It's like going from the Balkans to the English Home Counties. From West Virginia to Iowa. You get some tiny glimmer of how people once measured distance. And how they were marked, molded, and dyed by the land they lived in. What they called their homeland, where they were from as opposed to that oh so different place on the other side of the mountains. Land we can hop across, to and from now in hours.
  I drove through a massive storm, clouds practically reaching down to scrape Pottsville and Lebanon off the PA map, trucks swerving in the wash, folks parked under the overpasses with the hazards on, but when I got to the battlefield the skies softened, went from bruise black to grey, and held. I had to laugh. It was just what you'd imagine. Rain plastering the windshield as I parked. I reached for my raincoat, opened the door and …..nothing but wind.
  And there was nobody there.
  Stones and statues dripping. Handful of intrepid school kids from Missouri, one in a wheelchair they couldn't push across the muddied field of Pickett's charge. The open farm land they say Lee looked across and said "Here. It will be here."
  And was it ever.
  Did you know at a steady walk it takes 15 minutes to cross the fields from the Confederate line to the Union angle. It's almost exactly 1300 steps. 1297 on my count. Though I imagine the last quarter of those, for the handful that made it, were at a dead run, so divide the last 400 by 4, and you get the feel for every step taken by those men across the grass.
  "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here…."


Wednesday, May 14, 2014


  A trip winds down and the exhaustion rolls you up. InterContinental lactic acid. The inland sea of your self you pushed away at take-off comes sloshing back and swamps you. You on you. One trying to stay afloat on the back of the other.
  The basic reason to travel. To escape yourself. And then find yourself. To run him fast or far enough thru streets he doesn't know until he's silent, uncomplaining, forgotten. 
  But then inevitably the platonic umbilical cord will snap you and him back into place. 
  And by that time he's sick and tired and scared and wants to go home. And you have to take him home. It's part of the deal. And you were just getting used to it. 
  What's the movie? The Abyss? The rescue divers breathe liquid oxygen. They go into shock at the first breath but then it's bliss. You breathe under water.
  Kind of like traveling. You breathe new air. You live in a different world where the mundane; a street sign, a light switch, the name of the ground floor, a bag of chips, every single person's voice, has magic strangeness to it.
  And then comes the scene when the diver has to surface and breathe regular air. Not so nice. Not so laden with bliss.
   It's said often in various mediocre ways-  "All travelers see what they want to see in a place, not what's truly there." Which I think is nonsense. As if there's a neutral way to see anything on this earth. Why the Hell would we even speak, the species turn grunts into phonemes if not to say to the next poor hairless ape, "oh you should see this place ...because...." Puritan bullshit always always ringing in our American ears and telling us not to listen, not to trust what's being told, what's right in front of us, you're flawed from the get go. 
  And now I'm back to my Scots-Irish island in America. Pittsburgh. And I felt for the first few days recast. My vision polished. People here, the same people I left seem to live with their teeth in this town, in their lives. They chew on it. On each other. For better and worse. And really can you have the one without the pain of the other? Truly? 
  You walk into the ring you're gonna take a punch. 
  The men blare their accents across each other in the bar, the women whatever their age with the same eyes they had at 17. We got lucky in Pittsburgh. Severe Scots came and built the place and then the Slavs and the Italians and the Greeks rebuilt it and made it worth living in. 
  And for a few days.. while I was waking up at 3:30 in the morning... forgetting where I was... which bed, which hotel, which town....the clouds here seemed lit by the land itself - which had exploded into spring green and thickness and life while I was gone. They moved across a sky bluer than I thought possible in a land locked town. 
  For a few days, the Irish changeling weather came back with me. The hourly miracles of a place that made me think this is what kids must see when they first realize they see it: a storm, a rainbow, the sun. 
  And then my frightened self arrived - those platonic others never do go by air do they- and I slept a good eight hours and I woke up at the appropriate time and remembered where and who I told myself I was. 

Belfast Belfast

    I'm Scots Irish. Ulster Scots on my father's side. With some Irish Catholic mixed in and not spoken of. Which if you take into account the fact the last "immigrant" in my family came over 200 years ago is something mock worthy.
   Ulster : a province in Ireland and Northern Ireland, parts of which lay in both, famous for its independence both geographical and political. Populated for hundreds of years by non-gaelic Irish; Picts, Vikings, and Presbyterian Scots. Scots not Scotch, which is a drink one serves without ice. Scots are a people, from the Latin "Scotus". A french king mockingly asked his Irish latin tutor, "What's the difference between an Irishman (Scotti) and a drunk (sottus)?" The tutor responded, "The width of this table."
   Which says as much about unity as humor.
   Northern Ireland: the six Ulster counties (there are nine total in the province) which are part of the United Kingdom.They're British not English. IE they have their own soccer team. But they vote in the British parliament in Westminster and in the EU. Belfast is the biggest city in Northern Ireland. If you listen to a catholic from West Belfast and a protestant from a quarter mile away it's hard to tell the difference. But they've been fighting in the same patch of land since the late 17th century. Some would say the last millennium. The IRB against the UDF and then the Free State against itself and the UFF and RUC and UVF…..
   Most of the acronyms and the terms bandied about by historians of Northern Ireland, by politicians and reporters, and by those of us who sit in Irish bars 3000 miles away in Boston or Pittsburgh or Chicago and talk about "the struggle", don't register in most people's minds
  IRA registers. Pretty much everybody knows that when bleary, blue-eyed men start threatening to cry or sing at Murphy's Pub at 2 in the morning their inspiration is not their Individual Retirement Account.
   There's a number I've been known to make fun of.
   That's a round figure, the precise one is sometimes said to be 3,234.
   The number of people killed in Northern Ireland between 1968, the beginning of "the troubles" and 1998 the lose timing of the current truce.
   If you check the statistics for the conflict between India and Pakistan during the same period of time that many people were often killed every year.
   Sometimes when I'm bleary eyed at 2 am I'd say I guess when your skin is brown and the Speaker of the House is named O'Neill or the President Clinton, you don't count as much.
   I'm Scots-Irish so I felt like I had the right to say so.
   And then a couple days ago I walked through West Belfast. It sits on a slight rise, almost as North as it is West of Belfast, and separated from the city proper by a major highway dug like a moat between the two.
   A green mountain stands behind them. A beautiful backdrop to a handful of working class neighborhoods packed against each other in a crescent. A low theater of houses.
  You can walk the border of the entire thing in 45 minutes.
  Shankill and the Falls roads are a short jog apart.
  When you walk past the houses you think - working class people who got homes. They found their corner of the world and held on to it after their grandparents fought their way out of the dockyard slums.
   It's well kept, it's pretty clean, it's packed with people.
   And every couple hundred yards you'll see something that will make you sit down on the sidewalk.
   Three thousand 2 hundred and thirty four people died in this minor city suburb in an industrial corner of the British Islands. From the time I was one year old. In a space no bigger than the two little Pittsburgh neighborhoods I called home; Edgewood and Swissvale, two people a week were killed till the day I turned thirty. Smaller really. In Swissvale, just Swissvale let's say, men were using guns and bombs to fight a local battle supported by an international set of zealots and arms dealers and the British and Irish governments.
  Imagine a guerrilla war happening in your backyard. Not on a giant border held by armies, not across the expanse of Ireland, not in England, not in ghettos around the world but right here in a stretch of post war prefab houses with its trio of thoroughfares offering hair and nail work, deli meats, fish and chips, betting parlors, realty, solicitors, children's clothes, sporting goods, travel agencies, and churches. Churches, churches, churches.
  And yes. The IRA killed people in London, and the British government and Ulster loyalists killed people in Derry but the majority of it happened in Belfast. And the majority of it happened in one corner of Belfast. Let's say 3,000 people. Or even 2,500. With about 40,000 injured, crippled, scarred, wounded, or tortured.
  People were going to work, taxes were being paid, schools were in session, homes repaired, cars fixed on the weekends, lawns mowed, lovers kissed, parents cursed, records bought, all of it, the day by lovely monotonous day of it happening while every week 10 or more people were being dragged from their homes and beaten.
 By somebody who lived 4 blocks away. In either direction.
 I stood in the middle of one Protestant grid of streets and had trouble moving my feet. Murals all around me. Stacks of wooden pallets to be burned in giant July bonfires. Marching drums in the distance as it was a Saturday. Men sitting in trucks with the doors open casing any visitors. White armored Land Rovers every hundred yards. Soldiers in full battle armor and fully automatic rifles at their shoulders.
  And around the corner a green grocer offered apples at a discount and a snug little bar had its door open. Couple kids went by on skateboards. A grandmother and two ladies pushed some prams.
  A woman counted out change to the grocer and said no to a bag. I asked the guy with me, "If we walked into that bar and ordered a beer what would ha-?"
  "I wouldn't come out." he answered before I finished.
   "It's twenty feet away."
   "Well I'm here and I'm with an American. There's somewhere else."


Sunday, May 11, 2014


  I hummed Galway Girl for three days on the Arans until I wore it out on the turntable of my brain and it started to sound like Joy Division. Like a photo, color dead, in a sunny shop window.
  Country Road keeps coming in uninvited because the Irish love it for some reason and play it everywhere.
   I couldn't remember the melody to Do I Wanna Know that Arctic Monkeys tune as I tramped up Slieve League but I remembered the lyrics, which is unusual for me. I spoken worded them in the rain.
   I sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco walking around the cairn grave of Queen Maeve on the bluff above Sligo and then on the way down Riders on The Storm suddenly jumped into my head and bizarrely the voice of Ray Manzarek talking about Jim Morrison's genius in an interview before he died. (Ray not Jim.) Manzarek chattering away as a score of lambs did bleat for mommy on either side of the path.
   There's a long set of stairs out of Giants' Causeway. Overlooking the North Sea I hummed I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart and then Solitude and then I started cursing these two Dutch guys who couldn't quite get the right selfie off their I-Pad facing away from a 400 foot cliff I wish they'd leaped from for love instead.
  Dirty Old Town over and over in Belfast till this guy who owns the oldest record shop in Ireland told me with a laugh that it's about London.
  Get Lucky occasionally pops into my head but I can't seem to keep it there. So last summer sadly.
  I got back to Dublin yesterday, off the train and hopped into a cab, driven by an older fellow who was half something, maybe Lebanese, with the smoothest Dublin accent I've yet heard and as he swore the road closings up and down he sang along with what I think is one of the great dance tunes ever penned-Why Waste Your Time- You Know You're Gonna Be Mine.
  When I'd arrived here three weeks ago thereabouts the cabbie - and for a minute I thought it was the same guy- the cabbie after I'd told him I was from Pgh drove me straight not to my hotel but straight to the statue of Phil Lynott.
  For those of you who don't know who Phil Lynott is…. ah the shame the shame….he was the lead singer and guiding creative force behind one of the 70's great glories. Thin Lizzy. Led by a black Irishman, son of a soldier, mother a local, kind of the Franco Harris of anthem rock.
  I have a rule that I won't ever listen to The Boys are Back in Town unless I'm in Pittsburgh. It sticks me too hard back into the beautiful closed closet of my childhood and I only want to go through that emotional time travel if I'm near something when I grab it I know I can trust it.
  So there we were, he put the meter on hold and double parked up on a curb, me and the cabbie standing in front of the way too realistic brass (?) tribute to one of my favorite singers.
  " 'Guess who just got back today'…" I  said, "So how'd you know? I mean why'd you bring me here?"
    "Lad you were humming the opening to Jailbreak when you sat in the back, dint ya notice?"
     Not me.
     And I ask you friend, what's a man to do, when her hair is black and her eyes are blue.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

From Sligo and around the horn.

  You gotta love any country that burns dirt to stay warm.
  Peat. Compressed dirt.
  Takes a thousand years to make ten inches of the stuff. It's freaking magic. The bog, the gorse, the moor, the taiga, whatever you want to call the Irish countryside, gets buried under itself and becomes this dark, umber-black, amateur charcoal.
  Travel around Ireland and you can see it cut into strips looking like long rails of chocolate waiting for the rain to pause so it can dry.
  Burns slower than wood, but faster than coal.
  Has a unique... smell…..I'm told.
  Bog. What an awesome anglo viking saxon word. Dent. Bent. Ax. Bog. All good.
  I just got to Belfast and have realized what the whole trip was for.
  So I could get to Belfast.
  Love this place. Love the people. Hilarious piss takers, shit talking slangy Pict Irish ruffians in a proud armed city, Proddys and Taigs side by side.
  Feels like Pittsburgh. With bombs.
  With the occasional bomb I mean, and what that would do to the people's parlance.
  Dad said we were Ulster Scots and now I firmly believe it. I belong here. I'm of them. Some things you just realize smack as you walk thru the door. Family at first sight.
  Abhor the politics and the "Ulsterism" but this is the Ireland I'm a son of.
  Ah well. Maybe a great great great great grandson of once removed but...
  The Giro D'Italia runs thru Belfast tomorrow to add a tang of the absurd. Im going to wake up and watch thousands of Euro types hooting for their favorite diarrhetic burn victim athlete in a town that doesn't normally wake up till 9.
   I might start drinking early.
   Drove the whole northern curve of Ireland today. From Sligo to Belfast. Stood on Europe's highest cliffs- for a moment my Cabela's hat was the highest seaside object in the EU. (Full disclosure I've never worked for them or any other crypto-fascist supply outlet).
   Screw the Cliffs of Moher - named strangely enough for my friend Malhar ( good work on the bog to table restaurant you've started over here my man) and go to these Slieve League cliffs which are higher and far more majestical. And God bless the Irish for continually not giving a damn if there's any kind of formal stairs to be found along a trail. Makes the journey seem routed in one's fantastical childhood imagination. You step from a stream bed to a set of rocks to heaps of turf that may or may not be related to the human foot, to a path that drops 1000 feet in either direction (God Bless the fog too, best not to know how you're gonna die) and it's a lot like being ten again, searching the neighborhood for "trails" and secret hideaways and the bushy doorway to some enchanted clearing.
   Every point of the progress of a trip across the Irish countryside every nook and cranny is uneven, off true, bent. There's not a straight line or plumb surface to be found. The landscape continually alters. The fingers and the feet of whatever God built the place must have been constantly active. You feel you could lay any story into any corner of it. Or that someone, eons of someones already have.  It's remarkable. It's a place lousy with narrative. They harvest narrative here.
  And it's lush. My God it is. Fecund, seething with life, creeping growing piled up life. There's more water here than Seattle and Pittsburgh combined. It's a green and dark green Irish jungle. The Connemara, Sligo, Donegal, wow they are packed with streams and lakes and heaps of moss and turf dripping over whatever pathway or wall we've put between them and wherever it is they want to go.
   Drove drove drove it all. Which when you realize the place is the size of Maine doesn't mean much. Roads the width of the average driveway in Bloomfield. As if they took the Big Sur coast road, squeezed it a touch and laid it over Ireland. Over and over again. Donegal, Ballybofey, Derry (yes DERRY!), Portrush, Ballymoney, Kells, and here, where the 3-d Titanic Experience auditorium is bigger than the ship itself.
  The last 20 miles -and when you get to the NI it becomes miles again and things take longer to get to damn it!- the last 20 were on a major highway that could have (dis) graced any American city. You descend on it into Eastern Belfast thru some light hills, the road cuts below the neighborhoods and at the last overpass before I hit the city proper I saw on one side the Irish tricolor high on a pole and on the other the Union Jack.
 Oh, the politics. Am I this am I that….what American could have any idea without living here?