Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2nd day in Galway

   The Irish walk like they're being chased.
It's ridiculous. You think you've come to the land of the meander, the tangent, the long way round. Far bloody from it.
It might be a long way to Tipperary but these bastards are taking the shortest distance between two points.
Watch the shoulders, the lowered heads, the outright scamper. Where the Hell are they all going?
Tetchy. It's the only way I can put it. There's the velocity and then there's also the general disregard for lane safety. Tokyo feels less aggressive. Any moment you feel like someone's going to lend you a Gaelic hip check. A ten year old swung his book bag into me on a bridge in Galway. I'd of smacked him but there were seven more. Seven ten year olds could maybe do some damage.
Frightened Celtic tigers? Is it that? Is it……the Irish are warlike? That they wanna scrap?
Or is it maybe…. I do…..
Cab to the station in Dublin I almost told the cabbie to shut the fuck up I'd gotten too many gifts from his gab. It was like being in a cafe in Westwood surrounded by 5 jilted UCLA students. All wrapped into one man.
And then the 8 church ladies packed together on their way to Galway. Reassuring each other they were all there, tucking away their coats and bags and their tupperwared snacks which they thought they needed to hide. Gambling. Swearing. Chatting up the Serbian coffee kart kid until he started laughing, "ladies, ladies, my loves". You've never heard an Irish accent until it's been welded onto a Slavic one.
It is a beautiful accent wherever it comes from. It's 20 beautiful accents. There's so many you can't keep up.
But down West here in Galway you hardly hear it - what with the Spanish and the Yanks and the Italians and the Brits and the Germans all come to this picturesque sea side town -with a bay worthy of Steve Perry's voice- to gather in tawdry groups and listen to i phones together.
Galway's like the center of Barcelona. Crammed with the subsidized detritus of the Global Village. Co-eds with their off center baseball caps and hip once again lycra'd legs. Dreaded jugglers and drummers smack in the middle of the historic harbor jetties like so many bobble headed Bozos the clown. Squads of young men from any one of the Euro union's staggering states. 4 Italian guys, 4 Spanish guys, 4 French guys -who the fuck knows- with their matching treated jeans, their matching labeled T-shirts, premier league tops, and the curious almost Capezio like footware only 19 year olds from Rouen think is cool, all strolling in formation looking for that universal staple, wanted by all-  the American college chick.
And boy have the ladies come here in droves. In schools. Like Herring.
I guess if I wanted to study abroad and hadn't really gotten around to studying one of those languages abroad people speak, I guess I'd have got to Ireland too .
And they have.
So who can blame these embarrassing boys. If I'd been born in a bankrupt suburb near Valencia and  heard that every year more than a thousand corn fed, porn bred, relativistic American girls were coming to Galway, I might have camped out here too.
  And then strangely, when you leave downtown Hibernia-Barca, the built landscape quickly becomes Northern California. Walk north along the "bike path" and you too can be a landed member of the New Irish Upper Middle Class. Which seems bound and determined to act like it grew up in Palo Alto or any of the mindless beach burbs between Irvine and La Jolla. (yes I know those are in So Cal.)
 I guess I was just impressed by the sameness. The samenitude. That money looks the same as money all over the world. And people who've gotten a little money all start buying, wanting, and walking like other newly moneyed folks from Greenwich to the Galway Bay.
And I guess I wanted the Irish to be immune. To be all cottagey, and dour and mismatched and pluralistic even when it comes to their golden, breathtaking Western shore.
  Which is neither golden nor a shore, but you get what I mean.
  I didn't want to be in Ireland and be passed by latte laden moms driving Maclarens ( the pram not the car) in yoga gear and ball caps, 4000 miles from the closest ball park.
  At least I haven't heard any Brad Paisley.
  That said.
  It's a gorgeous little town. A series of lanes curving down wide and well preserved canals full of dark emerald water down to the sea which made this place. There are still a few working boats in the various inlets (only one of them  a Hooker, i.e. a Galway Hooker which if you didn't know and I didn't is a sturdy fishing boat built like it could take the wave in the Perfect Storm and come up laughing. Or drinking). At 6 in the afternoon the various whites and the blues and the greens of the plastered houses glow. Church domes and spires jazz up the curve of the coast. Clouds bunched behind give the place a Wild West feel, which I suppose it kind of is.
   From a mile away out on a causeway which beckons but ultimately leads you to the town sewage facility, the narrow face of the city, its line across the horizon looks like an early Klimt landscape, or an early Mondrian. You could be in Holland or Northern Germany…..but then again, why would you want to be? Given the choice I'd rather be in Ireland. Listening to the guys try and teach their girlfriends how to hit a hurling stick in a green field the size of the rest of the city. Right by the water, cold as Maine with mothers and kids swimming in it and the curve of the Cliffs of Moher miles off in the distance.
  I swat away some more sea flies, fed literally by the crap of Galway, and swear at myself for following a bunch of retirees doing their evening work out, out and back. There's a plaque at the end of the pier. I read it as some young lassie in her short short dress ( that is the default Irish look these days, praise Jaysus) runs from the flies and her lad chases past me…. "At the end of this causeway is the Mutton Point Lighthouse, the last light in Galway harbor proper and many times the last sight thousands and thousands of refugees fleeing the Great Famine ever had of their homeland."

Ireland. First Sunday.

  What the Hell does a tourist keep in a back pack? What possible reason lies within?
  Why not wear a sign on your back that says, "Sucker. Please demean. And then rob me."
  Students wear backpacks. Hikers 40 miles from the nearest hostel wear them.
  Why in the middle of one of the world's great cities would you be wearing a backpack?
  To carry your lunch? That you may have stored in your ….hotel fridge?
  Blankets for said lunch?
  A camera the size of a panaflex? A child you're ashamed of????
  What is it that makes urban dwellers who wouldn't be caught dead in their own urban setting wearing a backpack and fleece need to don the wardrobe of "traveler" in city after city?? Hiking boots that could get you over the Annapurna pass. A shell which force 5 rain couldn't rend.
  Shirts that "wick".
  Wick the fuck.
  I don't mean to vent.
  When you go to a foreign city you want to be the only foreigner. You want everyone to be that nationality speaking that language.
  Dublin makes this tough in two ways. There are reams of people like you/me. You hear more Polish than Irish and because the common language of Ireland is English the "foreign" meter sits pretty low. And then you pass group after group of neither Irish nor Yankee. Who knew the Italians loved Dublin? Or the Slovaks? They have their own section of town. Little Bratislava I suppose.
   But here they come, wave after wave, tired well dressed Italians always dressed for snow and looking put upon that lunch and dinner don't start exactly the same time that mommy makes back at the apt in Florence.
  The French with their abysmally behaved children laughing at everything in site, the parents either too preoccupied trading dissertations about what they've just seen in the museum to notice or wishing to avoid the student representative conference any disciplinary action would require.
  The Spanish just having a better time than anyone. Some Rafa-looking guy asked me for  directions and I thought we were gonna hug at the end.
  The Russians pretending to take in the sights but then simply setting up shop at a bar to google local real estate prices.
  Lots of Poles, lots of Germans….but fewer Americans and even fewer Brits than one would think.
  And all around them, in their odd sense of grey on off-grey matching greens, are the Irish.
  Who knew the Irish and the Catalonians had the same (lack of) fashion sense?
  I don't mean to generalize.
  It was a miraculous sunday. Pope John Paul was canonized. The soccer fan from Krakow who ended up in the Vatican. I'm glad I was in a Catholic country.
  There's a Polish parish up by the oldest part of Dublin and in the bright sun I watched them stream in. The 6th century bells of St Audeon's next door started peeling which meant there was a person up there in the tower actually kicking and tugging at the damn things.
  The Russians think that bells have souls and they intentionally make them untrue, slightly off pitch, so each one has its own particular voice and together scores of them ringing in a Russian village make tones and microtones you'll never hear anywhere else on earth.
  These three ancient bells ringing for John Paul gave a little hint of that.
  I walked the length of the Liffey to go see Lutyen's War Memorial. A pretty park next to a short line of falls that turned out to be the site of the oldest Viking village in Dublin (which pretty much began as a Viking Village until it became an English one). Kids playing soccer trying to hit the goal posts. Littler kids throwing each other around like models in Homer's Whip. Lovers coiled in the grass. Dogs off leash. Fathers trying to triage it all.
  Across the river was a green hill. On the map it was a massive green square. It had a "castle" in it. So I had to go.
   The Irish do this wonderful thing. (Beside letting their dogs run around.) They don't cut the grass. All my life I've had a deep and abiding  hatred of lawn mowers and lawns cut like bitten nails. Men determined to always be amputating something. The lawn, the branches of an oak on their property, their wives affections, their children's hopes.
  But in Phoenix Park Dublin the grass is high. You could lay down in it and disappear. Small dogs run through it like dolphins leaping. Where people tend to walk it tamps down into pathways but elsewhere it grows rich and catches the sun like a painting.
  I was in fucking heaven.
  And there were girls running reps up a short hill breathing hard, and a man teaching his son how to Hurl (the Gaelic game not the..) and the dogs came up to me and the sun was setting in the West …..but it being Ireland, there had to be... that twist….I thought to myself this place, this verdant plateau overlooking the City's western reaches was as magic as the camp I went to as a kid. The field here and the field there in far off Ohio in my memory seem to recognize each other. I was walking, hovering in a space outside my experience yet familiar and deeply inside my heart, yet totally new.
  And then I got to the castle.
  And I realized it was the prison, the holding zone, the hilltop dungeon really that the Brits had used in the last years of their rule. Here their best boys had been tortured and died and damn if you couldn't feel it.
  When I walk thru a mill town in the Mon Valley in Pgh and I pass what used to be the factory site, or the once thriving main street or the town library padlocked from use, I feel a similar sting. Some violence happened here. Some people were seriously screwed. Ireland for better and worse doesn't forget. We might pretend to. But a place does not. The Irish I think, know that.
  The other jail or gaol where most of the heros of their Civil War were housed, tortured, and sometimes killed they rebuilt in the 60s, stone by stone, tile by tile until it was sparkling. And then they all walked back into it and had a party. There's a photograph of 12 guys who had once been shackled in the joint and there they are these rebels become politicians and civil servants to the Irish State… laughing.
   It was 4 miles back to my hotel and the sun was setting. I left the "castle, walked up and down some dips in the park, came through a small wood and when I broke the tree line a hundred yards in front of me a woman with red gold hair standing by a tree pulled a shimmering dress over her head and stood in that thick grass and long light naked.
  I stopped dead.
  When I'd first moved to New York a friend of mine dragged me straight to the Russian Baths in the East Village and down into one of its lower rooms heated by a black stone chimney that would boil the skin off your bones if you touched it.
  When we walked into the steam filled space a woman against the far wall sat up. Covered in sweat, hair skin face soaking with eucalyptus and oak leaves slapped against her suds flying she pulled up her swimsuit and it was like watching a selkie being born, or one of Michaelangelo's skinless souls having its being stuffed back in, the woman of her ….all stomach, and ribs, and breasts, sucked back into that sodden suit in one breath and I just about came and died right there.
  Some memories brand your ass.
  Well here I was wondering had she been reborn in a Dublin field? An alabaster sheath flew away to reveal even more alabaster skin with that hair falling to the middle of her back and then a black dress appeared out of nowhere, up and through went her arms and down to become that body.
   Somebody laughed. Giggled really.
   It was a photo shoot. She was finishing up and in the long tradition of models and actors decided Hell they've seen everything anyway who cares so she just dropped trou and switched back to her street clothes.
  The camera crew emerged from behind the tree applauding. A little Bohemia in Phoenix park, cigarettes soon lit and something in a bottle gave them reason to sit back down and watch the sunset.
  I walked on, acting like I hadn't seen her or them, or anything and for some reason as I passed the soccer field I remembered trying to flirt with a team of 12 year old girls when I was ten on some vacation to Philadelphia where my parents had left me in the hands of the hosts older son and trying to be cool or smart, I pretended to know some acronym they were using, some hip little prep school phrase about having a boner which I thought it was just about "seeing U later" and they laughed, let their cigarettes and ignored me.
   There's a Yeats' poem called The Song Of Wandering Aengus.
WENT out to the hazel wood, 
Because a fire was in my head, 
And cut and peeled a hazel wand, 
And hooked a berry to a thread; 
And when white moths were on the wing,         5
And moth-like stars were flickering out, 
I dropped the berry in a stream 
And caught a little silver trout. 
When I had laid it on the floor 
I went to blow the fire a-flame,  10
But something rustled on the floor, 
And someone called me by my name: 
It had become a glimmering girl 
With apple blossom in her hair 
Who called me by my name and ran  15
And faded through the brightening air. 
Though I am old with wandering 
Through hollow lands and hilly lands, 
I will find out where she has gone, 
And kiss her lips and take her hands;  20
And walk among long dappled grass, 
And pluck till time and times are done, 
The silver apples of the moon, 
The golden apples of the sun.

   Old. Wandering. Fires in my head.
   It was kinda cool to see her again. A glimmering girl with apple blossom in her hair.
    If only for a second to two.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ireland Day 3

The men shave every day.
Almost nobody wears shades.
The tea's great, the coffee's tired, and the Guinness does taste different but I suppose so does a Coke in the States.
But the first thing you notice coming down from the clouds is that it really is green.
I mean the greens are green. Must be the northern light, the high white sea air. Blowing in and blowing everything else out but for some reason jacking up the affect of …the emerald.
I'm in Ireland. Land of my fore bearers. For the first time.
And the other thing you notice right away is how much they like pool. Or snooker. Or whatever the Hell it's called. It's on national tv. Gets more coverage than tennis or the NFL even their own soccer teams. It's all over the papers. Intense fellows in tight vests (waistcoats) and ridiculous checkered pants, being spoken of as "hard men", magicians, wizards.
The announcers telling the audience to keep it down.
Keep it down.
I went to see a play about Northern Ireland this afternoon. You could have cut the silence with a knife. You could have set a tea cup on it.
I've rarely been in a theater that was so focused on a common point.
It's a common complaint that the Irish like to talk, that they're good at it but I think what they're good at is listening. They weigh nuance, tone, lilt like nobody else….and in this particular play those things added up to whether someone lived or died.
It was something to sit in a room with people of an age that any one of them could have been one of the killers- or soldiers-  on stage. Or known one. Or cared.
And then the lights came up, we applauded - that contained steady applause, like a stream's sound between narrow banks- when an audience truly likes a thing, it's not loud nobody hoots but it keeps going and you see it on the actors' faces, "Ah yes, I hear you.."- and out we went into the drizzle.
It does rain all the time. God bloody bless it. What heaven to be in a place where water wind and clouds are constant. When the sun comes out it's like live music coming out a city door.
If I didn't come from here someone seven generations ago must have paid at least a long visit.
I woke this morning to a church bell. Real iron being hit down the street somewhere calling the faithful. I get the feeling that everyone here is one of the faithful but they don't always come.
Sat in a bar the first night and beyond the fact I was proud I'd powered thru the jet lag I was plain happy to be in drinking establishment …no... a place where people gather and other people are good enough to serve beer…... and there was no tv. Not a game, not a network show, not that dull hum in the background, with a row of faces facing away from each other as they spoke- but a room full of people talking, in circles, in a steady murmur, a little like the applause after the play, but softly.
I sat with two people I'd never met, one from Dublin the other married to him and from Pittsburgh. She was a medievalist, he was a pharmacist. Both were generous to this stranger, him buying more rounds than I did and she from my city telling me about this ancient city she'd been adopted by and adopted.
We were about two blocks from the ring road, what had been the ring of the wall of the old city against its river and she said it's strange to be in a place that unlike the rest of europe wasn't destroyed by a recent war but by an ancient struggle that's been pulling down churches and houses and schools for centuries. You'll find older buildings in London than you will here because until the 1920s London made sure what was left of history here was theirs. Or what they wanted in Ireland.
If my mother had been born here she would have been 7 years younger than the Free State. My grandfather might have fought in the streets.
It's funny. When you get to place you get it.
I might know it intellectually and I might still laugh off including Ireland as I talk about the British Isles, "Sorry, but you know what I mean!" But here I am and I feel it as plain as day. This was an occupied country.
And then we say good night and make jokes about the Irish penchant for public urination and the American penchant for guns and walking back along the canal it all feels like….what might have been home to someone I knew.