Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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.


  1. It's great you got to go and see where your family is from, I'm happy for you :) I remember when I went to Sweden (where some of my family is from). A part of me never wanted to leave, like it was my true home in some way, even though I had never been there before. It was in my blood.

    Is this some of that Irish feistiness coming out lol? I remember once I had a misunderstanding with an Irish guy, he was about 60 yrs old and about 5'2". I'm pretty sure he was about to punch me in the face. Even had his fists clenched. I was at work, might have been the only thing that stopped him. But I like you being so straightforward and damn you think a lot and respect history. All of it Awesome.

    I've only been to the airport in Dublin, even though my dad is a quarter Irish (where my red hair came from and probably some of my own feistiness). They seem to be very passionate people and they've been through a lot that's for sure. Now I'm curious why exactly our families decided to leave. Maybe it was the famine... I work at the Statue of Liberty and some of them sailed past it and came through Ellis, such a long way from home and some never saw it again.

  2. There is heat, and spice, and so much of the tangible in the way you write. From your hilarious backpack rant—a child you're ashamed of???—where one can see the staggering tourist, bowed under the pack's unnecessary weight, through the stark truth of Ireland's bloody and well-remembered history, where the former prisoners reclaiming their torture chamber creates an image both brilliant and piercing, all the way to the girl with the red-gold hair—her magnificence only marginally dimmed by the discovery of her entourage.
    I do so wish you'd publish a Bryson-esque series of travel books. I think you'd make a killing.

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  4. The reason some people have backpacks they make be touring on foot thru Ireland and sleep out in the open so they may have a sleeping bag and other stuff they need unless they sleep in a hostel

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  6. So many days my soul feels weathered, pulled apart and beaten by time and experience. Not exactly a bad thing, and on some days I'm grateful for that feeling. However, there are those rare and amazing moments when suddenly life provides serendipitous instances that remind me what true wonder feels like. And for every one of those moments, I am truly thankful.