Sunday, September 30, 2007

We made it to Wexford, and nobody died...

...though I was more ready for a Guinness than perhaps I had ever been in my life. The pub was right down the street from the Faythe Guesthouse, stumbling distance, really, which was good. They were expecting Pete, even though no one had gotten back to his recent emails; he got to play a few songs before we got too drunk, and then he played a few more. It was a benefit for a helicopter ambulance service, held in the beergarden of the bar (Everyone has beer gardens now that you can't smoke in pubs). I was trying to keep track of Guinnesses, but I don’t have any idea of that night. I can remember seven pints, I think. I’ll never know. But judging by the hangover and the fact that we missed breakfast entirely, it was definitely more.

It was late morning when we made our way down the mainstreet to find cash and a place for coffee and breakfast. I ordered the “mini” which was an astounding amount of food. I have found that if I have a big breakfast and then perhaps a soup for late lunch, I am fine for the day. Well, plus Guinness and HobNobs, of course. Oh, and crisps.

From Wexford, we were off to find a Farmhouse Accomodation near Clonmel, near Ardfinnan. In between, we had more crumbly bits to see. I had wanted to catch a few sights around Wexford, including the Irish Agricultural Museum and the Irish National Heritage Park, but there was not going to be time. The country is the size of Indiana, but I think there might be more to see and do in Ireland, not to knock the Hoosier State.

It had been raining off and on, but by the time we reached the village of Inistioge, the rain was just "on." This is a charming village on the Nore River, where we enjoyed a ramble; I had a great bowl of potato onion garlic soup and Pete had his first scone with clotted cream. I guess the film "Circle of Friends" was filmed here, but I had not seen it. The cafe we ate in was named after the film, so I guess it must have been a big deal.

After we stuffed ourselves, we made our way to Jerpoint Abbey and arrived just before they closed.

We had been trying to buy a Heritage Card, which is good for a year and gets you into historical and park sites all over the Republic. At Glendalough, they practically discouraged it, saying that we would not get our 20 Euro out of it. I was thinking that 20 Euro seemed like a deal, and that even if we did not get that back, we would be supporting the parks and historical sites, which was fine with me. At Jerpoint, he just let us in because we only had half an hour.

After that, we went to the Kells Priory, which was an open access site, and very impressive. Then it was a ramble on tiny roads to the Farmhouse. It was getting dark by the time we found it, and we settled in.

Ber, the proprietress, set out tea for us, and we decided to sit in the tea room, have some Guinness Foreign Extra that we had bought at the Storehouse, and do a bit of planning. This was our last booked stay, and we only had an idea where we were heading, not where we would be laying our heads. Kevin, the proprietor, gave us some excellent suggestions, and we had a nice chat with him. I tried to hook up and download pictures, but the battery on the laptop fried out and the computer would do nothing--would not even turn off. So that was that. We needed a three-prong adapter, and we had not purchased one yet.

At breakfast on Sunday morning, we talked to an Irish couple who joked that the McCauleys had been sheep stealers. Which made me wonder where all the sheep were, now that I was a McCauley. I do knit, after all, and sheep could be helpful. The gentleman said that we should wonder more what they stole the sheep for.

We again were inundated with massive quantities of breakfast food and were sufficiently weighted down for the day that we were facing. Into the wild, with only a vague destination in mind.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dublin Photos

The pictures from Dublin that I have posted online can be viewed here:

Dublin with the McCauleys

St. Kevin? Really?

When we came to Ireland, we had four nights of accommodation booked, and after that, we knew what we wanted to see, but we were not certain of our route or itinerary. It’s not my preferred way of travel, but in the off-season, you can do this. We knew we had two nights in Dublin, and Pete needed to be in Wexford to play a gig the third night. Then we would head further into the country to stay at a farmhouse near Ardfinnan. After that, there were no set plans. This was a compromise between Pete and I; between his ability to play-it-by-ear and my inability to relax unless I knew where I would be staying that night.

From the car rental office in Dublin, we were heading south to Glendalough, a monastic complex about 75 kilometers away. In order to get there, we had our Ordinance Survey book, our Michelin map, and luck.

There are five kinds of roads in Ireland. M roads, N roads, R roads, L roads, and all the other roads. M roads are motorways, N roads are National roads, R roads are Regional roads, and L roads are Local. Each of these roads has its corresponding speed limit, and in total, there are five different types of speed limits: town and city (50km), national road (100km), regional and local (80km), motorway (120km), and special (30km or 60km). I can tell you now that most sane people in America would not drive 80km (50mph) on a lot of those R and L roads, let alone the 100km (62mph) that is in place on those N roads. Often, the only noticeable difference between the R, L, and N roads is the absence or presence of a white line down the middle. When you are flying through the coutryside in a pillbox on wheels with a 10 foot high stone wall on your left and cars coming at you on your right down a 12 foot wide road, 50 miles an hour feels very fast.

We took the M50 around Dublin from north to south and got off on a likely looking R road. Being used to looking for exits based either on numbers or on the largest closest town, I thought I would be all right, as they seemed to be using both. But I missed the exit I was looking for, we took the second, and none of the towns on the signs were the ones I thought would be there.

We finally made it to the little town of Enniskerry, which I could find on the map, and in which I knew we simply had to find the appropriate R road, so we could be on our merry way.

Let me tell you now that the R roads are not always marked.

I found myself falling back on "I think we should be going that way" more than I would have wished, especially given the imminent peril in which I continuously felt myself to be. Finding ourselves in the parking lot of Glendalough was a fantastic relief. We were planning on getting our Heritage Card there, touring the site, and then getting something to eat in nearby Laragh.

The Heritage Card is a 20 Euro card akin to our National Parks Pass: an annual pass that gets you into all Heritage Sites in Ireland, which are managed by the Office of Public Works. It’s quite a deal if you are going to be visiting a lot of them; most sites are 2-5 Euros per person, and they can add up. To me, it seemed like a good idea, even if we did not make it to a value of 20 per person: it’s good to contribute to public parks and historical sites.

The woman at the counter in the visitor centre did not seem to agree. We said we wanted one, she said they were cash only, we did not have quite enough cash, so we needed to go into town to get some. She proceeded to try to discourage us from buying one, and then told us that if we did not want to use anything in the visitor center, we did not even have to pay there if we did not want to. But, we want to pay. We want a card. We decided to go in to town to get cash and some food and then come back.

The first restaurant was teeming with seniors and bus tours. It was cafeteria style and very noisy. We liked the interior of the place and its pubby atmosphere, but we wanted a menu, we wanted to sit, and we wanted to relax. The drive had been harrowing for me, and I didn’t want to navigate anymore. We walked down the street to a little restaurant called the "Wicklow Heather" that was much quieter and more expensive. It was a nice lunch of stew, seafood chowder, coffee, and tea to go with the rather rainy day that had developed over our drive down.

Rain at Glendalough seemed appropriate. Though it was not as awe inspiring as I was lead to believe from the photographs, the grey misty raininess gave it more of a feeling of age and isolation appropriate to its history. Even relatively people-free, there were too many people, it was too close to the road, and not remote enough. It’s like pictures of Yosemite: it seems far away from everything, but what is happening behind the picture is a bustling hive of humanity. This place must be a zoo in the summer. All the same, it is amazing what humans have built.

Glendalough is a monastic complex founded by St. Kevin (St. Caoimhghin) in the 6th century. It sits in a dramatic valley in the Wicklow mountains, and is named as such: glen of the two lakes. There is a 30 meter tall round tower and numerous stone churches and crosses. This was the first of our many visits to places of Irish antiquity, and it was one that I did not want to miss. I figured we would need a couple of hours to poke around, and we could well have done with more: the mountains host many hiking and walking trails, but time was not on our side for such things, and neither was the weather.

The place is crawling with photo opportunities. I crouched in a roofless stone structure, looking through a window that perfectly framed the oldest stone cross in the complex, looking for a shot... when a group of German tourists came along and took turns... hugging it. Yes, hugging an old, wet, grey, rock.

But I can file this little ritual with other things I don't understand, like throwing coins into fountains or, at Glendalough, into the stream that borders the monastic complex. Is it wishes? Wouldn't it be more productive to save up those most likely selfish dreams and perhaps donate a sum at the end of the year to a charity? Maybe if you hug a cross and toss a 20p piece in the water, you will live forever and escape the vengeance of an irrational god, and I am totally missing out.

It's not only a country's history, scenery, and people that are fascinating and worth observing and noting; the little things can be equally engrossing. Signs, for example. The way in which different cultures choose to denote things of importance can be odd sometimes to the outsider. Highway signs and the like are usually quite similar, but more specific signs for the public good can be quite funny to me. The one on the edge of the upper lake at Glendalough was excellent.

I am not sure exactly what is going on here. Am I not supposed to throw myself into the lake? Will the rocky shore of the lake suddenly drop out from under me? If I get too close to the end of the lake, will it suck me in. In any case, I decided to keep my distance, and we left Glendalough in one piece.

Driving: Why the Irish Believe in God

I may not be built for vacations. My friend, Linda, told me to be in every moment and not miss a thing. This is a state of being that, no matter how much yoga I take, I may never be able to master. I am constantly worrying about time and repercussions, plans, and what we have to do next. I will never reach a zen state of “now.”

For instance, before we left, I had to worry about Euros and planes, cat sitters and mail, packing and plants. Once we made it to the airport in Minneapolis, I had to worry about Newark. Once on the plane in Newark, I had to worry about getting to the B&B in Dublin. Once at the B&B, I could relax for a couple of days until I had to worry about getting the car. It sounds tedious and worthy of eye-rolling, but for me, it’s a way of life, and it would be more worrying not to worry.

On Friday morning, we were scheduled to leave Dublin. Back home, we had searched through deals and recommendations and settled on Dan Dooley Car Rentals, an Irish company—we wanted to put our money into Ireland as much as possible. Their price was the best and included all the charges up front. I had figured out the insurance issues: we needed CDI coverage, and Ireland is one of the countries not covered by Mastercard, apparently because they think it’s too much of a risk.

I think I may not be built for vacations; I know that I am not build for Irish driving. Everyone was asking us the question “Have you driven in Ireland?” and when we said no, they would look down, shake their heads, and laugh. “It’s hair raisin’,” a fellow guest at the B&B said, and he was born in Ireland and lived here for the first twenty years of his life. No matter how many people said this to us, I thought “Ok, Ok, it can’t be THAT bad.”

I also figured I could start to really focus on worrying about the actual driving once we had the actual car. Right before we left, and after we had confirmed and paid for the car, I read some scathing reviews of Dan Dooley. I was feeling some internal panic about it, but I kept it to myself because there was nothing to be done about it now. I would just have to be vigilant at the car office and try to make sure that our asses were covered without being a bitch.

We caught the bus back to toward the airport. The rental office was right on the way; I had seen it on the trip to the B&B because this was another thing about which I had been worrying. The parking lot seemed rather devoid of cars, but they should know we were coming, right? The woman at the front desk paused and looked out onto the desolate blacktop and said “The only thing we have is that Fiat Panda.”

It was a bright blue, teensy little four door that looked like it might dissolve in the rain like hard candy. Would we even be able to fit our things into it? The guitar, especially, needed to be out of view. Turns out, the little monster was quite roomy inside, much like the Weasley’s Ford Anglia. The guitar fit into the little trunk space along with one other bag, and the rest went into the cabin. There was plenty of room for us as well. Sure, you felt like you were right next to everything outside of the car, especially in front of the car, but, we figured we would be comfortable enough. It was not luxurious, but it was serviceable. I did not even find it too weird to be sitting on the left side of Pete, watching him figure out the controls and orient himself to the right side of the car.

We paid for two drivers, figuring that two weeks was too long for one person to do all the driving. I fully intended to help, but not today. My personality needs time to adjust to new situations. Once I became comfortable with these new surroundings, I would be fine.

Well, driving in Ireland IS hair raising, and for the first day, I was in a state of perpetual terror. It was not the right-hand issue, it was navigation, speed, and road size on top of being on a different side of the road. I had that same tightened chest feeling that I have on airplanes, when I have ceded all control over my destiny. Pete said I was doing a pretty good job of not being in control, so I must also have been doing a pretty good job of hiding it.

You will hear that the Irish are not in a hurry. I would add that they are not in a hurry unless they are in their cars. The speed limits on these tiny winding walled-in roads are far and beyond anything you would see posted on any American roads. I guess if you grow up with it, you are used to it, but I can’t help but wonder how people don’t run into something or someone every single day. Certainly, left-hand mirrors must be removed by hedgerows and walls on a daily basis.

Overall, Pete is doing a marvelous job driving though, my panic notwithstanding. We are used to the left hand thing, though we remind each other out loud every now and then, and he’s negotiating the roundabouts well. We have a great Michelin map and an Ordinance Survey road atlas, but you can look at them all you want. They are often just for show or for a general idea of where things are. When you are down there in the map, you have to just relax out of ever thinking that it will actually help you to find something. The signs are small with tiny writing, inconsistent, and hard to spot, if they are even there. We have found a number of places through my internal GPS and guesswork. We have done amazingly well, considering. You just have to give up the idea that you are in control of where you are going, and you will be fine. It’s growing on me, this country. By that, I mean the way of life. I can use to let go sometimes, and though I will never fully do that—and that’s OK with me—a little moderation of my control freak nature can only be a good thing.

The Only Redhead in Dublin

During the short break between pubs the previous night, we had chosen our breakfast on the strip of paper pinned to the door of our room. We were the only people in the breakfast room in the morning, and P.J. brought us coffee, eggs, toast, and beans. This was our second and last full day in Dublin, and there were many more things that we wanted to do. We caught the bus into the city center and made our way toward the National Museum. The block consists of a compound of Parliament and the National Museum (Archaeology and History), Gallery, and Library, respectively. It’s a bit of an unattractive maze with a central car park and black iron gates rather marring the facades of the buildings themselves and making it unclear how to enter them.

We chose the National Museum first because we wanted to get a better sense of Irish History, and as this is where “all archaeological objects found in Ireland” end up, apparently, this seemed like a good choice. The building itself—from rotunda to mosaic floors, carved wooden doors, decorative moldings, vaulted ceilings, and inlaid stone fireplaces—is exquisite in an of itself, and I spent a lot of time checking out the architecture. The exhibits cover Ireland from 7,000 BC through the late medieval period, including gold jewelry recovered from bogs, Neolithic tools and pottery, and an exhibit of bog bodies.

Yes, Bog Bodies. This was the bit I enjoyed most, I believe, because it is macabre and strange. Bog Bodies date from 8,000 BC to the early medieval period in northwestern Europe. Be they sacrifices, executions, or offerings, it’s pretty safe to rule out accidents: hundreds of people didn’t lose their way and “accidentally” get tangled up in ropes or belts that strangled them or fall on knives that cut their heads off, slit their throats, and hacked their limbs. One would think that people would move far, far away from bogs if they were so effectively dangerous.

When we left the museum, we realized that we needed to make our way toward the Guinness Storehouse, if we wanted to make it there before closing. I sighed at the National Library as we walked past with its banners announcing a W.B. Yeats exhibit waving in the wind, beckoning me to enter. There was no time; the Storehouse was on the other side of the city center, through the medieval section, and down the road apiece. We decided to catch a bus, so we figured out which number we were looking for, found the route, and decided to walk until we saw one. We walked the whole way.

The Guinness Storehouse is actually more of a working demonstration. Housed in a storehouse built in 1904 for the fermentation process and located on the massive grounds of the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate, multimedia displays take the viewer through the history and process of brewing Guinness. As we walked back through the narrow streets leading to the Storehouse, passing a black gate inscribed with “Guinness” in large white letters, and signs leading you in the right direction, I said to Pete “I can feel the presence of the Ring.” I was first date nervous, excited about something I had been looking forward to far a long time. A facsimile of Arthur Guinness’ famous 9,000 year lease on the brewery is embedded in the floor in the central rotunda, and after you get your ticket and pass through the doors to the display, you are greeted by the words “The essence of Guinness is all around you.” That’s a glorious thing, indeed.

You travel up and through seven stories of Guinness, modeled on a giant pint glass, learning about water, barley, hops, and yeast—the four ingredients; Arthur Guinness—the fifth ingredient; and the brewing process. The Master Brewer guides you though this process on video, self conscious hand gestures included. After watching Talledega Nights on the plane, I could not help but think of Ricky Bobby as I watched the brewer’s hands waving slowly yet emphatically near his face, seemingly unconnected to his words. Pete asked if I thought he was an actor, and I answered that I would hope that Guinness would have enough money to hire a better one. Lord knows, my tab alone could have paid for it.

It was during the displays on the brewing process that I learned that there are other kinds of Guinness, which have been kept from me by oceans and marketing. There’s a Foreign Extra that has more hops and more alcohol and is shipped to places like the Caribbean, and there’s a Brewhouse Series, only available in Ireland, it appears. The Brewhouse available in the tasting lab on the first floor was called “Northstar,” which I found to be particularly perverse and taunting, given that we are from the Northstar State. Were there a way to smuggle a keg of this home, I would have. It was very, very tasty.

The display on the “Craft of the Cooper,” showing how the casks that carried Guinness were made, was informative, especially the revelation that when a new cooper was initiated, he was placed in his first completed cask along with anything they could find on the floor, and rolled around and around the cooperage. At one point, the brewery employed 300 coopers, and after the brewery switched to metal kegs, many of the casks were made into furniture and sold.

Apparently, on the third floor, there’s an exhibit which “challenges visitors to look at their own drinking habits and recognize the fine line between enjoying yourself and drinking to excess.”

We didn’t go in there.

We did peruse the advertising display at length, however, being highly susceptible to marketing.

Last, but not least, is the Gravity Bar, on the seventh floor. Here, you get your complimentary pint of Guinness along with a 360 degree panorama of Dublin. It’s quite spectacular, and the place is buzzing with people. But the real gravity of the gravity bar is the amount of unfinished Guinness. We all know that people can’t resist a free thing, but the half, three-quarters, and almost entirely full unfinished pints lolling around on tables was shocking and disturbing to me. If you aren’t going to drink it, don’t get it. In fact, if you have never had Guinness or you know you don’t like it, why are you here? I know, it’s a historic place, and everyone tells you to go, but I don’t think I would visit Budweiser just because I was in town, because I don’t care. And if I did, I would drink the free can of beer they gave me at the end. I sat in horror, watching as person after person set their pint down and left. I watched one woman take her pint, standing there with her shoulderbag, take a tentative little sip, lean back over to the bar, set it down, murmur “Thanks” with her simpering, pursed little lips, and walk away. For chrissake, at least reduce the waste a teensy bit: get a freaking half pint if you are going to be such a girl about it. I could have sat there longer and savored another pint, enjoying the view, if it were not for this travesty, and I don’t think they would have appreciated me finishing all the left over glasses.

Later that evening, in a pub not far from the B&B, discussing the day’s events and tomorrow’s plan, I realized that, so far, I had not seen one single redhead. I seemed to be alone in Dublin. I had been expecting to fit in here, what with all the romanticizing of the Irish and the stereotypes, but apparently, all the redheads have moved to St. Paul.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The First Pint

The First Pint

Do—DO—pee before you get onto a bus in Dublin City Center. The buses are numerous, but they are not speedy. Once you are on one, you will feel like you could have walked faster, but if you have to pee so badly that you are afraid to breathe, you don’t have much of a choice. The buses are mainly double-deckers, and you can get good views from the upper deck, but, again, if you have to pee worse than when you were 11 years old in the back seat of the car on the Chicago tollway, crying into your pillow, and the only things you can see are rivers and fire hydrants and pubs that probably have toilets, you probably are not enjoying the scenery.

After we left Trinity College, we walked over to St. Stephen’s Green, down a busy shopping thoroughfare. Things started to look familiar, and Pete noticed that it was because we were walking through locations from the charming movie “Once.” Inside the main gate of the Green was the spot where the guitar player caught and wrestled down the junkie who stole his busking money. Trust me, the movie IS charming.

Dublin is buzzing with people. It’s a bit of a shock to the system when you are in the dream state of the early hours of international travel, and the consistent and jumbled drone of humanity was a little overwhelming. I did not come to Ireland to shop, and generally, shopping is not a pastime in which I care to indulge. I was having a bit of an “oh the humanity” moment, and it did not take long for us to decide that we wanted a pint, and that we did not want a pint in Temple Bar or in any of the pubs off the main drags: it was too much input. We settled on a little pub called “Grogan’s Castle,” and seated ourselves at the bar. The lovely bartender, Mary, was humming a lilting tune, there was local art on the walls, and people were calling each other by their first names, eating toasted cheese sandwiches. We were the only tourists in the place, which was what we wanted. We spend plenty of time around Americans in America.

We ordered a pint of Guinness and shot of Powers each.

In Dublin, expect to pay the same amount in numbers for goods and services that you would pay in America. This is not a deal. Two pints and two shots was the same amount of Euros in Dublin that we would hand over in dollars at the Dubliner in St. Paul. Pete looked at me, holding up a pint, and said, smiling, “This is where all our money is going to go.”


It was lovely. Everyone kept going on to me about how I had never had Guinness because I had never had Guinness in Ireland, and it had become a bit wearing. While it was true that this Guinness tasted different and better than the Guinness in America, it was not an experience that blew me away and left me staggering, ready to pack my bags and move. What makes the difference is that they pour it right, they drink it a lot, and you are in Ireland, not down the street from your own house; it’s 4:00, you are on vacation, and it’s time for a pint.

That pint went down successfully and quickly, and it was time for another. It was 4:10. We had meant to have one pint and then head back to the B&B as we had not even been into our room yet, but we were also on vacation, and one was simply not enough. We talked about what else we wanted to do in Dublin and had the cell phone debate.

Before we left, we had decided to buy a cell phone for traveling. It would have cost us around $120 dollars, we would have had the phone for other people to use when they travel overseas, and it would be cheaper than renting one. In Ireland, you don’t buy a plan, you buy time, so there would be no commitment. Our phones were not compatible, so we turned them off in Newark. I had located the store for our purchase, and it was not far from where we sat drinking. We asked each other what we thought about it, and we both wrinkled up our noses and shook our heads: we did not want a cell phone. Sure, we could more easily call ahead to book our rooms, and our cat/house sitters could reach us if they needed to, but then so could everyone else, if we called them even once to check in. It would be nice to have a break from ringing phones. Heavenly, in fact, for me, considering that every time the phone rings, I think I am in trouble.

Another pint later, Pete did not come back from the bathroom. It was nothing biological, it was just that he overheard a group of men talking behind us, and most of their conversation was about music. He pulled up a chair with them and eventually had me move over from the bar. Turned out, these young men were in a band; one of them had lived in Minneapolis; another was a naturalist interested in birdwatching; and the other was wearing a stripey jumper his (now) ex-girlfriend had knitted. We would have a lot to talk about. I found out what road atlas to buy (Ordinance Survey), what bird book to get (Collins), and Pete got some music recommendations.

We also gained a new, and now favorite, phrase. A pint or two into the conversation, I noticed an odor wafting over the scene. Stripey Jumper caught a whiff as well;

“Who opened their lunchbox?” he said.

This was both funny and embarrassing because I knew it was Pete. Pete heard him but was baffled. I don’t know if he was looking for an actual lunchbox, or if he had not understood all the words, but he questioned the phrase. It took a moment, and then I said to him, clearly, “He’s asking who farted.”

I think it was nearing 7:00 when it was either time for another pint or it was time to go. I decided that we really should head back to the B&B and actually check into our room, and we most likely did not need any more pints, considering that we had not slept in over 24 hours and had not eaten since noon. I’m so unreasonable.

We made our way toward the bus stop in that heightened yet hazy drunk-in-daylight state of which I am not too fond, and though I had used the pub loo more than once, the seven or so pints I had consumed seemed to have caught up with me all at once. By the time we reached the bus stop and began our wait, I was dancing in place and whining. Of course, our bus was the seventeenth bus to arrive, and it was packed, the streets were jammed, and we crawled back toward our neighborhood. Painfully. I figured that we could probably stop, have a pint, and get back on the very same bus. We were about six blocks away when I spotted a corner pub which I had noticed on our way in to city center, and which was, of course, painted blazing yellow. I said we had to get out. Now. I could not make it back to the B&B. We went in, Pete ordered two pints, and I limped and skipped to the toilets. The aftermath of this sort of pain and discomfort was one of such great relief, that I don’t remember ever being happier.

We arrived at the guesthouse, fumbling with our bags, trying to work the key, and be quiet and not giggle, even though it was only 8:00. There’s something about staying in a stranger’s house that is a bit odd, and I did not want our host to know that we were wasted. It would be like your parents seeing you come home drunk.

The room was lovely, our things had been brought up, and all was well. But we still needed to eat dinner. We walked down the street to a restaurant that we knew was open and ordered from the odd menu of pub food, Chinese, and curry, as well as two more pints. I think. Pete was so tired that he was actually falling asleep at the table, and the copious amounts of stout were not helping the situation. When he went to the bathroom, I was worried that he would not come back, and I would have to get the waiter to go in and wake him up. Then I worried about how I would get him the three blocks back to the B&B. He returned, however, and we paid successfully and made it home. After a shower, some instant decaff, and a little Sky News, it was bedtime.

Pete still has no idea what he ordered at that restaurant.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Book of Kells

If you want to see The Book of Kells, it’s going to be crowded, and it’s going to cost you 8 Euros per person.

Pay it.

No one can describe it to you, and reproductions do not do it justice. But it’s not only The Book of Kells (800 AD) you can see; The Book of Durrow (675 AD) and The Book of Armagh (8th c. AD) are also on display in the Library at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a decorated copy of the Gospels in Latin. It is now in four volumes, two of which are open to the public, one to a text page and one to a decorated page. The Book of Durrow is also the Gospels in Latin with decorated pages, and The Book of Armagh contains some of the earliest examples of Old Irish. All of these books are relatively small: the Book of Armagh measures 7.75 inches by 5.75 inches, and the detail is astonishing.

They are part of an exhibition called “Turning Darkness into Light” which places them into their historical context as well as shows how they were created, including making vellum and coloring ink. You learn about symbolism: the snake, while being a pre-Christian symbol of rebirth was similarly used in early Celtic-Christianity as a symbol of resurrection: reborn when it sheds its skin. There are also little monkish poems about cats, a riddle about vellum, and an odd little ditty about writing about god, that shows that, perhaps, at least some of these boys needed to get laid:

“St. Collum the Scribe”

My hand is weary of writing
My sharp quill is not steady
My slender-beaked pen juts forth
A black draught of shining dark-blue ink

A stream of the wisdom of blessed God
Springs from my fair-brown shapely hand:
On the page it squirts its draught
Of ink of the green-skinned holly

My little dripping pen travels
across the plain of shining books
without ceasing for the wealth of the great
whence my hand is weary from writing.
(11th c. poem in honour of St. Colum Cille)

I have written about writing before, but it never sounds quite like that. In fact, when I write about writing, there is far less jutting, streaming, squirting, and dripping.

The exhibit not only gives you background and context, it gives you an idea of the amount of labor and care that went into the creation of something that we take very much for granted today: books. It gave me the feeling that the written word was respected and the crafts of bookmaking and lettering were revered: a lot of time, resources, and thought had to be put into these books from beginning to end. While I do not want to be living in 8th century Ireland, I do sigh at the perseverance and dedication, not to mention eyesight, necessary for such works of art.

I have found that in museums or places of great historical import, people whisper, which is not only fine with me, but appropriate in the face of such human achievement. I know that most people probably find these works holy because of the subject matter, but I find these creations to be singularly human. Also, when people are whispering, you don’t have to hear what they are saying and be reminded that human achievement is not always great. My favorite comment at the Book of Kells was uttered by a young American woman as she looked at the detailed, beautifully illuminated manuscripts: “There’s holes in the paper.”

Wow! 8 Euros well spent! I wanted to send her back through the exhibit to read every single word. And then give me a report. It makes you realize that a lot of people who are on vacation only go to places because the guide books says so, not because they actually have a personal interest in the subject matter. It makes me wonder why some people leave home.

After we looked at the manuscripts — and we went back a couple of times to make sure that we got a good look at each page on display - we went upstairs to The Long Room where they had a display about Watson and Crick. The room itself is gorgeous, lined with 200,000 of the oldest books in the library’s collection, on stacked wooden shelves with iron spiral staircases and a gorgeous vaulted ceiling. You walk along a gallery of very dusty white marble busts of famous writers and thinkers that also contains Ireland’s oldest harp, said to be Brian Boru’s, and more importantly, used as the model for the harp on bottles of Guinness.

Best advice from the Long Room?
“Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science” by James Watson

Coffee & Sausage Rolls

LePhare Coffee House, Dublin

It’s a strange feeling, morning in a new place; especially if that new place is 3,726 miles away from the old place, you have not slept, and your body thinks it’s 4:00 p.m. and not 10:00 a.m.

We arrived in Dublin on time and without trouble. Customs was busy but not too slow, and we found the bus easily. Our B&B proprietor, P.J., had given us very good directions, which I had printed out, and soon enough we were on the 16A into Dublin, instead of the 16A into Minneapolis. The bus was just as P.J. had said it would be, and we disembarked half a block from the door of “Tinode House.” P.J. greeted us, showed us where to put our bags, gave us a map of the city center, and directed us on our way. We decided to walk for a bit as we had been sitting for hours, and we wound up walking the whole way. It was not far, it turned out. Google Maps just made it look that way.

Looking at it now, I would have to say that the trip itself had gone very well, its inauspicious beginnings notwithstanding. Even the airplane dinner was pretty good. They did not charge extra for it, which was shocking in this day and age of airline hospitality, but they did charge me for my therapeutic tiny bottles of chardonnay. Our time was passed quickly enough between the ridiculosity of “Talladega Nights” and the pleasant conversation of our row-mate, a Mr. Naughton, who was born in County Roscommon in 1929. One of ten children, he moved to America when he was 18 and lived with his aunt in New Jersey, attending school and then fighting in Korea for three years. His sister still lives in Roscommon, and he was going to visit her. “America has been good to me,” he said. These are the things you learn when you are Pete and you talk to random people. I am always happy for the information, but I am not solicitous. On my own in a strange place, I tend to like to blend in.

It took me awhile to adjust to being here. By this I mean to sink into my “I am a tourist, and I don’t care who knows it” role. I have always hated being a tourist. It’s rather silly, really. I mean, if you are a tourist, it means you are on vacation, and who does not want to be on vacation? But when we get on vacation, we don’t want to look like we are on vacation. When I lived and worked in a tourist town, I had to remember what it’s like to be in a new place and not mock the tourists. I always have to remember what it feels like to be on the other side.

That said, walking in Dublin is like walking at a Renaissance Festival. There are people everywhere, and there is no pattern to either the foot traffic or the auto traffic. Everything is a speedy blur until it stops unexpectedly, right in front of you, for no apparent reason.

We sat in a little coffee shop with our Rough Guide and huge Michelin Map, planning our day. Apparently, Pete subsisted on sausage rolls when he lived in London, so we had a roll a piece. To me, “Sausage roll” sounds like a nickname you use for someone you love, preferably said with a fake French accent (“My leetle sausaahge rrroll”), but it was quite tasty.

We had a little list of things that we wanted to see and do in Dublin and only two days to do it:

The Book of Kells and Trinity College
Guinness Storehouse
Jameson Distillery
Kilmainham Gaol
The National Museum, Library, and Gallery

The above is merely a small sample of Dublin’s offerings. But even that was a lot for two days. We decided upon the Book of Kells as the first stop, and then we would see how things were going. I had consented, for this trip, to be somewhat flexible. As this is not in my nature, I knew that I would have moments of near panic that I would try to keep to myself. Pete had agreed to let me book the first four nights of lodging, as we knew where we needed or wanted to be for those nights, but after that, we did not have a plan, only a general idea of the direction in which we wanted to head and the sights which we wanted to see. It was only our first day, so I was still relatively calm about the fact that I did not know where I would be sleeping five nights from now.


It was over half way through the flight to Newark that I realized: the next time I set foot in a Someone’s Land, it will be Ireland. Airports are not the place they are in. They are no place. They are Airportland, all pretty much the same, location to location.

Newark was like Minneapolis is like Houston is like Atlanta (except that Atlanta is more like a spaceport, when you are on the runway at night). On the airplane now, it’s morning, and Ireland is beneath me. Behind me, under the wing, it’s just what I wanted: green uneven fields, hedgerows, villages, lakes and rivers, windmills.
We’re going there.
We’re going to be down in that.

The plane has landed in Ireland, but we are still in America. The plane, like the airport, is a no one’s land. We are still in America until we disembark: the people are the same, The Beach Boys are playing through the speakers. But there are cows by the airport, and it’s very, very green out there.

I know.
Observant am I.

Random Scary Thought

Do you ever think about how much of yourself you leave behind? I am not talking about impressions or neat little stories, I am saying that I am leaving behind a lot of DNA on this plane.
Pete said that this was one way that someone could make another one of me.
“No thank you.”
“Be fun for me. At times,” Pete smirked.
“But I would never get along with her.”

Second Leg

We have not reached cruising altitude, and Pete might be asleep.

For my part, I have discovered that two tiny bottles of airplane chardonnay tend to mellow my ass out just enough for me to get through the flight tolerably well, but I don’t sleep on planes. I don’t even get out of my seat, to tell you the truth. I love watching planes fly, especially near the airport—landing and taking off. I am just not so into this whole being-on-them thing.

Maybe I need to understand exactly how planes fly, and then some of my fear will be assuaged. Because it just seems like magic to me.

Speaking of magic, I think that one of the charms of Harry Potter for me is that it is distinctly un-modern. How’s that for a distracting nonsequitor? By “unmodern,” I mean that the world of Harry Potter does not rely on gadgets, machines, and technology. I know, they have magic, but they have not used magic to create more work for themselves. No one is worried about his or her cell phone. No one comes home from work and watches TV. No airplanes.

As much time as I waste on the Internet, I think I could do without it if it did not exist.

Yeah, he’s asleep. His mouth is open. How do people fall asleep so quickly? It’s a skill I have never mastered.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Small Wonders, Equally Small Worries

September 25, 2007

I never thought I would be happy to be in Newark.
I know.
It’s an easy joke.
Bit of a low blow, really.

But it has not been the most auspicious of beginnings.

Checking in at the Minneapolis airport, my information did not match, and I had a moment when I thought that my reservation was not going to be there at all. The magic of computers is that they can both cause heart-stopping woe as well as breathtaking relief. I still don’t know what happened, but the nice, blonde lady at the counter punched some information into her seemingly very old terminal, resolved the situation, and I was checked through to Dublin.

The night before, at home in St. Paul, we debated back and forth about luggage: to check or not to check. Pete was bringing his guitar, Woody, and we figured we would just bring everything with us on the plane. That way we did not have to worry about things not making the connection in Newark. You can imagine our joy upon realizing that the plane was an 18 row by 3-seat little wonder with enough room overhead to hold a vanity bag. At the Jetway, we hastily removed computer, reading material, and purse, and Pete watched in anguish as Woody moved slowly down the conveyor belt in what we hoped would not be a death march. Next time, I check ahead and pay attention to the kind of plane I am on.

To further the comedy of errors, my in-flight magazines clearly had fruit juice spilled on them, and Pete’s flight card was stuck to the cover of his magazine, which was removed from the pages, by a fairly new piece of chewed Doublemint. These are not terrible things, in and of themselves, but they strike me as signs of inattention, which is not what you want from your airline, especially if you are a nervous flier. Every little thing can seem like a bad omen, even if your analytical mind doesn’t believe in that sort of crap.

The woman behind Pete had boarded the Houston 5:05 pm flight and was mad that they had let her do it. I thought, “Grab some personal responsibility, lady. First of all, why would you be boarding at 3:50 for a 5:05 flight? And secondly, you sat on your own take-away cup of tea that you put on your own seat. Who are you going to blame for that?”

These things made me feel anxious and uneasy.

Overly dramatic, I know, but we do lead a relatively privileged life. Our worries are comparatively minimal and almost unbearably silly.

As planes do not have dealer or maker logos like cars, let alone hood ornaments (I think that might interfere with wind resistance or something), I did not know what kind of plane I was on, aside from the fact that it was unexpectedly small for a flight to the east coast. Once I found a flight magazine that was not sealed by gum or pink, warped, and crinkly with fruit juice, I discovered it was plane from a Brazilian manufacturer that I had never heard of, which also did not inspire confidence.

Once in the air, the densely packed though not terribly thick band of clouds below us gave the illusion of safety, like an airbag. I was not always a nervous flier; I have developed into a nervous flier. It has a lot to do with knowing what you have to lose, which has a lot to do with actually having something of great importance to lose. This thing of great importance is my life with Pete. I try to remember Pete’s advice: There’s nothing you can do. All of this is out of my hands. But Pete is already on vacation, and he has been for a while; I am not. I’m already a bit of a worrier, and the last few days had been nothing but go, go, go--absolutely chock full of to-do lists. I was feeling a bit put upon. At this point, with all that behind me, I had moved on to my immediate worries: once we landed in Newark, there was the connection to make to Dublin. Once there, we have to make it to our B&B. I would be able to relax for a couple of days then, or at least a day, until we had to pick up our car.

Sad, really.
It’s nice to know that a country awash in Guinness awaits me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dear Abby,

I am thinking about remodeling my home, but I am concerned about the possibility of martial law being declared in or around the fall of 2008. Should I proceed? What do you think martial law will do to home values in middle America?

Addled About Adding On