January 01, 2015Finding Inspiration at the Art Gallery of NSW
An Irish Interval in My Midlife Gap Year – Part 2: 8 – 12 October 2015
Thursday 8 October
I’m enjoying another quiet day in the Irish countryside.
I’m writing emails to friends I might visit in the States, while chatting and hanging out with my friend and host, Cornelia, as she does stuff around the house. We Skype our mutual friend Jim – who we find fireside on an Australian spring evening with a glass of red wine in his hand. He waxes on about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up the book by Marie Kondo which his daughter has given him. We ask him to show us around his place to see the results of her influence, he declines, “the place is a mess” he says and we all laugh. It’s lovely speaking with him, and seeing him.
In the late arvo, I walk to Osborne’s in Rathanna. The sun is doing some magical things – the light falls in gold shafts across verdant rolling fields. At one point some farmers are bringing a herd of cows down the road for milking. But they won’t pass me – so we have to do a bit of a dance – the farmers, the cows, and I – to see them happily on their way.
Dirty, heavy peat smoke rises from the chimneys of small houses. The spire of Saint Fortcherns Church is visible in the distance and I keep making my way towards it knowing the cosy pub is right there too.
I meet everyone there – Glenn, Cornelia, and a few of his woodturning students – they have driven up after their final session. Quickly there’s a pint of Guinness in my hand and an open packet of Taytos on the bar in front of me. I follow that with a whisky and Cornelia and I toast Jim – now surely asleep beneath the Southern Cross of home.
There is funeral going on at the church across the road. The publican, Eric, closes the doors and dims the lights for the arrival of the hearse and the coffin being carried into the church.
One of Glenn’s students, a handsome woodturner from South Carolina, takes stealthy photos. He’s a bit elusive, this fellow – I suspect I wouldn’t like him if I knew him better, but he is good looking.
On our way home, we stop to collect a few bottles from a, shall we say, stealthy wine-seller. He and his mates make regular holiday trips to Europe and they began bringing back cases of various wines on order for friends. And, well, it’s sort of grown as an enterprise. I’ll say no more.
Back home and Glenn is clearly shattered from having been ‘on’ all day and he crashes in front of the TV. Cornelia and I open a bottle. I boil a couple of eggs and make some toast. Cornelia and I natter on for a while to close out another day in the Irish countryside.
Friday 9 October
And here we are, Friday already.
Bit overcast but in a dramatic rather than dreary way.
Cornelia and I go to Kilkenny – she to run errands of her own while I am, primarily, there to return my mish-mash packet of undies to Dunnes. It’s a funny exchange at customer service. I show the mix of sizes in the packet and the woman at the counter obviously finds it as strange as I did. But, then, it turns out there has been a run of packets with this problem so they don’t have any available with, you know, just my size. They return my €6 and I resign myself to waiting until till next week to get them in Chicago.
I am trying to get into a positive mindset about America. I will have a tonne of time there, so it seems I could get to Portland and Seattle, even California maybe. I’ll do more work on it today.
After dinner, I settle into nailing down my route and it begins to fall together: An early morning bus from Chicago to Detroit on 21 October – so early as to necessitate a stay at a hostel in the city on the 20th. Hopefully after attending game five of the National League Division Series between the Cubs and the Mets (that’s baseball, folks). I’ll stay the 21st with Sharon and her family the 22nd at a hostel in Detroit; on the 23rd I’ll get a bus to Toronto and stay in a hostel there. The 24th it’s a bus to Montreal and three nights with Darren and Jodi. The 27th to Burlington, Vermont (why not?) and a hostel there. The 28th to Boston and four nights at Margaret’s in Brookline – including Halloween which she says will be great. I’ll sort beyond that next week.
It feels weird to have the rest of the month sorted. I know where I’ll be for the next three weeks, which is a first since, well, the three weeks before I left Sydney.
Saturday 10 October
In the arvo, while Glenn and Matthew are off in Kilkenny, and Isabel is with a friend, Cornelia and I go walking. She turns back after a half hour while I push on with what ends up being about a three-hour walk, which is a bit longer than I’d have liked, really, as I’ve not eaten a lot and it’s getting on 3 pm when I return.
I have a little lie-down then Nicola arrives. Nicola was travelling with Cornelia when we met in 1988. I’ve not seen here since we had a reunion in Dublin in 1995. She arrives with her three daughters, sort of 12, 10, and 5. They are all lovely milky skinned, red-haired girls. It’s a nice evening of reminiscing and catching up. I’m knackered from my walk and leave them still nattering on and having a good laugh as I head to bed around 11 pm.
Sunday 11 October
It’s a grey day. I’m feeling a little anxious as I move back into travel mode. And anticipate America. But I’m happy with what I’ve arranged so far. I’ll be in the US for about 10 days, then Canada for almost a week. That will ease the shock some, I’m sure. Then on to Boston to visit an Australian and to see Robert, whom I met here. It’ll be fine.
I’m on the bus to Limerick and golden autumn light is firing the reds and oranges of changing leaves.
In the dying seconds of the gloaming, mist rises from the ground, shrouding cows, horses, and empty green paddocks; the heat in the bus is on too high, but through the wee vent above my seat comes cooling air stained with peat-smoke, which is visible rising from the chimneys of the houses we pass. Interior lights illuminate warm Sunday loungerooms.
My Airbnb host Bridget collects me from the bus, as promised, in her little (Yaris-sized) electric car. She drives us to her suburban cul de sac home. There are groups of young people hanging around in front of other houses. She has quite a tick Limerick (I guess) accent. She offers tea, which I have with the left-over roast beef and brown bread Cornelia has sent me off with. We speak of Rugby – which she is quite excited about. I had heard the West – Cork and Limerick – are big Rugby places. Coming through town tonight – the pubs seemed busy – more than they might be on a Sunday – I presume those crowds were watching the game.
Bridget has been an Airbnb host for a couple of years and says she’s generally pretty busy. Otherwise, she’s an acupuncturist and studied for that in China some years ago.
My room is clean, comfy, and recently updated. There is a shared bath and another guest is yet expected tonight.
Monday 12 October
I sleep so-so: pre-flight nerves I think. I shower, pack, have a quick bite, and then Bridget drives me to the station.
On the way, we pass several schoolgirls wearing different uniforms but of a similar style, all of their skirts come to their ankles. I comment on them, as I’d never seen anything like them elsewhere. She says that’s the way they are at Limerick schools and adds that Muslims would be happy with them and I say, “Yup, just add a headscarf and they’d be good to go.”
Then she starts praising the French ban on Muslim attire – and says other countries should follow their lead, blah, blah, blah. She may mean the burka or the niqab, not the hijab – but I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t know the names or how they differ. I say that I think it’s an infringement on the freedoms of the many, many Muslim women who wear head-coverings of their own choosing. She says, well Muslim women should go back to where they came from if they want to wear them or only wear them in private. I point out that Islam is a religion, not a nationality – so what would she have native-born Irish Muslims do? Here’s a suggestion to all Airbnb hosts: talking politics with guests seems like a no-win situation. I’m thinking about mentioning her comments in my review.
There are flights going to Boston and New York from Shannon and waiting to board them there are a lot of Americans in new Guinness caps and Ireland t-shirts. There’s one guy with a backward Detroit Tigers hat, Michigan Spartans bag and something else Michigan related. Why, people?? Why do you need to advertise like that all the time? Is gormless the word I’m looking for?
America – fuck. Focus on the positive: I’m meeting Laura on Wednesday for pizza; I’m going to Canada; I’ll see Margaret in Boston and Robert, too. It will be okay.
They promise turbulence over England, and it comes – adding to my nervousness.
Back in Berlin, it’s shifted from autumnal cool to winter-is-coming-cold. I make my way across town to the hotel I’ve booked for the night which will put me within easy-enough reach of Berlin Tegel Airport for my early flight to Chicago tomorrow.
I go for a walk around the Charlottenburg neighbourhood with my gloved hands stuffed into my pockets and my breath coming in visible clouds. I’m looking for a cheap alarm clock – my flight is early and I need a second alarm to make sure I’m awake before dawn (which isn’t until 7:30 am now). I find one at Flying Tiger – I always love poking around that shop and it’s nice to finally have cause to buy something there.
I find a Vietnamese restaurant on my walk back to the hotel and fill up on pho – a kind of unusual pick of a final European meal for a couple of months, but then, this trip has never been about the food. Someday I’ll take a trip to Europe which is all about the food.
And, just like that, I’m just one sleep away from the United States.