Category Archives: Ireland

Leaving Ireland with Melancholy and Hope

17 – 22 August 2015 (Days 84 – 89 of my Midlife Gapyear)

Monday 17 August 11:30 am – Flanders Cross

And just like that, time is fleeting. The Kilkenny Arts Festival is finished and all my new acquaintances have begun to fade away.

I returned to Kilkenny via Dublin sharing a festival courtesy car with American author Jane Smiley and her husband Jack. They were both lovely. We talked about Australia. (Jane wondered why the people of Adelaide think so little of their city. “They live there even when the festivals are over,” I said). Not surprisingly, for an Iowa person, she has Chicago connections; I said that I grew up in the Skokie part of Evanston, “I see,” she said, “why you moved to Australia.”

Once back in town I was, again, helping Cornelia and Hazel. Then we had dinner and went to Druid Shakespeare. There we met a friend of Cornelia and her sister from Australia. Perhaps she missed that I’m from Sydney – when I asked where she was from she said 4 ½ hours north of Sydney. Yeah, where abouts? Sort of Armidale – yeah, where abouts? Walcha. Oh, sure, I know Walcha – inland from Port Macquarie. She was amazed.

When we were leaving Druid Cornelia exclaimed at how terrible that actress’ voice was. I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my opinion. She’s like some sort of Nicole Kidman-looking love child of William Shatner and Al Pacino.

We went on to The Set Theatre for the Brooklyn Rider, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill Marble City Session. So good – such beautiful, beautiful playing. I saw Robert Pinsky there at the end of the show and it pleased me that it pleased him to see me, “I thought you’d gone,” he said.

Then yesterday, Sunday, was the last day of the festival.  The finale gig at the Cathedral was fantastic – really amazing.

I expect to long have very fond memories of this time here – my time spent on the festival – the people I’ve met, the performances I’ve seen.

Monday 17 August – 5:55 pm, Kilkenny

I’ve gone and bought watercolours. I won’t paint if I don’t have them, now I do, so it’s a matter of finding time to use them.

Cornelia and Matthew are mother/son-ing. I’ve had an ice cream at Kitty’s Cabin. A gaggle of local youths hang about nearby with their ubiquitous hurling sticks – I wonder how often they are used as weapons?

Tuesday 18 August 12:40 pm – Waterford, The Larder

It’s a beautiful day – sunny and warm.

My bike is having it’s wheels trued. I’ve wandered Waterford – basically to find places: bicycle shops, phone repairs. My phone – the cable connection is fucked – is irreparable (a lesson in getting something unbranded).

The coffee here, at the Larder, is passable and I’ve had a nice chat with the proprietor – Patrick Murphy (really, he was born in England of an English mother and Irish father, they didn’t think they’d be moving back, but they did when he was four).

He’d been in retail most of his career but decided a couple of years ago to take a crack at a café. He was talking of Celtic Tiger times when everyone was flush. He worked at an electronics retailer and new TVs came in. He went to discuss how to display them and the manager said just stack them by the door – they’ll sell. Patrick was like ‘is this what this trade I’ve been working in all these years, the skills I’ve gained, come to?” He quit that day. He told this story to say all that all that wealth had made the Irish loose and careless with money. One good thing to come of the GFC, he thinks, is that people care more about quality now and this has something to do with the improvement of coffee in Ireland (though, let’s be honest, they still have a way to come).

I’m feeling keen to be riding again and also a bit weird that I’ll soon leave this place. And a little – just mildly – disappointed for not having gotten more writing done. But this week remains.

4:10 pm – At the library

Cornelia described this building as a Celtic Tiger building. Built to be a mall with major retailers but left standing empty when the GFC hit. It’s still basically empty but with council business – a library and regional office in part of it.

I have to admit that Robert has taken a hold in a space in my brain. I think the conversation I had with him was among the best I’ve had on this trip. I really enjoyed swapping Clinton stories with him and talking about American politics with someone quite attuned with the ways of that world.  I’m not sure I’ve recorded some of the Hillary Clinton stories he shared. He was a young professor at Wellesley while she was there. He was teaching an American Poetry class to arty young women who were sure the revolution had come or was nearly upon them, it was 1968. They were discussing a poem which mentioned a lawyer. And the response was “who would want to be a lawyer, or marry a lawyer? Ugh, how horrible”. And then a few of them saying “Hillary Rodham” chuckle, chuckle. It was the first time he heard her name.

He was at the commencement where she spoke. It had been the tradition of the school that a student did not speak – she was the first – and it was controversial. The main speaker – who went before her – was US Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, African-American and Republican; he spoke of patience and incremental change, of letting the system work. Hillary, in response, abandoned her prepared text to say something along the lines of, “Senator, we were hoping you’d have something to say about how we can solve these problems, etc.” Robert said that it was measured and well-delivered – that he went away thinking: This is an impressive person.

Hazel asked him about his Simpsons’ experience. He had flown to LA just before 9/11 – on one of the same flights that was highjacked on the day. He imagines (or knows) it was the same crew from his flight that would have been on that one. With air travel grounded, he was stuck in LA. The Simpsons crew took him under their wings. “In my circle, I’m considered by some to be funny,” he said, “but with them I felt an amateur surrounded by Olympians.”

I’d be quite pleased to make a friendship of it.

Wednesday 19 August – 10:22 am, Flanders Cross

Wispy clouds washed pink by sunset with crescent moon.
One of my final Irish sunsets.

On the drive home last night Cornelia said of her mother, “Her worry is deep and awesome.” I thought that was beautiful.

We were on our way from Waterford and stopped in at Bobbi’s where we were invited in for a glass of wine. She and her youngest daughter live in this mad beautiful manor house with views of green rolling hills and sheep. She lived in Australia for six years in the 1970s working as a station cook in the Outback. She told a story of visiting an Aboriginal community south of Katherine with a didgeridoo player of her acquaintance.

9:07 pm – Flinders Cross

I’m really beginning to stress out about whatever comes next. I was hoping to visit the French family with whom I rode in Wales in Caen. They’ve had to cancel – which puts me at a looser end.

I am looking at a two-week German class. Is that a good investment? Worthwhile? Or should I just ride from Cherbourg and stop worrying? Should I head to Germany on the shortest line? Or the Belgian border following the coast? Find the quickest way out of France? Or spend another €100 on the train out? Fuck if I know. Fuck if I know. I’m ready to go – but to where?

I emailed Robert Pinsky today – anxious to see if he replies and if he does, how.

Thursday 20 August, 7:17 pm – Flanders Cross

This morning I woke stressed by indecision, of uncertainty about where to go, and how to spend my time.

Cornelia suggested that I settle in somewhere for a month. This led to the idea of doing a four-week German course in January rather than two-weeks in October. It makes so much sense. I’ll sleep on it but it feels right and like a burden has been lifted. I can just ride from Cherbourg – head up the coast, the D-Day beaches. I’ll get to Berlin in time for my flight, easy.

And then I had an email reply from Robert Pinsky. Which pleased me.

I’ve dipped into his Selected Poems and think I’m going to like his stuff.

I have never been good at reading poetry.

I like to read faster than poetry invites. Poetry seems to require a deliberative reading which I have, so far, been unwilling to offer.

But maybe now is the time. Maybe it’s the time in my life to be a reader of poetry. Perhaps even a writer of poetry. And perhaps my meeting Robert is a bit of influencing good fortune.

Friday 21 August 12:25 pm – Umi Falafel, Dublin

I woke early. I’m excited about getting going again. I like the plans I’ve settled on. Glenn was coming up to Dublin, so I’ve tagged along to look for knicks and eat at this restaurant again.

I quite like this from Robert’s Gulf Music:

“… but the immigration papers did

Require him to renounce all loyalty to Czar Nicholas

As he signed, he must have thought to himself

The Yiddish equivalent of ‘No problem’, Mah la belle”

11:41 pm – Flanders Cross

Things are happening as they ought: I only rode 15 km in Ireland; I’ll study German in January; meeting Robert. As is ought. Fortuitous but as they ought to be.

To read and write and paint and take my time. To think and meet and learn. Poetry, reading poetry, enforces deliberation. Deliberation is good.

We’ll see, we’ll see.

Saturday 22 August, 4:05 pm – Pulling out of Rosslare

Farewell, farewell Ireland. I’m feeling a little wistful, a little sad to go. My time here was spent in unexpected ways – but it was good for me. Friendships made, forged. Decisions. Ideas. Realisations. Just settling in for a time.

A family - mum, dad, and pre-teen son and daughter, with me - standing in a green field, arms around each other.
With my Irish family

6:00 pm

I’m reading family scenes in Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and looking at the groups all around me.

There were dolphins – everyone rushed to the window to look – not me. I didn’t want to leave all my stuff at this table un-monitored.

I am alone again.

A melancholy selfie of a woman in a blue jumper on the deck of a ferry, cloudy day, dark sea, a bit of Ireland in the distance.
On my own again, farewell Ireland.

9:00 pm

I’ve painted a watercolour of the sea beyond my window while listening to a podcast of Robert speaking on modernism someplace once upon a time. He’s a smart man, knowledgeable and interesting – which shouldn’t be surprising, he’s been at this thing he does for 50 years.

Here’s the thing about the intelligence others see in me, and which I see too, albeit less clearly – why can’t I figure out what to do with it? How to use my smarts, my talents, to produce, to create – to leave something?

Listening to RP, reading his stuff. Reading Jane Smiley’s novel. Admiring all the artists at Kilkenny, I feel the twinges of regret for having not done more with my 46 years.

Time to retreat to my cabin to eat biscuits. Tomorrow I ride. And seek. Seek. Something. What am I seeking? I don’t really know. But, in the meantime. Just. Be. Here. Now.

The gloaming: Low clouds over a gently rolling strip of Ireland on the horizon, the foreground calm steel-coloured sea.
Goodbye Ireland

In Northern Ireland the Troubles Still Bubble Beneath the Peace

13 – 15 August 2015 (Days 81 – 83)

Thursday 13 August 4pm, Connect Hostel, Derry

Small cities, I should only visit small cities. It’s 4pm, I’ve done the lot and feel I’ve given everything it’s due.

It’s been a gorgeous and sunny day. I started things off revisiting the Guildhall – where President Clinton spoke in 1995, a trip I worked and wrote of in my last blog post.

The Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry
The Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry

Derry isn’t as much changed as I’d expected. It still has a working class, slightly hard-done-by air but with more tourists and tourism-related businesses. There are new cultural institutions and more shopping – more of the high-street staples anyway – but that would be true anywhere.

What had been the tea rooms where our advance team spent much time 20 years ago are now the Museum of Free Derry (which was both emotionally charged – bullet torn clothes from Bloody Sunday and the like – and felt, the more I took in, quite propagandistic).

I lingered over an exhibition (Out There, Thataway) at the Centre for Contemporary Art – feeling like it was saying something to me about travel but I’m not sure what.

From the
From the “Out There, Thataway”Exhibition at the CCA.

The historical placards around the place seem to remain safely in pre-troubles times. But for in the Bogside where it’s all about the Troubles, the people murdered by the police, and those who fell “in service.”

Things are quiet and peaceful in Derry on this warm, sunny summer’s day but it’s clear the conversation about political control, national affiliation, etc is not over.

The Union Jack still waves over unionist areas and the flag of the Republic over nationalist areas. It feels a long way from the sort of blandly 21st century capital-city vibe of Dublin.

That's a childcare centre behind that wall.
That’s a childcare centre behind that wall.
In the Bogside
In the Bogside
Bogside mural
Bogside mural
Memories of Bloody Sunday on the walls of peoples homes.
Memories of Bloody Sunday on the walls of peoples homes.

Friday 14 August, 11:16 am – Bus to Belfast

It’s another lovely emerald isle summer day – low hanging grey blanket of a sky, cool enough the bus driver had the heat on for a while, raining off and on. Green, green, green out the window. Rolling paddocks, sheep and cows and hay bales.

2:45 pm – Art Café, North Road – Belfast

Walking through town, looking at all the same-same modern office and apartment buildings, I thought: Belfast is a bit boring. A nice thing for locals I’m sure. They’ve had more than their share of excitement but for me, as a visitor … yawn – it’s just a provincial UK city.

Then I walked up Shankhill Road and through the Lower Shankhill neighbourhood feeling a little freaked out by it. Flags everywhere – Union Jacks mostly – and red, white and blue bunting. Murals – commemorating the fallen – still aggressive. “No surrender” graffiti. Row houses – many neat as a pin with houseproud displays in the windows (vases of flowers, statuettes). Kids playing on a construction site which seemed at a standstill. Demolition work on another row which looked fire damaged.

I felt uncomfortable – part of that is perhaps simply a class thing – I am not of these people and they would see that. Part of it the shadow of the bit of the history I know. The sense the conversation is clearly not over.

Different walls, different memories, different homes,
Different walls, different memories, different homes,

I saw several ‘Black Taxi’ tours roll in – tourists ensconced in the back – peering out the windows – hearing whatever stories the taxi drivers tell. I was glad not to be them but to be walking around by myself. But still, I was uneasy and took my pictures quickly.

And on it goes ...
And on it goes …

Des Moines. Belfast would be like Des Moines, Iowa but for the undercurrent. Or, wherever – a small city, trying to be something interesting, trading on a bit of history (The Titanic) and celebrity (Game of Thrones). But on the front page today: Kevin McGuigen murdered – suspected of involvement in the murder of a former IRA colleague. And so it bubbles along.

I saw a pair of African women in ankle-length flowing chadors on a corner of Shankhill Road.

It’s such a white place, Northern Ireland, but with this uniquely intense historical division between two groups of white people. It would be – I’d think – a weird place to be an immigrant or an Englishperson of non-European heritage who has moved here from elsewhere in the UK.

Saturday 15 August, 11 am – Great Northern Peanuts Smokehouse (Railway Station Diner)

The radio station just announced flight delays at the International Airport: Flight XYZ from blank due at such-and-such time now arriving at such-and-such:25.

I had a lovely and hospitable evening with Cornelia’s friend Danae. She lives in Holywood – a Mosman-like suburb (that is, comfortably well off but not flashy with its wealth). It sits on the south side of the Belfast Lough and Danae’s tidy row house is a short walk to the beach. We spent time strolling there with her pup and taking in the sunny end of the day.

Sunset over the Belfast Lough
Sunset over the Belfast Lough

We cooked dinner together, listening to a political comedy show on the radio – she thought maybe I wouldn’t understand the jokes – and she was, mostly, but not completely, right in that.

When I think of those who travel staying only in paid accommodation – who never make the connections which allow for this sort of human interaction – I think their experiences are thinner for it. To each their own, but I’m grateful for every opportunity I get to enjoy the hospitality and to see inside homes and lives as I go.

On the bus to Dublin:

This will be a ride. The Rugby’s on in Dublin so in addition to the usual passengers there are fans going down and AND, oh joy, a hen’s group: LOUD, LOUD, LOUD and we haven’t yet left Belfast.

After leaving Danae’s I thought of questions I might have asked about life in Northern Ireland. But we had been talking of other, normal life stuff, it just didn’t come up. But walking through Holywood this morning I wondered how the lingering dialogue about the sectarian stuff plays out in the middle-class suburbs – and are there Republican suburbs like Holywood? Leafy middle-class places. Or is there a rising Republican middle class moving into places like Holywood?

Questions to ask someone sometime.

** Written two years later: I never got to ask those questions of Danae as she lost her battle with cancer some six months after my visit.

Cornelia, who had introduced us, had told me that Danae was ill but it hadn’t fully registered how ill and, in person, for the time I was with her – if you didn’t know she was ill, you wouldn’t know she was ill.

The topic was alluded to in conversation as she explained how she had come to live in Holywood (she’d lived across the Lough before and had long wished to live in Holywood – when she got sick she made the move). But I didn’t know she was terminal and I think, as such, we both quite enjoyed our evening together because my ignorance meant her illness was neither a topic of conversation nor an elephant in the room. Instead we spoke, as people do, about common interests, my travels, her life, politics and our mutual friend.

I am grateful for our meeting and regretful that at this point in the trip taking photos with hosts hadn’t become habitual. Danae and her friend Norah co-wrote a gardening column and, together, in the end, the book A Tale of Two Gardens – which I haven’t read yet, but really must. If it’s your sort of thing you really should too.

Heading North to Stroke City: Wednesday 12 August 2015 (Day 80)

3:50 pm – Train to Derry

Jim asked about my quest – if I had one, which I mostly don’t. That is what leaves me often asking: “What am I doing here?” “Why am I doing this? Is is just the seeing? The doing? The meeting of people?” Maybe. Maybe that’s all there is to it – to all this endless movement.

He spoke of his quest around trad music and Irish culture.

I said that while, likewise, I have an interest in thinking more about the Jewish stuff that, by and large, there’s no where I can go and find the descendants of my antecedents’ neighbours … still going to the same old synagogue, still walking the same streets, etc. They are all, or nearly all, gone. He asked about Israel. I said Israel is more Israeli than Jewish – it’s a different thing, a different place. I suggested it’s like if he had to go to Boston to experience some echo of Irish culture because the Irish no longer lived in any real numbers in Ireland.

I do want to go to Israel, yes, I should do that.

But right now I just want to get to Germany. I’ll have 51 days to get from Cherbourg to my flight from Berlin to Chicago.

I just messaged with Laura a bit – when it works, I do love the WiFi on trains and buses. She’s in Tokyo – has been there 40 minutes and already loves it, as I had presumed she would.

She reminded me it’s about the experiences I’m having. And she’s right of course. It is. And I know that but it was also clarifying – just to have her say that.

10:20 pm – Hostel Connect, Derry

I was last in Derry in 1995 as part of the advance team, the event team, setting up President Bill Clinton’s first visit to Northern Ireland. It was my one foreign trip for the White House and it was a momentous one.

There’s a good short video overview of the trip here – one in which I’m pretty sure I catch the occasional fleeting glimpse of my 26-year old self well in the background.

Part of why I’m in Derry now is to revisit the city and see how much it’s changed, or stayed the same.

Our major event – a gigantic outdoor rally – was in Guildhall Square, we had a smaller event in the Guildhall. So, today, coming from the train station, walking past the Guildhall, through Guildhall Square, was kind of surreal. It felt the same but different. I was then the same and also so very different.

My roommate – there’s only one – is Jennifer from Indiana. She’s here to do the Masters in Peace Studies at Ulster University at Magee. The program with the Tip O’Neill Chair which we endowed 20 years ago in the Guildhall.

One of the strangest experiences I had as an advance person came in relation to Magee College. Our team was recruiting volunteers from the student body and I needed to get to campus for the meeting. None of our embassy supplied cars were available to run me over there from the Guildhall. Nor did our Secret Service colleagues have a free car. But their paired agency, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, did – if I didn’t mind going in a Land Rover. I didn’t realise at the time that meant a militarised SUV with uniformed and armed driver plus one. I needed to get to the meeting and was grateful for the ride so I jumped in and we drove, rather quickly, through the Bogside to the University campus.

It was a peaceful time in Derry but I was well aware of the history I had just sidled into. On a narrow residential street we came to a halt behind a double-parked car. Our driver honked and when nothing happened the other constable jumped out and pushed the car out of the way. Really, that happened.

When I arrived on campus – there were a lot of students milling about, many of whom turned to look at the Land Rover as it arrived and watched me exit with curious and sceptical eyes. I thanked the constables for their time and went to find my meeting.

Back to the present … I invited Jennifer, my hostel roommate, to find a beer. Here’s what I learned: She was in the navy for four years, attended Indiana University, and worked for 11 years for a federal judge, before she quit to come get a master’s degree in Northern Ireland. She’s arrived with a giant suitcase full of domestic tools and personal hygiene products, like soap. She’s both a little embarrassed that she’s brought all this stuff and also like, well, I didn’t know what they’d have and I’m picky.

In Ireland They Offer Chips with Your Chinese Food: Tuesday 11 August 2015 (Day 79)

9:10 pm: A Chinese Restaurant, Kilkenny

I may regret this but I’m so hungry. I’ve ordered sweet and sour chicken – it’s like battered and fried balls of chicken in the usual flouro sauce. It’s Ireland: I had the choice of rice or chips.

Being here, in Kilkenny, is becoming normal. I run into familiar people on the street. I know my way around town really well. After a couple of months on the road, of being someplace new every day, every hour, this is nice – this being of a place and part of a community.

I slept in this morning and woke to find Jim practicing in the loungeroom, for his gig tonight. I booked my bus ticket from Dublin to Belfast but failed to do the same for the train on to Derry because Northern Irish Rail’s website is shit.

Jim and I drove into Kilkenny. While he was looking for parking I spotted Cornelia at the Gourmet Café so I jumped out to see her. She was just off – I had a sandwich and coffee and solved a crossword challenge two blokes were having – by changing ‘interior’ to ‘internal’.

I was stuck in the queue as Jim began playing in the Luminarium but Mali, our friend with the crew there, spotted me and brought me in the back door.

Look who's playing in the Luminarium.
Look who’s playing in the Luminarium.

It was a mighty strange gig but Jim enjoyed himself – he should have had an amp as the sound just didn’t carry. He played mandolin and guitar. Cornelia was there for a time. And a lot of children. Unrestrained small children.

Mali said, “The Irish have so many children.” Jim played Say Your Prayers and I sang along, tunelessly, as I do. It turns out one of my favourite songs he plays is  Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard him do it many times before but hadn’t realised it was a cover. It’s really calming and lovely.

Walking back to the Gourmet we passed a group of kids tossing a hurling ball around in the castle grounds, among them a Sudanese teenager as agile and fluid with his hurly as any of his paler skinned mates. It was beautiful.

I helped out around town this afternoon and caught part of The Gloaming’s show at the Cathedral. Amazing music played to a packed house.

Poetry, Light, Ice Cream and Friendship on a Beaut Irish Summer Day: Monday 10 August 2015 (Day 78)

11:20 am – The Gourmet Store Café, Kilkenny

We are finally getting a run of sunny and warm days. Cornelia says this sort of day is exactly what one hopes for when thinking of an Irish summer’s day.

7:30 pm – Zuni Café

I’m feeling like a local. I know where everything is and I run into people I know on the street.

At the café this morning Hazel, Cornelia’s right-hand gal, passed by with Robert Pinsky. He’s just arrived from Boston and they were looking for an Irish SIM card for him but said they’d come back for coffee.

I read the blurb about him in the festival catalogue and had just started in on his Wikipedia page when they returned.

I learned he was US Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000. He’s a poet, obviously, and an academic at Boston University. Jewish, from New Jersey. That’s about all I knew as we started chatting.

Cornelia had to go and Hazel, while she stayed on, was hard at work at other tasks – so Robert and I had a nice chat about American politics, guns, violence, Australia, John Howard & guns, etc. He hasn’t yet visited Australia, but would like to – this seems a worthy project to help with.

The rest of the morning I ran around for Cornelia. I delivered lunch to an organist at the Cathedral. And I picnicked outside St John’s Priory – pressing my ear to the stained glass to hear the Bach Cello Concerto being played within.

At 4pm I went to the Rothe House Garden for Robert’s “Secret Garden” performance, which was quite good.

Afterwards Cornelia and I took him to the Architects of the Air installation.

The Luminarium is a pneumatic sculpture (one filled with air) constructed of specially designed plastics where the colours of the material and the design of thinner bits illuminate the inside just by the natural light.

Here’s how the artists describe it:

Each luminarium is a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring dorms where Islamic architecture, Archimedian solids and Gothic cathedrals meld into an inspiring monument to the beauty of light and colour.

The domes are the large chambers rising up to 10 metres high that provide the focal points. The tunnels connect the domes and determine the journey the visitor will take. The luminaria also feature ‘pods’ – alcoves where people can sit and relax out of the way of the other visitors.

Each luminarium is made up of around 20 elements that are zipped together on site to typically occupy an area of 1000 square metres. Easy to erect, laying out the structure and anchoring can take as little as 4 hours then, in just 20 minutes, the luminarium is inflated to its monumental size.

Inside the Luminiarium
Inside the Luminiarium (Photo by Glenn Lucas)

W got ice cream and sat in the Butler House Gardens. He was, I think, just trying to keep going to keep jet-lag at bay. A plight I well understand. Cornelia had to go and left me to see Robert back to is hotel but first we lingered.

We chatted away about politics and swapped Clinton stories. He told me about his Favorite Poem Project, which he began as Poet Laureate and continues. They hold events where everyday people share their favourite poems and there’s a web site with videos of people sharing their favourite poems.

It’s been quite a while since I’d had such a long chat about stuff I know and care about with someone who knows as much or more about the same stuff – if that makes sense. The conversation was very enjoyable and unlike any I’d had recently. He gave me his card … if I get to Boston I’ll drop him a line.

Now I’m sitting at Zuni having had a glass of white wine and a serve of chips. I’m waiting on Cornelia to return. My face is sunburnt and I’m very sleepy.

Cornelia arrived and we ordered some more wine and, then, Jim!

Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)
Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)

Oh, my goodness how nice it is to see him. I’ve seen a few old friends along the way and made many new ones but I hadn’t seen anyone from my immediate, loving, fabulous circle of Sydney friends for 78 days (when Jim and Vickianne saw me off at the airport) and now, here, was one of my besties and someone I’ve known for 27 years. I think I got a little teary.

Shifting Attitude, Celebrating Art at the Arts Festival: Saturday 8 August 2015 (Day 76)

Saturday 8 August, 6:30 pm – Langston House Hotel (Kilkenny)

Attitude. It’s really a bit about attitude. I’m here. Doing this. Be here. Do this. I’ll sort the rest as it comes. I’ve made decisions which, now made, are as they will be. I’ll be in Ireland until 22 August. Deal with it. Enjoy it.

So, I’ve had a pretty full day with the festival.

I helped Cornelia with this and that before completing a 3 ½ hour shift at Cleary Connolly’s Meta-Perceptual Helmets – which was actually quite good. I met the artists. They are former architects. The project is about how we’d see the world differently with different eyes. They’ve designed a heap, but only made these five so far. They are aluminium and sleek, shiny, with a back like a time-trial helmet with optical contraptions which allow the wearer to see the world like a … cat, horse, giraffe, hammerhead shark, chameleon. It’s set up in the garden of Rothe House.

When my shift ended, I made my way to the Cathedral to find Cornelia and continue to be helpful.

Concert at the Cathedral
Concert at the Cathedral

At the tail end of the day I caught a bit of the beautiful performance by Toumani & Sidiki Diabate

Utterly gorgeous.

This isn’t from Kilkenny but give you a good taste of their work.

Be Here Now, Be Here Now, Repeat: Friday 7 August 2015 (Day 75)

Kilkenny and County Carlow:

What am I thinking? Why am I here?

I feel like the trip has come off the rails a little bit and that I’m stuck in Kilkenny-ish. The ish being stuck-ish.

I feel like maybe I’m spending more time in Ireland than I need to. Though it is pleasant and relatively cheap and filling non-Schengen time. And I’m making decisions and having realisations.

I’ve  gotten an hour’s work done today and otherwise just been … in a town I was bored with after the first hour a week ago. I feel I’ve made mistakes that have me here – to an Irish bog. I want to magically be back on the Continent and pedalling on to a next destination. And I feel like I can’t expedite that process, having said ‘yes’ to helping, and ‘yes’ to wanting to wait for Jim, and having made plans for the North, and have booked my ferry. It would all be fine if I was also having days like I had in Florence – productive.

I spent some time working at the volunteer office this arvo. If I can get on the WiFi there – just put some music in my ears, then, maybe tomorrow, Sunday, Monday I can really crank through some work. That might make me feel better. Now I feel … anxious, bored, tired (I’ve lost my cyclist’s sleep pattern and cyclist’s sleepiness and I’m not sleeping well), thirsty too – of course, and just wanting things to clarify again. I’m out of my zone – I want to be back in it.

Tonight, I did a volunteer shift as an usher at DruidShakespeare’s full-cycle of Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2) and Henry V. It was a long and very chilly night – the production is on in the courtyard of the Castle Yard. They split the telling over two nights. I didn’t stay for the whole show tonight – once the audience was seated after the last break I was free to go – and I did because it was really cold. I hope to get back and watch some of the second half before the festival is over.

Overall, I thought it was a good and engaging production – their twist was that most of the traditionally male roles were played by women and this worked fine but for one of the main actresses who, um, just had an annoying voice and way of speaking. It was overdone, over-acted, and pulled me out of the story.

That said, it was a cool thing to see and it was fun being part of a team and having colleagues again.

So I continue to battle between thinking I need to be working and planning and trying to simply be and enjoy it.

This is (another) test of my commitment to, and ability to, BE HERE NOW.

Yes, I have work to do – writing, photo editing, planning – but I need to BE HERE NOW. Enjoy the festival, embrace it.

Not the Dublin I First Visited – Mostly for the Best, But Not All: Thursday 6 August 2015 (Day 74)

Thursday 6 August 12:40 pm – Umi Falafel

I fear I’ve been pretending to be a normal tourist – more flush, short-term. I’ve been getting coffees, eating out, paying entrance fees for museums. I’m a little scared to add it up and convert it into Australian dollars.

This morning I was meant to join a free walking tour of the city but the crowd was large and the guide too bubbly for my mood so I wandered off before we even got going.

Instead I visited the Chester Beatty Library. Admission was free and they have a pretty interesting collection of manuscripts and religious artifacts collected by … Charles Beatty.

Now I’m having lunch at this smashing falafel and hummus restaurant – this is not the same Dublin I first visited all those years ago, that’s for sure. Seriously, if you are ever in Dublin: Umi Falafel.

I’ve decided I can get through all I want to see and do in Dublin today so I’ve arranged a lift back to Kilkenny from the airport for this afternoon.

I’m thinking ahead to my return to France – I booked my ferry to Cherbourg. Right now I’m planning on turning  left out of the port, follow the coast of Normandy for a bit – not worry about visiting Tom in the South of France or seeing the Vuelta Espana. I feel due for a nice long run of just being on the bicycle day after day after day.

2:35 pm – Busy Bee Cafe

When I first visited Dublin in 1988 I went looking for U2’s studio in Windmill Lane. I found it on the back streets of a drab working-class residential neighbourhood a few blocks back from the dying quayside with its little used or derelict cranes.

Fans had scrawled graffiti on the front of the building with messages for the band and notes about where they had come from to make this visit.

Windmill Lane Studios, 1988
Windmill Lane Studios, 1988

Seven years later, in 1995, on my next visit to Dublin, things were much the same. The graffiti had spread and the neighbourhood seemed a bit changing but all was recognizable.

Windmill Lane Studios, 1995
Windmill Lane Studios, 1995

I’ve just come from there now and I walked around several blocks trying to sort out where the offices had been. Windmill Lane is a construction zone – well – a destruction zone right now – Wikipedia warned me. They said the wall of graffiti has been saved. But was not, presently, on site.

Windmill Lane, 2015
Windmill Lane, 2015

The neighbourhood is now full of new apartment complexes and office buildings housing things like web designers and McCann Erickson.

I know that, on balance, this is a good thing. Good for Dublin. Good for the Irish economy. But it’s another mark of how every city becoming more and more just like every other city with old, close in districts, being remade from homes for low-wage workers in nearby jobs to homes and offices for the “creative class”.

As Paul Kelly has put it … Every Fucking City’s just the same (okay, his story isn’t really about gentrification but still …).

Dublin: I’m done.

The museums were good and some of the wandering but … cities … meh. Looking forward to riding through the countryside again.

4:50 pm – Airport

I feel like I’m just here and time is whizzing past – there’s truth in that but maybe I’m being harsh on myself as well.

Maybe I need to be a little more focused and a little less wandering. Focus on the Jewish stuff, on the learning German. These are shaping ideas. I think maybe it’s time for more shaping ideas.

What would that mean?

D-Day Beaches. Find a German course I can do. Identify Jewish sites/museums I want to visit.

Yes, maybe this needs to be a little less organic.

Coffees and Jews in Dublin: Wednesday 5 August 2015 (Day 73)

11:50 am Wednesday 5 August – Kaph

A lot – Dublin reminds me of Melbourne a lot. Maybe because they are both river cities with dubious weather. But they have Sydney’s pedestrian-crossing system, though, same buttons, same sound – which is strange.

This is the café suggested by Baz – it is not like Melbourne. They call a macchiato and ‘noisette’ (I guess it’s the French name for the same thing) and it’s meh – a little thin and bitter. So, the bitter is like Melbourne but … you know, not so nice. (The music is good, though).

It's a noisette and some kind of gluten-free carrot cake.
It’s a noisette and some kind of gluten-free carrot cake.

Speaking of Melbourne … Laura2 will arrive in Chicago the day after me. TOTALLY STOKED. I’m now looking forward to Chicago. And Dave has asked when I’ll be in New York City. I thought he was off to Istanbul. So some plans for America are falling into place.

3pm – Joe’s Coffee (after the Irish Jewish Museum)

It rains, it stops raining. It’s windy. Or not. The sun shines. Or doesn’t.

The view from Joe's Coffee
The view from Joe’s Coffee

When I arrived at the Irish Jewish Museum the first person who greeted me called me sir then excused his error by noting I was wearing trousers.

He proceeded with his spiel until I was, eventually, rescued by Jason – who was embarrassed for the other fellow and apologised.

He showed me around the old synagogue portion of the museum and we had an interesting and lengthy chat. They don’t get a lot of visitors.

Which is a pity as the museum is actually quite interesting. I learned that Sephardi Jews (those from the Iberian Peninsula) settled in Ireland in 1497 – following expulsion from Portugal. Though there are records of Jews in Ireland even earlier – back to a first reference in 1079. More recently, in the 18th and 19th centuries, whole communities were fleeing Eastern Europe and some settled here in Dublin.

Each group set up their own little prayer room. Eventually a rabbi came from Belfast to bring the community together. That was Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, who was Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1919-1937 before going on to fill the same role in Israel. (Rabbi Herzog, by the way, was a fluent speaker of Irish.) He was the father of Chaim Herzog, the 6th president of Israel, who was born in Belfast and, Jason asserted, spoke English with an Irish accent (though I’ve listened to some clips and don’t really hear it).

He showed me a mantel, or covering for the Torah, made from a material from a wedding dress and other bits and pieces. A fabric scholar had looked at it and was able to identify different parts of the old Yiddish homelands the various bits came from.

Mantel, or covering for the Torah, made from various donated clothes including a wedding dress.
Mantel, or covering for the Torah, made from various donated material including a wedding dress.

He said the synagogue, which was cobbled together from the upstairs rooms of adjoining houses, had operated until … I think the 1970s or so. “One day the rabbi turned up and there were only 9 men – he locked the door and that was that. Jason imagines him saying: Feck it. If they can’t bother to turn up neither can I.

We had a long chat, Jason and I, about this and that including that six new synagogues have recently opened in Indonesia. He said these are for Christians who have converted. That they had found greater truth in the Old Testament than the New and went to the source. Now some rabbis are going there to teach. I haven’t found a lot about it on line, but there is this one article.

11:20 pm – Abbey Court Hostel

Seagulls – the sound of them, I can hear them here in the hostel.

I visited the Little Museum of Dublin – which is a quirky fun museum full of objects donated by Dubliners. You see it with a guide who tells the story in a loud, theatrical, not-as-funny-as-he- imagines way. He was sort of red in the face and too big for the room.

There was a special exhibition on about U2 and, frankly, it was crap. One small room, only a few artifacts. The Making of Midnight Oil exhibition doing the rounds of Australia shat all over it.

The pretty crappy U2: Made in Dublin exhibition.
The pretty crappy U2: Made in Dublin exhibition.

For dinner, I met up with my friend Tom, last seen in Paris. He’s here working at the Greenpeace International meeting. We went to a place that sounded good on line, and was – I had the corned beef with mashed potatoes and beet root. It was a huge serve and very very tasty, indeed.

Afterwards we walked back into the city centre before going our separate ways. I looked around for someplace to have a drink but nothing makes me feel lonely quite so much as trying to find a bar I want to go into, on my own, at night.

So, I just walked around some for a while instead.

Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin

Feeling a bit low, uncertain in Dublin: Tuesday 4 August 2015 (Day 72)

Tuesday 4 August 9:30 am

Am I doing this thing right? I guess I am because it’s the way I’m doing it but am I doing it in a way I’ll be satisfied with when it’s over?

Sanz sent me a link to a piece about Groningen, in the Netherlands, where 61% of trips are by bicycle. She wondered if it’s on my list … and I’m kind of like: what list? Where am I going and why? I feel like it’s become very organic but maybe too organic.

Should I make a point of getting to bicycle places? To Jewish places?

Grrr … I have to think more about what I’m doing.

God, the weather’s nasty out there … wind is swirling rain around.

11:51 am

I’m looking forward to getting out to Dublin. Rural living is not for me, the whole having to drive everywhere, not being able to just pop out to a shop, wouldn’t suit me in the long run.

9:35 pm

Glenn asked me when I’d be home. And Cornelia gave me a big hug and said she’s looking forward to my return.

It was lovely and almost made me teary.

I don’t think I’d be the same if I’d had a house guest for a week.

10:15 pm – McDaids, Dublin

Not my picture, it's Patrick Donald's.
Not my picture, it’s Patrick Donald’s.

This pub is opposite Bruxelles – which used to be a hard place – there’s a statue of Phil Lynott, from Thin Lizzy, out front. It’s difficult to imagine this gentrified place as one that birthed Thin Lizzy. But Dublin then wasn’t what Dublin is now. I first visited in 1988 and it was basically a provincial hard-luck city just beginning to turn. Now, even after the GFC, it’s a bustling, cosmopolitan, European capital.

It’s so much more multicultural than even 20 years ago (when I was last here) – people working in places, residents on the street, the assortment of restaurants. And it’s crushing with foreign tourists. A lot of Spanish – I don’t know why that is. A desire to learn English in a Catholic country maybe?

Couples are bugging me. The sight of them – the hand holding, the little touches. Baz – the filmmaker friend of Glenn, who gave me a lift to Dublin – ringing his wife/partner to let her know he was on his way.

After wandering around the city centre for a good while I finally found this pub – which is age appropriate. Busy but not full – mostly, but not exclusively, middle aged men. None of any interest. It’s hard to walk into a pub after 10 pm as a middle-aged woman, alone, in travelling pants, walking shoes, and with a crazily coloured rucksack and feel anything but invisible and undesirable. Alone. Did I mention the ‘alone’ bit?

I’ve booked a third night at this hostel but I’m going to look for something else. My own space – I’ve not paid for accommodation this past week, and more of that to come with Glenn and Cornelia, so fuck it – a bit of a splurge is in order.

Yeah – feeling a little low and not looking forward to my dorm-room sleep. It’s a small room. It will be stuffy. Sigh. It’s just two nights, it’ll be okay.

Dublin reminds me of Melbourne.