Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I have finished my doctoral class for this semester as of yesterday. It was a cold, rainy night and a tense ride home in darkness, fog, and traffic. I am now commencing five days off before I deal with the home stretch of Fall semester for my students, and my day job.

Though today is a relatively warm 50 degrees, one should not be fooled; winter is certainly coming. The trees are largely bare, and the grass is beginning to take on a straw-like hue. This week I lost another friend and colleague to a brain tumor, and this has made me start thinking about death.

Death is not an evil, in spite of our dread of it. Physical human death never comes at a good time; whether the person is 20 or 90, we are never quite ready to say goodbye. It occurs to me that death is viewed differently by the dying person and the survivors. Some people are terrified of death, especially if they feel they have more work ahead of them, more life to live. Others welcome it as a relief from what has become a life of suffering. Many who have near-death experiences don't want to come back to life. If their evidence means anything, death isn't something so terrible.

It is a different matter for survivors. The intensity of feeling about the death will depend on how close you are to the person, how much it directly touches your life. We can read the obituaries every day and never blink an eye. We don't know many of these people. For the families and friends, there is a void. If the dead person wasn't liked, or if someone had to spend many years taking care of the dying person, the death may come as a relief. Yet, even in such cases, there are the unresolved conflicts, questions that are not answered.

Death can also refer to loss and change, and is absolutely critical to living a full life, paradoxically. If we are always stuck in the same place, then we never grow as human beings. If we are not made uncomfortable, if we do not have our assumptions shattered, or hit "rock bottom" on a destructive streak, we may never stop to look at the bigger picture. In the class I just finished, we read Philoctetes, a play by Sophocles. Philoctetes was a favorite of Heracles, and after Heracles' death, Philoctetes retained his bow and poison arrows. Philoctetes was needed by the Greeks (Acheans) to win the Trojan War. But when he (in one version) accidentally tread in a sacred place, he was bit by a viper, which left him with a festering leg wound that gave off such an awful stench, Odysseus and his crew voted to leave Philoctetes on an island by himself. Later they come with Neoptolemus (or Diomedes, in some versions) to try to convince Philoctetes to return with them. What ensues is Philoctetes cursing them, saying he will never submit because of what they did by leaving him. On the other hand, when they turn to leave, he continually says, "Don't go!" He is at a death point, but it is not a physical death--he does live, and is healed of his wound after leaving. Philoctetes is stuck in his victim status. He was genuinely wronged, there is no doubt. But when the opportunity comes for positive change, he pouts and would rather nurse his wounds and his pride. The impasse is broken by a deus ex machina--the spirit of Heracles, now a god, appears to him and tells him it is his destiny to go. But this is not a cop-out device on Sophocles' part. Heracles is the better part of Philoctetes--his inner strength and heroic qualities. These have been hidden by his psychological wound, which makes him prefer to stay a wronged victim than risk changing his life.

I see this as a good example of the Hegelian dialectic--Philoctetes is in state A, the Greeks come and present opposing state B, and Heracles represents the synthesis--he is still a victim, but he chooses to take the risk. When someone is stuck in bitterness, depression, or despair it is important that they are ready to make the change. Often we look at others in these states and encourage them to "move on and get over it." But the timing has to be right; otherwise, no real change occurs.

We might say, "But the change would be for the better! Only a whiner or someone with a persecution complex would choose to stay in the state of suffering." Not true. Most of us like change less than we admit. This is why even happy occasions, like buying a new house, moving in or marrying a partner, or getting a new job with more money can cause anxiety. The potential for something better is there--but what if it isn't better? You can't go back to where you were. It's a case of "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."

I am probably as guilty of this as anyone. I do believe in the power of the unconscious, because it never fails to let me know when I'm getting "stuck", or the tell me the truth of a lost situation. Naturally the message is symbolic--we all know that dreams are strange. But the message still shines through.

Sometimes the message is direct. My friends and colleagues knew that my marriage to my husband was really "over" for years, and I really should have left. But when they said this to me, I wasn't ready to do it. I wasn't happy where I was, but I felt there were too many financial risks at the time. I was attached to certain things about my life that I wasn't sure I could give up. But when the time was right, after we'd gotten rid of most of our debt load, I remember waking up from a dream, and hearing a sentence in my head: "Now it is time to get divorced." I got up, made some tea, and sat on my porch contemplating this statement. It gave me some anxiety, but I realized that I had a golden opportunity. I did the math, and figured out that I could get a place of my own on my salary, even though money would be tight. So, I took the plunge and never regretted it.

In other cases, there is a dream to be interpreted, and sometimes it does nothing but present the conundrum. In my last serious relationship post-divorce, I had a dream where I had a number of people in my house. These were mostly women, and some of them were people I didn't personally care for--they represented negative aspects of personality (like perpetual victimhood). At one point, they told me that all the rooms were taken and I would have to leave. I started feeling anxious, wondering where I could possibly go? But then I remembered that this was MY house, and they were merely tenants. So, I told all of them to leave. I woke up with the phrase in my head, "Take back your house." I had allowed the other person in my relationship to compromise who I was, as well as social expectations, and this was a violation of my own Self. We broke up within days of this dream.

The final example involves John Foxx. While I was still traveling to see his shows, I remember having a dream of him fairly early on. I was in a classroom, and a woman was lecturing on something. He walked right in, and stood in front of me, looking at me. Naturally everyone including the teacher noticed, and most people seemed amused. It was clearly a disruption of the class, so I got up and went out the door with him, to find out what he wanted. As soon as we stepped out of the room, he quickly walked away. In the second significant dream, we were in a large office building, and I believe we both worked there--I seem to recall being a temporary employee, he was more permanent. He would stop me to sit down, and would start to tell me things--things I'd been wanting to know--but he'd get one sentence out, then say, "Oh, excuse me for a minute, I just have to take care of this." Then he'd be off, following a delivery person to take some of what they were bringing for himself, and stashing it away. Again, people were amused by it. This went on for some time, until I got annoyed. He kept telling me to wait, that he was going to finish his thought, but I spent more time waiting, and it seemed unlikely he would resume the conversation. I had noticed that there was an office door with my brother's name on it. (My brother has been dead since 1989.) I told him, "If you want to talk to me, I'll be in my brother's office." He said, "What do you mean, your brother's office?" So, I explained it to him. Later he did come down, and said, "You know, I'm very busy, I don't really have time for this." I replied, "Yes, I know--you're busy spending a lot of time taking things that should be shared with others and keeping them for yourself." I remember that he sort of smirked in his usual way, and that was the end of the dream. The two dreams are related, and the meaning became quite clear to me. The last dream coincided with my last email from him, and thus signaled the end of our friendship.

All of these represent deaths of different kinds--loss of people, beliefs, habits. Often it is for the best, ultimately. Sometimes we waste too much of ourselves on people and situations that leave us stuck. But I think that loss is as much a shattering as it is a void. Something explodes, and despite our best efforts, we don't clean up all the shards. Things reappear--associations we have with people and situations. And we want to be done, we do not want to return to the past. But there may be some fragment of the death, paraphrasing Monty Python, that is "not dead yet". It may not be about the individual or external situation; it is more likely about an internal conflict or belief that we are reluctant to relinquish. When people follow prophets in religious cults who turn out to be false, the belief doesn't go away; it is rationalized into something else. Some battles are too big for us to take on at the time of the death, because more than the external situation is at stake; rationality is no help. They need time and a new opportunity. This is why people speak of "karma" that repeats itself. We did not see then; we might see now.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Wow, I haven't blogged in a long time. It's been a long semester of doctoral work, managing classes, managing my full-time job, and trying to keep up with life in general. Now that things are slowing down for at least a week, I have some time to get back to writing. I hope I can get back into a regular blogging groove, but I can't make promises at the moment. Just check in once in awhile to see what's new if you follow!

What's new with me--I'm working on a chapter for a book project called "Little Horrors", about the notion of children as "monsters" in our modern society, rather than as the paradigm of innocence. When this moves forward and becomes available I will provide an update.

I'm also working on a presentation for the "Supernatural and Folkore in Tradition" conference in the Shetland Islands, March 2014. My talk is about the Jungian Trickster archetype with respect to the traditional "poltergeist". It should be an interesting conference, and my first time seeing the Shetlands. Of course, I still have to pay off the conference, and money is tight now that I'm paying for graduate school AND another car (my 2003 Toyota finally bit the dust in July). To that end, I am selling just about all of my Edward Gorey valuables--you can find them on eBay. First editions, signed copies, all of it. I'm sad to see it go, but it's not doing much on the shelf in my bedroom, either.

So, back to business:

I woke up early this morning to feed Mr. Shiva. It is Saturday, so I have no will to get up and stay up at 4AM. As I was heading back to bed, I noticed a yellow spider on the wall near the light switch. Spiders always seem to breed in old country houses, and this was one of many varieties that suddenly appears out of nowhere. The random appearance of living creepy-crawlies makes it easy to imagine where the notion of "spontaneous generation" came from among ancient philosophers.

I found myself thinking, "What is the meaning of a spider?" Joseph Campbell immediately came to mind, when Bill Moyers asked him about the "meaning" of life. He responded, "What is the meaning of a flower? What is the meaning of a flea?" It doesn't have a "meaning"--it just "is".

Yet, if I think about how this question is pursued, someone would suggest that the purpose of a spider is to keep certain bug populations down, to create a balance in the ecosystem. Some spiders protect plants and are good for gardens. I'm sure we could think of a "reason" for poisonous spiders as well. What occurred to me about this is that we tend to think of things in terms of function. You get a college degree that is "useful", not something that will waste your time "navel-gazing". Everything is about "return on investment". What are you, as a citizen, contributing to society? Are you useful? What happens when you're not useful anymore? Once something--or someone--ceases to provide a function or service, they are discarded.

It seems clear to me that this is an outgrowth of a cultural myth/metaphor that compares man, and life, to a machine. This is a metaphor that's been around at least since the Industrial Revolution. In a corporate or factory environment, one is thought of as a "cog" in the wheel that drives the turbine. Many of our science fiction television programs and movies include the idea of androids or robots, we talk about artificial intelligence and its uses, and in our high-tech world there are talks of brain implants and other chips that previously would have been the domain of the crazy conspiracy theorist.

But let's talk about the crazy conspiracy guy for a second. Why is that such a common theme with those suffering with some variety of paranoid schizophrenic illness? Why not, say, goblins spying on them, or succubi draining them of their life, their thoughts? I would suggest it is because (as Jung suggests) the schizoid is in touch, maybe even lost, in the collective. And this notion of the human machine is deeply embedded in our modern collective psyche.

Another common notion that I've mentioned before is the zombie metaphor. We have a thing about zombies in movies and on television. Our zombies are somewhat believable in the sense that they are usually individuals infected with a virus that turns them into mindless undead devouring creatures.

So, what do zombies, androids, robots, and chip-implanted cyborg humans have in common? They act automatically, without real consciousness or thought. They just do what they do, whether "useful" or destructive (or both). I think the dominance of these metaphors has come out of our reaction to Descartes' famous "cogito ergo sum". When you say, "I think, therefore I am," consciousness is about, in the words of my current professor, "what's from the neck up." We have identified consciousness with the mind, which we associate with the brain. Modern neuroscience and neuropsychiatry works on the hypothesis that our consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. The focus is always on motor functions, memory, and reason. Why? Because these are the "useful" things. There is some research into emotions, but these are seen more as an embarrassing byproduct.

In short--our whole scientific conception of life is that of a machine, or perhaps a zombie. We have been instilled with the belief that we are no more than (in Lewis Black's phrasing) "meat with eyes". If you go back to what I've said about life having to sustain itself through death, and feeding on itself, it's not hard to see how the zombie reflects the terror that we may be just mindless devouring sacks of flesh.

It is also reflected in our social attitudes. Those who have the most money, according to another cultural belief, work the hardest. The poor, the elderly, and disabled aren't "useful"--they are a burden on the system. Indeed, for all of the pro-life rhetoric, most pro-life politicians would put children in this category as well. They are a burden on the system, they require education and health care and food and shelter, and they can't provide these things for themselves. To be "meaningful" is to have money, and it is assumed that the monied are also the "productive". The monied are not necessarily productive; they are often just clever manipulators, or were born into having it. It's a case of Odysseus winning Achilles' armor over Ajax in the Iliad; Ajax believes Odysseus doesn't deserve it, because he is a manipulator rather than a real warrior in his eyes. But the very notion of manipulation doesn't work in a man/machine scheme--that requires a certain kind of intelligence not measured by motor skills, though perhaps by reason to a certain degree. So, we tend to think of those folks as "productive" or at least being reasonable enough to be successful in the system. (This only works if the manipulator has money--if they are poor and do this, they are cheaters who should be jailed immediately.)

This is the extreme absurdity of assuming that "meaning" has to do with "function". It is understandable that for a society to work, everyone needs to contribute. But we're not machines. Spirituality suggests that societies work best when everyone shares, and treats everyone else with equal respect. This is why "good works" are often foundational, even in churches that believe in predestination. The difference is the truly human one--if you respect someone else, if you have empathy and compassion for their situation, you are moved to help. If you are angry and going to strike someone, your sense of self-reflection and conscience makes you stop and think before you act. A machine does not do this. A machine just charges ahead mindlessly with whatever task they are programmed to do. Anything outside of that causes a malfunction.

We start to lose our humanity when we are too "driven" by ambition of any kind. That single-mindedness makes us forget others. I was floored when a good friend of mine, who had relentlessly pursued the same goal for years, suddenly stopped. Her whole manner was different--she was more relaxed, she could think clearly, she was concerned about those around her. Before that, she would charge right past someone speaking to her, totally unaware of their presence, because she was so lost in her own focus on the "goal". This happens a lot to people; probably all of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. Some crisis is usually what brings about the change, and hopefully the healing.

So, back to our spider. I don't know the meaning of a spider. The spider just "is", like everything else. Understanding the world is not about "how", it is not utilitarian. It is practical and useful to know "how"--science is important in this regard. But it does not corner the market on the truth of all existence. Knowing that the blue sky is caused by light refraction doesn't make the blue sky any less beautiful or mysterious. It doesn't make this whole lot any less mysterious. And that is the real role of myth and religion--to experience and negotiate the wonder of existence, both positive and negative.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Lottery (Shirley Jackson)

On Thursday, I went to a session for Mythology instructors at the university where I teach. We discussed many procedural and technical things, but one thing that came up in several conversations was understanding that “myth” does not mean “untrue” or “fictional”. The assertion that “myth is making a comeback” usually gets the rejoinder, “it never really left”. Myth informs all of our beliefs, experiences, and interpretations of the world. It comes in many guises—propaganda, popular culture, stereotypes, and tradition, to name a few. If my students come away with nothing else, I want them to understand how they are often unconsciously affected by myth. If you are asked about a particular behavior or custom, and your response is, “that’s just how it is”, then you’re unconsciously playing out a mythical narrative.

“The Lottery” is a classic story that puts tradition in our faces, and is metaphorical of the horrific consequences of blindly following tradition. Shirley Jackson has always been adept at the best kind of horror, the psychological thriller. The movie “The Haunting” is based on another of her short stories, “The Haunting of Hill House”. If you’ve never seen this movie, see the 1963 original rather than the 1999 remake. (The last time I saw this movie it was projected on the side of a mausoleum at Forgotten Hollywood Cemetery in Los Angeles, which was a weird experience.) One does not need scary-looking monsters, chainsaw killers, or zombies to be scared out of their wits. “The Haunting” leaves us unsure if the house is haunted, or if this is some kind of weird projection of the main character’s own neurotic condition.

“The Lottery” begins normally enough, on a beautiful summer’s day, and the lottery is clearly a big event, but the ritualistic, traditional procedure for holding the lottery tells you that this is not the Pick-Six or the Powerball. The lottery is, for this town and many others, an ancient tradition. The names are put into a black box, and even that is venerated as a sacred object. It is falling apart, but it seems taboo to replace it. All families participate, and the heads of families draw from the box.

There is talk while the drawing is going on of abolishing the lottery. Someone mentions that many towns have stopped doing it. But this idea is quickly put down—they are fools to give up the tradition—it can lead to no good. An early mention of the harvest in connection with the lottery gives it a sort of pagan feel, a la “The Wicker Man”. Much of the to-do during the drawing of lots is from Tessie Hutchinson, who feels that her husband did not have enough time to choose properly from the box. She must have had a premonition, because she was the lottery winner. The people promptly picked up rocks and stoned her to death, so that they could get home in time for lunch.

This disturbing narrative is meant to show us the pitfalls of blindly following tradition. The ritual of stoning the woman to death is reminiscent of old “scapegoating” rituals, the basis of many human sacrifice rituals. The person is an offering to make the harvest fruitful, to take the collective blame for the sins of the citizenry. The fact that this takes place in a more modern time, with such nonchalance, should give us pause about the kinds of beliefs that we have that are harmful to others. When we treat a particular group as inferior because “that’s what the Bible says”, or “that’s the way God intended it”, or, “that’s just the way it’s always been”, it would be worthwhile to read this story, and reflect on it. While no one may be literally stoned to death (though some communities would advocate the death of those who are different), we can do harm to others by making stereotypical assumptions. Continued racial and gender conflicts in our society are sufficient evidence of this.

The collective action of the community is also something that seems out of joint in the modern world, where the freedom of the individual is of the highest value. The development of ego-consciousness was a bastion against blood ritual—there was no need to protect the tribe from numinous forces. The individual identity fights this battle on its own, albeit in a pluralistic collective context. We have not stopped being one group of humans, but we do not all share a common belief, language, or purpose. Some aspects of our being are collective, but our societies are made up of individuals. Hence, the stoning of Tessie Hutchinson just seems senseless and barbaric.

In one of my conversations on Thursday, we discussed why it is that people persist in beliefs that have been disestablished by facts. People don’t think rationally; they think mythically, and certain types of mythical thinking need to be balanced with rationality. One’s story is tied up with one’s identity, and simply stating facts is not enough to change the story. Individuals have to change their own stories, or find new ones that are more suited to contemporary society. As Jung said, it is only individuals who can change collective consciousness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Standard of Living (Dorothy Parker)

Dorothy Parker had a way of saying things that was metaphorically clear, and like a slap in the face. Her brutal satire was a reflection of her personal unhappiness, and her expression was absolutely brilliant. Some of my favorite expressions from her include, “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice,” “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to,” and “I require three things in a man; he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”

“The Standard of Living” is a Parker short-story that focuses on two stenographers, Annabel and Midge. (Does anyone do stenography anymore?) Her description of their tea room lunch leaves one feeling ill: “Usually they ate sandwiches of spongy new white bread greased with butter and mayonnaise; they ate thick wedges of cake lying wet beneath ice cream and whipped cream and melted chocolate gritty with nuts.” It sounds almost pornographic, and incredibly unappetizing, like someone describing sex as it actually is, and not as it is in romance novels.

The two girls are best friends, and are portrayed as an incredibly shallow couple of floozies. “They looked conspicuous, cheap, and charming.” The core of their friendship is around a game that involves deciding what they would buy if they inherited a million dollars, and couldn’t spend it on anything for anyone else. They had gotten into quarrels over speculative purchases. One day they are walking down Fifth Avenue, and decide to go into a high-class jewelry store and ask the price on an emerald necklace. They find out it is $250,000. They leave in a huff, and the two of them are now disjointed and discombobulated as they walk down the street. Annabel then proposes a new game, where the ante is upped from a million dollars to ten million dollars.

The relationship of the girls is entirely material and superficial. There is no basis for the friendship except shopping, and coveting expensive clothes and jewelry. In her usual way, Parker cuts right to the heart of stereotypical female friendships; everything is about appearance and conspicuous consumption. There are no discussions of thoughts, feelings, or anything at all that relates to the world beyond that. The men in their lives are accessories; they are dating different ones every night, though Parker notes that “there really wasn’t much difference” in the different men.

I reflected on the time period in which Parker was writing; this piece was published in the New Yorker in 1941. When I think about the prevalence of things like “charm schools” at that time, there is an implicit criticism of women as living dolls, to be dressed up and looked at. Like children, they are to be seen, and not heard, and should have nothing of any consequence to say.

I could not imagine someone with Parker’s personality fitting into this milieu of women. I fully sympathize with her on this point, as I find myself with little to say to women (or men) who make exclusively superficial conversation. The equivalent, perhaps, is the man you meet in the bar who brags about his car and his stock portfolio. It says nothing, and means nothing.

Most people seem to find Parker either hilarious or offensive, and I would suggest that she is a bit of both. Satire is a bittersweet medicine that is necessary for us to see the absurdity of the “normal”.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ghosts (Lord Dunsany)

There are many varieties of "ghost" story, and not all ghost stories are about ghosts. The reality of ghosts cannot be separated from psychology, as they are "psyche" phenomena regardless of any independent existence that they may or may not have. I read Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett)'s story "Ghosts" last night, based purely on the title. Dunsany was part of the Abbey Theatre circle in Dublin, and was friends with many of the great literary figures of his time. He was related to Oliver Plunkett, the sainted Bishop of Armagh, and was friends with the likes of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. The story is about a house in Oneleigh, where the narrator visits his brother and has a quarrel with him. The house has all the traditional "haunted house" elements, with the howling winds outside, dark corners, and deathlike stillness in certain parts of the house. There is of course a "door that hasn't been opened", and "spiders watching by the deathbeds of yore". In short, the house is a troubled psyche, and the room is an entrance to the collective unconscious, where we encounter long-forgotten history.

In this room, the narrator sees spirits, and near them dogs that represent their sins. The dogs take notice of him, and circle around him, and their influence preys on his weaknesses, and gives him the urge to kill his brother. So, now we are dealing with the Shadow--and the Shadow is always the first archetype encountered on such a journey. He chooses dogs as his symbol, and "dog" is certainly the reverse of "god". One might also think of the hounds of Hell, or Cerberus at the gates of Hades. Nonetheless it is a confrontation with his own darkness, and his undeveloped emotions.

Our narrator then begins to do a geometric proof. When he completes the theorem, all of the ghosts melt away, the room is empty, and he realizes the absurdity of killing his brother. Rationality and logic dispel the demons of the unconscious. A rather tidy ending, and an interesting way of trying to synthesize rationality and irrationality.

But is this really a synthesis? It plays up to the belief that we've held since at least the 19th century, that Reason will triumph and all old ghost stories and superstitions will just disappear in a puff of smoke. It is good that the narrator has talked himself out of murdering his brother rationally. But the ghosts don't really disappear. They may go away for the time being, but they will always reappear. Even in the Gigantomachy of Greek mythology, Zeus battles Typhon, the dragon, but doesn't actually kill the dragon--he simply banishes it to the depths of the Earth. The brighter our light shines, the darker our shadow behind us. These things don't go away, and the idea that Reason will conquer all is as absurd as thinking that paying for indulgences will get you to "Heaven".

Monday, August 19, 2013

Graven Images (O'Hara)

Politics are not logical. We often think of politicians as hypocritical, self-serving, and corrupt. In many cases, we would be right. Even politicians who start out with big visions of making a difference end up disillusioning us by failing to make any real change. But political debate that leads to reasonable results that represent the people is an ideal at best, especially in this day and age. It is largely about who you know, whose side you're on, and in some cases, how much money you have.

John O'Hara's story "Graven Image" is about politics. A man called Browning meets at an exclusive Washington club with a man only known as the Under Secretary. He is looking for a job, knows exactly what he wants, and believes correctly that the Under Secretary can help him. But there is one odd thing that stands in the way. Browning is obviously a member of a secret society that he only refers to as the "Pork". The Under Secretary had sought admission to this club at one time, but was rejected. This is an obvious sore spot that Browning has to handle with diplomatic grace, which he does--at least initially. At the request of the Under Secretary, he pulls out a keyring that has a small, golden pig suspended from it. And here we have the "graven image", loaded with obvious associations of greed. The Beatles were not the first to think of "rich white piggies".

The magic of the graven image gets Browning what he wants, until he lets it slip that the Under Secretary never could have hoped to be admitted to that society, and the whole deal falls apart in that moment, a hallucinatory puff of smoke. Here today, and gone five minutes later.

At a dinner with friends the other night, someone brought up the behaviors of the upper and upper-middle classes. She found their behavior to be unnatural--almost every normal subject is taboo, especially among women. I recalled an expensive lunch at an upper class club, where no topic was appropriate except gardening. There is a lack of familiarity, as though their status must act as a wall keeping out any normal interactions with "regular" people. They seem to have a language all their own that is adept at saying nothing at all about anything of importance. My friend noted that the more she learned about the actual lives of the upper class women, the freakier it got. The kinds of life issues that hid behind mansion doors was crazier than anyone could imagine, and not in a fun way. Like any group, it's impossible to make a generalization based on our limited experience. But this weird social etiquette does exist, regardless of what it may or may not hide.

I thought of this with regard to Browning's failure. He continually "plays the game" with the Under Secretary, and does well. He falls when he decides to talk to the Under Secretary as though he is a regular person, a good friend willing to look at past failures. This moment of familiarity loses him the thing he is seeking. Browning is like a magician that is seeking material rather than spiritual results. His golden pig has a totemistic quality; it is something clearly coveted by the Under Secretary, a sign of status and power. Magic "performed" for material ends is usually less than satisfactory, even if someone gets what they want. And politics is this kind of magic--a jumble of words that have no meaning to ordinary people, that brings about dubious material results. This kind of success is short-sighted and illusory, and perhaps that is the moral of this story. What one gains through such manipulation can be lost in a moment.

Of course, the story could be a reflection of O'Hara's own graven image of a secret society--Yale University. O'Hara was an American writer who had great academic promise, but was unable to afford Yale when his father died an untimely death. It was a sore spot to him the rest of his life, and may have affected his personality. He was described as "irascible" and bad-tempered. Yale apparently refused to give him an honorary degree because he wanted it. While psychologizing an author's motives is not usually useful, there might be an obvious parallel here to the thorn in O'Hara's side.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Ireland Day 12: Coole and Craggaunowen

Today is the last Ireland day I will report on, as we head to Shannon Airport bright and early tomorrow morning.

Galway is a delightful city--it has the tourism, the diversity, the history, and the amenities of a place like Dublin or London, but on a smaller scale. I walked through many crowds in the Galway streets, but nowhere did I feel the push of crowds like I did in Dublin. Galway is also easier to navigate--I was able to find my way around the space between the 3 bridges across the Corrib with ease, and without really needing to consult a map. On this particular morning, our driver told us that we didn't need to be on the bus until 11:30, so I had time to take a long walk along the river, and to investigate more of the town.

Once we were on the bus, we headed to Coole, which was Lady Gregory's estate. Lady Gregory was a great friend of William Butler Yeats, and it is her book of Celtic Mythology that is the most well known. She apparently had been on the Aran Islands, and while caught there in stormy weather, came to realize that there was an entire Irish culture that was almost unknown. It was through her that Gaelic schools were started in association with the Gaelic league, though she is also very well-known for her role in founding Dublin's Abbey Theatre, and writing many plays that were produced there. One surprising thing I did not know about her was that her husband was William Gregory, who introduced the hated "Gregory Clause", which forced many Irish tenants to give up their land and emigrate to Canada. If they did not give up their land, they would be given no hunger assistance. If it's not obvious, this was during the years of An Gorta Mor.

The grounds of the estate were mostly in ruin, as the house was destroyed foolishly after Lady Gregory's death, because of sentiments against her husband. The great irony is that Lady Gregory was a key player in the revival of Irish history and culture. In the end she had to sign over the estate to the government, and leased it back for £100 a year. Among the tree-lined walkways around the house is the autograph tree, a copper beech onto which many of her illustrious visitors carved their initials. William Butler Yeats was the first.

After lunch at Coole, we headed off to Craggaunowen, which is a re-creation of an Iron Age village, and also contains Craggaunowen Castle, a tower house from the 17th century. After it was built, the house was taken by Oliver Cromwell and his cronies, and later housed a collection of ancient artifacts now held elsewhere. Our guide was a young woman who looked so remarkably like my friend Ann, I had to do a double take. She's also the only person I encountered that said "ye" instead of "you", and she was not being dramatic. We started by visiting a replica of St. Brendan's boat, created and sailed to prove that the myth of St. Brendan crossing the Atlantic and being the first to discover America could be true. There was a replica of an Iron Age ring fort, and we all took turns risking our various phobias by passing through the souterrain. This is an underground passage used for food storage, and for hiding when invaders attacked. It is accessed by a rather dubious looking ladder, and I might have avoided it, except that it didn't go down very far. When I remarked that I was afraid of heights, one of our group, Gabriel, remarked, "That's okay, those are depths."

We also saw a Fullacht Fiadh, which means something like " boiling pit of the deer". Venison was cooked in these pits, by filling them with water and adding sizzling hot rocks. Bill commented that he'd seen a demonstration of this, and it worked incredibly well, even though you would think the hot rocks would be cooled by the water. We also saw a replica of a crannog (which is made up of two Irish words meaning "young willow"). These were artificial islands created about 100 meters offshore, and constructed with wattles. The only entrances were by boat or by a set of stepping stones, whose configuration was only known to the family that lived there. Fencing around the crannog was spiked wood, so that invaders could not easily climb over the fence. And there was a watchtower, so that anyone coming towards the crannog could be seen. These were lived in until the 17th century.

At the end of the tour, we had a snack before getting back on the bus. As I was walking towards the bus, I was behind a family with a boy who could not have been more than two years old. He was banging on a drum that was purchased in the souvenir shop. I think he was good enough to have a future career as a Druid bard. Or would, if such positions still existed.

Craggaunowen was our last stop on the tour. We headed to Ennis, and there is a musical pub night at the Copper Jug, which I've skipped on account of us needing to be up tomorrow at 5:30 to head to Shannon Airport. My flight doesn't leave until 12:30, so I will have some quality time in the airport before leaving.

If I had to give an overall impression of the trip, it would be an emotional one. I don't talk much about feelings stirred here, but I found many places struck an emotional chord with me. Being with a group had its advantages and disadvantages, as I mentioned previously. While there are many beautiful places here, and I will certainly come back, it will be nice to get home to my house and my cat. It will not be nice, however, to get back to New Jersey summer weather. I will miss the cool Irish summer days.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Ireland Day 11: Ceide Fields and Galway

We left the hotel in Ballina around 10:00 in the morning, and headed first for the Ceide Fields. This is a mesolithic and neolithic site, showing old walls that surrounded pre-historic communities. These were found underneath layers of peat in the bog, and explains why some stones look so white in the walls. The rocks are largely sandstone, and were used to keep in cattle and to keep them out of the house areas. The Mesolithic people were hunter gatherers, while the Neolithic people were farmers. It was from this period onward that the land was impacted. The earliest people came about 9,000 years ago.

The tour was longer than expected, and we needed to get moving to get to Galway. There was some grumbling about the tour guide--she was incredibly repetitive, giving us the same information over and over unnecessarily. I think Bill was ready to throw himself off the cliff. While on the pathway, we did see a lot of interesting flora--spotted orchids, bog cotton, flax, and two different carnivorous flowers called sundew and I think butterwort. These latter flowers capture and eat flies, even though they don't look so ferocious.

On a side note, I find that going through Ireland gives me quite a refresher in the Irish language. I took about a year and a half of Irish lessons with a local woman from Flemington, who was from Ireland, though I don't remember what part. I remember very little of what she taught me, though many phrases look familiar. For instance, "Slí Amach" means "Way Out", while "Fáilte Isteach" means "Welcome, come in". "Slán Abhaile" means "Safe home", which is surprisingly written on motorway signs.

On the road to Galway, our bus driver played a narration of a story by Edward Kelley, a shanachie who died a few years ago. The shanachie is a storyteller, or "teller of old stories". The story he played for us was one about a priest coming for a "station" to the house of mourners at a wake. This was before Mass was regularly celebrated at a church. It was raining, and the priest came with an umbrella, which they had never seen before. He had put the opened umbrella on the floor while all duties were done, and when he finally had to leave, the people were secretly relieved, because "they wouldn't get out the bottle until he had left." After being walked to the road, he asked for his umbrella. Larry, the one attending to the priest in the story, went back to retrieve it, but he didn't know how to close it. So, he removed the door hinges, the door frame, and was about to take the cornerstone from the house, when the priest came to see what was the matter, closed it with ease, and left. Larry turned to the group and said, "Say what you like, he has special powers".

The road to Galway was long, and we ended up stopping in a town called Ballinrobe to use toilets and grab a quick bite or a cup of coffee. I stopped in O'Connell's for a pint, and looked in vain for an open chemist shop. Most things in small towns are closed on Sundays.

We finally arrived in Galway around 4:00, and about half our group went on a boat tour of the River Corrib. This took about an hour and a half, and included a free Irish coffee for our group. What I didn't realize was that the Irish coffee was made by Róisín Sweeney, who had the title of Powers Irish Coffee Making Champion for 2011. (Whether she still holds the title, I don't know).

Along the way, we saw many ruined castles and Iron Age sites, as we headed towards Loch Corrib. The very first ruin was of a stronghold belonging to the DeBurgos, which was later known as the Burke family. Apparently there was a scene between the DeBurgos and the O'Flaherties. The O'Flaherties were tenants of the DeBurgos, but when the landlords demanded rent, they invited one of them down to a feast, and then beheaded him. They sent the head back to the landlord house with a note, "Here is your year's rent". I have to say that I only know 2 Flahertys, and I like both of them very much. So, no hard feelings.

Róisín not only showed us how to make perfect Irish coffee, but showed us how to do an Irish dance that I think is called the Siege of Ennis. She needed 4 male volunteers and 3 female--from our group, I volunteered, and so did Gabriel, one of the few men on our tour. I ended up dancing with a total stranger, but it was a lot of fun, and I was told that both photo and video exist, so perhaps these will go up at some point. The day has been the warmest so far, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the boat tour we checked into our hotel, and went our separate ways for dinner and exploration. I found a great little place called the High Street Cafe--it was in an upstairs, fairly busy, but not too busy compared to the rest of the shopping and pedestrian district near Eyre Square. There were comfortable chairs, Moroccan tea, candles, and the most delicious Italian food I've had in a long time, and it was very inexpensive. It was a good opportunity to relax and finish a book that I was reading. After dinner I visited a couple of other pubs in the area, with my favorite being a very quiet pub across the street from our hotel. I realize that weekend nights are noisy, but I prefer a place that is more laid back.

In the last pub, I enjoyed a glass of Hennessy's rather than Guinness. The gent next to me was watching a farming show on the TV. He laughed and said "I really hate the English accent. It sounds so...public school." Further conversation revealed that his grandfather had come for a long weekend to Galway in 1950, and he never bothered going home. I asked him more about that, but he said the history was hazy to him. After a short chat, some friends of his arrived, so I headed back to my hotel, where the temperature control on the shower was broken and I had to call service. That, and the Internet connection, which shows full signal, is not working. But, I eventually got the shower working, and if you get to read this by 5PM U.S. East Coast time, then I will have gotten the Internet working.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we are heading to Ennis. Til then...

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Ireland, Day 10: County Mayo and Connemara

This morning we left Bundoran quite early--luggage had to be on the bus by 8:45, and we were supposed to leave by 9. As a rule, we tend to leave about 15 minutes late every day. Part of it is misunderstandings--for instance, today many of the girls thought that the bus left at 9:30. The other is that the bus clock is a little bit fast. Still, we've gotten everywhere we needed to go in reasonable time, so it's not been terrible.

It's probably a good time to talk about the pros and cons of bus touring. The plus is having a knowledgeable guide, and being able to go to places that you might not get to see as an individual, unless you were willing to go out of your way. The main "con" is a lack of freedom--you are on a schedule, have a certain amount of time in each place, and then you have to leave again at an appointed time. There have been many places where I would have preferred to hang out for hours, and then maybe get a pint locally and bring a book to read. But that isn't possible on a tour. The other thing--which could be a pro or con depending--is that you are obviously a tourist when you come off the bus. My general traveling rule when I'm abroad is to try to blend in. Certainly I don't have an Irish brogue, so I can still be picked out. But I like to feel like I'm participating in the landscape in some respect, not just gawking at it. I'm not complaining though; everyone on this tour is very nice, no one is really out of line, and it gives me a good introduction to a possible future trip on my own.

One thing I didn't mention from the previous night is that I finally tried black pudding for the first time at La Sabbia's. Paddy had it as an appetizer, on what looked like small slices of Italian bread and some cheese on the top. It was the most delicious thing I've had, ever--I don't even care what's in it, it was SO good. I will keep that in mind the next time we have a full Irish, though I'm not sure if the black pudding will be of the same quality as that of La Sabbia. Still...

The itinerary for the day ended up being changed, because our hotel was changed by the tour group. Originally we were supposed to stay in Westport, but we were switched to a hotel in Ballina, the Downhill Hotel (which doesn't sound good, but is actually a gorgeous hotel). I was a little disappointed about not being able to spend time in Westport--we drove through it and it looked like an amazing town with lots to do. The Irish Times took a survey, and apparently it was voted the best place to live in Ireland. I couldn't speak to that, but I definitely wanted to visit.

Our first stop of the day was Turlough Park. This was just supposed to be a quick bathroom stop, but our driver thought it would be a good place for us to check out, and he was right. It is a folk life museum of Ireland, and shows the clothing, the basket weaving, the thatching, and all of the other crafts that the Irish had to be "handy" at on a day-to-day basis. What was most amazing was that they had videos from the 1930s of residents thatching roofs, making baskets, making fire fuel out of slurry, and so forth. We would have liked to have spent a lot more time there. As I was heading back upstairs, my roommate Deborah stopped me, and asked if I'd seen the whole Brigid exhibit downstairs. I hadn't, so I wandered down to see it, and was glad I did.

A bit of background--Brigid is the saint whose popularity is only rivaled by St. Patrick. However, Celtic Christianity tended to blend the old and the new--old pagan customs were interwoven into the new religion. Before being considered a bishop and a saint, Brigid was a fire goddess to the Celts. I was fascinated to see that they had an old-time video of the Brigid festival of February 2, which we know as Imbolc, Candlemas, or St. Brigid's Day. In this case, the family was praying the rosary when a young girl came in holding a bhrideog--a straw effigy of Brigid. The museum had two bhrideogs on display. This is reminiscent of the ancient pagan ceremony, where the exact same thing happened, except that it honored the goddess Brigid, who was bringing the first light at what was the beginning of Celtic spring. "Imbolc" has to do with lambs being born, so this was connected with the beginnings of new life. I have some pictures of myself next to this display, though I can't post them at this time (good old 35mm single use cameras...).

The Turlough Park is on a property owned by the DeBurghos, which is the Burke family. So, this was really a place that I could connect with, at least in terms of names. In spite of the sunny forecast, it started pouring rain, so we got back on the bus and headed down to Croagh Patrick--the holy mountain of Saint Patrick that pilgrims climb. There are still some who make the climb in their bare feet, though this is discouraged. The sun did come out for this part of the trip, so we got some good pictures of the mountain. This was mainly a lunch stop, so we got to see the natural beauty of the area, and go across the street to see John Behran's famine memorial commissioned by the Republic. This particular famine memorial is quite disturbing, showing a coffin ship with rotting skeletons. Coffin ships were the ones that took many Irish overseas to Canada mainly, as the U.S. had certain standards for ships entering their ports. Often the people had no fresh food or water for 14 weeks, and many died. About half of those who came over to escape the famine died on these ships.

On the way out of the famine memorial area, I saw some beautiful red and purple flowers. Jodie thought they might be fuschia, as they were not bleeding hearts, though similarly structured.

We then headed through County Mayo, towards the place where Connemara marble is mined, and the Daniel O'Hara homestead is located. It was a LOT of driving--the homestead was 2 hours from Croagh Patrick. I think I slept through most of it, which was a shame, because the scenery was gorgeous. The weather flipped from being sunny to being rainy, and the mountains were often covered in thick fog. And of course, there were sheep everywhere.

At the Daniel O'Hara homestead, we were taken up on a bus pulled by a tractor to the mountain top. Our guide explained that this was the western-most part of Europe. He told us about the radio tower created by Marconi not far below, and noted that the some of the first transatlantic planes landed here. The radio area was destroyed during the Anglo-Irish war, when the British tried to use it to send for reinforcements against the rebels. At the homestead itself, the guide explained that Dan O'Hara's story was that of 65,000 others. The landlords of the estates would evict the tenants, set the roof of the house on fire, and push the walls in. The tenants then often got on the coffin ships to the new world. There is a famous song about Dan O'Hara, selling matches on a street corner in America:

Sure it' poor I am today,
For God gave and took away,
And left without a home poor Dan O'Hara
With these matches in my hand,
In the frost and snow I stand
So it's here I am today your brokenhearted

The English tried to get rid of Irish culture, and their way of life, because they didn't understand it. The first thing Cromwell tried to ban was the drinking, because he thought the drinking made them fight the way they did. But the Irish are of Celtic heritage, and don't fight like the English. This was Napoleon's mistake, as Wellington, despite the British uniform, was an Irishman. The fact that Irish culture has survived is a testament to the strength of the Irish people, and a lesson to the world. We ended our visit with a shot of Irish whiskey (Uisce beatha, the water of life), and a toast that went something like this:

Many blessings from my heart
And to our friends
I wish them well
And to those who don't like us
They can go to hell

After the tour, I bought myself a ring containing Connemara marble. The tour guide told me that the marble is about 900 million years old.

Another two hours of driving, and we ended up at our hotel. After enjoying some O'Hara's barrel aged series of Leann Follain Irish Stout, it was time for an early bed and a book. Only two more days to our trip.

Ireland Day 9: Sliabh Liag, Glencolmcille, and Donegal

For the first time this week, the clouds broke early and it was a warm, sunny day in Western Ireland. The high temperature here is usually about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, though I've heard it gets up to 80 degrees on occasion. It appears that it will be this way for the rest of the trip, so it should be smooth sailing.

We drove about an hour and a half south to Sliabh Liag, or Slieve League as it's known in English. While driving through Donegal, our driver pointed out the Gaeltacht areas. In the Republic of Ireland, road signs are in Irish and English. In Northern Ireland, they are in English only. In the Gaelteacht areas, the signs are only in Irish--and in some places, in old Irish. John said that the use of the old alphabet was largely discontinued, as Irish was confusing enough to young people without throwing in the difficulty of the old alphabet.

Sliabh Liag means something like "mountain of flat stones", and it is a tall cliff, much taller than the famous Cliffs of Moher in Southern Ireland. Our guide told us that you could walk across the mountain along the top in about 5 1/2 hours. "You can go to the top to take pictures," he said. "But if your photographer tells you to step back, don't listen to them." Indeed, once you get past the area with a fence, there is a steep rise to the top. Most of us who had a fear of heights didn't go very far past the area with the fence. Really, you could just find a rock to sit on, and enjoy the sound of the ocean along the cliffs. And, there's a truck at the car park that sells ice cream, so of course we all had that as well. The views from Sliabh Liag are spectacular, and we spent more time there than we should. We had to take a shuttle up to the walkway, as our bus never would have cleared those roads.

On the road to Glencolmcille, we passed hundreds of sheep. Like other country places, stepping in sheep crap is always a potential hazard. We were amazed that some sheep were standing right at the edge of the cliffs. But then again, sheep are stupid. Our guide said that there were something like 180,000 people in the area, and about a million sheep. (Yes, that was a joke.) But they were definitely ubiquitous.

Glencolmcille is a recreated folk village in Donegal. A 16-year-old young man gave us a tour of the main buildings, which shows Irish homes from the 1650s to about the 1950s. There was no electricity in that part of Ireland until 1956, and that was only a few homes--most people didn't have electricity until the 1970s. We had stopped for lunch, and I chatted with the woman in the gift shop. She asked if I had any Irish ancestry. When I told her that I was from the Burke family, she exclaimed, "Oh, from this area? We have a lot of Burkes in this area." I told her that I was told that my great-grandfather came from Dublin, but that my information is not particularly reliable, so I don't know if that's true. The other woman in the store said, "Oh, well you've got the dark hair and blue eyes, you're one of us anyway." The two women chatted to themselves in Irish, which made this the first time we heard anyone really converse in the language.

The Irish do have a few English expressions that I've noticed. They do say "Tis" out here, as in "Tis a mild day today." When they say "thank you", it's "thanks a million." Instead of "lovely" or "brilliant", they usually say "grand".

We ended our day in Donegal town. There was a tour of Donegal Castle, but I headed for a bookstore to poke around, as if I need to put any more books in my suitcase. The religion section was entirely Catholic, as you might expect, and any materials on other religions were usually some kind of apologetic material warning against them, which is a bit surprising. The Irish myth and folklore section was best, and I ended up with another book of fairy stories from there. I headed over to the pub for a pint, and the locals were anxious to strike up conversation. One red-headed gentleman asked me, "So, are you here with your husband?" I said, "No, I'm here with a tour group. I ditched the husband 10 years ago." He said, "Oh! Then I should go home and put on some cologne." We talked about New Jersey, and the Jersey Shore (he swore it was a TV show and not a place), and mentioned something about Jersey women and big boobs. I said, "Oh, well, you won't find those here." They were betting on horses in the bar, and when he got up to place his bet, the female bartender shook her head. "He's full of some good craic, he is."

I headed back to the bus, as we didn't have a whole lot of time. The place was packed with tourists--the man in the bar told me that there was a festival going on up the street, so apparently everyone was there for that. They don't usually get that many tourists, apparently.

Our night finished up in La Sabbia, where we had another excellent meal, and entertainment was "open mic", where all of us got up and sang or recited something. Kat and I went first, doing our off the cuff rendition of The Philosopher's Drinking Song. Others did more contemporary songs, or ones they wrote themselves. My roommate Deborah came up with another great song about Kathy (who found a used condom in her room, after her experience of being flashed by a leprechaun in a kilt in Dublin), and a group of women having a birthday party in the back, came out and started dancing in a big circle. They sang a few songs themselves, and we sang happy birthday to the two women sharing a birthday, Theresa and Phyllis. (No, we really don't know either of them, they were just really "full of the craic" as they say.) Niamh had her own wonderful song about tequila and late nights in Irish bars, and she ended up finishing with "American Pie", a song I thought was banned by Bill from this event, but maybe it was because Niamh was performing it. Bill himself had to read from the Gettysburg Address, and we sang a few patriotic songs. The Irish ladies sang their own national anthem. It was great fun, and our last night with Niamh, as our last 3 days are on our own. Next up will be County Mayo, and that is for another day...

Friday, July 05, 2013

Ireland Day 8: An Irish 4th of July

Day 8 of my Ireland trip was July 4, which is Independence Day back home. I had asked Bill what the day's itinerary would be the day before at Brennan's, but he would only say it was a surprise.

I woke up fairly early in the morning after another late night, but it was raining and cold outside. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, and when I awoke again, the sun was out. I put on my sweater and took a walk along the cliffs of Bundoran's beaches. I found a place to mail my last postcard, and picked up the cliff walk near the tourist information center. It was very windy, but the scenery was breathtaking; rock formations, cliffs, and small tidal pools of green and gray water dotted the coastline. There were tall grasses along the edges of the cliffs, and everything bounced and swayed in the breezes. I walked past a small amusement park, and a mini-golf course. On the hill a ways down was a convention center. I was looking for a formation called the Fairy Bridges, and I found it around the corner. As I was approaching the area, the wind howled in such a way that I was reminded of M.R. James' story, "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad." After hearing the wind, all I could think was, "Quis est iste qui venit? (Who is this who is coming?)" The howling wind was followed by a sudden wave of rain, and the wind picked up to what seemed like hurricane force for a few minutes. I made my way to the Fairy Bridges, but had to turn back shortly after. Once I reached the amusement park again, everything had calmed down and the sun was out. Such is the nature of Irish weather, at least on the coast.

We got onto the tour bus at 11:00, and we ended up at a place called Ulster American Folk Park. Many American presidents' families came from the Ulster area, and the museum itself is basically a museum of Irish emigration. Much of it happens to be to the United States. The setup is like a Colonial Williamsburg, with replica houses from the period, as well as replica storefronts with antique bottles and boxes of the period. There is also a replica of a ship that took Irish emigrants to Canada and the United States in 1816. The guide stood in front of rather small bunk beds, and said that there were 4 or 5 people to a bed. The food consisted of a dry granola-like porridge, and possibly salted fish if the person was lucky. The average voyage was 3 months. If someone died, they were thrown overboard, as they would not be allowed to dock with dead bodies on board. The guide asked about our Irish background, and when I told him I was a Burke, he mentioned the famous philosopher Edmund Burke. "Edmund was my great-grandfather's name," I told him. "But he definitely wasn't that guy."

We saw a re-enactment of a skirmish from 1776 in Upstate New York, with the Iroquois supporting the British troops. They fought against the colonists because they were concerned about their own freedom. As one of our group said later, "Their concerns were obviously well-founded." A few of us stuck around for a re-enactment of the 1776 reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was dramatized complete with Loyalist opponents. This was supposed to be the re-enactment of a reading in Easton, Pennsylvania (which they incorrectly indicated as being close to Philadelphia, when it's at least an hour away from there, but let's not split hairs.) It's always interesting to see American history from the point of view of other countries, and certainly they pick up on details that you would not see in American re-enactments. Certainly, in the re-enacted skirmish, the British drove the Patriots to a retreat, which you would not be likely to see in an American re-enactment. It was funny to see re-enactors with their cell phones or digital cameras. It created something of a kitsch factor, but there always is anyway, regardless of where or how it's performed. On the whole, one of our group dubbed it "surreal" to see the Irish re-enacting American history. That was probably a good summary. Easton, PA never looked so good, at least not since I've been there.

I learned that the bus driver was a Morrissey fan, and saw him with the Smiths. Funny, I wouldn't have pegged him as a Morrissey fan. But there it is.

After leaving the park, we went to see St. Patrick's Well, and a cave where Catholics said Mass when their religion was outlawed by the English. The area is very green, and near a rushing river. The place was very beautiful, and had a tremendous feel to it. It was difficult to see the well head, but Niamh showed us where it was, at the edge of a lough. After leaving the well area, we headed into Ballyshannon to check out a store selling locally made crafts, and we stopped for a pint of Donegal Blonde, a new blonde beer brewed locally. The owner told us that they've only been brewing Donegal Blonde for about 5 months. It's very good, especially for those who like lagers. I'm more of a stout/porter type of chick, so the bus driver mentioned the off-licence next door, which had a huge variety of brews from all over. It turns out that the owner of Dicey's Bar (where the Donegal Blonde is brewed) also runs the Off-Licence, so he recommended a new O'Hara special edition stout. I bought a bottle of that, as well as a Belfast Black, which I wanted to try. Both are sitting in my hotel refrigerator as of this writing. I'm sure one will be gone by the time I go to bed.

We returned to Bundoran, where Niamh's husband Paddy had prepared some American barbecue to celebrate the 4th, including burgers, chicken, ribs, and corn on the cob. It was all very good, and I returned to my room feeling stuffed to the gills. I could not help but reflect on the fact that I did more to celebrate Independence Day in Ireland than I do at home. While I might not have chosen to go someplace like the Ulster American park on my own, it proved to be an interesting experience in viewing one's own culture through another lens.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ireland Day 7: Yeats Country

I managed to explore a little bit of Bundoran early Wednesday morning. I found the post office in town, and managed to get a couple of disposable cameras, as my camera battery finally died. Naturally that is the one charger I forgot to bring.

Today's trip was to Yeats country. We started at Drumcliffe, driving past Benbulben Mountain, which is breathtaking. While we drove along, Niamh gave me a short lesson in Irish place names. Anything with "Bally" refers to a town, "Dun" refers to a fort, and "Kil" refers to a church. Town centers are referred to as "an lar".

Drumcliffe was incredibly beautiful. I half expected Yeats' grave to be hidden among the other headstones, but it is right near the church. The church has swan door handles, and if you go inside, you have the opportunity to write down the names of people that you would like the rector to pray for. Outside there is an authentic Celtic Cross, that is also a Christian High Cross, with a carving depicting Adam and Eve and the fall of man. Niamh told me that she once photographed it at sunset on a clear day, and it was spectacular. You can see Benbulben very clearly from the graveyard, and can get some magnificent shots of the mountain. Yeats specifically asked to be buried here, and it's not hard to see why.

We next headed off to the falls at Glencar. Supposedly you can see fairies at the falls. We only took a quick walk up and back, because we had an appointment to take a boat tour on Lough Gill. In the parking lot was an ice cream truck. As I mentioned before, ice cream cones are called "99s", and generally are smaller than the massive American ice cream cones, and have a small flake of chocolate stuck in the side. They are made with fresh cream, and are so much better than any ice cream I've had in the states. We had to enjoy one before getting back on the bus.

At Lough Gill, there are the remains of Parke Castle, and you can take a boat tour around the Lough (Lake). Within this lake area is Innisfree, the isle made famous by Yeats' poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree". They provided us with Lyons gold label tea and some scones with Irish butter as we sailed around the lake for an hour. The guide pointed out various sites, including Innisfree and the cairn at the top of the mountain where Queen Maeve is supposed to be buried--upright, so she can still keep an eye on Ireland. There is also a stone "giant" laying in the mountains with his head in Leitrim and his feet in Sligo. The guide also recited Yeats' poetry as we went along. The "Stolen Child" was recited more than once on the trip, and sticks in my mind:

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand

We took a quick tour of Parke Castle when we got off the boat, as admission was free that day. After taking a group photo and passing a retinue of cute Irish boys, we got back on the bus and headed to Sligo for some shopping. Sligo is another town with a bad reputation that is not deserved. The town is absolutely gorgeous, and the point of the trip was to do some shopping. A couple of us stopped at Hargadon's Pub, where we sampled some Franciscan Well Shandon Stout. Like most microbrewed stouts, it had a bit of a coffee flavor, and was excellent. I finally got myself a new Aran wool sweater from Dooley's, and was able to use my Fexco card, so I can reclaim the tax when I go back to the airport. VAT is very high in Ireland and Britain, so it's worth it if you can do it.

We returned to Bundoran, and I went to dinner with a few people from the trip at Madden's which has excellent food and service. I had to have an Irish coffee, now that I knew it was an Irish invention and not an American one. I went back to the hotel, and ran into Bill, who asked me to pop by Brennan's pub down the street. Brennan is owned by Nan and Patricia, two older ladies whose family has run that pub for 3 generations. Their niece apparently teaches at Drew, and is an assistant department chair at Kean. They were very sweet, and we stayed at talked to each other and the locals until it was nearly closing time. All in all, it was the most satisfying day of the trip so far. But there are still another 5 full days to go.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Ireland Day 6: Giant's Causeway, Dunluce, Derry

Tuesday started out as a reasonably nice day weatherwise, and went downhill from there. We took the long drive from Belfast out to the Giant's Causeway, stopping in Carlough along the Antrim coast for a break in between. The whole coastal road looks like something out of a public television mystery--misty, quaint, antiquated. It took almost 3 hours to get to the Giant's Causeway, and when we arrived, it was pouring rain, cold, and extremely windy. The Giant's Causeway is a series of volcanic rock formations that are alleged to be the handiwork of Finn MacCool, a giant hero who used the rocks to make a road to Scotland to confront another giant. By the time we took the bus out to the Causeway, we immediately wanted to go back. Even those who were well equipped with raincoats and waterproof gear found the weather to be intolerable. Certainly it was too dangerous to go out onto the rocks.

We went to have lunch in a hotel next door, where service was incredibly slow. We ended up having something light, and heading back to the bus. There were an insane amount of people at the Causeway for such a nasty day. Of course, we were among the insane, but when you've come that far, you might as well stay.

Just down the road from the Giant's Causeway is Dunluce Castle, which is built on a cliff. This was the seat of the O'Donnell and MacQuinlan families. It was eventually abandoned when an entire section of the castle fell into the North Atlantic below. The family moved out and into a nearby country house. When the last O'Donnell was pursued and arrested, his wife, the very wealthy Katherine Manners, loaded as many things as she could onto two ships and fled back to England. The armies of the king came and took what she left behind, leaving the place a ruin. The views from the ruined castle are spectacular. The rain had stopped at this point, and we left to head on to the town of Derry, also known as Londonderry to the Protestant/Loyalist faction of town. Our bus driver noted that the song we know as "Danny Boy" is also Derry Air, or Londonderry Air. Our tour guide Bill said that anyone who called it Londonderry Air was not invited to his St. Patrick's Day party. When it was noted that the shorter title invoked thoughts of another word, Bill said, "I don't invite anyone who speaks French, either."

We had a walking tour of Derry with a guide named Ronan, who was a Chinese Irishman. He noted that Derry is 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, "and has one Buddhist". He gave an excellent tour of the area, pointing out the 4 gates of the city that have never been overcome by an army. The area is known for violence from the Troubles; he showed us a statue of Queen Victoria in the Guildhall that was missing parts of her hands, and had the head re-attached after being blown off. There was a major bank robbery next door at the Deutsche Bank, and the robbers were never apprehended. Derry is also the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972. We visited the memorial to those who died in the Bloody Sunday event, and the area is surrounded by wall murals, just as it is in the Shankill and Falls Road area of Belfast. Most of the murals depict those who died in the conflicts, or the major players in Northern Ireland's civil rights movement, like Bernadette Devlin. There is a sign in the Catholic part of town that says "Now entering the Derry Free State". On the Protestant side, there is another mural that suggests persecution of loyalists, saying "never surrender". There are still "peace walls" all over the city, even though the populations mostly get along. When surveyed, most residents said the walls probably weren't ready to come down. When asked when they would be ready, they said, "about 10 years from now." Ronan noted that the question of union with Great Britain versus become part of Ireland was not really a Catholic/Protestant question anymore, it was an economic one. The Irish Republic is broke, while the Great Britain economy is still stable, at least by comparison. Great Britain no longer wants Northern Ireland, but keeps it almost as a tradition. Many services now available would not be available under Irish rule, because there is no money.

From Derry we finally headed out to Bundoran. Even Ronan had asked, "Why are you going there?" Usually it is considered a destination for surfers, as it is near the waterfront. At least one person I know said the town was gorgeous. So, upon arrival, I would have to say that I agree it is a gorgeous town. One travel guide described it as the "Las Vegas of Ireland", and that is a gross overstatement. We met up with Niamh again, and met her husband. He runs a restaurant in town, where we had our welcome dinner. The food was wonderful, as was the ambience. Everyone went to the pub, where we were supposed to learn to pull a pint, but Bill said that would wait until another night. I was finished with drinking, so I went back to my room, which is a very nice suite that I still share with my roommate Deb. The only problem is that we have one key between us. Apparently the family staying here before us walked off with two room keys, and will be mailing them back, but it's unknown when that will be. In the meantime--it will be 4 days here, which will be good--no dragging luggage out of the room every morning.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Ireland Day 5: Hill of Tara and Belfast

We had an earlier start this morning, as we were starting off at the Hill of Tara, and ending up in Belfast for the evening. Everyone was on time for the bus, except for our tour leader. When the bus driver saw him come out with luggage, he exclaimed, "Oh, he's got luggage too. Naughty."

Tara was our first stop, and like many Stone Age mound sites, it was incredibly windy. Not as windy as the previous day, apparently, as our site guide said he was knocked over by the wind. There is a chapel at the bottom of the hill dedicated to St. Patrick, and contains a hand-painted window called the Pentecostal Window. The hill itself was very green, and covered with a lot of sheep crap. You can count on ancient sites being heavy on either cow or sheep crap.

There are many legends associated with the site, but the archaeological evidence doesn't really jive with most of them. The two mounds that form a figure eight were not created at the same time; one is ancient, one is closer to the early Christian period. The Stone of Destiny has been moved from its original location at the Tomb of the Hostages (which was also a tomb with over 200 burials). It was moved after the Battle of Tara in 1798, to commemorate Irish volunteers fighting the British. They are also supposed to be buried on that mound, and archaeologists' equipment does detect a mass burial there. There is a fairy tree in the area, about 500 meters from where the Stone of Destiny currently stands. It's a bit difficult to get to, so people make offerings on another tree to the fairies--usually socks or stockings.

It was too cold and windy to stay up on Tara for too long, so we got back to the bus and headed out to Belfast. Upon arriving, we had lunch and lined up for the famous Black Cab tours of the Shankill area, and Falls Road. The drivers went to different sites where we could get out and examine the murals created on both the Protestant and Catholic sides of the wall separating the communities. The wall is at Bombay Street, and was put there after Catholic homes were burned in that neighborhood. They took us to the Peace Wall, where everyone could write on the wall. Supposedly it will come down at some point, but it hasn't yet. On the other side of the wall is the memorial to the Clonard Martyrs--everyone on the Catholic side from that neighborhood, including soldiers, political leaders, and innocent bystanders. The murals were fantastic, and ubiquitous throughout the city.

Our bus driver took us around the city, to show us some more sites. It is marching season in Northern Ireland, though most of the marching is done by the Unionists these days. We did manage to see a parade of Orangemen and other Unionists on the Short Strand; police were present to avert confrontation between them and the nationalists. He told us that loyalists were extreme unionists, and that republicans were extreme nationalists. It seems like everyone was at the parade, and everything else in town was pretty empty. Our hotel was a little far out from the city center. We had a welcome drink and dinner waiting for us at the hotel, so it was a nice evening to relax and catch up with each other. Our next stop is Bundoran, which elicited the question "why are you going there?" from almost everyone. But I've heard Bundoran is a lovely seaside town, and it's a good central point for the rest of our trip.

Ireland Day 4: Kilmainham and Glendalough

Days and nights merge into each other, and many people on our trip are still having trouble adjusting to the time change. Perhaps this is why we are a few minutes late getting on the bus every day, causing our bus driver (named, surprisingly, John) to tell us that our punctuality "needed improvement". It doesn't help that the tour bus clock is 5 minutes fast. But, I am sure we will all adjust.

Today's agenda includes the Kilmainham Gaol. On the way to the gaol, John points out the pub where Kevin Barry was hanged, and tells us about the invention of Irish coffee. Apparently it had to do with Powers Whiskey Distillery, and a man called Michael Sheridan, who once gave a man who asked for strong black coffee a drink that added Powers Gold Label whiskey, brown sugar, and a layer of cream to the coffee. When the man said, "I asked for black coffee," he said, "This is an Irish coffee."

We pass quite a few distilleries, some defunct, and lots of colorful doors, and a few bright green post offices that say "Offig an Phoist". We pass Watling Street, which commemorates a scene in Ulysses where Leopold Bloom gets caught up in a miscommunication about horse racing.

We finally reach our destination, and in my love of incongruities, I could not help but notice that right inside the gaol entrance, underneath a stone carving of monstrous serpents, is a sign for the tea room.

Our tour guide (called David this time, for a change) tells us about the fame of Kilmainham. From its opening in 1796, it held mostly petty criminals and some murderers. But it also held all the leaders of the Easter Rebellion, most of them executed there by firing squad. To put the era in context, John George Littlechild, who worked on the Jack the Ripper murders, was the same man who tracked down and arrested Thomas Clarke, one of the rebels. Clarke's copy of the Proclamation of Ireland as a republic is in the museum. This was read by Patrick Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. This led to a 6-day war with British troops, ending when Pearse finally surrendered. Charles Stuart Parnell also was held here, though as a political prisoner he lived as well as Al Capone did in Alcatraz. Eamon De Valera was also held here. He was opposed to the partition agreement signed by Michael Collins, ending the war with Britain, but leaving 6 counties in the North in the control of the British government.

We were allowed to look into the cell of Grace Plunkett, who married rebel leader Joseph Plunkett on the night he was to be executed. She had painted a mural of the madonna and child on her cell wall. The mural there now is a reproduction, but some of what they believe is her original artwork is still visible in the cell doorway.

After going to Kilmainham, we stopped at Powerscourt for lunch. Powerscourt is a beautiful old estate near Enniskerry, known mainly for its gardens for tourists today. We had a spectacular view of the Wicklow mountains. After lunch, we headed to Glendalough, to see the monastery of St. Kevin. It was a gorgeous sunny day when our group went outside. Not 5 minutes later, it started to rain, and rained harder and harder as we walked around. There are several ruined churches, and one that is still in fairly good shape. The graveyard is not as old as it appears; many headstones were from the 1800s.

Naturally, the sun came out again 5 minutes after leaving Glendalough. (Good old Irish weather...). We headed into Dublin for a musical pub tour, starting at Gogarty's, and moving to the Ha'penny Pub and then Brennan's near O'Connell Street. The musicians were excellent, and very funny, though they talked a lot about the history of the area and the music, and I think I would have liked to have heard some more music. At the end they let the audience members come up to sing. My roommate Deborah pretty much stole the show when she got up to sing a song she'd made up only 10 minutes earlier. Another member of our group, Kathy (who, in small-world fashion, was one of my MLIS students) was flashed by a guy dressed as a leprechaun. So, Deborah made up a song about this fellow, showing off his "Irish shortcomings". The guitarist said that was probably one of the top twenty songs he'd heard in the karaoke portion, ever. He later wondered if she had been a "plant", but Bill assured him that she was not.

It was an excellent end to the evening. A few of us stopped to have a glass of wine in the hotel bar before bed. And now we will be leaving Dublin.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ireland Day 3: Dublin City Centre

On Saturday morning, the group of us met after breakfast at 10:30 to head to the Dublin City Centre. I'd already trekked around a good portion of Dublin on Thursday, but this time we had the bus driver, who pointed things out to us, and gave us the stories behind them. We passed the Custom House, which has a sculpture incorporating a harp, a lion, a crown, and a unicorn. The unicorn represented Scotland, which was not an association I'd ever heard of before. Our driver (named John, of course) was well versed in Joyce's Ulysses, and had a tremendous knowledge of Irish literature and culture in general, which was astounding.

On the road from the Guinness Brewery area back towards the center of town, we passed the house of the President of Ireland. In a field nearby, there were people playing polo, on segues, with frisbees. No, don't ask me to explain it. But just about everyone on the bus wanted to photograph it. Myself included:

Our first stop after driving around Dublin for 2 hours was the National Museum. I don't think I saw every exhibit in there, but I did see the gold collection, the Medieval Irish collection, as well as two fairly well-preserved bog people (or at least parts of them). There was a long dug-out canoe that had been pulled from a bog as well. In fact, nearly everything in the pre-history section was pulled from a bog. I was amazed at how well preserved everything was, especially the gold jewelry.

I exited the museum and saw my group standing there. There seemed to be a bit of commotion, and as it turned out, Niamh had accidentally reserved matinee tickets for Riverdance instead of evening ones. So, plans had to be changed. We went to see the Book of Kells, and then those going to the show had to get to the theatre. There was a long line for the Book of Kells, and none of us were keen on waiting, but it ended up being no more than a 15-minute wait. The book was open to a passage from Luke 23, and the illuminated page was a vibrant green and blue, darkened slightly by the aging vellum. Upstairs was what was called "The Long Room", a huge library lined with busts of philosophers and poets, and cases of Irish historical artifacts down the middle. There was a discussion of book conservation and preservation, and how to identify conservation needs (rated from 1 to 4, with 1 being in good shape, and 4 needing emergency attention.) At the end, you could put in a donation to the preservation work of Trinity College.

At the end of the exhibits was the oldest existing Irish harp inside a case. A little boy was looking at it with his mother. "Look, Mum, it's the Guinness symbol."

"No it isn't."

"Yes it is."

"No, it just looks like it, but that's not what it is."

They went on disagreeing about it, and I had to stop and ponder about this change in association. The harp has always represented Ireland symbolically, and now it represents Guinness. Corporations really are taking over the collective psyche.

In the end, only two of us were not going to Riverdance. I was looking forward to walking around on my own. I was in the Grafton Street area, which was hugely busy, and largely overpriced. The Dublin gay pride parade was going on, which made for a lot of dancing in the streets, but also made it a lot more crowded. I ended up checking out a few bookstores, and a charity shop after having a couple of pints near Stephen's Green Lower. We all met for dinner, and a large group of us went to Bruxelles, the same pub we had visited on my first night in Dublin. Everyone was really wiped out by the time we got back to the hotel at 11:00. My roommate is a night person, and I'm a morning person, so there's been some level of adjustment to our schedules. I'm sure we'll all be fully adjusted by the time we have to leave.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ireland, Day 2: Glasnevin, Newgrange, and Knowth

I was up bright and early and able to walk after 10 miles of trekking the previous day. I got to the airport a bit early to meet the group, only to be told by the CIE driver waiting there that the flight with most of our group was delayed until 9 AM. So, I settled into the airport cafe until Niamh came over to get myself and Jackie, another member of our group who had come in at 7 AM. We had breakfast at the hotel, and finally were on our way a little after 10:00.

Our first stop was Glasnevin Cemetery. I was told there would be breakfast at the cemetery, which was puzzling, until I realized that it was at the cafe in the Visitor's Centre. Some of us went on a tour, others that had just flown in had breakfast, to save time. There are a lot of famous people connected with Irish political history buried here, as well as the family of literary figures like James Joyce. The delayed flight left us short on time, so our tour guide gave us a quick rundown of a few important graves. The first grave we stopped at was that of Michael Collins, who is the one responsible for signing the treaty with England that allowed for partition of the 6 Northern counties, while freeing the rest of Ireland from British rule. His grave is the only one adorned with flowers, and people leave all kinds of things. A young boy had left a poem, and apparently a French woman comes regularly to leave flowers with notes. Flowers are not placed on graves as a rule in Irish cemeteries, or at least not in Glasnevin. But Collins is an exception.

She then pointed out the grave of Kitty Kiernan, who was Collins's fiancee. He was assassinated in August, and they were supposed to be married in September. She eventually married someone else, but upon her death, asked to be buried as close to Collins as possible. We visited the grave of Eamon De Valera, who was the founder of Fianna Fáil, an anti-British union party, who was and is a rather controversial figure. The guide told us that some people fall to their knees at his grave, and others avoid it, symbolic of the cultural rift between republicans and unionists.

The last grave we visited was a huge crypt with a large tower--the grave of Daniel O'Connell, who had founded the cemetery. O'Connell was a politician around the period of An Gorta Mor (the Famine), and fought extensively for Catholic rights, being one of the first Catholics allowed to hold office. He is known as the Great Emancipator, and he has a lavish crypt, painted with Celtic-style spirals and the text of his dying words: My body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, my soul to Heaven. His words were taken literally, and his heart was removed and put into a silver box, where it resided in a Vatican seminary for years. The guide told us that it is no longer there, as it was stolen. There is a tradition that touching the coffin of O'Connell is good luck, so inside the stone crypt there are openings to touch the wooden coffin.

We had to leave Glasnevin rather quickly, but were blocked by an incoming funeral. Finally getting on our way, we headed up to Newgrange, to see the old Stone Age monuments at Knowth. Our group went up by bus, and were dropped off at the gate in the road. The mounds were huge, and surrounded by large kerbstones with megalithic designs on them. Our tour guide (named John, like everyone else on our tour so far) gave a very entertaining description of the mounds and their use from the Stone Age through early Christian times. 2/3 of the Stone Age artwork found in Europe is here at this collection of sites. We were not able to go into the prehistoric tunnels, but we did go down into the tomb, and I took a couple of shots of the passageways with the carvings on the wall. There is also a stair so that you can climb to the top of one of the mounds. It was incredibly windy at the top, and had a breathtaking view of the countryside. It alternated between being sunny and misting and raining for the entire hour that we were there, though the wind was brutally consistent. What really amazed me besides the carvings were the stones that built up the ceiling, that seem to be hanging in mid-air. It was rather high-tech for a people that pre-dated the Egyptian pyramid builders, and preceded Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. What these were really used for, no one knows. As the guide said: "These were not used for farming, they were used for ritual purposes. Which means we have no idea what they were used for."

After visiting Knowth, we headed back to the Visitor's Centre, where some people had tea. Upon returning to the hotel, we finally got our room keys. I am sharing a room with Deborah, who is a middle school teacher from Rockland County. We talked for about 2 hours before heading down for dinner and drinks. We all chose to stay in the hotel, as most people just wanted to go to sleep early. Indeed, I was really exhausted, and from the time I said goodnight to Deborah, I didn't remember anything until my phone rang at 6AM with a wrong number.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ireland, Day 1: Dublin

It's about quarter past ten (as the Irish would say) in Dublin. I am sitting in my hotel room with a small bag of rosemary and olive oil potato chips purchased in JFK airport before coming. I did not think I would be awake or hungry at this point. But the body frequently does not cooperate with the brain.

Certainly there is a reason for needing sleep. I took a shuttle to JFK airport on Wednesday morning. I did not realize that this would require a transfer to another shuttle in the middle of Times Square, but it wasn't a problem, everything worked out. I got to JFK in ample time--enough to wait on line for almost an hour and a half until the Aer Lingus check-in desk opened so I could drop by bag. The girl on line in front me predicted that when the did open, there would be only two people to wait on everyone, and one of them would be incompetent, so that would leave one person to deal with the line. She turned out to be psychic. Amazingly, I got through security in all of 3 minutes; the scanner didn't even beep at my hematite ring, which now attracts paper clips and other metal objects. After having lunch, I waited at the gate, and was surprised to see Bill, who is leading this Ireland trip and also the professor for my class. With him were Dawn (who I recognized from the graduate office), and Jodie (who I had never met, but has assisted with this trip for the last 3 years). We met up again after a very quick flight--Bill said the tail wind speed was up to 200 mph, and we were cruising at over 600 mph. Of course, this is one flight where we did not need to arrive early, as nothing is open in Dublin before 7 AM.

After having coffee in the airport and being met by Niamh, who is another leader on this tour, I got to my hotel at 6:30 in the morning, and was pleasantly surprised that a room was available. The receptionist warned me that just outside the window was the Luas rail line. I told her that didn't bother me, and was shown to a really beautiful room on the second floor. I'm used to London hotel rooms, where I'm grateful if the room is clean and bigger than a broom closet. Now I won't be able to look at London the same way again.

There is an old adage about "the best laid plans", and I didn't get to do half the things I'd intended to do my first day in Dublin because of a light mist that later became driving wind and rain. It didn't help that this was my first time in Dublin, and the maps that I have of the area are really not detailed enough. I managed to get down to Grafton Street to have some really wonderful Irish porridge at Bewley's Cafe for breakfast. I contemplated the map; I'd hoped to visit the Guinness Storehouse, even though I was told it was an overpriced tourist trap. It looked like a reasonably straight walk along the South side of the Quay to that area, but my first lesson about Dublin is that most straight lines on the map are baldfaced lies. There are so many roundabouts, and places where roads branch off, and it's hard to see where your road continues. I did make it to the Storehouse, which has 7 levels and is shaped like a Guinness pint glass. The tour was only moderately interesting; the best part was claiming a free Guinness at the Gravity Bar at the top, and looking out over the entire city of Dublin from the circular glass room. What horrified me were all of the unfinished pints of Guinness sitting around the room; many tourists come to see the place, but don't really drink. They take one sip, and leave the pint sitting on the table. It's really criminal to not finish a pint of Guinness. At least make a better effort, for God's sake.

Before getting on the lift again, I noticed a new Guinness advertisement that said, "It's alive inside". I think this is more disturbing than enticing. I'm reminded of the cheesy 80's horror movie, "The Stuff", which is about a weird parasitic substance found in a cave that is marketed as ice cream, taking over people who eat it.

I walked out of the Storehouse into driving rain, and was occupied trying to keep my umbrella from turning inside out, and trying to stay dry, and I was not terribly successful at either. To make matters worse, I headed up the road to get back towards the Quay, and went too far North, ending up in the Kilmainham area of Dublin, which was barely covered on my map. After about an hour of walking, I gave up and hailed a cab, who got me back to my next destination--a bookstore across from the Halfpenny Bridge, called the Winding Stair. I found my obligatory book of Irish ghost stories, and might have settled in for a glass of wine, but I found the store to be too small. Supposedly it has a restaurant, but I did not see where one would access that. I went across the bridge and had a pint at the Halfpenny Pub, as it was now lunchtime. I wandered around the Temple Bar area, eventually ending up in Grogarty's for lunch and some Irish music. Grogarty's was recommended by Bill for its food, but I was less than dazzled by their fare. But the Irish music was wonderful, especially when they started playing a set of reels. Probably 99% of the people in the pub were not from Ireland. Sharing a table with me was a German couple who were soon heading back to Dublin Airport to go home. I talked for awhile about American politics with the man, who was the only one who spoke reasonably fluent English. I felt a little bad for his wife, because she really couldn't participate in the conversation, and I could see that this frustrated her a bit. They finally had to go, and I had received a text from Niamh that the group from my school was going to be in town around 3:30. I ran into them near the Temple Bar pub, and we took a walk over to Bruxelles to have a couple of pints. Several of our group were drinking something called "Smithwick's Shandy", which is a Smithwick's sweetened with a red lemonade. The red lemonade is made with Red No. 5 dye, something illegal as an additive pretty much everywhere else. I didn't try it, as I'm not a big fan of sweet alcoholic drinks.

After a couple of pints with the group, they planned to go for dinner, but as I'd just had a big lunch and was thoroughly exhausted, I went back to my room instead. Niamh came with me, to make sure I didn't make any other unintended detours through town. We talked about the next day's arrangements--around the corner from my hotel is the central bus station, called Busaras in Irish. Niamh tells me that "Aras" means "place" in Irish.

Speaking of Irish, I'd asked Niamh (pronounced "Neeve")if people often butchered her name. She mentioned a Starbucks incident where she made the mistake of telling them her name, and then spelling it for them when they wrote it on her cup. The barista referred to her as "num-num".

I think if I'm disappointed about anything today, it's that I didn't get to take this evening's ghost walk, which I was looking forward to in a big way. But there was no way I was walking another 2 1/2 hours in the rain, and having the tour end in a part of town quite far from my hotel. As it is, I think I'd expected about 2-3 miles of walking, and ended up with 10 miles, quite unintentionally. I usually find that maps exaggerate the distances between places. In Dublin, it is the opposite--what looks close can really be quite far. Objects seen are not as close as they appear.

The Luas train is going by now, and it purrs very quietly. The drunks outside are much louder than the train. Now that I've had a snack, I'm pretty sure I can get back to sleep. I finished reading, "McCarthy's Bar", an account of Pete McCarthy's journey through Ireland. He visits St. Patrick's Purgatory, and after a 26 hour sleepless vigil, he finally lays down and can't get to sleep. He finally gets to sleep by imagining Ian Paisleys jumping over a fence like sheep, goaded by a cattle prod since he is notoriously resistant to everything. I will have to find my own equivalent.