Monday, October 14, 2013

to Ireland

At the AirBnB in Bray, my host, Gary left a book of poetry by my bed. I read it and pick one that is closest to the state of my soul right now. (Scratch the third word in the fourth line and it's perfect.) Here it is:

The Lake of Innisfree, by W.B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

My last day in Ireland begins at Ballina-Killaloe. Looking out, I see that low lying clouds have settled in over the hills. Rain is possible.

In my slice of heaven -- the airy cottage looking out over the hills of County Clare -- I sit down to a leisurely breakfast. Today, with market berries added to the mix.

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I walk to town then, along the usual road, a bit of a tight squeeze in parts, but lovely nonetheless. (And when I pause to let a car pass, I get the question -- are you out walking, or do you want a lift? Walking, I say, and loving the views!)

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In Killaloe I have a meet-up. An Ocean reader whom I do not know -- an American expat, living here with her husband, contacted me to say they were passing through this area. Sure, I'd love a coffee! -- I responded. It's wonderful to hear the perspective of someone who is from my home state, but lives here now.

I take my newly discovered friends to Ponte Vecchio. A crowded space this morning, though we find a corner table (as do others...)

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...and settle in for a wonderful, long talk as the kind waitperson brings us our coffees and teas.

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I tell these young guys (they're in their very early thirties) they're living my dream from long ago (it's buried now and replaced by a different dream -- one that orbits around the farmhouse). They're just in the process of moving from the Dublin area out to the beautiful countryside of southern Ireland. To grow their foods and raise their chickens and buy the paper each morning at the village news agent. (And maybe let out a room through AirBnB -- you never know.) After a couple of years here, they're ready to put down roots.

I think back to my own transition from being just a student and visitor in the States to being a permanent resident. Some people know from the get go where they want to live. Others (them, me) take a while to figure it out.

Warmed by their description of the Irish life, I return to my AirBnB (to be accurate, they give me a lift back -- I enjoyed myself so much that I lost track of time), say good bye to Mary and zip out, determined to speed all the way to Bray. No stopping! No photos! Just get there already!

But I stop anyway. It's sort of irresistible: the highway has a billboard noting a village as being of special interest -- Moneygall, where it appears Obama -- or O'Bama, as he is affecionately called here -- has ancestral ties. (The man in the tractor gave me a high thumbs up as he passed in front of the two flags on village houses.)

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When Obama stopped here in 2011, they say he shook virtually every villager's hand. I think they're still reeling from the memory of it. In this next photo, you'll see a young family taking in the main village focal point. It's a funny mixture of Irish, American and Polish, as they are in fact from Poland.

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Okay. That was a ten minute detour. Back on the road, listening to a long discussion on the radio about a golfer who disclosed his yips. I'd never heard of yips before and every time they use the word, I think of dogs barking. In this way I race along the highways of Ireland for the meet up with Gary, my AirBnB host in Bray.

The space that I'm renting from him is a little different in concept. It's more like "a room in the home of  ----" (fill in the blank here). I'm not 100% clear on the logistics, but I think Gary lives here when he is with his girlfriend, Alessandra, who is from Sicily. Or maybe it's the opposite -- maybe she lives here with him when they are not in her home? I really can't fully explain it. But I'm definitely sharing their small flat.

Gary is an incredibly kind and patient host. You have no idea how many emails we exchanged to clarify my arrival details. And once I do arrive, he is there, playing his music and offering me everything and anything -- from coffee, doughnuts, wine, even a Thai dinner cooked by him if I want it (Mary, back in Ballina, also offered to feed me.)

But I decline it all -- I do want to see some of Bray and especially the coastal part. Gary prints out maps and gives directions and food recommendations and I want to tell him (he's a fairly recent AirBnB host) -- you cannot devote this much energy to every guest -- you'll burn out. (Sort of like teaching with too much passion -- surely a guarantor of early retirement.)

I'm quite close to the coast and so I walk there, to the beginning of a long boardwalk that extends from one end of town to the other. It's windy and not a little nippy and still, because it's Sunday and because the skies are in their partly cloudy mode, there are families and couples and groups of friends, enjoying a brisk promenade along the edge of the Irish Sea.

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...and in the case of children, enjoying ice cream. (Though some opt for chips.)

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I had intended to walk all the way past town, along the cliffs, into the next town in fact, but when I came across a sign telling me I was still many miles away, I called it quits and turned back. I'd had my beautiful walk, paying homage to the waters that splash at Ireland from all directions.

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Now it's time to eat. Gary had recommended three places and I chose the most modest of the lot, though I have to admit -- I ordered immodestly: Irish lobster. The waiter told me there are only three places that produce good lobsters -- Maine, Canada and Ireland -- and though I doubt that's entirely accurate (Brittany would surely protest the exclusion), still, I was convinced enough to try it. (It helped that I paid for no breakfasts and had no lunches during the entire trip. And in fact, this was a very reasonable pricing of a very huge lobster dinner: 32 Euros - about $42 - for the whole thing, service and taxes included.)

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The meal has an Italian flair to it (and two Italian waiters -- neither of whom speak English well) and so my lobster virtually swims in a very delicate tomato sauce. It is a wonderful ending to my visit. Funny how I began my Ireland writing with a reference to an Italian song and here I am praising an Italian meal in Ireland. I'll say this -- I had nothing but seafood during this trip -- all from the Irish waters and it was all incredibly delicious.

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It's a slow evening at the restaurant and both waiters are chatty. The younger one tells me that his most favorite trip ever was to the States, two years ago. He took the bus from Chicago to Nashville and then to Texas and back.
That's a lot of bus hours! I'm impressed how much he loved the experience.
Yes, you meet such wonderful people!
I think about my three hour bus trips down to Chicago and how I always hide my nose in my papers during it. No one talks. We are admonished if we do so.

I ask the older, head waiter what brought him to Ireland and I get the predictable response of ambition and curiosity. And the reason for staying? -- the wife. But he tells me how much her really loves Bray: it's so much smaller than Dublin. People know me, I know them. And the sea! Ah yes, the sea...

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He asks which parts of Italy I had visited and after I list the various regions and towns, he looks rather shocked that I neglected to include the place where he came from -- the east-central coast of the Italian boot. Next time, I tell him. Next time.

At the AirBnB, my host and a friend (that's just a guess) are settling down to a home cooked meal and after, Gary explains that there is a terrific if rather violent Irish show on the telly that we could all watch. I would have retreated to my room, but I rather like sitting on the couch, looking over my photos, surfing the, for once, speedy Internet in their company, so I stay.

When the show is done, Alessandra comes out of some hidden room, terribly tired and not looking all that well (rumor has it that a birthday bash the previous day did her in). She chats for a while then retreats to wherever she came from, promising to knock on my door at 6 a.m., as she herself has to be up and out by then.

Gary plays the guitar for a while, singing some recent U2 hit that is lovely and it is with some reluctance that I finally say goodnight and goodbye too, as I will be leaving rather early and will not see them again.

And I do leave early. Before Alessandra comes around. Before any semblance of light, before many cars are out on the highway. And in less than an hour, I am at the Dublin airport.

P.S. Ocean readers, I landed in Chicago, clicked on my phone and found your most beautiful emails and messages. How I love the fact that I am not alone in this enterprise of looking for the beauty in the common tasks we all take on, the world over! Thank you so very much.
With love,