Thursday, April 30, 2009

One of the gang

It should be noted that after spending eight weeks and three days in Ireland and having weathered many an illustrious comment about the weather from locals and recent locals alike: Maria the Romanian cleaner; Michael, the Philippine carer; Raj, the handsome nurse from India; Festus, the gentle Nigerian Physiotherapist; Rita, the pretty Chinese waitress; the charming Isaac from Ghana, and the Polish security guard whose name I don't know— not to mention the colorful collection of Irish nurses with as many a varied accent as the weather itself, that I hadn't yet had to pull out my umbrella and spring it into service until today.
My father had given me the thing for my morning walk to the hospice, advising me to carry it at all times. It's a navy blue convertible, probably twenty years old. It sat useless in my pack for the longest time, rolled and inert, waiting for the rain that wouldn't come. I'd listen to the forecast and it would be fifty, seventy, eighty percent chance. It was always raining somewhere on the island. Always moving in or out over the Atlantic, or coming in over the Irish sea. Some days shipping was curtailed. One time the Hovercraft to France was canceled. Warnings and the threat of an outburst were everywhere; on the screen, in the press, on the airwaves, on the net. But still, it never rained on me until today— as I said eight weeks and three days after my arrival. Ireland was for the first time as I had remembered her: a land shrouded in moist mystery with a quiet chill that would cut you to the bone.
I had to fidget a little to get it open and only then did I realize that it was broken. I hadn't bothered with a preliminary safety check. I figured, well, I'm in Ireland, maybe the buses don't always run on time but at least the umbrellas will work. Two of the supports were buckled, presumably from the force of some long ago storm.
Initially, I was pissed off thinking why did he give me an umrella that didn't work properly. I should have just brought one from Denver. I had looked at one in REI before I came but decided that at forty dollars it was a rip off. But now I wasn't so sure. It had been made in Portland so you'd think they would know.
But then I noticed my fellow pedestrians. On the walk down Mount Merrion Avenue I counted six umbrellas with some sort of a malfunction out of a total of nine not counting the one on the bicycle. They were all using broken umbrelas. School girls, legal looking types, the guy on the bicycle.
I guess finally I felt like a local—one of the gang at last.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Like Father Like Son

My father and brother like to catch up on the news down at the hospice. It's a daily affair this newspaper thing. Always catching up, they can never get ahead. If you could only get ahead for a day or two, you wouldn't need the use of it. It would just be old news piling up in the corner. And there's always a nice pile in the corner and another on the couch and another on the table. In fact everywhere you look the news is there: It bursts from the living room screen at dinner. It blasts from my dad's bedroom at night. It'll creep through the walls from his radio at four in the morning. I'll listen to the muffled chatter and utter a whispered curse.

Breakfast In Bed

My sister Catherine usually brings my father his tea in the morning. She went in the other morning and was convinced he was dead. Not a sound out of him. He had the pale pallor of a news junkie. His glasses still hanging around his neck from the night's binge. She called once, she called twice, she called thrice. Still no response. She considered leaning in to give him a shake but then he stirred only to reveal lying between the pillows the wires from the headphones. The pieces still stuck dangling from his ears. The station tuned to RTE1. It had been a wild night out on the town.

The Drop

A rumpled Daily Telegraph gets stuffed into the letter box every day. It always comes at a different time. He has an arrangement, a local contact I gather, who makes the drop. Someone called Tindsley, English chap—that's all I know. The filthy thing lies where it lands on the floor every day waiting for my father to pick it up He'll read it. Doesn't matter how used it is. He doesn't care.

The Rocky

The demise of the Rocky Mountain News back home in Denver hit him hard. There was an obituary in The Telegraph last week and a photo of the dispirited journalists. He brought the story to my attention in the hospice and commented gravely, "This can happen to anyone, you just never know."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Like Father Like Son

After being stuffed with reports, opinions, polls, editorials, sports, crosswords and trivia, now they lie saturated like wolves after a hunt in a holy state of blissful intoxication.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tea Bag Nation

Having grown up in Ireland, I always remember the mornings. Particularly the breakfasts in the mornings and in particular the tea with the breakfast in the mornings. I loved the feel and the look of those leaves dried somewhere in a foreign sun and crunchy, and the sound of them hitting the bottom of the pot. Three heaping tea spoons thrown in and then there was the water— straight from the Dublin mountains to the kettle where it would boil hissing and spitting like a petulant teenager. She always held it at a distance for the effect. It would come cascading down from the spout in a torrent, with the steam escaping from all sides. And then for a few moments anyway—silence. It would draw. The stuff was so precious you would put a coat on it in the winter. A little cosy.
Perhaps there was more time then. I don't know. They say there was.
The tea bag was of course a most brilliant invention. They could simply recycle all the inferior tea that they couldn't otherwise sell, stuff it into a little bag, put it in a box and sell it to us. And like fools we drank even more of the insipid stuff.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Where the streets are lined with palm.

People never believe you when you when tell them that in Ireland wherever you look you see palm trees. How, they wonder, could palm trees grow in a climate with such a dismal disposition as this?
They assume it's just another example of the national characteristic of exaggeration. Next it will be camels in Connemara.
The word drizzle is used a lot here to describe the weather, along with dull, dreary, dismal and desperate. It's very different in Italy for example where you'd think of drizzle in terms of a nice fruity olive oil. A normal greeting here is, "Good Morning!" followed by a glance to the window, and— "isn't it just horrible?" Or, "Hello. God, it's very bleak outside." An adequate response to both of these would be— "Desperate, just desperate."
I wouldn't say that the Irish are particularly proud of their palm trees. You never see them in the tourist brochures. I think they just make people mad. Especially in the winter. Just when you're getting used to the darkness and the damp cold of a February morning, you'll always see one whipping wildly in the wind in front of you; trying in desperation to uproot itself back to Cairo where it came from. And you know your chances of getting to Cairo are pretty slim indeed—unless of course you have a camel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Little Flower

Saint Therese, aka the little flower, patron saint of AIDS, florists and aviators, originally from Liseaux, the Calvados producing region of Normandy, is in town today. Her remains are on tour and she will be stopping off at the hospice here. Apparently, she tours fairly regularly and often visits Dublin. In the past few years she has visited such far flung places as New Zealand, Portugal and West Africa. As a Carmelite nun she fulfilled her spiritual duties by praying constantly for priests. She was accepted into the order at the early age of fifteen and remained there until her untimely death at twenty four from TB. She was canonized in 1925, a mere 28 years later by pope Pius XI. The first of only three women to acheve such status, she is best known for her short memoirs, poetry and plays. I asked Linda, the staff nurse here about her visit and she said, "She'll be in around lunch. They've taken out all the chairs so I suppose they'll just pray on the floor." Everybody here refers to her quite naturally in the present tense. There is no charge to see her little reliquary.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Near Easky not far from Sligach

Spending a little time with Catherine and Joel at their place in the west of Ireland.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Blood bath

The best way to make blood pudding as we call it in Ireland, or Morcilla for our Spanish guests or Boudin Noir for our French friends or just plain blood sausage— is to start with a live pig. Simply slit the jugular vein with a sharp knife and collect the blood in a bucket. Quickly add some vinegar to prevent coagulation. Meanwhile, cook off some onions, some grated apple, some oats and salt and pepper to taste. Put these in a pan, pour in the freshly retrieved blood and bake in a moderate oven until done. It's nice with mustard and cabbage.

Rock Lobster

The nearest supermarket from Catherine and Joel's is in Balina; a forty minute drive. As fish and onions can really smell up the back seat of a car, they find it less hassle to simply keep a couple of lobster pots out in the sea. Whenever they're feeling a little peckish for some shell fish, Joel just whips into his wet suit and disappears into the sea only to emerge a short while after with dinner. No waiting lines. No cash registers. No cash. Everything in these photographs was grown or gathered within a mile of here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Shades of green

We made good use of the hen eggs: whipped them up and bloated their bellies with greens from the garden—beet tops and rocket lingering from the summer.

Speaking of turf

Late breakfasts of fresh hen eggs and isolated walks on the wind swept cliffs. The light in the afternoon is terrific. The western sun rests like a fisherman's buoy over the Atlantic. Their place was actually an old bar but you'd never know it to look at it now. The old lady served only whiskey and bottled Guinness to the all male clientele. There was no running water. The toilet was out back in the field—anywhere you liked. She ran this little shebeen through the mid-ninties far away from the roar and bitter breath of the Celtic Tiger. The health department finally shut her down. For those visitors not familiar with turf—that's what's in the wheelbarrow. Its sweet smell permeates the house.