Archive for April, 2011

A string of sausages

April 30, 2011

A song came on the radio yesterday, Pancho and Lefty. “Oh, I love this song,” I said to my buddy in the car. “Morrissey.”

He looked down his nose sideways at me. “Not Morrissey. Sheesh.”

“Right,” I said. “Of course I meant Townes Van Zandt. Obviously.”

Except to him, it wasn’t obvious at all. He just thought I was an idiot, confusing two very dissimilar artists. What he didn’t see where the wheels whirring behind the scenes. See, I always confuse Townes Van Zandt with Van Morrison (mostly because of the Van, but partly cuz they’re both soulful gents), and I always confuse Van Morrison with Morrisey, so obviously I was just skipping a step and confusing Morrissey with Townes.

Obviously.

Everyone has those glitches and shortcuts in their heads, but no two heads are the same. On a good day, the shortcuts show themselves as brilliant logical deductions. You’re like Sherlock Holmes, pulling disparate information together into blinding brilliance, and eloquently packaging it all up for the end-of-story wrap-up.

On a bad day, you’re like, “Butter? Dam’ near killed ‘im!” and then you giggle uncontrollably as the whole room stares at you in confused silence.

I notice it in my writing all the time. You know how they say the first thing you should delete when editing is the bit you love the most? I think it’s because it’s your glitch, your own particular shortcuts shining through. You’re making a connection, and it’s freaking genius, and beautiful, and why doesn’t everyone else see that?

Because they are not you. I’m not saying writing needs to be stupid, or play to the lowest common denominator, but the best authors are the ones who manage to transmit each shortcut clearly, sometimes through a single sentence or word. They are able to make their idiosyncratic thought processes sensible to a larger audience, and therefore retain the beauty of their own voice.

Which is important, you know. Because otherwise, sausages. All the same.

Cementing your words

April 28, 2011

I was chatting with someone who still uses a typewriter, and I asked him what the appeal was. He answered that it was the physicality of it, the way a typewriter stamped out the words and cemented them into the real world.

I don’t get it. I have a typewriter, I love the way it sounds, and smells, and feels, and I love popping out a letter or a bad poem to a friend on it. I do love the physical aspect of the words, and the immediate, unchangeable thoughts.

But fiction? Something that I would use the phrase “honing my craft” to refer to? Ignoring how silly that sounds, it kinda means something to me. Crafting something, in my mind, means working on it. Refining it. Coming back to it, at least once or twice.

You can’t finish a pillow without parking the needle for a while. (Okay, that’s an even worse phrase. Obviously my blog is not a part of my craft. This is the place I just throw a few things out onto the wall and see if they stick. A place where mixing metaphors is only publicly embarrassing, not career-ending.) I love editing, and I feel like it’s an essential part of making sure the real-world presence of my thoughts and stories matches their appearance in my mind.

Which is to say, I should be editing right now. Not philosophizing. Or watching Carp-Hunters.

Warning: Gratuitous Begging

April 27, 2011

I always wonder about these ‘blog about it and get extra entries’ bits. I mean, do they have a minimum readership qualification? That seems to be a glaring loophole. So hello, to my half dozen readers: Close your ears if you hate ads, but open them if you also are broke and would love to win an ipad.

I’m posting this to enter a contest offered by CheckNGo at The Centsible Life! I want to win the iPad 2! Enter to win here: http://bit.ly/TCLiPad

Also? I have nothing to do with blogging in general, or money management in specific. In fact, I’m as far from those two things as possible. I purposefully don’t promote this site (though that may change as soon as I have a book to push) and fiscal matters tend to not interest me, despite having several jobs that relate directly to finances.

But hey, I would like to try this Angry Birds thing all the kids are talking about. And twitter; I’ve heard of that. And Steve Jobs encased in carbonite; they make that for the ipad, right? Oh wait, they don’t make it at all anymore because Apple complained. Oh well. I still want an ipad.

In my library

April 25, 2011

I stumbled upon this post on journal writing prompts the other day, and one of them caught my eye. “Name a totally useless possession and how you came to acquire it.”

My first thought was, jeez, how do I choose? I’ve toned it down over the years, since I stopped working retail book shops and toy stores, but I’m still a bit of an acquirer. Right now there is a stunningly soft stuffed bear in a pink bunny jumpsuit above my head, a hard plastic box holding a purple and gold band hat to my left, a framed print of a bear holding a rifle across from me, and a bookshelf full of unread books and Todd McFarlane action figures to my right.

Useless, right? Well, not really. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, maybe it’s because I’m a romantic, but everything I have is useful. It’s fodder. If it’s not outright inspiration, like all the piles of books that I will some day get to, I swear, it’s fodder one step removed.

The art inspires me. The bear is actually a character from Remington Ridge, a picture book by one of my favorite artists, Ben Walker. The bear is staring at the artist with all the seriousness of a Wild West gunslinger facing a camera for the first time. There’s a certain gravitas paired with whimsy to him that I try to inject into all my writing.

me dressed as Adam Ant for HalloweenThe band hat represents the fodder that is my life. I’m a Halloween fiend, and one year I dressed as Adam Ant as I ran around town in a city-wide game of tag called Journey to the End of the Night. The hat came with the jacket that I modded. I’m keeping it, because band hat! Who knows what costume that will morph into come October?

I bought two of the pink bunny bears when one of my best friends had her first baby girl, and kept one for plainly sentimental reasons. For my first Halloween, my loving mother dressed me up in a pink bunny footie pajama outfit. I haven’t been able to top that one yet.

All of these things inspire me. They all represent memories that, as a writer, will someday get chopped up and regurgitated into something new. So, useless? I don’t have anything that’s useless.

I bet a hoarder would say that as well, huh? Don’t worry, I can still see all the walls and no animals or small children have gone missing. Yet.

All the rest

April 22, 2011

The time is running out. My memories and notes are still fairly clear, but I think if you write a post more than 2 weeks after an event, half-truths start to filter in. So I’ll keep this brief, fast, and mostly in picture form.

After Inishmore, we returned to spend a bit more time in the Connemara region. Clifden Castle was an un-signposted site that I’d had on my list, and, after a bit of up and down and around the block, we found it. Trooping through sheep fields, past white shaggy ponies, it finally appeared.

a castle in a field of sheep, by the ocean

See that curve in the road there? The one that seems to be a bit… puddley? That’s because there was a 25 ft long completely impassable stretch of water, mud, and sheep poop. The fence posts went straight down into the water, with no way around it.

So I went through it. Luckily, I was wearing my high-top hiking boots that day; after I rolled my jeans up, the mud went clear up the sides, but didn’t hit my socks. Win. And it was gorgeous close up:

a cow through a castle ruin's doors    tower ruin facing the water

Well worth the muck. Actually, you don’t really have to entice me with a castle. The muck is its own reward.

On to Galway (which I’ll have to return to someday, since my only impression was loud and full of tourists; I didn’t really find the city), then south to Lisdoonvarna and the Burren. Beautiful. Ancient crosses, amazing landscapes, a perfumery that uses local scents, and flipping adorable Burren ponies.

burren ponies

I pet that one on the nose. He was a sweetie.

Since we’re on it, more animals:

dramatic sheep

This was a lady we found at the end of an unmarked road. I christened her “Dramatic Sheep” and proceeded to chase her around (politely) the ruins and striking sea cliffs of Kerry. I do believe I have a hundred pictures of her alone. I went a bit sheep-wild.

cows coming out of the fog by Hore Abbey

Then there were the cows.

cow staring at the cameraFirst, at Hore Abbey, my pre-dawn rambles nearly got me in trouble as these ladies came to a slow realization that I was not bringing them breakfast. The betrayal in those eyes.

Cows and a cross

This last cow picture takes a bit of explaining. G and I were out investigating the crosses at Kilfenora. Two of the ancient beauties were hiding in a protected ruin of a church. The third was just off a bit, in the middle of a field.

A field that, while having convenient stiles to get you closer in, was not empty. Not at all. It was, in fact, home to about 20 or so young cows. G and I approached tentatively, snapping cautious pics along the way. The cows were looking at us. We got a bit closer. They were still looking. Then they started to take a few tentative steps towards us. G and I looked at each other, and slowly started backing up towards the stile.

Bad move, apparently. Something like showing weakness to a wolverine. These adorable baby cows started to come a lot closer, a lot faster. G and I are hustling it now, but there’s a problem; only one person can go over the stile at a time, and the cows are RIGHT THERE. I bravely pushed her towards the stile, yelled for her to go first, then turned to the calves.

I had no idea what to do with frisky teenage cows. I know with a bear, you puff up big and yell, but cows? The only thing I had was my camera. So I popped the flash up, and started snapping pictures, tilting the bright flash all around and shouting “Pose! Vogue, ladies! Vogue!”

It worked. They preened and posed like red-carpet Bessies. Or, you know, they were just totally befuddled. Either way, I was able to make my escape, and they ran back to the cross, kicking their feet up playfully. Probably they didn’t want to chew our legs off, but you never know. Sadly, their photo shoot resulted in nothing but blinding white shots. That’s what happens when you’re too panicked to adjust ISO or focus.

On to Dingle, where we found amazing cheese with seaweed in it. We also found some crazy good Gouda that we called the Springsteen cheese for the rest of the trip (apparently he’s a fan). On to Killarney, where I fell asleep in the shade of Muckross Abbey. On to Cork, where a sweet young priest convinced us to tour St. Finbar’s Cathedral by offering us a bargain-basement price. They were replacing the organ, which was a bit fascinating to watch, but meant a lot of the church was cordoned off. Still, pretty.

a stone angel in Finnbar Cathedral

On to Cashel. In Ireland, they either have too many historic monuments to lock them all up, or they actually trust people to have a care with the ancient artifacts and ruins. Either way, it means we had a fabulous amount of freedom. Our lodge was directly between Hore Abbey and the Rock of Cashel. While that put us in perfect touring position for the next day, it also meant we could sneak across the road to the Abbey ruins that night and take some spooky pics.

Ghostly Me's at Hore Abbey

We just barely poked our noses before we chickened out. C and I chickened, anyway. G was raring to go. She later mentioned that it looked like a perfect place to pitch a tent and spend the night. There were, like, hyenas howling in the distance, I swear. She was cool as a cucumber.

Our final stop before we returned to Dublin was Locke’s Distillery, another recommendation of @smartgrrrl’s. And what a recommendation! An amazing tour of an old pot still, with wheels still churning up the river and whiskey still bubbling in the vats upstairs. A wee taste afterwords convinced us to do most of our souvenir shopping here, and what a great choice that was! Their Connemara peated whiskey was favorably compared to Laphroig by a grateful recipient, and their 15 year-old whiskey has won international prizes.

locke's distillery chimney

And that’s it. My trip, in a large, colorful nutshell. Thanks for listening.

Aran Islands

April 17, 2011

The night before we caught the ferry to Inis Mor, we had snuck into a B&B that technically wasn’t yet open. The landlady was sweet enough to do up a full Irish breakfast for us, though, which prepared us well for the wild crossing. Despite jouncy seas and crazy strong wind, we stayed bundled up on top, watching the Galway coast recede and the Islands appear. At one point, dolphins played alongside us in the wake of the boat.

early christian stone crossWe plunked about the village near the dock for a while, shopping for sweaters and hats and gloves. By the time we’d wrapped up, all the other tourists from the boat had dispersed, into the waiting vans and horse carts. A single van kept out hope for us, driven by a man named Thomas who kept asking us to “help keep me out of the pubs.” Once we realized how late it was, we were happy to. We could always walk more when we reached the other side of the island, where our lodging was.

Ah, our lodging. I’ll come back to that. First, Thomas offered us  a grand tour of the sights on the island: the lighthouse/watch tower, the various villages, and ending at Dun Aengus, a prehistoric stone fort at the edge of massive cliffs. But my favorite bit of the tour were the family stories that Thomas shared. Each house we passed offered him a chance to gossip a bit about the lives of the inhabitants. We heard about the couple that obviously “kept busy,” with 7 children to show for it, and the single lady from Sweden who did not (is that code?).

At the base of Dun Aengus, we found Frances’ store (referred to by super-knitter @smartgrrrl) full of beautiful knitted sweaters and headbands, and luscious yarn, as well as sheepy trinkets of all kind. She even managed to find a way for us to avoid lugging our bulky wool up the cliffside as we finished our tour.

beehive hutIt was getting on towards evening when we came down, but we weren’t ready to throw in the towel yet. We wandered a beach, then tromped through the rain to an immaculately preserved clochan, or beehive hut. And finally it was back to our lodging.

Our wonderful, wonderful lodging, where Maura had prepared an amazing salmon dinner, with salad fresh from her organic garden, homemade dressing, fifteen kinds of delicious veggies, wine, and rhubarb cake. Oh. My. All this, in the most lovely setting you could imagine.

sunrise on Inis Mor

The Man of Aran cottage was built for a documentary back in the 30s, and is now the most comfortable and beautiful thatched cottage you could imagine sleeping in, surrounded by organic gardens, overlooking the beach, and encircled by bobbing daffodils.

thatched cottage at dawn, surrounded by yellow daffodils

We actually passed up a night in a haunted castle in order to make time for this B&B stay, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am with that choice. I’ll take rugged, remote, quiet beauty over luxury and indulgence any day. And I bet the ghost wouldn’t have even had the courtesy to show up.

From Dublin to the West

April 16, 2011

Our first stop outside of Dublin was Bru na Boinne, for some prehistoric goodness. Unfortunately Dowth is closed in the off-season, so we were only able to take the more populated tour of Newgrange, but it was pretty stupendous still. And it made me wonder, for the rest of the trip, what was hiding under each and every hill that we passed.

G through a door in a churchyard ruinThen it was on towards Sligo, on beautiful (narrow) back roads that passed countless ruins, cemeteries, and sheep. And at that point, it was all so new that I wanted to stop at each and every one. You never knew, did you, if it would be the last, or the best? By the end of the trip I was getting a bit more blase. Oh, sheep. Well, are they especially fluffy or have an obscene number of darling babies? Keep driving, then. Oh dear, another picturesque ruin surrounded by celtic crosses. Well, I’ve already crossed that off my list. Keep driving. Fields of bobbing daffodils surrounding a glowing saint bobbing 15 feet off the ground and granting absolution to adoring worshippers? Yawn. Keep driving.

Daffodils and a saint statue

In fact, the only thing that stayed fresh and terrifying was the Road. Every day, I would swear that the Road was narrower and the traffic faster than the day before. Very near the end, two days before the end of our trip, I couldn’t figure out why I was unable to avoid the bott’s dots. Then I realized I was hitting them on both sides of the lane, simultaneously. Seriously? What is the point, then?

In Sligo, we stayed the old harbor master’s building, a neat bit of 19th century architecture surrounded by a modern industrial port. I rather liked the contrast, and the area. The next day sent us out exploring Yeats country, first to his grave in Drumcliffe, and then to hike the land that inspired him.

Meabh’s Tomb is one of those awesome, unexplored mounds. The cairn may actually date back to 3,000 BC, though Queen Meabh was around much later, towards the end of the Iron Age. Oddly, I was most excited by the fact that the hike is posted as 45 minutes straight up (and other online notes say an hour), and we managed it in 35. True, we were actually lapped by a few locals who use it as a cross-training location, but whatever. This one overweight American is proud of what we did.

 

At the summit, the wind was fierce, but the view overwhelmed it. The rock cairn was surrounded by springy, soft moss that enveloped the stray rocks that had tumbled down over the centuries. I could easily imagine laying down for a nap and being gently swallowed into a fey 100-year slumber. The whole place sparked the imagination.

Especially this rock! I don’t know why, but I loved this rock. I think G has several pictures of me theatrically reclining on it. Or, you know, sitting on it eating a snack. Same dif. I did end up leaving a bit of my bread in one of its hollows, in honor of whatever spirit was handy.

The next stop was Inishmore, which will take far, far more time to talk about than I have left. Until next time, then.

Dublin

April 12, 2011

Gaynelle and I started our tour of Dublin by wandering through the Temple Bar area, then heading straight for the closest graveyard. Yes, that may have been my idea. Mt. Jerome was a beautiful cemetery to wander about, and we ran into some odd folks walking their dogs and resting on the headstones.

After a quick dinner at Cornucopia, we hit the town to find some craic. What we found was John Denver. A lot of Denver. Why does every Irish crooner want to sing Country Roads? And why hasn’t someone written a song about Irish roads? It would probably be more terrifying than nostalgic, with a minor chords and canon fire, but I’d listen to that. Anyway, we had a blast, sipping Guinness and Bailey’s in dark, old pubs.

The next day we did Dublin up right. Breakfast at Bewley’s, Grafton Street, Kilmanhaim Gaol, stew at the oldest pub in Ireland, theater, and mummies.

Yes, mummies. St. Michan’s church is a bit off the beaten path, and because of that, we were the only tourists on the crypt tour. This is not a crypt in the track-lighting, paved-path, big-cathedral sense of the word. This is a dark, cramped, dirt-floor basement under a church. That happens to be full of mummies. At some point, a few of the coffins collapsed, revealing the fact that the dry, limestoney air down there was preserving rather than decaying. There are now four mummies that you can see truly up close and personal, including one they call the Crusader, due to his assumed age.

Another room held the Sheares brothers, which kicked off our rebel history tour. From there, we went on to Kilmanhaim Gaol, and later, Glasnevin Cemetery and the General Post Office (with the bullet holes still in the columns out front from the Easter Rising). For a country with such a wealth of history, it’s interesting how some of it lies fallow and forgotten (passage tombs untouched, grand towers abandoned and forgotten) and some it is as sharp and immediate as yesterday’s lunch. For obvious reasons, but still. Small, personal stories from the times of Pancho Villa and Woodrow Wilson are as well known in Ireland as Angelina Jolie’s babies names are in the US

We managed to swing another day in Dublin at the end of our trip, to decompress and poke around a bit more. That first night back we found Devitt’s pub on Camden Street, and an amazing upstairs music seisiun. See the huge delighted grin on G’s face?
gaynelle at a seisiun

The next day, another cathedral, another graveyard, another pub. Except the cathedral was Christchurch where I took a belfry tour, just me and Leslie, the ringing master, and my off-rhythm peals going out over Dublin. And the graveyard was Glasnevin, chock full of history and rebels, labour leaders and fat cats. And the pub was known as Gravedigger’s, a pub as old as the cemetery it butts up against. There’s a divot in the wall where gravediggers used to bang their shovels against the wall to request another round.

dark blurry irish pub

So that was Dublin. C asked me how I liked it, and I mentioned that I would probably not be coming back as a tourist. I would, however, love to live there. What an awesome city!

Next: On the road. Close shaves and madcap adventures, and the pictures are better. Plus there’s loads more sheep. Stay tuned.

piano player at Bewley's cafe

Days 1 & 2: London

April 11, 2011

Yes, my trip is over. However, in the interest of staying sane, I’m going to break it up and blog it in bits. Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

After a lovely flight in exceedingly cramped quarters (but with massive amounts of free tv and movies), we landed in London and hopped on the tube to our first hostel, a sweet, quiet place a little bit outside of the city center. Then we promptly jumped back on the tube to go poking about.

First stop, since it was on our line, was 221B Baker Street:
windows of 221b baker street

London is as familiar and iconic as New York, but in a different way. I’ve never been a Dickens gal, and most London real estate I’m only familiar with through regency romances, but Holmes… Growing up, he was my buddy.

G and C at 221b baker streetI moved straight from Encyclopedia Brown to the Red-Headed League, my nose always stuck in one of two ridiculously thick paperbacks that contained every SH story and were tattered and thrashed by the time I was 13. Young Sherlock Holmes is possibly one of my favorite movies, on a level with Princess Bride, and the new BBC series is freaking genius. This was a pilgrimage.

Unfortunately, we were a little too late for the Museum, but that’s okay. We saw the building, and knocked on the door, and poked our nose around, and stared, and sighed happily.

We continued our own little lit-pilgrimages with a stop at Platform 9 3/4 at the Kings Cross Station. Or we tried to, anyway; we ended up posing for a confused looking photo somewhere between 9 and 10. Apparently we are too mugglish to find the right platform.

From there, we wandered toward the old town, and circled around the Tower and the Tower Bridge. It was a gorgeous night, and we were giddy just from being in London on a Saturday Night.

Exhausted, we stumbled back for G and my first night in a European nation. The beds are much the same, but it still felt fabulously different.

men on the tube in kiltsThe next day we realized that our hostel was full of men in kilts. Many of them cuties. Maybe that just happens in the UK, we thought. Then we headed back into the heart of the city, and realized there were many, many more men in kilts. Our first stop, Trafalgar Square, had been filled with anarchists and protesters the day before during a massive march, but today it was full of a thousand or more Scottish sport fans singing and chanting (and drinking).

man on trafalgar lion wearing scottish flag

We rounded out the day with visits to the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin in the Field, Buckingham Palace (did you know the Guard has a marching band? That furry hat plus a tuba is truly ridiculous), the Mall, Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Fleet Street, Westminster Abbey, the West End, the East End in search of curry, and maybe some more places that I’m forgetting due to the overwhelming awesomeness of the day.

But you know what? It’s not my town. Not even close. Maybe, when I was 19 or 20, I would have loved living there for a while. I’m not sure even then if I was pretty and stylish enough. Maybe we were just sticking to the trendy areas, but it sure seems like everyone in London is young, well-dressed, and gorgeous. I clunked around and snapped some pics, but I don’t think I could feel comfortable there for more than a few days.