Archive for the 'March' Category

Spring Break, Part the Fourth

Tuesday, March 18 – Dingle, County Kerry

The surfers are up early.  We take a quick breakfast — instant coffee and Oatbix — and then hit the road.  Reports say the surf is good off the Maharees, so we point the car in that direction.  But between us and the waves lie the Brandon Mountains.  It’s not a terribly menacing range, at least not in the age of GPS and rear differentials, but there’s something about it that subtly domineers.  The lack of chintzy McMansions which would undoubtedly and unashamedly ravage such real estate back home is utterly refreshing and the gentle southern slope makes one wax poetically about all the grandfatherly wisdom this mountain must contain.

Myself and Rónán at the crest of Conor Pass.

The Conor Pass takes us over the mountain, and the view from the crest is best summarized in stale words like phenomenal, breathtaking and incredible.  It’s amazing how elevation piques the senses.  The road that cuts across the northern slope offers a bit of an existential experience:  one lane shared by two directions of traffic, with the massive drop on one side offering a certain, gravity-induced demise.  I took this footage on the way back; have a look:

While Ro and the guys surfed, I sat on the beach with Sarah and talked.  She spoke about the Ireland of then and now, of the have-not and the have.  It was only 20 years ago that Ireland was economically out of step with Western European standards.  She remembers how it was when she was a child.  Money was tight for everyone.  Big families crammed into small apartments.  Then Ireland joined the EU, the foreign investment came, and the country assumed an enviable sort of prosperity.  But she’s afraid it might not last, that the past is the future, that people are resting a bit to comfortably on their laurels.  Empires fall — history tells us that much — and the weak get overrun.  Yet, somehow, Ireland has remained somewhere in between.  Untouched by the Romans and untamable to the British, this people persists, and in this we find comfort.

Spring Break, Part the First

The last two weeks constituted our spring break; a chance to venture outside of Italy and see a bit more of Ye Olde World. For many, this was an opportunity to sample as much of the local drink in as many countries as possible; for others, a chance to take a look at cities and museums that compliment their studies; for some, a jaunt into the lands of their ancestors; for all, an opportunity to drop the books and relax. For me, it was a healthy combination of all of the above.

Over the past two weeks, I jotted down thoughts and observations in my little black notebook that many of you have seen me carrying around. Some of the writing was done on site — from a dark and musty pub in County Cork to the vast, white-speckled landscape of Mykonos — and some was done after the fact. What follows, then, is a catalog of notes and pictures from my travels, broken up into a few (i.e., yet to be determined) volumes.

15 March 2oo8, Cork City, County Cork, Ireland

Beneath the tarnish and the grit of a thousand years of birth and decay is where you’ll find the charm of Éire. She doesn’t flaunt it like France or pretend to contain it like Britain; she is genuine. She lives in the churches and on the streets, down crumbling alleys and in the abundant hospitality of her people.

I met her last night when Tim and Mary Sugrue collected me from the Cork airport. They’re cousins of mine: my grandmother’s sister’s son and his wife. This is the first I’ve met them. Or at least, the first that I can recall. He’s a lean man with handsomely sharp features and well set eyes. He speaks with the rolling accent indicative of his provenance. He speaks like my Grandmother, and his personality bounces with that inner child that seems to reside in this race. Mary has a soft face and a soft demeanor, constantly expressing a genuine concern for the wellbeing of her guest. Her tea is warm and so is her hospitality.

It was nearly midnight by the time the three of us arrived at their home.

–How about a cup of tea?

I tell Mary that would be lovely.

Tim shows me to my room. I unload my things and return downstairs to find Mary busily preparing sandwiches and tea. Tim turns to me:

–Well then, will you have a drink?
I’m not sure if he means tea or alcohol.
–How about some whiskey? His eyes light up and the corners of his mouth twitch slightly.
I smile and accept enthusiastically.

He proceeds to pour me the healthiest measure of Irish whiskey I’ve ever seen. The measure with which you measure will in return be measured out unto you. We toasted to slàinte, to health, and lost ourselves in the sort of banter that befits old friends.

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16 March 2008, Cobh, County Cork, Ireland

Today I saw Cobh, the port at the mouth of the River Lee. It’s the place where, so many years ago, my grandmother bade farewell to family and friends, to turf and poverty, to green and grey, and set off across the brine for a new life in America. And how many other people did the same? Liberty called for the tired, the hungry, the poor, and Ireland obliged. How many?

There is a cathedral in Cobh that sits prominently above the harbor. Grandma is my age. She boards the ship, loaded with anxiety and a piece or two of luggage. The ship’s horn bellows and it sets off. She turns to look at that massive structure. Would she return? Would she ever again see her parents alive? All she can see is the tip of the spire, now; the horizon consumes her home. Would God be with her in America?

(Image taken from here.)

Assisi & Venice

Assisi and Venice: two of the most visually stimulating places I’ve ever been. Go to Paris and you see the Louvre. London, and it’s the Tower. Flourence: the Duomo. But go to Assisi and Venice, and you don’t really need to go see anything in particular. I mean, yes, Assisi, the home of St. Francis, has the Franciscan monestary, and Venice has the Accademia — both wonderful places to invest time.  But as you reflect on your journey, what you’ll remember most is the abundant feast your eyes were treated to. In short, you go to Assisi and Venice to see.
Assisi
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Venice
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Special thanks to Lizzie T. for this one.