Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Have You Ever Seen Something Amazing?

That line above comes from a TV commercial running presently.  I couldn't tell you what the product is, I want to say a car, but I can't remember.  That will no doubt disappoint the writer of said commercial.  (Actually, I may not even be remembering the wording correctly; it's really not an effective ad.)

Normally a question like that would make me roll my eyes.  How much more banal can you get?  It's right up there with 'have you ever eaten something tasty?  Heard something beautiful?  Felt excited?  Do you like fun?'  The first time I heard it though, instead of snorting derisively, I found myself vividly recalling one such amazing sight. 

I was ten years old, sitting in the back seat of a car my family had rented in Ireland.  We were driving along the west coast, in view of the ocean.  It might come as a surprise to know it was raining.  As a kid I loved being in the car during big downpours.  I loved watching the raindrops stream up along the windows, the sound of water on the roof, tires on the wet road. Watching storms from a house window was fun too, but it was so much better doing it inside a car, a moving 360 degree view, especially if the landscape was stunning and spacious by itself.  I have many fond memories of rainy car trips in Ireland and the UK.  Only recently did it occur to me how nerve-wracking those experiences must have been for my parents.  Driving an unfamiliar car, on unfamiliar, narrow, poorly maintained country roads, frequently around blind mountain passes, on the left, during a torrential downpour?  And let's not forget having to keep alert for flocks of sheep.  I doubt my parents were having much fun.  It says a lot that they didn't prevent me from enjoying it. 

This particular day we came around a hill to the sight of great sheets of rain marching in from the Atlantic, coming up onto shore and across some cliffs.  And 'march' is the only way to describe it.  The rain looked like it had been carefully arranged in rows, evenly spaced, all moving at a brisk yet controlled pace.  At that distance, the storm seemed planned, at least organized.  Whether I thought it consciously or not, I suspect I was also awed by the scale.  This storm was probably several miles long, at least a few miles tall, but from where we were it was a single entity, one enormous, awe-inspiring battalion. I may not have had the good sense to be frightened, but I was definitely awed by the size and power of it.  .   

I'm not sure why the commercial copy triggered this particular memory, but I'm grateful that it did.  It has me wanting to compile a list of personal experiences that I would consider amazing.  Rough categories are already forming in my head; there are all the ones involving weather and landscapes, ones involving animals, and the ones involving works of art or performance, just for starters.  Not really sure what will be gained by recording these memories, but I plan on finding out. 

How about you?  Does this question trigger a specific memory for you, or does it just make you roll your eyes?  What is the most awe-inspiring thing you've seen or experienced?  Care to share?  Feel free to do it in the comments section, or share a link if you do it on your own blog. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Happy Bloomsday!

(For various reasons this didn't get published on the actual day, so here it is two months later.)
Tain Mural, Dublin
 No, I haven't read Ulysses. But when I spent a semester studying in Dublin in the Fall of 1986, I lived with a lovely family a block from James Joyce's Tower, in Sandycove, County Dublin. So I figured today was as good an excuse as any for me to revisit my photos from last year's trip, specifically the Dublin portion.  That's as much of a connection I'll be making to Joyce, however.  So if you're here hoping for an illustrated tour of Bloomsday, my apologies, and good luck with your google search. 
Saint Stephen's Green

It probably won't surprise anyone that when you have a country as small and as saturated with writers as Ireland, you're going to come across literary landmarks quite often.  I was tickled a few years ago, when I was reading At Swim Two Boys, to discover that much of the action is set at the Gentlemen's Bathing Area, which is situated not far from Joyce's Tower.  I never went swimming there; as much as I love cold water, the Irish Sea in Autumn is too frigid even for me.  Word was the area was still 'men only, bathing suits optional' at certain hours of the day, though. 
Saint Stephen's Green
The country is small; I think the population is hovering around five million now, and in 1986 it was closer to four million.  I was to discover that this meant Dublin was both a cosmopolitan city (complete with international celebrities) and a small village (everyone knew each other, including the famous people).  The founder/registrar of the school I attended was an old chum of Paddy Maloney, the founder and leader of the Chieftains.  Because of their friendship, the group gave a concert in the lounge of our school, for about thirty of us.  This was something they did each year, apparently, and even relished, since it was one of the few opportunities they still had to play without amplification. 
Memorial to Constance, Countess Markevicz, Saint Stephen's Green
Seamus Heaney gave a reading for us in that same room.  David Norris, who I came to learn was credited with starting the LGBT movement in Ireland, was on the faculty (teaching Joyce, by the way, oh look there's another connection).  My host mother was an old school chum of U2's manager.  Had I been staying in town one day longer, I might have been able to see their hometown concert.  For FREE.  Sigh. 
Saint Stephen's Green
Given all this, it didn't surprise Mary and me to discover that we'd be spending the flight to Shannon sitting next to Malachi McCourt.  He was every bit as charming in person as he had always seemed on TV.  Like us, he was travelling in part to honor a brother who had died recently, in his case his brother Frank.  A school in Limerick was endowing a chair in Frank's honor the following day. 
Ha'Penny Bridge, Dublin
Thanks to the volcano in Iceland, we were looping to the north, which added at least two hours to the flight, but with a gifted storyteller as company, the time flew by. 
River Liffey, Dublin
 He asked us what we planned on seeing, and we mentioned one of our first stops would be at Kenny's Bookshop, in Galway. 
"Oh, I'm afraid it's closed," he said.  We were crushed.  Kenny's has been around for decades, and has supported many great writers.  Dad came across it sometime in the sixties, I believe, and it's been a regular pilgrimage stop for all of us ever since. 

The Foggy Dew, Dublin
 Of course bookstores are dying out all over the world, thanks in large part to the internet, and with Ireland's economic troubles, it didn't surprise us at all that Kenny's might have succumbed.  Once we arrived in Galway though we were delighted to discover that shop hadn't closed, it had simply moved.  In fact the move had been due to a needed expansion of the bookstore, art framing department, and art gallery.  It was a bit of a walk to the new location (we had elected not to rent a car), but we found the shop spacious and well-stocked.  Browsing was still encouraged, even to the point of the store providing free tea and coffee and comfy couches.  Mary and I spent two happy hours there. 
Dublin near the Center of Town. 
When we went up to make our purchases, we told Rosemary, the lovely woman working the cash register, how glad we were to find the place, especially after we'd had our scare courtesy of Mr. McCourt. 

"Malachi said that?" she exclaimed.  She shook her head, tsked a bit.  "We have to call him!"  It was like she was talking about a rascally-yet-beloved uncle.  Off she went to inform the owner of the store of the situation.  I have no doubt that he immediately called Mr. McCourt, and teasingly scolded him for spreading false information. The Irish are big ones for teasing.  Sorry if we got you in trouble, Mr. McCourt!  I'm sure you're as delighted as we were to find the place thriving. 

Near the River