Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 14? London

I came to realize that I had to treat London like a brand-new-to-me city; my memories of the place were so few and tended to center around places we weren't likely to get back to (the homes we lived in, the school I went to, the part of the Heath I walked every day).  This is probably for the best, since I didn't really enjoy London as a kid or teenager.  My fondest memories from back then tend to be of the trips we took OUT of the city, to greener, more open spaces: Scotland, Ireland, the Lake District.  We probably won't get to see any theatre here this trip, sadly.  Shows are largely sold out, since it's a bank holiday weekend.  Wandering about Trafalgar, in St. James Park, and along the Thames was quite fun yesterday.  We finished up at a Greek restaurant that was the scene of a wonderful last night in town back in '81.  We missed Mom and James, of course, and we didn't recreate the drunken stroll through a dark Heath afterwards, but that was probably a good thing too. 

Dad's lecture is Saturday night, at Friends House, just around the corner from our hotel.  I may find my memory triggered there by some of the rooms.  But all in all, the claustrophobia I feel in cities, I first discovered in this one.  Fifteen years in New York, seven in Seattle, and about six months in Dublin in '86 have all taught me skills for managing it (and those daily walks on Hampstead Heath back in '81 were undertaken for therapeutic purposes at the time), and I think I'd have quite a good time here, if our stay was longer.  Cities are great to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in one.  Oh. Huh. 

London and New York feel similar in size and energy.  There are different visual effects of course, but the first thing I noticed was distinctly different smells.  Dublin's is different as well, and I can more readily attribute that to the greater influence the Irish Sea has on the place.  It's simply not as big, there are fewer buildings over five stories, and the air just smells saltier. 

More thoughts, and OH so many pictures, when I get home and have a moment to synthesize the experience.  

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 12 Dublin

Our last full day in Dublin, and in Ireland.  Tomorrow Mary and I go much against the grain to get up an some ungodly hour so we can be on a ferry to Wales, then a train to London.  Dad will be flying, content to substitute quickness for scenery.  Today we had breakfast with a good friend of Mary's from grad school; Eileen and her family live in England now, as she's teaching at the University of Warwick.  Her perspective as an American citizen making a life in England was pretty interesting; she has a stake in the local politics and economics but still views things as an outsider at times. 

I'd forgotten how often the Irish will ask if you've family connections here; the reasonable assumption is most Americans who choose to come here do so at least in part because of ancestral connections.  Mary and I have discussed more than once the funny way she, James and I all identify with being Irish in particular ways, even though we know nothing of the specifics other than our last name and the fact that everywhere we turn here we see relatives.  By contrast we have a fairly extensive genealogical map of Mom's side of the family, some lines traced back to tenth century Wales.  The vast majority of the names are Welsh, Cornish, Scots and probably Irish, so I like to pretend sometimes that we're basically Celts, but the fact is we're probably mixed-biscuits like most Americans, a mish-mash of western Europe, with one legendary great-grandfather who was American Indian.  (Lots of Americans believe they have such an ancestor, however, and it rarely turns out to be true.)  We know we romanticize Ireland big-time; maybe no one does it more than Irish-Americans.  Americans can be fond of tracing 'their roots'.  We crave a sense of cultural tradition and belonging that other cultures take for granted.  We feel like our country is too young to have much of an identity yet, and the more honest of us recognize that it was always a big messy gumbo anyway.   

On this trip though I became more aware of the way eastern Irish (mostly urban Dubliners) can romanticize the west themselves.  (Well, what they do is romanticise, but it's much the same process.)  Many people there and elsewhere still see it as the repository of Irishness at its most authentic.  The language is most vigorous out there (both B&Bs Mary and I stayed at were run by bilingual households), the rural ties are still strongly evident, and of course there are ruins and abandoned villages all over the place to stand as stark reminders of the various invasions and devastations the country has experienced.  The stage Irishman that came into being during the Irish Renaissance was intended in part to counter the previous version, that of a drunken, lazy, slovenly braggart always ready for a fight.  Reams of pages have been written about the fact that the Irish Renaissance and the Independence Movement in general was dominated by members of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Aristocracy.  On more than one occasion we were told that we couldn't truly claim Irish heritage since our name was not Irish, but Norman.  No one went so far this time, but more than one person did make sure to mention the fact.  So even our sole tenuous claim --Dad knows nothing of his family history beyond the names of his parents, and it took the Freedom of Information act for him to learn the date of his father's birth-- is seen by some as dubious at best.  We nod solemnly, accept our pretender status, then smile as we hear laughs and see faces that could easily belong to close relatives, I mean, like siblings.  Culture is more than genetics and bloodlines, of course, but whenever we've spent time in Ireland, we can't help but wonder if genetics plays a part in more aspects of our personalities than is presently understood.  Our family sense of humor, for example, seems to fit into the collective understanding in Galway or County Clare in ways it doesn't always in Indiana.  

I said we romanticize the place, didn't I?  Shush.  

We saw a new play, still in previews, at the Abbey Theatre (The national) last night.  By Bernard Farrell, it's titled Bookworms, and all four of us (Dad, Mary, her friend Eileen and I) loved it.  A nice mix of farce and political commentary, I'll be curious to see if it plays outside the country.  I've a collection of other plays of his that was given to me years ago, but haven't read it.  That will be added to the list when I get home.  Tonight we hope to see Stoppard's Arcadia at the Gate theatre.  Oh, the show last night cost us 18 Euros, Dad got a senior discount at 13.   Sure it was a preview still, but did I mention it was at the NATIONAL THEATRE, written by a well-established and -loved playwright?  Picture seeing a new work by Tony Kushner for about $25, and buying the ticket an hour before the show.  Maybe the tickets tonight will be unavailable, but they won't be substantially more expensive. Yes, this is largely due to the size of the country; Dublin is about 1million strong, and post-Celtic Tiger the country as a whole is around 5 million.  That is less than half the size of New York City, I believe.  But there's also just a different attitude towards theatre there, as there is in England.  People go.  They think it's fun.  They can afford to go, especially if they're students and can avail themselves of some fantastic deals.  In this country, if you're spending nearly (or in some cases more than) one hundred dollars on a ticket, you understandably expect it to be SPEC-FUCKIN-TACULAR. Oh, the things I have to say about theatre in this country.  Sigh.  

Today we went to the national art museum, in particular to see the Jack B. Yeats collection, but we took in some of the new collection as well.  Then Mary and Dad headed back to the hotel for 'restorative naps' and I decided to take a stroll along Grafton street, to see if memory was triggered more fully than it has been thus far.  It was loads of fun, I do love walking streets, and things are looking very spruced up since the last time I was here in 1993.  That was pre-Celtic Tiger, so even though the country is in a recession now, there are still plenty of signs of improved infrastructure and such.  Most notably there are new-to-me trams running through the city and they seem very popular. I do love public transportation when it's done well.  I have lots to say on that topic too.  

Feeling a bit bashful, I nonetheless stepped into a woolens store to see about sweaters, hats and scarves.  I always figure those things are mostly for tourists, and maybe they are, but on this occasion I was heartened to see Gabriel Byrne in the store looking at jackets and vests.  He was wearing clothes that may very well have come from the same place.

I've come to realize I have almost no recollections of London; the last time I was there was in 1981.  A favorite restaurant, some spots on the Heath, and big tourist spots like Trafalgar are the only memories I'm conjuring at this point.  But Mary and Dad have tons of fond memories and favorite spots between them (each has been back several times since then, usually for several months while they led foreign study groups), so I'm looking forward to seeing the place with them, and starting to collect new memories of my own. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 11-12, Dublin

So much for my plan for regular updates, even just ten minutes ones.  Mary and I have been having a fabulous time.  We probably could have sought out more internet cafes than we did, but there always seemed to be something else to do.  We spent two days in Galway, soaking up the sun (yes, sun) on the sli na slainte, which I think translates as walk of health, a walking path that takes one along the bay.  Many photos will be shared at a later date with anyone foolish enough to click on this blog, or sit still in my presence for any length of time.  Mary and I travel well together; we want to go to the same places, usually because we share the fond memories, and we're pretty much in tune about how much to plan and how much to play by ear.  Having seen how much I love my new camera, Tony decided Mary needed one for her trip, so we've been madly snapping away, both of us, flowers, mountains, donkeys, cows, pigs, more flowers, greenery EVERYWHERE, scenery galore, cottages we intend to own (still haven't narrowed down WHERE we want to be exactly).  After Galway we spent three nights in Co. Clare, hiking about the Burren.  A woman at one of our favorite bookstores (back in Galway) gave me an article about a guy who theorizes J.R.R Tolkien based his vision of Mordor on the Burren.  It seems plausible; once you see my photos, you'll see why I think it bears examining. 

Trying to sum up over a week's worth of travel while still sticking to my ten minute rule is a wee bit tricky.  Add in the fact that we just had some really great Italian food and a fair amount of wine, and you'll have to forgive me if I'm not painting the detailed picture I want to.  There have been characters along the way, as all good travel will entail.  I'd forgotten, for example, the men frequently like to chat up my sister, and smooch her if given half a chance.  Okay, so far there have been only two, but they were both pretty smitten, and we're not out of Ireland yet.  City people are more reserved no matter where you go though. 

We've been doing a lot of hiking, sometimes more than we had actually planned.  A hike up Knocknarea, for example, ended up being a hike from Strandhill to the mountain, up the mountain, down the mountain, then back into Sligo.  We still haven't figured out exactly how long that was (either in miles or kilometers, which sound so much more impressive), but anyone who knows the area has been very impressed with us.  We're pretty pleased with ourselves as well.  On top the mountain we had another little moment to say goodbye to James (he loved the place too).  Naturally we're constantly reminded of things he would have loved doing, seeing, eating or enjoying with us, but that's mostly been nice. 

I haven't said a word yet about how wonderful Clifden in Connemara was, but the internet cafe closes in five minutes.  Maybe now that we'll be in cities for the rest of the trip (here, then London) I'll get to write more... but there is so much to see...

Day One: Galway

I've got about ten minutes to write a quick post before the time runs out; that's perfect though, since I told myself if I posted at all during this trip, it would be no more than ten minutes at a time.  When I get going, I can lose hours, but I don't want to spend more time reporting on the trip than I do enjoying it. 

Our flight out of Kennedy was delayed by a plane switch, then the trip was lengthened by two hours so we could fly north of the Iceland volcano ash; seven hours on a plane, in the middle seat, is a looooong time.  It was mitigated by having my sister on one side of me, and the actor/writer/activist Malachy McCourt sitting on the other.  We had seen him and one of his brothers in the waiting area, and were pretty sure we knew who he was, but didn't have it confirmed until we realized we'd be spending the next seven hours together.  He's every bit as charming and funny as one would expect after seeing him in interviews.  He, like us, was coming over in part to honor a brother who had died in the last year.  His brother Frank is being honored today by a school in Limerick with a bust and an endowed chair. 

Shannon is one of the quietest international airports in the world.  We caught a bus into Galway, hitting several towns along the way that brought back fond memories of family trips.  After checking into a hostel, we wandered the gorgeous walking streets, and an equally gorgeous river walk.  The thing one has to keep remembering is, the things here aren't trying to look charming.  That building just looks like that.  Those horses and swans aren't trying to be picturesque, they're just doing their thing, being swans and horses.  (Between you and me though, I think some of the animals are paid by the Tourist Board.  More than once I've had one of them seem to pose, finding just the right position to make a shot work best.)

Several Days Later:  So it turns out this didn't get published when I thought it did, the computer cut out on me sooner than I realized.  Now I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Dublin, on the 23rd.  Mary, Dad and I all met up yesterday in the city and have spent today bopping about the place.  I'll post this one, then try to jot down some notes about the last week.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mr Blue Sky: Ambushed by ELO

I was a teary kid, a crybaby, until age twelve when I resolved never to cry again.  It wasn't that I thought it was unmanly; Dad has always been easily moved to tears for causes both sad and joyful.  I think I've seen him cry more than Mom.  In my case it just seemed silly to hand other kids such easy ammunition, especially when I had so many other things to live down.    

My resolve worked surprisingly well.  I was in college before I shed any more tears, and even then I rarely did it in front of other people.  I never had the experience of catharsis others claim to have.  Giving way to tears, like giving way to rage, doesn't leave me feeling purged or relieved.  I don't strive to bottle either one any longer; when they come, they come.  But giving them expression doesn't seem to help much.  

James' death was the first occasion in a long time I can remember feeling like I had no say in whether or not I cried.  Have I told you the story about when I learned of his death?  I had been at a friend's surprise birthday party, in a cheese cave (seriously) so the phone call went to voicemail.  Above ground again, I listened to Dad's message on a street in Midtown.

"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee listens to this.  James was killed today in a car accident."  

Then he dissolved into sobs, and had to hang up the phone.  

I suppose it was shock that made me unsure I had heard the message correctly, so naturally I had to replay it.  But remember, I was in the concrete canyon of Midtown.  

"Patrick, make sure to sit down before thee mumble mumble...mumble cell phone cut out, mumble mumble mumble."  


I moved to a new location, got more bars on my phone and hit replay again.  But I'm still in Midtown, remember? Suddenly a parade of Falun Gong followers marched past me on the Avenue.  There were gongs, drums, cymbals, some species of caterwauling horn.  It was like Chinese freakin' New Year.  

What. the. fucking. HELL. (In other circumstances I would have found this hilarious.)

Fourth time was a charm, though by this point the shock had worn off enough that probably my brain was simply catching what my ear had heard perfectly the first time.  Not knowing what to do with myself, I went on autopilot and headed off to my appointment.  It wasn't until I met with my acupuncturist that I realized that trying to talk meant unleashing the torrent I had been holding back, just out of habit.  It took at least three tries before I could explain why I was sobbing.  She wisely sent me home.  Next on the agenda was calling Brian, to explain that I wouldn't be much use to him at the rehearsal that day for the staged reading we were working on.  Having said it out loud once already, thus removing any chance I had of magically rendering it not so, I was able to choke out my message after just two tries.  

The month of June had many crying jags, and I realized that not only was I rarely in control of it, I was also not embarrassed by it.  Certainly that must have been partly due to the fact that I was surrounded by lots of other watery messes, none of whom saw anything to be embarrassed by in their grief.  It was comforting in its own weird way.  (By the way, I have never been embarrassed by other people's tears, just my own.)  

Then the memorial happened.  For those of you unfamiliar with the silent Friends tradition, let me explain some key details.  Because there is no predesignated minister, there is no pulpit, and the benches are usually set up in concentric rings, so everyone can see everyone else.  One bench closest to the center is designated the 'Facing Bench'.  Originally this would be where the elders sat, and today it's where the people charged with ending the worship sit.  During special meetings, like for weddings or memorials, the families directly involved will sit here.  The last time I sat there had been for Mary and Tony's wedding in 2006.  That was nice.  

I'm going to go on record here and say I'm not so sure having grieving families sitting on the Facing Bench is such a swell idea.  At least in my case I didn't care for it.  Suddenly I was aware of all these loving, sad, sympathetic people staring at me, wondering how I was doing, how I was going to react.  The old ambivalence about  tears resurfaced with a vengeance.  Oh, they still came, I wasn't able to control them yet, but I felt vulnerable, exposed, above all embarrassed.  I saw how this experience might be mitigated a bit in other Judeo-Christian memorials, where everyone faces in one direction.  The only people who can see you crying are the ones at the lectern or pulpit, and maybe the folks sitting next to you.  

Oh, except in those cases, the grieving family members are often expected to say a few words, right?  So you're still visible to everyone, and you're expected to both stand and talk.  Nope, that would have been worse.  Scratch that paragraph above. 

What brought all this on today?  Well, in the past ten months, tears have come and gone according to some inner logic of their own.  At times, sometimes for days, I'll feel them brewing under the surface, before they're triggered by the damnedest things.  I mean Mercedes singing "You are Beautiful" in an episode of Glee was nice enough I suppose, but definitely one of that show's more treacly moments.   The show hits pretty high on the treacle-meter actually.  I still love it, but usually resist its more overt (read: cheap) plays for emotions.  Was I really going to succumb this time?  Apparently, yes.  Not sure why, clearly it had something to do with James, don't ask me what, other than the general sentiment that yes, he too was beautiful, but for whatever reason that song (maybe because Mercedes was singing to all the fellow misfits at her high school and James had definitely been a misfit? I got nothin') set off the waterworks.  

I had a similar experience this morning, with this song. I don't know how James felt about ELO, though I would suspect he liked them well enough.  He probably even liked this tune, assuming he ever heard it.  Maybe the lyrics make me think of him, especially the refrain:

Mr Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away
For so long (so long) 
Where did we go wrong?

Hey there Mr Blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you.  

Yeah, there's some kind of trigger in there.  I've mentioned James' relentless sunniness before, and how it often drove me crazy as a kid (maybe mostly when it took the form of teasing or hounding his older brother).  I think James had some bleak periods, ones he rarely shared with me.  Maybe he expressed them to Mary, or to close friends, but I fear he had the same tendency I did to hide away when things were really bad.  I think it's a family trait, or maybe a cultural one.  As a country we're still Puritan enough to think grief, misery, or simply low self-confidence are things to be ashamed of.  Weaknesses of character.  Sins to atone for, perhaps.  Or maybe we don't know how to talk about them in a way that doesn't sound self-pitying.    

So a peppy, upbeat song with deceptively melancholy lyrics threw me a curve ball today.  Not the first time nor, I suspect, will it be the last.  And more often than not now, I get embarrassed by it.  Writing about it is almost as bad; woo boy, does that trigger the  'wallowing police' siren in my head (neener neener neener!).  There's no denying this is all about me, after all.  I think Mom, Dad, and Mary may be having similar experiences.  In the days following James' death, grief tended to be a force bringing us together; at this stage, I think lately each of us feels the need to experience its greatest depths privately.  I guess that's just part of the process.  Funny how often that word--process--is the only answer I have for most of life's little struggles these days.  It's a popular word among artists too.  Getting to hate that fucking word.  

Which undoubtedly is also part of the process.  



Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Subway Snapshot

Riding on the #1, three handsome young men of South Asian descent catch my ear and eye.  I'm not drawn by what they're saying--they're discussing people I don't know, and a game I've never understood, even after playing it in gym class when we lived in London--but I love the music of it.  One fellow speaks with a lilting South Asian accent (my ear isn't tuned enough to get more specific than that).  Another speaks with a posh London dialect.  The third tawks pure Bronx.  And all three are dressed in white uniforms,  the crisp blinding cloth only slightly rumpled and grass-stained at this point.  They carry cricket bats and shin guards.  They were just playing at Riverbank State Park, in Harlem.  

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Bread & Butter Issue: Comment Moderation

For the last few posts one of my most faithful commenters has been someone posting a link to an Asian porn site.  If that were all it was, I might be inclined to leave things be, and delete those comments as they come.  I'm not convinced, however, that IS all the link does, and being just clueless enough about the ways of the interwebz, I've decided to change my comment policy.  For now, I've switched over to the moderated setting, which means (for the two of you who aren't bloggers yourselves) that before a comment gets posted, I have to sign off on it.  Frankly it's rather nice that I've been able to go this long (almost five years) without having to make this switch.  It's also nice that the cause is a random spammer who seems to have figured out a way around the word verification function, rather than the irresponsible, over-heated ad hominem attacks I know have motivated the switch at other blogs.  Of course the topics here at Loose Ends rarely inspire the kind of debate that usually leads to those ad hominem attacks.  If my chirpy reports and photos of various green spaces enrage anyone, they haven't found me yet, or they haven't had it in them to post a scathing review.  No one is more surprised than I am that my blog has become such a flowers/bunnies/hearts destination.  As a pacifist socialist faggot with some rather heated positions of his own, I fully expected this venue to be a bit more controversial when I started it, but that's not where it's taken me.  I think that's all to the good, frankly.  It's been a good discipline for me to seek out positivity when I write here.  To be honest, that's not my natural tendency.   

Anyway, moderation, as opposed to Open ID (where you have to have signed on for some kind of online identity) will still allow anonymous users to post, since I have occasionally written about LGBT issues, and that has sometimes triggered anonymous comments from users who are not yet ready to come out.  Then there are all those folks who, like me, get a bit tired of having to sign up for yet another online something-or-other in order to leave a comment, so they just don't bother.  Honestly, how many different photo-sharing websites do we need, and why do no two of my friends seem to belong to the same ones?  

Okay, got a little distracted there.  So, comment moderation is now in place, I wish I didn't have to bother, but we'll see how it goes.  If, at any time, someone wants to contact me directly, remember that you can find an email link under my photo there on the left. 

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy Beltáin

It's a bit harder this year to muster enthusiasm for the beauty and abundance of Spring.  But I'm trying.  Soon my sister and I will take a trip that is sure to help the process; Ireland in May is something I haven't experienced since I was 10 years old.  In the meantime, I make myself stop and pay attention to what (and who) is around me, making my life richer and more joyful.  
Happy May Day.   
More photos after the jump.