Ireland-Day the First
As we hurtled toward the Emerald Isle, at somewhere in the neighborhood of 550 miles per hour in our Boeing 757, it was black as charcoal outside our windows. The whole time thing got run through the wringer on this journey, in about a half-dozen ways. There are eight hours difference between Cali and Ireland, and as we left New York around 7:55PM, Cali-time, we learned that it would take about five and a half hours, to make the trip, almost to the minute, the length of time it took to get from Cali to New York.
That put us arriving in Ireland at 1:25AM, except for that eight hour difference, which had us coming in at 9:25AM to the Shannon Airport. Hence, as we beat a hasty retreat around the front side of the globe, the sun was swinging around the rear. The net result was that we were able to see the most minuscule change in the black horizon, the most subtle shift in appearance from ebony to a lighter shade of black, and as we watched, the action was speeded up, as a result of our velocity.
I watched Annie, who was between me and the window, as we saw first clouds come into focus, and then gradually, the whole sky, as we drew nearer to our destination. Her features were illuminated, glowing, radiant. We waited for the first glimpse of Terra, and it was not long in coming.
I thought back to Eric’s description of the patchwork quilt of multiple shades of green, and that was precisely what we saw. It was everything we had hoped it would be, and then plenty. We could clearly see where the River Shannon met the Atlantic Ocean, and we easily kept that fog-colored ribbon in our sights, as it meandered its way through the lush countryside in the direction of its namesake.
We saw the spot where the river swelled outward, like a snake with a newly-swallowed rodent in its belly. Later, as we drove in Eric’s wheels towards Carrigaholt, I could unquestionably spot that same bulge in the river’s forward course, and marveled that one image from the air, could manifest itself so effectively from my vantage point on the ground.
So as we rocketed toward the airport in our jet, barely above treetop level, and dropped smoothly down on the runway, my mind was a whirl of emotions.
We were here, in Ireland, the destination that had consumed our focus for the past three months. I have said before that it was not Erie, the place so much, as it was the state of mind, which motivated me the most. I wanted to prove to the cosmos that I could do this; I knew I could, but the rest of the jury was still out. I also recognize that no one would have held it against me if I could not have pulled it off. I’ll even go so far as to say that by canceling my flight, Hurricane Irene actually caused me to breathe in a huge sigh of relief: I could quit right now, and take Door Number Two, with the net result that I had proved I could do it, until a hurricane raised its furious head, and shut us down.
Or, I could go for Door Number One, deal with the adversity, regather my collectively scattered wits, (Good Buddha does that create an appropriate image), and forge on with the agenda. It took me about twenty-four hours to gather up the prodigious array of mental tools, that it took to counter the reverberations of a tempestuous Irish lass, but gather them I did.
My logic was simple: Annie’s reason for going was hella better than my reason for staying. She had wanted to go specifically to this one tiny, glittering jewel, amongst all of the sparkling gems that comprise our Mother Earth. I had simply desired to descend steps of our chariot, and emerge onto the tarmac of an airport located anywhere but home. Having vowed never to step foot in another plane, when I disembarked from the military machine back in 1973, I now proved myself a liar. Never did a lie appear so sincere, and yet turn out to be so transparent. It was as easy as one, three, two. Difficult as it might have been, the success felt so much finer. No reason for angst? No reason for Thanks.
As we rolled to a halt, and stretched our cramped legs, standing needlessly, as we waited for business class to exit, I pictured Eric in the nether regions of the airport, and envisioned my victory peace sign that I would thrust joyously into the air when we first came face to face. It was appropriate.
My first impression of Ireland from the ground? What else? Words. When it came to first things first, “Gents” was now my destination, instead of “Men.” Eric had had to stop at the “Car Hire” window to get our “wheels” in motion, and a bag of salt/vinegar “Crisps” now replaced what used to be one of my favorite snacks, potato chips. The sign on the wall asked if we were "On Holliday," and I thought it was a grand day for a holiday. This was going to be especially pleasurable for this former language arts teacher.
Customs was a breeze, with only a fifteen minute delay, and the sweetest official, who asked merely if we were “On Holliday” and for how long? When he asked if we had ever been before, and we said no, his face lighted up like a harvest bonfire, as he said, “Grand, sure and that’s grand.”
I paused, as I moved away, and asked, “Why, is that better than having been here before?”
He squealed identically to Michaelean Flynn, in The Quiet Man, as Flynn added, “And no patty-fingers if you please.” What he actually said was, “I’ll not be spoiling the surprise for you.” And he turned away, chortling, as he signaled to the next in line. What a culturally perfect emissary he was, as the official greeter of a couple of star-struck Yanks.
Our wheels, a Megane, was late-model, attractive, comfortable, and economic. Of course, as we exited the parking lot, the all-consuming focus was the glory, oh so long in coming, of being in a land that obviously recognized the proper order of the universe, and arranged for the LEFT SIDE-May I repeat?-the LEFT SIDE to prevail in all things mobile.
Oh, the unparalleled quality of the nectar that Eric provided, by lamenting the need to actually have to use his left arm for the all-important act of shifting gears.
The consummate joy of traveling 100 kilometers an hour, on the “wrong” side of the road, could not be surpassed. I was kind of disappointed (my personal safety tossed casually aside) that he did it so smoothly. Do not confuse my joy at cruising recklessly along at break-neck speed, with a stream of opposing traffic confronting us, as any hint that I could have accomplished the same thing. It is emphatically not a goal of mine to master this particular skill. I’ll stick to airplane travel as a measurement of my forward progress, and leave the driving to the Man.
The signs informed us that we were traveling through Kilkush, Killkee, and ultimately Carrigaholt, such a musical moniker for the village in which we were staying. The image I have imprinted on the screen in my mind, is not the first one I encountered. My fixed impression stems from the stroll Annie and I took a couple hours later, as we ventured out into the temperate air, moistened by the occasional passage of a gentle rain, or even drizzle, but otherwise perfectly suited to our purposes.
Waist-high walls, constructed from every form of rock/stone/brick imaginable, dominated my initial impressions. Brilliant bursts of color appeared in front of EVERY structure we passed, in the form of wooden, stone, or brick boxes, filled to capacity with a rainbow of varietal flowers, maintained by a woman Eric identified by name. These were among the most prominent features we saw, along with the observation that all edifices were coated with a rich, creamy exterior, the paint seemingly fresh and vibrant.
The trash-free roadway, and the color and vibrancy along our route, impressed upon us a significant difference between this land, and our own home front. Living in a rural area in NorCal, allowed me to better compare our current setting with that of the “new continent.” And the old stacked up pretty well with the new.
Just to hear how the Irish deal with basic environmental issues, such as grocery store bags, is very enlightening. Having mentioned that the roads are trash-free, the connection is unmistakeable. When we stopped at Tesco, comparable to a Target, Eric brought in four sizable sturdy bags, for putting our purchases in. If he had not provided bags, it would have cost him forty-three cents for each plastic bag for his groceries. Eric said one of the kids was charged more than two dollars for a similar plastic bag in the city.
Shopping was awesome. I found everything I sought, including a belt costing only three Euros, which I think that is about four dollars, but I am sure several people will furnish me with the correct figure. The produce was fresh, inviting and mostly locally grown. Organic produce was available, and items like eggplant could surprise us with its shimmering purple shades inviting us to stock up.
I held my breath as I approached the most critical part of the shopping experience: the imported food section, where I found canned refrieds, tortilla “wraps,” Spanish rice mixtures, spicy salsa, and everything else required to keep my South-of-the-border habit alive and salivating. For my bread fix I found baguettes, and a freshly baked, organic loaf of a crusty white bread, that tastes like sweet French bread, and goes very well with cheese.
Eric, with assistance from Annie, whipped up a tasty meal of paella for our first dinner, which was nice because I could eat it too, by simply not dishing myself out any of the tender chunks of chicken. A salad, which included the remainder of my cherry tomatoes from Casey’s garden, completed the meal. This auspicious beginning bodes well for the next ten days
As Annie and I continued our stroll, we ended up at the one spot that we had determined to be essential before we returned home, and that was-ready Pauline?-the post office. As we approached this building, a stone structure with red trim and a red door, traditional in appearance like the other structures on the street, a man wandered out the front door, and stretched. A little taller than me, and about the same age, his white hair was balanced by a five-day growth of white stubble. I took a chance as we got near, and he looked in our direction, and seemed to focus in on us, so I said, “Patrick.” Without an instant’s hesitation, he responded, “Mark!”
Well, now, that is not what I expected, so it was turn-about-is-fair-play time, because he hadn’t been expecting to be accosted verbally out front of his shop, by a guy with a chaotic growth of whiskers on his own face. His first words were, “Sure, and I thought you were after growing a beard. That’s what Eric told me to expect.”
“Well, I’ve got a start, anyway; we’ll see if a couple of weeks in the Old Country, doesn’t help matters out. The first point of business is to thank you for shepherding our packages in Eric’s direction, and to correct the impression that there is a third package on the way.”
Our packages had thankfully arrived, guaranteeing that Annie would eat, and I would continue smiling broadly, as I made my way about our newly established world. Eric had briefed me on his ongoing working relationship with Patrick, the proprietor of the PO, who had been watching out for our two packages. Somehow, I had managed to convey to Eric that we were expecting three packages instead of two. Annie and I set him straight.
“Oh, then there’s not? Then we’re good, and that’s grand. So you’re out and about, and not worried about the weather?”
“Oh no, we’re used to rain where we come from, and the temperature is very pleasant. We had to come in, to take a look and see where we’ll be after having a pint, when the time is come,” glancing appraisingly at my watch. Patrick could appreciate that sentiment, and I took the opportunity to ask the question to which I already knew the answer.
“So, can you tell me about this game on Sunday? The one-”
“Faith, sure and I can. It’s Irish football, played with sticks and a small ball. It’s Tipperary playing for it all, and I’ll be there. If you want to see our colors, just look over at me car,” and we did.
“And what time would that take place?”
“Three, and if you’re in any of the village pubs, on your daily crawl, pop in and take a look at a fine bit of business. You’ll not be disappointed.”
After exchanging a few more pleasantries, we wandered back down the main street, where we noted once again the presence of colorful flower boxes in front of every single structure on the street. Flowers? Creamy painted exteriors? No trash? Narrow rock/stone walls lining most thoroughfares? Ireland.
We walked past “The Long Dock,” which had appeared in one of the on-line sites that Eric had provided for us, back in the beginning. He and Cecilia had dined here one evening, and said that it was expensive, and nothing to write a blog about. However, Carmody’s was more to our style, being purely a pub, with a front section and another at the rear, where we found a table for the four of us. There we toasted our presence over here, and pondered the question of how long it had been since Big E and I had sat in a bar and ordered a drink together. I had posed the question, full well
expecting that the answer was thirty-eight years ago, in Korea.
I made the observation that circumstances were certainly more favorable in this current setting than in the previous one. The first thing I did, after Eric had brought the first round to the table, was to go back to the bar and buy two raffle tickets that the proprietor had asked Eric about. First place was a night at a local B&B; second prize was a hundred Euros, third was dinner for two at The Long Dock, and fourth was a bottle of whiskey, and a bottle of brandy. As I returned the stubs to her, and gave her the ten Euros for the two tickets, I promised to come back and pour drinks on the house, out of my two newly-won bottles of liquor, for every patron on the premises.
My logic was that I would be spending a fair amount of time here, and I may as well begin the process by paving a little good will into the path, so I bought the tickets. I feel confident that the investment will pay off handsomely. The other huge factor is that I could access the internet here, and it was pretty easy. I could also access the net at home with Eric’s computer, but could not post my blog, because I could not transfer the material from Terra Jean to Eric’s computer. So, I had already completed the document at the house, and only had to post it at the pub. That took five minutes, after which I settled back to revel in my surroundings.
Classically Irish, with the appropriate ambience, it also had the omnipresent television, which was featuring an Irish soccer game. I was confident that Sunday would be well worth the investment, to watch this kind of contest in the most appropriate setting imaginable.
We finished our walk, after deciding to postpone our stroll down to the sea line and the local castle, until the next day. It was time, and then some, for me to take a nap, so as to make it through our first day, having gone to that minute, approximately twenty-six hours without sleep. Say good-night, Markie.