The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Pilgrims

Yesterday on my walk I fell in with a group of people heading toward Cappanawalla. The group was strung out along the coastal road in clumps of brightly colored coats and ski jackets. I asked a local Irishman if he knew that lot, but he said it was too early in the morning for him to respond to questions. I set out after them and after a mile found myself walking with a man in his seventies who had managed to overtake me. He said the group were from Limerick, staying at Hyland’s for the weekend, and had come to take the nine-mile hike across Cappanawalla. They did it every year. For some reason, I was reminded of Chaucer’s pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury.

The guy enjoyed talking with an American and shared his stories of Mexico, Spain, and the other places he had seen, including a stint in Zambia where passports were always presented to border guards with folded bills inside. He said he was surprised at Obama’s success, since most Americans he knew were racist. Two or three of the group used canes, but all were as fast as I was. They invited me to come along with them, but I said it would take most of the afternoon and I didn’t want to miss the rugby match between Ireland and Wales.

On the way back, I encountered a thirtyish couple walking toward Monk’s. The woman was talking at the top of her lungs and I could barely hear the man. She had the sidewalk to herself and her husband followed in the street one step behind. Naturally, I found this funny, and wondered aloud whether she always made him walk in the street. “What?” he asked, after she told him what I had said. “The street isn’t big enough for both of us,” he yelled, and we both started laughing. It was the kind of Irish repartee I have come to know and love.

March 9, 2008   Comments Off on Pilgrims

The Fate of Irish Writers

yeats_house1.jpgThe poet William Butler Yeats, perhaps the greatest poet of the last century, lived in the tower house he refurbished for his wife George not far from Gort at the edge of the Burren. Like many important monuments in the west of Ireland, it is also a source of grass for cattle and a repository for trash. The visitor steps around cow pies and a pile of refuse along the river when seeing the poet’s famous home and wonders what is in the minds of the Galway County Council for not maintaining it properly. Lady Gregory’s grounds at Coole Park are better kept, because the Irish government have made a park out of it. Still her house was allowed to fall into ruin and only the foundation remains. lady_gregorys_stables.jpgThe distance between Yeats’ castle and Coole Park is a few miles and I could visualize Yeats making the journey on horseback to eat, drink, talk, and wander among the grounds with his friends. Luckily, words are more rugged than buildings, and Yeats will very likely survive as long as English is spoken as a language.

For my dad, whom I love with all my heart, I transcribe these famous lines and put them here for him to read:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing…

February 24, 2008   1 Comment

Lost

top_of_cappanawalla.jpgToday I managed to get lost again on top of Cappawalla. It was just me, the mud, rocks, manure, and the cattle wandering around on the mountain. I did get sympathetic grunts from the cows and a neigh or two from a herd of horses. The problem was that I set off a half an hour before the group, and went up a cattle trail without knowing I was supposed to go straight. Of course, the real path wasn’t marked. You had to know where it was. I suppose, this is the story of my life. But I hate being part of a group, where you always seem to experience things secondhand, jockeying with individuals constantly trying to find their place in the pecking order. Everything is so much more vivid and intense when you experience it on your own. The price you pay is getting lost now and then, but I’ve always found that it’s well worth the cost.

February 22, 2008   Comments Off on Lost

Cappanawalla

Tomorrow Gordon is taking us on a nine-mile hike across the local mountain, called Cappanawalla, along the route I tried to find last week. It is supposed to be a sunny day of 50 degrees, so I’m looking forward to it.

Drew, one of the students here who is working with a local farmer, said that the tails of the sheep are tied so they wither and fall off, and when they do, the foxes come to eat them from the ground, running among the herd as if they’re old friends. sheep.jpgThe sea gulls also have a strange relationship with the sheep. At times, they’ll swoop down en masse and walk among them eating something from the shorn ground. Maybe it’s coincidence. I don’t know. The farmer’s son where I live, who is perhaps all of ten years old, wears wellies and strides through the fields with a stick exactly like his father, counting the sheep each day. When he passes by the house, I flash him the peace sign, which he ignores. Sometimes a football will fly over the stone fence and land in the field, and one of the players from the local team will hop through the gap and retrieve it.

In County Clare, it is so insanely green it makes you want to scream.

February 21, 2008   1 Comment

A ride, a pint, and a bit of companionship

Kind persons have been coming out of the woodwork. Yesterday, as I was walked along the coast road a mile or so out of Ballyvaughan, a guy slowed down and asked if I wanted a lift. Of course, he wasn’t driving a Land Rover, but a tiny, battered car, smelling of tobacco inside. I said, “Sure,” and got in. I noticed his fingers were stained yellow from tobacco, his eyes were slightly crossed, and his clothes were more than well used. He said he was from Kilfenora and was headed for Monk’s. I said it was closed until the 15th, but that there were two other pubs open in town and named them. He wanted to know if I was from the States. When I said yes, he asked whether I was a Democrat or a Republican, and I said I was very liberal politically. Like many of the common Irish I’ve met, he offered the opinion that George Bush had done much damage to the image of the United States. When he dropped me off at my road, he gave me his hand and told me his name and asked for mine in return. We parted as friends. It was another unsolicited act of kindness by someone who offered what little he had, a lift in his car. These common Irish men and women are so far removed from those who are moneyed, which, I suppose, is how it is everywhere. He viewed the world in the most basic terms: a ride, a pint, and a bit of companionship.

February 5, 2008   2 Comments

A Simple Act of Kindness

The Internet connection at the hotel where I pick up my wifi is working at a crawl this morning. Of course, I’m not complaining, since it wasn’t working at all for much of yesterday. The feed to the village is distributed from Aillwee Cave via small dishes. (Visualize a number of cups and saucers tumbling through space like something from a Disney cartoon with a number of them breaking.) The more reliable service is via a portable telephone modem which plugs into your laptop, but, alas, this requires a one year contract.

The glass panel in the door opposite where I’m sitting in the hotel has been smashed. There are still traces of blood and, also, a large gash in the plaster where someone planted a forearm. I’ve been told it was the result of a fight, which occurred at 6:00 A.M. in the morning. Apparently, such fights are common in the pubs. Even though it went on for half an hour, the Garda wasn’t called. Because it was in a dark corner, the cctv cameras didn’t catch the action, so everyone is willing to put it behind them.

The cook here, whom I’ve chatted up from time to time, just brought me a free cup of coffee with two tiny biscuits. It’s black and delicious. It was totally unexpected. A simple act of kindness. How strange and wonderful it is to be alive.

February 4, 2008   1 Comment