Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where Have I Been? Ireland!

Hello, blog! Long time no see! I guess I’ve been away for so long because there seemed to be so little to talk about. But we just got back from a week in Ireland – our second visit there. We stayed in western Ireland (Killarney area) in 2007, but this year we went to the Dublin area. It was great, though generally a different experience – bucolic versus urban. Dublin is a bustling city, all right, but a fascinating one. We actually stayed at a timeshare resort about ½ hour south of Dublin proper, Fitzpatrick Castle Holiday Homes – very nice. It’s between the bayside towns of Dalkey and Killiney, an area that boasts a number of celebrity residents like Bono and The Edge of U2, author Maeve Binchy, and the late playwright Hugh Leonard. We also located musician Enya’s castle. We didn’t rent a car, so we relied on public transit and foot power the whole week (lots of walking involved), and it was uphill all the way from the village of Dalkey up to our resort (about a kilometer or so). We got a sample Of Irish hospitality early on the first day when we arrived in Dalkey by bus and tried to figure out how to get a cab to take us up the hill. An older gent named Sean, who was seeing off his adult daughter at the bus stop, offered to drive us up to the resort. So three of us plus luggage piled into his subcompact car and got a ride. What a nice fellow. (I said “the three of us”, but one of our other sons, who came on another flight, joined us later that day.)

I won’t give you the whole itinerary, but I will give you the top 5 highlights, at least in my opinion (and not necessarily in order):

1. The Irish History Walking Tour, which we took on our first full day (Sunday). It started at Trinity College and wound around to different historic buildings like Dublin Castle and Christchurch Cathedral. All the while our guide, an editor for Irish History magazine, gave us a crash course in Irish history. Fascinating, and a good orientation to the historic parts of the city.
2. The Chester Beatty Library. Beatty was an American-born millionaire and philanthropist who acquired an awesome collection of books and other sacred and secular artifacts. We saw illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, some very old editions of the Bible and Koran, and even a fragment of one of the Gospels from the 3rd century.
3. Newgrange: an ancient burial mound in the countryside that dates from 3200 B.C., 500 years before the Pyramids of Giza. Visitors are allowed inside the inner chamber, which is one of the oldest man-made structures still standing. The Neolithic people who built it constructed a vaulted ceiling from heavy stones, and without any kind of mortar or such. They also aligned the entrance and a “window” over it such that, on the Winter Solstice every year, the rising sun illuminates the entire inner chamber for just a few minutes. People from all over the world are eager to experience this phenomenon, so a lottery is held each year to determine which 50 people can come to see it.
4. The National Museum: The archeology museum was fascinating, and contained gold jewelry made by the Irish natives as far back as 3000 B.C., as well as artifacts of the Viking occupation. But the coolest thing was being able to see the “bog men” - three of these well-preserved bodies on display there.
5. The “Irish House Party” – on our last night in Ireland, we went to The Lansdowne Hotel in Dublin, where they seat about 30 people for a four-course meal, followed by a show with traditional Irish musicians. There was a vocalist/guitarist, accordion player, flute and whistle player, and a young woman who alternated between playing the fiddle and step-dancing (she used to be in “Riverdance”). We did sing-alongs, and some of us learned some basic Irish dance steps. The host invited any guests with a “talent” to come up and share it, so of course my 13-year-old volunteered to come up and tell a joke. The food was good, and the music even better.

Another interesting highlight of the trip was that my son went to a book-signing by author Neil Gaiman at a bookstore in Dublin. We found out after the fact that we and Mr. Gaiman were on the same flight to Dublin.

If you’d like to see some pictures, click here.

Poetry: Not much going on creatively (another dry patch), but I did get good three bits of good news recently:
1. My poem “The Jena 6” was selected as a finalist by Mad Poets Review for their annual contest and has been published in their current issue. The judge was Leonard Gontarek.
2. My poem "Record Store" was accepted for publication by Philadelphia Poets.
3. I entered the Finishing Line Press chapbook contest last year and although I wasn’t a winner, they have offered to publish my manuscript. I’m chuffed because it will be the first time someone other than myself or a friend has published one of my books, and on its own merit. More details as they become available.

Music: Already it seems to shaping up to be another good music year. So far I’ve been enjoying new albums by A.C. Newman and Andrew Bird, and I discovered a great Canadian band called Woodpigeon.
I'm also enjoying a 5-CD box set of music by Steve Reich called Phases. I picked it up at Tower Records in Dublin for a bargain price of 20 Euros. (The exchange rate when I was there was only about $1.22 - one of the few benefits of this depressed economy.) Anyway, it's an excellent collection of his best work, if you like Reich anc minmalist music.

Poem of the Month:
Here’s the poem that won the prize in the Mad Poets Review contest.

The Jena 6

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root….
- Lewis Allen, as sung by Billie Holiday

When three black kids crossed
an imaginary line in the schoolyard,
someone hung three nooses from an oak tree,
stems without fruit.

The culprits weren’t prosecuted,
but six black kids, who tried to mete out
their own justice, got trumped-up charges
and no bail, today’s version of the noose.

Justice is blind, they say, but not color-blind.
Nothing hangs from the oak tree now,
no “fruit”, or suggestion of it,
yet the ground still smells of rot.