Friday, September 30, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener: Day 6

Dublin, Google and Dublin
Our last full day in green green Ireland! We had to make the most of it. Trinity College was the closest walk from our hotel and so our first stop. A bespectacled college student in Harry Potter black robes gave us the tour. Oscar Wilde studied here and undoubtedly charmed and flamed his way through the school. The student seemed nervous but still churned out dates and facts as if she had been cramming for an exam. The college was built on monastic grounds as a Protestant university by Queen Elizabeth’s decree to counteract the Irish Catholic influence. I found interesting that the largest tree on campus, a sprawling long-armed thing, had successfully absorbed the overflowing water in the soil that was causing so much damaged to the buildings. The tree also fed off of the monastic cemeteries.

After the tour we were finally able to see the Book of Kells. This Celtic illuminated book and others in the collection were fascinating. The intricate details and minute flourishes of creativity within the confines of rigid Christianity made these cow skin pages so magical. The exhibit was very crowded so we didn’t have much time to deepen our understanding. Upstairs from the books was the Long Room, an old-style library containing mostly medical texts. Many of these less valuable but fascinating books were on display. The detailed drawings of human organs and blood systems were impressive especially since they must have been individually sketched with the limitations of printing presses... More>>

Where the Grass is Greener: Day 5

Galway and Newgrange
The sky was drizzling and threatening to worsen when we got to Newgrange. Our tour guide had a giant umbrella and was wonderfully authoritative. She told us of how it was constructed during the Neolitic Age, was overgrown with fields before it was rediscovered, possibly looted and definitely graffitied. She told us of the controversial way the tomb was reconstructed with the white quartz stones surrounding its base. The architect at the time reverse engineered the wall based on where those stones fell but others argued that these stones were in reality a pathway and did not belong to the tomb’s walls at all. No wonder it looked so bright and new for being built 5,000 years ago! Without any written history, it’s impossible to know anything for certain. The spiral patterns, the boulders circling the tomb: all are open to interpretation. In the surrounding farms, we could detect the grassy heads of other mounds. One farm grew its crops all around this mound. I can’t understand why it wasn’t excavated as well. I suppose to the farmer, prehistoric tombs have no value compared to food on the table... More>>

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener: Day 4

The Aran Islands

The “Happy Hooker” was sailing smoothly. M was in an even cheerier mood that morning as he proudly announced that he was successful in his farm-animal-petting crusade. A donkey and a cow in one of the neighboring farms next to our bed and breakfast were very accommodating. The weather wasn’t as sunny as M though and for the first day since our trip, the skies were stubbornly gray. The wind reminded us of the stinging treachery of the sea. A few unfortunate girls on the boat wore flip flops and miniskirts.

Before long, the Aran Islands came into view. Inisheer is one of the smaller islands and it looked like a collage of grassy fields, unforgiving rocks and occasional wooden houses. I could not imagine living here in winter when the sea would offer no escape. As we boarded off the boat, men in horse carriages tried to cajole us into a tour. We opted for renting bicycles instead. The road started out smooth though a little hilly. We stopped at a church ruin encircled by a not so ancient cemetery. All of the tombstones had imposing Celtic heads and tall grass almost matched their height. Strangely enough, the church was several feet lower than the cemetery as if embedded into the ground. I suppose they must have unearthed it at some point and the local residents began burying their loved ones around the ruins.  It was a small church with a modest altar and the engravings of a Jesus-like figure suggested the medieval age. A little black bird paused on one of the crumbling walls, holding a squirming worm in its beak. I’m sure it was utterly indifferent to all churches, histories and gods...More>>

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener: Day 3

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher were more breathtaking than I ever expected. From the overpriced parking lot to the tourist center built into the top of the cliffs, I had no premonition of the beauty we were about to experience. Once we walked up to the fence made of large stone slabs, I wanted to cross those man-made limits just to get closer. They are truly majestic. Layers of stone from every age of humanity stacked and stacked atop a crisp blue sea. White stone, gray stone, brown stone all building a more majestic castle than any I have ever seen. Tufts of sweeping green grass added to the spectacular sight and birds circled the unreachable cliffs. The sheer verticality of these cliffs meant that birds were the only ones who had the freedom to inhabit them. It must be an aviary heaven, free from clumsy-pawed predators. There are albatrosses there, and puffins and seals and countless other creatures.

We abandoned the marked path for a less official one and only found deeper beauties. The way the cliffs curved it’s as if someone took a great big ice cream scoop and scooped these stones out, only leaving white, frothy ribbons from breaking waves. The grass was so dense and soft it could have been a beautiful monster’s coat of fur. We perched in a cozy opening of the cliffs and dangled our feet over the edge. The thrills were the bright and scintillating kind. The danger was so drenched by the beauty of it all, it hardly felt like danger at all. Peril might as well have been a sparkly purple dress to slip in and twirl in. We could not take our eyes off the view before us. We sat, his arms around me, feeling the extremities of what it is to be young and alive... More >>

Friday, September 23, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener: Day 2

Kenmare, Ring of Kerry

After a night’s sleep that felt deeper than a black hole, we got dressed hurriedly in time for breakfast. Our hostess brought out the infamous Irish breakfast, a plate of every kind of animal, meat and delicious fat. The slices of bacon were Canadian-style: thick and salty ham. The sausages were juicy. My favorites were the fried medallions of pudding: one was grayish and full of pork and cereal, the other was dark and made of blood. She said that she made the pudding herself. The whole plate was set off by charred pieces of tomato and potato. This would be the first of many devastating breakfasts.

As we set off towards Kenmare, the sky was rainless and the roads were narrow. Disobeying trees and bushes lined the slim strips of cement and I stifled a gasp every time a bus came careening from the opposite direction. I squealed over quant little houses with brightly painted doors and window frames, some rose red, others royal blue. M relished the driving and would bark out orders at me to take pictures of the scenery.

By the time we had dropped off our things at the Abbeycourt bed & breakfast, the afternoon was already nearing evening so we decided to have a quick picnic inside an abandoned church next door. The gray stone walls were overtaken by vines and its floor was now a bed of weeds, yellow buttercups and wild bushes. We perched ourselves on one of the windows, feet dangling, gazing over the cemetery and fields in the distance. Our sandwiches had too much mustard, the wind was whipping and a drizzle started to descend, but nothing could have been more magical than that picnic in the ruins. I thought of the people who used to come here every Sunday and the priest who thumped his sermons. As the drizzle started resembling rain, we ran back to the car and went on to the Ring of Kerry... More >>

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener 1 - Arrival and Kilkenny

The Ireland Diaries

We arrived to a rain-whipped Dublin, sleepless but otherwise whole. From the timidity of our bite-size car, the highways were a left-sided streak of terror. A gray, heavy rain crashed against our windshield as I tried to stifle my panic while M took on stickshift driving with the eagerness of a Boy Scout. Within minutes of leaving the airport, we had our first sighting of a Guinness truck. The first puffs of white sticking out of green green grass made us shriek. Sheep! Woolly, grass-munching, butt-in-the-air sheep! M immediately made the solemn promise that he would pet one of those creatures or so God help him.

The Rock of Cashel opened up to postcard blue skies. The limestone castle looked as if it had been gnawed on by a giant with a penchant for rooftops.  One of the first things I noticed were the birds. Pigeons, sparrows and other small flying things dotted the spaces between wall and sky. Throughout the building were small holes left behind by the wood scaffolding used during its construction. Over time, the wood rotted away and left these perfect nesting places for feathered beings.

Legend has it the Devil took a bite out of the limestone mountain across the fields and spat it out to create the present tourist spot. Our tour guide wore polka dot and proved to have as much air in her head as the castle ruins. She stammered through many insightful tidbits like “and here they had various rooms where they did various things.” It wasn’t until we caught a few minutes of another guide’s explanations that we realized just how wrong her “facts” had been. Surrounding the church were tombstones dating from the 15th century to two years ago. Even now there is a waiting list to be laid to rest at this historical center of tribal power and the Catholic church. Did lying beneath the Rock of Cashel mean a fast pass to heaven, I wondered. A few years ago, a powerful hurricane had wrenched away the head of a great Gaelic tombstone and the engraved pieces lay at the base, sinking into grass.

From the Rock of Cashel’s crowded graveyard, we caught a glimpse of another ruin nearby. This was Hoar Abbey, the subject of many giggles and dirty jokes. But Hoar was in reference to hoarfrost, which is the morning ice that clings to blades of grass. The monks at the abbey wore gray robes that reminded people of the little icicles. I followed a grassy path through the fields as M sauntered forward. The abbey is more modest than Cashel and guarded by a large tree with its arms spilling with white blossoms. Moss and vines freely roamed its stones. There is something about old cemeteries that really captivates the imagination. I guess it’s because they’re the only traces left of individual lives. We can find out their names, their familial roles, calculate their age and try to glean personality traits from the styles of their tombstones. One of my favorites was a small, gnawed one with a timid skull. I think it belonged to a child. As we left the abbey, M took a side trip to try and pet a cow. He ran away when their gargantuan size became evident as they began circling him ominously... More >>