Thursday, November 4, 2010

2. Ireland 1975: Galway

But all of a sudden I'm sitting in a country pub drinking pints as fast as they can be bought (for some shamelessly low cost -- about 55 cents) with some fine people from all over the world, and up the next morning to make myself an omlette and loaf in the salt and seaweed air.

There's a day gone by me though that I haven't had a chance to jot down. Come to think of it, it's 2 days now.

First there was the day that preceded my nightmare at Mrs. Meehan's. The very most amazing thing in that day was seeing Siobhan McKenna's Here are Ladies but earlier and all through the day I was in much improved spirits because the shops were open after Sunday and the holiday Monday and I busied myself going to bookstores and booking my flight home. 

There is one place -- I think it's called Bewley's that I had especially been waiting for. It had been closed since I first saw it but was to reopen that day. It is a large and very charming cafe specializing in coffees, teas, and pastries. It is somehow very evident -- even from the outside -- that it is an old Dublin institution and like some of the pubs its beauty and character is available to all -- not just wealthy Americans.

The front window supported my flashy little rent-a-bike as I went in though the coffee and tea store and into the back and into the large and very busy high ceilinged cafe. A young hip/student couple were sitting at a large table and I asked them if I could join them. He turned out to be a student, just finishing an engineering course in a Dublin technical school and she turned out to be from Paris and trying to learn English and live in Dublin for a while. 

He chatted on very amiably, she smiled a lot and was very attractive. His view of Dublin was that of the hip student with a middle class background. Tall, black hair, very blue, very beautiful eyes. Healthy, prosperous, well dressed. Maybe he didn't feel it himself too deeply, but he was certainly aware of the magic that Dublin can have for visitors and he told of good and bad pubs and good and bad people as I stuffed myself on numerous delicacies. McDaid's was one of the favourite haunts of Brendan Behan, he explained and it was a warm feeling to know why. And that's where they were going as a matter of fact. Strange, I said, that's where I was going too. 

There we met friends of theirs and had a very good time drinking Guinness. Friends from France and friends from Ireland. This was the part of travelling I'd been missing. Hearing people talk of travelling to various parts of the country. How they got there and what hostels were good. The French woman -- Brigitte was her name -- gave me a list of good pubs, bed and breakfast houses and hostels that she had gathered travelling around Ireland in the last few months. When it neared time for the play to start I began the very pleasant Guinness-coated bicycle ride home.

The Gate Theate is certainly not the tiny back lane theatre it is purported to be in the book Beckett and Behan and a Theatre in Dublin by Alan Simpson. It is sort of Ireland's second National Theatre.

Last night was the opening night of Here Are Ladies and as I found out the next day in a newspaper review the first night Siobhan McKenna had ever staged the show in Ireland.

I was surrounded by gowns, tuxedos and limousines. On one side of me was an entourage, the head of which -- a ratty little white haired man -- must have been something like the Minister of Defense, because they kept bringing him drinks and sucking his big toe. On the other side, the ruffled, noisy Dublin "theatre scene" yelling in-jokes and hollering hellos across the aisles.

Siobhan McKenna: She's inspirational and it's impossible to say anything about her that wouldn't cheapen and sensationalize her great art just from the presumptuousness of saying it.

Anyway, as I said, the train lurched out of Hueston Station clacking and thumping towards Galway.  The countryside across the midlands is, except for some very fine stone fences, dull and monotonous. Thick black cloud cover as there has been 90% of the time since my plane got within sight of the island. 

The train arrived quite late in the afternoon  so I thought I had better hitch-hike to straight to the hostel I had decided 0n -- which I thought to be about 15 miles down the road -- and not spend any time in Galway.

The hitchhiking was very good but the distance was longer that I had figured. When I finally reached the village where the hostel was I thanked the driver and watched him drive off down the road, only to find out moments later that I had to go another 2 miles down that same road then a further 2 miles down a crossroad. When they say in Ireland that something is located within a certain village they mean that it is located within a 5 to 10 mile radius of that village.

It was now evening and there was almost no traffic at all. Once or twice a truck would go by and wink or nod. Four miles with a pack that weighs probably forty pounds. Last night I was furious but today as I sit with the hills and rocks around Galway Bay in my view I couldn't care less.

The worst of it was not knowing what I was going to. This is the first hostel I've stayed in and I didn't know what sort of people would be here, whether or not there would be room, if I had enough food or if I would be able to get something to eat at all. I knew I had to supply my own food but I had no cooking utensils at all.

After walking for what was I guess 2 hours, I came on a pub/general store village. There were  3 guys there with packs and it turned out I was at least on the right road. One of these fellows was from Hamburg the other 2 from the French part of Switzerland. The one Swiss fellow who spoke English fairly well wanted to know if Robert Charlebois , Giles Vigneault, Pauline Julien and Felix Le'Clerc were as big in Canada as all over Europe.

We walked the last mile to the hostel, once the summer retreat of Florimond Alfred Jacques, the Compte de Basterot. Descendants donated it to the Republic to commemorate the fact that it was in this house in 1898 that Lady Gregory met with W.B. Yeats and held the first of the conversations which led to the founding of the Abbey Theatre. 

Huge bay windows at either end of the house, first floor and second one on top of the other floor to ceiling. It has been reclaimed from years of disrepair but not really badly. Additions have been built and the men's bunks are off to one side in what might be a new building, or perhaps a guest house with an addition. The floors are stone or ceramic tile and a coal fire is lit in the large common room at night. Kitchen facilities are extensive and very practical --twenty or more small gas burners sit on a counter which goes all around a large kitchen. Every utensil imaginable is available and standing in the middle are large metal topped tables for preparing food. In a room off to one side there are tables and benches for eating off (the tables that is).

I didn't have much food with me but the fellows I walked in with offered me some of theirs. I felt clumsy and badly equipped but I really had no other way of finding out how to use the hostels except just to show up at one and see what happens. Considering that I'm doing this at a time when I'm in a strange environment, lonely and homeless it can really twist around my poor vulnerable brain.

After we ate someone suggested going back to the pub for the evening. Suddenly my feet didn't hurt anymore.

"The Travellers Inn" said the sign. It was the local meeting and watering place and last night there were lots of the villager there and some fine old ballads sung. And a new one -- a version of Galway Bay rewritten to be about various parts of a woman's anatomy. I don't remember how it went.

The general store is open as long as the pub for the same old woman keeps running behind a partition from one to the other. I managed to buy everything I'll need to stay here for a few days -- including a loaf of freshly baked bread and six local eggs -- and I'm well contented once again.

This place and the surrounding countryside have a peace to them that is very good for the soul. A silence and a tranquil feeling in the pit of my stomach that I forget too easily when I'm in the city.

A walk after breakfast this morning took me down to the shoreline. The wind was strong but warm. As the hostels are said to be very busy with local people on the weekends, I have decided to stay here another couple of days. This hostel is very remote and the people here are travelers from all over the world. It has the danger of easily being seen as a community of its own, thus making it even harder to relate to the local people. After a week on my own in Dublin however, I am very grateful for this little community. I have met some Irish people here and they are refreshing in that they are out in the country cycling and hitch-hiking and not in Dublin working to save money for the latest clothes. The Irish I've met so far in the country and at this hostel are fairly timid. The women strike me as being very repressed. Church and state work hand in hand in such things as the banning of contraceptives or for that matter anything that might have the people on a farm having babies.

When I was in Dublin, among the very small visible "freak community", I saw two people -- a man and a woman -- pasting up posters for a radical women's conference and demonstration. Wherever possible they pasted them over an older poster advertising a rock group called Irma La Douche illustrated by an American underground-comic-like drawing of a tough black stocking'd with her breasts half squeezed out of some sort of very tight Victorian looking body girdle. These posters were often written over with "This poster degrades women" and "Down with sexist ads!" I do though sense a lack of rebelliousness in Irish young people. Someone told me this morning that it would be embarrassing for an Irish person to smell of smoke from a peat fire for it meant poverty but was perfectly ok to smell of coal because it was more expensive. The young Irish seem to want nothing more than new clothes and a slight increase in prosperity.

I'm so far more comfortable with women from anywhere but Ireland but I'll be able to gauge this better tomorrow if I can locate Paul's sister Ruth in Galway. Sitting in the common room by the fire last night, 2 Irish girls both very good looking, probably 23 or 24 years old, travelling on bicycles. One had told me earlier that both her and her friend had just finished nursing training and were holidaying before returning to do a specializing year -- one in some kind of x-ray technology and the other to become a midwife. Soon an older woman. Kathleen, showed up. I'd earlier thought her to be the mother of one of the girls but she was in fact a middle aged native of Limerick -- some 60 miles to the south -- who occasionally took walking and bus trips to remote country hostels. She'd only just met the girls on the road into the hostel. Then Werner a very intelligent and amusing German fellow -- we had formed a very fine friendship at this hostel and ate and drank together and had some very interesting conversations about European, particularly German, life said it was time to go to the pub. Kathleen and one of the the Irish girls had said earlier that they were going for a walk and now said that the pub was their destination too. We all went to the pub and they bought us beer and most of the people from the hostel came. Gronghnia (spelling guessed) is her name. Her name is Irish though her features are more French. She has dark skin and hair, her eyes greem. She has very short hair and usually wears her jeans tight and rolled up to the knees. This "fifties" image is offset by very "hip" thick wood and leather thonged sandals. Her Irish accent I find very captivating. She's very sure of herself, or at least when she is, she has a deep heart felt laugh.