Friday, July 30, 2004

mounds abound

The most spectacular thing I've seen in Ireland so far may not be the last couple of days when the sun shone all day but a moving visit to the ancient site of Newgrange. Along the placid River Boyne in the fertile Boyne Valley is a stretch of ancient sites dating as far back as 5,000 years ago. The largest of these neolithic passage graves are Dowth, Knowth, and Newgrange. To give you a perspective of how old these structures are, they say that Newgrange had already been finished and in use for 500 years before they started building pyramids in Egypt and it had been standing for a thousand years before they started work on Stonehenge in England. As the blue shuttle bus drives up the hill you begin to see a big big mound with a white wall of rocks ringing the front end of the structure. There is a sense of a massive presence nearby and you are inexplicably drawn to it. At the mouth of the entrance lies the huge Threshold Stone which is carved with spiral and diamond shapes. The spirals are the most striking and the pattern is repeated many times inside the chambers of the mound. Above the entrance is another huge stone slab which is the roof box which divides the entrance into a top and bottom half. This is important because it is through the top half where the sun beam enters the passage way on December 21, the shortest day of the year and works its way up the narrow passage way all the way to the farthest inner chamber and lingers for a few minutes on the back wall and then withdraws. The guide says that it is an awesome sight to witness because the darkness of the tomb is slowly pierced by sunlight until the whole room seems to glow for those precious minutes and then it gets dark again. I would think that those ancient priests brought in the remains of the dead through the bottom half of the entrance during other times of the year and waited until that day in winter when the Sun God would come in and take the spirits of the dead with it and exit through the top entrance. It must have been a glorious sight during a glorious day. Standing in the total darkness in the center of the tomb I actually felt a sense of well-being approaching a joyous calm. I found it more powerful than the experiences of going into the dark Kivas of the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico or going into the temple of the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. As we walked away from Newgrange I felt the giddyness fading but I'm sure this resonance will last a lifetime.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Yums in Dublin

Bought some strawberries, cut them in half and topped them off with "rich and indulgent" double Irish cream. The dairy products here are just amazing and can give Vermont and Wisconsin a good run for their moo cows. Even the Medium Irish Cheddar bought in the supermarkets is so mellow and creamy. Surprisingly, at Marks & Spencer's upscale foodstores, I found bags of Prawn Chips, 2 for the price of 1! For us Pinoys, that's a whole lot of delicious "kropek" for a couple of days. We don't go out to eat too much in this expensive city. There are quite a few very good restaurants but Euro-inflation has brought up the prices equal to the rest of the continent. While doing our laundry this afternoon at the launderette at Great St. Georges Street I read in a local daily that there can still be moderately priced meals to be had in Dublin and moderate was 10-15 Euros for one meal. To us from Florida, a moderate meal would be 5-8 dollars at a nice bay-side place like Giorgio's Bakery & Bistro, or Le Tub in Hollywood's Intracoastal waterway. On the other side of the Liffey the prices are slightly better but the quality not as good as Temple Bar or Great Georges St. Look, only two weeks and I'm already developing the "North of the Liffey" snobbery. Once you cross the charming Ha' Penny bridge, you do see more polyester and sweat pants with two or three white stripes down the sides.

One of the great things about Ireland is the everyday use of those obscure scrabble words we use like QUAY, QUOIT, DINGLE, and CWM.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Local poets and writers we've met so far (alive as opposed to long dead).

Clairr O'Connor

She is the best example of why they say the Irish are some of the warmest people on earth. It was only our second day in Dublin and when Denise and I came back from the Dunne's Store supermarket with our staples for the week, we found a nice note and letter from Clairr slipped under our apartment door at Botany Bay. Clairr was a friend of Stephanie Strickland and Stephanie must have alerted her of our presence in the city. The note said she would love to meet us and she suggested lunch the next day. She said she would be waiting for us at 12:30pm at Books Upstairs bookshop on Dame Street which was right across from the front gates of Trinity. Look for short hair and a blue scarf. Stephanie had mentioned that Clairr had recently struggled with breast cancer and that she may be somewhat weakened from all the treatment. We found the blue scarf and the big hug that came with it. A warm Irish welcome indeed! She then lead us up Dame St. and turned left just before Christ Church Cathedral to the building where her flat (apt) was located. In the flat which has an impressive view of the cathedral we met her husband Kevin who had prepared us a lovely lunch. Time flew by because "the craic was good" and we left nearly four hours later with a signed copy of her novel Love in Another Room (Marino Books, 1995) and a list of things to do and places to eat in Dublin. Clairr is also known as a playwright and a poet and she read us a moving poem about her experience battling this aggressive form of cancer. When this collection of her poems (tentatively, although, with much forethought, called Breast) is published in the future it will be a significant event not just for feminist literature but the whole of Irish poetry which has timidly stayed away from this subject matter.

Dennis O'Driscoll

Now, here is a man who does know quite a bit about the contemporary Irish poetry scene. He has been terrorizing the local poets with his piquant wit and ample irony as a reviewer at Poetry Ireland, TLS, and others for a few decades. We actually began corresponding by email long before we arrived because he had helped arrange a reading for us at the Poetry Ireland stage at 170 St. Stephen's Green on July 28. Three American Poets to be introduced by Dennis O'Driscoll is how it is billed. I believe we are quite fortunate to have Dennis introduce us Three Amigos to Dublin literati. Last Thursday Dennis was invited to Campbell's poetry class to give a talk and read a few poems. He assisted us in our understanding of the Irish literary tradition and provided us with a clear image of what literary challenges were ahead for Irish poets and writers. The point that stuck out to me was the issue of multiculturalism, not just in society but in the literature. With the recent enactment of a law (which many see as anti-immigrant) stating that Irish citizenship will be determined by "blood lines" and not place of birth, where do the people of color fit it, if at all? It takes an astute eye to be able to see these challenges and an able mind to begin dealing with the issues. I suspect the job(s) he's had since he was sixteen years old at the Customs House gives him a unique perspective on what comes in and out of Irish soil. Poetry being one of them. His own poems (he generously gave Denise and me signed copies of his poetry books which included: Exemplary Damages, 2002, Weather Permitting, 1999, and Long Story Short, 1993) are filled with wit and irony and I wanted to ask him a question about where he finds himself most comfortable in the ironic scale between the abyssmaly tragic and the hysterically comic. Then there's the poems with diseases in them. He did say he admired the poems of Miroslav Holub and that the Romanian poets of the 80's thought he was a long lost brother. But unlike the unrelenting tragic shadows cast by his Eastern European bretheren, Dennis is not afraid to be very funny in his poems. But behind the levity hides a deadly seriousness which has his arm around the shoulders of death. There they are, turning the corner on the cobble stones.

Monday, July 19, 2004

So I'm in Dublin

We're into the first full week of our FIU-Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin and it's a nice sunny day in this part of the Irish Isles. That's a rare thing to say because it has been somewhat overcast and rainy most of last week. My poetry workshop is going great--only eight students and they all seem eager to create. There's even an 80 year old gentleman from Miami named Ted who says he wants to jump-start his writing. The jet-lag is going away and now slowly letting in the Dublin-nublid. (What's that, dublin-nublid? it's the je ne se qua of what makes you feel like you're in Dublin.) We have a private suite at Trinity which overlooks the lawn tennis courts of the college called Botany Bay. Lots of intense dreams visiting in the night. Must be the history of the place. I like beds with lots of history. Being inside the walls of the College does feel like an island where learning fills the lungs. Outside the gates the bustle of industry is loud while inside one can actually contemplate what needs to be contemplated.

(so far)

Crown Alley
Abbey St. Middle
S Great George
Westland Rw