Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Madness

Originally posted on Posterous, January 29, 2013

I saw a most unusual, and impressive, thing, a week or so ago.

I'd had lunch with a friend, and was coming from Kirkwood back to Webster. Going the opposite direction, rolling west up Big Bend towards Kirkwood from I-44 was a cortège, for the funeral of an iron horseman, it appeared. Something like 60 or 80 Harleys, all gleaming chrome, passed, moving two by two at a surprisingly sedate pace. The riders all wore black, and rode, eyes forward, with silent decorum, followed by a hearse. A Victorian Gothic glass-sided affair, all scrollwork and decorative black festoons, it was pulled by what has to have been the biggest bike I’ve ever seen.

The guy riding it could have passed for Hagar the Horrible: he was enormous, wearing battered jeans and a studded black-leather vest; bare arms; bare chest; copious tattoos. World-war-I spiked German army-style helmet, coal-colored aviators, and a long, rust-brown beard blowing in the bitter wind.

It was 27F that afternoon, with a stiff breeze blowing: braving the elements on a motorcycle in jeans and a loose vest was no mean tribute to whoever was riding in the hearse behind him.

Anyone who’s ever been to one knows funerals aren't for the dead, they're for the living. They’re intended to provide comfort for the bereaved, as well as a suitable send-off for the deceased. This was surely a man who lived—like the people laying him to rest—after the fashion of his liking, in a way considered outlandish, possibly even threatening, by more mundane folk—a freedom few people achieve.

Bikers aren’t famous for caring what other folk think, and y’know, there’s a lot to be said for refusing to be constrained by someone else’s ‘shoulds.’ Choosing instead a lifestyle that allows room to be the most you can be, in a way that feels authentic, without hounding or hindering others.

Doubtless the guy pulling the hearse grew up being told, “Don’t go out without a jacket in this weather!” by his well-intentioned mother. His willingness, and that of his companions, to suffer the bitter cold to honor the dead man behind them, told me all I needed to know about them. With a dignity befitting their chosen mores, rather than looking ill at ease in unaccustomed suits and ties, they saw to it that their comrade’s exit matched the way he had lived.

Being, and staying, true to yourself, and to your values—however outlandish that might seem to someone else—while allowing others that same privilege, is an art form few people master. If more of us did so, in our own chosen ways, I think the world might well be a better place.

Go for it.

Georgia (Q) on my Mind

Originally posted on Posterous, September 2012

The Death of the Month Club guest of honor for September was my sister-in-law Jo's mother. The service was in Georgia, in the small town of Chatsworth. We stayed next door in Dalton. Founded in 1847, Dalton has a population of roughly 33,000 souls. The battle of Rocky Face Ridge and Dug Gap was fought here, during the War Between the States, ending when General Joseph Johnston withdrew from Dalton on May 12, 1864. Johnston's chiefly remembered here for leaving: the townsfolk erected a statue of him for having done so.

After the service and lunch with the family, we spent the afternoon hiking Rocky Face Ridge outside Dalton. A lovely place for a hike/climb in the woods, it must have been hell to attack. Ridges of rock set in place as battlements (twice attacked, and twice successfully defended) are still there, tumbled over now, and peacefully growing lichen.

After an afternoon in the woods, we were starving, and dinner south of the Mason-Dixon line meant barbecue. We chose Miller Brothers Rib Shack.

It's a cheerful little place that seats no more than 40, and seems to do a booming takeaway business as well. Red-and-white checked tablecloths cover the tables, and I noticed a Bible lying on one of them. Not a slick Gideon number, this was an old King James, so well-thumbed the cover was curling.

The walls were covered with Black-experience posters: B. B. King, Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Dr. King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman—and we were the only white folks in the place. The waitress, a pretty girl of about 20 came over, a guarded look in her eye.

She asked what we wanted to drink, and brought it without comment. Returning to take our order, she asked if we were from out of town. Yes, we said; we were down from St. Louis due to a death in the family. Southern hospitality is no myth, and the people of Georgia are just about the most hospitable you'll find. No exception this young lady: the reason for our being in Dalton thawed her completely. After expressing gracious condolences, she did what generations of women in the South have done when succor and solace are required: she fed us—after detailed comparison of our tastes and the menu.

Miller's bills itself as a 'rib shack', but I'm not big on ribs. I can't eat bones; keep 'em, and just bring me the meat. We both chose the brisket instead: it was smoky, with a sweetish, lightly-spiced tomato-based sauce with a faint suggestion of vinegar. It could have been a little more tender, but the flavor was still fantastic. Sides were Brunswick stew, corn on the cob, and Texas toast.

I hadn't been to Brunswick stew  in 30 years. This one was beef-based, with  corn, a little tomato, a modest amount of okra, and a hint of onion. Faintly smoky and on the thin side, it was good enough I had to force myself not to lick out the ramekin after I'd gobbled the contents—I could have made a meal on this alone.

The corn on the cob (half an ear, interestingly enough) was fresh, not too buttery, and served upright in a ramekin to keep it chastely separate from its more influential plate-mates. The toast was likewise not too buttery; browned just right, it was just crisp enough to be perfect.

As we ate, my mind wandered back to the last time I'd found myself in the racial minority. I'd been working at the local middle school for a year or two. The African-American population in Webster is all of 6.6%; the African-American population of the district I work for closer to 24%. We all manage to live and work together without too many bumps and bruises, so I found myself horrified one day as I was working on the computers in one of the special-services classrooms. Most of the kids in the room were black, as was the teacher. The book under study was The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963, and I was listening to the conversation with one ear until the teacher said, "So what do you think Whitey's gonna do next?" Talk about sudden verticality, realizing that 'Whitey' was sitting in my chair.

The best remedy for uncomfortable memories, I say, is dessert. Pie, for preference, and Miller's offers Key Lime, chocolate cream, dark chocolate, and sweet potato—house made.

Tom chose the dark chocolate. He said it was good, but not spectacular. I must say (with a thoroughly unpardonable smugness) that my sweet potato pie was nothing short of a religious experience. Though the crust was indisputably an undistinguished boughten one, it was filled with a creamy custard. Neither too heavy nor too rich, it was satiny smooth, thickened with egg yolk. Lots of sweet potato flavor blended with just a hint of nutmeg, and a distinct caramel undertone—it was utter simplicity, Nirvana on a plate. The folks at Miller's know it, too: addition of a dollop of whipped cream might have been appealing visually, but would have made it too rich. They wisely leave well enough alone.

I made myself eat it slowly, and found I was doing so with my eyes closed when, last bite gone, I came back to reality with a bump. Grinning, the waitress took my empty plate, admitting she had had a piece of it for breakfast. As Harper Lee observed in To Kill A Mockingbird, there's just one kind of folks—folks. Sweet potato pie makes the whole world kin, and as she waved us out the door she sent after us that most Southern of open invitations:

"Y'all come back now, hear?"

You better believe I will.

F-word 2.0: The Graveyard Shift

Originally posted on Posterous, May 31, 2012

Stephen King may be a master at delivering ordinary things that have somehow been transmuted into the unspeakable, but he missed one biggie: a nursing home at 2 a.m. The muted colors (so peaceful during the day) blend into creepy indistinctness at night, and sounds that aren't nearly so noticeable at during the busy daylight hours (various creakings and moanings; near-silent footsteps; someone screechy-sobbing down a distant hallway) become arrestingly, conspicuously, sinister at 2 a.m.

Why the macabre mood?

Some (probably) well-intentioned, but thoroughly misguided, person seems to have given me a subscription to the Death of the Month Club. In October, it was my father. In March, my mother-in-law; in April, my aunt. We're nearly into June now, and my mother's been seriously working on not getting it over with for the last four weeks.

Like everyone else's, my life is already crammed to bursting with work, family, and a bazillion more-trivial things. But, as Emily Dickinson put it, 'because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me', although I heartily wish he'd go stop for someone else. So many people gone, and in such swift succession, leaves my heart an empty house—windows shattered, door swinging crazily from one hinge—abruptly vacated by occupants I loved.

Seems to me there must be as many ways to go about dying as there are people who do it. For some, it seems to be as easy as walking from one room into another. It was that simple for my father, who went at home, in his favorite chair, in his sleep, with a stomachful of cake and ice cream. (Sign me up!) Others, like my aunt, make up their minds, and depart with the same grim determination with which they made the decision to go.

For others still, it's a protracted, ugly mess that pulverizes everyone in the vicinity emotionally and physically. This is the slough in which my mother is stuck. Terrified of death, 80 years worth of Christianity has been no comfort to her. She's so worried about what to say to God, when she gets there, that she wants her hand held constantly. She simply can't cope with the fact that her body is failing, shutting down.  Nights, her mind roams free, into nightmare territory: there's a huge black man standing in the corner, she says. He's got blue stuff in his eyes. I'm to get the rake from the closet, and chase him away with it. Needless to say, there's no man, no rake, and no closet.

For a week and a half, she ate nothing, and is so diminished she looks like a mad scientist's biological experiment. In plain terms, she's dying. And she's too frightened to talk about, or face, that fact.

It's a Catch-22, and not just for mom. Though it's our natural end, talking about death is frantically bad form. "Funeral" seems to be the new 'f' word. Astonishingly pointless, this attitude: refusing to think about it won't make death go away, any more than willful ignorance will halt any other inevitability. The bottom crust is the end of the pie, and nothing's going to change that.

Keep your mouth shut, though, and people will tell you you're not dealing with it. You're emotionally repressed, or (my favorite) you're in denial. Fact is, you just get tired of giving an honest answer to a question and then watching the concerned person who asked sidle off, stage left, oozing witless discomfiture.

We have no proof of heaven, only of hell—this is it, for all parties concerned.

(End note: we finally lost Mother in the small hours of New Year's Day, 2013.)

Final curtain: St. Patrick's Cathedral

 Originally posted on Posterous, May 11, 2012

Supposedly, St. Patrick did his baptizing in a holy well on what is now the green next to the cathedral. True or not, there are several beautiful early medieval carved slabs on display here. A church has existed on the site since 1191, and St. Patrick's is now the Irish national cathedral—partly because Dublin is unusual in having TWO cathedrals. Don't know of any other city that does, either.

It's dimmer inside than Christchurch, and seems more lived-in, less conscious of everyday impedimenta left lying around the nave—piles of folding chairs, tables, things of that sort.
Besides the fact that I love old churches, I had a couple of other reasons for visiting St. Patrick's. First, there's a memorial here to the parents of chemist and physicist Robert Boyle. It's a bit gaudy, and several of the effigies seem to be missing their noses.....but Boyle himself is thought to be among those represented on the memorial. Boyle? Wikipedia describes him succinctly as "best known for Boyle's law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system." He's regarded as the first modern chemist.

The other reason is Jonathan Swift. Author, wit, and the best satirist who ever wrote in English, Swift was dean of St. Patrick's and is buried here.

There are several early medieval tombs, but no crypt—a great pity. The building was restored in the 19th century, but seems to have become mostly a repository for memorials to those in the armed services—as well as Swift, of course. Somehow, it seems less vibrant than Christchurch, though that could be no more than my own misguided opinion.

It could also be that I'm crabby about having to go home. We've enjoyed everything about our stay in Dublin, from not HAVING to do anything to the excellent food and drink, to how nice the good folk of Ireland are.

Plane's boarding, but we'll be back one day.

Dublin Castle

Originally posted on Posterous, May 10, 2012

The site of Dublin Castle has been occupied since the Vikings were here. The castle has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, though you'd never guess to look at it: the current version of the Chapel Royal, for instance, is actually a Victorian rebuild. The only remnant of the Norman castle is one tower; the rest was destroyed by fire.

Yes, I know fire alone doesn't have much effect on stone. The fire that destroyed current castle's predecessor apparently set off the powder magazine. (It could happen to anyone, right?)

Whoever built the Royal Chapel viscerally understood perpendicular Gothic architecture—it's perfect in every detail. So much so that I spent more than an hour soaking it up (yes, this is how Tom has, over the years, perfected his skill in cat-napping). It's small in physical size, but enormous in intent: the whole point of the Gothic style is to use its soaring grandeur to create in those experiencing it a sense of the infinite—in the case of a church, that of God; in the case of secular buildings, that of the owner. Shrewd barn-yard (or castle keep) psychology, really, and it makes for a thoroughly satisfying sightseeing experience.

It was so awe-inspiring I found I required a restorative before I could even consider the official tour. Thus, I can report that I heartily approve of the brownies served in the castle's café. The Irish share one of their most endearing culinary traits with the Austrians: a tendency toward serving warm desserts 'mit schlag', or with a good-sized blob of whipped cream.

Official tour next, we were shown the State Apartments and the Undercroft by the very knowledgeable and amusing Jennifer. Next year, the EU heads of state will all be meeting at Dublin Castle, in the rooms we've just gawked through. The intimate scale of the State Apartments should surely be conducive to productive meetings—my only question is, how much of the rest of the city will be overrun by their flunkeys and security staffs?

The Undercroft, left to the end of the tour, is particularly fascinating. Dug out at the foot of the Norman tower, you can see some of the tower's massive footings, and part of the original city wall, with an early-Gothic gateway that was later filled in.

Left again to our own devices, we explored the garden behind the castle. Built atop what used to be a black pool—dubh linn—for which the town is named, it was a bulge in the River Poddle, now flowing beneath the city. At one side of the main garden is a small sculpture garden, dedicated to those who have lost their lives keeping the peace.

Lovely floral plantings add to the air of peaceful contemplativeness—similar in intent to the chapel, but very different in execution, this was a garden in which I could happily spend some serious time. A hungry husband isn't conducive to contemplation, though.......

Trinity 2: The Book of Kells, and the Long Room

Originally posted on Posterous, May 8, 2012

We went back to Trinity again, this time for the full treatment: full tour, guided by a tame student, and then the Kells manuscript. Walking along it en route, I was struck again by how much Grafton Street reminds me of Madison's State Street—buskers, entertainers, and street artists all happily co-exist with the foot traffic rushing past. Today, several artists in sand were busily sculpting sleeping dogs. Why dogs? No idea.

Our guide for Trinity's official tour was a student who introduced himself as Stephen. Tall and slender, he had a mop of wavy strawberry-blond hair, indigo-blue eyes, and chiseled features—in all, a thoroughly dangerous young man. There was a glint of humor in his eye, though. When he mentioned that the campus had no school of veterinary medicine, I enquired with great solicitousness what they did when a student took ill.

He turned a wintry eye on me for a bare moment, and replied that student health wasn't an issue for the university administration, since they could easily summon a pediatrician. Thereafter, he enlivened the canned script with anecdotes and acerbic observations, to the great pleasure of his audience.

The tour lasted a scant half an hour, and covered the same buildings and sculptures we saw on our first visit. At the end, we stopped to chat with Stephen, who had, he said, just finished his bachelor's degree, and was to start work on his doctorate in September. His specialty was to be bandits, and he was especially interested in the likes of Jesse James and Ned Kelly—interesting subject matter, I have to agree.
Trinity Library

The chief benefit of the tour was now ours: unlimited time in the Trinity library, with access to the Book of Kells exhibit. The preface to the Book is very thorough, with the Book of Dimma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Dimma) open on display, with all kinds of information on how medieval books were made, pigments used, parchment-making, book-binding techniques, and a dozen other things.

The Kells manuscript (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells) itself is housed in a separate room, with the Book of Durrow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Durrow) and the Book of Armagh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_armagh) in the same case. The room is dim, to protect the fragile manuscripts, which lie in a large case, glass-topped, with brushed-aluminum sides for leaning on to look closely at the manuscripts. Only one small quibble: the reflective glass case makes it difficult to see the books at times; Trinity, please copy....!

I've waited 35 years to see the Kells manuscript, which was open to the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Tour groups would come in, and I would politely step aside while they took a fast "But it's nothing exciting!" look. When they left, I re-applied myself to the case, studying the fineness of the calligraphy, and the intricacy of the knot work in the carpet page. Tom cheerfully tolerated this for more than an hour, until even he grew restive enough to start getting grumpy.

He dislodged me, and we moved on to the library's Long Room. Though it now houses more than 200,000 of the university's oldest books, they had only the smallest fraction of the current number when it was built. The scale is truly glorious, but the room itself is neither self-important nor forbidding: It's paneled in wood, now dark with age, that invites visitors to dip into the shelves and get comfortable.

Display cases down the center of the room held more of the library's delights. Among the most stunning were the incunabulae—books from the dawn of printing. There was a page from Gutenberg's Bible—not his first run, his very. First. Book. There was one of Caxton's, and one of Wynkyn de Word's as well; being in the same room as all three of those would be about the same deal as being in the same room with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Donne. Mind-bending.

There was also a little French Book of Hours, late 14th century high Gothic, glowing like a jewel in the display case, and one of John Speed's maps of Leinster dating from the 16th century.

Off to one side, in a case by itself, was a harp—a clairseach (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clairseach) The oldest harp in Ireland, some 600 years of age, it was made of willow, with brass strings. The only other thing I could have wished for was a recording of its voice, since it had been refurbished. If you're not familiar with the Irish harp, this is a very good introduction....

Lovely, isn't it?

Dinner: Porterhouse Reprise

Originally posted on Posterous, May 6, 2012

We'd take Porterhouse home to St. Louis if we could—lacking any good way of doing it, though, we content ourselves with another meal there. This time, we don't waste time on sampler-sized drink; Tom gets the Irish Red, and I opt for the oyster stout. The place is nearly full to capacity, so we're up on the third floor this time, at a table next to a huge copper still, which has been given a new life as a piece of furniture. The ceiling above it is also polished copper—incredibly beautiful. Through the window, we can watch a mother magpie feeding her nestful of babies, and watch the traffic about on Parliament Street.

The view inside is just as interesting: tonight, there's a female academic from Chicago loudly holding forth at a table otherwise full of students from the UK, who don't seem to have been to the US. This poses no problem, since the lady possesses the ability to chatter (loud, quacking voice) without any need to draw breath. She gives St. Louis a pasting, and pours scorn over Omaha—neither, according to her, is as stellar as Chicago...though I greatly wonder at her need to inform a tableful of intelligent people that Lakeshore Drive actually runs along the shore of Lake Michigan. I've nearly decided it would be worth whatever punishment assault gets, here in Dublin, for the pleasure of dumping my beer over her head, when we notice the two French girls (dark, exotically pretty) at the next table seem to think as little of Suzy Chicago as we do.

While I'm most sincerely sorry to note that the prettier of the two is drinking bottled Corona—surely a punishable offense here!—they're interestingly intense and expressive. Their conversation is fast and emphatic,and, while I haven't had French since high school, it doesn't take any doing at all to understand "Ce soir? Avec lui??? JAMAIS!!!"

Dinner arrives just about then: fish and chips for me, a Porterhouse pie and salad for Tom. The pie is a cute little thing, perhaps 5 inches across and1.5 inches deep, browned so dark its surface is nearly black. It's filled with chunks of very tender beef and a few veggies in a thick brown gravy. Fairly highly flavored with onion, it's delicious—so much so that the bite I do get I swipe while Tom is covertly eyeing the French girls. (Cherche les femmes, messieurs!) The beer for both of us was the Oyster we'd had the last time we were here.

My fish is a huge slab, elegantly enrobed in a golden batter. It's fried crisp, with no oiliness clinging to it, and the fish inside is moist, flaky perfection. It's perched on a huge pile of chips, thick-cut—gold-crisp outside, and mealy-good within. A full quarter of a lemon arrived with it, and, squeezed over fish and potatoes, it's the final touch required for dining delight.

There's a small pot of traditional British 'mushy peas' next the fish. These are the mushiest I've ever seen; perhaps the descriptor should have been 'mushed peas.' But they taste good, and I get around them in record time. I've also got a portion of salad—greens, garnished with slivered carrot and a splash of vinaigrette. The greens look alarmingly like dandelion leaves, and have a distinctive, spicy taste, and the counterpoint they make with the fish is stunning.

We have room to split a dessert, and opt for the bread-and-butter pudding. This is no dodge to use up stale leftovers—the bread is a challah-like triumph of the baker's art. It would be a proud addition to any Sabbath table, so, as a foundation for bread pudding, it has no rivals. Dense, sweet, and yellow with eggs, it's enhanced, rather than disguised, by caramel and chocolate sauces, cinnamon, and a handful of sultanas. A restrained scoop of caramel ice cream and halved strawberries complete the presentation, and it's so rich we can hardly finish it. Good? 'Good' describes this dish in the way a candle would be suitable metaphor for the blazing noonday sun. It was awesome, fantastic, magic.

Followed by a walk home across Temple Bar, it was perfect.

Gimme that old-time religion—maybe

 Originally posted on Posterous, May 5, 2012

We started the day Thursday with a long walk, down across the Liffey, and up O'Connell Street. We had no fixed destination; we were just wandering, so we looked in the windows of shops that would never let the likes of us in the door, noting with no small amusement one shop that had apparently found a cache of 1920's finery in some long-forgotten closet: the mannequins in the windows were garbed in uproariously funny flapper regalia, complete with necklaces that dusted the floor and feathers protruding from head bands. I like O'Connell Street; the atmosphere isn't nearly as stuffy as you'd think if you judged from the shops alone.

After a series of turns, we found ourselves standing in front of an Enterprise Rent-a-Car establishment, and, seizing the moment, we decided we'd turn the day into a road trip. We left with a gunmetal-grey Opel, Tom placidly navigating the city traffic (never mind shifting left-handed, and driving on the opposite side of the road from usual). Leaving Dublin via the N2 (after a minor bit of inadvertent touring), we we went north towards the town of Slane, outside which are the Neolithic sites of Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth.

It was nearly 1:30 when we arrived, which meant we had time to either take the tours of Knowth and Newgrange, or do Dowth, whereat the visitor is left to fend for himself. Deciding, since we had just the afternoon, it was more effective to do two sites, rather than one, so we opted for the Knowth/Newgrange doubleheader, and set off to Knowth.

Knowth has one large burial mound, surrounded by something like 15 smaller mounds, two of which seem to be older than the largest one. (Better details over here at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowth) The decorative carvings on the kerbstones were particularly fascinating: I found myself wondering who had carved them—what were those people like? It's amazing that, given the subsequent occupation of the site by other cultures, anything at all is left of the Neolithic people who once lived there. Normally, Tom and I both tend to look for early Christian or Norman artifacts as all-but-wiped-out things that are pointers to our own culture's beginnings; here, we found ourselves outraged at the early-Christian Normans, who had almost completely obliterated the Neolithic structures—even going so far as to tunnel UNDER the large mound to use it as a refrigerator, emerging through the top center of it. They also spoiled any remaining evidence of solar or celestial alignment by digging a defense ditch inside the kerbstones. (Philistines!) Shame the Norman monastics who later finished the mangling the site via agriculture didn't have a tradition of archeology, like the Jesuit tradition of scholarship!

Where Knowth lets visitors walk around, amongst, and over the mounds to examine them closely, Newgrange (full details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange) does not. As at Stonehenge, visitors are kept to approved pathways. However, the newest parts of Newgrange are a thousand years OLDER than Stonehenge. They're 500 years older than the Great Pyramids at Giza. In fact, the roof at Newgrange is something like 5000 years old, and all that time, the structure beneath has been dry—no small feat, in Ireland. The guides at Newgrange take groups of about 20 inside the burial mound, and once there, do as the guides inside the cave in Hannibal, Missouri, made famous by Mark Twain: they turn out the lights. Why? To demonstrate a) how bloody dark it is in there, and b) to show how the upward-sloping entry path allows in a single beam of dawn sunlight on the morning of the winter solstice (9:02 a.m., local time, if you're wondering.) Of course, these days, this is achieved by means of a 40-watt lightbulb for the benefit of the punters. It's stunningly effective, even if nowhere near as bright as natural sunlight.

Despite being able to infer enough from the remains of the structures to rebuild them, archeologists have no real understanding of the religion (if, indeed, it was that) that led to their being built. We know that these people were at least two culture changes pre-Druid—and we don't really know anything about the Druids, either.

The inside of the tomb is small, compared with the external diameter of the mound; getting 20 people in is a considerable squeeze. And, given the narrowness and low ceiling of the entry passage, claustrophobes would do well to steer WAAAAAAY clear of the place.

Both sites allow photography outside; Knowth will allow interior photos, but only allow access one passage of the large mound. Newgrange allows full interior access, but no photos. Considering modern digital cameras neither produce photographic waste nor sufficiently intense light to degrade artifacts, I wish they allowed pictures inside the mound at Newgrange. One is highly tempted to suspect their intent is to sell approved photos to tourists.

With respect to the later societies' wanton destruction of the Knowth and Newgrange sites, I can now view annihilation of the native American mounds in and around St. Louis is the continuation of a proud tradition of thoughtless waste. Somehow, this isn't encouraging at all.........

Possible tragedy?

Originally posted on Posterous, May 4, 2012

A cool but pretty evening sounded ideal for a walk along the Liffey, so we walked up past the Brazen Head to the Liam Mellows bridge to the west, along Usher's Quay. We turned back east there, thinking to leap-frog back and forth across the river as we came to each bridge. The tide was low, but beginning to come back in.

We crossed the Father Matthew bridge back to the south bank, and paused along Merchant's Quay to take a picture of the Four Courts building across the river—that shot of the building with the rotunda—when we noticed a commotion a little further down the river, at the Grattan Bridge. A motor boat and two men in the river; four fire engines and an ambulance on bridge and bank; a good-sized crowd watching them search the river for something—or someone. We stopped and watched with everyone else, for 15 minutes or so, until the fire trucks began to leave.

It didn't look as though they found anything.

The Gothnik on the Green: Trinity

Originally posted on Posterous, May 3, 2012

Another slow start today; I sat up most of the night editing a friend's dissertation, and felt deserving of a lie-in. Upon achieving full functionality, we decided to reconnoiter Trinity College. I want badly to see the Book of Kells, but not today; today, I just want to soak up the school itself. It's odd how much Dublin herself FEELS like a college town....she's about the size of Kansas City (well, that <does> make pigeon-holing it easier for a native Missourian), and I gather the average age of her citizens is something like 30. All of which neatly explicates her air of friendly energy.

Anyway, Trinity. We started by just walking the campus, looking at the gorgeous detailing of the Victorian buildings, and their ornate contrast with the grey concrete of the newer buildings, those housing the sciences. Trinity's science department, if memory serves, is known for her non-linear optics, though I don't know what else. Amongst the buildings was all kinds of artwork—particularly striking was a huge gold globe, interestingly riven with fissures.

Done walkabout, we went to have a look at that seldom-noticed treasure, the gift shop. Those in museums are high-order sources of all things wonderful. Forget the clodagh doorknockers, clairseach pins, and all the other kitschy stuff, head for the books and posters: there's a particularly good shop at the V & A in London, where I once bought a fascinating treatise on Victorian poisons, and the shop at Trinity's library didn't disappoint. If Tom hadn't gotten in my way—uh, I mean, been so thoughtful, I likely would have bought more books than two donkeys could carry.

An hour and change later, done with the gift shop, we stood for awhile, taking in the green in the late-afternoon sunlight, the other gawking tourists, and the students who belong here. Tucked away in one corner is a pale guy of something like 20, curled into a corner of a bench with a battered paperback—Jack Kerouac's On the Road, no less.

He's teeth-to-toenails black leather, studs, plaid, and odd piercings, topped off literally with a determinedly antisocial haircut—half Goth, half reconstructed Beatnik; how do you categorize such a person? Which is precisely the point: his studied Bohemianism is a means of rejecting society's standards, and creating his own. Neither genre is original, by now, but the fusion of the two is insouciant and entertaining. Is he a Beat-Goth? A Emo-Beat? A Gothnik?

The most important tenet of hipness does seem to be liking (or professing to like) things nobody else can stand—long-winded, tuneless jazz, grindingly dull 'poetry', and other such horrors. Taking a wider view, such earnest dullness is an attempt to arrive at an understanding of how societies work, and how individuals fit into them. Entirely appropriate, for an unusually intelligent young man growing into his full adult self; once he arrives there, the freak-show clothes probably won't be necessary any more. This young fellow was simultaneously looking for both ways to stand out, to define himself as unique among human creatures, and ways to fit in with others that neither stifle nor prostitute him. Get right down to it, isn't that what we all want from life?

Here's to his success.

Dinner: Porterhouse Brewing in Temple Bar

Originally posted on Posterous, May 2, 2012

Tonight's feast was courtesy Porterhouse Brewing in Temple Bar. All-wood, graffiti-carved tables, with what looked like a painted tin ceiling, I loved the atmosphere—I wouldn't have been surprised to see either Johnson or Pepys walk in; instead, we shared the space with well-mannered tourists, college kids, and one heavy-set lady in a thoroughly incongruous Che Guevara t-shirt. The sound system was playing good vintage rock: early Beatles (Day Tripper), Stones (Satisfaction), Black Sabbath (Paranoid), and Alice Cooper (Lace and Whiskey).

We started with a taster round of three light and three dark brews, all house-made, and on tap.

An Brainblasta
Thick, almost chewy. Moderate hops, with a long, bitter finish. Nice, round maltiness beneath. This was GOOD, and I'll be back for more.

Turner's Stickelbract Bitter
Very hoppy, but just a little bitter. Not much malt evident, and it seemed a little watery. In fact, it disappeared entirely with food.

Porterhouse Red
Good aroma, nice creamy head, good balance between hops and malt. A little thinner than the O'Hara's we had two nights ago, but still good.

Oyster Stout
Not much aroma, but a nice, velvety head. Smooth and creamy, and the malt comes in after, lingering on your tongue. It's light, but good; a little sweet, and held up to food best of the three darks.

Plain Porter
Fluffy head, bitter. Faint hint of coffee; lingering bitter finish. Good, but not as sophisticated as the Oyster.

Wrasslsr's XXXX Stout
Dark, fluffy head—VERY malty. Lingering bitterness, not as creamy as the Oyster, but very good all the same.

The accompanying meal was pork and leek bangers (that's sausages, to the uninitiated) with mashed spuds.

The bangers were crisp outside, moist inside—very good!—and the potatoes were real, with unabashed lumps. The whole thing was doused with a fantastic beer-and-onion gravy, and served up in a huge Yorkshire pudding. Best of the beers to go with it were the Red and the Oyster. I found, when I got down that far, that the gravy had soaked into the pud–so I ate that, too, faux pas or not.

Dessert? Irish coffee chocolate mousse, flavored with Jameson's. A whipped cream base, well-flavored with chocolate, coffee, and whiskey, it arrived garnished with strawberry halves, sticky chocolate sauce swirled on the plate beneath, and grated chocolate on top. Good? Try 'stellar,' and you'll be close. We followed it with a glass of Greenmore Single-Grain, eight years old. Very smooth it was, with a hint of caramel, and no peat—traditional in Irish whiskey.

I would have happily sat there all night, tasting my way through the 15 or 20 whiskeys listed on the menu, and maybe having a second dessert. Too full, though—we'll have to come back.

Rainy Day in Dublin

Originally posted on Posterous, May 2, 2012

Lovely soft, rainy day today—spent most of the morning reading and watching the rain, since Tom chose to sleep in.

Taking onboard the counsel of the wise and experienced Marie Ennis-O'Connor and Ann Brehony (NB: Ann's the creator of the excellent Ireland: Are We There Yet? app), we opted to prowl George's Street Arcade, in George's Street Great South. (Well, that's what the street signs call it; makes me want to march into a café and order 'Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.') The Arcade is a warren of small shops and stalls, filled with everything from vintage clothes to used books to vintage records. One used-clothes shop looked like Jimi Hendrix would have been right at home there—it had just the right head-shop ambience, minus the suspicious scent of burning incense to cover the even-more-suspicious scent of burning hemp.

We spent a happy hour trawling the used-book stall—I very nearly bought a copy of Graves' translation of Suetonius' 'The First Twelve Caesars'—and then went to take in Powerscourt Townhouse, which is built around an 18th century courtyard, and makes shop space for a good number of antique shops and Irish clothing designers. I get the feeling I'm going to regret not buying a Georgian silver mug (Lordy, what a beautiful shape!) as much as I still regret the gate-leg table I passed up in Ludlow 25 years ago.

After several hours' dedicated poking around in shops, sustenance was in order. Marie's suggestion of Simon's Place was spot-on, since we didn't want anything fancy. It's a small place at the George's Street end of the arcade, with a very casual coffee-shop ambience. Papered in movie posters and flyers for events, it serves a limited variety of sandwiches, pastries, salads, tea, and coffee. Seems to me the salads are overkill—get a sandwich, and you'll find it's got enough salad built into it you don't need one on the side! Tom's ham sandwich came on thick-cut artisan-style wholemeal bread, and was really good, and my mocha left Starbucks in the dirt.

We were the only foreign folk in the place, though whether because it's off the beaten track or thanks to the rain I've no clue. There were older guys in flat hats, taking their time over tea; ladies of a certain age pausing from shopping expeditions, and determinedly Bohemian kids from the neighborhood's music school.

Done refueling, we split up—Tom had had enough for one day, and went back to Patrick Street to put his feet up. I wanted to walk through the city, and enjoy it in the rain. George's Street, Stephen's Street, Golden Lane, White Friar Street, Peter's Row, Kevin Street (Lower and Upper), The Coombe, Ardee Street, Cork Street, Marrowbone Lane, Thomas Court, Thomas Street, and back around via High Street to Patrick, I meandered til I was sodden well above my knees, seeing and feeling the city. The rain-washed pavement had begun to fill up with people rushing home from work, by then—no offense to the good citizens of Dublin, but walking in the rain is much more pleasant with a bit less company, so I got out of their way.

We've eaten enough for a regiment, since we've been here, so we ate in tonight—an omelette, stuffed with Dubliner cheese (yes, yes; I <know> the stuff's made in Cork—I don't care if it comes from Mars, I like it!), with a reasonably good South African merlot/Shiraz blend.

An email arrived from Erik as we were finishing. Neither of us had any qualms leaving him home by himself for two weeks; since he's cramming for finals, he hasn't time for shenanigans anyway. Erik took his brother's cat to the vet yesterday: when Christopher left home for grad school, he couldn't take Shadow, from whom he'd been inseparable since second grade. Erik (to his own cat's displeasure) 'adopted' his brother's cat, and has looked after him devotedly, so he was quite upset to be told that Shadow has either some kind of cancer, or diabetes. For a feline of 15, that's not really surprising, any more than how much it upset Erik.

Odd, isn't it, to find that life other places keeps going, even when you're not there to see it doing so? Somehow, my boys had both, in Sullivan Ballou's memorable phrase, 'grown to honourable manhood' while I was busy doing the grocery shopping and scrubbing the bath tub. Life keeps muddling along one way or another in St. Louis, even though I'm in Dublin; Dublin's going to be here, doing its own thing, after I've gone home again. And life in both those cities, like all the others on the globe, will likely keep on moving—long after all of us have vanished from time and memory.

And all that is as it should be.

Dinner: Bull and Castle

Originally posted on Posterous, May 1, 2012

We've passed the Bull & Castle Gastropub in Lord Edward Street several times a day since we arrived, and, since it was between Christchurch and the flat, it seemed a good prospect for the evening. The interior is dark, with wood panelling, a dark wood back-lit bar, and lots of small tables, each with a candle. Very inviting, as was the bill of fare. We both opted for seafood: I chose the seafood pie, and Tom the mussels and chips. We ordered an 8-beer taster to start, and, since we were unfamiliar with the local brews, we let the waitress choose for us. What arrived was:

Galway Hooker
Never mind the name—it's a reference to a traditional sailboat, folks. This is an Irish pale ale, very malty, lightly hopped. No added chemicals, apparently, and they take something like 6 weeks for fermentation. I'm not generally a fan of pale beers, but this was good.

Buckleys Golden Ale
This one's from Carlow Brewing. It's got a reasonably malty scent and taste, and enough hops to leave a bright, bitter finish. It's drinkable, though unremarkable, rather reminiscent of lager, truth be told.

Maltier than the IPA (see below), and not too hoppy—it's OK, but undistinguished. Mostly, this one brought to mind the old Hobgoblin beer tag line, "What's the matter, lager boy? Afraid you're gonna taste something?" It's better with food than alone, but I wouldn't go to the effort of crossing the street to drink it again.

Dark Arts
Disappointingly watery, for a dark beer. Fuggedaboudit.

O'Hara's Irish Red
Malty and caramelly—not too heavy, with an almost molasses-y bottom note. Sweet, toasty, and gloriously ruby-colored, this one was the pick of the litter, far and away the best of the evening. It's reasonably full-bodied, with a scent as good as its taste.

O'Hara's Stout
This was the last glass we got to, so it sat for nearly 25 minutes undisturbed. Nevertheless, it still had a good head to it—I definitely approve. Mild, but good, and nicely dark, it turned out to be even more malty in aftertaste than going down—bravo, O'Hara's, this is excellent! It's balanced, with an understated, mild hopping, and good body. If I can't find this in the States, I'm gonna cause the biggest uproar the local beer purveyors have ever seen!

O'Hara's IPA
Hoppy & a little bitter, but not aggressively so—lighter than I'd normally drink, but good. Almost spicy with food, and no longer bitter. This is one I'd definitely keep around for hot summer weather.

This one was slightly malty, but watery—NOT a fan. It tasted a little sour with food, too. No, thank you!

There were two academics at the next table: chemists discussing thermodynamics, material science, chemistry, and a hapless grad student called Robbie. It seems Robbie should use Sean's code, rather than start from scratch. It really was hard to eavesdrop discreetly, so close to the bone was the conversation. Our older son, Christopher, also a grad student, has been fighting other parts of the collaboration to re-write some code that's so abysmal it actually impedes the group's research. No one wants to agree, because it's what they've ALWAYS used. Never mind that Christopher is willing to take the time to do the job better.....

Pity the long-suffering grad student, folks. He (or she) is expected to work 24/7/365, for a pittance, and make miracles happen for the profs.

Over beer and fish and chips, these guys argued their way through steady state, microscopic connections, and the eutechtic transformation. It was fascinating to hear their opinion of how their national labs work, compared with how ours do.

Though the fish and chips at the next table looked very good, I hardly know where to start about the humbly-named seafood pie. It arrived hot as the hubs of hell, a vat of it, under a blanket of mashed potato and cheese. The sauce was creamy, and contained mussels, salmon, smoked fish of some sort, and veggies. The lemon garnish, which I destroyed pursuit of its juice, was a perfect complement. Good? Folks, they serve this in heaven—I'm morally certain of it.

Tom's mussels were just as good—a stew-pot full of them—tender and sweet, with just enough sauce to enhance them.

Dessert was a white chocolate panna cotta, garnished with chocolate sauce swirled beneath if on the plate and some currants, accompanied by a small scoop of excellent strawberry ice cream skewered by a large shard of very good chocolate. The panna cotta was very suave and creamy, with just barely enough gelatin to retain its shape—PERFECT. We washed it down with another O'Hara's Red, at which point we were both comfortably full....and, for once, smart enough to quit.

Dublinia and Christchurch Cathedral: Sightseeing via the Wallowing Method

Originally posted on Posterous, April 30, 2012

If you don't like museums, move along now. If you don't like churches either, run—don't walk.
Yesterday's walk was chiefly a hunt for Viking and medieval areas and artefacts, and we spent today—yes, the ENTIRE day—at a delightful small museum called Dublinia, which recreates both delightfully. Both of us, back in the dim past, were avid medieval recreationists. (Tangent: We met at a meeting of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The Spouse introduced himself to me as a member of the Lecher's Guild, thereby very nearly losing his chance with me...not to mention his testicles.)

I love museums in general, and get lost in them. I look at every display; I read every sign; I listen to every recording. You heard it here first: I am a Museum Bore. That goes double for old churches and cathedrals. So, today was a double-header, history-nerd style.

Dublinia seems to be popular with the tourist types. (I ain't neither no tourist...I are a classy traveler.) Families, students, young couples—all interested in the representations of life as it used to be lived here. The stripped-down presentation must make it economical to run: I hope so, since I hope it stays open forever! It has the traditional signage and audio recordings, to explain the displays. It also has computer-generated animated displays to amplify the more-usual stuff. Very well done, indeed!

I've been eyeing Christchurch ever since we got here. Its early-Gothic style appeals intensely to me, and we spent several hours looking around both church and crypt. Only thing I'm in two minds about the pulpit; I think I prefer Anton Pilgram's, at St. Stephen's in Vienna. Pilgram's is full-bore high-Gothic, and, though it would have been painted in period, the paint is long since gone. That at Christchurch uses several colors of stone, which I found less appealing.

The crypt is fascinating in that it looks as though it's been cleaned out—you can admire the arches, and the gear they have in storage/on display there (Christchurch keeps its junk in the basement just like everybody else!). Besides being easier to see the way it's put together, it's far less creepy than the crypt at St. Stephen's, where the bones of plague victims are still stacked like cordwood.
GREAT day, great museum, gorgeous church—loved every second!

Dinner: Brazen Head

Originally posted on Posterous, April 30, 2012

Husband still asleep; tea and time to think. Still full from dinner last night, which we ate at the Brazen Head—the oldest pub in Dublin, and possibly, as Marie so rightly points out, in Europe. According to the books, there's been some kind of pub/ tavern/eatery on the site since 1198—which beats Vienna's Gosser Bierklinik by a good 500 years.

We went out of our way to walk along the Liffey on the way—and had it to ourselves, since rain only deters lesser mortals. On arriving, you fend for yourself by poking your head into one after another of the warren of small rooms to find an empty table. We ended up in a cozy side room, at a small table against the an iron stove that looked as though it used to do duty as both heat and cooking. It was snug and warm enough without, thanks to the crowd, and the candle atop it was an inviting touch. A bit more disconcerting was the coffin against which I was leaning. Propped against the wall, it's apparently been there long enough to be part of the decor.

What to drink? Guinness, of course—and the books are right; it's an entirely different critter here than in the States. It's a great deal smoother, and far less bitter. No clue if it's less hops, or a different kind of them, but it was very suave, with a velvety head that clung to the sides of the glass like a cold egg to a plate as I drained it. If the gods drink beer, surely this is their choice.

The first glass done, we had another with the meal. Since the venue was so traditional, we went that way with the food, as well: beef-and-Guinness stew for me, and lamb stew for Tom. Mine came served inside the biggest Yorkshire pudding I've ever seen, and had chunks of meat half the size of my palm, tender enough to knock apart with the spoon it arrived with. Jostling with mushrooms, celery, carrots, and a few other veggies in a rich brown gravy, and topped by a double scoop of mashed potatoes, it was redolent of rosemary and thyme—indescribably delicious. Tom's Irish stew was nearly as good, though he had to twist my arm to make me honor my promise to swap plates with him halfway through the meal. I could only manage one slice of the excellent wholemeal bread that arrived with it, and dessert unthinkable. (Famous first....)

The ambience was friendly and low-key, with a blend of local and foreign folk. I caught French, Canadian English, and what I think was Polish in addition to the local accent, and conversation amongst tables was easy and companionable—hard not to be, considering their proximity.
The music was interestingly eclectic and not loud enough to impede conversation. I caught the Stones (Angie), Blondie (Heart of Glass), Dire Straits (Money for Nothing), the Beatles (All You Need is Love), and Dido (Two Little Gods).

The food was good enough to have carried the evening by itself—but the people made it an experience. Going back before we leave town? Hellz, yeah.

"Baptism by Tyre"

Originally posted on Posterous, April 29, 2012

Took today slowly—actually slept til noon (an ability I thought I'd lost YEARS ago to dictatorial small children).

We didn't have the research done for this trip as well as we usually do; I'd bought an armful of guidebooks, but hadn't had a chance to open even one. So, while we lazed about the flat and took our time over tea and toast, Tom dipped into a couple of the more interesting guidebooks, I caught up with Twitter friends and checked in with Mike, the friend we'd intended to meet up with tonight.

Despite the wind and drizzle, neither of which I mind, we went out to have a look round the area that once was medieval Dublin. Not much is left of that era, at least in terms of buildings, but the present face of that part of the city is fascinating all the same. Most of St. Patrick's, the cathedral across the street from us, was apparently built in the late 1100's. The cathedral is supposedly built nearly upon the site of the well in which the saint baptized his converts. (That bad audio backing the video with this is the bells of St. Patrick's, caught with my phone.)

Medieval cities had narrow streets, and so, thanks to its medieval origins, does this part of modern Dublin. As the rain came down harder, the puddles in the streets grew correspondingly larger. The narrowness of the roads means pedestrians don't have a sporting chance of avoiding being repeatedly splashed; it's a wonder more of the creatures living in this part of town aren't ducks.

Partway through the walk, we stumbled across the building that once housed Dunlop's tyre factory—the world's first—which, for some incomprehensible reason, obscurely pleased Tom. We seem to have lost something since the 19th century: their solution to the problem of the discomfort caused posteriorly by bicycle seats was the invention of the pneumatic tire (or tyre, if you happen to have been born this side of the Atlantic). The current solution? As observed by Scott Adams, dorky pants. I think Dunlop's solution was superior, but then, I'm a runner, not a cyclist...

Disaster seems to have preceded us: we're two for two on not managing to make intended 3D meetups with friends, thanks to...um...unforeseen circumstances. Paul has had the flu most of the week; Mike's perfidious plumbing today made a valiant attempt to drown him and his family. Goes without saying, doesn't it, that both visits went down the dumper....

One thing to do, then.


*Please note that Tom is responsible for the title; blame HIM.

"In Dublin's Fair City..."

Originally posted on Posterous, April 28, 2012

First days anywhere aren't usually very interesting, thanks to things like getting settled into wherever you're staying, figuring out what's where in the neighborhood, and realizing how tired you are.

I can't complain; we've a small flat in Patrick Street, and very cozy it is: upper floor overlooking the cathedral green—LOVING the church bells!—sitting room, bedroom, kitchen, bath. I prefer this to the more usual hotels or B&Bs. I'd far rather leave scheduling loose, and having to abide by fixed mealtimes (especially breakfast!) is a pain in the backside. A kitchen makes it possible to play hands-on with local food (I still say Wales has the best lamb in existence), and hang out over something to eat with friends for hours without dirty looks from wait staff.

We're liking Dublin enormously, even after just part of one day. The people, every last one us ignorant furriners have dealt with so far, have been incredibly nice. What little we've seen of the city is beautiful, and perfect for hours of walking, which we like better than any other mode of transport when traveling. I'd far rather be able to pause and look at the buildings and people, and listen to the sounds of life going on around me. This doesn't preclude travel by speedier means when more efficient; I just like <feeling> other cities directly. Besides, walking leaves travel open to serendipitous discoveries—fun little shops off the beaten path, small local eateries, and things to see and do I'd otherwise miss.

Today's major fun was a mid-afternoon meal at Queen of Tarts in Cow's Lane. Their site (http://www.queenoftarts.ie/) details the food to perfection....and perfection it was, altogether. I admit I'd cheerfully swim the Atlantic to eat the stuff, but the place itself is just fun. It was hard not to compare the afternoon to a similar one at Maids of Honour in Kew some years ago—not unfavorably to either establishment, I hasten to say (before the English beat me up).

The recommendation of the excellent Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@jbbc on Twitter), the Cow's Lane Queen (there's another, in Dame Street, apparently) is small, and crammed. I wonder if the line ever disappears, though it's worth the wait. Lots of small round wooden café tables and chairs, all laden with flowered china; cheerful waitresses who take the time to chat over the offerings with you; enormous pots of tea (and very good coffee!)...we spent most of the afternoon eating, drinking, and observing and chatting with those around us.

The other folks were a very diverting cross-section of humanity. Next to us was a large group of mums, aunties, and small girls, all dressed up for a girly outing. They were convivial fun, breezy and friendly. Very different they were from Grannie, Mummy, and Isabella-age-six, the group in Maids—informal and outgoing, just really nice people. There were groups of teenage girls, anchored by put-upon fathers, young couples, and middle aged ladies taking a break from shopping. More surprising were the business men in beautiful three-piece suits, and the gaggle of teenage boys in hoodies—neither were the sort I'd've expected to see in such a place. And they were just as friendly and interesting as the more-traditional female contingent—mes hommages to the locals!

One final thing: anyone pedantic enough to need to tell me that the title of this is the first line of "Molly Malone", a vaudeville number written in the US, can go pound sand. /grin

Zen and the art of the Layover

Originally posted on Posterous, April 28, 2012

Here in the upper-central US, you can't go to hell without going through Chicago. I don't really mind O'Hare, or the delay; time was, though, either would have driven me bonkers with frustration.
Age? Experience? A little of both, I suppose, mixed with exhaustion. I'm thankful, just now, for an enforced opportunity to do next to nothing. Nothing but watch the world go by, that is.

The best people-watching spot anywhere is London's Victoria Station—the entire population of the planet goes through there in the course of an afternoon—but O'Hare isn't half bad. There's a lady with striped orange hair, wound into a slip-shod bun, bleating on about her last conversation with her therapist; an Indian guy in a green turban, exuding imperturbability; and some wacko doing yoga off to one side of the concourse. No screaming child anywhere (amazing; clearly, Central Casting slipped up today).

I'd say two third of the people around me have some kind of electronic device they're absorbed in. iPads are the hands-down favorite, and most of them are the current model ( including mine), though there are a great many iPods as well. Interesting how the technology facilitates conversation—the people with paperbacks (lot of Clive Cussler, a James Patterson, and one dreadful bodice-ripper) are absorbed entirely, but the electronic folk enjoy comparing devices, apps, and sharing opinions. Mostly, they're using the gizmos to read the news, check email, and do social networking (I seem to be the only one fooling with iMovie); they're connecting outward, doing stuff. Wonder if electronic activity is as refreshing an escape for most as hiding out in a good novel can be? On reflection, I'd guess that's why most of the paperbacks are some kind of suspense/action subject matter—they're good, riveting reads that take the reader <somewhere> to occupy the time. Looks to me like the tech-based folk are enjoying their arguments, comparisons, and conversation as much as the readers their books.

Boarding now—onward to Ireland.

Tech, Travel, and the Smaller-World Concept

Originally posted on Posterous, April 27, 2012

Used to be, it was American Express you didn’t leave home without. Now, we travel as we live: bristling with gizmos. I’m lighter than usual, this time, packing iPhone and iPad, but leaving the MacBook behind—I’m sure I could hear it crying, when told it couldn’t go.

Technological advances, says the old saw, are making the world smaller. According to Google, it’s still just a hair less than 4k miles from St. Louis to Dublin, technojunk notwithstanding. A hundred years ago, I’d’ve made the crossing in a steamship; now, it’s a Boeing, probably a 767. (To those of you who’d STILL buy me a ticket for the Titanic….steerage, I’m sure!….PHHHHRRRRTTTT!!!!) I’m not thrilled about spending two weeks on iOS alone, but I can’t justify the weight and space trade-off involved in taking the more-powerful device. I DO like the thought of not being loaded down with film, extra lenses, and all the other old-fangled camera equipment—who really takes the time for serious shooting on a casual vacation? (Answer: not me.)

Both phone and iPad ensure that I’m not out of earshot of #2Son, alone at home for two weeks for the first time. He’s 20, so I could come home to a heap of smoking rubble, but it isn’t likely; he and his older brother are shockingly responsible souls. Besides, I have to keep up with several WWF wars….

Technology doesn’t decrease either the physical or the psychological distance between places and people, but it can, and does, give the superficial impression of doing so. It can, for real, but that takes work: getting to know another person, at whatever remove, takes time, attention, and effort—just as it always has, 3D. The obvious beauty of online life, and social networking in particular, is the opportunity to get acquainted with, and get to know, people you’d otherwise never have had the chance to meet. The serendipity factor makes it the more fascinating—meeting people who are friends of friends, or being cold-followed by someone who, over time, becomes a genuine friend.
Adventure beckons......

Distant Early Warning

Originally posted on Posterous, April 25, 2012

Back last fall, after my father died, the Honoured Spouse and I thought we’d plan a trip—months down the road, at that point—as R&R, once the dust settled.

The dust shows no signs of settling, so we’re going anyway: to Dublin, leaving day after tomorrow. I’ve lost count of how many people have wanted to know whether I intend to tweet as we go, post pictures, etc., etc., andI found myself wondering if the best solution might not be to just post links to a blog, rather than be a timeline-hog bore. I haven't particularly wanted to blog, heretofore; so much 'blogging' seems to just be re-posting of other people's content, I didn't want to add to the noise.

Nevertheless, here we are.

As yet, we’ve no firm plans, beyond meeting up with some online friends 3D—exciting!—and seeing the Book of Kells.