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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

January 2017

An American Tourist in Ireland (11)

Friday was my last full day in Ireland. Without really thinking about it, I had chosen to make this journey between St. Patrick’s Day and the centennial anniversary of the Easter Rising(1). Had I been a little more aware of the historical significance of the dates, I would have found a way to stay on awhile longer.

We left Galway that morning, after breakfast and headed back towards Dublin. On the way back, we made a scheduled stop at KIlbeggan Distillery. As we pulled into the parking lot, an official greeter arrived to meet the bus. He exchanged hellos as we disembarked, taking time to make each of us feel welcome.

Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.
The Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.

After his warm greeting, the very friendly feline made sure we found our way to the sign, which showed us how to get on with the tour. We made our way down a narrow passage way to the main street – another sign directed us through a gate and we soon found ourselves in a kind of courtyard, which featured a cafe-type space (closed) and gift shop.

The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route.
The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route for our tour.

Once inside the distillery, we were greeted by our tour guide, who showed us the intricacies of how Irish whiskey was made. We were even given a free shot. Because it was also Good Friday, they weren’t allowed to sell us any alcohol. After that free shot, I was mightily tempted to put in an order, so it was probably a good thing I couldn’t buy it right then. (The temptation has long since worn off.)

Fully functioning water-wheel.
This is a fully functioning water-wheel.

I have the shot glass – they let us keep that, if we so chose. I so chose, and it is one of my prized belongings that I brought back with me.

A Kilbeggan shot glass.
A Kilbeggan shot glass.

I am not a whiskey drinker, although I have had a shot or two. The shot I sampled at Kilbeggan was delicious and fiery and warmed me to my toes. I wish I could remember what, exactly, we were served, because I’d like to sample it again. Also, I am the kind of person that likes to share the knowledge.

Drinker of whiskey or not, I would encourage a visit to Kilbeggan Distillery, if only to see how it must have worked centuries ago. Something for the history buffs to enjoy.

*****
(1) The Easter Rising of 1916. For an abbreviated version of events, see the film Michael Collins (1996), starring Liam Neeson.

So, when I was ten years old…….

………I read Oliver Twist for the first time. It was a paperback Signet edition, with tiny print and no illustrations. It’s probably an intense book for someone so young – certainly, the themes of child abuse, murder, gangs and orphanages would be enough to deter some.

I loved it.

I loved Fagin and the Artful Dodger and, despite the perils of their life choices, I wanted to be a part of that gang. It seemed wildly romantic and fun, even if it was dangerous. Then again, I was also ten years old, so what did I know? But I was frightened of Bill Sykes and I desperately wanted Nancy to escape and be happy in a different life.

I don’t remember a lot about Oliver himself, though, which is weird, because it is his story. Even though it was told in third person, he should have made more of an impact on me, but when I think about him as I write this, all I can come up with is a colorless character. Then again, he is the avatar through which the reader experiences the story, the emotional roller coaster, so I guess that’s why he didn’t make much of an impression on me.

I even loved the musical (Food, Glorious Food is quite catchy) – not the movie so much, but the stage version really captured my imagination. I would listen to the soundtrack and re-read Oliver Twist many times through high school. I attempted to read some of Charles Dickens’ other work, especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but they didn’t quite capture me the same way that Oliver Twist did.

At some point during my twenties, I gathered up a bag of books to take over to my local used bookstore, where they do trade – bring in some books, get store credit to use at a future time. My copy of Oliver Twist went with it. I figured it was time, I hadn’t read it in years, so may as well let someone else enjoy and get something out of it.

About ten years later, I went to that same bookstore and was browsing through their classic literature section. I happened upon a copy of Oliver Twist that greatly resembled the copy I had given up. I remember thinking, Well, I don’t have mine anymore, and I did like it and I should probably read it again.

Then I opened the front cover – there, on the first page, giving the short biography of Charles Dickens, was my name, scrawled in a ten year old’s handwriting.

Of course, I bought it. You don’t send a book out into the world and not take it back when it shows up again.

Recommended:
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Drood by Dan Simmons

My copy of Oliver Twist. The characters on the cover are the Artful Dodger, Fagin and Oliver.
My copy of Oliver Twist. The characters on the cover are the Artful Dodger, Fagin and Oliver.

So, I’m learning French on my own…..

……..thanks to this little app on my phone called Duolingo. I started out with Spanish, then added French and then, in honor of my trip to Ireland, Gaelic.

Let me say, right now, that my Gaelic sucks. I can’t even figure it out in context. That’s okay – I’d never heard it before, so…..I’ll cut myself some slack on that one. I didn’t delete it – it’s still there, waiting for me to come back to it.

And I will.

I fared a lot better with Spanish, mainly because I live in California and am surrounded by the Spanish history and influence. I have a couple of Agatha Christie and Stephen King titles in Spanish, which will be helpful in bettering my comprehension of the language. Years ago, I suspected that if reading helps us with comprehending our native tongue, then surely it would have the same effect when learning a foreign one.

If I already knew the story, I thought, then my main struggle would be in understanding it in a language I’m not fluent in.

I stumbled across that idea when I was taking Spanish in college, lo, these many years ago. I read the Spanish translation of Pablo Neruda’s poetry to my tutor. In a few weeks time, she commented that my pronunciation and comprehension improving. And I was pleased.

So, imagine my surprise when, upon beginning my French lessons on the app, that it came to me far more easily than Spanish did. I’ve progressed further in the French than I have in the Spanish – indeed, I don’t think I’ve gone back to Spanish or Gaelic in over a year.

I’m not worried about that, because my goal is to learn more than one language and some far more complicated than French or Spanish (1). The better I get at French, the easier it will be to switch over to Spanish. Like Italian, French and Spanish derive from the Latin, which explains why they are similar in structure. Even particular words resemble each other.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m feeling determined to learn French right at this moment, but I’m willing to follow my instincts and see where it leads.

Sometimes, that’s what you need to do.

 

(1) Complicated in that I would also be learning an alphabet made up of letters that I won’t recognize, like Japanese.

Clockwise from bottom: Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D'Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).
Clockwise from bottom (Spanish to French):    Eso (IT); Ventana Secreta, Jardin Secreto (Secret Window, Secret Garden); Orguillo Y Prejuicio (Pride & Prejudice); Matar es Facil (Murder is Easy); Telon (Curtain); Une Poignee de Seigle (A Pocketful of Rye); Le Retour D’Hercule Poirot (The Return of Hercule Poirot).

An American Tourist in Ireland (10)

As I’ve been writing out these posts about my trip to Ireland, I’m catching memories of things we did en route to wherever we were headed next. I remember at point, we were on a ferry, crossing a channel. I know at one point, we had a stop and I got my first cup of coffee the entire time I was there. For my caffeine fix, I drank mostly black tea.

On Thursday, our regular driver had the day off, so we had a guest driver take us to a tour boat that shuttled us up the only ‘fjord’ in Ireland. It was a short trip, but the sights were beautiful, even with a sharp wind.

There was a cafe on board, so my tour mates treated themselves to coffee or whiskey or some other concoction. I treated myself to an Irish Hot Chocolate – it’s like an Irish coffee, but with hot chocolate. And I got whipped cream on it. Yummy!

The guest driver and I spoke most of the cruise, discussing ancestry and Ireland. He indicated quite strongly that if I had any relatives there, they were likely in the same place where my great-great grandparents had lived before making their journey to America. It goes without saying that it was commented on that I was clearly very Irish, so much so, that I could blend right in with the natives.

There are so many of these little moments, that I wish I’d had the foresight to keep a journal while I was there. Something to remember for next time. And there will be a next time. I don’t know how or when, but I will be going back to Ireland. Hopefully, I’ll find a way to stay longer and make stronger connections.

That’s the dream, anyway.

Churchyard in Cong, Ireland.
Churchyard in Cong, Ireland.

So, I’m in another play…..

……a one-act, more specifically, which lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. There are four other one-acts in this production, thus it’s referred to as the one-act festival. It’s held every year and seems to have a fairly good turn-out.

Which makes the time frame about the length of a two act play (two hours).

This is actually a nifty idea, because you can get maybe four or five playwrights’ work staged and exposed to a receptive audience, instead of just one. It enables unknown playwrights especially, since you could also mix them in with well-known playwrights, whose work has been established.

The stage where the one-acts will be performed, but not with this backdrop.
The stage where the one-acts will be performed, but not with this backdrop.

I’m having a lot of fun with finding my moments within my character’s speeches and today, I made my director cry. Which I suppose was the point – my character is blind, and is writing an email home, feeling very insecure about what may occur upon her arrival. So there’s a lot of emotion and empathy coming out.

That’s part of an actor’s job – to make you feel what the characters feel. Same thing with a writer. Or songwriter.

The arts are about creating empathy between you and the subject. It can be uncomfortable, it can make you mad or upset or happy or melancholy. No two people will have the same kind of experience, even if they see or read the same things.

In a play, there is a symbiotic relationship between the actors on-stage and the audience that is watching them. My job, as an actor, is to make you feel what I’m feeling. If my character, in the moment, is feeling something so powerful, that you start to cry, then I’ve done my job.

Even if it’s a tiny sniffle, I will consider that I did my job and transported you to another plane of emotional existence.

It’s an experience that’s harder to pull off via film or TV – not impossible, just harder.

Go see live theater, even if it’s a musical you grew up loving as a kid. It’s an experience that is always good to share with friends and family.

 

“The stage is set, the curtain rises. We are ready to begin.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Abominable Bride (2015)

An American Tourist in Ireland (9)

After two nights in Killarney, we spent two nights in Galway. The previous two posts, visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Cong, were day trips to see more of Ireland. Let me just say that when you go on a tour, they pack things into every moment of each day. Which is a great way to first visit a foreign country.

I did not get any pictures of Galway while we followed our guide, though I did manage to video some street musicians playing. I’m not able to post them here at the moment, but will see if I can find a way to do it via another source. The music was lively and haunting and beautiful – the closest I’ve come to hearing it here in the states is at my local pub and wine bar.

Up to this point, I’d found the weather quite comfortable. It ranged from 35 to 50 degrees every day and I was warm enough wearing just a sweater. The rest of my group had bundled up in heavy coats, mufflers, hats and gloves. Galway changed that within five minutes. I finally put on my heavy coat, thanks to the ice-cold wind coming in off the water.

In some ways, I regret not taking more pictures. There was so much to see and experience, I didn’t want to separate myself from any of it by looking through a view finder. I constantly felt like I was on the verge of something – a discovery, a meeting, something. I’m not sure if I did and haven’t pieced it together yet, or if it’s waiting to reveal itself later on.

Perhaps it’s a mystery I can only unravel by going back to Ireland.

Village across the bay, near Skellig Michael Information Center.
Village across the bay, near Skellig Michael Information Center.

An American Tourist in Ireland (8)

At one point, we were scheduled to go to Skellig Michael, but due to poor weather and ocean conditions, that was cancelled. We did,  however, spend some time at the information and gift center, had lunch and watched a short film about the island. If you’re puzzling over why that name sounds so familiar, it would be due to the fact that it’s where Rey found Luke Skywalker at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So, on we went to Cong, which is also famous for cinematic reasons, namely the Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne film, The Quiet Man (1952). Below, is the tavern where Barry Fitzgerald’s character has a pint so often, that his horse knows to stop there before passing on by.

Exterior of the tavern, as seen in The Quiet Man.
Exterior of the tavern, as seen in The Quiet Man.

Most of the exteriors you see in the film were shot on location in Cong, but through the magic of film-making, the geography was rearranged just a wee bit. If you watch the film and then visit (or vice versa), you’ll get a slight disorienting feeling of things not quite matching up between real life and the film. And that’s okay – that’s the beauty of it all.

Exterior of the vicar's house as seen in The Quiet Man.
Exterior of the vicar’s house, as seen in              The Quiet Man.

 

Cong is a beautiful village that retains much of the charm that was surely there even before John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and the film crew even arrived. Many of the locals were given background parts – in fact, the gentleman leading the tour of Cong had a relative in the film, his father, I believe.

The Quiet Man Museum, replicated to resemble the actual cottage.
The Quiet Man Museum, replicated to resemble the actual cottage.

 

After the tour, we set off for a pub for lunch. We had to put in our choices early for either pasta or fish and chips. I chose the fish and chips – how could I pass that up when the fish had been caught that morning? I have to say, it had to be some of the best fish and chips I’d had in a long while.

There was a TV on, which isn’t at all surprising for a pub. But instead of sports or local news, a movie was playing that seemed awfully familiar. I realize it’s a bit washed out, but I hope you can make out who the actors are. 😉

Playing at the pub where we had lunch. Coincidence?
Playing at the pub where we had lunch. Coincidence? I think not.

It was a lovely place to visit and one I hope to see again.

Recommended:
The Quiet Man (1952)

So, I’m always learning something new……

……..even about things that I’ve known how to do for years. Like, constructing a scene more efficiently or embedding links into a post or even about an historical event.

This is a good thing. It keeps me on my toes, it helps me keep an open mind and allows me to adjust and adapt.

It’s not always easy to do, but if you want to do your best and bring out your best work, that’s the way to go. It can be painful, there may be much gnashing of teeth and grumbling, but in the end, you’ll get a result that may surprise you.

And it could even be better than you expected it to be.

This is the goal.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

An American Tourist in Ireland (7)

On Wednesday, we left Killarney and traveled north-west towards the Atlantic and the Cliffs of Moher. Right, I know, it sounds strange to write ‘west’ and ‘Atlantic’ in the same sentence, but it’s really a matter of perspective.

The Cliffs of Moher, to my left as I look our at the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cliffs of Moher, to my left as I look out at the Atlantic Ocean.

It was one of the few times that the sky was clear and blue, that rain did not threaten to shower down. I wouldn’t have minded the rain, but I enjoyed the sunny day. There were a number of shops built into the hill, an information center and a restaurant and museum. This greets you as you pull into the parking lot.

The footpath winds its way up to a stone wall and from there splits into two directions – left, towards the cliffs, and right, towards the tower. Although not steep, it is a work-out and I was a little out of breath when I got to the top.

That’s when I took the above photo of the cliffs. I didn’t feel much like going to the left, so I made my way to the right, towards O’Brien’s Tower. As I walked, I encountered a couple visiting from France – it tickled me that they thought I was ‘local’, meaning, Irish citizen (1). I was quick to correct that impression, but we had a good laugh about it and then I went on to the tower and they went back down towards the information center.

O'Brien's Tower, to my right as I face the Atlantic Ocean.
O’Brien’s Tower, to my right as I look out at the Atlantic Ocean.

There was so much to take in at each stop, that even as I’m writing this post about it, I know I’m not getting all the details in. Eventually, I left the tower and made my way to the information center, going upstairs to the restaurant for lunch.

Irish stew. I’m drooling just thinking about it. A little bit of heaven in a bowl. I may have to do a post solely about my culinary experiences.

Right. Back to the Cliffs of Moher.

Looking back on it, I remember feeling at peace. I was alone, but not lonely. It was a beautiful day and I made little connections here and there. I’m sitting here, reliving those moments and I know that someday, I’ll go back.

 

*****
(1) Must be that red hair, green eyes and fair complexion of mine. 😉

Previous posts:
An American Tourist in Ireland (1)
An American Tourist in Ireland (2)
An American Tourist in Ireland (3)
An American Tourist in Ireland (4)
An American Tourist in Ireland (5)
An American Tourist in Ireland (6)

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