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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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travel

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)

An American Tourist in Ireland (2)

On Sunday, my second day in Ireland, my tour group left Dublin shortly after breakfast. We then traveled to Co. Kilkenny see the lost town of Jerpoint Park and the church of St. Nicholas.

Artist rendition of the the village; lower right hand corner shows infrared outline of the original village.
Artist rendition of the village; the lower right hand corner shows the outline of the original village.

This was a fun and unique experience, as a family owns not just the sheep farm and house (originally to be servants quarters), but the lost village itself is located on the property. The family live in what is called Belmore House, a stately home that was originally designed to be the servants’ quarters, according to our guide. But the gentleman building the house ran out of money, so the house remains as it is.

The old road that led us Belmore House actually ran through the original village of Newtown Jerpoint, population 250. There a number of pubs in this village, more than one would think could be sustained by a such a small population.

Church of St. Nicolas. In the background, to the right, is Jerpoint Abbey.

How many pubs were there in this village? Fourteen. That’s right, folks, there were fourteen pubs to satisfy the thirst of 250 villagers.

Well, actually, not just the villagers – it was designed for the many tourists that came through to visit the Church of St. Nicholas and Jerpoint Abbey. You know, people like me, who like to lollygag and take pictures and write blog posts about their experiences. Although, I am not sure there were such things as travel guides back in the day, when St. Nicholas was re-interred in the churchyard he currently resides in.

Tomb of St. Nicolas.

And who is this St. Nicholas chap, anyway? And why was this an important stop, you ask? Well, St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas of Myra and he was buried in that churchyard over 800 years ago. Allegedly brought back to Ireland by two crusaders, he has remained in the churchyard ever since. If you look carefully at the grave slab, you can see their faces inscribed on either side of St. Nicholas in the photo to the left.

It wasn’t unusual for the crusaders to bring back the remains of an alleged saint – the Normans were keen collectors of religious artifacts and brought what they found back home. Whether the items in question should have been moved in the first place is up for debate. (1)

This is St. Nicholas.

As with many other historical figures, we are lucky to have physical descriptions of them recorded in written form. Even luckier are when there are sketches or paintings made, generally from life. Most often, however, we are left with an artist’s rendition of what the written word describes.

And to the right is a very stylized rendition of what St. Nicholas may have looked like, back when he was hale and hearty, very much alive and practicing his faith among his flock and blessing those around him.

 

But thanks to the myriad paths of myth and fantasy, we have come to know him as this fellow in the photo on the left.:

So, in essence, I know where Santa Claus is buried.

 

 

 

 

(1) Given that many museums are now finding themselves in an awkward position of being in possession of artifacts that technically should not have been given to them and are making efforts to either return or make reparations, I wonder if the caretakers of St. Nicholas’ church have ever had that question put to them. I regret not asking.

So, 2016 has been a fairly tumultuous year…..

…….and on that note, I’m going to focus on what it meant for me. There are far more articulate voices discussing the global implications of this last year, so I’ll leave it for them. I haven’t even come close to thinking about the loss of so many talented artists that I grew up listening to and how they inspired and influenced me. Reading the outpouring of love has been inspiring in and of itself. Listening to their music or reading their work or watching their performances has been a reminder that Prince and David Bowie and many others will continue to influence long after we’ve gone and turned to dust.

This post isn’t about that.

2016, for  me, was a little weird in some respects and very exciting in others. The weird aspect (and this is in a very good way) was that it resembled 1984. Not the Orwellian novel, but the year I turned 14. Return of the Jedi had come out the year before and Ghostbusters was on the horizon. I discovered another science fiction film series, seeing Star Trek III The Search for Spock seven of nine (1) showings in my local theater. I was thrilled when I discovered the TV series and the spin-offs that followed.

Following that trend, 2016 offered up a Star Trek film, a Ghostbusters film and a Star Wars film, the latter following on the heels of Episode VII. Was I a happy camper? Suffice to say, my inner 14 year old geek (nerd?) was delighted beyond words.

What was exciting about 2016?

I did a lot of traveling. I traveled to areas only a couple of hours from where I live by car, to both visit friends and to recharge. I traveled to another state to help my brother move (I came back by train, which is always a plus – trains are a great way to travel).

I fulfilled a life-long dream and traveled to Ireland, one of the many countries that my ancestors emigrated from in the nineteenth. It was a tour, starting and ending in Dublin, and I loved every minute of it. I drank more tea in a day than I’ve drunk in a month and I felt more awake and alert than I ever did with coffee. Shocking, I know, but there it is. I met some amazing people, both on the tour and among the Irish. Not surprisingly, I was asked many times if I had family in Ireland – I think I do, but I’m not sure who they are. This is a mystery I fully intend to solve over the course of the next year.

I’m feeling more secure in what I want for myself and a better vision of what I want my future to look like. I’m taking steps to follow my passion, make a plan and find a way. That’s what I know I can do, right this minute, for both the practical and the fanciful.

In a tumultuous year, making a plan and visualizing your ideal future can be the anchor you need to finally breathe.

 

(1) Star Trek Voyager reference, completely unintentional.

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So, this little mystery of mine…..

……seems to have evolved into a quest. Quests mean travel, which requires planning and budgeting. Now that I’m back from Ireland, getting a sense of the country my great-great grandparents had emigrated from, the time has come to map out my next move.

This means, of course, I have to re-think my approach to this wonderfully tangled puzzle.

In other words, what would Sherlock Holmes do?

Very simply, he would take what verified facts he had, categorize the ephemeral ones in order of importance before either eliminating or verifying them, then follow the threads on a chase to see what resulted. Whatever remains, he believed (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote), no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

The game is afoot!

With deerstalker cap firmly in place, I take up the mystery with Holmes as inspiration.
With deerstalker cap firmly in place, I take up the mystery with Holmes as inspiration.

So, a few years ago, I picked up a blank journal……

……..and jotted down the kernel of an idea for a story (woman inherits farm in foreign country, travels over with intention to sell, finds horse in back yard, hilarity ensues) and then promptly forgot all about it.

This happens with me a lot. I have stacks of journals with story kernels that have yet to blossom into full-blown stories. I don’t really worry about it, because I know when the right combination of inspiration and willingness to hear the story happens, words get written.

So, while traveling on tour in Ireland, as I observed the countryside from my seat on the bus, I saw a lot of homes – modern and historic – dot the fields. One such older home that had clearly been vacant for some time and in the back yard, I saw horse wearing a green blanket. It was staring towards the road, its attitude one of complete surprise.
I recalled the kernel of an idea and immediately, the story came to me, full-blown. I had fully developed scenes, bits of dialogue, characters, plot, background – I had it all within seconds of seeing that horse in the green blanket.

I didn’t write anything down right away – I needed it to percolate for awhile before putting it down on paper. Part of this was because I had issues with finding the right names for at least one character (in the novel I’m currently working on, one character not only changed his name eight times, but his nationality as well). For me, finding the right name is important – it is the identifier of the person, it holds the key to understanding and it has power.

So, even though I had found the journal I’d jotted the kernel of an idea in, I held off writing anything down, even basic notes. The story kept building itself in my mind, but it wasn’t until I found the right names for the characters that I felt free to add the scenes and notes to the original idea for the story.

It’s funny how an idea I’d had years ago seemed to come to life upon seeing that horse in the green blanket. I wish I’d had time to snap a picture of it and I wonder, even now, what had held his attention, what it was that had surprised him.

I suppose I will never know about the real horse, but I can have a lot of fun imagining what comes next.

 

***
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, one of the things I like to do is travel……

…….and it’s something I try to do as often as possible, just to recharge my creative spirit. I have a few favorite haunts that I travel to, such as Morro Bay or Long Beach (both in California), and they have that vibe that resonates and makes me feel refreshed. But I often think about places that are further away, like Romania or Egypt or Greece. These places fire my imagination with their histories, their cultures, their mythologies.

Early morning in Morro Bay
Early morning in Morro Bay

I’m not suggesting that in order to write, you must travel and experience different lives and customs, but it helps. If traveling is not in your budget, then reading about your favorite countries and their people is a definite alternative, as is reading their literature and viewing their films and television shows. It’s not the same, sure, but it’s better than nothing. Who knows, you may end up being inspired to set a goal and put a budget aside for something as exciting and as different as travelling to another country.

In addition to the countries I named above, I’ve always wanted to travel to the countries my ancestors emigrated from (there are eleven, mostly north-western European/Scandinavian, but also from the British Isles). I want to breathe in the air that they grew up in, loved and lived in, to walk the streets they did. It’s a secret fantasy that I’ll find and connect with cousins several times removed. If it happens, no one will be more thrilled than I, but it’s not something I expect to occur.

In any case, the point of travel is to experience life in a place that is not familiar, to interact and learn what it is that is the same, as well as what is different. As an artist of any type, whether of the written word or of canvas or music, travel will enrich your soul and mind, which will then translate itself into whatever creative work you’re planning. Get a passport, even if it takes nine years for you to use it. Buy travel guides and maps and foreign language dictionaries of the countries that fascinate you the most.

Travelling is, when you do it, you leave pieces of yourself behind, but you also take pieces of what you encounter with you.

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