Saturday, June 25, 2016

Irish Bucket List, Revisited

Four years ago, I wrote of my intention to one day visit Ireland, with a bucket list of things I hoped to do when I got there. Last month, I finally got there. Let's see how many of those items I can check off my list...

1. Tour the Guinness Brewery

Of course we visited Guiness Storehouse in Dublin. And we drank Guinness Stout and/or Smithwick's Ale everywhere we went. And we sampled several varieties of Irish whisky (or, as they call it in Ireland, "whisky.")


2. Listen to Live Irish Music

Four years ago I made a promise that, if I made it to Ireland, I would find a pub with live music and request Finnegan's Wake in honor of my late friend David Hawthorne. I was able to fulfill that promise at a place called "The Quays," in the Temple Bar district of Dublin. The musicians, a guitar/fiddle duo named Stephen and Sharon, promised to play my request "later." If they did, we never heard it. Before they finished their set, we were obliged to leave due to the premises being overrun by rowdy, obnoxious tourists with idiotic requests for such songs as "Danny Boy" and, believe it or not, "Country Roads."

We did hear a few good songs from Stephen and Sharon before the drunks took over. And later on, at a place across from our hotel in Galway called "Tigh Fox," we had front-row seats for trad (traditional Irish music) sessions on two successive evenings.

Stephen and Sharon

Trad Session at Tigh Fox

3. Follow in the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom

It's virtually impossible to visit Dublin without stumbling across at least one of the places mentioned in James Joyce's Ulysses. We found three. The first was directly across from our hotel: the pharmacy where Leopold Bloom purchased a bar of lemon-scented soap (which he forgot to pay for). Our Gravedigger Ghost Bus tour ended at a pub just outside the gates of Glasnevin Cemetery, where Bloom attended his friend Paddy Dignam's funeral, and our Literary Pub Crawl finished at Davy Byrnes, the "moral pub" where Bloom ordered a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy that later caused him some intestinal distress. ("Prrprr. Must be the bur. Fff. Oo. Rrpr.")

Oh, and one more thing: I finally finished reading Ulysses in Dublin. What better place to read Joyce's tribute to his favorite city? I now understand why he wrote, "When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart."

Window of Sweny's Pharmacy

Glasnevin Cemetery

Davy Byrnes

4. Buy a Round at a Real Irish Pub

I had the perfect opportunity for this when we visited Pat Cohan's Bar in Cong, the pub featured in The Quiet Man. There was only one person in the bar besides us, so buying a round for the house would have been a real bargain. But the mood wasn't right. There just wasn't the sort of conviviality that inspires one to buy alcohol for total strangers.

However, the mood was right at Tigh Fox in Galway, where we did not buy a round for the house, but we did buy one for the musicians. I think that counts.

Pub from The Quiet Man

I could have bought a round for this guy, but it just didn't seem right.

5. Visit the Grave of William Butler Yeats

It was a beautiful, sunny day when we visited the scenic spot where, "Under bare Ben Bulben's head/In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid." (As a matter of fact, the weather was beautiful nearly every day we were in Ireland, which I understand is a very rare thing.) That same day, thanks to Google Maps, we also managed to locate a small, secluded island near the shore of Lough Gill, made famous by one of Yeats' early poems:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Drumcliff Churchyard

Yeats wrote his own epitaph in the poem Under Ben Bulben.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

So as far as my bucket list goes, I think I can safely say we nailed it. We also saw many wonderful sights that weren't on the list, including the National Leprechaun Museum, Newgrange, the Hill of Tara, Clonmacnoise, the Cliffs of Moher, an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that served as the principal location for one of our all-time favorite British sitcoms, Father Ted, and a shoe store in Galway that bears my family's name.

In short, we saw about as much as a person can see of Ireland in just one week—which means there are many more things we didn't see (basically anything north of Sligo or south of Clare).

I guess it's time to start making a bucket list for our next visit.

"Logues Speisialtóirí Bróg" ("Logues Shoe Specialists"), Galway

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Comfort in Mayberry

I have been sick for the past two weeks, and I have spent much of that time in my recliner: coughing up and blowing out snot, drifting in and out of consciousness, and seeking comfort in favorite movies and television programs, preferably those in black and white. For some reason, I find black-and-white television more comforting when I'm sick. Maybe the color irritates my eyes, or maybe it's just because I'm reminded of my childhood, when everything on TV was black and white.

I watched a few old movies from my DVD collection, then started watching episodes of The Twilight Zone, which was a mistake. It turns out that "another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind" is not a particularly comforting place to be when you're sick. Also, I know this sounds crazy, but the smoke from Rod Serling's cigarette seemed to aggravate my cough.

So I started binge-watching The Andy Griffith Show. TV Land airs twelve episodes a day: six in the morning and six in the afternoon. In between are episodes of Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I watched a couple of episodes of those shows, but I found that the Ponderosa and Dodge City were nowhere near as comforting as the fictional setting of The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry, North Carolina. For one thing, Bonanza and Gunsmoke were in color. For another, they had a lot more gunfire. Sheriff Andy Taylor never wore a gun. Deputy Barney Fife did, but Andy only gave him one bullet, and he made him keep it buttoned up in his shirt pocket (with good reason).

Speaking of Gunsmoke, here's a bit of related trivia. It started out as a radio show, with a completely different cast. Two members of the cast of the radio show—Howard McNear, who played Doc, and Parley Baer, who played Chester—went on to become featured cast members of The Andy Griffith Show, as Floyd Lawson, Mayberry's barber, and Roy Stoner, Mayberry's cantankerous mayor.

I have always loved The Andy Griffith Show, and it was wonderful getting reacquainted with the residents of Mayberry. When I was young, my favorite episodes were those featuring Andy's bumbling blowhard deputy, Barney Fife, played brilliantly by Don Knotts. This time around, I especially enjoyed the first-season episodes featuring Elinor Donahue as Ellie Walker, Mayberry's pharmacist and Andy's first steady girlfriend. (Ellie disappeared without explanation after the first season, which is a real shame. I thought she was a lot cuter and a lot more fun than her replacement, schoolmarm Helen Crump.)

Most of all, I enjoyed the scenes between Andy and his young son Opie, played by future Academy-Award-winning film director, Ron Howard. "Ronny," as he was then known, was only six years old that first season. His scenes with Andy are so genuine and natural, you'd swear you were witnessing a real conversation between father and son. Often, Andy uses humor to teach Opie an important lesson about life, such as the time he explains feuds by telling the story of Romeo and Juliet. Just as often, Andy is the one who learns a lesson, as when Opie points out that his lying to a friend to make a trade for a pair of roller skates is no worse than Andy's "horse trading" with an antique dealer over an old cannon.

I suppose this is what I find most comforting about Mayberry: Andy and Opie's relationship reminds me of my relationship with my father. Like Andy Taylor, my dad was good at explaining things, good at listening, and always had time to talk to his son.

I really miss those talks.

In the wake of this week's massacre in Orlando, only the latest in a series of mass shootings that become more frequent and more deadly with every passing year, I find myself wondering what Andy might say to Opie about such a terrible event, and what my father might say to me.

I feel sure of one thing: it would be something comforting.