Tag Archives: Coming Home

Flashback Friday: Ghost Ship

Standard
The House Bar, Kilkenny, Ireland

The House Bar, Kilkenny, Ireland

[Another Friday, another flashback. Here is another chapter from the Irish adventure with my friend Belle. As with most of my Irish posts, you should imagine Van Morrison (or the Saw Doctors) playing in the background.]

 

23 March 2006

Crystal is expensive & its absence of color bothers me, but when you are at the Waterford Crystal Factory and you’ve watched the film about how it is the MOST perfect crystal in the world—how, in fact, imperfection is not tolerated—suddenly it seems like you need to own a piece and like maybe your cousin who is getting married next month needs a piece. And maybe your mother. Maybe an aunt. Maybe a neighbor. If you find yourself in this situation here is my advice to you: don’t do the euros-to-dollars conversion in your head. Pretend that the sticker that says ’85’ means eighty-five dollars and be done with it. Later, when your Visa bill comes, you can worry about the math and bad exchange rates. At which point, the prisms dancing around your living room and your cousin’s note of thanks about how her marriage would not have been so happy without your gift will soften the blow.

It really is just the most awful kind of extravagance there at the Waterford Crystal Visitors’ Center. For instance, I mailed ten postcards by dropping them into a giant crystal mailbox.

When you walk in, you are at the highest level of the show room, looking down on the chandeliers. This level has replicas of the various trophies that have been created (one in the shape of a football, most in the shapes of loving cups), place settings of goblets and doo-dads that Queen Elizabeth (or Oprah) couldn’t afford. It’s gorgeous, but excessive.

The next level down is where the goods are sold. I walked around this area for an hour, trying to do the math that would make it possible for me to spend money in a cost-effective way, get a wedding present, a shower present, some other small gifts, and spend the 200 euros needed so I could ship everything home for free. (For the record, other people are going in with me on the wedding gift. I’m not THAT extravagant. I do just teach at a small Midwestern university.)

I couldn’t decide, so I went to the next level down where the Wedgewood is sold. I’m not buying English china in Ireland. I’m not. So I scooched on into the room where other bits and bobs were sold. The space started feeling a lot less posh and a lot more like a basement. I was more comfortable. Here was the tourist tat that is sold everywhere in Ireland, of which I own too much because in those last minutes before a plane boards, suddenly it seems imperative that I have a Claddaugh apron or sixteen bumper stickers that say ‘Póg mo Thóin’ and key chains and coasters with my family’s supposed crest on it. It disturbed me that Waterford Crystal, an entity that couldn’t be more Irish, has the same class stratification that the Titanic (another Irish creation) did. So there I was in the basement in my scuffed up clogs with my hair in a ponytail and my black ‘just say no to troops in Shannon airport’ Shamrock button, KNOWING that I belong—and always will—in steerage. But for the sake of my cousin and her impending wedding, I clawed my way out of the ship’s hold before I was tempted to buy her a shamrock covered teapot with ‘Eire’ written above a facsimile of Brian Boru’s harp.

I made my choices, did the euro-only calculations, and then at the last minute asked the woman how long the free shipping would take on these items. Six weeks, she says. The wedding is in three weeks. Guess what’s going to be in my carry-on, wedged under the seat in my own little hunk of American Airline’s version of 3rd class travel?

An interlude: yesterday in Kilkenny, I saw a pub with a blue sign that said, “The Mouse Bar.” It made me laugh and imagine tiny rodents sidling up to the counter, asking for a pint, so I took a picture. This evening I mentioned it to Belle and Himself and showed them the picture. Isn’t this funny, I said. The artist looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “It’s the HOUSE bar,” he said. “Not the MOUSE bar. I told you about it before you left, said it would be a good place to eat.” Belle got so tickled she couldn’t quit laughing. Her face was red and Himself said, “Get control of yourself, woman.” For the rest of the night, all either of us would have to do was softly mention “mouse bar” and the other would start cackling.

Back to our regular scheduled programming:

This afternoon, Belle decided that I should see the famine ship in Dunbrody. She’d tried to see it last spring but it was in dry dock, and then later in the year she’d made the trip and found it worthwhile. She’d even checked the web last week to make sure it would be open this time of year. It is a replica of one of the ships that brought over emmigrants who were trying to leave an inhospitable Ireland in the mid 19th century. The night before she’d pointed me to a few sights to find information on a great-great grandfather no one in my father’s family knows anything about, and she said that at the ship I could search manifests to see who traveled from where and when. Though I’m not big on re-enactments of such things (can we really know how horrible the insides of those coffin ships were in 1847?), the genealogical aspect seemed excellent, so today we drove the 20 minutes or so down the road to New Ross, and as we were crossing the bridge, she said, “I don’t see the boat.” It was misty out and I figured she’d just forgotten where it was. The closer we got to the dock, the more sure it seemed that it wasn’t there.

The visitors’ center, however, was opened. People were there having sandwiches in the little shop and the ladies running it were dusting off the souvenir erasers and sterling silver Celtic crosses in hopes of making a sale. It was as if they were unaware that the boat wasn’t there. As if, perhaps, it were a ghost ship that only they could see. There were two computers there and I momentarily got my hopes up that I could do my search anyhow, but then quickly saw the ‘out of order’ signs hanging on both. Belle asked about the ship. It’s in dry dock again for some big sailing thing later in the spring. Belle pointed out that she’d just checked the website. The lady said, “But it only went into dry dock last week!” Belle said that yes, perhaps that was the case, but last week was when she checked the website to see if it was worth making the trip (FROM AMERICA) and the woman said, “But it will only be in dry dock for a week!” as if that explained it away. She then offered to show us a ten-minute video about the boat we wouldn’t be able to see. I said, ”No. I’ve gone off it,” and we left. And then we laughed most of the way back to Waterford. It was annoying, but I can’t really be too annoyed in Ireland about anything. Everything just seems sort of funny. Going to the wrong church. Having a pint at a mouse bar. Visiting a ghost ship.

To save the day, Belle then drove me to East Dunmore, a resort town that Maeve Binchy writes about and where movies of her books are filmed. Lots of cottages with English thatch. It was a windy, misty, cold day, and the sea was crashing against the rocks and roaring. We saw a monument to the sea-dead from the area that one of the Artist’s co-workers designed, and drove around the high road looking at the view. It was breathtaking, and there, without benefit of ten-minute films or faux famine ship passengers, I could think about what that voyage must have been like, how desperate a person would have to be to leave family and home to brave a sea that could be so violent. How optimistic. And while I’m not ego-centric enough to think they imagined their future generations drinking Coca Cola out of crystal goblets, I wonder if maybe they weren’t wanting something a little more close to perfect than what they’d been born into.

Isn’t that why we’re always scratching and whinging and charging things on our credit cards? Don’t we have some idea that things could be better if only we….

East Dunmore Memorial

East Dunmore Memorial

Back Home Again in Indiana

Standard
RGSBlueBottlesFall

Indiana has been clinging to a few leaves just for me, and when I wake up my first morning back home, I’m grateful for its effort. Every one in Puget Sound has been exclaiming about how beautiful the foliage is this year, and it is, but it is more muted oranges and russets interrupted by evergreens. In my part of Indiana, where the hills roll a little and there is almost as much woodland as there is farm land, the colors pop and sizzle. I’m convinced the only place where the fall leaf display might be better is New England, and I’m not even sure about that.  That could just be something the Vermont Tourism Board sells us.

In the first few days I am home my eye is so happy to be looking at a big sky and a horizon instead of layers and layers of office buildings and apartment complexes. Mom complains about how much worse the traffic has gotten since the ethanol plant opened up, and I do notice the loads and loads of grain being carted up the road in long-haul trucks, but compared to siren-infested and traffic congested First Hill, I could be on a deserted island, it is so quiet.

Don’t even get me started on the sunsets or the constellations I can see in the crisp November sky.  In Seattle, we’re lucky to see the moon because of the ambient light and the cloud cover.

This isn’t a home-is-better-than-Seattle post, in case it seems like it is. I’m not unhappy in Seattle, and like most good Hoosiers, I spent a fair share of my youth imagining an escape, dreaming of pulling what my friend Buns calls “a geographic”: moving across country with the misguided belief that a place other than home is infinitely better just by nature of not being the tired town where you grew up, only to discover when you arrive in the new place that all of your problems and quirks and failings have followed you.  So no. I have to let Washington be what it is and I have to let Indiana be what it is and quiet the ranking system that self-starts in my brain whenever I’m in a new place even if at some genetic level I feel like home is “better.”

But there is an ease of being that takes place in your native geography that is astounding. It’s as if I’ve spent the last few months with non-native speakers of English and have had to navigate the quirks of language to get my point across, and suddenly I wake up and find myself in the company of my paisanos, where a gesture is understood without explanation.  In this honeymoon phase of my visit, I’m so glad to be in the land of the un-ironic seed cap and people in Carhart jackets for reasons that have nothing to do with fashion.

My first day home I go downtown to look for something new and fun to wear to the wedding I’ve come home for. In the store, it seems easier to tell clerks that I don’t need help. I’m not navigating around hurried shoppers screaming into cell phones. (In fact, there are so few shoppers in the store I wonder how it stays in business.) When I leave, I stand on the sidewalk to take a photo of the church steeple that was backdrop to my childhood and I don’t have to worry about being in anyone’s way. While I peer out of our little apartment windows in Seattle, the world feels crowded and too full and I want to beg people to quit reproducing because there are too many of us and I am an introvert. But when I am home, there is a surplus of space. In Richmond, if you wanted to walk down Main Street with your arms stretched out beside you, you wouldn’t bump into anyone. At no time while I’m home, will my hips and shoulders be uncomfortably close to the hips and shoulders of total strangers. In Seattle, I’m amazed that we don’t all have communicable diseases because we’re always accidentally touching people we don’t know and pretending we aren’t, staring straight ahead, busying ourselves with our smart phones and creating invisible cocoons around ourselves.

The city is a petri dish.

While I’m snapping shots of the steeple, I hear an older man say, “Excuse me, young lady.” It doesn’t immediately dawn on me that I am no longer young and because I’ve been in the city for so long, I assume I’m in his way and he wants me to move, never mind the perimeter around me that is empty.  I apologize without looking at him and step back so there is more room on the sidewalk. What I’ve become used to in Seattle is ignoring people. It goes against my nature to selectively NOT hear someone talking to me, yet it feels necessary if you have any hope of getting to the drugstore without having to hand out all your dollar bills to the people asking for them on the street corner.

I look at him and he’s a bit scruffy. He has on a puffy, jean jacket and there is a box fan tucked under his arm, which is a little weird for a crisp day like this. He stops in front of me and takes a deep breath, tells me his friend, who is a landlord, just had tenants leave this brand new fan in a vacated apartment. In Seattle, there’s a chance that I’d just not hear him and walk away. But I’m home and it never occurs to me that he could be a threat or even a huckster.  I’m not even in a hurry to dismiss him.  “That’s lucky,” I say. Then he says, “The thing is, I’m tired of carrying it. You want it?”

I can hardly contain my smile at this unexpected turn of events. I assure him that I have no need for a fan but thank him for his offer. He sighs and says, “Well, I guess I’ll just keep carrying it then.”

Later, when I’m driving home, what strikes me is how easy the exchange was. I didn’t ratchet myself up to DEFCON 1 assuming the worst about him and his intentions. He didn’t hold it against me that I wasn’t interested in taking the fan off his hands.

It is good to be home for a couple of weeks, even if I’m missing Z in the process.