Touring the Roots of Ireland

No language on Earth has ever produced the expression “As pretty as an airport.”
–Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

An overseas trip always starts as an adventure when you lock your house and put the suitcases in the taxi, but something about the McDonaldness of airplane travel sucks some of the fun out it. As we embarked on this 16 day tour of Ireland, carefully gathering boarding documents and strategizing about packing, hopes were high. However, the ten hour flight from SFO to Heathrow, enduring rude seat recliners, bewildering instructions for which line to stand in for transferring planes, and the ever-desperate search for phone charge plugins had no unique Irish flavor to it.

My biased ignorance about the Emerald Isle consists of leprechauns, shamrocks, and “How Are Things in Gloccamorra.” All of which I know has as much to do with the culture of Ireland as Fisherman’s Wharf does with San Francisco. But I am ready to be a model tourist; I am prepared to look and listen and absorb.

Dublin: Live Music, Golden Torcs, Flying Pigs, and Guinness
Excited to finally be touring Dublin, we checked off several musts. We stood in the queue to see the Book of Kells, that medieval hand-painted biblical text at Trinity College. The exhibit and explanations were elaborate and somewhat more impressive than the faded book itself. Scribes who worked on different parts were identifiable by the artwork they chose to illustrate letters. The elaborate symbols which cover the full-page drawings that have to be explained to us moderns were code to the pre-literate population, who would know full well that peacocks meant incorruptability and grapes referred to the blood of Christ from the Last Supper.

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The Right to Know Plus Canada

No blog today. Instead I will share a painting and important caption from Norman Rockwell from 1968.

Norman Rockwell, “The Right to Know,” 1968

The text which accompanied the illustration in Look magazine read:

“We are the governed, but we govern too. Assume our love of country, for it is only the simplest of self-love. Worry little about our strength, for we have our history to show for it. And because we are strong, there are others who have hope. But watch closely from now on, for those of us who stand here mean to watch those we put in the seats of power. And listen to us, you who lead, for we are listening harder for the truth that you have not always offered us. Your voice must be ours, and ours speaks of cities that are not safe, and of wars we do not want, of poor in a land of plenty, and of a world that will not take the shape our arms would give it. We are not fierce, and the truth will not frighten us. Trust us, for we have given you our trust. We are the governed, remember, but we govern too.”

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O Canada!

I have heard the Canadian  national anthem live three times this week. First, before the Toronto Blue Jays championship baseball against the Cleveland Indians, a loss which prompted derision from local young men here in British Columbia about the sorry state of their clutch hitting. Then, before Hockey Night (Saturday night as Canadians know), at a noisy brewhouse serving sweet chlii wings and poutine. The crowd grumbled as Toronto blew a four goal lead against Winnipeg, then cheered as they won in overtime. This led to derisive and drunken expletives about the sorry state of Toronto’s goaltending. Lastly, a curly-haired cowgirl rode with the flag around a Calgary Stampede ring before a horse show. The sparse crowd cheered; the only derision was next door in the Saddledome as the last place Calgary Flames lost 5-4 to St. Louis. It was a great week to tour the Western Canadian Rockies.

Shoulder of the Season
Coming in October during the shoulder of the seasons – between summer and winter tourim – had both pluses and minuses. Many museums and tours close October 15, so I made a mental note in future to come three weeks earlier. Storms at the beginning of the month have closed some passes. But our weather was good for October – only rain and fog, with a little snow, and a little sun as bookends. Most of all, off season meant not fighting with bloated RVs on scenic byways and no photo bombers at the biggest vista spots. There were busloads of Japanese tourists, but that happens all year long. Blissfully uncrowded trumped warmer weather.

Empty roads were expected. Off season timing was why we went. There were a few reminders of what Canada is like and a few surprises. The food was unexpectedly good at several of the brewhouses and diners. Not all – there was an ill-chosen coffee shop on Canadian highway 1 that served tartar sauce and salad dressing in Kraft teaspoon packets. But the salt and pepper ribs at Earl’s in Chilliwack, and the pulled pork mac ‘n’ cheese at the Noble Pig in Kamloops were both flipping delicious. Even the burgers and steaks were extra tasty; much better than we get in Cailfornia. Fewer hormones in the beef? More hormones in the beef?  Hard to say which.

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