Friday, July 31, 2009


One of my favorite places in Sligo is a little cafe at the bottom of a hill near the Hawk's Well Theatre (where we go for lectures every morning). It's called Rene's, and it's owned by a French native named Emmanuel who moved to Ireland six years ago and has been in Sligo for the last two. Ireland's west coast has a pretty big surf scene and Emmanuel is a surfer, so the inside of this cafe has surfboards on the walls and is painted in blues and greens. There is one picture hanging on the wall of a grassy cliff with sheep grazing in the foreground, while in the background a surfer is riding a huge wave--it looks like one picture superimposed onto another. Lauren and I went there this morning before class and talked to him for about an hour about living in Sligo and the differences between countries, be it Ireland and France or Ireland and the United States, and it was really interesting. He speaks English with an Irish accent, but his French also comes through when he talks so sometimes he's a little bit difficult to understand . . . although I think he feels the same about me and my rapid-fire mumbly American English. Rene's specialties are coffee and huge bowls of pasta, so after the lecture we went back for lunch. Emmanuel told us he'd like to one day go back to France, but that it's extremely difficult not having money there because there is so much affluence around you at all times that it makes life harder as you scrape to pay rent and, in his case, raise a family. I loved getting the chance to talk to someone familiar with Ireland that could still look at it objectively, realizing the pros and cons about different policies and cultural norms. He told us he has thoughts of going back to France once he establishes himself financially, but likes the laid-back way in which the Irish see a lot of things. Rene's is becoming part of the morning routine and I'm glad I found somewhere to happily part with my Euros.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stories from Sligo

Arrived in Sligo on Sunday afternoon on the smallest plane I have ever flown on. As I've already bragged, I packed extremely lightly but as a group we were several kilos over the limit and had to pay extra for our luggage . . . which was terribly disconcerting as we walked out onto the tarmac towards our tiny, propeller-bearing, Wright Brothers-recreation aircraft. I tried to sound out Irish vowels for about five minutes until the plane started rockin' and rollin' in the air and I had to close my eyes. The descent into Sligo was the worst bit--we circled the Atlantic and came back in at a pretty steep angle and from my seat in the front row, it looked as if we were about to nose dive straight ito it. I tried to rationalize the worst case scenario in my head, thinking that we'd all just inflate the life vests under our seats, swim the hundred meters to shore and have Buddha-like revelations as we realize the triviality of material things and the perils of packing too much. But we landed safely and were greeted by a handsome Irish lad who drove us to the Yeats Village in a coach bus while it rained, like it has every day since we've been here.

This is the second day of the Yeats School; there are about two hundred students of varying ages and levels of education. During the opening convocation I sat next to a reverend professor from Saskatchewan who's been coming to the school for the past twelve years and later, I talked to a 65-year-old Irish woman living in Liverpool who came here for the first time because she's always loved Yeats and wanted a new experience. Among the students in my fifteen person afternoon seminar are PhD candidates, published Yeats authors (including my professor) and a headmaster from a private school for boys in Virginia. This certain headmaster was told by our professor, Warwick Gould (who, surprisingly, is not a character from Harry Potter) from Oxford, that he could not read poetry correctly: "How do I say this without sounding critical? Well, I can't." Part of me felt really sorry for him, but I kept thinking about how much money his students would pay to see their headmaster given the what's-what by a Yeats scholar. Probably a lot. Unsurprisingly, when Dr. Gould asked someone to volunteer to read the next poem, nobody raised their hand. Unfortunately, he made eye contact with me and I was the lucky gal . . . but, not to be a braggy pants, there was no criticism of my reading. Bahahahh.

Last night Seamus Heaney gave a poetry reading to a full house and there was a reception afterwards at a restaurant in town. He's turning seventy this year and had a stroke recently, but he's still witty and sharp and his poetry is dead-on. At the reception, Dr. Doggett took me to go talk to him (although neither of us quite knew what to say to him) but he left before we could get close enough. Instead, we talked with the program director, who introduced me to his wife. I was terrified the entire time, mostly because she wasn't wearing a name tag and I couldn't remember her first name. I get the feeling that I'll be practicing the art of small talk a lot while I'm here. Main goal: forcing myself to remember names upon introductions.

Yesterday I learned that Sligo has a terrible sense of ironic humor: on break between lectures and class, I found a thrift store on a side street that had a lot of great stuff. I bought two dresses (one of which I wore to the reading last night), a jacket, a pocket Irish dictionary, a scarf and a wool sweater with the Normal School of Sligo's crest embroidered on the left chest for €21.50. Before pulling the sweater over my head to try it on, I took my glasses off and placed them on a shelf. Twenty minutes after walking out with my purchases, I realized I'd left them in the store and ran back to retrieve them. They'd already been stolen. I was frustrated and upset with myself, especially when the woman working at the desk asked for a phone contact if someone returned them or if they were found and I couldn't give her anything but my name. So the irony of the situation? The sign above the door of this thrift shop reads Charity Shop to Support Ireland's Blind. Funny, Sligo. Real funny.

Despite my stupidity in leaving my glasses, things are good in Sligo. Although the pace here is much less exhausting than in Dublin, it's certainly grittier than home. For me, traveling thus far has been trying to strike that delicate balance between exposing yourself to everything unfamiliar while still keeping a wary sensibility. The scales tipped a little bit in the wrong direction yesterday, but I'm still safe and feeling comfortable with my surroundings. Lesson for my next travel experience: wear croakies.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Learning Irish

We've toured quite a few museums in the last two days and have a few more on the itenerary today, and wherever captions accompany a painting or an exhibit it is posted in English and in Irish (or Gaelic, but most here refer to it as the former). While I've heard many a brogue, though, I haven't once heard Irish spoken. Part of it is because Dublin seems to be comprised wholly of tourists (save for the two cabbies I've spoken to) and it's also because nobody speaks the language anymore. I asked Kelly, a friend on the trip whose father immigrated from Ireland, who actually spoke Irish and she told me that there are parts of the deep country where Irish is the primary language and nobody speaks English. That was heartening, but I still felt this sort of sadness for the valiant effort the country makes to keep this dying language alive and current. The cab driver last night told Rachel and Rob (my professors), Jake and I that learning Irish is now the equivalent of learning a second language in school--the way we learn Spanish or French or Italian. After grade school, it's largely forgotten save a few phrases.

Anyways, I feel this responsibility to make an effort. Ireland has extended itself to me and, in turn, I want to hold up my end of the deal. Yesterday I was just wandering around when we had a few spare hours before dinner and the ceile (pronounced kay-lee) we went to for Irish dancing and music, and found this international bookstore where I bought a book on Irish and an accompanying CD with pronounciations and everything. I'm not saying my goal is fluency or anything, but without getting all "MY PEOPLE!" on anyone, there is the thought that this is where my family is from. They probably spoke Irish at one time, and I think that's a pretty cool thing. History feels more important and more real in a place that's so old (I touched an 800-year-old mummy's hand yesterday at Saint Michan's Church).

There is so much I want to write about but there is only so much time before we have to meet to start another day. Hopefully tonight I'll be able to get back onto here and convey at least some of it, but if not, tomorrow we're flying to the west coast to move into the apartments and kick off the two weeks of the Yeats school. Touring Dublin has been amazing, but I'm looking forward to a sense of relative normalcy for a little while.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A very long Dublin day

I have been awake for about thirty-six hours straight. My first day in Dublin is quickly coming to a close and I have neither the time nor energy to write about it now, but suffice to say that it is pretty damn amazing. The history is undeniable--their national beer is older than our Constitution. Anyways, tomorrow brings us to Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Andrews, along with a trip on the DART out to see traditional Irish dance, along with music and storytelling. Perhaps I'll be back on tomorrow morning when I can keep my eyes open and the queuing line behind me for Internet use at bay.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree

While the past two months may not have been documented on Stringless Kite, they happened. I packed up my sophomore year at Geneseo, left most of it in the basement at 310 Tyler in Miller Place, and resumed life on the Island with my family working at East End and thinking, a lot of the time, about another island on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Dramatic recap aside, this is the eve of my first adventure abroad and I guess it's fitting that I'm headed back to the motherland to pass this travel threshold that I sincerely hope will be the first of many trips abroad. While I'll be updating this from Sligo's internet cafes, I won't be bringing my phone or laptop. I am not worried in the least about this--rather, I'm glad that I won't be worrying about having to stay connected. I'm only truly worried about two things:
  1. My impressively small bag (which is too small to qualify as a suitcase, I think) that I was so proud to stuff all my things inside does not take into account the things I'll likely be bringing back with me. So while I will be totally smug tomorrow morning when other people lug giant body bags onto the shuttle bus to the airport and I can lift my bag with a pinkie, I'm not sure I'll be having the last laugh when I can't fit my knitted sweater and the Blarney stone in with my belongings.
  2. The Irish will not let me into their country based on the sheer repulsiveness of my passport photo. I know that everyone believes their identification photos to be less than flattering, but I'm totally serious. Point in case: when I showed John my passport (which goes to show how much I trust him), he responded by saying something along the lines of, "Well, I'm glad I won't have to worry about Irish security at the airport."
These, though, are minor concerns. I think I can deal.

My classmates and I will be primarily at the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, a town on the northwest coast of Ireland. We'll be studying W.B. Yeats, a pretty fantastic poet who grew up in Sligo and dedicated his life to his country through his poetic, dramatic and political work. Tomorrow we're flying into Kennedy, where we'll transfer to an Aer Lingus flight bound for Dublin. After three days there, we'll begin our first week at the Yeats school, at which point I'll be able to get on here again. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a pond to cross.