daily preciousness

Saturday, June 30, 2001

Ireland on £30 a day

A fag on a crag.

That's been the most inspiring thing that I've seen here in Dublin, Ireland.

There's a stony crag -- a big hunk of rock -- in Merrion Square. It's a beautifully lush garden right in the middle of town. In the Southwestern corner of the square, there's a sculpture of Dublin's native son, Oscar Wilde, looking up at the house where he was born.

He's relaxing on the rock, dressed foppishly and grinning at the quotes that he's written, which are inscribed on the sculptures facing him.

It's great to be in a city that has so much respect for writers and drinkers. (As if there's a real difference!)

Yesterday, I went on a great pub crawl that started at a factory. Actually, to be precise, it started on the top of a factory: the Guiness Hops factory museum. On the 7th floor of this old structure sits an amazing George Jetson -meets- Austin Powers meets Arthur Guiness type of pub. Nothing like you've ever seen. The tall glass windows of this pie-shaped pub offer an astounding view of the city. The bar also offers *extra cold* Guiness beer, which is amazingly smooth, rich and filling. I've never had beer so good -- and probably won't, ever again!

Today the group went to Clonmacnois, the 8th century monastery. The ruins were magnificent. Celtic crosses burst out of the rich green earth. Two round towers overlook the site, quietly keeping centuries-old secrets. But not all the secrets were kept well. Our guide, a smart and friendly college girl getting her degree in "heritage studies" was the best tour guide of our trip. Nikola explained how the site's monks fought the vikings, the Anglo-Normans and even *other* monastic groups. They were serious about god -- and serious about expanding their territory. So much for keeping the peace!

The oddest part of the trip so far has been the students. While they're all very friendly and fun to get to know, I had a strange experience last night after going to the factory.

The pub crawl that followed felt a little awkward, because one of the students brought up his views on gay people. He agreed with "Dr. Laura" that gay folks are "biological errors." Whenever somebody expresses homophobic sentiments to me, I always get a terrible pain in my stomach. It's been like this ever since I can remember. There is nothing more difficult than having to defend yourself against an unknown enemy. I don't know how homophobic people are when I first meet them and it's strange that it came up in conversation right away, right after I'd met this person.

I wish I could be stronger and just out myself. Why can't it be easier, after all this time? Why do I still squirm away like a scared little animal everytime I'm confronted -- even indirectly -- with homophobia? I don't know. I guess the pain of being different never really disappears. I guess it just stays there. Even as confident and up-front as I am, it's hard to confront somebody head-on.

Ironically enough, today is pride day. I guess that might be a good enough reason just to come out and tell him. I have nothing to lose and nearly eveything to gain. But it's still a challenge.

I guess I'm like that sculpture -- a fag on a crag. Except the only rock-and-a-hard-place that I'm stuck in is my own lack of self-confidence. Maybe I just need to work on finding it.

Wish me luck.

Friday, June 29, 2001

irish imagination

The Irish Imagination.

I clear immigration and my mind wanders. I look up. The filtered sunlight from the airport ceiling windows is blazingly bright, but the building is icy cool. I loosen my grip on my carry-on bag.

There's an announcement on the public address system. I don't listen to the words, but I can make out something I've not noticed before. The sinuous, winding path of the syllables reminds me of something. The natural, unaffected melody of voice reveals itself to me … the Irish of the imagination.

In my mind's eye, I plot the sound of the words on a mental graph. They form lines, shapes familiar to me. In the sudden flash of vision, I can see a scribe in a monastery 1500 years ago, copying a manuscript -- something by Plato. In the margin, he scribbles a joke at the philosopher's expense. A poem about the folly of Atlantis. He scratches his partly-shaved head and rubs his tired eyes. It's almost time for vespers. His little desk is in the corner window of the Scriptorium.

His mind wanders…. Patricious looks up. The sunlight from the scriptorium window is blazingly bright but the stone building is icy cool. He loosens his grip on his quill. He hears a cheerful sparrow.

He doesn't consciously listen to the song, but it stirs a memory within him. The tune reminds him of a passage from St. Brandon's travels. What was it? Something about a faraway land, populated by men who could take flight, like the birds of the skies? Yes, that was it.

In his mind's eye, he imagines the men of the story traveling great distances in a single day, passing over great divides of water and land, as routinely as he might trod down the path from abbey to town.

Odder still, the sparrows song penetrates his reverie at a deeper level. He realizes that this is not merely an idle daydream. St. Brandon was right. With a conviction that he can't quite understand, the young monk puts down his quill and wipes his ink-stained hands. He runs his fingers from his brow to his shorn head to his thick black locks, thinking to himself, "Brandon's travels, as fantastic as they seem are true – I am certain of it." And with that resolve, he also knows that he can complete his studies, despite his clumsy Latin. Like Brandon, like the flying men of the stories, he envisions himself traveling great distances. "And the journey begins," he whispers to himself as he leaves the scriptorium.

I am staring up at the skylight windows of the airport and don't notice the blue-eyed man in the collar until I slam into him. His bags go flying and so do mine. His little frame tumbles down. I stand above him, mortified, spitting out apologies and offering a hand to lift him up. His bags have burst open and a half dozen books have fallen out, as have mine. Gathering up his books, I am putting them back into his bag when I notice the front of one is marked "Geoffrey Brady."

"Mr. Brady? Are you okay? I am so sorry – I wasn't paying attention to where I was going," I offer.

He's fine. Thank God. If I'd injured a priest, I know that there's got to be a special place in hell for people like me that carelessly run into a man of the church and then pilfer a book from him.

Yeah, I'm not proud of it. It was an underhanded thing to do, to put one of his books in my bag. My curiosity got the better of me…. It was a heavy, leather-bound book, almost as big as my carry-on, half wrapped plain white paper. The label "For Geoffrey Brady" intrigued me so much that I had to see what it was. So I took it.

* * *

Should I continue this? Tell me.

landing in dublin

Abroad again.

Lime, mint, chartreuse, spinach, kiwifruit and a hundred shades of green that I'd never imagined before. These are the colors of the checkerboard below me. The orderly squares and rectangles spread out below, now 10,000 feet below, now 8,000. Lower and lower we go, until…

We set down, the plane's nose at a smart angle. Engines rumble like a mechanical whalesong, fighting our forward momentum. Within moments, the armrests stop their trembling. I can breathe now. Landings always do that to me: a few moments of paralysis, as if my heart's playback is paused for the sake of the pilot's concentration.

We are on the Emerald Isle. Condensation on my oval window flickers casually in the morning sunlight.

The checkerboard that I'd gazed upon moments before is replaced with the monotony of tarmac. On the blacktop, amid yellow directional marks, oil-stained puddles shimmer with swirling rainbows. "No leprechauns in those rainbows," I think to myself.

We are taxiing into the airport. A squat little man with tanned arms and orange reflectors points us towards the docking area. Gripping my carry-on, I hear the attendant's (or the "air hostess's") anemic delivery of the de-planing benediction. Instead of making eye contact with anyone, she stares blankly ahead of her. I focus on my cuticles. She delivers an Irish greeting, something about 100,000 welcomes. "Nice touch," I think.

The ka-chinks of seatbelts unbuckling sound like metallic popcorn bursts around me. Contents in the overhead bins may have shifted during the flight. My legs ache. And, getting up, I bump my head. (It's a little tradition I have on planes and trains and buses built for short people.) We thank you for flying Continental today. We know you have a choice in air travel providers…

The dark-haired man with the two boys stands up. They were sitting in front of me during the flight. The father was so patient with his son. The little boy was only about 10. His eyes were set apart in that uncomfortable, telltale way. Smiling to the child, Dad enthuses, "We're here, Brendan, we're home!" The boy grins, struggles with his seatbelt and reaches up for a hug. The man obliges.

I am so impressed with him. The man can't be more than 30 and he has two sons. He demonstrated such maturity with them, asking them if they needed to go to the toilet or if they were hungry or bored during the flight over. And his lilting Irish accent turned everything he says into poetry.

He and his two sons, traveling in front of me for the past 8 hours – they were my introduction to Irish family life. This unshaven man has dark, curly hair and warm green eyes. He gathers up the bags of toys, treats and toiletries, unbuckles little Brendan, hugs him and begins to stand. All the while, he tries to give his older son, Jacob, the same amount of attention as the little one.

But Brendan's naughty, laughing a disabled laugh while batting at his older brother's head with the open packet of snack mix. Pretzels take flight as he slams the bag on Jacob's head. I get a faceful of flying debris and a high-pitched laugh from Brendan. Jacob doesn't retaliate, but holds Brendan's hand to stop him from flinging any more food our way. Jacob, who can't be more than 12, turns around and apologizes.

There's no way that I can be upset. Little Brendan is too cherub-faced for me to be cross with. And he was well behaved during the entire trip, watching Spy Kids with me on the monitor above the seat. Dad apologizes and I assure him that there's no harm done.

We shuffle off in those peculiar baby steps that slow crowds take. It's just the right speed for Jacob. He holds his younger brother by the head, steering him gently toward the front. He's incredibly mature, just like his father.

Into the Immigration line – a queue, they call it. It's the one for "Non-European Union Citizens." Of course, it's the longest.

Calculating my distance to the red line, I realize that I'll be standing here for a while. I re-set my watch to local time, 10 a.m., and tap my money belt in my compulsive check. Immigration clerk has fine features – handsome green eyes. The uniform looks good, too. The black light on his desk reflects off of the silver buttons. Poor guy looks trapped in his bulletproof glass enclosure, though. I feel sorry for him.

He nods at me, wishes me a good morning and asks if I'm a student. (Will I always be taken for a student? Or is it just my studious nature that these observant types notice?) I guess it would be rude for them to ask, "Are you a drug dealer?" which might be what they're actually thinking.

Burns victim

If it's not Scottish, it's CRAP!

That was the theme of the evening last night, as I attended a birthday party for a man who's been dead for years. Robert Burns was a poet who captured his nation's heart. And they still love him. Even the descendants of the country love him.

The Baton Rouge Caledonia Society rocked the house last night with bagpipes and fat men with red sideburns. And the wee lassies danced a jig, too. I danced with them, waltzing with nearly a dozen women (sadly, no men!)

My friend Tom is a member of the Caledonia Society and thought I might like to join him for the evening. He was right. It was a blast. I even ate the haggis, the nastified liver-tasting meat that's wrapped up in a sheep intestine. It's pretty intense stuff. Not for the faint of heart. The best food at the potluck had to have been Tom's tondalikki, (ton-dah-leaky). It was a leek and chicken soup with plenty of thyme. Great stuff.

Tom dressed in his kilt and special jacket. He looked great. And I found a plaid tie that was close enough to tartan so as to keep me from being thrown out by the handsome (slightly burly) Robert Sutter, the guy with the prettiest eyes (and legs) at the affair. I think I was doing my best impression of what Scottish people look like when they're upset in this pic. I'm not really sure why I'm posting this abomination of a picture. Can you say "unflattering?")

There were dramatic readings of some of Burns' poetry, done in thick (and sometimes not so thick) Scottish brogue. I really enjoyed the poetry and the explanations of it. I'm glad I was listening so carefully, because at the end of the night, there was a trivia contest and I won a prize because I remembered Burns' term for scots was "the rustic" in one of his works. I won some shortbread cookies for my trouble. They look good.

For dessert, we carved into a cake shaped like Nessie, the monster at Loch Ness. She was delicious.

With the costumes, dancing and good fellowship, it was a great show. I enjoyed it and I slept well thinking about what a unique experience it was to dance the jig with men and women in kilts and skirts.

Friday, June 15, 2001

cousin Beck in San Fran

This will be a quick entry.

I just said my goodbyes to Mom, Dad and my Aunt CC. They left for San Francisco an hour ago. It's their third trip there. Mom's giving a speech. Dad's going to see the sights. Aunt CC will visit her (les-bionic) daughter, Becky.

Becky told me she's bought them all tickets to see a gay cabaret that involves incredibly large hats worn by outrageous drag queens (as if there were any other *kind* of drag queen!).

Today, I plan to watch Cartoon Network (for my daily dose of Vitamin X-fortified PowerPuffs).

After graduating in May, I finally got my first employment "nibble" from George Mason University, located in Arlington, Virginia.

They're doing a reference check now. My ears aren't burning yet. But I hope that all my peeps give me a loud, proud "HIRE HIM" shout-out. That would be kickin' the sly groove.


Too much MTV and I start talking like a V-J. Sorry about that.

Time for cheese danish and chocolate milk for breakfast.

Eleven more days until I leave for DUBLIN, IRELAND!

Saturday, June 09, 2001

magnetism and Matthew

|Magnetic fields|

I'd never heard of this music group before a few weeks ago. I read their name on the trip itinerary. Last year in London, the professors had a great experience seeing them, so they wanted to re-create that this year in Dublin.

The music was great. The group had excellent lyrics that were playful and funny. Their stage presence was intensely casual. They had very little theatrical tendencies, making it feel like a very intimate venue, although the theatre was of moderate size.

The Magnetic Fields

The songs were about love and loss, mostly loss. I could identify with them really well.

|Trouble brewing|

I'm sensing a lot of difficulty on the horizon. I called Mom and Dad's hotel today and they had no record of their reservation. This could get very difficult. How can I contact them? Where and when will we meet? Why aren't they on the hotel computer?

Not having a phone in my room is really inconvenient -- I can only call out from the hallway phone.

|A walk with Matthew|

Matthew Green, a great guy I met my first night out, picked me up in his sporty van Saturday afternoon. It was my first experience driving (in a regular car) through the streets of Dublin. The little vehicle was interesting. He called it a van, mainly because it was a two-seater with storage space in the back. But it was shaped like a regular car, just with the rear door windows blocked out. Very different.

Anyway, Matthew drove us out of town to a little seaside village at the end of the Dart line, South of the city.

It was a charming place. (And the company could well be described in the same terms.)

The town wasn't really old-style Ireland charming, but it was pleasant and inviting in a modern way. There was a festival going on. Banners and flags in multi-colors flew from streetcorner to streetcorner.

The pubs were packed with people, anxious for the music to start at 8. We got there at 7, walked along the seashore and up a small mountain. We saw an 18-wheeler (a 'lorry') labeled, 'Chernobyl Children's Project.' I asked about it and Matthew informed me that Ireland had volunteered to take care of a lot of the orphans of that disaster, so there was probably an organized system of shipping them to this cozy seaside town for the summer to let them have a little holiday in the sun.

Without ever once quoting the phrase, 'I had a farm in Africa,' Matthew told me about his youth in Kenya on a coconut plantation and about the lawlessness of the countryside over there. It was truly exotic.

Then he told me about his young adulthood in Ireland. (He never got a good answer out of his parents about why they moved here.) The Greens planted an apple orchard near Waterford. The estate had many acres and produced bushels and bushels of apples.

He remembered waking up early once a month to bring the apples to market in a city 3 hours away. 'Mom and Dad would put a blanket over me, cover my ears with mufflers (to shut out the noise of the van) and put me in the back seat for the ride,' he said. Matthew was so sleepy that he'd fall asleep, head laid back and mouth agape, during the long trip.

Once they were there, he'd sell apples until his pockets were stuffed full of punts. (This was before punts came in coins, so all the currency was in bill form.)

It seemed like a great childhood, except for all the bullying. Matthew had an entrenched English accent. And the Irish schoolchildren often picked on him for it.

But that's all over now. At present, Matthew works for a telecom company, working on mobile phones. One of his jobs is to test out the phones that are still in the design stages. He divulged a few hints at the next generation of phones, but he'd probably be drawn and quartered if I let loose with them here.

We had a pleasant meal at the Barracuda restaurant. I enjoyed the decor more than the food. The place was done in sort of a Neo-Who style. The walls where white and glowing. They had giant discs on them, straight out of the Tardis! I expected Tom Baker, wrapped in his big scarf, to walk around the corner at any moment.

Next, we headed to Dublin. We met Matt's swaggery, charming friend Dez, who was focusing his attention on a girl from his *past*. Major drama here. He's had a crush on her for ages -- but she's been away in San Francisco, working for Sun Microsystems. Now that she's home to visit some family, it's Dez's chance to let her know about his feelings for her. But he's afraid to 'sound off on the national question,' which is his code phrase for coming out.

We chatted with Dez and his friend Laura for a few hours, before leaving them at 3, fairly soaked in spirits, hoping that they wouldn't do anything they'd regret.

Matthew walked me back to Trinity and hugged me goodbye. He was regretful about and resigned to the fact that he was only allowed to hug me goodbye. What a shame. I would have gladly puckered up and given him a faceful. But, alas and alack, there was no pluckiness in the air above Trinity College that evening.

What a great time I had. It was a great experience for me because he's so informative and knowlegeable about Ireland -- while still maintaining a bit of an outsider's perspective, thanks to the Irish tendency towards nationalism. Even though he's spent most of his life here, he's still looking at it from the outside in, in many respects. But that was fortunate for me, since he could more readily dissect things that I might not otherwise grok (understand).

I look forward to spending time with him in the very near future.