daily preciousness

Tuesday, August 07, 2001

audio snapshots

"Choose your future; choose life!"

Author Irvine Welsh's words pour out of my earphones. A foal races after its mother while the Australian in the next row tells the Hong Kong couple how long it took to grow her dread-locks. I'd just visited the Scottish writers museum the day before. There, I saw a photo of Welsh. He wasn't as fearsome as his characters and situations had led me to believe. He didn't look like a heroin addict. I couldn't see him diving into a feces-stained toilet like his main character did in his book (that later became the movie) Trainspotting. But Welsh did have a hard-edged look in his eyes that belied his gentle exterior.

I am on a train, spotting the fields infested with hoof and mouth disease outside. We are heading south from Edinburgh. The trains slows down and stops in Lockerbie, the town that suffered through the plane bombing incident.

"Old Lang Syne," Robbie Burns' New Year's Eve classic is emitted in chirps and beeps from a mobile phone. It's an electronic pronouncement of Scottish pride. A bio-hazard squad, attired in spaceman-like white puffy bodysuits, complete with air tanks, is in the middle of a field just beyond the train line. The two men are spraying a white mist over a field. The loose stone walls rise up around the narrow field, sentinel-like. It's foot and mouth cleanup.

All the chemically treated "welcome" mats and barbed wire fences – all the signs and warnings, protocols and regulations – they start to make sense now. Here in the U.K., man and beast have both suffered immeasurably from this blight. This bio-hazard is mankind's newest. Its repercussions will echo for years to come. Not much to do to set things right but to change the style of farm management and hope for the best.

"Set it up, DJ!"

We're in Killarney's oldest pub. Musician Moby's lyrics echo around the dungeon-like basement, named after a famous witch that was put on trial there a century ago. The ceilings are vaulted, rough-hewn granite.

I order my habitual lunch entrée: soup of the day with bread. It's inevitably vegetable soup or potato and leek. The bread is always farm-style, whole-grain and chocolate-colored. Perfect for dipping.

I remember the butcher's wife, Marie, approving of the restaurant. Marie runs the B&B where we're staying. She's about 35 and incredibly friendly. It's her affable, easy-going manner that is so ingratiating – so typically Irish. Business must be good at the little B&B, because she relates her several stateside vacations to us, to Florida, California and New York. Impressive – the butcher shop and the bed and breakfast are obviously thriving. The students sharing the B&B with me go "ooh" and "aah" over the resident canine. She's a friendly terrier with the propensity for licking hands and faces. This endears her to the girls immensely. I stand my ground, preferring to chat with our hostess as

Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" plays in the background, over the tinny radio in the kitchen. I can just hear it over the wooshing sounds of the dishwasher.

"Hit me baby, one more time."

Brittney Spears is the last person I'd expect to hear as the elevator doors open up to reveal the highest point in Dublin. The steel gray doors open to reveal a bright vista of gray city and green mountains, powder blue skies and black pints Guiness. Brittney is playing at a moderate volume over the din of drinking reverie. About a hundred people have packed the place. The room is a modern lily pad, floating above the pond of city sprawl. Circular in shape with curved glass paneling, it's a stupendous view of Dublin. It's sort of George Jetson meets Ikea in design.

Smack in the center, a circular bar houses five black-shirted bartenders. A dozen taps sprout out of the bar, all of them serving Guinness and Guinness-brand drinks. I order a pint of the Irish ambrosia, waiting patiently as the first head flattens out. My bartender doesn't add the flourish that some of the girls have talked about – the skillful maneuvering of the glass so that a perfect shamrock appears in the bubbles. Oh well…. At least by the time I'm served my drink, the Louisiana pop music abomination subsides. Next, I'm treated to another tune:

U2's "Elevation,"

a much more Irish atmosphere for this venue. I was in Dublin the day this song was released. And I heard it every 10 minutes, at the very least, on the radio after that. Every once in a while, I'd remark that I really enjoyed a peculiar techno tune – until I realized it was the remix to "Elevation." It was everywhere. I heard it in an elevator twice, appropriately enough.

"The Emperor's New Clothes" by Sinead O'Connor

The trendy white Georgian woodwork of the Front Lounge on Dublin's fashionable Parliament Street are so decorative that it's easy to miss the discretely placed speakers. But it's hard not to recognize the hit music by one of Dublin's most famous daughters. Sinead, who waited tables just down the street, definitely changes the mood when her music comes on at the Front Lounge. The fashionable crowd of IT and telecom workers bang the tables playfully to the familiar beat. Lorcan, the Trinity College student who happened to find his way into my web page a few weeks before and Jessie, the student nurse at the nearby hospital, both smile as the song begins. The beat was entirely infectious – Jessie and I started drumming our hands on the tabletop without being able to stop ourselves – what a great song. Lorcan even distractedly spun his tiny mobile phone to the beat of the song, without even realizing it.

I learned something just before I left for Ireland online somewhere… Sinead O'Connor recently became ordained. Some radical splinter group let her in, even though she tore up a picture of the pope on U.S. national TV a few years ago. She now goes by "Saint Mother Bernadette Mary."

"Can You Forgive Her?" by the Pet Shop Boys

"Remember when you were more easily led,

Behind the cricket pavilion and the bicycle shed

Trembling as your dreams came true,

You looked into those blue eyes and knew

It was love...."

These were the words I heard in my head, after I'd scaled the barbed wire fence. Blakely was my lookout, alerting me to cars passing by or drunks stumbling home from the pub. He and I were climbing over an 8-foot stone and barbed wire fence around the back of a private school's cricket field. Just my luck, I snagged my jacket on a barb. It took me a little while to untangle myself. (I could just picture a copper turning the corner at that moment, catching me on top of that fence!)

The field looked cool and clean in the blue moonlight. We wanted a place shielded by the streetlights, a place far away from prying eyes. And we found it in the school just around the corner from Collier's House, where Blakely lived. ("Collier" is the old word for coal miner. The house was named after its original inhabitants, who happened to be miners. The entire street is old cobblestone. Each house is that of a laborer inhabitant who lived there when the eastern suburb of Dublin was first settled, back in the early 19th century. So Blakely's place is now known on the historic register as the "Collier's House.") Once we'd both scaled the fence and thrown over the blanket, we got a great view of the starry skies above Dublin. The thick maple trees that surrounded the field kept most of the light out. So we enjoyed a little time alone, staring into each other's blue eyes. It was a little cold, so I trembled a little, making the song even more appropriate. Try as I might, I couldn't see a cricket pavilion anywhere. But the gist of the song was right on target. That was my most romantic moment in Ireland, snuggling in the dark grass of the rugby yard.

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