Monday, March 17, 2008

Day Seventeen: Bit o' the Irish

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I am dedicating today's list to Ireland, where I have been twice, in 1986 and again in 1991. Here are a few memories from my visits to that gorgeous, green land.

1. holly hobbie

I traveled across the channel with six other women whom I'd only just met. Our first stop was Dublin, where we stayed in a hostel. The women's room contained 16 bunk beds. Only tops were left. We were given one pillow, one sheet, and a super-slippery comforter with Holly Hobbie all over it. Several times during the night, I awoke thinking I was dying, only to realize that my comforter had slid to the floor and I was lying in a 30 degree room under a sheet.

2. orgasm showers

Starting around 5:30, one could not avoid hearing a concert of moans and screams coming from the next room. The noise would start low, almost a strangled whisper, and then grow louder and more rapid, accompanied by gasping and profanity. It sounded like, "ohhhhh....uh-uh, UH-UH....OHHHHHH....AHHHHHH...AHHHHHHH!!!" I was so freaking tired I wasn't even curious, and wrapped my pillow around my head. Later, I would make the exact same sounds when I stood with the others under the unheated water in the eight-headed shower.

3. book of kells

Dublin was gray, and stately, and there was talk of visiting the Guinness factory which I mocked because I don't like beer, let alone beer that's disguised as a milkshake. Oh, Trinity College was lovely! And all the other girls were really excited to view the Book of Kells. I love books, too, but I never saw the appeal. Didn't find out what Kells are, either. I had recently dyed my hair red for the first time, and occasionally a little old lady would smile at me and say "Oh, bless yer heart, lass."

4. bus to glendalough

We took a bus out to the countryside, to a town called Glendalough. I remember it being several hours away, but on the map it looks like 12 miles. I think that's just how they drive in Ireland. The scenery was so green I kept blinking, thinking something was wrong with my eyes after not sleeping and then stabbing my face with needles of icy water.

5. naked hiker

The next morning, the girls and I took a really long hike through the hills and dales of Glendalough, and every waving cat tail, every wet, black rock, every puffed sheep, dazzled. At one point, we rounded a corner on a narrow trail just in time to see a lone young man, totally naked, emerge splashily from a charming pond. He leaped into some boots and strode into the nearby woods without looking back at us.

6. classic rock

We climbed a steep hill just because it was beautiful, and once at the top, weren't sure what to do up there. So we admired the view some more. Someone took a picture of the other six, casually seated on various rocks, gazing into the middle distance with the wind lifting our hair. To this day I cherish the photo for its strange evocation of a '70s rock album cover.

7. sublime soup

When we got back to the B&B, the hostess said lunch was done for the day. We stared at her, crestfallen and a little terrified, since we'd been hiking for six hours and were about to keel over from hunger and cold. (The town had no restaurants or shops.) She relented, saying we could each have a bowl of cream of chicken soup. Everyone looked relieved, except me, because that sounded disgusting. But I kept my mouth shut, and damn if it wasn't the best bowl of soup I've had to this day.

8. cliffs of baltimore

Turns out Baltimore is not just in Maryland. It's also a sweet harbor village in Ireland. Then you walk a few feet and the earth plunges away from your feet down the sheerest rock cliffs you've ever stood at the edge of. And then the water is turquoise at the bottom. I came back to Ireland with my friend Christina and a boy we picked up at Oxford, Cyrus Wolfe, with whom I was fiercely infatuated. In every photo, we are hugging, kissing, holding hands, but we never got together. I'm pretty sure he knew I loved him yet he teased me mercilessly the whole summer. My dad is always very loyal and says "Well, he must be gay!" when I tell him this sort of sorry tale. I really have no idea. My favorite photo is of Cyrus and me lying in the grass at the very edge of the cliff, our noses touching, with the Irish Sea laid out behind us.

9. cape clear

We took the ferry to Cape Clear Island, for no other reason except to be able to say we'd been to the southernmost tip of Ireland. There is a youth hostel there, and precious little else but thistle and saxifrage. We walked around the island, stopping at a farmhouse with a hand-lettered sign "ICE CREAM 10p" where a farmer in manure-covered boots brought cones to the door. At the general store in the center of town, we ordered "toasties" (grilled cheese sandwiches) for lunch. We walked and walked and I kept thinking, "Wow, this is definitely Ireland, just like I pictured it."

That night, I don't think I slept more than an hour due to the symphony of snoring and farting emanating from the bunk across from mine. As the dawn broke, I actually rose and stood over the offender; she was smiling in her sleep. Before we caught the ferry, I used the hostel shower, which was located in a sort of unheated shed across the way. I'll never forget it because the walls and floor were so thick with mud, and the water pressure so like a leaking garden hose, that I came out of the shower dirtier than I went in.

10. again with the bus

We hopped a bus back towards the ferry in Rosslare, leaving Cyrus in Cork. It would be dramatic to say I never saw him again, but we actually had dinner in L.A. just a few months later. Somehow his power over me was gone by then, but that day in Cork, I cried.

I also remember that the bus stopped in a town called Skibbereen, and the driver said, "Skibbereen! All out for Skibbereen! This bus will depart in three hours. There's a gorgeous cream tea at the shop across the street." He wasn't kidding, about either the layover or the gorgeousness of the cream tea.

11. waterford

After Cork, Christina and I realized we were never going to make it to Rosslare that night. There is just no way to make those Irish buses go faster. So we alighted in Waterford and set out to find a B&B. Once we did, we walked to a nice restaurant, mystified by the vast number of shops selling goblets and vases. Over steak and wine, we laughed ourselves silly that we hadn't figured out until now that Waterford meant THE Waterford, of the famous crystal.

That night, I ventured down the hall to the shower, where I discovered a tin box nailed to the inside with a sign: "HOT WATER: 50p for 5 min." That was all I had. After 10 hours on a bus and several days of showers that ranged from tepid to icy, that hot water felt like the embrace of an angel. I'll never forget that five minutes.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I treasure a hot shower on an average day--I can imagine your shower was a little slice of heaven!

David said...

Cyrus Wolfe was interested, but all those Irish cold showers probably dampened the spirit. :)

Cheri said...

What a lively romp through Ireland.

And isn't David a perfect husband! What a lovely comment.

So, Sam, one question about Naked Guy in the Pond? Was there shrinkage?

Anonymous said...

Sam, this was such a vivid, beautifully written post. I feel like I was there! Also brings back fond memories of my post-grad-school tour of European youth hostels!

I am going to be absolutely crushed if you stop posting every day in April.


Caroline said...

Oh, I love it! Thank you for taking me to Ireland today. :)

kiki said...

I stumbled upon your blog this evening when I was trying to find an old friend.

Was Cyrus Wolfe bald by chance? Was Christina from Germany? If so, I think I know him and I understand how you felt when you met him. Indeed.

I must say, I really enjoyed reading your blog and you must have one of the best husbands in the world. Your honesty is quite refreshing.