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Snapshots of Green: Memories from Ireland

September 24, 2009

September 16, 2009:

The Irish sky out my window is run through with deep gashes of blue again today. I haven’t felt a single raindrop this whole time, and I look a little woefully at my brand-new orange umbrella. I remember opening that umbrella in my apartment back home, twirling around with it like I was dancing; it has been sunny here every day. “Another day,” I tell myself. “Another day.”

Over the crown of the Cork city skyline, I see patches of green in the distance, as smooth as velvet. I want to hop lightly across the rooftops, like Burt the Chimney Sweep, and bury my toes in the grassy hills. I want to run across them with arms flung out, singing like Maria in “The Sound of Music.” There is something about this green, green place that makes me a little wild inside; as I think about it, perhaps that explains the Irish a little more. How can one grow up, surrounded by all this lush, raw green, and not become a little bit wild?

We are going to kiss the Blarney Stone today. This involves leaning backwards over the top of a castle, and while normally, this would sound crazy to me, my suspicion is that I am one emboldened by the Green.


The grounds at Blarney Castle are stunning — clear and green, yet mottled through like a Monet with twisted, knobbly browns. The River Martin happily gurgles and prances over a clear bed of multi-colored stones, and feels vital as I bathe my feet in its shallows. People keep walking by, looking at me like I am peculiar. They all peer at the river, snapping photos of it with their cameras, keeping their brand new white sneakers away from the edge. “Your feet will turn blue,” one English tourist quips to me. I don’t care — the water is much too beautiful to not wade in, even on a day that is cool enough to wear a scarf.

I walk over the small bridges that litter the grounds, and smile to myself as I balance lightly on my toes, hopping from foot to foot. This place makes me feel like I might be a fairy or some other small, delicate woodland creature. It is too beautiful here not to feel small and delicate.

“I bet the water makes the loveliest plopping noise if you drop in a rock,” I say to Paddy.

I try it later.
It does.

September 17, 2009:

I am offered the position of “virgin sacrifice” today by a man named Declan who runs a church. (Yes, a church…crucifixes, stained glass, and all.) I walk up to St. Anne’s in Shandon early this morning, where I immediately happen upon an older Irish gentleman with eyes that actually do sparkle and a lilt that is nothing short of music. I can tell immediately that he’s impish, like a small child trying his luck, seeing how mischievous he might be before he gets in trouble. I like him right away.

I pour a handful of change onto his table, explaining that I had counted it and it equaled a Euro (this was a church one had to pay to tour…this seemed to confuse some people).

“Are you sure that’s a Euro?” he asks me, gesturing to my woeful pile of mostly copper coins. “Did you count it next to the bed?”

I don’t know what he means by this — next to the bed, like was I kneeling in prayer when I counted it? Or was he insinuating something saucier?

“Actually, I counted it outside the door,” I say, pointing to a spot about 10 feet away.

“All right,” he replies, and proceeds to direct me on my way up to the bell tower, where I am allowed to ring the large church bells via an ancient pulley system that strains threateningly every time I try to pull it. I try gently, and nothing happens. I have to put my full body weight into the ropes before I can hear a distant, dull ring thud through the thick timbers and stones of the church. I let go immediately, convinced that I will be that one tourist who breaks the bells. I like this pottering old church, and don’t want to ruin its lovely bells. So I continue up the narrow stone stairs to the next floor.

I wander throughout the tower, wearing a pair of bright red earmuffs thoughtfully provided by St. Anne’s, thanking my stars that no one else is here except me, so I can walk by the bells without the fear of them beginning to toll loudly in my ear (the reason for the earmuffs). I get up to the top and enjoy a view out onto the city of Cork. It’s a lovely view, yet I feel a little disappointed. Cities are very flat places, and views of them are not as exciting as guidebooks like to tell you they are.

I walk back downstairs, carefully hanging back up my earmuffs and quietly giving another few tugs on two of the bells (I couldn’t resist). I return back into the foyer of the church, where Declan greets me with an, “All right, my darling?”

He invites me to sit down and we begin chatting like old friends. We spent the next half-hour laughing, talking, and mentally keeping note of how many times this mischievous old Irishman makes me blush. I love the sound of his deep, rumbly laugh echoing throughout the tall ceilings of the church, and privately think the six euros I paid to get in here was worth it just for the conversation.

He peppers me with questions about how I can to be here (on vacation), who was I with (my friend Paddy), and did we meet on the internet (no, we didn’t, we had gone to school together). Was this my boyfriend? (No.) How did I feel about that? (Just fine.) Who was my favorite English author? (Jane Austen, though looking back, I should have said CS Lewis.) Had I seen “Must Love Dogs?” (I had. He loved it.)

“Be honest, be honest!” he kept chiding me, determined to make me blush even more.

His friend John arrives, settling soundly into what is quite obviously his chair. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, his voice is as thick and woolly as the cap on his head. Deciding I am innocent and pure, Declan and John invite me to come back in October for the Celtic New Year.

“We need a virgin sacrifice, you see,” explains Declan innocently. “We go into the mountains, and in this one valley, we must have a virgin with us to pass through the thin veil of the other world. We look around, and then we come back. As long as you don’t eat the food, though…you can’t eat the food or you have to stay.”

“Well as much as I’d like to help,” I say, “my sister is having a baby right around then. I’m afraid I’m busy.” I try not to laugh and don’t succeed.

After I blush enough times to set fire to the church itself, Declan and John declare it’s time for them to continue their bawdy discussion of their rowdy teenage years. It is clear that they have lived here all their lives, perhaps been baptized at this very church. I stand up, leaving them to their laughing and the cool morning air, and walk into the sanctuary, sitting awash for a few minutes in the stained glass light. I like this simple little church and these simple old men with their stout honesty and sparkling eyes.

I pray and depart, with a hearty farewell to my new friends, and end up in the English Market back on Patrick Street, settled in with a pot of tea and a scone at my favorite perch on the cafe upstairs, overlooking the Durcan butcher shop. I like to watch the surgical snap, slice, and wrap of the young butcher’s hands. He seems to know each customer, and is rarely not smiling.

I pounce upon my scone with a very unladylike vigor, enjoying how it crumbles pleasantly under the weight of the homemade rhubarb jam. The air is alive and chirping with the busy-ness of fingers testing fresh produce and feet scurrying quickly home with bags of cheese and fresh fish. Everyone is touching, tapping, walking, feeling, squeezing, shifting, tasting. It is a symphony of senses. The rich, warm wood arches in the rooftop continually roll the sounds around each other, like a dog happily chasing its own tail.

I sit on a long countertop, along with all the other loners and readers. I gleefully peer at everyone around me, piecing them together as characters in a story I haven’t written yet. I find myself smiling with joy when the person next to me jumps up to greet the person they had been waiting for. I feel a sweet happiness as friends kiss each other, and as the couple next to me grasp hands as they ease out of the high stools. I am awash in delight, in one of those moments when I cannot imagine anything could be more fun than simply being me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009 2:24 pm

    I loved this.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    October 16, 2009 3:44 pm

    @ Jenna!

    Thank you. đŸ™‚

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