Sunday, September 16, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 11

I had to open this day with that photo so I could then insist the rest of the post lies under bare Ben Bulben's head. For today's post is haunted by the ghost of W.B.


The last stop on the whirlwind tour, but what could be better than to cap things off with a reading in William Butler Yeats' favorite Irish town? The PLs were reading as part of the seventh annual Tread Softly Festival in Sligo, so got in a fancy program and everything again. One thing Ireland arts groups have down is rounding up a host of artistic events into one mega-festival. We need to do that here in Santa Barbara.

As the PL reading was a bit of a late add to the schedule, it became a late evening event on the schedule, too--the event began at 10 pm. Of course in Ireland it's still light then on a summer's eve, but we're all slowly becoming Benjamin Franklin folks (early to bed, early to rise, especially when one of our stars was not healthy [you not it's not healthy to assume poets are wealthy]).

And in a funny twist, the location was switched last second--one of the organizers might have pushed the key right through the keyhole at the original location, might I say, so suddenly we were in a wonderful room in Sligo City Hall. Which has inspiring words painted on all its walls. And is where Yeats lay in state before he got buried out at Drumcliff.
The poets went back to their connect-the-poems round robin ways, which, of course, works even better when you worry an audience member could drift off due to a late start. But all went very well, even the couple of times I stepped in for Chryss's round when she was worried her poem might sound like, "hack hack blasting GGG it hack RRRR apart."
It wasn't me!, Chryss says.
Good eye contact while reading, David.
Looking serious, Paul.

Of all things the crowd even attracted a woman who had lived in Santa Barbara but moved to Sligo over two decades ago. At least she was able to vouch for us as representatives from California.


Another one of the advantages to a reading by a sponsored party--they land you hotel rooms. For our single Sligo night we got put up at the Sligo Park Hotel & Leisure Club. We weren't there long enough to take advantage of the leisure, but it certainly was nice enough even if our room was right across from the stairway from the lobby, so we got a bit of guest chatter. (And not even anything salacious and fun.) We did get to hang at the bar a bit, but you'll read about that in poured.


It's a long drive from Dingle to Sligo, as you have to get off the peninsula to start, and then tunnel under Limerick (we both took time to compose dirty ones we won't share), then keep driving north. We even skipped the spot where supposedly Mary made an appearance to villagers in 1879, mostly because it's named Knock, and I just wanted to do knock-knock jokes. ("Who's there?" "Mary!" "Mary who?" "The mother of God...Jesus!" And that last part has to be said in a voice that's as exasperated--yet holy--as you can.)

We got into that let's not stop, let's just get there, damn we're hungry, we don't have to stop death spiral, but our bladders won out. So we stopped at one of the tarted up rest stops they have, petrol station-store-deli-ma-jigs that are about as depressing as similar stops we have in the U.S. See, we are all one (sad) peoples. Unless you get a bag of these:
According the contents, there really are shamrocks in there. Turns out they taste like chicken parsley.

We did make up for that with an incredible dinner, starting with its inviting jewelbox exterior.

Eala Bhan (which means white swan) is rightfully lauded as one of the places to eat in Sligo, and how could a bunch of poets and spouses not want to go to the kind of place that has Yeats' quotes adorn its walls?
But on to the food, which kicked off with an amuse of seemingly simple yet serious deep consomme, potato and leek and perfect on a drizzly evening.
And of course there was bread, brown, but not just with the usual beautiful butter but a pesto of sorts, too.
And then my delightful appetizer, a trio of duck with the most luscious scoop of ice cream made with Cashel blue cheese (savory ice cream is the future!).
Reading from left to right that's a duck liver pate, carpaccio of smoked duck breast, and mini duck spring roll. Lots of flavors and textures, of course, the pate pungent and creamy, the carpaccio almost a duck pastrami, and the spring roll nodding to Asia, but then if you used the Cashel blue ice cream as its dipping sauce, veering back to Ireland fast. With the accoutrements of sauce dollops and salad and red onion marmalade, this could have been my dinner and I would have been happy.

But, of course, I opted for happier, and went for the catch of the day.
Had to have one last shot at hake, didn't I? (A bad not-quite-poem: Hake, hake, I love how you flake,/ Delicious, nutritious white fish!") Those are baby turnips along with a couple teensy potatoes and different sauces so each bite was a unique burst of flavor. Plus an edible flower garnish.

Chryss had the vegetarian lasagna no one had to suffer for, as it's mushroom, spinach, and blue cheese with expertly made pasta between (and not the most photogenic dish, alas).
All in all a rich incredible meal and a fine last supper for all 6 of us on the trip as we would all go our separate couple ways the next morning. It's been weird not having everyone to eat with since.


So we got to do some afternoon drinking after all that driving from Dingle to Sligo. Fortunately the hotel bar was a fine place to hole up as the drizzle-to-rain-to-drizzle came down, and they even offered several local brews we had not run into yet. A particular favorite was this one
because, as I must emphasize as Chryss put it, "Here's your tall White Hag." The beer itself is called Little Fawn, and it's yet another session IPA, as if they might be afraid to make a full one. Or know CA has that down, so why bother? Not quite as good as the one at Dick Mack's, but tasty enough. We'd revisit it at Eala Bhan, too. (And then I had a glass of Neftali Sauvignon Blanc with my fish, too--good match from Argentina for the sauces.)
And while the British Empire did plenty of nasty damage--hey, that's what empire is all about, no?--one good thing it left behind are the lights on taps at a bar. Aren't they an attractive beacon to your beer? Got them in Australia, too. For my first then I enjoyed a Lough Gill Lost Armada APA, which as a fitting name as it doesn't exist on this Sligo-based brewery's website.
Once again, pleasing, direct, low in alcohol, easy to drink, easy to not think about too much. I guess in a land where there's so much rain and you can garden a lot, it's good to have a surplus of beers to consume while doing yardwork. Then for a second I tried another Lough Gill, and this one even makes their website, an Anderson's Irish Ale. Figured given Chryss's family name is Anderson, we couldn't go wrong. Malty with just enough hop kick, this one clocks in at 4%. You are truly meant ot drink all day in Ireland.

After our reading we went with our new-old Santa Barbara friend to The Harp Tavern, near to City Hall, for a nightcap. The pub was jumping, with live music in the back and us sneaking our way to share a snug with some others in the front. More White Hag was to be had. And soon the lights came up, as bars close early there. But we can say we drank until the end of the night, which is only fitting, as we barely fit.


David and I were the only two up enough late afternoon for an excursion through the mist to Drumcliff, just  north of town, for Yeats' grave. Given the poet left his own epitaph, you sort of have to go. And somber and grave (oops) it is.
We weren't on horse, so we didn't pass by; even worse, we had to wait a few moments as a bus tour pulled up for their photo op/respects. The church itself has that "here's where charming meets spooky" vibe down, which kind of happens when something is Gothic but not outsized. It seems so aspirational.
It's surprising on the inside, that's for sure, eschewing Christ on the cross for this terrific mural that lights up when set off by the wood and stone.
And I have to leave the post with this shot of dusk as it settled upon the Garavogue River that helps make Sligo wistful and romantic, especially after a day of light showers giving everything a wash, a sheen, especially when the iPhone camera wishes it were an Impressionist painter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 10


It's time to tell the tale of how this whole trip went down. Above you see PLs David, Chryss, and Paul and the rock that commemorates that Dingle, AKA Daingean Uí Chúis for those of you who handle your Irish well, is a sister city with Santa Barbara, whose Irish name is HowExpensive!? Now Santa Barbara is a tad profligate with its sisterhood--in addition to Dingle it's hugged Kotor, Montenegro, Patras, Greece, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, San Juan Metro Manila, Philippines, Toba City, Japan, Weihai, People's Republic of China, and Blue Balls, Pennsylvania in its international sorority. (OK, I lied about one of those.) And at one point our now former mayor Helene Schneider was in Dingle, doing sister city things, and at Dick Mack's Pub, doing pubby things, and a poetry reading broke out. Helene, kind to her local poets, thought, "Hey, our Santa Barbara folks should visit here!" And then she told said SB folks.

David Starkey, man who accomplishes more than most mere mortals (many poems, textbooks, teaching, family, bands, St. Bernards, preacher--he officiated our wedding), took it on himself to put the itinerary you've been reading about together, starting with a gig at Dick Mack's but figuring if we were going to fly for eight time zones, we might as well do a few more gigs too.

The kicker is, the Dick Mack's reading turned out to be the least organized of all the events. When we got there that Wednesday evening for our 6 pm performance and asked, "Where do you want us to read?" the reply was, "Where do you want to read? The musicians usually play there," with a point directly across from the bar, where everyone has to place their order...and pick up their jaw from the floor after realizing the wealth of whiskey available.

For some reason we didn't think that wise. So we wandered about a bit and found a side room we felt was abandoned enough/suitable.

Alas, there had been no advertising of any sort, not a flyer amidst the Star Wars gimcrackery in the window, not a Facebook post, not a lonely poorly paid soul in a sandwich board stumbling amidst tourists. So our audience was us, and we were all sort of sick and tired of hearing each other--I mean, we love our poems, but we could sing along on many of them at this point of the trip. So that's one reason I got to read one, given I was not part of most readings. We opted to go for FB Live-ing the heck out of it, so the world might see us even if Dingle didn't deign to. The videos are all out there on our feeds, so go look if you want. I even read "Ode to an IPA" to my glass of Dick Mack's Session IPA, and have to admit I really felt the moment. Thanks, beer.

The good news is if the PLs ever put out an album, they have their cover, here. And that is David's guitar by Sandy, looking away. We wisely had her sing, too, which seemed more suitable for the rowdiness that didn't relent beyond our bardic brilliance. And at one point an Irish teen jumped in on one tune on bodhran--works better with a Lucinda Williams cover than you might imagine.


Same place. But here are some pictures, to give you a bit of a sense of what it looked liked, outside the place (even if the pictures were taken the next day when it was raining). Time is sort of malleable on the road. Especially when it's the Wild Atlantic Way. First, here's a view from one of the windows, with the distance disappearing into Irish mist.

Then here was the courtyard we didn't have time to spend time in.


We bought stuff at a store--as there's nothing more fun than looking at odd foodstuffs in stores in countries not your own--for breakfast. Plus--cheaper! Then we had hoped to have lunch when we looped the peninsula's tip (oh, stop giggling) on our tour during the day, thinking we'd end up at Brick's Pub, home of West Kerry Brewery, just in time for lunch. And we did, but not for what they think is lunch--turns out 12:45 is way too early for a country kitchen to fire up.

So we got back to Dingle proper (let's hope there's not a Dingle improper) and hit the town, hunting. Finally ended up at Goat Street Social [no link as there's no website and even their FB page isn't working] on one of Dingle's main drags, a simple, direct, and pleasing spot for two very hungry travelers. It was my turn to go fish chowder--I'd been envious of so many Chryss had enjoyed--so ordered that, plus a rocket salad with feta, as peppery greens never hurt, especially tossed with cheese.

There's a place for food that hits its notes and doesn't strive for more. That place is in my hungry belly. Thanks, Goat Street Social. Chryss had a salad loaded with shrimp and she too, enjoyed. We also took a drinking break and just imbibed mint-ginger water, and you can see how just the pitcher look refreshing in the edges of these shots.

For dinner we all hung out post the non-reading at Dick Mack's, for if it wasn't a great poetry venue, it is a fine bar. Especially with the trailer the Beast awaiting in the courtyard to make us wood-fired thin crust pizzas. They were good if not amazing, but that's more because there's so much great pizza any more--how weird it is this "simple" food has become something to fret artisanal tears over if it doesn't make you think of what Pizzeria Mozza can do. (And now I want to go to LA post haste.)


So West Kerry Brewery didn't have their kitchen open yet, but when at a pub there's still something else you can do. Pinball! Only kidding. I drank. I know you're surprised. Since I'd had the delicious porter I wanted to try one of their other brews so ordered the Cúl Dorcha, their red ale. It was good, but not the knockout the porter was. Might be because reds tend to be heartier here in the States (aka--alcohol--aoogha!), and this one was a practical piker at just 5%. Plus, I wanted food too. Fantastic interior, though. Can you spot the Americans?

At Dick Mack's we consumed session IPA, because it wouldn't hurt us, but after feeling unloved as the reading thing kind of fizzled, I couldn't resist ordering a shot of Writer's Tears. It's mighty tasty, our misery, my fellow writers, as one review puts it quite well, "oodles of honey'd, fruity notes. Wonderfully easy to drink, it would make for a great introduction to Irish whiskey for folks new to the spirit. No writers were harmed in the making of this whiskey." Except, as we all know, writers are harmed all the time. I mean are you reading them? I think we all know, now.

Then after another Murphy's Ice Cream excursion the rest of the PL gang went off to do some musical carousing and the ever-sicker Chryss and I headed back to our Air BnB where this solid, non-spectacular beer awaited me. That's what you get for drinking a UK beer in the Republic?


So as I said, that morning we took the loop about the far end of the Dingle Peninsula. Want to be blown away by the gorgeous, the historic? It's the ride for you. Stop one was Ventry Bay, a very horseshoe, very wide (perhaps it was low tide?) beach just west of Dingle. Sure, it was July 25, but there were still children in parkas on the sand...and folks in suits swimming. The Irish are tougher than you and me.
The view back towards more (emphasis on civil) civilization was like this.
But, of course, what civilization is out this way is sort of like an unimaginably stunning 3-D game board of the Settlers of Catan. Particularly striking is that all of the historic sites--and we're talking centuries old sites--are, it seems, privately owned, so you pay some farmer five Euros to go see the fairy fort that his sheep and goats graze upon.
They're called fairy forts as something had to live in them after the Celtic warlords did back in 500 B.C. (We get all excited about our missions in CA. Such children we are.) You'll get a cup full of chow to hand out to the animals, too, so it's like a wicked time travel petting zoo.
They are as aggressive as sweet things can be.
A bit further down the road you get even bigger remnants of the far past, the beehive huts that proved stone masonry goes back a long long time.
People are pretty amazing, you know? We claw and struggle and pile rock on rock to make our families safe against so much. Here's to at least the rocks surviving, and all that they attest to, preach for, stand against.

Then there's the storybook quality to what was life on Blasket Island, just enough off the coast to make the coast seem secure as the afghan your grandmother settled over your shoulders. The last settlers left in 1953, and when you hear of the tales, it's not so much it was hard--though it was--but that there was too much promise. Indeed, it turns out many of the people of Blasket ended up just heading further west, all the way to the U.S. There's a terrific Great Blasket Centre that captures what went on there, and given they sort of became an anthropological project, and there are many famous narratives written by its inhabitants, there's plenty to learn and know. (And, even here, literacy, story, the word. While we want to pretend in our country the folks have no sense of the literary.) All the exhibits end in a glass view of Great Blasket Island itself, a kind of church to a kind of world we've lost as much as any faith.
Here's the island unframed, if you prefer your own mythologizing.
Really this section sohuld be endless photos, but trust me, it's about as gorgeous a landscape as any in the world.

That's out towards Smerwick Harbour, and I'm pretty sure it's named beginning "sm" as that's just an ugly sound and it wants to dull its own stun. I mean, if you can take your eyes off the crystal blue sea, check out that little wave of ridges at the right, mountains on a stately march to the ocean. C'mon!

Or something like this, taken out of a moving car, the specks of birds just adding their own pointillist perfection to an already captivating scene.
And now it's time for the religious portion of the program--at one point in the afternoon we went into St. Mary's, nearly across from Dick Mack's, as that's the two poles of Irish life, I guess, both held by a love of the word. Turned out to be a church more beautiful inside than out, a kind of humble grace. And even better, the stations of the cross were in Irish.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 9

Let's get past the giggles to begin, shall we, class? Today's post is about Dingle. And the Dingle Peninsula. So wipe all the -berries and bad penis puns out of your head. There's a heck of a lot of beauty coming, starting with that photo above that's from the car, of all things.


Day off after three straight days of reading. Rest well, PLs.

Sadly, I caught the vacation cold pretty early in the trip, one that was just enough sick to be annoying (stuffy nose, post-nasal weirdness, a voice that would fade as they day did). Worse, I passed it along to Chryss (or maybe she got her own, I don't have to be so sick-centric, do I?), and hers slowly started to kick in at this point. And a cold for Chryss always manifests itself as a cough that scares bystanders..... We begin to worry about her ability to read loudly without hocking up a lung.


We left our Cork four-flight walk up, after being very proud we never backed the car into the Lee across the street, and made our way to our Dingle Air BnB. It at first seemed as if we were going to be far away from town, as we exited the "main" coast road well prior to Dingle, but the actual spot was in a housing area just above the town's main drag, a few blocks away. Our host had built a little apartment into his house for Air BnB purposes, and small yet lovely it was, a triangle of a room that was kitchen-living area, then one of the tightest of metal circular staircases to the second floor bedroom (guess where our luggage stayed?), and a "wet room"--a bathroom in which the shower was just one corner, so you kind of lived in a bit of a tidal pool if you used it.

That said, everything was spotless, relatively new, and labeled as if our host only expected slow people to stay there. Or maybe Americans.

It was a fine place--not to get ahead of our story, but we ran into our host walking his two collies the second night, and it couldn't have be a more James Herriot kind of moment (I know, Herriot's English, but still).


Given the trip to Dingle was only going to be two hours or so, and we didn't have to be anywhere that night for the PL-dog-and-poet show, we hung about Cork some as there's much to see--and eat.

That's my serious Irish breakfast at Nash 19, and somehow I went for that instead of ordering any of the delectable looking baked goods they had--we figured a good breakfast could mean skipping lunch. Mine almost could have meant skipping dinner. That crusty potato at 8 o'clock on the plate nails what you want from something like that--crispy and fried on the outside, but not overdone or oily, rich and creamy potato on the inside, but cooked, too. I can't say how much I've been missing those broiled tomatoes for breakfast. And the black pudding, sure it's a kind of challenge food, it's main ingredient is pork blood, after all, but couldn't we all use some more iron? The flavor is strong, indeed, but the serving size is just right--a little goes a long way. Chryss had something that sort of looked like a breakfast burrito, which she really liked, but we're not going to talk about faux-Mexican in Ireland, are we?

Then we did dine in Dingle at the delightful Ashe's, once again taking advantage of the early bird option (another plus to skipping lunch--you want to sup early). Dingle, as a resort town, is a bit more expensive than Cork, say, so the two courses cost €26.50, but the meal easily lived up to that price.

Chryss, working on trying every chowder Ireland had to offer, went that direction, and was mighty pleased. You can tell how rich it is just from the photo.
I had to have some local bivalves, so went with the three local oysters and half a Guinness option.

Just thinking of them I feel aswim in the sea, they were so bodaciously briny. Note there's no messing around with mignonette or horsing around with horseradish. Your supposed to slop these down naked. And they are all you want, beyond the liquor that sits in their deep-bellied shells, one more saline shot to finish with. And then to quaff some of the creamy Guinness as a kind of almost reverse palate cleanser....this course was utter simplicity and perfect.

Chryss kept it traditional ordering the fish and chips, but look at that fish!
Here's that ugly bottom-dwelling haddock from the other day's market done oh-so-well. They bill at it as tempura of today's fish, and that lets you know the quality of the breading. And nothing is wasted on the plate, for the tartar was interesting and not just some mild practically mayo spread and the carrots were cleverly spiralized and then some essence of pea was extruded atop--peas and carrots for a sophisticated pub. (It's very much a pub turned restaurant, by the way, charming and comfy.)

I went for the other ugly fish I was enjoying about the island, hake.

They certainly knew how to cook fish, just done but not even close to too much done, even with a pecan crust--there's something magical about the way fish fat and nut fat play together, if you ask me. It also sat in a pool of tarragon butter sauce, and that last word is important here--my guess is there was a fillip of cream too, as it was crazy rich. Plus, you can never go wrong with tarragon (and some chive, too).

One of our favorite meals of the trip, without a doubt, and that was even before finding out the place sort of has a Hollywood history--the cast of Ryan's Daughter anointed it their clubhouse back in 1970 (that's Robert Mitchum Sarah Miles, et al.), and it was the hangout for Gregory Pecker in Dingle. (You knew I wasn't going to avoid all the bad puns, no?)

Notice we skipped dessert, despite sticky toffee pudding on the menu. After all, we were full. But I also read up, as I'm that prepared kind of guy, and knew we needed to try Murphy's Ice Cream at some point. Which turned out to be as often as possible (we'd go back the next night, too, with our four friends, as it's good to be evangelical about deliciousness--share those calories!).
Remember Ireland often seems a land with more cows than people, hence so much great dairy. All of that greatness is scooped into the cup you see above. Easily the richest, creamiest ice cream we've ever tasted. But if that's not enough, the flavors they come up with. Chryss was fond of the two garden flavors for that week, a basil and a fennel. I had to have the brown bread, which was yummy, but my absolute favorite, especially since it brought another local product into the mix, was Dingle Distillery Gin. Now, I usually don't think I want dairy in my gin, but somehow this combo worked perfectly, the juniper essence lingering in all that butterfat. Two great tastes that turn out to taste great together. Get on it, Reese's!


While one of my dinner courses came with the half-pint, that Guinness sat alongside the beer I ordered with dinner, too, a Carraig Dhubh from Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne. Why yes, I did order it by pointing. Turns out those last three words mean West Kerry Brewery in Irish. A gorgeous beer, richly malty as a porter should be, but the roasted notes seemed particularly deep. Heading towards coffee, towards chocolate, but never arriving at either, it kept you wanting that next sip. In addition to loving the beer, I was even more pleased to later learn this: Adrienne Heslin is the first woman in Ireland who brews beer in her own pub (since 1993). You can see the bottle and beer with my hake.

After dinner we also scouted out the location for the next night's reading, Dick Mack's Pub.
It's one of those oh so Irish spots--been in the same family since it opened in 1899, full of warren-y snugs and rooms, still partially a leather shop, still a spot where musicians just show up and round-robin some songs each evening. But, it also knows enough to step into the 21st century--there's free wifi, an impressive website, and now its own brewery, too, in the back of the yard which gives them an incredible outside area for people to drink in too.
We had to sample their beers, of course, and in particular were taken with the session IPA, which reminded us of one of our U.S. faves, Founders All Day IPA. Leave it to the Irish, so used to drinking stouts at lower alcohol, to pull off the same with an IPA that still can please hopheads.


Let's rewind back to our morning still in Cork. As I said previously, the heart of the city is surrounded by two branches of the Lee, but there's also city north and south of that, so we decided to walk a bit to check out the Butter Museum, for we didn't think we'd get many other chances to visit a museum to...I feel silly finishing this sentence. Turns out it's not made of butter at all; there's not even butter sculpture. Although there is some bog butter, which could be a thousand years old. My guess is don't eat it. Of course, there's poetry, the smooth music of our old friend Seamus Heaney. A little verse to churn over, you might say.
If you want your town to be attractive, put it on a river, by the way. The Irish have that down.

Or a little stream, like this one that winds through Dingle. That's some garden growing.
And if you have a big blank wall, don't leave it that way.
Just up the street from Dick Mack's is the Dingle Book Shop, and one of its features are these local poet postcards, one more idea I think Santa Barbara should steal, uh, borrow.
The we had to do one bayside selfie, especially since it features the sign for Dingle's most famous "inhabitant," Fungie. He's a dolphin that tends to greet all the tour boats, and everyone's a bit worried as he's getting on in dolphin years, but maybe he will live extra long as he's got a purpose in this world. Isn't that what we all need.
Or community, for later this evening we decided to go to the Phoenix Cinema--a single screen, an older building, the part that was supposed to save it, the video rental lobby, already emptied out and failed--and see the very moving Leave No Trace. It's a packed theater, filled not just with people but all sorts of "hi, how are yous?" This is not tourist town, but the Dingle of the people. Santa Barbara is a Dingle sister city, and it's quite like us in many ways--physically gorgeous (ocean and mountains, check), lots of pubs and restaurants given the size of the city, a sense there are people who actually live there and don't mind sharing but also want you to know it's theirs.

We got that full force at the Phoenix. It has enough space between its first row and the screen for a couple of folding tables and coffee machines, and it seemed almost like post-church service, not pre-screening, the chatter and communion and queuing up. It wasn't just coffee they were getting, that's for sure. It's also fascinating to see the movie is still showing (among others, but on a single screen, just different show times) over a month later--what is it in Dingle that draws them to this father-daughter tale, a struggle to discover how much social one needs, can have. What is it we can live with.