Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sip This: Château de Berne Emotion

Who could say no to a Provence rosé with a funky, fancy bottle (curvy with white striping) and easy-on-the-wallet pricing at $16? That’s all from an estate that also houses a Relais & Châteaux inn, the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jardin de Benjamin, and a cooking school, 25 miles from the Mediterranean yet at a bit of altitude too, around 1,000 feet.

Want ot read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 12

And so we've come to the final day of our tale, my friends. Thanks for stopping by George's Pub, and if a one-way conversation can be craic, I hope this was edifying, illuminating, and intoxicating, at least at one remove. (Yes, we actually flew out the following day, but I'm not doing a post about airport food and a taxi ride. You're welcome.)


What's read all over? Ireland!


Here's the view out our window from the Sligo Park Hotel.
Yep, good old Ben Bulben out past the car park. Turns out it would be yet even more of Yeats day than we imagined, as we'll get to in Toured.

Then we do have one more night in Dublin, since we flew out early the next day--that meant we could drop off the rental car this day, walk about, and just taxi to the airport. While our first place was right in town on the Liffey, this time the Air BnB was in the more suburban-feeling Portobello, in an apartment in the land of rowhouses--it felt very Baltimore or Brooklyn. There was laundry. It was a bit quirky--the living room, of all things, was dominated by a painting of New York City (where we were headed next--I wonder if they do that for all their guests?), but for a night it was perfect.

Fed & Poured

One last hotel breakfast buffet--you do a few of these and you wonder if there's just one central kitchen that caters them all. Quite pleasant, certainly filling, but nothing to blog home about.

As we did so well while traveling, we sort of were preoccupied through the lunch hour (and more), as we had to make the drive from Sligo to Dublin, drop off our suitcases at the Air BnB, then drive to the north side of Dublin to drop off the car. Then, us being us, we walked back from there to the heart of things. But sneaky Chryss had led a thought since we left Dublin, and it was this: Pieman.

It's very hard to take pictures of walk-away food as your hands have better things to do--stuff your face--than click away. But Chryss had a veg and I had to have a steak and stout, as that seemed only appropriate if I was only going to have one--start with the traditions, then try other things. (It's just like writing poetry--you can't rebel if you don't know what you're up against.) Flaky, meaty goodness. Gone in 90 seconds, probably.

Then we dinnered pretty quickly atop that, too. Our DK guide seemed high on The Market Bar in its pub section, so we went there, a very large space that likes its turn over--there's a limit to how long you can keep your table (it's reasonable, but still, it's like the meter's ticking). The draught list is big, but not necessarily in a great way--lots of what you might expect (Heineken and Heineken Light)--and it also featured a beer with a name that bugs me. Just like I find San Diego's Belching Beaver just too rude to reward with my business (whether the beer is good or not--c'mon guys, grow up and don't flatter the incels), Ireland has a brand called Cute Hoor. As in, "I'll have a Cute Hoor." Hahaha. Pass.

Instead I went the bottled route. Tried to order a Third Circle Rye Stout, but they were out. Luckily they did have the Third Circle Saison, which survived being agitated on the way to the table (I assume), as I ended up with a very heady pour.
So Dublin itself can brew some fine craft beer. The saison was a mildly sour one as the style goes, but had some character and kick and a surprising amount of hops, too.

For food we went about as traditional as we could for our last pub supper in Ireland. Chryss had the fish and chips; I had bangers and mash (and onion rings--we should have invited Paul, who actually was still in Sligo anyway).
You know how food can satisfy but not intrigue? There you go. I have to admit what looked like too much gravy wasn't, but, of course...gravy.

To be honest, it wasn't fair to drop this meal as a capstone on all the rest of our two weeks of eating, so much of it revelatory. Turns out you can go out with bangers and with a whimper. I'll show myself out...of the country...tomorrow.

We did think about following that up with one last pint at a pub, but it was Friday and we were mostly in Temple Bar, but even south of that crowds were the norm. If you want to rob houses in Dublin, do it on Fridays from 5-7 pm, because everyone is at pub, and every pub takes over as much space on the sidewalk and sometimes street in front of it as it can. It's as if a liquor license covers any space that contains a drinker who could bump elbows with the next drinker, back to the bar itself, kind of like some ant colony a-swarming with a mighty thirst for stout and the weekend. While I refuse to judge, I also couldn't get up the energy to join the scrum, what with the impending weight of "early a.m. international flight" on my brow. I mean, I look sort of stupid silly here, don't I, and I've had all of one beer?

Since we had the time to do it--the drive from Sligo to Dublin is two and a half hours--we headed back in to town before we left town, if for nothing else than to see it on a nicer day (cloudy, not drizzly). Poor Yeats, though, gets the bird drizzle.
But that might just be what happens when you head out wearing your own words. We also tried to check out spots with Yeats memorabilia, and while the Sligo Library and County Museum (note the telling order there, btw) is quaint, it offers things like a replica of Yeats' Nobel Prize. And no photos allowed.

Then there's the Yeats Building Visitors Center, which seems tangentially associated as it's the home of the Yeats Society. When we were there summer school was in session so you couldn't get into most of the rooms, anyway.
All that said, it's still a lovely town along the Garavogue, even without early evening lighting making it a pointillist's dream.
Speaking of lighting, how cool is this lamppost in Dublin?
It's as if almost everything popped out of the Book of Kells, ornate as an illustrator's wildest dream.

But when it comes to fascinating, it's hard to beat bog bodies form the Iron Age. So yes, we visited the National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology, as it's not every day you get to see remains from 2000 BC. (Except, maybe, in the mirror the morning after a hard hard night before.) It's a bit tricky when you have to share your viewing with hordes of schoolchildren, who, it turns out, are just as rowdy and bored as American children, but if you wait the busy buggers out, you get to have a viewing with something as stunning as Old Croghan Man.
That's a person. Think about that. How can you not think about that.
That hand, if not for the coloring, could be anyone's, yours. Plus 40 centuries. If it moved you wouldn't jump; it's almost more shocking it doesn't.

This one is a bit more skeleton in the closet.
They think most of the bog people were sacrificed. We like murdering each other when we can pretend it means something.

To finish, though, where else could we go on this trip of words but the National Library of Ireland? We didn't get into the great reading room, even, no matter how I adore those, cathedrals to books and the people who love them, each a priest for the religion of reading. Instead we explored the exhibit "Yeats: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats," and ended up finding more than we ever dreamed even Sligo might offer.

The NLI knows how to put on a show. Different aspects of Yeats' life and career each got its own nook, from Maud Gonne to Easter, 1916 to An Occult Marriage. That nook would be decorated to fit the theme, and include poems and letters and well-done videos we didn't have enough time to dive into.

But then there was this. The lapis lazuli Harry Clifton gave to Yeats that inspired the poem it's named after. Generally it's just in the Yeats family, but they loaned the stone out for the exhibit. I felt like I was seeing something I shouldn't, a before too brilliant for my eyes to spy. The poem is posted aside, so you can read it, and then realize how much Yeats created, the lapis small and the faces of the figures inscrutable. Yet Yeats writes:

Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

The poet, and the lapis, and the lore and lure of Ireland, they all ask us to delight to imagine. What lives as long as a the draw of a bog body's mystery? Mournful melodies ring exact rhymes with our glittering eyes. How much beauty we mine from the tragic scene.

Go back to the post on Day 11 (Sligo).

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.

Go ahead to the post on Day 12 (Sligo, Dublin).

Go back to the post on Day 10 (Dingle Day 2).

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.

Go ahead to the post on Day 11 (Sligo).

Go back to the post on Day 9 (Cork, Dingle Day 1).