Wednesday, September 5, 2018

SB Poets Take Ireland: Day 8

Some times art begats art--one of the folks in the audience at the Ó Bhéal reading at the Long Valley Bar in Cork made the drawing above of our three PLs. Perhaps a bit goth, but then again, it was dim pub-light. And if you've been reading poetry for three straight days in three different town, and you drink enough Murphy's, you can look a bit sepulchral too.


(Hidden theme--no David photo from this night...)

I set this one up in the intro, but a night at Ó Bhéal is as full as a poetic night can be. It opens with poetry films, all from an international competition they run (how cool would it be to have a poetry film competition as part of SBIFF?)(hint hint SBIFF--call me!), but to be honest it's easy to lose track of them as people wander in, and the craic begins (it is an Irish pub after all), and then there's the distraction of California poets, too. We end up talking to one poet from Cork who is teaching, of all places, in Siberia now--that's how hard the writer job market is--you're happy when you land the Siberian gig. It seemed cruel to joke. We came from Santa Barbara.

After the films, there's a five word writing challenge--the crowd picks 5 random words and then you have 15 minutes to craft a poem with them. Our words were rain, lust, union, bicycle, hum, and I even took part and read my entry and was a runner up. I'll take it. They probably didn't understand my accent, or my reference to Billy Bragg (you damn well know what kind of union I wrote about).

Then it was time for the guest poets, and you know them by now, don't you? Here they are in poorly lit iPhone photos, and you can decide if perhaps the drawings above are more accurate. All thanks to organizer Paul Casey for getting us to be part of this delightful evening that invigorated the word and the world.

Somehow I didn't get a photo of David--sorry! Then there was open mic, and it was quite crowded and buzzy after everyone came back from their cig breaks in the street. Lots of reading off iPhones, so you know folks were younger here than most readings--us old folks can't see our phones well enough to do that. A singer or two. A random reading of Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead." Since it was a pub, I opted to read one of my whiskey poems from Feast Days, just to be able to say I read a drinking poem in an Irish pub, and why not one with roots all the way back to 1842. That's before I was born.


Same cool place on Father Matthew Quay. Didn't have to move. Happy happy us.


This is going to take some time. We had big lunch plans, our biggest of the trip, as we went to Ballymaloe House (thanks for the recommendation, Susan Chiavelli!). But given our reservation there was at 1 pm, we needed something in our gullets so we wouldn't scarf up all the fancy stuff out of sheer hunger as soon as we arrived. That meant we went to the English Market in Cork, which makes Long Valley Pub look like it's running about in historic knee-britches, as it began in 1788. What's the problem with a really cool indoor market? You want to eat everything. But somehow we just choose some scones to go, and they were hearty and light and delightful. Thanks, Alternative Bread Company. Of course it was a fascinating space, too--air, air, air.

Then on to Ballymaloe, which, to be inexact but relatively helpful, is to Ireland sort of what Chez Panisse is to America--the place where a country's cuisine found its legs on its own land and stood up proudly, and then everyone saluted. That makes Myrtle Allen Ireland's Alice Waters, if 20 years her senior, and sadly, she just passed away last June. But her family carries on the tradition at her stately farmhouse about 45 minutes east of Cork, and close enough to the sea you can't see it but just feel it tickle the back of your sinuses. Good farm country, though.

And therefore amazing food, the kind where the goal is to not get in the way, just sharpen and let sparkle. That starts with the cocktails, including a garden martini I, alas, don't quite remember the details of (some elderflower, some of their own herbs worked into it), but it was in the most gorgeous Waterford crystal I've ever brought to my lips, weighty yet balanced and we couldn't find anything like it for sale anywhere after (all those were too clunky, I felt).
Chryss had a garden julep that came disguised as a mule, in a beautiful copper mug. The two drinks, not over-potent as it was lunch, certainly mellowed us into our meal. Here's the menu. What would you choose?
More bread is one correct answer. Irish bread. Even the "simple" white bread. So full of flavor. The butter never hurt, of course. (And look at those violet-into-cream sweat pea flowers!)

Chryss couldn't decide which of the two soups to have, and the server didn't want to offer a "Ballyamloe is famous for the ____" choice, but she did say, "Order one, and I'll bring you a taste of the other." Can you guess which one Chryss ordered?
Yep, she pretty much got full-size both soups. That's how you win points as service. They were stunningly different, not too surprising given the potage bonne femme (good lady soup!) was potato and leek and warm and soothing and that femme was mighty bonne, while the cucumber soup with cornflower was chilled and almost like raita afloat, if that makes any sense. Both were delicious and hearty in ways that made you realize hearty meant more than you thought it did.

But it surely didn't beat my first course, the selection of pate with red currant sauce and onion confiture.

So much texture of different sorts, so much flavor of different registers, so much utter loveliness. Plus it meant I had to, I mean just had to, eat a lot of bread. That chicken liver pate to the left put most foie gras I've ever had in its shade, so creamy and rich, with just a hint of gland and game, but similar to how the suggestion of someone smoking a cigar in a room or two away can be perfect.

Overall it was a meal that reminds me of the old Richard Jobson (and there I go quoting a Scotsman in a story about one of the most Irish places in Ireland) line: simple isn't always best, but the best is always simple. Take these vegetables, cooked to just, buttered to some, herbed to enough.

As for mains, Chryss went with the vegetarian option, as who doesn't want fancy places to keep them on the menu? Plus, it certainly had a different ring to it, beetroot and carrot fritters with preserved lemon and coriander salsa with wild rockets (in flight, Ballymaloe afternoon delight?).

And it was something, that salsa giving things some acid and spice, and the arugula perfectly peppery.

My main to tell the truth, was my least favorite dish of the afternoon, but that's what I get not knowing that "loin of bacon" is what you call ham when you want to trick people into ordering it. It was tasty, just not spectacular. You do have to give them crazy props to cook cabbage and not let it go limp and sad (I'd love to send my now deceased mom back in time to their kitchen for a class in that), and gooseberry sauce is something else--think sultanas on steroids with more of a bitter bite as opposed to something more sherry-like.
There was dessert, too, because when they bring up a trolley you've seen rolling its caloric way towards other tables all afternoon, well, you've made a choice well before you had the chance to decide if you were too full to eat anything. Pavlova seems to be a thing in Ireland--one more reason to love the country--a chewy egg white meringue with cream and then whatever fruit is at that exact moment most in its moment. There's no room for wrong there. That's it with blue- and rasp-berries on the left. On the trolley. That's not just my portion.

Somehow we even had dinner that night, too, for that's what vacationers do. Paul and Sharon met us and we all dined at Quinlan's Seafood Bar in Cork. It might be like the Lure of Ireland--there are several of them about the Wild Atlantic Way, the menu is set on wide appeal, the space is contemporary and global. Chryss, not the glutton her husband is, simply had the seafood chowder appetizer, and that's pretty reasonable as a chowder tends to be thick as fog (with fish chunks flying in it) in Ireland. Plus, another brilliant excuse to eat bread.
I ordered something, that when it came I thought they brought the wrong dish. It was a special billed as lobster and crab salad. Forget about the Oxford comma, that turned out to be death to all commas, I think. As it came out looking (in an admittedly yummy way) like this:

Salad to the left of the plate, then lobster, with crab (done in some slyly salady fashion?) crammed in its non-tail cavities, to the right. At least I didn't have to fear any mayo. (Of course--this was County Cork. Ba-dum-bum.) I thought I was getting chunks of lobster and crab in a salad, silly me. Still, very good, very fresh.


I put the cocktail up above as it seemed so from the garden and part of the meal. I also had a glass of their somm choice cabernet franc, an Olivier Cousin Pur Breton that I liked but am now a bit sad to say that Food & Wine calls it "crushable." Spice, bright red fruit (plum and cherry), something a tad exotic.

At Quinlan's I had a solid, and I don't remember its name, viognier. And then at the Long Bar, we drank Murphy's, because it's made in Cork. And to be honest I found myself liking it more than Guinness, but maybe that was just it had fewer kilometers to roll to get my pint. But I think it also has a bit more depth, and given my favorite stout is this very U.S. very California monster, well, there you go.


That includes gawking all through the English Market, as we love our foodstuffs. Some of them even gawked back.

Turns out hake are sort of barracuda without the attitude and haddock look like they came from way under the dock. Good to know.

Then at Ballymaloe we had to explore some, even if we didn't get to the separate property with the cooking school (good thing--we might have stayed). There was a bunch of sculpture I somehow didn't get a worthwhile photo of, but then again, have I said I was operating on iPhone camera only at this point? I dumped my beloved Nikon D90 from a table one morning in Enniskillen--it's great to keep your camera in a protective bag, but if you don't zip its zipper, things can come a-tumbling. So that also explains why so many photos will be portrait and not landscape. Forgive me. I hope this garden shot helps.
On our way back to Cork, we drove over to Cobh, which, of course, is pronounced Cove. Got to keep the Americans on their toes, assuming their toes are in their tongues. As a major port, it's a town of comings-and-goings, and as it's Ireland, it's a town of celebrating the gone--loss seems to be the major tenor of the island's tune.

Let's start happy and hopeful, though. A huge host of U.S.-headed immigrants left Ireland from this port, none more famous than Annie Moore, the first person to check in via Ellis Island in 1892. The customs officials in NY even gave her a $10 gold piece to commemorate the moment. In her homeland all she got was a statue, and she has to share it with brothers. Family.

Moore had it easy, though, as she wasn't on the most famous ship to see Cobh last, the Titanic. There's a museum at what was the White Star Lines office, and I couldn't help myself but go, as I was a Titanic aficionado long before Leo's lips turned such a lovely blue. They do a pretty good job of it, from the ticketing on in, where you get to "be" one of the 123 passengers who got on the ship at Cobh, and eventually learn if you made it. Uh-oh, I'm third class. My odds dropped faster than a lie out of Sarah Huckabee Sanders' mouth.

So you get to have a few films with actors playing crew talk to you. And you get to see mock-ups of rooms, from third class (don't call them steerage) to first.
But that's nothing compared to getting to look out over this view.

That dilapidated dock is where the tenders left, as Captain Smith, eager to break the Atlantic crossing record, knew he'd save a few hours not maneuvering the giant ship into the harbor. What's more, that second floor of what was the White Star Lines building was where the first and second class passengers awaited, and you can see them, as there's a photo, of all things. A Father Browne took the Titanic just from Southampton to Cobh (or Queenstown, as it was called back then--gee, wonder why the name got changed?), and as his tender pulled in, he took a photo (a rich priest, he was, to have a private camera in 1912) of all the people waiting to go to their doom.

No balcony for you third class passengers. It's a spooky place to stand, to say the least. Cobh seems to sort of attract these famous naval disasters, though, for the Lusitania got torpedoed off its coast a mere three years after the Titanic sailed away to a waterway grave. That's a bronze angel of peace, if a bit fearsome, and below her a depiction of two of the fishermen who helped recover the living and dead from the disaster, clearly the worse for the experience. Heroism can hollow you out.

But what lifts the whole scene up, for me, is in the background--a big beautiful centrally located building that in its totally Irish literacy-loving way says Library.

P.S. Thomas McCormack survived!
Go ahead to the post on Day 9 (Cork, Dingle).

Go back to the post on Day 7 (Waterford, Cork).

No comments:

Post a Comment