Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ireland. For me, it's very name now conjures up images of rolling green hills amidst a gloomy landscape of unending fog and chilly winds. I think not of the troubles that has plagued this land, nor of it's current political and economic landscape. The image in my mind is of its nature and history, it's utter isolation, greenery as far as the eye can see, and the tangy smell of sea spray (the Atlantic or Irish, depending on where you are).

When I was in Dublin nine years ago, the tour guide/driver took us around town to see the sights. We went shopping (and ate 10 dollar McDonald's burgers for lunch!), ate incredibly sour tomato soup in a hotel cafe, and stood outside the gates of Bono's house.

We saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, toured the Guinness brewery, and stayed 1 night at Waterford Castle. My fellow travelers, PT and CS, will remember that it was quite an eerie castle, especially since we had arrived at night, after traversing a lake by ferry. The castle was dark, poorly lit, and there were two ghostly-looking porters whom, on hinsight, weren't ghosts or ghouls, but probably a couple of college kids earning a living by working double and graveyard shifts, and just looked incredibly tired.

Then there was the "black cat" (I'm quoting CS now), the "huge toilet with ancient bathtub" and the "creepy bedroom" (the one with the humongous fireplace and the red leather chair that looked like it was for Dracula). I'm not surprised that we ended up sleeping somewhere else for that night, spooked out as we were about spending a night in a medieval castle for the first time.

Oh, and let's not forget the "porridge" we had the next morning. How were a bunch of Chinese people supposed to know that "porridge" in Ireland meant "oatmeal"? We were expecting rice, fish, spring onion, and peidan!

Granted, the castle was very beautiful in the day. It overlooked a forest that was a mix of rust-red, sandy-yellow, and green. And that next morning, the sun shone beautifully, warming me up from the cold.

Two memories of my trip to the Irish Republic resurfaced in my mind last night.

The tour guide/driver in Dublin brought my fellow travelers and I to a mountain, and we drove along a pretty isolated road. We walked some distance, until we arrived at what appeared to be a centuries-old ruin. I can't remember where and what those ruins were exactly, but I can recall gazing in wonderment at the black stone, gleaming from the forest dew, amazed at the fact that some Catholic monk must have spent his days within those ruins some six or seven-hundred years ago. I remember the tour guide pointing at a hole in the stones, saying, "That was the toilet."

Ok. Mood-killer.

My second memory was when our group was at Dublin airport, about to fly off to London. Another tour guide was biding us farewell. He said something in Irish Gaelic, which when translated into English, sounded very beautiful, and seemed to convey something of the magical mystery that was Ireland's culture, history, and mythology. It was the first time I had ever heard Gaelic, and though those words may not have been as beautiful as I remember, first impressions count. And that first impression influenced me greatly.

I can't remember what he said, nor can I deny that I may be romanticizing a bit. But I can attest that from that time on, I have been fascinated by things Celtic. I tried to learn a bit of Gaelic as a teen, but that didn't pan out because I had no reference point. I recently re-discovered that I like Celtic music, especially the type from the soundtrack of Riverdance.

Then, I took two Celtic classes in college and realized that my interest was more than just for "things Celtic". It was for classical history. If I'd had the chance, I might have done a second major. But rising tuition costs called for me to graduate quickly, so now I transmit that interest to my writing.

Through my personal researches into ancient history, and the classes I took, I learned a multitude of things about civilization, about the search for power, resources, and territorial bragging rights. One thing I realized about the past nine years has been this: going to Ireland has influenced me in a way that Places can. For some people, it is the sight of the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln Statue, and the emotions of patriotism that those images stir. For others, it is the sight of the Pyramids of Giza, or of the Great Wall, which convey the weight of history and absolute power and might to those who lay eyes upon them.

For me, that First Place was Ireland. There is magic in learning about a place's history and mythology, about the people who lived before me. I have tasted some of it in my learnings and travels, and hope to convey that magic in my amateurish way. It is worth holding on to.

By the by, I still have an image in my head of us all sitting in a smoke-filled pub on our first day in Dublin. We were all hungry and jet-lagged and PT was busy "praying". Still cracks me and CS up.

© 2006. All written works are the original creation of the author.


Blogger JKL said...

Found you! I would leave more comments, but have to get to class.. ttyl :)

9:22 AM  

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