Friday, February 2, 2018

In the Winter, When it Drizzles

I love Paris in the winter!

The Louvre Palace is free of tourist crowds but filled with the unofficial bird of the City of Light. When Paris fell under siege during the war of 1870-71 the first public "air mail" postal service was created. Hot air balloons carried the mail out of Paris and carrier pigeons brought the messages back into the walled city.

Winter is a quiet time, a time for reflection.

The Seine, like Ol' Man River, keeps rollin'' along. Always on the move, forever changing, yet always the same river that flows eternal.

A time to look for the future. (If you can find it!)

Then the sun shows itself and it's a time for celebration. La joie de la vie!

During the Paris winter every moment of sunshine is joy — a treasure to be honored with an act of wild abandonment.

– Michael Saint James in Paris, France

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wandering Limerick: King John's Castle and the Orange Cow

Wandering is the best way to discover the unique beauty and secret wonders of a land. J.R.R. Tolkien said "Not all those who wander are lost." I would suggest that no wanderer is ever lost because wandering is about traveling with no destination in mind. If I have no destination then how could I be lost? 

Wandering around I discovered this life-size statue that honors the Bard of Thomond, Michael Hogan. A bard is a professional storyteller, verse-maker and music composer—the radio and television of medieval Gaelic and British culture. Hogan was a popular political satirist whose writings lampooned prominent figures in the city—Limerick's 19th-century's version of Saturday Night LiveHe and his family also endured the ravages of the Great Irish Famine of 1845–1848. 
But who was the artist that painted the side of the house? Banksy? Carrico? Some secrets history never reveals.

Why is there a life-size orange cow statue in downtown Limerick? 

Some questions have simple answers. It stands outside a popular restaurant and culinary school where teaching beef is their specialty. They do teach classes such as Healthy Eating and Modern Vegetarian but the most popular is their Whole Cow class, bovine cuisine from ear to tail.

"I once met a laddy from Limerick…"
Limericks don't come from Limerick. They first showed up in 12th-century France and 400 years later the great Bard of Avon, ol' Willie Shakespeare, coined a few. The rhythmic language structure became popular in the 19th-century when a bounty of limerick books were published. That's when Mark Twain coined a few.

I bet you can already recite a limerick from memory. We all know a limerick or two. They're part of our deep cultural heritage.

King John's Castle
You know him as Prince John from the stories of Robin Hood. His dad, King Richard the Lionhearted, was off on a crusade so John tried to claim the kingdom as his own but was outwitted by Mr. Hood and then everyone lived happily ever after. Unfortunate for the happy ones, history marched on. Richard finally died and John became a cruel king anyways. King John never visited Limerick but they named this castle after him. Construction began in 1212.

The Shannon River flows from Limerick to the Atlantic, making the city an international trading port with great political influence over the southwest part of the island. Limerick was a lively modern city in Medieval times.

The castle's buildings above ground have been rebuilt to look as they did hundreds of years ago. The stone ruins below are all original.

History reminds us of kings, castles and great battles but I like to image the life of a common person of the time. Perhaps a farmer or merchant who had wandered into the courtyard on market day. Kids running around, ships from distant lands unloading exotic goods, fresh meat cooking over a fire, the smell of bread from an oven, buying a new dress or your first shoes, getting that ax or plow repaired by the smith, listening to the bard tell bawdy tales, swapping news with people from faraway. It was a joyful social environment.

And for those trouble-makers, the law enforcement department:

The Irish flag flies over the ruins today but the castle was never Irish. No castle in Ireland was build or controlled by the Irish—they're all British.

Westerly view of the Shannon River from the castle tower.

St. Mary's Cathedral is nearby, constructed 44 years before John's castle was begun. It's one of the oldest buildings still in daily use today. In Medieval times you might have travelled there by horse and buggy. 

And you can do the same today. Some things never change.

– Michael Saint James wandering in Limerick, Ireland

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rain today with scattered sunshine

That's the actual weather report from the little man on the tele. It's been raining a lot. No one around here complains, after all, rain is why we have the Emerald Isle. The locals just say, "I's a bit'a ran tada," which means bring a good umbrella or stay inside and nurture pints. "A lovely d'y" is still cloudy but with no drops, drizzle or mist. A good time for a walk on the beach.

When the clouds do part and the sun does shine, it pours. A sunbreak as the folks in Seattle say. "Just grand," is how the Irish express it.

Dingle is the quintessential seaport village, located on the Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Home to less than 2,000 souls and visited by over a million tourists each year. Even Christopher Columbus came to visit in 1477 before he sailed Stateside. 

When you order the famed fish'n'chips, this is how it comes: out of the sea and into a delivery truck,

then driven across the street and cooked into the traditional gastronomic delight.

The quiet, colorful streets seem to glow.

All beautiful days come to an end. Rain is on its way. Time to dream of more scattered sunshine!

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Last Rose of Summer

Tralee, Trá lí, is the big city of Co. Kerry but not much of a tourist destination. Popular in Medieval times, now it's fame comes from the Rose of Tralee International Festival which includes a beauty pageant where the rose of the year is crowned. The bronze statue in Rose Park sets the standard.

This year's rose is Jenifer Byrne, a black-haired beauty that topped the red-hair competition. OMG!

While the judging is long complete, I still offer my pick for the best rose of the year:

It was the last blooming rose I could find in the park. 

Which reminded me of Thomas Moore's poem written in 1805 while he was visiting Kilkenny, Ireland:

The Last Rose of Summer

'Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Camino Starts Here

There are many caminos to the Cathedral of Santiago in Galicia, Spain. It doesn't matter where you start, only that you go, and follow your heart. For some, one day is enough. Many pilgrims choose to walk the last 100 kilometers (62 miles), known as the French Way, in 5–7 days. Some spend months on the sojourn, starting in places like Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam and Dingle. The Irish pilgrims begin at the most westerly starting point in all Europe, St. James Church on Main St. in Dingle, Co. Kerry.

But they don't walk far. Just down the street to the docks and board a boat sailing to Corona, in Northwest Spain. Then about 15 hours of walking brings them into Santiago de Compostela.

I always thought the Irish pilgrims would have traveled first to Dublin, through St. James Gate, and cross the Irish Sea to Wales then stroll across England and cross the Channel to northern France, trekking all the way south and over the Pyrenees into Spain. Nope. They just took a boat. (no one said you had to walk!)

And it makes sense when looking closer at a map of Europe's west coast. Dingle and Santiago have nearly the same longitude!

The Spanish and Irish have a Celtic–Gaelic connection going back to 300 BCE.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017