Saturday, November 15

It was tempting to write this post entirely about French food.

I am in Barcelona. That song I´m From Barcelona keeps playing in my head. Which is annoying but not as funny as Foux Da Fa Fa, the song from Flight of the Conchords, which was playing in my head literally from the moment I stepped foot in France until I left.

I have been in and left France since the last post, I am sorry.

I arrived safely on the ferry, which was less like a barge (some people had this idea) and more like a small blue and white cruise ship, complete with lounges, cafes, airport-flamboyant carpeting, and a ¨sundeck.¨ Quotations explained by preceding posts about weather. I had bought the cheapest ticket, which was for a seat in a room of seats, rather than a cabin with a bed. This was okay because everyone put their sleeping bags on the floor and slept there anyway. It was actually very soothing to sleep with my body against the rocking of the boat on the gray blankety waves.

Julien picked me up in the sweet little battered red car that was sort of our home for the next week. We never actually slept in it, but it felt that familiar by the time I left it. It was full of his cigarettes and my chocolate bars. His bag full of different kinds of leather to make into different kinds of pouches, my bag full of all my various things, worn-out clothes and poems. And the one windshield wiper always got stuck on the other one.

Here is Julien and you can see little Nanette´s door to the right.

Before going to his town of Mayenne, which has a castle that looks like this

Julien took me to a tiny little town on the northern coast (in the region of La Manche, I believe) and we stayed with friends of his, artists, who inhabited in the fullest way this house. It contained elaborate puppets, hand-made tapestries, old canvas stretchers that were broken up for fire wood, cigarette butts, moules frites in a pot on the stove, and a gorgeous collection of books in french.

The next day we all took a walk along the beach, where I lost my phone and gained a sense of quiet stretches of space and air that Ireland didn´t have. The kids and dogs were beautiful running long-shadowed on the sand, and I found a perfect spiral shell I put in my pocket and have forgotten about until right now.

The beach was not far from where the American troops landed in Normandy. This is a monument to, I think, Canadian soldiers. I didn´t read it, but there was a building with a Canadian flag nearby.

Here is the town where we stayed the night. I had never seen a town like it, and it would be impossible to describe exactly what was so shocking about it. Everything white-stoned and empty on Sunday, even the old Church from some period I´ve probably never heard of.

We also spent a day and night in the city of Rennes, which is in Bretagne and is filled with streets that have the impression in my mind of being cobblestone, but might not actually be. They are lined with cafes, patisseries with the most incredibly delightful pastries and breads you can ever imagine, bars with people sitting at all hours of day, little shops that are lovely and curious without being touristy.

Being with Julien meant being constantly on the go, visiting his friends wherever he happened to have them, making new ones where he didn´t, always arriving there toting croissants, saucissons, and beer for all. There was no telling what would happen, and an unexpected dose of culture shock only made everything seem faster and more overwhelming. But it wasn´t bad, only strange, only a good challenge. I had to retain myself in each new situation, and did. I had the distinct feeling that every day I was living a different kind of life, and I was okay.

Monday, November 3

Port of Cork

I've been in Cork for two weeks now. Cork is a town whose center is contained between two rivers. In late October it hosts an annual Jazz Festival sponsored by Guiness. I was here for the festival and saw only a few street performances. Everybody says that no one actually sees the jazz at the Jazz Festival. I think this has something to do with the festival's sponsorship.

You may also know Cork because it is near Blarney Castle, where the Blarney Stone is. You climb up through the old ruined castle and an old guy holds you while you lean backward and kiss it. I told him I was afraid of the rumor that locals go up and pee on the stone at night. He said that was a load of bologna, I thought he said blarney.

My words were bottled up--corked, if you will--for several days and so was I. I was stuck in Cork, if you choose to see it that way. I did, mostly. I couldn't seem to leave Ireland. I felt in a hurry to do something, maybe to become something, and at the same time paralyzed. I could not seem to choose what to do next, and neither could I quite convince myself that it didn't matter.

Things I did in Cork those days: walk around the center of town. Buy soda bread, apples, sausage sandwiches loaded with onions and peppers (yellow, green) in the English Market. Drink cappucinos in a cafe called Puccinos.

Things I do in Cork these days: walk around the center of town. Walk around one or two streets just out of the center of town. Buy soda and other types of bread. Buy apples, cheese spread, sausage sandwiches with onions, peppers, chili sauce, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise in the English Market. Eat this every day with Natalie sitting on the fountain by where the happy crinkle-faced old Irish man sells vegetables. Drink cappucinos in every cafe in town.

What changed is difficult and silly to describe, but it had to do with standing at the port where the boats and factories are and seeing what it is to observe myself with compassion. It had to do with Rilke's letters and the words of friends and teachers, the music of my friends through headphones on a bus to Kinsale, and meeting no one on my solitary walks but myself.

I met Natalie when she came to stay with the same couchsurfing host as me. She is french and nineteen. She loves food. We get along. She is traveling around Ireland, then living with her boyfriend, then taking a train across Russia, all on a gap year before starting university. She dominated the BAC and is waiting to hear back from Oxford and Cambridge, though I am trying my best to pitch Brown to her, because she reminds me so much of people freshman year at Brown. Before we all got jaded, haha. Oh dear.

Natalie and I stayed about a week with Carlos, but things went sour. There was never any good connection with Carlos The Passive-Aggressive. He spent hours every night watching TV in the tiny space living room/kitchen which was our bedroom, never telling us he was bothered by our talking and doing other things. He never asked us any questions or showed the faintest curiosity in us, other than to ask if we'd buy some beers and if we wanted to smoke with him. We really did try to create some sort of friendly atmosphere, making our best conversation, trying to help with dinner, cleaning up the kitchen and so forth, but Carlos in the end got drunk one night and mustered the courage tell us we were lucky he wasn't kicking us out. We are in a hostel now, and though it's costing us much more than we have been spending, it's worth it. It feels like such a luxury to sleep in a tiny clean twin bed on the top bunk in a warm room with four other people, just because it doesn't involve any tiptoeing around, and because we get to use the huge communal kitchen to make our own food, and there are plenty of really cool people hanging around here. I suppose bad couchsurfing experiences are bound to happen, and that is le story.

I take a bus to Rosslare tomorrow. From Rosslare I am taking a ferry to Cherbourg, France. The ferry takes eighteen hours. I take a bus from Cherbourg to Mayenne. I like the names of places. In Mayenne I meet a guy named Julien, who will host me for a few days. He is a couchsurfing host, but I was given his contact information through another host I had here, so I feel there is a higher degree of connection, of some kind of familiarity, than with other hosts. He is an artist, he wants to do art projects together. He wants to take me on a discovery trip, as he calls it, to a place near Paris where he knows other artists. He sounds full of the little things (joy, curiosity) that I am also learning to fill myself with.

I show it to you in photos

Some overdue pictures from Drummin. Here is Jon, the grotty old sod, in the tv room where we spent many an hour watching these shows, learning to tie a couple of knots, drinking tea, shifting the cats around, and eating cauliflower cheese (see below).

Here is one of many perfectly formed rainbows. Len drove me to the end of it, where the bus stop was.

And this is an old monastery, a fairly typical thing to find along any drive through the countryside. The colors are almost the same in real life.

Here we are in the ol' workshop, Jon and Len both looking uncharacteristically serious.

And here is Len where I'll remember him best, on his little chair in the kitchen, making us little cupcakes.

This is cauliflower cheese, or cauliflower au gratin, which Len taught me how to make. Now I will get invited to all the potlucks. Yum.