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Roots and Batman

Back in Civilization

You might wonder why I dwell on triva such as a steak dinner or a movie, but trivia can become important at odd times. We could, in fact, have had a steak dinner - or really any other good meal - on Inisheer, but the place was so barren we may as well have fasted. What I mean is that where you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Imagine yourself at a table, in a good enough chair, armed with the usual cutlery, napkin at the neck or lap, white cloth on the table. Before you is a glass of red wine; a nice thick steak, done exactly as you like it, as tender as soft butter, salted just so; a huge potato, bursting from its skin, topped with sour cream, and chives; a small pile of green beans, hot and crunchy, with maybe some slivered almonds here and there; bread if you want it, and salad, too. No dessert, though. You must draw the line somewhere.

Doesn't that sound nice? But if we take you, the table, and all the trimmings, and set you on a boat rocking on the waves, it will be a different experience. Or set you in the middle of the Astrodome, all alone. Would you like that? Could we set you in the middle of a lovely restaurant, with palm trees, soft music, and a waiter at your elbow with an apparatus in his hand. He asks, "Would you like a little pepper, sir?"

Then, imagine yourself on an Aran Island. Outside, the wind is blowing, and it never stops. You can feel, in the fibers of your muscles and bones, that you are on a small white rock in the sea, blasted by wind and waves, with one or two hundred other people. You say, "This food is pretty good," but it is more of a surprise than an expectation. From where you sit you can see one of the locals at the bar, and you can easily guess that he doesn't often eat as well as you do.

It is no surprise that some of the great old saints of Ireland, such as Enda, came to Inisheer. Although it's billed as the prettiest of the three islands, there is still little to tempt you: if you wanted to devote your life to God and avoid people and pleasure, Aran would be the perfect place. You will have nothing but what you bring with you. Nothing will grow except what you plant.

Stimulation and Laundry

And so, when we returned, we were anxious for some stimulation; we felt like we'd been away from civilization for a week; we wanted something new: a movie, a nice dinner in a nice place. We wanted to do laundry.

You might assume that in a modern country like Ireland, laundromats would be universally available, but they are not. And so, if you travel in the country, you will accumulate clothes that need washing, and even if you have plenty of clothes to wear, psychologically it's unpleasant to haul a bag of dirty clothes around with you. It is something like an unpaid bill: you can tell yourself that it is not important, and that it can wait, but it is something pending, and that is uncomfortable.

So, we left our clothes at a laundry that we finally found in Limerick, then went to the post office. I wanted to mail some cards, and also to see if I could find Ballyduane. It is the town from which my mother's family comes, and it isn't on the map.

"It's in Mungret," the man behind the window said.

"It's right down the road there," a man in line behind me said. "Follow the road, and in half an hour you'll be in Mungret. Ask in a shop, and they'll tell you where Ballyduane is."

It was in Dublin that I got the clue of asking at the post office, and the idea that Ballyduane might be a townland - that is, a very small area which is given a name, but is really too small to be called a town. "There probably won't even be a sign that says 'Ballyduane'," I was told. "It could be a just a few houses, and that's all."

"And maybe a pub," someone suggested.

"Or maybe three, you know, because every town in Ireland has at least three pubs, or it isn't really a town."

In no time at all we were in Mungret, and an old woman pointed out Ballyduane: "You drive down that road, and once you pass the quarry, you're in Ballyduane." Five houses, I think, and rolling green fields, and that was all. My grandfather came from a farm here, and called himself a "woodbutcher," but we would call him a cabinetmaker or furniture maker. He carved an Irish harp for one of my sisters, and made some of the furniture in our home.

James, my grandfather, came from a family of three boys. One night, the father said to the three, who were then young men, "John will go to school, James has his trade, and Michael, you shall have the farm." The next morning Michael was gone, and John was stuck with the farm, fulfilling a family proverb that John (a common name in the family) was always stuck with the farm. No one knew the whereabouts of Mike until years later when he sent a postcard to my grandfather James, inviting him to New Zealand.

We drove back to Limerick and did a bit of shopping. It is a good city for stores, but the business area, which is on the main county road, is not really very attractive, and the streets are a mess of one-ways that run in the wrong direction. I had the impression that there was a lot of traffic, but Mywatt observed the problem was not the number of cars, but the confusion created by the one-way streets. Anyway, the older part of the city, and the parts outside the business center, are really very nice.

A Stone to Miss

Again, we shot off, heading for county Cork, to see if we could reach Macroom in the afternoon. The road took us through Blarney, and we stopped at the Blarney Woolen Mills, which is an obvious tourist stop, but still is a good place to look for sweaters and woolen clothes, because of the high quality and low prices. We had a picnic on the grounds.

I had no desire to kiss the Blarney Stone, and in fact we did not go near it. Long ago I heard that the locals amuse themselves by urinating on the stone at night, and although people have sworn that this cannot be the case, and that there is a man who has the job of scrubbing the stone with a special cloth after every kiss, and that those who kissed it have not noticed any odor... I have no desire to kiss that thing. Let those who want to kiss it, go right ahead, with my blessing, and let no more be said about it.

The road from Blarney to Macroom runs parallel to the River Lee, which is not as lovely as the Shannon, but still is nice to look at. Someone asked my great-grandfather - who was known for his boasts - whether he thought he could jump across the River Lee. "I might not make it in one jump," he replied, "but I'm sure I could do it in two."

Macroom is where my father's family's from, and there are Kellehers everywhere: Kelleher Ford, Kelleher filling station, Kelleher Victualers, and so on. It made me feel very good. We poked around the graveyard a short while, but there wasn't much worth learning there.

Macroom, Macroom, it rhymes with broom. A nice enough town; a business town, used to belong to Wm. Penn's father or some such thing. There is a castle, some nice pubs, and a few attractive buildings. I liked the fact that I liked the place, since after all, some of my genes had been rampant in this place a hundred years or so ago.

Through Oz in Quest of a Movie

Cork seemed like a pleasant city when we passed through it, even if it was packed with cars and people. There was some sort of grand exhibition going on - maybe it was a big horse show. In any case, it was clear at a glance that accommodations would be hard to find. So we passed on through Cork, and looked for something nice outside the city. Our plan was to return to Cork and visit the six-screen cineplex in the center of town. But first we had to find a place to stay.

We drove and drove without seeing anything at all. Just countryside, small towns, on and on. Soon we entered a plain, and saw in the distance, on a hill, the castle of Cashel. "There's a castle in Cashel," a witty Dublin woman told us, laughing, and indeed there is. You can see it from a long way off, and it is very striking because of the way it shoots up out of the flat land that surrounds it. It looked like a great place to stay.

By now, however, it was getting late, and we decided to head for the movie first. Is there a cinema in town? we asked.

"Yes there is," was the reply, "but it's closed for repairs. The nearest ones are in Thurles and Clonmel." The two were at equal distances, one north, one south. We headed north and after some difficulty found Thurles, and the theater, which was of course closed.

Sometimes this kind of thing can be funny, but this was not one of those times. We were tired of driving, tired of looking, and so we said to hell with the movie, let's just have dinner and go to bed.

Easier Said Than Done

We returned to Cashel. Again the great view of the castle as we descended from the hills in the north. Again the experience of the pleasant town around the castle. But there was no room in the inn. We asked at one place and another, and finally found an agreeable woman who made several calls for us.

"There's nothing in town," she concluded. "It's all booked up. The nearest place I know of is in Clonmel. If you want, I'll call and ask them to save a room for you."

"Isn't Clonmel where the other theater is?" I said to Mywatt as we drove off.

"Don't talk about that now," she replied.

But it all had a happy ending. The place in Clonmel was very nice, very clean, incredibly quiet and restful. There was still time to have dinner and see a movie without rushing.

The only film in town was Batman. We would have watched almost anything, we were so desperate. We were a bit curious about the film anyway, since we heard so much about it so far in advance of its release.

But it was a shabby thing. Sure, Batman has a good costume, and a flashy car, and interesting gadgets, and yes, Jack Nicolson did a good job at seeming an embodiment of evil and depravity. I have to admit that I did not want to see a film with Jack Nicolson, but he won me over. I had gotten so tired of seeing him talk with his mouth full of food - he does this in virtually all his films. Perhaps this is part of his charm, but it doesn't work for me. Luckily, in Batman, he does not eat.

I won't say much about Batman, but I do want to say that it seemed to me to be a product of cocaine. I mean that it was not entertaining. I guess it started as a good idea, but was elaborated and strung out by a lot of stupid ideas that seemed exciting and innovative in an office full of drugged executives, but on the big screen it just drags.

We went back to the B&B, which was as quiet a place as anyone could want, and slept the sleep of the just. A flock of cows stared in their unaffected way at our bedroom window, and the moon slid into total eclipse.

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