As We Rejoin Our Heroes:

It is nearly one year since the events I’ve been describing in this little chronicle took place, Pilgrims.  I have received one plaintive note, and that quite some time ago, to bring things to a close.  The fellow is old, and he may want to see things to the finish before he’s finished.  The other five of you who had been following this chronicle have either died already, given up waiting in despair of ever finding out where the pot of gold lay or never really cared. Well, I have picked up the thread and have set to work despite my own inertia of rest.  I pity you coming to this lately with all my heart.  For the rest of you, poor miserable creatures, who had nothing better to do than become interested in our little lives rounded with a trip in a car too small for one: Fear not!  Put down your TV Guide, postpone folding your wash again, and attend.

I shall continue, having become dimly aware that I hadn’t finished.  Truth, a thing I occasionally involve myself with, requires that I tell you this, intrepid reader:  My memory, under the best of circumstances an impoverished thing, seems to have become even more feeble than it has always been.  What you will begin to read below are the first few paragraphs of our trip from Abbeyleix to Killarney on a quiet Saturday morning, our first full day in Ireland.  What I do not remember, now, cannot be told.  But, I have a rather well developed talent for fantasy.  So, should I detect a gap in the story coming on, pardon me if I weave a tale into the telling.  I hope to make those transits from fact and into fantasy seamless, short and few; and, who knows, it may be all the more interesting for the lies I’ll tell you.

Ahem!  We pick op the thread in our hotel in Abbeyleix, after supper.

 

CHANTICLEER SLEEPS WELL

Carolyn, God love her, had gone down after supper to feed the cats and bring at least temporary relief to the mice, voles, the odd squirrel and careless birds who might be interested in a tasty piece of garbage out behind to hotel.  And when she returned to the room at our hotel in Abbeyleix Mariellen and I had already made ourselves as comfortable as we could.  I was on my way to dreamland, a trip I needed to take; the unfinished business of no sleep for a day or so pressing on my eyes.  So, I closed them…

And, then, blankness.

We had left the window open in the room and it was the voices of some fellows down in the parking lot at about 6:00 AM that brought me back, too soon.  My room mates were still asleep, sound asleep.  It had to be early, I thought lying there trying to remember where I was, trying to remember who I was, to orient myself.  Through a break in the thick curtains keeping out the rude daylight, muffling the fellows below, a slim bit of the world outside presented itself; the trees across the street still in shadow and the sky above them merely a ribbon of pink cloud below a thread of blue above disappearing into the dusty yellow drape.  Whether or not I liked it, I was awake as awake can get.

My first duty then, to myself and to the world, was tea.  Actually, my first duty was to get out of the bed…somehow.  Our room established a pattern to be repeated in the other hotels we’d occupy on this trip across the waters.  It was, umm, compact is a good word.  It was so compact that I was left with no more room than a few inches between me and the wall on my side of the bed; a wall as unyielding as walls can be, cold, hard, uncaring and close.  I don’t move well at any time, and especially after lying in bed all night.  All of those things that do move on me ..poorly..during the day take that time to lapse into rigidity.  I thought for a few moments about simply attempting to ooze out, feet first, from the bottom of the bed onto the floor, like some kind of me shaped glob; a white haired octopus.  And, I tried.  But the sheets down there had to have been nailed to the underside of the mattress.  I couldn’t undo the bedclothes.

So, I rolled over and slid one half of me out of the bed, until I was stopped by the wall.  I put my right hand and foot on the floor and managed, God knows how, to kneel on my right leg, then stand on it, then pivot until I was standing facing the wall.  It wasn’t too difficult then to inch out along the bed until I was free.  Once out where normal movement was possible I made for the window sill where we had put all the tea things when we arrived yesterday.  We needed the small desk and the outlets there for our phones and lap top and “gear”.  I took out some plugs and put in some plugs and soon, with a prayer of fervent thanks, was pouring coal black tea into a mug.

By then, Mariellen was awake and Carolyn who had in the universal teenage fashion, and as she would for the rest of the trip, simply wrapped herself in her blanket and, holding her friendly pink elephant, fallen asleep atop the bed covers, began to stir into consciousness.  Stirring into consciousness in no way means that she was anywhere near that state.  It is a long trip, a trek more like it; akin to a Mormon’s march to Utah, or Columbus’ voyage of discovery across the Ocean Sea, Ulysses and his companions beyond the Pillars of Hercules; hazardous, thrilling and fraught throughout with the chance of failure. You know them, the ones who never seem to wake up.  Classrooms and courtrooms are full of them.  So are legislative chambers.

Anyway, it was Saturday in Ireland and our adventure was underway in earnest.

 

IN WHICH I MAKE A DISCOVERY

The time was nearly 7:00am when I finished the tea.  Carolyn had arisen, and we spent a few quiet moments listening to, well, nothing, really.  The fellows below, to whose noises I had awakened, had gone inside the hotel, and all was quiet as we contemplated the next move.  For me it was a shower.  The outside of me felt like the inside of a slime soiled sewer main, and seemed quite as smelly.  So, tea done, I announced I would return shortly a new man and, gathering something from the suitcase which looked as if it was mine and would fit, I entered the bathroom.  It didn’t used to be a bathroom I suspected. Things looked all an afterthought.  Such is often the case I’ve found after many years of travel and many stays in places throughout Ireland.  Catering to Yanks has done amazing things for the plumbing industry in Ireland, and very possibly coined the term “en suite” for the room that replaced the little house in back and the nearby barrel of rainwater.

Anyway, I got down to business, thankful once again that this was an age when such things were done inside, and not outside where the chickens and barnyard cats could look on.  One does not want to scandalize the livestock…or the neighbors.

The preliminaries taken care of I prepared to shower away the last bits of North America I had brought with me.  There was soap.  There was a squidgen of shampoo in an eyedropper sized bottle, even.  There was a bath towel that would have covered a stallion’s back.  What there was not was a wash cloth.  There was, however, a face towel if one’s face was the size of an elephant’s.

Desperate times calling for the same measures I made the “face” towel my wash cloth and showered away, finished and rolled around inside the towel, dressed and returned to the waiting world.

I should have known, you know, that there wouldn’t be a wash cloth.  Such a refinement is not commonly provided in Irish bathrooms we have found. Mariellen was stricken with contrition when I told her what I was forced to do to get by.  She had forgotten to pack one or two of them for the trip.  I forgave her while having a second cup of tea during the time that she and Carolyn dressed. At no time did I think of telling her how difficult it is to wash one’s ears with a wet and soapy ten pounds of towel; though it is good for toning and conditioning arms and shoulders.

By the time we were ready to go to breakfast the whole incident was pretty nearly forgotten.

 

IT’S NOT THE LEAVING OF ABBEYLEIX THAT GRIEVES YOU

Breakfast, they said in the stuff we got when we booked the hotel was to be served in the dining room starting at 7:00am.  It’s quite probable now that I think of it, that they meant 7:00am somewhere else than in Abbeyleix.  We arrived at about 7:15 and were the only people there.  Of other guests or staff there wasn’t the divil of a sign as my grandmother, may she rest in peace, might have said.  The advantage of that was we had our choice of seats.  We chose three near a table set with what appeared to be utensils and serving dishes for the breakfast fixins to come.

Well, it was Saturday, and allowances could be made.  Within a few minutes and for the next ten minutes or so after a young lady came from inside someplace and began bringing out containers and bowls of things to eat: cereals, fruits, juices and milk.  Mariellen and Carolyn made their way. around the table while I ordered The Full Irish Breakfast; advertised in the menu.  And, of course, we ordered more tea.  As the ladies ate, well while Mariellen ate and Carolyn made some lovely re-arrangements of the few things she had put on her plate, I wreaked havoc on eggs, bacon, puddings, tomatoes and mushrooms and about a half of a loaf of brown bread and “lashings” of butter and jam.

We were ready, then for what may come.  It was time to get on with the journey, leave Abbeyleix and strike out for the next bit, Cashel and its Rock, on our way to Killarney.  While the ladies settled up at the desk I moved stuff outside.  We had staged our bags in the lobby before going in to breakfast.  Finding the car was a breeze.  It was one of three in a parking lot which only about 15 hours before looked as if it held most of the cars in Ireland.  Now there were three lonely vehicles, about to be two.  And, not a car went by on the road beside the hotel.

That might be a function of one of the “benefits” joining the EU brought to Ireland.  They built themselves a bunch of new and zippy roads, straight lines, up and down and across the country to bring themselves up to speed.  Towns like Abbeyleix, bypassed, wither in the windy slipstream of progress when that happens.  It once had two hotels.  The other one, just up the road toward the center of town was an eyeless crumbling hulk.  Alas.

 

EXEUNT ALL

After stuffing the car with bags, blankies and pink elephants, I returned to the hotel lobby just as Mariellen was finishing up.  Carolyn, was where I figured she would be, out back giving her breakfast to the cats.  I had a pretty good idea how to get from Abbeyleix to Cashel and from thence (I love that word.  It’s from “Thence” Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, you know.) to Killarney.  But I asked, anyway, since it had been a while would it be best to take the old road or the new EU one which bypassed everything, like a wormhole between galaxies.  The blank stares of the young are the same everywhere, I guess.  The young lady was trying, I knew, but she was using all of her band width just to make her eyes move; and not doing well at all.  She smiled.  We smiled, and waited.

We were about to go looking for Carolyn, and leave, when a fellow walked through the front door.  He had a few miles on him, so I tried my question out again.  “It’s straight on from here,” he said with a wave of his hand out the window at the old road.  “There’s no need of that thing over.  Ye’ll see the entrance though at the cross if ye need to get there before ye leave here.”  They speak just like that for the most part in every place in Ireland outside of a few big deal restaurants and fancy hotels in Dublin; and some colleges I guess.  Joining the EU changed a lot, but not that, yet.

I thanked him for his directions and advice, and the young lady, too, who had a nice smile if little else.  Since Carolyn had joined us and our bill had been payed there was only the leaving of Abbeyleix to accomplish and the ride down the old road “straightaway” to Cashel and its Rock.

 

CROMWELL’S WORK’S WELL DONE

One might argue that without the Lord Protector’s interest in the place, there might well be nothing worth visiting in Ireland.  Take the Rock of Cashel for instance.  It stands, a majestic ruin of monastery and cathedral, on a huge rock over a large plain at the edge of Cashel Town.  From any direction its ruined silhouette is a dramatic signpost of religion run amok, and a reminder of what once was lively, lovely and lost.  On any day it’s crowded; with tourists, crows, black ravens and ghosts, even when the sun shines.  Below it on one side the town lies between and around some hills, in front of it on the broad plain stretching away to mountains on either side another ruin spreads its stones and crumbling walls, an old Augustinian monastery.  Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, even Godot would go well in either place.  Perhaps they have.  Cromwell chose well for his horde’s work.

Our drive down from Abbeyleix was like an arrow shot.  Had it been today that he came the poor monks wouldn’t have had time for a Nunc Dimittis before the righteous rage swept them away.  When we arrived I was surprised at the changes wrought on the place.  There was actually a metered parking lot.  Tour buses, that sure sign of popularity and worth were beginning to pile in and disgorge their forties and more.  We found a spot and meekly wandered up the hill and through the door on a morning cool and sunny, bright and clear.  And, for the next two hours, the three of us, sans interpretive guidance wandered unguided through history and made of it what we could.

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Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 14, 2014

BACKYARD BESTIARY III

YELLOW JACKETS

 


Like Grackles, but worse, the striped insect curse
Of Yellow Jackets, hell borne winged woe, does
Nothing but attack, cause havoc and work
Panic in every place they appear.  Abuzz
With sky borne malice from blossom or bush they,
These bug world Stukas, terrorize all day.

But why?  What of worth must they protect!
Of home or hive or hole there’s none to see;
Though many chambers deep there lives a queen
Attended, protected, curried the while she
Spews out her legions in the night unseen.

Their aggression’s instinct, then, nothing more?
Like the Kahns’, perhaps, or the kid next door!
Seek no further place than that garden same
Where man first sinned.  There fix the cause and blame.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 7, 2014

Backyard Bestiary II

BACKYARD BESTIARY II

THE CAT BEYOND THE FENCE

The cat beyond the fence would deny
He has no right to parade by
The bird feeders every morning
In haughty grandeur, stately majesty,
Expecting some gold finch to fall fawning
Into his open mouth, sacrifice adoring.

What really happens though is this:
The cat just waits for the next mistake
In the bush below the feeder.  As if
It will ever happen he sphinx like sits
Or slinks along the fence skirting the defense
Of the birds who’ve already seen him.

He’s been at it every day for some years now.
I have yet to hear his first triumphant “MEOW!”

Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 5, 2014

A BACKYARD BESTIARY

A BACKYARD BESTIARY

Introduction:

We see all kinds of things in the backyard.  Here are some of them.

Grackles

 

A shadow of Grackles in the trees
In leaves above my head; a plot of them
Whose mere presence brings upset, unease.
The lean, feathered criminals in Congress meet;
Counsel crimes, plunder, ruin to descend.
No songs sing, nor trills repeat
But raw clacks and croaks.  No end
Of mutterings and growls, avian threats
Against my own and others’ peace
From them; who make of buzzards doves,
The clever fox a philosopher, the skunk a love
And timid chickadees of insolent magpies
Who pretend they own rural roads as eagles skies.

Mute among them the Mockingbird stays.
So, too, the Nightingale of sweet songed ways .

Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 31, 2014

The Shadow of Self Disclosing Love

THE SHADOW OF SELF DISCLOSING LOVE

The shadow of self disclosing love
Moves across my face  beneath.  Single light,
It.  Like water where bends a supple doe
Drinking.  Like bright leaf in light wind falling.
As geese fly once more twilight high
While velvet night nestles sleeping child
Sighing to silence, a rhapsody resolving,
It’s ended though is never done;

Ending, yet begun again from ending,
Ends springing, singing, soaring, sighing
Slowing, still. Always, in itself, still, one,
Though full it yearns, burns.  This Shadow though one
Being, fulness, thirsts; endless yearning’s
One, all knowing, still and growing
From full being idea flowing, flown
Full, final, final, never done

Turning, leaving, never gone.
Here alone I hear it singing
Silent.  Listen to light in darkness! Staying.
The Shadow of Self Disclosing Love saying
Who is self disclosing love.  Praying.

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July 31, 2014
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Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 24, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Three)

Shaping Up-Shipping Out

Christmas, 2013, was a quiet time.

We decorated our “trees”, two large potted plants: an orange tree which had grown from a baby into a healthy teenager and a hibiscus tree we’d rescued from the wood chipper several years before.  Now it smiled a dozen or so blossoms in succession at us in appreciation two or three times a year, and was especially festive this Christmas season, sporting three huge crimson blooms against its green foliage.  We hung a few bulbs and strung a few lights up, down and around both of them and settled in for a long winter’s night, quietly, peacefully and contentedly.

On Christmas Day, after Mass, we sat and opened our gifts.  Mine was a great surprise.  Santa Mariellen had brought me a Kindle Fire, the big deal of all Kindles, and way beyond anything I might have asked or wished for.  I was, frankly, a little bit surprised and very delighted.  She smiled and I stuttered.  I think I asked her, while thanking her, why she’d done it.  Ever practical, she answered, telling me that now we didn’t need a cargo plane for the books I might, or she might, want to bring with us to Italy.

Now we both had Kindles.  Besides, mine also had a camera which could take videos. We had some tea and I sat looking at the thing.  Later that afternoon, when I trusted myself and it had been charged, I tried the video camera on our little Christmas corner.  It worked!  One can even hear the Christmas music playing softly in the background.

Oh, no!  I won’t show it to you.  There are, really, better things to see in the kitchen sink after supper’s finished and the dishes cleared away to to wait for the scraping and the sloshing. But, while it is only indirectly related to our adventure, I will show you a photo of the orange tree all lit up:

A Christmas Tree Is What You Call It

I cannot remember if it was on Christmas Day exactly, but soon enough anyway we began to have some Big People discussions.

You see, this thing we had started a month or two before had grown.  And, now we needed to get serious about what we’d bring, in what we’d bring it and how we’d manage to move about as easily and comfortably as possible with our “stuff” once it had been brought and we were stuck with it for a month.  We knew we’d get no help from the airlines since most of them charge by the ounce, it seemed, for anything over one checked bag, and that under forty pounds.  But, we were both allowed that one bag, and both allowed one carry on and one other thing that might be classified as a hand bag; that thing you could stow under the seat in front of you and spend the rest of the flight sitting with your knees just under your chin as a result.  As far as I knew, they could weigh three-hundred pounds each.

Looking at the trip, we determined that we both could get away with a week’s worth of clothing, give or take, before we became a hazard to the community.  I wanted to do what Sheila and I had done during one of our trips to Ireland many years ago; take things we could leave behind us as we went.  She had suggested that we simply buy enough cheap underwear to last us the trip, discard what we wore and return home wearing the last set.  This was not something Mariellen thought a good thing and quite possibly an environmental hazard.  There are some differences between them, after all.  Not insurmountable differences, mind you.  And, in eternity, I suspect, there’ll be no need for underwear.

One day, as our planning and figuring continued, I went to the basement and brought up two small suitcases.  We had taken them with us for the trip to Ireland with our granddaughter Carolyn, and then our own excursion to Germany and France after she had gone home.  That had been only two weeks, though.  Would they do for a trip more than twice as long?  Yes they would, I thought, and reasoned that we had packed things, then, that we never even used.  Keeping that in mind we both decided to take only what we’d need, and even that we might trim down after we’d packed, and before we closed the lid and nailed it shut.

Over the next few weeks while as a combination quartermaster and load-master I experimented with my suitcase, filling and emptying it with bits and pieces of clothes and stuff until I began dreaming of doing just that in Purgatory for a million years, Mariellen continued to fill in the blanks on accommodations and transportation.  One of the highlights during this time was her telling me she had succeeded in getting us booked on the Bernina Express between Switzerland and Italy.  Though I’d never heard of it, that doesn’t mean a darn thing.  It’s a rather famous scenic train trip from Chur, a little town about an hour by train from Zurich, that climbs through the Alps to the Bernina Pass and then wanders back down to Tirano, Italy.  That filled several evenings of happy conversations about mountains and valleys, swift rivers and steep cliffs.

Luggage?  We didn’t talk about it. But what we did talk about as the days grew longer, and morning came earlier, was this.  We were quite settled on not doing any driving at all in Italy.  Shanks mare would be our primary way of getting about.  Trains between cities would handle long distances and when we needed it, we’d take a bus or metro where we could.

Now, about the only places on me that ain’t yet arthritic are my ear lobes and nose end; and God help me if they start to go.  So, I knew, and she knew who had begun having her own “old people” pains, we needed to get into shape, and stay that way if we were going to do what we intended.  And, that meant THE GYM! I was already a member of a nearby Gold’s Gym, but had rarely visited its spartan environs.  All that clanging metal, those mirrors, those girls with more muscles than me and guys with more muscles than Everest I found a disincentive to health and fitness.

But, we needed to do something like this or we’d be spending the last three weeks in some orthopedic hospital in Tuscany.  Great, views, I guess, but not the trip of a lifetime.

So, twice a week, and sometimes more, from February to a couple of days before D-Day(for depart) she and I, the oddest couple in the place, pumped iron, bounced balls, stretched things to the breaking point and ellipticated our way half way to the moon it seemed.  I even developed two pack abs.

Other preparations were underway, too.  Like England in 1943, the house became a staging area; each room and its available surfaces were commandeered for the various puttings in and takings out of what we might never need but couldn’t think of living without.  Along the way I got pretty good at folding things tightly and keeping them that way.  Why, I got so good at it that I could fold my jeans so tightly I could probably have carried an extra pair in the back pocket of the jeans I was wearing.  We finished up packing the night before we would leave and rested without ever having to sit on a suitcase to get it closed.

I was well pleased.  Both of the bags we would check were under the weight limit.  Why, we even had room for more, if more were needed in the things we’d chosen to carry on. Our flight would leave sometime in the early evening the next day, May 26, and our neighbor, Miriam, would drive us to the bus station for the first leg of our trip at 3:00PM.

We were ready. I didn’t sleep a wink.

Just before Miriam came, I opened my suitcase and removed two shirts and one pair of slacks.  Never liked ‘em anyway.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 9, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became A Pilgrimage (Part Two)

What Started Out As… 

The reader will recall that my wife and I had been thinking seriously about taking a cruise in the western Mediterranean; a week long cruise which left from Civitavecchia and made a large circle through that part of the wide world to Livorno, Cannes, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, and Naples before returning to Civitavecchia a week later.  Like most such cruises one spent at least part of a day in each port.  Typically, that meant a mad dash through throngs of peddlers to where the real shopping was; with time enough, if one was lucky, for a few cool ones and a dish of the local gruel while sitting at a less than completely crowded seaside cafe before the whistle blew and we all left Dodge.

These things are really like appetizers, introductions, though I well know there’s a considerable crowd of folks who think  it’s really the things to do.  Having spent seven hours in Spain, they have “done” it, and can add it to the score sheet, the ledger.  What matters most, I suppose, are the buffets, shows and casinos on board, and the stories you can tell around the grill.

I suppose.

We were interested for some of those reasons, of course.  For a while I’d been curious to see what went on beyond the three mile limit. And, to be honest, we did indeed want a peek at some of the places the ship would visit, a life-sized, real life peek.  Our trip up the Rhine a couple of years ago had given us a plate full of “starters” for places I hadn’t really payed much attention to before.  We both wanted to build on that.  Besides, Mariellen herself was eager to spend some time at sea, really at sea.  I would have taken a tug along the same course for that opportunity.

What we would get was a huge thing with 15 or 16 decks, and all the trimmings.  But, more on that later.

With the reservations made we realized that we had Rome on each end of the cruise, waiting.  What could we do there?  We had, after all, just laid out the price of two seats on the 50 yard line at the Stupid Bowl, or darn near it, for a week among several thousand of our closest friends, emphasis on the close.   Over the course of the next few weeks “there” became quite a few places spread across the peninsula from Rome to Milan.  We dreamed aloud, and wished to each other of where and how, and how long.  She set to work, she did, and planned a perfect itinerary for us.  What had started out as a week on the water, and two half days getting there and getting back home became almost a month before and after that trip; a month, almost, by train;  zig-zagging from Milan to Venice, and then to Florence, Siena, Assisi and Rome.

Rome, being Rome, was special.  We decided to spend five days there before the trip and another eight days there after it was over, trading our sea legs for our land legs.  Well, the decision really wasn’t like that.  Mariellen said something like “Dear, do you think it would be good to…”  And I said something like, “That sounds good. ”  Sometimes I said, “Why not?”  Often I simply said, “O.K.”   I don’t think I ever said “Make it so.”  I know I thought of saying it once or twice, but I have been a husband long enough to know not to be so cavalier about my safety.

Two things really impressed me during the several months that she worked on building this excursion: It was her idea, I am pretty sure, to travel by rail once we had gotten over there; except, of course, when we would be on board our cruise ship.  I never said it aloud, but the idea of driving in Italy gave me nightmares.  Actually having seen  what driving in Italy really was like still gives me nightmares.  Finally, it was her idea to arrange for us to fly into Zurich on Icelandic Air, and return home via Aer Lingus with a stop-over in Dublin.  That was because they were the cheapest fares.

There was another reason for Zurich as our port of entry:  She really wanted to fly into Switzerland because that would mean we could connect with Milan via a scenic rail trip through the Alps. We had spent a day in Lucerne at the end of our river cruise, famous for cheese, wine and a big lake beneath some bigger mountains, and had seen the mountains for exactly twenty minutes.  Someone had drawn the drapes of thick clouds that covered them, a mercy that allowed us the merest peak at their snow robed majesties.  It was good advertising, anyway, because we immediately wanted more.

So, when Mariellen discovered this “little engine that could trip” through the mountains that would drop us on Italy’s northern frontier after four hours through troll country in terms that made it sound like a once in a lifetime thing my first thought was, “How many times can you do that?”  Telling me all about it, and showing it to me on the map allowed me to say, “Gee, that sounds great.”

Turns out, I was right.

Well the thing took shape bit by bit over the next month or so.  Every couple of days, it became more real as she’d report on another reservation made in another place, travel to another city via another train, some of them very new, clean and zippy things with more legroom than I’ve ever experienced, enough room for another two legs if I needed them; some of them tired old work horses “gaily” decorated, lamentably, with what seems to have become the major form of artistic expression in Europe, graffiti.  (Put your money in spray paint producers over there.) I’ll confess that as this happened and Mariellen began to get more excited about it, and as I did too, I also began to get a little apprehensive; especially I felt this way after my birthday.  I was now 72, and beginning to feel it

Silly me.  She had that covered, too.  We began training twice a week at a nearby gym.  Mountains?  Bring ‘em!

Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 30, 2014

Italy: A Vacation That Became A Pilgrimage (Part One)

A Steal of A Deal:

We had returned from our two weeks in Ireland and Germany, parts of which I have told about here ( and not finished telling ) over the past dozen or so months. Winter was settling in with all of winter’s gifts…and woes.  And Mariellen, God bless her, was exploring ways in which we might put it all behind us.  I remained in blithe ignorance of her secret plans and plots; except for the occasional snatch of conversation, that is.  “We had such a wonderful time in Ireland with Carolyn, and wasn’t the week in Cologne and Strasbourg just great?  Where do you think we ought to go next, Dear?”  She would put the question innocently enough, and just as innocently, I would answer without any thought of cost, logistics, planning or execution.

My idea of doing something like what we had just done is along the lines of most ideas I have.  Should I ever be placed in charge of planning something great, like a Presidential Inauguration or a Pontifical High Mass in St. Peter’s I would simply tell folks, “Show up at about 11:00am.  Things should be over at about 1:00pm.  Then we’ll go downstairs for some sandwiches and beer.  No shorts or bare feet.”  Had I planned the Normandy Invasion, a mob of us would have kicked in the door early one morning, and beat the snot out of everyone….in Peoria, I suppose.

Mariellen’s different.  Her Normandy would have taken place after Mass on a sunny day in May.  The Other Guys, having been properly informed of an invasion, would have welcomed us on the beach with some cold cuts and cheese, beer for the enlisted swine and chilled Riesling for the officers; then they would have cheerfully surrendered Europe and gone marching home.  Of course I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit.  The rain does indeed never fall until after sundown when my wife plans.  Her predecessor was of the same smoothly efficient character.  It was Sheila who taught me about “hospital corners”.  Before meeting her I’d as soon have stuffed an undershirt between the mattress and box spring as the edge of a sheet.

Anyway, a week or so after this short exchange, Mariellen wondered aloud if we should think about taking a cruise.  And I wondered right back at her.  Where, my wondering led me to mention, would the cruise take us?  Then she said she had found a very good deal on Norwegian Cruise lines for a 7 day cruise around the western Mediterranean.

Full disclosure, here.  After I left high school I was a merchant mariner for a while.   The months I spent at sea have supplied me with a lifetime of dreams and memories.  I loved the idea of going back and was enthusiastic about going…as soon as possible.  Further full disclosure:  When Mariellen says she has found a very good deal, you can bet it is even better than the deal the Dutch got on Manhattan.

Well, this trip would wait a while.  It was a whole year and a half away, and pretty darn cheap for what they were giving us: seven days at sea, seven ports, a room with a view and slippers at Macy’s basement prices.  I’m lying about the slippers, but we did get cutely folded towels.  The added benefit was that we would have paid for it months before we left for Rome (Italy, not New York.)  We would catch the ship in Civitavecchia, Rome’s port city these days, and sail to seven ports around, really, the northwestern Mediterranean; reaching port in the morning and sailing in the evening.

One of the ports of call, the one that interested me the most, was Barcelona, Spain, the home of the architect Antoni Gaudi and his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  The others could wait.  They would be nice to see, even Rome, I admitted in my quiet moments, but this one place where this one building was, was all that was in my bucket, on my list, when I learned what the tour’s itinerary was.  It didn’t take long to make up our minds and decide to go.

OK, Rome would be nice, but we would be in and out on both ends of the trip.  What would be the sense of investing too much time in thinking what one could do in Rome…the Eternal City, after all…during an afternoon or two.  I began to think of other places we might spend a few days in either before or after the cruise to my own personal Shangri La.

Someone else was also thinking about the same thing.  And, therein lies the tale I hope to tell; a tale of adventures, laughs, great meals in great places, unexpected friends and unexpected enemies, mild difficulties and little discomforts, incredible beauty and surpassing  joy.  I say I hope to tell it because I know the teller of the tale; someone who is easily distracted; distracted by something like this, for instance.

P1080336

Somewhere at Sea on the Mediterranean

 

Posted by: Peadar Ban | May 19, 2014

Wearing The Very Stars

This poem below is something I wrote after reading and thinking about another poem called “Visitation” by Trevor Erickson which appears in the current edition of StAR, The St. Austin Review .

 

WEARING THE VERY STARS

“I must to my kinswoman go
Beyond the fields of home.
This little town leave upon the rising road
Through wind twisted olive groves
And over shining crystal streams.

Go to the Hill Country by paths so old
Now, deep ruts among rock and stone.”
She does not go alone. No!
Eternity she carries, her son, God’s own
Within.  So much more she is than seems.

Such a cargo slows her youthful haste
While dark eyes: grim, rude, cruel, stare
Out at easy prey along the lonely way.
But stare is all that they do. “Another day,”
They growl, slink away.  She confounds, confuses cruelty.

Pausing at the highest peak
She waits the waning day,
The reverence of constellations;
Receives the sun’s glowing robes
The ministry of the silver moon.

Mary, wearing the very stars, walks on.

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May 19. 2014

Posted by: Peadar Ban | May 14, 2014

FOUR AM, MAY 14. 2014

Four AM, May 14, 2014

It was just four the big clock’s numbers read
When I woke up and saw them from my bed.
Calm, night ruled quietly.  The sun slept still
Miles away beyond the woods and homes and hills,
Beyond the river running down to the sea
When I rose and left my bed silently.

Downstairs I put the kettle on to boil
And put a tea bag in my mug and all.
The while waiting I thought to go outside
To see how was the world; a thing I’ve tried
And liked doing since I was a young boy.
Alone while the world awakes is a joy.

I can imagine myself witnessing
Creation’s wondrous leap first light always brings
To mind, or listen for wind’s first breath drawn
As if the world is happy for the dawn.

A mist of rain, droplets whispering, fell
Softly on my face, the rain’s sound and smell
A welcome at the break of day beyond
River’s deep run.  Above my head I found
No stars at all, but thinnest ragged scree
Of clouds between time here, eternity
Whitened shade of blue above, shallow sea.

I went back when robins in the trees awoke
To choir morning’s coming as day broke.

peg
May 14, 2014

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