I was twenty-three years old and working at a dead-end job when my boyfriend, a graduate student, was offered a chance to do a semester abroad in Paris. This boyfriend spoke no French and had never been abroad, whereas I spoke some French and had spent one week in Paris the year before. This made me something of an expert. Not for nothing had I slogged through all sixteen French tenses in college, including those used to demarcate actions intended, actions completed, and fleeting actions long anticipated whose ultimate execution leaves you feeling strangely hollow.

The semester abroad came with a small stipend but nowhere to live and so it fell to me to find us an apartment to sublet. Every morning I combed the classifieds atop our tiny hotel bed and called every listing only to find the apartments already rented. Unfortunately, I was not making a very good first impression, confusing as I did the word l’annonce (which means “an advertisement”) with the word l’avertissement (which means “a warning”). This confusion would come to seem fateful.

I hardly remember the first weeks, considering all that would come later, except for the cold and the dwindling money, the sense of impending doom, the consistently bad water pressure. After days of costly phone calls, only one option remained. L’avertissement read:

5th, M. Jussieu. Flexible availability. 2 rooms, 26m2 furnished flat w/ bathtub, American kitchen, 800 €/m. 5-6 months.

(The “American kitchen” is local terminology for a studio-sized kitchen nook without proper counter space or an oven; in other words, small, like America.)

I called the landlord immediately.

“Bonjours, j’appelle au sujet de l’avertissement de immobiliers,” I began.

“HELLO?! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? PARLEZ ANGLAIS? HELLO?”

“Oh, yes, hello, I speak English.”

“SO, YOU DO SPEAK ENGLISH? DO YOU? SPEAK ENGLISH? GOOD. THIS IS MARGUERITE DELUCA.”

(It’s important to note that while I will shortly abandon the practice of writing her words in all capital letters, Ms. Marguerite Deluca will in fact continue to speak in all capital letters. Every single word she says.)

Only a few hours later, I would find myself face to face with Ms. Marguerite Deluca.

Or Margaret Deluca, as she called herself both names indifferently. Marguerite was a mustachioed American woman of Armenian extraction, 70 years old, divorced. She had lived in Paris many years, but retained homes in the States and elsewhere. She was a “feminist,” by her own frequent labeling, and a “liberal,” though her political opinions seemed more like an amalgamation of personal grievances against celebrities (she loathed Madeleine Dietrich) and vague, incontrovertible assertions (she liked women, and the poor.)
Marguerite had decided to sublet her apartment in Paris for six months while she returned to the United States for a minor surgery. She had placed l’avertissement months before, but when I arrived that afternoon, she had not packed a single item or even booked a plane ticket—and she was still not sure she even was going. In the meantime, she was planning to go to Nice to “decompress.” (Marguerite spoke with a strange slang, combining the worst of many decades with her own irrepressible gusto and grating Boston accent. She might speak of something being “plastic,” then end a sentence with an enthusiastic “baby!” as in “We’re just working one day at a time, baby!”)
The coveted apartment had a front living room, a small bathroom, an incredibly American kitchen, and a separate bedroom. The building was graceful, lovely, and old. All the apartments had charming French windows with charming French shutters that made you feel like you were in that one Egoïste commercial.  However
Marguerite had saved every single item she had ever laid her hands on in the last twenty years. The filthy apartment was crammed with filthier garbage—spoiled food, mildew and mold, soiled underwear. It reeked of dust, urine, rotting wood, and that inexpressible but instantly recognizable smell of old person. Marguerite washed all her dishes in the bathtub. The bathtub was therefore encrusted not only with mold and grime, but with pieces of food. The bathroom shelf contained a Smithsonian exhibit on turn-of-the-century cosmetics: witch hazel languished next to lipstick still made with real whale blubber, while nail polish silently atrophied alongside safety razors that predated plastic and weighed 1.5 pounds each. Underneath the wretched sink, tubs of dirty dishes floated in their filmy water, propped up by a broken stool, a sopping wet piece of foam rubber, and two plastic tubs of assorted crap, all topped with the aforementioned soiled underwear.
The kitchen was a moldering closet piled high with unimaginable garbage. She had saved every food wrapper, every lid and jar. Piles of margarine tub lids—just lids—rubber-banded together. Half a dinner plate. The rest of the house was stuffed with magazines, newspaper clippings, clothing and shoes, linens, hats, plastic and paper bags, and just about every imaginable item, piled high on every surface, everywhere. There was an unwrapped bar of soap in the bed sheets; a jagged pane of broken glass; there were three conical piles of salt on the rug; there were rugs and posters stored flat between the mattress and box spring.
The rug was encrusted with every possible pollution. By her own admission, she never vacuumed it, preferring instead to sweep at it with an old dust broom. Once, she declared proudly, she had scrubbed the rug with hair shampoo from the bathroom.
Sometimes I put hair shampoo on it, to clean it. Instead of going to get carpet shampoo‘cuz how do you do that?!”
She then suggested I try “dyeing” the rug by pouring coffee on it.
We took the apartment.
Marguerite originally promised that we could move in on Sunday, then switched it to Wednesday. As Wednesday dawned, the new move-in date became Friday. And so it went, for weeks on end. Our budget depleted, we were forced to give up our hotel room and spend the interim days in a youth hostel, an experience like living in a homeless shelter, but without the free soup.

We spent our mornings assisting Marguerite with her excavations, running her errands, buying her croissants, carrying her packages, and taking her phone calls. Her dedicated pack of friends visited daily, crowding the apartment with boxes, trunks, and conflicting bits of advice. From time to time she would capture a young, guileless Canadian or Australian tourist and lure him back to our home to listen to her stories of Vietnam War protests and lovers lost.  All the while Marguerite fanned herself from her ragged folding chair, imparting bits of wisdom like, “Be careful what you drink. The other day I drank some soap, I thought it was olive oil.”

Our evenings were spent out roaming the streets, buying time away from the insufferable backpackers with whom fate had bound us, half a dozen not-so-young world travelers wrapped in filthy North Face polar fleece, ambling through one of the world’s most fashionable cities looking like it was laundry day at forestry school.

Weeks passed; at last we were installed in the apartment, paying regular rent, and still the recipients of regular visits from Marguerite. We had simply exchanged places, and now it was she who was staying at the Young and Happy youth hostel down the street. She still came over in the mornings, always without a call or an invitation, to “pack” for America. She would plop down in her broken wicker chair and tell me, “You can just start the water for some tea, and there are tea bags in the kitchen.”

And then, with a lordly gesture, “You can just take these suitcases next door.”

And what did Marguerite pack in these suitcases for her excursion back to the youth hostel? A duffel bag full of instant soup and moldy tangerines she had dug out of her own trash can.  “They’ll be alright if you peel them.”

Her last night in Paris, Marguerite arrived with a confused-looking young man in tow.  This handsome German boy was staying at Young and Happy with Marguerite bullied him into carrying some boxes to our apartment for her.  He came in, set the boxes down with the utmost care, and stood awkwardly in the corner, trying to figure out how long he was obligated to stay.

It was time for l’avertissement.

I led him quickly down the stairs and whispered to him in stilted German, “Whatever you do, avoid Marguerite.  Really, you must flee from her.”

“I think she is crazy.”

At that point, Marguerite threw a pair of boots down three flights of stairs.  One landed within inches of my head.

“Jesus!” I shouted in English.  “Why did you agree to follow her here?”

He replied honestly and a little sadly, with his halting accent, “I didn’t know where I was going.”

I escorted him back through the cobbled courtyard.

“Why do you stay here?” he asked me.

“Because this is the only apartment left in Paris.”


 

We have two fish ponds: one inside, in an atrium, which holds six to seven hundred gallons of water and a larger one outside in the yard containing three to four thousand gallons of water.

This is a snapshot of some of the atrium koi several years ago. (We didn’t have “Pretty Blue” or his siblings at this time.)

Here are a few pictures of our outside pond with some of the fish and some of their babies:

 

 

The above picture is the outside fish’s babies.  There are zillions.

We just found out that our suicidal koi are not unique. Koi actually are known for leaping out of their enclosures, because they love to jump and they don’t have the sense to crawl with their little fins back into the water. We got some pretty, but different, fish for the atrium, since attrition was decimating the atrium pond. We toyed with trying to catch the remaining koi and putting them in the larger outside pond. They would have been happier and safer in terms of jumping out there, but there were other problems involved. First of all, it is supremely difficult to catch fish in a net. I know you don’t believe that, but you should just try it sometime. Fish don’t do much, but they are extraordinarily good at defensive swimming. The second problem is that koi swim at the top of the water and are brightly colored so that they are easily spotted by hungry fish-eating birds. The birds here in Miami Beach use our pond like a sushi bar. Here is a photo of a Giant Egret, one of our frequent diners:

There are also Great Blue Herons.

and Cormorants

Our back yard is their favorite hangout.

We started adding different species of fish in the atrium; fish that would be satisfied with their lot in life and had no thoughts of suicide or Olympic-style leaping.

After a while, we noticed that one fish at a time would become lethargic and spend more and more time sitting on the bottom, looking depressed.  We didn’t think it was a good sign for fish to sit on the bottom of the pond.  We tried to think of something to put in the atrium pool that would be fun for them. We already had a fountain and oxygen bubblers that they had always seemed to enjoy. Then, one at a time, some of the newer fish started spending some time on their sides, but then they would shake themselves off and start swimming again. We were mystified.

Then the fish that were doing the sidestroke started also moving with the flow of the water from the fountain, before, again, shaking themselves off and swimming again.

After a time, the sidestrokers would, one at a time, do their final swim and lie on their sides and give up the ghost.

We decided to try to put one of the side stroking fish outside in the big pond. Perhaps the new fish needed to be out in a bigger world and would thrive outside.

The next day, another fish in the atrium started doing the sidestroke. Victor scooped him up in a Tupperware and set him down on the table. The light happened to be on. The water was teeming with tiny pale green, almost clear creatures with tiny little legs and two tiny little eyes. When we looked at the fish, the poor little guy was crawling with these creatures.

Then we realized we had made a big mistake. When we had put the first sidestroker into the big outside pond, we introduced whatever these little creatures were into a pond alive with hundreds of fish.

Uh oh.

We researched it. We had fish lice. “Well, at least the fish lice isn’t bothering the koi,” Victor said. The next morning, “Pretty Blue,” our biggest blue koi was floating and getting pale. (Another thing we have learned is that when fish die, they quickly lose their beautiful color. I wonder if that happens to people….) We were distraught. Naturally it was Friday, as you all know everything bad happens on the weekend when you can’t get any help. We went to every fish-related store we could find in Miami and none of them had the required medicine to put in the water.

Victor found what we needed on the web and we ordered tons of it, but it’s past the middle of the week and none of it has arrived as of yet, even though we paid for rushed delivery.

If you don’t know what fish lice are, let me show you a YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10DfVPYJ0jg

Keep in mind that this is a YouTube of one fish louse. Imagine thousands. Picture them crawling all over our beautiful fish like the slimy alien creatures that they are.

The mantra around our house is: “If any survive, the medicine should clear this right up!”

I wish I hadn’t named them all. Victor warned me not to get so attached, but he’s all talk. He was devoted to them too. In fact, he’s the one who named “Pretty Blue.”

We are hopeful that the fish lice poison comes before we leave for our vacation. I get itchy just thinking of the creepy things sucking the life out of our sweet fish. There’s definitely still time for it to arrive since we don’t leave for a week. We did pay for rushed delivery!

 

Authors note: If you notice in a week or so that I am not commenting on the wonderful stories up on TNB, please do not feel slighted. We will be away for almost four weeks with very limited Internet access. I will be with you in spirit, and I can say with certainty that I appreciate, applaud and am shocked to pieces by everything that you all are about to write, (except maybe the sports and music pieces, for which I am profoundly sorry for not understanding.)


Victor is all excited. He finds a deal on the net for an Air Canada trip to Toronto for only $68! He buys our tickets and we’re all set to go June 24th and come home on June 28th. We have never been to Toronto before.

He finds a great deal on a motel. We don’t waste money on hotels; you just sleep there, after all.

So we’ve got a king-sized bed, non-smoking, in the Super 8 above the Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown.

On the airplane, the flight attendant asks me where we’re going. I say we’re going to Toronto, thinking it’s obvious, since that’s where the plane is going. She says, “You mean you’re not traveling through Toronto, you are going to stay there? Now?”

“Sure,” I say, “why not?”

“Well, the G-20 is there at the same time, and those meetings are known for outsiders causing violence,” she says.

“Seriously?” I say.

“Oh, yeah,” she says, shaking her head.

Well, I think, we’ll be in Chinatown; we’ll be out of the trouble.

When we get off the plane the airport is like the Tower of Babel.

 

So many people in all kinds of strange clothes speaking so many different languages, all of us walking back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, the snaking line that lasts forever to Passport Control.

(When we get to Passport Control, the officials are all wearing Kevlar.)

Then we go to pick up our bags. We have the only suitcases which are not fully sealed in pink saran wrap. We are not pushing carts full of taped over boxes and bags. We’re just rolling two small suitcases.

(The baggage handlers are wearing Kevlar.)

Then we enter the mayhem of an octopus-like line which feeds many lines into one long line to Customs.

(All the customs agents are wearing Kevlar.)

Taxis are not yellow in Toronto! We finally line up for a taxi and got a taxi driver who didn’t speak English, just like home. Toronto doesn’t look any different from a biggish city in the States, except there are Moose everywhere.

 

(The taxi driver was not wearing Kevlar.)

When we get to the Super 8, we find out that we have to wear special yellow bands around our wrists to prove we are bona fide tourists.

 

The museums and many tourist sites are closed, as well as the whole lake area of the city, for the sake of the muckety mucks.

Well, not a problem, I think, we can just walk the city and see what it looks like and see what is open. There are lots of interesting people around and about like Mr. Peru:

 

 

The next day we

Walk.

All.

Day.

This is what Victor likes to do on vacation.

(The meter maids are wearing Kevlar.)

We stop for a latte and the Frenchy French guy asks us if we heard all the commotion. There was a bomb scare on the corner. There wasn’t a bomb, so we didn’t hear anything.

Everywhere we walk there are people gathering and police gathering, with piles of apples, for energy.

 

 

A police car is on fire down the street. We go the other way. Many policemen are on foot, running up the block. We hurry across the street.

Some group — an offshoot of the peaceful financial Luddites — has a name with “Black” in it. They are not peaceful. They all have backpacks and blend in with the crowd and then apparently change into black. When they wear the black clothes, they put on their balaklavas and start swinging heavy objects at the glass windows. Starbucks, banks, record stores, Foot Locker, random small businesses, are all getting trashed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

We go back to the hotel. On the news there is yet another police car on fire. The police do not have permission to do anything. They just keep backing up. These are the most polite policemen on the planet. Canadian policemen don’t want to bother anyone, even evildoers. Police on foot, police on bicycles, police on motorcycles, Police in vans rented from Budget, police in school busses, in Greyhound buses and, my personal favorite: The MOUNTIES!

 

 

(All the police wore Kevlar, but the horses didn’t appear to be wearing any.)

Firetrucks are wailing down the streets, one after another. Ambulances are wailing down the streets too. People stop us and say, “These are not people from Toronto, or even Canada, doing this, you know.”

They seem embarrassed. Canadians are really nice.

Take a look at this store and tell me they are not the cutest!

 

 

 

There is a commotion up ahead.  Paramedics are taking a stretcher out of an ambulance. A huge, Canada-size white guy is comatose on the sidewalk. His legs are in shorts and the skin you can see is covered with weeping sores.

“Anyone know this man here?” says the ambulance lady.

All the vagrants walk away as though they never saw him before.

“You just left him here like this?” she says.  She is disgusted with people. She’s obviously seen too much of this sort of thing.  Even in Canada, it happens.

On the third day it’s pouring buckets out, but off we go on our 8 to 10 mile forced march. Luckily it stops raining for a while and is just spitting until later in the afternoon.

In case my kids are worried because they happen to see the news, I email them.

This is my email:

 

Dear Kids,

We’re fine.

Been quite a day.

Tell you about it when we get home.

Love, MOM

 

This is what Sara writes back:

 

Oooh! Drama! Can’t wait to hear about it. I hope you were charged with civil disobedience along with the anarchists! It’s about time the authorities were alerted to the societal hazard that you two represent. I’m just saying.

–smz

 

This is what Victor emails to all the kids:

 

Subject: Mom’s day of rage

Sara, et. al.

Mom was not charged with civil disobedience but….

Here’s what happened:

We were walking down College Street where some of the largest gatherings were taking place. There was a large crowd of young folks full of energy (no black clad thugs, just kids with honest, if misguided, ideas.) Before I knew what was happening, Mom had ripped off her shirt, fashioned her bra into an ersatz headband and was running down the street yelling “Freedom now” harkening back to the protests of yore. Well, with all the violence, the police were not amused. She was charged with “public indecency” rather than civil disobedience, taken into custody for several hours and the released after being fingerprinted, photographed and made to pay a substantial fine. I believe she was released because the authorities felt that seeing herself on the local evening news was punishment enough. At least she stuck to her principles and feels she “has made a real difference.”

An interesting vacation.

Dad

 

The next day, round about LA waking up time, we get a call on our cell phone from Lenore.

We told the kids to email us if they needed us, and only to call in an emergency because it is 71 cents a minute to call Canada from the States. We think something is wrong with Lenore.

 

“I got your email,” Lenore says, quiet and serious.  “Does mom have a record now?”

Lenore, my sophisticated child, (with a doctorate,) is completely taken in by Victor’s joke.

Please take a moment to read Victor’s email again.

My daughter believed this of me.

This is me:

 

 

Do I look like an anarchist to you?

I have nothing more to say.



A closer look at what you should be reading

When the fabulous Gina Frangello approached me to write a monthly column about books that cross my desk, my first thought was, “There are so many books, how will I decide what gets mentioned?”What I’ve realized is I have no formula for that except to say, if it’s unique in style or voice, I keep reading. Cover art is often alluring when I decide to pick up a book but ultimately, what matters most are the words on the page, how they fit together. Do they tell me a story or evoke emotion? If the answer is yes, I turn the pages. I think of writer in the same way I do an architect.A writer is in charge of building something beautiful and making it their own with style and imagination. Whether they place the words on the pageso they sound and feel good to say out loud or create a text that’s visually interesting to read or develop multi-faceted characters that feel as if they could be you or someone you know—all of these things make writing fascinating and help to build amazing stories. It’s what really happens between the pen and paper, or rather the fingers and the keyboard that count. What I do know is there are far more books than there are hours in the day for me to read every single one that’s sent to me; however I’ll try to keep you abreast of the best in my TBR pile. So, here’s some of what I’ve recently read. I hope that it resonates with you, dear reader, in some way.

Ah, vacation.  Those three syllables that once a year symbolize escape.  Escape from our lives, escape from what we know to go look upon something as yet unseen by our own eyes.  At least that’s what I like to do, and preferably in a foreign country.  This year, as dictated by ticket price alone, it was Ireland: Land of the green pastures and hauntingly sad songs; land of Guinness, local pubs and rich in history and castle ruins from long ago.  My fatherland.

My pockets not being large, it seemed prudent at the time to attempt to avoid large cities, and possibly find a place to stay that offered a kitchen.  At first I dreamed of staying in a castle.  I had Rapunzel fantasies brewing and castle after castle appeared before my eyes as Google lead me on my search for shelter.  I forgot, however, that Rapunzel and the like were princesses and either owned their castles outright or had themselves a hefty inheritance to pay all the servants.  And so I, peasant that I am, decided it wasn’t so bad to be one of the common people, look what happened to Marie Antoinette, after all, and abandoned my castle dreams.  What I found next was charming enough; cottages.  It turns out the Irish are nuts about renting cottages, particularly in a little area south of Galway called The Burren, and so I did.

Sounds stark, doesn’t it?  It is.  And then it isn’t.  The Burren is partly a nature conservancy and mostly farm land.  It’s identifying and unique feature is the limestone that covers absolutely everything.  It has been eaten away by rain and, being porous and easily degraded, the rocks have become uniquely divided, yet smooth.  It is common to see erratics; large boulders sitting atop small pedestals of limestone, the rock having protected the stone underneath from eroding and thus leaving itself on display and often mistaken by tourists…okay me…for some Paleolithic monument.  “How did they do that?”  It wouldn’t be Ireland if it wasn’t also green.  The rocks are only visible thanks to the wind and the cows as otherwise grass and moss would cover everything and never let us know what lies beneath.  The Paper King, my partner in crime this trip, was incredulous that something so large might graze on such difficult and craggy landscape.

“Cows can’t get up these hills,” he proclaimed as I watched, with glee, his foot descend dangerously close to evidence that they certainly can.

I live in a city, and so remote sounded just perfect to me.  No car alarms, no horns, no people shouting, and no construction equipment backing up at 6 AM right outside my window.  Heaven!  As we drove into The Burren, I was ecstatic.  It seemed I would, indeed, be getting away from it all.  The directions to the main house for key pick-up were: Turn right into Bell Harbor and I’m the second house in next to the pub.  She was.  A smaller town there never was.  Three houses in town and all the same, there was a pub.  Our landlord led the way to our rented cottage another mile or so away.  We turned right up a dirt road and bounced our rented Nissan Micra up over stone and dirt to come upon home for the coming week.  She took our money, cash only, and turned to go leaving us with these parting words:

“They’ll be doin’ a bit o’ work on the road here.  Sorry ‘bout that, but they just told me.  They’ll be done in a day anyhow.  Enjoy!”

Damn!  Well okay, one day, I guess that’s not so bad.  And the road did really need to be smoothed out.  With The Burren laid out in front of me, I was ready to let it go and get my walking shoes on.

The Beginning

“Let’s walk to the Abby!”  I proclaimed.  One of the reasons I chose The Burren was the plethora of ruins available in the area dating all the way back to the 4th century B.C.  The Abby was a medieval ruin visible from the cottage, and I was hot to get to my first historical site.  My parents, I’m sure, are incredulously shaking their heads as I did nothing but complain about such adventures as a child.  Well, you are vindicated.  It rubbed off and now I drag other unsuspecting souls to stare amorously at large piles of rock.  We set off down our beat up driveway avoiding cow dropping after cow dropping along the way.  I had truly escaped!  We’d asked our hostess how to get to the Abby and she’d given directions that seemed straight forward enough.  But as we continued up the road looking and looking for the correct turn off, it became clear we’d misunderstood something.  Not so hard to do when taking directions given in such a manner as this:

“You’ll come to a road on the right.  You don’t take that one.  Keep going and you’ll see a road on the left.  You don’t want that one either.  Not the second but the third right.  You’ll come to some land with cows in it and it’s my pasture, so don’t worry yourself about it.  Cross over that and you’ll come to The Green Road.  Take that a ways and you’ll find the Abby.”

Well I’ve got news for you.  Everything is a pasture, they all have cows in them, and there’s no such thing as The Green Road.  And so it happened that we walked two miles up the road, and not anywhere near my desired destination.  We did, however, find a road people seemed to be using as a walking path over the mountain and took that.  It was beautiful.  Views of Galway Bay lay beneath us and rocky green in front.  The sky was perfect and the air cool.  You couldn’t have painted it better.

Until, of course, around mile 4 when my blood sugar gave out.  We’d not planned on such a hike, you see, and thus had neglected to pack food or water.  My close friends know that I am two people.  My every day self is rather happy and easy to get along with.  My hypoglycemic, evil twin is a real bitch.  I do everything I can to keep her under wraps, but after 4 miles of hiking on craggy rocks with no food or water, my inner soul was crying out “Danger Will Robins!  Danger!”  And poof, there she was.  The Paper King, in a valiant effort to save himself, made rash promises of dinner at the pub as we’d have to walk past it to get home.

“I have money!  It’s only another mile, you’ll make it.  Just around that corner and we’re there.”

We weren’t there, of course.  It was another two miles to the pub but it lay like a beacon in the night and it brought me ever forward.  Finally we rounded the turn.  I all but ran to the door, pulled on the handle and nearly sat down to cry as it held fast.   The door was locked, the pub was closed, and my boyfriend nearly lost an arm in the aftermath.

Food

Let me make the bold proclamation to vegetarians everywhere…stay away!  There’s nothing for you.  One might imagine that with Europe so close at hand, you would find a selection of international cuisine and that large portions of it might be prepared by people of it’s origin.  It seems, however, that the French, Italian, and German folk have rejected Ireland as a place to put down roots, thus leaving the indigenous people to recreate regional dishes on their own.  Not a good plan.  Not a good plan at all.  Largely, the Irish seem to have decided not to try, which may actually be better for the ethnic food lovers of the world.  Of the non-Irish food we had, the best was the Thai dinner we ate in Dublin, and of that, I can only speak highly of the soup.  We tried one Italian spot and the pasta may well have been Stouffers.  The pub food was admirable, as pub food goes.  You really can’t go wrong with fried potatoes.  Ordering a salad, however, can be harrowing.  I ordered a vegetable plate, looking desperately for something green and healthy, and was brought a plate with cole slaw, cheese, and carrots drenched in vinaigrette.  Breakfast was equally daunting as runny eggs shared a plate with baked beans and something called black and white pudding.  Said puddings I believe to have parts in them and, while parts is parts, I like to know from whence my parts come and preferably they come from a plant.  I was fairly sure these didn’t, although no one was certain what comprised pudding after all.  Lunch and dinner didn’t look much better.  At a local bistro, one could order the following: “The Peelers Plight: Local Potatoes, hung drawn and quartered, tarred with Sour Cream and feathered with chives.”  or “The Dolmen: A quarter pound of Burren Mionain Burger embalmed with relish, buried with Tomato and Onion under a slab of Savory Bun, standing in a field of salad.”  Now do we really need to turn potato skins into a bloody massacre?  And if I did eat meat, I’m certain I wouldn’t want it to be embalmed with anything!  It’s a wonder anybody eats out.

Poop

I must take a quick moment for the poop.  It was truly everywhere.  There was no escaping it.  The cow patty didn’t seem to exist.  All the cows have chronic diarrhea or parasites or something because it was drizzled over every patch of ground and made me long for the round, disc shaped piles of crap found in our own fields.  It must be the extra chloroform in the grass.  Not only was it runny, it almost fluoresced.  Yet another reason Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.  Who knew?

Driving

Rip off #1: Car rental.  Since we were staying is such a remote area, it seemed prudent to rent a car for getting around.  I did a little search on the web and found a real steal of a deal through Budget.ie; 88 Euro for the week!  Who’d ever heard of such a thing?  With taxes and insurance, I really expected it to come to a about 150 Euro but still, very reasonable.  We arrived in Galway and low and behold the Budget office sat right there across the square from the train station.  How convenient!  This was going well already.  Sitting down at the desk, I pulled out my information happily, knowing I was getting such a bargain.  Living in New York, I don’t have a car and thus don’t have my own auto insurance.  I know Visa covers the basics but as I was to be driving on the left for the first time and as the round about system is treacherous, I wanted coverage for damage to the car and any persons I may inadvertently hit.  Bad idea, as I didn’t hit anyone, although I wanted to by the end of the trip, and the vehicle came out if it all smelling like a rose…okay, not like a rose, more like cow shit, but still, without damage.  With insurance and tax my charges came out to just over $300!  A far cry from the 88 Euro I was quoted.  I argued and put on my best Brooklyn accent to no avail.  Batting the baby blues went over like a wet sock and thus it was that this tiny little Nissan Micra more than doubled itself in cost.

Once on the road, I began to feel confident fairly quickly.  Not true of my passenger.  Heads turned in our direction from other cars as he shouted “LEFT!!!  Stay left!”  while gripping any part of the car he could hang on to.  Got news for you bud.  That handle isn’t going to stop the truck from coming through the door if he wants to.  But it made him feel better anyway.  It made me nervous but he learned to control his outbursts.

“You want to drive?  Think you can do better.  Then you should have renewed your license, shouldn’t you.  Leave me alone!”  Ah, we were off to a great start.

Part of the frustration stemmed from the stellar signage.  Signs in the city were numerous but confusing and small, pointing in directions that seemed to make no sense.  They were small and scarce, leaving one to guess at the correct turn off.  If they were there, they were not easily read, particularly at night as they didn’t have  reflectors, and most often they appeared out of no where with no warning in such a way that I spent a lot of time making k-turns on tiny roads to get us back to the road I’d blown right past.  I suggest using your odometer to count kilometers and turning when you’ve gone the recommended distance, sign or no sign.  It would have saved us a lot of grief.

The roads were no little cause for concern.  Everything in America is bigger, it’s true.  Most of the time I scoff at our need to be the biggest and the best, but these days abroad found me praying we’d drive down a road actually big enough to fit two cars.  All roads are two way.  However, not all roads can accommodate two cars coming in opposite directions.  The biggest we drove on would allow us to pass by another small vehicle without pulling over although it left no shoulder and no room for mistakes.  They only got smaller from there.  Many roads had pull-offs carved into them so that one could park on the side to allow another to pass.  The smallest required one car to back up if another was coming, the rule of thumb being the car closest to the next cross section did the reversing.  And the speed limits…can we talk about the speed limits?  You might think that on roads such as these there would be a need to go a little slower.  Seems reasonable, and I, for one, did.  But I was shocked to see signs urging me to drive up to 100 kph.  Ah…hell no.  Our first night there we heard a report of three killed on a road not so far from our cottage.  Well duh!  I resolved to restrict night driving to “big” roads only.

Weather

The Burren is coastal and boy howdy, it was.  Day one was lovely and every day thereafter was rain, rain, and rain followed by some rain.  There were moments the sun tried valiantly to peek through the clouds and twice it rained on one side of the house while the sun shone on another.  The wind was intense, ripping off the ocean creating beautiful caps and strong enough to blow me straight into a pile a sheit.  Delicious.

Rainbows were abundant, although they didn’t come with pots of gold.  What they did come with was construction equipment.  Not what one hopes to find at the end of their rainbow.  Yes, the workers arrived on day two and contrary to the promise made to us of one day’s work, I woke each morning to the sounds of a backhoe reversing in my driveway.  Just what I’d left the city for. You can imagine my joy the first morning I woke ready to jet to the nearest pile of old rocks I had yet to discover I couldn’t find or get to and found myself blocked in by a dump truck.

“So…um…how long you guys think you’re going to be here today?  Any chance of letting us out?”

“Ah, sorry lass, the roads not passable, but should be long ‘bout 2 PM.”

Another lie, I might interject.  They left long about 5, possibly scared off by the steam jetting out my ears.  Did I mention we had no food in the house?  We had no food in the house.

“You might want to park at the end of the road tomorrow so you don’t get blocked in again.”

“What?  Caroline told us you’d be a day.”

“A day?  No, sorry.  We’ll be here all week.  We told her not to rent the cottage this week.”

What color is my rainbow?  My rainbow is colored PISSED OFF!  Only because there was large construction equipment blocking my drive and a field full of cow shit separating me from her did Caroline survive the day.  Second house on the left, lady.  I know where you live!

Sight Seeing

What I came for, my reason for choosing The Burren…the ruins.  I had a guide book suggesting only a few possibilities, but I knew from reading that there was much more to be had in this area.  As I’ve mentioned, there was much to be seen and our first day out we bought a map that detailed all the numerous possibilities for ruin sighting.  I bustled us out the door at an earlyish hour on day two, anxious to get to my first castle.  The boyfriend was in charge of directions and did an admirable job negotiating the unmarked roads as we drove on.

“It should be just around the corner here.  Yes!  Down there, see it!”

“Yes, yes!  I see it!  Where do I turn?  How do we get there?”

“Well, it should be right here.  Hmm…turn around, we must have missed it.”

We had not, in fact, missed it.  We couldn’t get there.  It was on the map.  It was visible from the road, but it was not accessible by vehicle or even by foot as, once again, it was beyond a sea of cows, poop and pasture.

No matter, there were so many more who could be disappointed by one?  We drove on looking for something called “The deserted village”.

“It should be right here.  The map says it’s right here.”

“Are you sure?  Could it be any further?”

“No, we’ve already gone too far.  This is the right road, I know it is, I’ve checked.”

“Well what’s it supposed to look like?”

“I don’t know.  Deserted and villagey.  What about that pile of rocks over there.  It looks sort of like it might have been something, doesn’t it?  Is that it?”

“Hmm…”

And so on to the next we went.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get much better from there.  We drove up to a castle listed on the map only to find out we were trespassing on private property and people actually lived there.  We drove up a road looking for an 11th century something-or-other and came upon a bewildered young woman going out to slop the hogs and wondering what the hell these stupid Americans were doing on her property.  It was on the map, lady, I swear!  But mostly, we spent a lot of time driving by things we could see from the road but had no visible way of approaching by car or otherwise.  The resounding cry became, “Look!  Ruins!”  “Yeah, but you can’t get there from here.”

I finally decided to give up and spend time and money going to see the big tourist attractions.  Things such as Ailwee Cave: Ireland’s premier show cave; rivaled only by Dolin Cave: Home of the Great Stalactite.  What?  And The Burren Perfumery where there was a lovely slide presentation of Burren flora and fauna and a large selection of soaps made from it.  We did manage to see the High Crosses of Kilfenora, which were indeed worth seeing, Pulnabrone Portal Dolmen, a megalithic tomb housing, at one time, 65 ancient bodies, the famous Cliffs of Moher, well worth the visit and the crowds, and our little 12th century Abby across the way, Corcomroe.  (We eventually found the road.)  It was lovely and interesting and intricate, these places all oozing history and a time not documented such here at home.  I was, at last, a bit sated in my quest for piles of old rocks.

The Final Blows

The week ended and back to Galway we drove.  Used to the driving system and the car, the Paper King no longer gripped the seat in fear.  We even drove into the city without mishap.  Finding a hotel was another story, but we finally did although it cost a fortune.  Heading up on the elevator I noticed a sign.

“We apologize for any inconvenience during our construction.”  How apropos.

Returning the car was a nightmare.

“Go drop it at this garage and bring me back the keys.”

“Okay, can I leave my stuff here since my hotel is just across the way?”

“No.”

Said garage was about 1.5 miles away from the key drop, so we found ourselves walking with numerous heavy bags through the streets and back to the Budget office where it took everything in my power not to throw the keys at the representative.

Galway itself is lovely and I could have spent another day or two there, perhaps should have, but we were out of time.  Blessedly, there was a vegetarian restaurant and we even had a lovely, although expensive, dinner.

The following morning it was back to Dublin.  Every hotel offers bed and breakfast and there’s no way to separate the charge.  As we were being soaked already, I really wanted to take full advantage of the breakfast.  We were both out of money, so I made sure we were up and in the lobby by 6:45 AM to catch breakfast at it’s advertised time, 7 AM, so we could catch the 7:45 bus to the airport.  We waited.  7:15 came, then 7:20 and the dining room remained closed.

“Look, we really have to go and we’d counted on having breakfast here as it was included in the price.  Could we be refunded for breakfast so we could have some at the airport?”

You can guess the answer.

As you may imagine, I was not sorry to be leaving Ireland behind.  It was beautiful.  It provided some good stories.  But I cannot recommend it as a relaxing or economic vacation destination.  If you, like I, desire to look amorously on large piles of rock, go to the Grand Canyon.  It’s pretty, it’s cheap, and you can get there from here.