Dublin Day 3 and 4

Monday, March 8

My first day at North Great George’s Street, a grand Georgian house built in 1774 and a few houses down from the James Joyce Centre.  Entering the foyer felt like entering a movie set, a huge entrance, 30 foot ceilings, and a grand staircase at the end- on the right, the door to my flat.  Inside, brochures on a table in the small entryway described the house’s history with invitations for guided tours.  Like many Georgian mansions in Dublin, it had been a tenement, each room rented out to a large family.

My flat was by no means a tenement.  Usually my stays are in small apartments or rooms, not luxurious digs but this location was within walking distance of the Irish Writer’s Centre where I planned to spend most of my time.   Large shuttered windows looked out on a garden, a sofa faced a wood burning fireplace, an elegant dining table sat along it’s right side, and a four poster bed with expensive linens fitted out the bedroom, 13 foot ceilings adding to it’s grandeur.

IMG_7675North Great George’s Street

As it was already late in the afternoon, I needed to purchase groceries for the next few days.  The closest supermarket was Tesco’s a half mile along Parnell Street.  Once I left North Great George’s Street, the charm began to wear off.  This part of Parnell was lined with inexpensive “ethnic” restaurants, unsavory drinking establishments, and small shops that had seen better days.

Tesco’s had everything I needed.  As I hadn’t eaten since the day before, I stopped at The Parnell Heritage Bar and Grill on my way home- a real tourist trap.  I didn’t care: I just wanted a Guinness and some grub.

Unknown-1Parnell Heritage Bar and Grill

Almost every night my grandmother ate the same thing for dinner, an Americanized version of Colcannon, the traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage.  She used spinach.  I ordered the version with cabbage and Irish bacon.  A huge mound of mash and cabbage with thick pieces of bacon, more like ham than American bacon, covered in parsley sauce, a rich béchamel infused with parsley, presented itself.  Surprisingly, it was delicious and enough to feed five: I was forced to leave most behind but it eliminated the need for dinner.

Tuesday, March 9.

I haven’t lived in a flat while traveling these past three years, so settling in was a treat.  I was right at home perhaps because I had a home.  After a leisurely breakfast, I spent the day at the Irish Writer’s Centre.

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As a member, I am entitled to free coffee and biscuits and a room for writing.  One was available on the third floor with windows overlooking Parnell Square.

Unknown-3Parnell Square

The doubts, the ennui that had been dogging me, evaporated.  Two ingredients contributed to this improved state of mind- my own home and a separate place to write.  I vowed that when I returned to the states, I would write away from my house.  There seems to be a quickening of the blood away from domesticity.

As I worked, a memory surfaced.  Perhaps, it was the Colconnan from yesterday’s dinner.  When I was 9 years old, my closest friend was a second generation Irish girl named Mary Ellen.  Her name appealed to me: it was my grandmother’s name and a name she had vowed I would have even if she had me baptized behind my mother’s back.  Yet she was never called “Mary Ellen” but always Molly.  When I wanted to name my daughter, Molly, she dismissed my choice- “Ah, it’s a only a washer woman’s name.”

Mary Ellen lived next to a vacant lot where we played after school or in the early evenings as spring wore on.  The game was always the same- living on a farm in Ireland.  Most likely, these pantomimes were based on our grandmothers’s stories.  We constructed a small fireplace, a circle of stones around which we sat and planned our meals.  Potatoes over the open fire and tea of course.  Each day, the narrative took up from the day before.  Much of it had to do with housekeeping and our version of animal husbandry.  I assured Mary Ellen that during cold weather, the animals stayed in the house for that was what my grandmother had told me.  We also had versions of itinerants who sat by the fire in the evening telling stories in exchange for a meal.  Our stories included our relatives and neighbors just they would have when travelers spun tales around my great grandmother Mary Kearns’ hearth on Upper Kilnamanagh Road in Roscommon.  We gave them appropriate Irish names taken from our extended family: Mary, Bridget, Patrick, Michael and last names, Beirne, Daly, Kearns, McGann.

IMG_0986Upper Kilnamanagh Road, Roscommon, Ireland 

That night, as I had the makings of a quick dinner with dessert, I invited my friend and her male acquaintance to dinner.  Another perk to having a home.  We ate in front of the fire, drank wine, and made plans for lunch at the Michelin starred restaurant, Chapter One, next to the Irish Writer’s Center.  An ideal day, writing in the morning, a celebration with food and drink afterwards.

f4b51e0f-98b4-44b9-b86a-a7ec6c94e167The flat, North Great George’s Street, Dublin

Paris Day Nine and Ten

Sunday  February 23

I found the marche!  It was Marche Monge.  I had confabulated several markets and lost my way.  Here were the familiar stalls: the excellent cheese monger, the flower seller, the cous cous stand (not great as I remembered) and the Italian stall.  I had plans for most of the day, so I bought a slice of vegetable lasagna for dinner in my room and two bunches of tiny daffodils.

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Marche Monge

I gave myself an hour to get to Gare de L’Est where I was meeting Christiane.  We were to visit Cimetière de Montmartre in search of a de Jorna grave.  Usually, I walk around Place Tour Saint Jacques.  But today, walking through a park on an overcast day appealed to me.  These small green oases in Paris restore.  As I was exiting on to Blvd. de Sebastopol, I felt myself falling and could see there was no escape.  Flat on my face, bruising my left eye while hitting my right side.

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            Place La Tour Saint Jacques

First, had I ripped my jeans?  No.  Second was there a pharmacist close by, open on a Sunday?  I was in luck.  French pharmacists are excellent sources of advice, almost like going to Emergency Care.  He gave me a cold pack, medication to help oxygen move to the bruise, and a salve.  He told me that every day someone comes in with the same condition as if the street had caused the injuries.  That soothed me somewhat, but this wasn’t the first time I had literally fallen on my face in France.  Last time, I lost four front teeth.

I returned to Place Tour Saint Jacques, found a bench, applied the cold pack, and cancelled my plans.  No one looked at me except by accident and, then, the onlooker’s eyes widened in shock.  I took a selfie and understood their surprise. I had a real shimmer.

I spent the rest of the day in my room: reading, resting, applying cold packs.

Monday February 24

When I woke up, felt the bruises on my face, and got a look at my black eye, I wanted to go home.  Like a child who needs it’s mother, the comfort and familiarity after being hurt, I wanted my house with it’s beautiful light, my cat who loves me, sort of, my garden, my, my.  But this desire to bolt isn’t unique.  The last two times I stayed in Paris, I left early, just a few days, but why?

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   Milo, the man in my life

What am I looking for?  I always thought I should have stayed in Paris when I was 21 and not come home to do the expected, that is, get a degree.  I felt free, accepted, in control, unburdened.  Well, I can’t get that back.  And what burdens am I looking to unload?  A state of mind unencumbered by expectations, by obligations?  Yet, when I want to leap across the Atlantic, the ties to loved ones, to landscape pull at me.  Aren’t they encumbrances of a sort?  Whether writing or traveling, essentially the same question rears it’s unwanted head.  What the hell am I doing?  Part of the process of making a life, of trying to create something?

After spending part of the day writing, I decided to hide myself in the movies.  Armed with sunglasses, I walked to Reflet Médicis to see Visconti’s White Nights.  I passed the Champo: a line extended along Rue des Écoles, people of all ages waiting to buy tickets to Fellini’s La Notti de Cabiria, Nights of Cabiria.  The scene heartened me: you’ve got to applaud the French love of cinema.

At the ticket booth, I had to remove my sunglasses and felt the need to explain my appearance: Je suis tombe dans la rue ( I fell in the street).  Immediately the clerk asked if I was all right.  Did it hurt?  Scratch the surface and the French can be tres gentils.

I came to see Visconti’s 1957 adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story “White Nights” (La notti bianche): the cinematography seemed strangely real and unreal.  The black and white photography reminded me of his La Terra Tréma.  Whereas that film was shot on location in Sicily, this film takes place on a set, a carefully reconstructed section of Livorna.  Disconcerting.  Like the characters, I was thrown off guard.

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                     La Notti Bianche

Visconti explained,

”It must look as if it is false but when you start to think it’s fake, it must look as if it were real.”

On my way home, adorned with sunglasses, I decided on a pastis at  Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie.  Again, I felt compelled to explain my shiner to the barman.  Again concern.

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          Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie

Paris Day 7 and 8

Friday  February 21

I meet with the woman who is renting my house next week.  How strange she lives in Paris.  We have some common interests like film and, so, spent an hour together.  Afterwards, I walked to the Ile Saint Louis for coffee at Le Lutetia.  It can’t be 10 years since I sat here with my husband.  We each had our small black notebooks, writing side by side, watching the Seine, and waiting for our daughter.  She worked at a boutique down the street: Le Lutetia was her place.

B9487DD0-9AC8-4D89-A36F-A85CC7188D3ELe Lutetia   Île Saint Louis

Today, I’m sitting in the same seat, looking out at the same Seine, but instead of writing, I’m trying to read Paris Creole.  It’s tough going as I get deeper into the text.  I think it’s the tenses as the events take place in the past: passe simple, passe compose, passe anterieur, imparfait, etc.

Later a meal in my room- a gyro filled with French fries and a small baklava.

Saturday  February 22

A very long breakfast until almost noon.  Several of the artists in residence myself, another woman writer, and the military historian talked for several hours about the importance of place.  Our preferences are deeply felt.  One artist, a painter, lives by the sea but prefers the forest where she feels protected.  Myself and an actress have opposite reactions, experiencing claustrophobia in the woods, needing the sea.  For me, it’s the edge so I can escape.  An irrational concept.  What do I plan to do?  Swim?  Where to?  One person believes place has more weight than family.  Certainly, sense of place seems to be associated with safety.

Then a description of the Ulla von Brandenberg exhibt at the Palais de Tokyo mesmerized me.  Fabric, people folding clothes, a film.  The walk would take me an hour and half clocking in close to six miles.  But six miles along the Seine intrigued me as well.

I wasn’t alone.  Despite the cold, the damp, the grey sky, Parisiens were out: alone, in couples, in families, strolling, running, biking.

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Pont du Carrousel   La Seine by Louis Petitot

When I finally got to Avenue du President Wilson where Palais de Tokyo is located, I remembered being there with my husband and daughter.  We were looking for a pharmacy: he had a blister and insisted on ignoring his discomfort.  We wouldn’t let him.  For the life of me, I can’t think why we were in this part of town.  Is he haunting me or maybe just accompanying me.

I preferred the architectural aspects of the exhibit more than actual exhibit itself.

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Ulla von Brandenburg Exhibit
Palais de Tokyo

I finally took a bus after much resistance.  Not at all difficult and I prefer it to the metro.  I travel alone which seems very brave to some of my friends, yet such small matters make me anxious, can incapacitate me.

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Paris Day 6

Thursday February 20

My plan was to read and take notes from Paris Creole: my weather app predicted 12 hours of rain.  The day got off to a distressing start.  At breakfast, one of the resident artists told us she had been attacked on Rue Pierre-et-Marie Curie just around the block.  She repeated how she had always felt safe here.  As have I.  Now most of us feel vulnerable, our freedom restricted.

 

A good time to get new flowers.  The daffodils have seen better days.  I’m still looking for that little market I frequented last year.  Marche Maubert was suggested.  I found it but it’s still not the right one.  How I wish I had my own kitchen.  The haricots verts a vibrant green and thin as the slimmest pencils tempt me.
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Marche Maubert at Place Maubert

I did find a good bunch of tulips, radishes, and “une tranche” (a slice) of Swiss raclette.  Still using French, still not speaking in complete sentences except when I rehearse “dans ma tete” afterwards.

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While eating lunch at my desk, another attack of exhaustion hit me.  I tried doing research into my Irish grandmother.  I pulled out the 1901 Roscommon County Census: she lived there in a small village known as Kilnamanagh.  The census, also, included information on dwellings.  My grandmother, age 7,and her sister, age 9, lived with her grandmother, Bridget Kearns, and two uncles.  The house had 2 rooms, 2 windows and an outhouse.  I know they kept livestock which according to Nana, sometimes, came into the house in cold weather.  I thought they owned the house but it’s listed as leased from a Caroline Ball. The 1911 census shows only one of the uncles, Patrick Kearns, living there with his new wife.  My great grandmother must have died.  By then, my grandmother, her sister and her other uncle, Michael Kearns, had immigrated to the United States.

When I was a young girl, my family would visit that uncle, great Uncle Micheal, whom we called Papa Daddy and his wife Papa Mommy.  Due some illness, he was confined to a room in the attic of his son’s house.  My sister and I didn’t want to visit with him but we were obliged out of respect.  To us, he smelled of tobacco and old age but more problematic was his brogue.  We couldn’t understand a word he said.  Did immigrants from Roscommon or Kilnamanagh have a particularly strong accent?

Well, I’m getting on with it, not just writing about avoiding the “book.”
It wasn’t long before I had to nap again, waking at 5.  I intended to go to the movies but felt almost drunk.  Besides, it was raining .  After another hour of reviewing my grandmother’s papers, I went to the Boulangerie Modern on Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques for some vittles: pizza and tarte au citron.
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Longing for greens, I settled on eating my radishes with dinner.  Afterwards, I crashed again.  Allergies? Jet lag?

Paris Day Three and Four

Monday  February 17

Attacked by delayed jet lag.  After writing a bit, I had to go to sleep.  Several hours later, I roused myself.  My plan was to sit in a cafe on île Saint Louis and read Paris Creole, but I couldn’t move.  Finally, I  decided on a chore for which my body might be capable- finding the illusive drinking glasses.

I asked one of the administrators to direct me to the housewares shop he had introduced me to last year.  An inexpensive shop.  Instead he sent me to one around the corner.  Tres cher, very expensive.  Since I had very little energy, I forked over 6 euros for 2 small glasses.  Even the clerk agreed they were “chers.”

Back in my room, I was tempted to return to bed, but I knew several  hours later, I’d be hungry and bored.  I went to the Médiathèque, the library of the Irish Cultural Center, to do a bit of research.  The “book” will include a discussion of my Irish grandmother’s immigration experience.  She lived in the center of Ireland from 1893 to 1906.  Uncovering primary sources about life in rural Ireland has proven difficult.  I found three books all written by men but at least they cover the right period.

Then, I took myself off to the Champo cinema where I’ve been going since I was 21.

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Tonight was Jean Renoir’s The Southerner with Randolph Scott.  I needed an English speaking film.  I didn’t have the stamina to try understanding French for two hours.  In 1946, the film won the Oscar for best director and was shown at the Venice Biennale.  Why I asked myself.  The characters are stereotypes of poor farmers, almost caricatures, the acting is often wooden or over the top especially Beulah Bondi who plays the grandmother, and the cinematography is forgetful.  Some mise-en-scenes seemed directly copied from the film Grapes of Wrath.  And by God when I left the theatre, it was raining again.  This time, no umbrella.

 
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Like a bad penny, I returned to La Méthode for dinner.  I ordered dessert  realizing too late, it was unnecessary.  With my coffee came a small piece of cake, comme d’habitude.  In France, a small sweet often accompanies an order of coffee.  I returned home to some reading and the jet lag reversed on me.  I was up most of the night.  Not one bit tired until the next morning.

Tuesday  February 18

I continued to write about not writing as I‘ve been doing, then, spent the afternoon with yet another nap.  And like yesterday, I forced myself to get out.  This time to Luxembourg 3 off Boulevard Saint Michel for Tu Mourras a 20 Ans, You Will Be Dead When You Are 20.  Using my limited French, I bought a ticket and asked in which “salle” (room) the film was being shown.  Still no one attempts English with me.  Is it because there are so few tourists?

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The film is Sudanese, so it was subtitled in French.  I understood most of what I read except when the sous-titres passed by too quickly.  The film follows a young man coming of age in a small Sudanese village while living alone with his mother.  It reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s 1956 film, Aparajito, in its pace, cinematography, it’s focus on a mother, even the emphasis on doors, physically and metaphorically.  Quite beautiful and moving.

Where to have diner.  Should I continue my “residence” at La Méthode?   I could walk over to my old neighborhood, Odeon, and eat at the highly rated Le Comptoir.  Yet, for all it’s casualness, it seems full of itself.  Aux Délices du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant, around the corner from the Irish Cultural Center, seemed a good choice.  It was closed, so I walked down Rue Mouffetard to La Crete, a Greek restaurant, and enjoyed a lamb and pasta dish redolent with cinnamon.  I considered dessert.  The waiter and I discussed the absence of loukimades, so I settled on a coffee.

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What can distract me tomorrow or is it all grist for the mill?