Dublin Day 5

Wednesday, March 11

The plan- research my Irish ancestors at the National Archives of Ireland on Bishop Street,  a 2 mile walk across the Liffey into a gritty part of Dublin.

IMG_7655-2Millennium Bridge, River Liffey, Dublin

However, the Archives were closed due to the corona virus.  The day was just about shot, so I made my way to Dunne’s Department Store on Henry Street just blocks from my flat.  They stocked faux bone cutlery I had admired at my friend’s house and had unsuccessfully searched for in the Paris “marchés.”  Once I located my prize, I realized 8 forks, 8 knives, 8 soup spoons, and 8 teaspoons were too heavy to fly home.  The clerk recommended sending them through the postal service.  This required a trip to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, the republican’s headquarters during the 1916 Easter Rising when they attempted to end 800 years of British occupation.  Beginning Easter Monday, April 24th, the leaders of the rebellion took control of the building.  By Saturday, April 29th, shelling of the GPO made it uninhabitable.  They escaped by breaking through walls of surrounding buildings only to surrender hours later from their new headquarters at 16 Moore Street.

The_shell_of_the_G.P.O._on_Sackville_Street_after_the_Easter_Rising_(6937669789)General Post Office, Dublin, 1916 Easter Rising

Although it was almost closing, the postal workers were most helpful, the cost was reasonable, my problem was solved.

A downpour forced me home where I lit a fire, took up Angelica Grant’s, Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood. and had leftovers for dinner.  I was about to watch TV when I got a text from my cat sitter.  “Because of the Corona Virus, Trump is closing the airports on Friday to international travel.  Will you be okay?”  No.  I wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 10 days.


I’m obsessed with how some Jews knew it was time to leave Germany and other parts of Europe during Hitler’s reign.  Would I have had the courage, the sense to get out?  Here I was in a somewhat similar dilemma but I hadn’t paid attention.  My doctor had asked me to cancel this trip because of the virus.  I had had inklings of it’s problems in Paris when France barred Italian trains.  But I hadn’t changed my plans.  Now I had to get out of Ireland by Friday or be trapped in a foreign country,  or so I thought.  Immediately, I got on the phone to change my reservation.  By midnight I managed to get two flights: one with a stop over in London leaving in 6 hours, another leaving Dublin on Friday getting in at noon.  By 3 A.M, I had made a decision.  Worried I might get stuck in London, I chose to leave on Friday even though the flight might be delayed: the time difference between Ireland and the states gave me a 5 hour advantage.

Thursday created it’s own problems.  When I tried to confirm my flight, United Airlines had an expired passport number.  I tried to make the changes on line but to no avail.  When I called the airline, I got disconnected after being on hold for three hours.  Around midnight, I gave up and checked in using the wrong passport number.  I would make the correction at the airport.  But if I couldn’t, would I be kept in Ireland indefinitely?  This was the second time I wondered if I could get home from Europe.  I had been in France on 9/11 and for the few days when the US airports were closed, I imagined never getting home or being shot down mid air.

A cab picked me up at 5 A. M. Friday and for about a half hour provided some distraction.  After the driver uncovered I was doing research on my Irish grandmother’s education, he gave me a brief history of hedge schools.  During the 18th and part of the 19th century, only those of the Anglican faith were allowed to attend school in Ireland.  Hedge schools, usually held in barns, homes and fields were organized to give Catholic children (who were in the majority) an education.  Something to mull over in terms of my great- grandmother.  On the Irish 1901 census, it indicated she could read and write.

Rathvilly-Hedge-SchoolsRathvilly Hedge School Around 1827

Once at the airport, I went to the print out my ticket.  I dug in my handbag for my wallet.  Nothing.  I ran from person to person looking for help.  Finally an airport employee used her phone to call the cab company and yes, they had it and, yes, they would drop it off.  Relief.  But once I went through security, would I be prevented from leaving?  My passport indicated I had been in France just 10 days ago, a restriction for entering the United States.  I got through.  Momentary relief.  As I wandered around the airport, I learned that I had to go through United States Preclearance.  Now I was really worried.  This was US security.  What would they do when they realized that I had recently been in France?  And the line was exceedingly long.  Would I miss my flight?

My worst fears came to nothing.  I was back in Princeton by 2 P.M. –  enough time to rush to the grocery story and stock up on toilet paper.


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.

UnknownIrish Writers Centre

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.

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.

            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?

   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.

                     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.

          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.


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.

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.


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.
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.


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.

Longing for greens, I settled on eating my radishes with dinner.  Afterwards, I crashed again.  Allergies? Jet lag?