Dublin Day 1-2

Saturday March 7

These days were spent at a friend’s house without much writing, just a brief adjustment to a new country.  Getting there was not easy.  My mode of transportation was a shuttle that stopped within a few blocks of her house.  When I arrived at Dublin Airport, there were no signs directing me to the bus line.  An airport employee led me outside to a bank of bus quays.  But which one?  A man seeing my distress helped me navigate my luggage in what he thought was the right direction; eventually, he became confused and walked off shaking his head.  I chose one whose sign had the same color as the advertised shuttle, red, and settled in for a long, cold wait.  Eventually, I made it to Lucan.  A few glasses of wine, dinner, then bed.

Sunday March 8

A full day.  As we often do when I visit, we took her dog on a long walk along the cliffs of Donabate which face the Irish Sea. Exquisite as ever.


Then a film at the Lighthouse Cinema, more a cultural meeting place with it’s lounges and bars.

imagesLighthouse Cinema Dublin

The showing of Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive, a biopic on Madame Curie, was of particular interest: an interview with Satrapi followed the film.  Several connections.  First, in Paris, at the Irish Cultural Center, I lived across the street from the Curie Institute.  Second, I have taught Satrapi’s animated film Persepolis many times as well as the two graphic memoirs on which it is based.  I found the film Persepolis disappointing compared to the memoirs which gave a more informed view of life in Iran during and after the 1980 cultural revolution.   However, the superb quality of the animation brought the graphics alive as if they were jumping off the page.


Radioactive’s conventionality surprised me.  Satrapi is anything but conventional.


It could have been a Hollywood biopic complete with out of focus love scenes cutting to romantic water views.  Entertaining but not so interesting.   However, the interview did better.  Satrapi did better emerging as the outspoken unguarded woman of Persepolis.

In the restroom, for the first time, I took into account the threat of the Corona Virus:  I washed my hands for 20 seconds.



London Day 1 and 2

Monday March 2

I flew from Charles de Gaulle to Gatewick without a hitch.  I had read that the black cabs of London cost the same as Uber.  Not true.  100 Euros later, I arrived at my hotel, the Crescent, located on Cartwright Gardens in Bloomsbury.   Since the Georgian building has no elevator, once the woman at registration saw my luggage, she opted to change my room to the ground floor overlooking a small courtyard.

Unknown-2Cartwright Gardens

By now it was almost 7: time for dinner.  Luckily Marchmont Street around the corner is home to a number of restaurants.  I settled on the most crowded: the Marquis Cornwallis, named after an 18th century merchantman ship dating back to the 1800’s.   Customers seat themselves, then, place their order at the bar.  When a waiter picked up the remains of my dinner, I asked if I had to return to the bar to order dessert.  “No, love. I’ll get it for you.”  Nothing like being addressed as “love” to feel less alone.

Unknown-3Marquis Cornwallis, Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, London

Tuesday March 3

As my son Larry was in England on business, we planned to spend the day together.  And a lovely day it was.  We managed to have a full English breakfast at the Crescent and set off under a blue sky for the 1.5 mile walk to Regents Park which can be a paradise for bird watchers.  We were able to sight common coots and grey herons.

IMG_7488Common Coot

We spent an hour or more meandering through the park, crossing the bridge to the Japanese Garden Island, then on to Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, landing at the Regents Bar and Kitchen where we rested with a cup of coffee.

IMG_7498Weeping Willow at the ornamental lake of Queen Mary’s Garden

We used the Euston Road to return to Bloomsbury and made arrangements to meet at the Charles Dickens Museum later in the afternoon.  He remembered when he was eight that I was member of the Dickens Society in Philadelphia, so a visit seemed especially cogent.

Unknown-4Dining Room, Charles Dickens Museum

We like to be flaneurs, walking and looking, without much planning.   After leaving the Dickens Museum, we set out in search for a coffee shop.  Somehow we ended up at Great James Street a few blocks away and came across Dorothy Sayers’ house (author of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels).  Eventually we made our way to Tutti’s Cafe, a small convivial coffee bar on the charming Lamb Conduit Street.

images-2Tutti’s Cafe, Lamb Conduit Street, London

Dinner was forgettable but the building was charming.  We did have an interesting conversation about writing and about this blog.  Larry calls the urge to create, the beautiful struggle.  He doesn’t think I’m revealing enough of that struggle.  Certainly, you won’t see it on this page.







Paris Day 15 and 16

Saturday, February 29

This morning I woke up exhausted after a good night’s sleep.  Do I have the corona virus or is it the ennui I seem to carry around?  Usually it dissipates after breakfast with the residents.  Today, overwhelmed by fatigue, I spent the day in bed and didn’t join the three women for dinner.

I tell myself there will be days of isolation and loneliness.  But why is it’s happening now?  I have stimulating conversations every morning, gatherings with artists in the evenings.  Although I have dinner alone each night, I’ve been very engaged.

IMG_7479                                                                 The last bouquet

I read my blog on Greece, written five years ago on the verge of a Fulbright.  I describe two days of staying in my Athen’s hotel room emerging only for a meeting one day and and a souvlaki the next.  Ennui is no stranger to me.   My expectations set me up for self-doubt.  I romanticize those that seem to have found their place especially the Bloomsbury group whose work I devoured many years ago, in particular,  Virginia Woolf.   Her country home with her writing shed surrounded by beautiful gardens, long walks along the downs, afternoons with writer’s and painters reading, discussing.  But like Samuel Beckett, she endured days of doubt, of mental anguish and, then, a swing to elation.  Her solution was suicide.  Perhaps, my urge to live on an island is a strategy to force me back on myself, to find my place.

Sunday, March 1

Today I feel alert, confidant, at home in Paris.  God, these extremes are exhausting.  

For my last full day in Paris (I leave for London tomorrow) I plan to have Sunday lunch at La Rotessirie d’Argent.  It faces the Seine two doors away from the famous Tour d’Argent, and next door to it’s bakery, Le Boulanger de la Tour.  I pass by frequently crossing the Pont de la Tournelle over to the right bank.  One day, I stopped to buy mini croissants.  Ils etaient parfaits.  The idea of eating roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon is part of a long tradition of Sunday dinner with Maman in which I long to participate.

UnknownLa Rotisserie d’Argent

On my way to breakfast one of the administrators of the Centre Culturel Irlandais caught up with me and asked if I still planned to attend the book club she had mentioned when I first arrived.  I thought I could  fit it in with my roast chicken.  But this was no intimate group meeting for an hour, this was a formal meeting known as Cercle Litteraire Irlandais (Irish Literary Circle) lasting three hours with drinks, food, a program and over 100 attendees.  There were speakers including Deirdre Farrell, Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy in Paris, and Lara Marlow, France correspondent for The Irish Times, as well as mediatations, readings, and even a group writing exercise.  It was a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Lara Marlowe in her keynote address discussed three women who inspired her: Iranian Nasrin Sotudeh, French Berthe Morisot, and American Edith Wharton.  All three defied their respective roles: Sotudeh, a lawyer, represented women who refused to wear the hijab, Morisot became a well-respected painter, the only women to exhibit in the first impressionist show in 1874, and Edith Wharton wrote novels becoming the first woman to win the Pultizer Prize for Literature in 1921 instead of being a doyenne in her privileged social circle.  My question to Ms. Marlowe was where are the Irish women of the 19th century without upper class privileges who fought against stereotypes to become artists in their own right.  She and the audience were stumped.

images   Nasrin SotudehUnknown-1Berthe Morisotimages-1Edith Wharton

 Then we were asked to write about a woman we admired.  I chose Molly Daly, my grandmother.  She lived in Ireland for 13 years without her mother.  She returned to the United States only to be teased relentlessly about her brogue.  She married an alcoholic whose family thought she was “shanty Irish.”  When he died leaving her with two children to raise, she often brought in family members who had no where else to go.  When her children married, she moved in with them usually with no room of her own, sleeping on a daybed in the dining room.  And she never complained.  Her solace, reading her prayer book and saying her rosary.


Molly Daly on the right


Paris Day 11 and 12

February 25 Tuesday

Equipped with sunglasses to cover my still badly bruised eye, I visited the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation in the Marais.  This gallery or museum is exactly my cup of tea- just a few rooms to explore.  The two exhibits of women photographers, Bresson’s wife, Martine Franck and Marie Bovo who lives in Marseille were stunning.  Martine Franck photographed older artists believing the images might change ageism, that these faces would be seen as interesting, perhaps beautiful.


Nathalie Sarraute

Marie Bovo used extended time exposure to film Marseille and it’s refuge camp at night: she finds beauty in the ordinary.  I want the images to stay with me, to live inside me.


Perhaps, trying to recapture the past, I walked a few blocks to Camille’s.  An old haunt of my daughter’s when she lived in Paris.  On cold rainy days, we would find ourselves there in the late afternoon ordering snails, pate, a glass of wine.



Seated by the window, I enjoyed potage crème de celeriac and watched pedestrians along Rue Elzevir.  Paris is home.

Like last year, I wrote during the quiet of late afternoon.  Satisfying- today at least.


February 26 Wednesday.

Spent the morning researching my Irish grandmother.  I jump from country to country.  Why am I looking at her information while I’m in Paris?  Overwhelmed by the subject, I jump back and forth: double consciousness of W.E.B. Dubois, the famine in Ireland.

I discovered some new information from the materials I brought with me about Nana, that is, Molly Daly.  The County Roscommon 1901 Census indicated she lived with her grandmother, two uncles, and an older sister in a house that had just two windows and an outbuilding, probably an outhouse.  Also, they didn’t own the land, as I thought, but rented it.  I’ve asked the artists in residence here at the center if they knew of any books or journals that depict the lives of Irish women on small farms during the late 19th and early 20th century.  No luck.  They attribute this deficiency to the lack of education  for the poor who, therefore, may have been illiterate.  Yet, my grandmother went to the eighth grade in Ireland.  Also, the census listed her grandmother and uncles as able to read and write.

Decided to have lunch around the corner at Au Port du Salut on Rue Saint-Jacques.     There weren’t many customers, just two older white French men and a younger black man.  At the end of the room was a piano.  From the bit of eavesdropping I understood, it seems the younger man is a musician and they were discussing a gig, maybe at this restaurant.


Au Port du Salut

The room is partially underground, the windows looking out on the feet of passersbys.  It reminded me of a jazz club or cave as they were once known on Rue de la Huchette that I visited when I was 21.  The colors are the same, red, black, dark wooden beams.  As I drank my coffee, I looked more closely at the photos on the walls: Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, Barbara, French singers of another era.

I asked the waiter if they had visited?  He answered yes, they had performed in this very room.  Formidable!

Later, I saw Bela Tarr’s Satantango (Part 2), a Hungarian film in three parts, each two hours long, shot in black and white, and focusing on life in a poor village.  The opening scene is close to 15 minutes long as the camera follows cows wandering around a muddy field.  Although tedious, another long take, this of an older, overweight doctor watching and chronicling the movement of his neighbors, captivated me.  Did I picture myself, writing, drinking, looking out the window?


From Bela Tarr’s film Satantango

Tonight another artists’ gathering, this time in the painter’s studio.  Much of her work is located in the forests of Sweden where she feels more attuned to the landscape than Galway where she’s lived for 16 years.  Another interesting discussion about place, it’s effect and the position from which it is observed.  Satantango is also about a place “that has such people in it.”

I’m always looking for “place.”  The place to write?  The place to…?  Is my longing to live on an island a desire for a place from which I can’t escape.   A dilemma.  A fantasy.



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?