Thursday, July 17, 2008

Glengariff, 1.7.90: Wine Dark Seas and Tourist Traps

In Cork, we stayed at the O’Keefes’ Springdale Farm b and b—actually at Blarney, or more precisely Tower, I thin. Drove to Cork from Waterford after breakfast. A perfectly awful day, though the drive itself was lovely.

The colors of the coast amazing—metallic gray on the horizon, shading to a kind of luminous lilac where the clouds meet the sea, with shades of green and darker blue in the water itself, and hundreds of shades of green in the fields and verges. As I’ve noticed and remarked elsewhere in things I’ve written, the green seems lit from within, by an almost iridescent light, on cloudy days, and yesterday was cloudy of course—periods of soft fine rain alternating with sun. Seems warmer in this region than elsewhere in Ireland, and the flowers more profuse and lush.

The approach to Cork not promising, though the city itself—the heart of it—appears as if it could have a Mediterranean charm. Took K. and A. to lunch at the Quay Co-Op, K. complaining loudly all the way—doing her poor ole woman me act. A lot of the men at the place, particularly the servers, seemed gay. Willowy and graceful and dressed “artistically.” Had decent vegetarian food—hummus and pita and bean sprout salad and coleslaw—but unfortunately the bookstore itself was closed, due to renovations.

Then we walked around Cork a bit. Crowds of people, many of them in outrageous costumes of bright green. The feel of the town is more cosmopolitan, but is this simply because I had read it is so, with the West Brits and the counterculture Blowbys from western Europe? In any case, there did seem to be an English air about some things—the food slightly better, the cookery sections of bookstores a great deal fatter than anywhere else in Ireland, even in Dublin. One hears more self-consciously “intellectual” chat here, too. Our b and b hostess was also English, and the house far better decorated than any other we’ve seen, quietly tasteful.

In the evening, we returned to Blarney, rested a bit, as much as we could with teenagers playing rock music beneath the room, and walked. Found a strange set of ruined buildings up a hill pointing to Maranatha b and b. There was a kind of green and ivory clocktower, and what seemed to be the ruin of a pleasure palace, 19th-century. Steve and I groused at each other and I sat and pondered and saw a rainbow for my effort.

Then in to Cork in hopes of finding a pub with traditional music or a play, but no go—everyone was wrapped up in the World Cup match. Took photos of people in costume scurrying to the match, and of children out dancing and singing in the streets.

It was dreary and rainy all the while, so after a not too bad supper of Chinese dishes—shrimp and cashew, chicken and mushroom—we drove back and went to bed. But not to sleep, since three voluble young Frenchwomen next door talked excitedly into the night.

Today: awoke to have A. immediately begin harping on when and where’s Mass. So I rebelled and refused to go. Steve and I walked along the Lee river outside Blarney after a frantic search for a church for them. We had gone in to Blarney and stopped briefly at the big tourist trap, the Woollen Mills, to see if they could hit a church there.

When I walked into the shop, I felt almost a physical repulsion: chock full of Irish goods, woolens, china, crystal, and Irish teenagers to serve the tourists. I feel outraged at falling right into the tourist rut, and it’s very difficult to do otherwise with K. and A. Despite protests to the contrary, they’re very much at home there.

And, too, I find it odd to say the least that one sees no inconsistency in worshiping at the temple of mammon and then hopping over to church across the street to have a spiritual glut. I cannot call A.’s religion spiritual: one obeys the simple rules so that one can rest easy re: the big and uneasy questions—one is religious precisely in order not to listen, learn, be humbled, wait for providence.

After Mass, drove to Glengariff from which I’m writing. Oh, I should mention that as Steve and I walked this morning, we came on an interesting ruined church. Was not marked, but I think I saw a road sign later that read something like Inishcarra Cemetary [sic], because it was clearly a large church cum cemetery. Could it have been a Church of Ireland church, and this account for the sign? Many names in the cemetery were clearly English, and a 17th-century memorial plaque in the church was that of a prebendary—surely not an RC term. There were many Catholic graves, however, in the graveyard. I think I saw another Church of Ireland church in ruins today, in Glengariff—for sale, actually. Has the presence of the Church of Ireland become practically nil in the west of Ireland?

Not much to say re: the drive to Glengariff. Went first to Macroon, which seemed repulsively touristy as so much has been out here. Was also hot, almost Mediterranean—a day of full sun and intensely blue skies. People milling everywhere, as is the case in most Irish towns and villages. Where do they come from? Where are they going? Why are they never at work? One can be in a traffic jam any day in the smallest Irish town. I suppose today Mass was the big attraction; even little tiny places along the way had mammoth churches. Reminds me of Acadian villages in Cape Breton.

Glengariff is the ugliest tourist trap yet—big signs trying to get you to take an expensive boat trip to Garnish Island, men on the roadside who actually try to coax you over for this purpose, shops full of gaudily displayed souvenir stuff. At least, this is what one sees from the road. I refuse to go in any such place.

But we had the luck to find a very good b and b—the Heights, above Glengariff, with a marvelous view over the harbor. I’m writing from a lounges that has a glass window looking down—sloping yard very green, sheep fenced beneath this, then “wilderness” of trees, grasses, and rocks, falling down to the very blue water and several tree-clad islands. The family who own the b and b—Harringtons (which seems to be a common name in these parts—seem very nice.

After we checked into the b and b around 2 P.M., drove the Beare Peninsula. But first a pub lunch in the village at a place whose owners I didn’t like at all—mercenary and phony bourgeois-smarmy—though the chicken and tomato sandwich was good.

Beare Peninsula—couldn’t have had a prettier day for the drive. The “descending” side—Glengariff to Castlebere—was spectacular. Lots of rocky mountainside on the right, coast on the left. Same mix of colors as yesterday, thought not muted today by mist. The sea can be almost purple, but with patches of blue and aqua—the purple makes me think Homer’s wine-dark sea may not have been short of the mark.

The “ascending” side of the drive—back to Glengariff—has surprisingly lush growth of vegetation, including patches of pine. Along the way (but all on the “descending” side), saw a number of signs in German or advertising German accommodation and food. Passed an interesting restaurant-cum-craft shop that I suspect was run by Germans, but afraid to bring K. and A. in—what embarrassing and insulting remarks might they have made? Also saw a number of signs of realtors with Dutch names—E. Koop and Joop something or other.

Glad to return, actually—drive longer and more tiring than I expected. Steve and I took a walk up to the hilltop and back down and up again, and now awaiting dinner. Will be our first b and b dinner.

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