Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another Beautiful Bride

My friend, K.B., whom I've mentioned previously.
That is a picture of my high-school best friend, K.B

[Not that I really have another best friend now. I mean, I have friends, but . . . I wonder if the whole "best friend" thing kind of loses its currency as we get older. Or has my continual migration from one city, province, or country to another made that difficult for me? Oh, this line of thinking is almost too sad to continue.]

K.B. is short for [redacted], which NO ONE calls her. Except, perhaps, her dad and sister. Back in high school, we often called her Killer Bunny, after the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (though she was nothing like that evil rodent).

K.B. and I knew each other during those blistering years of high school when we feel both immortal and rawly vulnerable. She showed up in my Functions & Relations class with an enthusiasm for Math that dumbfounded me. It was, I learned, an enthusiasm for knowledge - she was, and is, eager to learn anything about anything. She's also someone who "waves her freak flag" with gusto.

Over the ensuing couple of years, we became almost inseparable. I slept over at her house about half the time, avoiding the emotional difficulties at my home. Meanwhile, her family was suffering the excruciating loss of her brother, Cullen (or "Cully"), who died too young of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, and her mother who died more slowly of Parkinson's Disease.

Can you even imagine the pain?

And yet, she, indeed her entire family, welcomed me, embraced me. I had a permanent seat at their dinner table. K.B. and I shared clothes like sisters (though that blue blouse she's wearing in that picture looked WORLDS better on her than it ever did on me). Cully called me from the hospital where he lay dying. I was with the family as they buried their beloved mother. To this day, I wish I had known both Cully and Mrs. Sterling before they were ill.

K.B. and I have lived geographically separate lives, but have stayed in touch, especially with the gift of e-mail and social media. (Many scoff at the "fake" nature of social-media relationships, but I have found that social media has served to strengthen many friendships and has, conversely, made me ponder why I ever considered so-and-so a friend at all.)

Well, last weekend, I had the great joy of attending K.B.'s wedding to Chris. It is a second marriage for each of them, so they went into it with eyes wide open and hearts grateful for this surprise of love. I wish I'd been able to get to know Chris better.

But I do know that they fit. In the quirky, accepting, supportive ways that matter.

Enough. Here are some pictures I took before and during their wedding and reception.
This was taken at the unofficial rehearsal dinner.
What started out as dinner for three turned into dinner for five, then dinner for six
 then . . . aw, heck. Let's just all get together. 
The new blended family.
That's Mr. Sterling at the "head" of the table. K.B.'s sister is to his right (our left).
(I won't name anyone else as I do not have their permission, but please feel free to download and use your pictures.)
K.B.'s daughter gave the couple a STAR! In Ursa Major! That's the kind of mother K.B. is.
The wedding day dawned sunny and warm.
The wedding palette.
K.B. is not a fussy, girly-girl, but she did allow for some pampering on this occasion.
The flowers were so, so beautiful.
The bride and her maids laughing at a YouTube video while getting ready.
She came down the aisle and made her vows barefoot.
Because, if you know anything about K.B., you know that you ought to expect the unexpected.
(Chris claims he absolutely did not notice.)
There was a fair bit of laughter at this ceremony, but it was absolutely earnest as well.
Yes, she loves him.
Yes, yes indeed she does.
Another little bit of the unexpected.
There are many more pictures, of course, but I will share them with K.B. and Chris, who are still on their honeymoon before I post them anywhere.

I'm so glad we are friends. I'm so glad I was there - and that K.B. and her family were there for me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Watch out for the tinkers!

As our bus headed out one morning, our tour director, Jill, spoke solemnly into the microphone.

“Well, folks,” she enunciated, very slightly aspirating her Ts and Ds when they were at the end of the word, “you may have seen the police about the hotel earlier this morning. Nothing serious to worry about, but poor Bernard (pronounced BURR-nerd, not Ber-NARD) discovered that the diesel fuel from the bus had been siphoned off overnight.”

We all gasped on cue. Though I was speculative; Jill routinely poked fun at Bernard, which he bore in stride, claiming that the woman up ahead by the bridge was his girlfriend (a statue of a mermaid) or that he had stayed up all night baking the brown bread she handed out (I’m quite sure it was Jill’s doing, that bread.).

“Not to worry, he has a spare tank,” she assured us. “It just means he’ll have to work in an extra stop to fuel up.” Interestingly, this fact of life hadn’t really occurred to me. Of course our chauffeur performed routine maintenance and fueling – a challenge, given all the hours we were on the road.

“But we know who did it,” she confided. “It was the tinkers!”

She went on to explain that the tinkers were a nomadic community in Ireland, not related to the gypsies or Roma people of elsewhere in Europe, but with a similar culture of living unattached to any specific location. She explained that they were not well liked by the rest of Irish communities (one wonders if the Irish and the Catholic could unite in shared bullying of this minority group).

At one point, the government had, with good heart, decided to build homes for the tinkers, so that they wouldn’t squat on private property or along roadsides and farms. The tinkers obligingly moved to these communities, but did not actually live in the houses. They continued to live in their caravans (what we would call mobile homes or RVs), but kept their livestock in the houses. Or so goes the urban legend.

A tinker community we saw the following day.
But this day, we left Ballina (pronounced bah-lee-NAH) and headed for Connemara and Galway.

I have to confess here that I took many pictures for which I have no story, other than the day and order on which they were taken. So here are a few from that day, with as much context as I can recollect.
A light snack mid-morning snack in a hidden-away art gallery/bistro our tour director had told us about.
(My nausea was getting steadily worse.)
You may note Stephen’s new woolen cap lying on the table. Here is a picture of him wearing it.

Doesn't it just suit him to a T?
Mid-afternoon, we arrived at Connemara. I had never heard of the place, but apparently it is well known for its green marble. I think this is a domestic reputation.

Nevertheless, we stopped for a break and managed to find a very pretty Celtic brooch for Steve’s mom.

Back on the road again, we pass Lynch’s Castle on our way into Galway Town (as distinguished from County Galway).

This is another landmark that would have meant little or nothing to us, but Jill explained that the son of the original lord of the castle had committed a crime (murder, I believe) and was sentenced to death. The executioner, however, refused to do the deed (possibly because of a fondness for the young man or for fear of repercussions from Lord Lynch). Lord Lynch was honour-bound to kill his son himself, which he did, hanging him from an upstairs window. “And so that is where the word ‘lynching’ comes from.”

Galway Town also offered up more murals – these of a non-political nature, now that we were in the Republic of Ireland.

That evening, we ate (or Steve ate; I nibbled) at a real castle with entertainment from a troupe of actors and musicians – including a harpist – oh, how I enjoy the harp! It was beautiful and witty, and reinforced the notion that Irish people are really, really fun and know how to have a good time!
The most surprising thing about the castles is that they were so . . . SMALL.
The rooms were really quite compact.
After dinner, Steve caught a picture of me using a castle wall for support while enjoying the crisp air.
This may be my new favourite picture of me.
Those are water droplets on my lenses. It really did rain a little bit – or a lot – every day. As Ronin, our Irish-Chinese Buddhist guide, told us, “Here’s how you do an Irish weather forecast: Look out the window. Is it raining? Then it’s rainy. Is it not raining? Then it will soon.” And that prediction could change as quickly as a wink.

And with that Bernard brought us back to our hotel for sleep.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs!

One of the interesting things about travelling to new countries or regions is the idiosyncratic signage that you see along the way. Ireland proved to be no exception.

I kind of prefer this to "yield."
This is just misleading. To me, it implies that you are not allowed to return in less than one hour.
I think it means that you are not allowed to come back and move your vehicle to another slot.
I'm glad they spelled it out.
She does not look happy.
Also, she looks like she would like you to insert something in her hands. You go first.
"Keen Rates"
I guess those rates are pretty smart.
Big Brother makes time for dogs.
Or are the wardens themselves dogs?
Many of the toilets in Ireland required you to pump the handle, but there were no such instructions.
Clear enough, I think, though I don't usually think in terms of setting a person down.
Two comments:
1. Then fix it
2. What does this mean?
Frank was my dad's name, so I just liked this sign,

Monday, May 20, 2013

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming.

On May 11, my nephew married his longtime love. Aren't they gorgeous? It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony - and the sun came out just as they said their vows. Perfect? Yup.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Omagh, Belleek, Ballina

As with every day of our trip, we had an ambitious schedule of visits. I must say that if we were not on a group tour we would likely not have seen quite so many attractions. We (I) would certainly have slept in later -- we were up by 7 a.m. each day -- and we would have passed by many landmarks and points of interest without knowing it.
Jill, giving us a briefing on the first day of the tour, while we were on our canal cruise.
Our tour director, Jill, had welcomed us on our first day with, "You are very welcome here," and explained in her precise lilt that "very welcome" was the customary Irish turn of phrase to express their very warm reception of guests. Jill provided an almost constant narrative of what we were seeing.

As always, our day started with a hot breakfast buffet. A typical Irish breakfast included scrambled eggs, "brown bread" (a quick bread made with molasses), blood sausage, regular sausage, bacon, cold toast, a steaming vat of hot oatmeal, yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit. And this.
Try some Bushmills Irish Whiskey with your porridge.
Steve tried it and said it was "not bad." I did not try it.

Our first stop this day was the Ulster* American Folk Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone. It is a reconstructed village that shows the lifestyle of people in Ireland around the time of the great emigration to the Americas. The first part of the park shows modest farm dwellings and a city in Northern Ireland. Then there is a model quay and ship through which one passes to the "new world."

*Ulster is a province in the north part of Ireland that includes counties in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Confused yet? Here's a picture from Wikipedia. The pink part is Northern Ireland; the green part is the Republic of Ireland. All of it is Ulster.
Donegal, by the way, is pronounced Donny-GAL
Likewise, Sligo is pronounced SLIGH-go
Back to our story. The theme park was beautiful.
One of the thatch-roofed cottages. The white smoke is from a turf fire.
Apparently, thatched roofs are more expensive than slate roofs and do not last as long,
so they are falling out of fashion.
A turf fire.
The fireplace was broad and open, and the room was quite smokey.

A window inside one of the "town" dwellings.
In both castles and modest homes, the stone walls would have been stuccoed and whitewashed.
These stone walls were everywhere in the Irish countryside, both north and south.
The fields are so full of rocks that they were simply stacked on the boundaries of the farmers' fields.
Below decks in steerage class on one of the migrant ships.
Note that the table has raised edges so that the food would not simply slide off it as the ship rolled.
This scenario only shows four people; in reality, hundreds of people would have shared this space.
The New World
What they found on arrival was not so very different from what they had left behind. And the homes they built, when they were able, were not unlike the ones they had left behind, though with cedar shingles rather than slate or thatch for roofs.
Windows were expensive.
I don't know why, but I really love this kind of village. It's kind of like snooping or visiting real-estate open houses when I have no intention of buying. I look at every implement they have on display, every sign, every quilt. And I love them all.
Someone cared for these things. 
But we did eventually have to move along. On our way, we met some wayward sheep!
Silly sheep!
Picture taken from the bus, so excuse the blur.
Next stop: Belleek. I had never heard of Belleek pottery, though I recognized it once I saw it.
Elaborate porcelain
Our guide on this visit was a classic Irish beauty with long, red hair and a delightful accent.

I was fascinated to observe that the china was really all hand-crafted. Each of those strands hand-laid over a form to create the work; each flower hand-formed and hand-painted.

I actually like them at this stage - without all the flowers and add-ons. Or maybe just past this stage, after they are glazed and kilned.

I managed to escape the obligatory gift shop without buying a single thing.

Our next stop was a "hidden treasure" - something not officially listed on the tour program: W.B. Yeats' grave. His grave was not particularly interesting. I did take a picture, but I'll spare you. Instead I'll share this:
A monk at the cemetery in Sligo, where W.B. Yeats is buried.
A beautiful old gravestone.
A lovely celtic cross.
These sculptural headstones are more recent than the old, simpler ones.
We saw a lot of trees wearing English Ivy as long underwear.
Not just in the graveyard, but everywhere.
When we reached it, Ballina (pronounced bah-lee-NAH) was like most other old Irish towns: narrow lanes with buildings crowding the sidewalk, painted bright colours.
It was a tight fit for our bus.
Like most towns, it also had a river running through it.
The River Moy
And with that, we reached the end of our day. I was tired and had started feeling motion sickness, though I didn't know that was the problem. I just felt slightly nauseated and exhausted. I skipped dinner.

Update: here is the map of this day's journey.

View Ireland Tour 2013 in a larger map

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