travel bits from a tramp abroad: get on the bus, gus



I’d never booked a bus tour before Ireland but in order to see more of the country outside Dublin I thought it behooved me to try it. It’s a risk trusting your vacation to someone else, even tour professionals. All you can do is research the route, trust to reviews from past travelers and cross your fingers.

Fortunately, my daughter and I are a lot alike in personality; we’re a good travel partner match. She’s like me in my ability to laugh when things go wrong and find humor in the ridiculous. Stupid inconveniences aren’t the end of the world and disasters that don’t kill anyone make for pretty good memories. Even when the bus tour you booked doesn’t turn out exactly how you anticipated and when buses break down not once but twice in the same trip, leaving you stuck in the middle of the Irish countryside.

There are far worse places to be stranded.

I chose two different tour companies for two separate journeys. The first Paddy Wagon Tours, on Sunday, May 25 for the following itinerary:

The “Ring of Kerry” Tour:

  • Adare
  • Killarney National Park
  • Killarney: Charming Town
  • Torc Waterfall
  • Killorglin (Where?)
  • Dingle Bay
  • Wild Atlantic Way
  • Inch Beach


Paddy Wagon had so many tempting tours it was difficult narrowing it down. In the end, I decided journeying south to Dingle Bay would give us a good cross-section of that part of the country. To be honest, I also chose Paddy Wagon for the garish buses, because I thought it was funny riding in a vehicle emblazoned with the face of a leprechaun. It’s understated and elegant, not whoring national folk traditions at all.

And, full disclosure, I was anticipating Allison’s reaction to finding out she’d be spending a full day in it. I’m always willing to go that extra mile for a laugh.


 paddywagon’tis a fine bus, beggorah!



Lovely Adare! I’ll never forget the blur of its beauty as we drove straight through it. Didn’t get a single pic but no worries, Google:





Adare is one of the reasons I booked this particular tour. Everything I found mentioned what a gorgeous showcase Irish village it is, with thatched-roofed houses: a picturesque beauty with brightly painted front doors, a veritable village in the shire – minus hobbitsses. Would have made for some lovely pictures. We sort of got a glimpse of it as we barreled through, on our way to Killarney. When I turned around in my seat, I think I saw a thatched roof, growing smaller and smaller.

Not to bad-mouth Paddy Wagon; I suppose it was my fault for not realizing listing a town on an itinerary doesn’t mean you actually stop there. Sometimes it just means it’s pointed out on the fly.

Keep that in mind while planning trips, kids.

The driver/tour guide turned out to be lovely; just a treasure. The second one, that is. The first drove us to where he’d left his car at the beginning of his prior shift, where we picked up the driver with a distinguishable personality. Well worth the stop. Our first guide said nothing on the hour long plus drive to his car, save to sit back and rest, as it was so early in the morning. The second was hilarious. A portly gentleman, a good-natured, red-headed stereotypical Irishman, regaled us by singing along to the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” which had us laughing so hard we cried. It was all in the delivery. Classic.

If you take a Paddy Wagon tour, ask for the sexy ginger man.


Killarney National Park

Our first actual stop, Torc waterfall:






Lush and verdant, that’s how I’d describe Killarney National Park, based on the fifteen minutes we had to find the waterfall, take photos and get our arses back on the bus. We were so giddy to stretch our legs, it was almost as nice as the waterfall.


 trees – magical and spooky…

From the waterfall we visited the nearby home of a rich person, some man or other who’d made a lot of money (thus was rich). Someone not famous enough to merit actual memory space in my brain. Instead, the link is below my pic:



 muckross house, killarney national park


As for its history, Queen Victoria once visited. Wonder if she was amused?




“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”

– Queen Victoria


In 1932, the house was given to the Irish nation. Now it’s a hotel and conference center, has a magnificent library (which I didn’t see or know about), a book bindery and is generally a pleasant place to walk around – if not in.

And this is the view:



 fit for a queen

You can pay for a horse and carriage ride along the lake path, or, like us, you can wander until you feel you can safely get back to the bus on time. Supposedly there was time to see the interior of the house, as well, though you’d be choosing that over the walk by the lake. Given our time constraint, I think we chose well.



Killarney town was our lunch stop. Unlike Adare, our time here was much more extensive: HERE’S KILLARNEY YOU HAVE HALF AN HOUR TO FIND LUNCH BE BACK ON TIME.



 pretty killarney, where something must have happened once, damned if I know what it was


Allison and I just bought sandwiches, so we could walk around and actually see something. We sort of accomplished that while strolling down the main street far enough to find a mini grocery store. I don’t know how those who ate in restaurants managed. I suppose they just saw the interior of the place and their food. I don’t recall seeing anyone else from our bus while in Killarney. Come to think of it, I barely remember Killarney.

I found the bookshop and we found a church:



take pictures, quick! we’ll figure out what it was later!



What it was:

St. Mary’s Church of Killarney

Present church built: 1870

I found out later there’s much more to Killarney than shops and pubs, things like: lovely churches, a castle, ruins of medieval buildings, etc. But no big deal. We enjoyed cheap sandwiches, went to a bookstore and saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in fast-forward. I feel so worldly, so well-educated.

So ripped off.

If you want to see Killarney, go there on the blasted train, please. Otherwise, you’ll see the bit the tour company wants you to, the commercial parts where money is spent. Interested in Irish history and culture? Go there and hoof it around. What we missed is heartbreaking.

For instance, this:


And this:


I give the bus driver credit, though. He didn’t lie. He said there wasn’t much time and it would be a miracle if we found the medieval castle and made it back to the bus on time.

There are no miracles.



Didn’t see it.




Dingle Bay/Wild Atlantic Way/Inch Beach

This leg was pretty. Very pretty. Our time here was more generous, twenty minutes to half an hour, somewhere in that range. Half an hour to eat and see an entire town, twenty minutes to half an hour to take photos of a beach. Yeah, that sounds about right.


dual Irish/English sign for the beach



Lesson: there are pros and cons to travel by bus, just as there are pros and cons of train travel. Buses take you to more places in a shorter period of time, so you see less of more. Trains are the opposite. With trains you are at least partially in control of your own timetable.

Both allow you to see the countryside, assuming you’re traveling by day. It’s just a matter of how much you want to see in the time you have.

Given the opportunity to do this leg of our trip over, would I choose the bus? Hard to say. I saw a glimpse of Adare, enough to whet my appetite and frustrate me. Killarney National Park was lushly gorgeous but I love history more. Killarney town still frustrates the living hell out of me, knowing what we could have seen but didn’t. Killorglin went missing after we lost time the first time the bus died but Inch Beach and environs were well worth the trip.

Looking back, what I’d do is take an extra month or six and see it all by train and foot. That’s my answer. Stay longer than you’ve arranged or told anyone you’re planning, then make up a story about how you fell, hit your head and got amnesia and can’t recall anything after that. Those photos of you giving thumb’s up by castle ruins? Who knows how they got there? You certainly couldn’t be expected to!

A person can navigate train routes with amnesia, right? And manage to book lodging and eat, maybe buy a few souvenirs.

It’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Never forget that.

[I will be posting more photos on Bluestalking’s Tumblr blog:  I’ll let you know when they’re up]

Why can’t we leave writers alone?


“Why does the writing make us chase the writer? Why can’t we leave well enough alone? Why aren’t the books enough?”

– Julian Barnes


Yesterday I worked selling books on behalf of the library where I work. Our tent was set up at a local festival featuring food, drink, art and handicrafts, that sort of thing, our purpose to remind the public we exist and sell a few books to help offset costs of library programming, etc. I sold 14 books in the hour I was there, only one to myself, which is sort of amazing. The book I bought:



A Writer’s Commonplace Book by Rosemary Friedman

A commonplace book, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a collection of quotes and thoughts about books a reader keeps. It’s a jotting down of memories or striking quotations, facts about authors, etc. I’ve always meant to keep a commonplace book; instead, my thoughts are spread out in at least a dozen journals, here on my blog and all over the web. Maybe when I’m old(er) I’ll compile them into one place.

Ha. Yeah.

The point is, I came across the above quotation by Julian Barnes in the book I purchased. Honestly, it felt a little hurtful. I’m not sure if he was speaking of himself – as in, leave me alone – or if it was more a general thought, but it stung because I would love to meet Julian Barnes, the man behind the words that have moved me. Depending on the circumstances, I now know he may find that intrusive. Should I have the honor of meeting him I’d feel discomfort not knowing his true meaning, though I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity. I’m not that big a fool, discomfort or not.

Translating this to my little world, I’ve received the occasional reader email thanking me for bringing up the topic of depression, bipolar II level depression, which includes suicide ideation. The admission I, too, suffer helps spread the understanding there is no shame, that it’s a chemical imbalance which can be brought about by horrific life events. It’s also genetic, coming down via my maternal family line. By mentioning it I’m aiming to both help others understand what bipolar depression is, how it differs from the up and down nature of bipolar I, and to help reassure my readers they’re by no means alone. I’m always flattered when someone reaches out, never annoyed.

Julian Barnes I am not but I have no trouble sharing with my audience that I hold the thought of suicide as an “out” (the ideation), should life become too much. A lot of creative people do. Is suicide an answer? No. My thinking is skewed and I understand that. It is treatable but the sword above my head will always be there. Not everyone knows this about me. Fact is, you never know what others are suffering, what chains they drag behind them, like Dickens’s Marley in the afterlife. I don’t think most people intentionally harm others but the marks left by unintentional hurt are just as dark.

I’ve  learned the hard way authors can be abrupt, feeling devastation upon being rebuffed. When a writer is off-putting, or downright rude (I’ve had little personal experience of this), it colors the way you look at his or her work. The knife twists in your belly, the stark realization the connection the writer made with a very deep part of you now rings false. What a lot of writers do not understand is their audiences are, speaking on behalf of lovers of deeply literary writing, generally highly sensitive people. The same is so of many writers. The more deeply sensitive you are, the more attracted to literature that plumbs the depths of humanity. And when you come across someone who gets that, who moves you in a way so visceral, it’s difficult not equating the writer with what touched you.

Julian Barnes, no animosity intended, does this make a bit more sense? I hope so. It sounds trite saying “let’s be kind,” but you can’t know what another human being has suffered, nor how you helped lighten a load. You can never go wrong taking the route of graciousness but certainly can by turning away. It takes so little, a few minutes only. A few minutes to show humanity doesn’t ask much. And the difference it makes could be more profound than you could dream.

To answer your question, this is why.




Speaking of Ian Rankin and Scotland (and travelling the world)

Was just going about my business, la di da, when this came through my FB feed:

25 Reasons Why Scotland Must Be on Your Bucket List


I’ve been to Scotland, let’s see… one, two, three times and found it staggeringly beautiful but I’ve never seen any of the sites photographed in this article.





God, my heart just stopped beating.

It isn’t that I don’t love my own country and know we have beauty spots but holy mother of god. I have less interest in what’s here but that’s normal, isn’t it. Do people who live near these sites in Scotland know how fortunate they are? Would any trade for life in the Chicago suburbs?

No, really, would they? Because I have a nice house on half an acre I’d trade in a heartbeat, once my heart starts beating again.

I love rugged countryside, not snow-topped mountains. Areas of tropical beauty, like the Appalachians and Smoky Mountains (named for a near constant haze), leave me breathless but Ireland and Scotland specifically offer what’s most to my taste, rocky and mostly treeless hills and mountains, overrun with heather. In this country we really don’t have that. I take that back. Some of our western states are similar in look but not climate. They’re hot, dry and dusty. Gorgeous for their austerity but too hot by far.


“We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trod. The good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. However, as the state of mind in which we are, generally gives the coloring to events, when the imagination is suffered to wander into futurity, the picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one. Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

– Meriwether Lewis (Lewis and Clark expedition)



wyomingThe Grand Tetons, Wyoming

What gets my blood pumping are castles and abbeys and lochs/loughs, history often bloody and filled with major figures history often knows little about, adding to their mystery and potential for new discoveries. I love myth and legend, druids and fairies and shape-shifters, knights, ladies, monarchies… I cut my teeth on Robin Hood and the Tales of King Arthur, both of which my late brother patiently read to me as a child, teaching me to read by alternating pages, helping me stumble along until I learned to read proficiently. He was obsessed with history, as is my older son, who shares my brother’s middle name. My son’s university major? Teaching of History with a minor in languages. Is it coincidence he shares my brother’s name and proclivities? I wonder.

So when I see photos like these of rugged Scotland, castles and lochs and brilliantly colored autumnal mountainsides it reminds me what I haven’t seen and more than likely never will. I recently had a taste of the beauty of Ireland and Wales, and long ago the beauty of Scotland. It all just leaves me wanting more.

I hope my children carry on their wanderlust and see more than they could ever hope. Two have been abroad, my daughter most extensively (studying in Wales for a semester, traveling to Italy, Ireland and Paris) and my youngest is awaiting his turn with as much patience as can be expected. My older son has been to Italy to meet family, planning to study abroad in Italy, maybe Siena or Florence, and will certainly travel to Rome and Venice. He’s already made his lifetime travel list: starting in Portugal and making his way east, visiting Ireland and the UK then looping around for the rest of Europe, bit by bit, over his vacations.


siena3Siena, Italy


I’m fortunate to have been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen. As a family we’ve seen almost all 50 states, all contiguous but one of the Carolinas (South?). Hawaii would be nice but I’d rather see Alaska. Traveling as we did, by car, is rare these days and can be mind-numbingly dull. Ever driven the width of Montana? We have and it made us so slap-happy we celebrated all the tiny towns along the way as if they were the gilded streets of heaven. Because there is nothing else in Montana, at least via the West-East highway we took. There was one town sign I still wish we’d have stopped to photograph. It said something like, “Home to Six Nice People and One Jerk,” with photos of all. Funny, of all the states it’s Montana that comes to mind first. Because we made misery so funny, I guess. Misery being a staple of our family vacations.

I’m the most traveled of all of us, by far, having seen most of Western Europe, from Sweden south to Italy, Ireland east to the former Yugoslavia. I saw the Queen of England and Prince Philip in Dundee, Scotland. I sat on the patio of the Houses of Parliament in London, with a P.M. who took me to tea because I’d been a teenage ambassador once. I saw the first President Bush’s limo stuck in mud in Denmark, at a 4th of July celebration. In Austria I climbed in a castle where Richard the Lionheart had been held prisoner. I’ve seen Stonehenge, Glamis Castle (Macbeth), the Matterhorn, parts of Moorish Spain, canals of Venice and Bruges, Belgium. The home of Anne Frank and red light district of Amsterdam, a Lego village in Rotterdam. The Mona Lisa, statue of David and Sistine Chapel, The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and the Eiffel Tower.

If I die tomorrow I’ll have been better traveled than most people on earth. So how can I complain?

Oh, I still can and do. Justifiably, not really. But it doesn’t stop me. Two more kids left to study abroad mean two more chances to justify flying over to visit. And if one settles overseas? Please let it be Ireland or the UK. Please please please.

Save a room for mom, kids. Or a key and I’ll house sit. If you have any hesitation I’ll blog, in great detail, every little thing about your births and how uncomfortable my pregnancies were.

No pressure.



Reading Ian Rankin

 Ian Rankin – The Complaintscomplaintsrankin

I love Ian Rankin’s novels about hard-boiled detectives. His work is well-written and addictive. These are page-turners with main characters you love more as they change and evolve throughout the series. They’re smart and fast-paced and I’m glad his older series is so huge or I’d die a little waiting for his next novel, which is scheduled for God knows when. I’d ask, but I’m pretty sure God ain’t talkin’ anymore. Haven’t seen a burning bush in ages.


Right now Rankin’s on pause, on a year-long-and-counting period of not writing, following the tragic and premature death of his great friend, Scottish novelist Iain Banks (Iain M. Banks, for his science fiction titles) from cancer, at the age of 59


The death hit him hard, a sharp slap to the face. We all come up against that sometime but usually our grief and ripped to shreds insides aren’t as public. Imagine grieving deeply while the world’s watching, your fan base stifling you via good intentions.


Or perhaps not always, perhaps impatience as well:   “When are you going to get over this and start writing again?!” .. Assholes are inevitable


I follow him on Twitter, where he’s very active – and interactive – very funny and, alternately, very serious. Imagine that, a complex writer. Huh. The other day I asked him which series he’ll come back to once he starts writing again. His response:




It’s just past the one year point of Banks’s death (June 9). If I’d paid attention and known that, I wouldn’t have asked that question at this time. Usually I’m more jokey and upbeat. Goofy and stupid, the usual me. The minute I decide to ask a semi-real question I’m foot in mouth.


Been doing a lot of that lately. The more I try to explain, the worse I sound. The more honest, the more I alienate. The more I alienate, the more desolate am I.




But anyway, I’m trying to catch up with his Malcolm Fox series before he publishes another novel, though it could just as well be a Rebus as a Fox. Considering I haven’t read any of his new series – though I’m still not caught up with Rebus, admittedly – I may as well work on finishing off Fox, as it’s only three books.


As is de rigeur for the hard-boiled detective, his protagonists are divorced, have had serious drinking problems they continue to fight and are crusty on the outside with a soft, chewy nougat middle. All are womanizers of a sort. They look more than they touch but they do occasionally pick one to have a few not too explicit tumbles And they’re not completely over their exes just yet, a romantic twist that keeps them from settling down and being happy with pretty much anyone. Which is good, we don’t want that to happen.Nothing shuts down interest like a hero who overcomes depression to become monogamous.




The appeal to women is obvious: the troubled man, grizzled and lined but still roughly handsome, hurt and in need of solace – though he wouldn’t admit that. Let me mother you! Hold you close to my breast and… Hey, what’s that you’re doing? Oh, well. Okay. That works, too.


I wonder if the appeal to men is imagining themselves as Malcolm Fox or Inspector Rebus? You know, I never thought of that before. The short path to getting laid is turning into a jaded detective! BRILLIANT! I’ll just rumple up my shirt a bit, untuck it and add a tie – askew, so a woman can reach up and right it (yessss!!!). I’ll wad up my suit, dirty my shoes and leave off shaving a couple days. Use a few drops of Scotch for cologne. And don’t forget, ladies, danger is my middle name…




Both genders appreciate the pacing, smart and complex plots. As for violence, it’s there but nowhere near the grisly crap on TV. If you’re like me and a bit squeamish, skim a paragraph or two ’til you’re past the worst. He’s not a writer to describe in macabre detail or I wouldn’t read him. In the Malcolm Fox series, Fox is in police internal affairs, referred to as “the Complaints.” In other words, when cops go bad he comes in. So he’s not well-liked and must tread lightly, lest his presence set off alarm bells within the force. He can’t come into the cafeteria and plop down next to just anyone, in other words. Not without them suddenly finding they’ve forgotten a meeting and must leave right away. It’s not easy being Malcolm Fox. But it’s damn easy reading him at break-neck speed. Slooow, girlie. Slow.


Scotland’s Favorite Author


Rankin’s newest distinction, brand new actually, came just last week: ..

The veteran crime writer came above the likes of Robert Burns in a survey of thousands of readers across Britain to mark the final week for entries to the National Young Writers’ Award. The creator of Inspector Rebus said he was taken aback at the recognition, describing himself as “thrilled” at the accolade, which was a “complete surprise”, and he encouraged young writers looking to follow in his footsteps to enter the competition. The results of the survey also revealed a love among Scots for the late Iain Banks, who came fourth in the poll. The rest of the top five was dominated by seminal figures from Scotland’s literary history, with Robert Louis Stevenson coming second, followed by Arthur Conan Doyle. Robert Burns was in fifth position.

– The Scotsman
















Photo: Lisa Ferguson


Congratulations, Ian Rankin. Keep hanging in there. We’ll wait.







“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

– E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

travel bits from a tramp abroad: duo does dublin



We had but one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. I know what you’re thinking, a totally American way to see Europe, but originally I’d designated the day we arrived as a sightseeing opportunity. Couldn’t have counted on Allison’s 1,000 hour layover in Rosslare (the core of hell, just wait for it) or my miserable, frozen caffeine-deprived day of total soul crushing, mental defeat. The other two days slated for Dublin I’d previously booked with bus tours into the hinterland, early morning ’til after dark. Since our arrival day was such a fiasco of layovers and delays, minimizing the time we had to see the city our first day, that left not much time at all to see a lot of a lot. It left one day.


Phoenix Park Hotel, Dublin – located, conveniently, near Phoenix Park (duh)

Worse, we slept late on our one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. Like late late, 11 a.m., after the free Full Irish Breakfast included in the room price had ended.

I had a sort of excuse: jetlag, though honestly it didn’t really hit me that hard. Not so hard as, say, five hours spent sitting in a damn train station watching women walk around with blow up dolls and inflated penises. Allison’s overnight ferry and subsequent long, dull wait for the next train to Dublin was worse for her than my seven and a half hour skyride next to two Irish businessmen soaked in red wine, listening to them laugh like drunken, Irish frat boys then pass out and snore for four hours while I sat wide-eyed, praying for death.

Tired and dehydrated, my eyeballs felt furry. While the businessmen gurgled in their sleep I wondered how much effort it would take to open the emergency door, sucking us all into oblivion over the Atlantic. Fortunately, the low energy of chronic depression saved all of our lives. All hail ambivalence and wrenching sadness! I couldn’t be bothered to summon energy enough to crawl three feet from my seat, cheek to the active petri dish that passed for carpeting.

For once, depression saved lives.

Guiltily, we realized Dublin would be given very short shrift; we’d see very  little in one shortened day. I’d be back for two days before I flew home, so I was good. Not pleased, but okay. Not so for Allison but then she wasn’t even sure what was in Dublin to begin with and ignorance, as they say, makes things suck less. She was along for free room and board, a few dozen pics and some souvenirs, and the assertion she had been to Ireland once.

I guess that’s fortunate?

I’d pre-purchased tickets for the Hop-On/Hop-Off Dublin Tour Bus, little knowing one of the stops happened to be just around the corner from our lodging, the Phoenix Park Hotel. Huzzah! The tour website promised seamless transportation to all major ports of call in Dublin , drop offs near most any part of the city. Videos of happy happy tourists enjoying happy happy times attested to the sheer wonder of it all. Unicorns leapt! Glittery pots of gold overflowed!

I felt rather smug whipping out that email confirmation. I was a planner! Time had been spent poring over maps, googling history and sites and persons of interest. Once we’d bought and consumed the most expensive ordinary sandwiches ever (about, oh, $ 5 for a cheese sandwich), our alternative to a hot Full Irish Breakfast, we stood beside the curb waiting for our super happy fun bus.

Here it comes! Ha ha, it looks stupid, we’ll feel so touristy. It’s cold, let’s sit downstairs. Glad we got tea! Haha! Aaaaand it blows right past.


Okay. Next one. It’s green, does that make a difference? It says Hop-On/Hop-Off, must be a fashion choice. Here it comes, get your camera ready! Aaaaand it blows right past.

Glance at sign, watch, email confirmation. Hop-On/Hop-Off. Check. Two days, paid. Check. Dates match. Check. Glance back at sign. Well, here comes a green one, let’s seeeee…. And it’s gone.

Ask at the hotel! They’ll know!

“YOU ask,” sez Allison.


The clerk wasn’t the same clear-eyed, ruddy-cheeked Irishman from check in, the one who’d expertly circled all the sites in walking distance then scribbled YOU ARE HERE where we were. Haha! So sweet, so funny. So not here anymore. He’d morphed into a she, a less giddily friendly clerk who did know, I think.”It’s across the street,” she said, “just over something something … something something bus stop” in a thick Eastern European accent (maybe Russian?). “Thanks!” a bit too brightly. Back away quickly.

Let’s just cross the damn street. Screw it.

There’s a red one. I’m feeling CONFIDENT. Wave, wave, my good sir!

Reader, IT STOPPED. A friendly smile from a driver completely invested in us, it’s about freaking time. I hand him my printed out email confirmation, glowing with pride. I am a planner! He looks at it. He pulls off his glasses. He looks some more. A little more.


This is not starting well.

“I think…” He scrutinizes. He shows to the tour guide, who scratches her head. “I think you want the GREEN bus.”


“But I don’t want you to stand here forever, so I’ll drive you to a GREEN stop.”

We sit. Oh, how happily we sit. Tra la, this man is our savior. The tour guide chats amiably into the microphone, same old same old to her but she makes it sound new FOR US. Interesting! Dublin is wonderful!

Halt. “And there you are, right as rain, here’s your stop. There aren’t as many green buses but one should be along…. shortly?”

And one was along. Aboard we hopped and I handed my email printout to the driver. “Errr…” Scratching head. “I think you want the RED bus.”

“We were… on… the… red… bus. He said we need the GREEN bus.”



“Well, just have a seat. Can’t have you just standing around.”

We ditched him and his stupid GREEN bus at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and never saw him again. Screw you, Hop-On/Hop-Off, wherever you are. We are the only two tourists on the planet who could NOT manage to figure you out. We are only two but we are mighty. As mighty as my social media reach. Chew on that.


Trinity College Dublin

Book of Kells

The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert version of the script known as “insular majuscule”.

The place of origin of the Book of Kells is generally attributed to the scriptorium of the monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location.

It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.


Being a planner, I’d also pre-purchased our tickets for the Book of Kells exhibit. Unlike the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus, our Book of Kells tickets gained us admission as promised.


I have no photos of the Book itself, nor the exhibits preceding it. You can’t photograph anything before the Old Library part of the tour and that only without flash. I previously posted a couple photos of the Old Library, which is so overflowing with history and culture my heart swelled to bursting. Give me that smell of old leather and dusty vellum, dark wood vaulted at the ceiling, anchored to the floor by way of strong, thick columns.

I’m a dork that way. Even Allison, not particularly into old books, found the book making exhibits of interest and took a lot of her own photos of the Old Library.

If she was just humoring me that’s okay. She didn’t make one move to hurry me.

So, no photos of brilliantly colored illuminated pages, sorry. That’s what Google’s for: ripping off copyrighted images since September 4, 1998:





The book gave me chills imagining medieval monks hunched over the vellum, feather pens dipping into brilliant blues and reds and gold inks, scratching away by candlelight. Once in that groove it’s transcendent. I know that feeling of creation, not on this scale but artistic creation as a whole. Hours and whole days fly by. You forget there is anything but you and your art until your back complains or your bladder sends you an urgent signal. Interruptions are irritations. Insistent, though, and once back it takes but a short time becoming immersed again. There’s no feeling of hunger, little of thirst. By the time exhaustion hits, demanding you put the piece aside, you’ve gone so far beyond it’s a sort of high, like starving yourself beyond what’s healthy. Unhealthy, manic creativity is fueled by abuse of the body. The monks would have known this. I wonder how long they lived, at what point the next shift pulled them off their stools and took over. Maddening the only writing they did was transcription and not personal, yet blessed are we the only writing they did was transcription or we wouldn’t have the wealth of culture we do.

For a bibliophile, there are no mental images more romantic as the bald – save for a fringe of hair – brothers sitting side by side, desk beside desk, in a muted monastery away from temptations of life. The handwriting’s so perfect, so tiny. Pencil guide lines are visible on the manuscript as are tiny hairs left unscraped from the calfskin. Hair ducts, too, eliciting a bit more sympathy for the poor animals. Modern books are worth more for content, medieval manuscripts for artistic merit first, more only if you’re either an avid historian or student of religion.

It’s the art: the sweat and labor and meticulous detail. And the romance: the names never known, artists never credited. Nothing left behind save the glorious beauty.





Video with a few details:




I wish I could say we saw loads of other sites after the Book of Kells. Truth is, we went shopping in the shopping district. A hopefully genuine Irish-knit cardigan, sheep coffee mug, few t-shirts and miscellany later we walked back through the Christ Church Cathedral area on the way to dinner and our hotel.






What we saw of Dublin was shamefully minimal. The (short) bus rides took us past monuments and buildings and a crazed-looking person in a leprechaun suit but mostly we saw what we did as we walked aimlessly through the city. If ever we wind up there together again we’ll rectify the shameful waste but this trip was ma & Timmy/Jimmy bonding time, more about time together than sites seen. We saw more than I mention here and it was, all in all, fabulous time spent in lovely Dublin, my new favorite city until the next dislodges it.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Next up lovely, touristy Killarney, Cliffs of Moher and more…

the two americans? they went that way…


Sebastian Barry Event: May 12, 2014

Following is part of Mr. Barry’s reading during his event at Highland Park, IL. I had to cut it short because YouTube won’t upload such a large video (about seven minutes)  from an iPhone. If I can figure it out I’ll post Part II, otherwise, here’s Part I, up ’til the point someone’s cell phone started ringing and he paused, then took up again as if nothing had happened once the idiot shut up the damn phone.

That’s professionalism, the ability to stay in character and ignore such a rude interruption.

Hope you’ll enjoy.


[Update: Looks like the entire video DID upload to YouTube, after all. Alright. I’ll take it.]

photos: ireland (dublin)




“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a word of what I’m saying.”

– Oscar Wilde


“sphere within sphere” – arnaldo pomodoro

trinity college, dublin


old library, trinity college




street performers, shopping district (note American influence)



 lovely pubs everywhere






 lovely pubs, redux



shopping shopping shopping



 wish i knew – maybe


Why I can’t review your book.

An aside


I get so many queries I have to address this publicly.

I won’t consider reviewing or promoting self-published books at this time, though I’m sure some of you have written knock it out of the park novels, nonfiction, poetry, etc. No doubt I’m missing incredible writing but I am, as do we all, facing a finite life.

The great thing about self-publishing is anyone can write and publish a book. The abomination about self-publishing is anyone can write and publish a book. The big houses with overworked, highly skilled and moderately paid (never enough, in my opinion) editors still turn out a lot of pure crap, mostly to please the masses. Self-published books don’t have the benefit of either overworked, highly skilled and moderately paid editors who’ve made it to the head of the pack to smooth and improve prose, nor graphic artists to design appealing covers and fonts and such.

I come in only once books have been through these steps and then only when I can take on new projects. For the foreseeable future, all I can handle are professionally published books I can review in professional publications. I’m also working on my own stuff.

Keep writing, keep honing, keep submitting. If nothing else, writing a full-length novel is an accomplishment in itself. It’s more than 90% of aspiring writers ever do. Hell, I haven’t managed to do it yet.

Promote the hell out of yourself. Pitch bloggers who review self-published books. Take copies to local indie shops willing to buy a copy or two and give it a chance. When you hit it big you can write and tell me I missed out. I can take it.

I can’t review your self-published book but I’m flattered you asked. I truly am.