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A Pint of Plain, by Bill Barich

July 4, 2016 1 comment

I picked this book up while I was in Dublin in May this year with my husband. It was in a used bookshop that was going out of business so I thought I had to get something. What would be more apropos then to read a book about pubs while visiting Ireland. Actually, it was something I seriously hadn’t thought about prior to purchasing the book, visiting pubs, that is.

I’ve never been much of a drinker, except maybe by accident when I come across something really tasty and then take too much. But normally, drink is not first on my list. I’m very deliberate in that way.

In fact, our only purpose for visiting a pub when we were in Dublin was in search of some real Irish music. Ironically, this is one of the purposes that the author has when he first begins his research into what has happened to the Irish pubs and their reputation. He’s looking for authenticity and part of that approach is for him to locate somewhere that plays authentic music.

Barich certainly visits many pubs, both within Dublin and without. He does a decent job of describing the interiors, the food, the beer, the staff, etc. He also has a poetic style of writing. I suppose what I found lacking was any real organization in the book.

After reading the whole book, and it took time. I realized that we actually did a decent job of visiting the one pub that probably had as authentic an atmosphere as lucky tourists my get on their first try – and that was O’Donohues at 15 Merrion Row. Here’s a link to someone else’s youtube video of the live music.

Along the theme of music, Barich describes a collection of more than 1800 melodies that went into The Music of Ireland in 1903 and which is still commonly referred to as “The Book” for still being a definitive resource for musicians. Barich repeats a quote that describes traditional music:

Traditional music…connects the past to the present and closes a circle, and that’s the source of its powerful hold on an audience.

This is the best music link I could find on YouTube. Prepare for 40 luscious minutes of Irish music.

This must be true to some extent, because I have often felt myself held by traditional music, even when it is not my own, but I must say, having descended from four Irish relatives, the pull of Irish music holds me in a way that most other traditional music doesn’t. Is there some type of genetic memory that clings to us from generation?

My only regret, after reading the book, is that we didn’t visit the Brazen Head Pub, even though we walked right past it and it definitely looked inviting. We just didn’t take the leap!

Barich spends a few moments, in spatters throughout the book, referring to Oldenburg’s theory of third places (“great good places…that are at the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy”) and how pubs fit into the definition of “third places” – not home, the first place, nor work, the second place. A third place provides neutral ground that erases the distinction between a host and a guest… Anyway, there is a ton to read on that subject.

While in Ireland, I discovered that many Australians originated from Irish convict status, and I was able to confirm that none of my stock began in Australia this way – not that it would have meant anything if they had.

My Irish ancestors: My maternal grandfather descended from pure Irish stock on his mother’s side. Her father’s parents were Hugh Carolin 1808-1964 (Dublin) married Margaret Gilchrist 1805-1857. Her mother was Elizabeth Spillane 1808-1896 (Holycross, Tipperary). I don’t have information on whom she married. Based on the period that these people were alive, I am assuming that they fled Ireland during the potato famine.

Heading to Ireland, at a time, when Syrian refugees were and continue to pour out into the rest of the world, and rediscovering part of my family’s past had a certain serendipity to it. All of us have come from somewhere and many of us have immigrated at some point in our lives or our ancestors have. Would I be here, in the United States today, prospering, if my Irish relatives had not been able to escape Ireland’s potato famine…looking for food and life?

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Categories: Books, Family, Ireland, Personal, Travel

My cousin, the artist

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

I wanted to quickly give my cousin, Nicola Taylor, the artist, a plug because I think the work she is doing is really fabulous. And, when I saw this brief article about her, it made me think that we could all use some free advertisement now and again. So I should write something.

Nicola has always been an artist, at least that I can remember. Ever since she was little, my grandmother used to show me her pictures and hold them up, even if she didn’t always approve of the pictures themselves—I think she had a problem with some feature of the lady on the beach house that Nicola had painted. Maybe something about the belly button 🙂 I can’t really remember. The point is, she saw art being made there, and she talked about it. I saw it too, and remember being jealous of Nicola’s ability to imagine something and then to make it real on paper.

Anyway, Nicola has talent, that’s clear. Taking the time to develop that talent and then exposing herself by putting her artwork out there, in the public realm: that’s ballsy. Personally, I love what she’s doing with color, with feminism–at least that’s how I see it. There’s been this whole movement towards showing women without bodies, or parts missing and I see that in some of Nicola’s artwork. Her intent may not be what I am reading into her artwork, but that’s ok. I see it as women being more than just parts. It’s talked about in the media but it still happens: women are objectified for their parts…legs, lips, hair, etc. When those parts are missing, or represented in new or different ways, that says something to me about perspective and how we must be very aware of how we look at women, we must try to see past the “parts”.

Nicola’s use of color and shape are interesting. They draw you in and make you want to understand what she is feeling when she’s painting, what is inspiring her. I would love to see her showing somewhere and look forward to a day, sometime soon I hope, when she is doing that!

Categories: Art, Australia, Family

France on Foot, by Bruce LeFavour

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

This seems like an unlikely book for me to have read, but I picked it up from the library, thinking that it could help me as I prepared for the El Camino pilgrimage that I walked with my mom, last year. I was right! It was an excellent resource, just to understand the day-to-dayness of walking a long distance among other things. And, I read this book from cover to cover. LeFavour mixes the right amount of practical advice, with personal stories and descriptions of the French countryside and food to keep the reader intrigued.

Ok, so while this book doesn’t address the Camino, in particular, it’s very good for getting one to think about how to eat when walking long distances, and what to wear, etc. All from someone who has spent time walking long distances in the French countryside. There was even a website by the author, but it has since disappeared.

The biggest shocker when I started reading this book – and I mean this was really quite shocking (but in a good way) because I have spent an incredible amount of time in France – is that France has more walking paths than England. I knew that England is littered with public trails that cover private property, but the number of trails in France greatly surpasses those in England. France has 110,000 miles of trails.

The trail system in France is documented in several different map formats. The France Grande Randonnee (IGN) Map 903 published by the Institut geographique national or IGN shows 37,500 miles of trails. And, surprisingly, there are more than 1600 local walking clubs in France, according to LeFavour.

The origins of these paths is quite interesting and maybe slightly unexpected:

Originally, most of the trials in the agricultural areas of France like the Loire, Normandy, Picardy, Lorraine, much of Brittany and all the wine regions were rights-of-way from the villages to the fields surrounding those villages. In medieval times the French peasant was threatened regularly by robbers, marauding armies, imaginary ghosts and all-too-real wolves, so as to protect himself and his family, he retreated with others into the relative security of villages near but not next to his fields. During the day the family ventured out to their fields warily on foot or horseback, using a warren of muddy paths. At night they scuttled back to the village over those same tracks. Since all the villagers needed to walk the paths, they were public, not private. Those that are left today, remain so.

There are four kinds of trails in France:

  1. National Trails – 37,500 miles of long-distance sentiers de grande randonnee or GR trails. They use white and red blazes as markers. These trails take the walker from one place to another. They are not closed loops
  2. Regional Trails – the sentier de grande randonee de pays or GRP cover one region, and often in a circuit. They can be quite long – up to 134 miles by LeFavour’s accounting. These trails are blazed in yellow and red.
  3. Local Trails – the sentier de promenade et randonnee or PR cover local walks only. They radiate out from towns and villages all over France and use only yellow blazes but when they criss-cross they may use other colors as well.
  4. International Trails – the itineriere europeen  or E are the continuation in France of trails that cross other countries.

Most towns have an office called the Syndicat d’Initiative, which distributes, for a small fee or for free, trail maps of the local area. You can also check with the local bookstore (librarie) for maps.

LeFavour promotes staying in bed-and-breakfasts (chambres d’hotes) and farms that accept guests (gites ruraux). Surprisingly, the French countryside is home to far fewer people today than at the end of WWII. LeFavour says, which I tend to concur with through personal experience, that the French are willing to spend a great deal of public money in support of their conviction that the quality of life and not just the accumulation of material goods is a large part of what makes life worth living. This is in the context of the money the government gives to support the parcs naturels regionaux.

Good maps to get:

Overview: France grande randonnee IGN 903

Planning: Michelin cartes routieres et touristiques (Michelin road and tourist maps). 5x more detailed than the IGN 903.

IGN blue maps: carte bleu serie bleu

Where to buy maps if not in France:  Adventurous Traveler Bookstore

Final Tips: Book restaurants ahead of time if you have done research and know they are good. They make only one booking per table in the evening because it is assumed that you will take your time, to enjoy what is prepared for you.

Guidebooks to buy: Michelin Hotels-Restaurants, the Logis de France, the Chambres et Tables d’hotes and the Gites d’etape & de sejour

LeFavour suggests making your own book from everything that you have gleaned and carrying that instead of all of the guidebooks suggested above.

Buen Camino! Or happy any other walk and/or pilgrimage you may be on.

Categories: Books, Travel

From Victor Harbor and the Coorong, South Australia to the Grampians, Victoria

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

My daughter and I visited Victor Harbor last year on a return trip from Adelaide in South Australia to the Grampians in Victoria. Victor Harbor is a nice respite from Adelaide. It is a small and very quiet seaside town. Architecture is interesting, similar to other towns we’d visited in South Australia.

The Anchorage Hotel was quite nice. The rooms were basic enough; similar to pub-style rooms, in that beds are simple and the rooms are no bigger than they need to be. I had elected for a room without its own bathroom, in order to save money and to make it a little more interesting – maybe memorable. My daughter wasn’t too excited by that but it really made no difference to the quality of our stay since very few people were staying at the hotel.

The restaurant at the hotel was very good, in fact surprisingly good! It had come highly recommended by a local I’d met as I’d wandered the streets in search of photographic opportunities.

Beware of Room no. 5, which was our room, though, because it is right above reception, which gets rolling at around 6:45am. Sunrise, however, was lovely, which the early wake-up afforded us a glance at.

My 6 mile run consisted of a jaunt to and around granite island, where penguins make their way to every night at dusk, then on up north-west of the island, on what had been touted as a boardwalk, but ended up being a concrete sidewalk of sorts. Ouch, my knees hurt when I was done with that.

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We left Victor Harbor undecided as to whether to make a dash back to Moyston, in Victoria or to stop in Mount Gambier, as we’d originally planned to do. After driving along the Coorong for several hours, with nothing but bushes to view on either side of the highway, we committed ourselves to a straight track to Moyston, which meant skipping Mount Gambier and heading on some back-roads. The Coorong, sadly, is not much to look at.

We made our way through the Grampians, spotting an echidna waddling on the side of the road, a kangaroo, which we followed for about 500 feet, and finally an emu. About Âľ of the way through the Grampians, and about 2.5 kilometers from Halls Gap, we came to a road-closed sign, with no option but to take the road to Mt. Difficult (which we did for about 3 kilometers), or to turn around and take the long way to Moyston. This extended our trip by about an hour. Apparently, there had been mudslides. The problem was that it was dark and we were tired—we’d been driving all day. There isn’t much in the Grampians, under those conditions. Let’s just say, it’s pretty much trees and bushes on either side of the road, and extremely dark. Eerie.

Gee, you think the parks people might have put a sign upon entering the Grampians, letting people know that the road was closed (24 kilometers) ahead? No, that would be too easy.

So you can do it: return from Victor Harbor to Moyston in 6.5 hours or so. That’s the quick way and the way I’d recommend. Our route was circuitous and not very scenic, in the end. But, we made it! Whatever you do, don’t try to drive through the Grampians National Park, at night, with only your GPS as your guide.

Categories: Australia, Travel

The African Queen, a novel by C.S. Forester

January 11, 2012 3 comments

I just finished reading this book. Wow. Quite interesting for such a short novel. It’s set in the Congo, at the time when the Germans are trying to capture it from the Belgians. If you don’t know the story, it’s a pretty quick read—well-written and interesting. Nothing that requires too much analysis or contemplation, a true piece of entertainment that is really about the relationship of two people in unlikely circumstances.

It’s a good story, with a lovely bit of romance. I have added the movie to my library requests and am really looking forward to seeing Humphrey Bogart play a cockney engineer, and Katherine Hepburn play a minister’s sister. I think it will all come off pretty well.

While I was reading the book, I came across several words that I either didn’t recognize at all, or knew but didn’t fully understand. When this happens once, I just kind of skim over the word, but when it happens several times, as it did with this novel, I think it’s fun to look words up. It’s an opportunity to expand my vocabulary. I know that there is this idea that we are supposed to use the most simplistic form of words available for clarity, etc. but that must be balanced with the opportunity we have to develop nuance in our meaning by using more refined words. That is my justification anyway for trying to expand my vocabulary.

Here are the 5 words that I came across, their sentences to give them context, and their heretofore unknown meanings (from the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary-my copy is from 1996):

1. Surfeit: “Surfeit was yet to come.”

Meaning: an excess,  esp. in eating or drinking

2. Casuistry: “All the same, and in a fashion completely devoid of casuistry, Rose was appreciative of the difference between business and pleasure.”

Meaning: person who uses clever but false reasoning in matters of conscience, etc

3. Uxorious: “As it was, the discussion ended eventually, as was quite inevitable, in Allnutt’s saying that ‘he would see what he could do,’ just as some other uxorious husband in civilization might see what could be done about buying a new drawing-room suite.”

Meaning: greatly or excessively fond of one’s wife

4. Objurgations: “‘Which way are they going?’ asked Rose, cutting through his objurgations.”

Meaning: a harsh rebuke (according to Merriam-Webster as it was not listed in my pocket dictionary)

5. Peroration: “This peroration annoyed the President; it was almost impertinence on the part of a mere lieutenant to tell a commander what was the extent of his powers.”

Meaning: concluding part of a speech

Categories: Africa, Books, Travel Tags:

Las Vegan Bakery – Yum!

November 3, 2011 1 comment

Earlier this year, when I was visiting family in Australia, I discovered this wonderful little bakery in Melbourne—Collingwood to be exact. Actually, I’d driven past it several times not quite getting there before it closed, so I was happy to finally make it. Thank you iPhone and my daughter for teaching me to take photos of signs, such as those with opening hours on them.

I took my mom there right after picking her up from the Tullamarine airport, where, by the way, it cost me $20 for 2hrs of parking (WTF!). Um, Melbourne, it costs me $3-4 an hour to park at the Seattle airport.

Anyway, Las Vegan Bakery is located at 22 Smith St., Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia.

Wow. Was it amazing! One of the owners, Lia, treated us to her personal service and explained the breakfast options, which we were fairly interested in even though it was already 11am. We decided on the fresh and home made rosemary sourdough bread topped with tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. And, we shared the sour cherry and agave pancakes. Yummy. The tempeh bacon, which they flavor themselves, was absolutely delicious and the most reminiscent of anything like bacon that I’ve had in the 3 years since I became a vegan. Oh, and let me not forget the bottomless cup of chai that we both ordered, though we were completely unable to drink more than one cup each due to the massive size of our breakfasts. We absolutely loved the one cup we had. And, just because we loved the place so much, I took home a slice of their jaffa chocolate baci cake, which was very good.

See a photo here of jaffa chocolate baci cake:

(Apologies for the blurriness of the photo.)

Anyway, my mom decided then and there that this place was so amazing (and she is not a vegan), that she would make a special trip back to Collingwood, just to eat at the bakery. This place deserves applause, as one of the only completely vegan places to eat in Melbourne! Please try it, even if you are not vegan. You are going to love it if you let yourself experiment just a bit, with flavor and substance!

Categories: Australia, Food, Melbourne, Travel

The Barossa Valley

October 18, 2011 1 comment

During my visit to Adelaide earlier this year, my daughter and I took a day-trip to the Barossa Valley. It was mid-winter, a freezing 61°F. Wait a second, that’s not even close to freezing. Yep, I wore a t-shirt most of the afternoon. That’s what they call winter in the B. Valley (as I like to call it). What we Seattle-ites wouldn’t give for a winter so mild.

We began our foray with a trip to Gawler. According to Wikipedia, it is the first country town in South Australia. Um, boring. We did stop at the office of tourism to pick up the guided tour: “Gawler’s Historic drive,” which showed some interesting architecture, including the Town Hall and mostly houses with histories.

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The bakeries in Gawler are supposed to be very good, but the one that was recommended to us, by the office of tourism, was just so-so.

St. Hallett’s winery in Tanunda, was AWESOME! We went there because it was recommended by Lonely Planet. Thank you so much Lonely Planet. It ended up being the best winery we visited. There, a young English woman helped us try several delicious, robust red wines. Yum. I bought two bottles hoping there would be a way to get them home. For anyone who is interested, my daughter said that the restroom was lovely 🙂 (N.B. I was told at U.S. Customs in Seattle that I was only allowed to bring 1 bottle into the country, but they allowed the 2 just this one time. Yay.)

Nosh, which is on the main road in Tanunda, was recommended to us for lunch, by the English woman at St. Hallet’s. The food was delicious, even if the wait-staff seemed very confused about which order went where—it’s one of those places where you order and pay at the counter, then they bring the food to you—They brought out my daughter’s meal a full 20 minutes before mine then confessed that her sandwich was actually meant for someone else and they had accidentally given it to my daughter instead of the other person. Oops.

We moved on to other small towns in the B. Valley via the scenic route, but it really wasn’t that scenic. If you’ve been to Napa Valley, Italy, or the south of France, the B. Valley just doesn’t compare…not in winter anyway.

Our last winery visit (ok, I admit, we only visited two—what can I say, I’m a lightweight) was at Bethany winery, which is historically interesting because it has been around for five generations, but their wine was a bit weird. Everything was unusual. One Riesling smelt like fish, I just couldn’t get the smell of fish out of my nostrils. Being a vegan, I don’t want to drink wine tasting of fish, even if most wines are strained through fish guts:

Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is a form of collagen used mainly for the clarification of wine and beer. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this definition).

One suggestion, if traveling to the Barossa Valley: maybe hit it in spring or summer, it might be more appealing in that light.

Categories: Adelaide, Australia, Food, Travel