Westeros

 

(Ireland 2018 – Part 2)

 

Despite having devoured the first 3 books in the series, I cannot really be considered a true “Game of Thrones” fan. Reading to the end of the fourth book ended up feeling like work. I only managed it because of my neurotic need to finish any book I start. The fact is, I never really got over the Red Wedding chapter in Book 3 and I resent that sadist, R.R. Martin, to this day for putting me through it. When it comes to the TV series, I stopped watching somewhere in the first season. I just couldn’t stomach the (seemingly gratuitous) violence and cruelty.

So it wasn’t “The Game of Thrones” that led me to Northern Ireland, but once there, it was hard to escape the connection. There were all sorts of GoT packages on offer; whole sections of Tourist Information offices were devoted to it. Special maps were made, showing all the locations where scenes from the series had been filmed, like this one (notice all the film camera symbols):

Not surprisingly, a lot of the sites that we had chosen out of old guide books (that predated the show) overlapped with those on the GoT tours. And when they did, we slogged through these sites in a massive convoy of people.

At the Giant’s Causeway it seemed there wouldn’t be enough rocks to hold them all.

At the famous Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, there weren’t enough hours in the day to let all the people who wanted to cross over.

And at the Dark Hedges (Westeros’s “King’s Road”), well, we could hardly see the trees for the forest of tourists passing under them.

 

 

And now I have to confess to being a bit hyperbolic in what I wrote above. I still enjoyed all of the sites despite the many other tourists. They were cool and beautiful and worth visiting. Then again, when I look back at the trip as a whole, my absolute favorite moments were ones when we were almost alone in some gorgeous location – and that cannot be a coincidence.

First we got to the Mussenden Temple and the mansion ruins in Downhill Demesne before the ticket office opened and could explore the places almost completely on our own.

 

This was one of my favorite moments from the whole trip. Me and the sis being in the moment:

 

It was only after I got home from the trip that I started researching the connections between “Game of Thrones” and Ireland. It took me all of two minutes to find an article showing that the fictional country of Westeros is actually upside-down Ireland with some extras:

 

I suppose this all won’t be news to most GoT fans, but I thought it was incredibly neat. The article went on to say:

“Speaking at Comic Con two years ago, Martin revealed that not only was Co. Kerry perfectly redrawn, but the Fingers at the Vale of Arryn were, in fact, the Dingle Peninsula, and several other major Irish cities share their locations with famous Westeros landmarks: King’s Landing as Galway, Donegal Bay as the Sea of Dorne, Belfast as Old Town and Dublin as Casterly Rock . . . . With thanks to the success of the show, many fans are now traveling to the Northern Irish sets to see the amazing locations for themselves, resulting in the Dark Hedges in Co. Antrim, used as the King’s Road in the show, becoming one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the world.”

Source:  https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/entertainment/rr-martin-reveals-game-of-thrones-westeros-is-an-upside-down-ireland

 Despite the crowds, I think it is great thing that the popularity of GoT has been a boon for northern Irish tourism. For me, the opposite has occurred. While googling “ireland locations game thrones”, I ended up watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos – scenes from the series with backdrops I recognized. I really enjoyed them. I just might start watching the show again . . . . .

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A Tale of Two Countries

 

(Ireland 2018 – Part 1)

 

I’ve just returned for the second time from what has become one of my favorite countries in the world: Ireland. The first time I went there was four years ago. When people asked me “How was it?” my two most frequent answers were “Heaven on Earth” (I was talking about Dingle) and “I don’t think I ever came home from a vacation so utterly refreshed . . . physically, mentally, and spiritually!”

That time we toured the southern half of the island, so when we decided to go back this year, naturally we went north. And that means, strictly speaking, we were in two different countries.  But it turns out that the situation is much more complicated than you’d think.

First of all, there is no noticeable border. We picked up our rental car in Dublin (a big nine-seater that immediately got nicknamed “The Beast”) and headed north. At some point, the road signs changed colors, kilometers became miles, and Euros became Pounds. But the Irish stayed Irish. Our first stop was Newgrange – a huge tomb built by Stone Age farmers long before those Egyptian slaves and other sundry folk started working on the pyramids. From there, we drove into Belfast and went straight to the Titanic museum.  Both stops were cool and recommendable, but they didn’t supply us with truly lasting impressions. They didn’t occupy our thoughts and inspire conversations all throughout the next day. No, our final tour of the day did that.

 

We somewhat spontaneously decided to hire a “Black Taxi” and take what is known as “a political tour of Belfast”.  These are also called “Mural Tours” for reasons that will soon become obvious.  These drives go directly into the heart of areas which most travel guides tell you to avoid. They are history lessons about “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland which ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – so almost exactly 20 years ago.

Our guide was a very nice and knowledgeable youngish man whose own father had been one of the Troubles’ many casualties – although he hadn’t learned that until many years later and then through news reports on TV. In the meantime, he had become a father himself and wanted a different world for his own children. One in which Catholics and Protestants can be friends and the Irish can be Irish. One in which politics are not steered by the miniscule radical minority with their sadly contagious resentment and fearmongering. As he guided us through the sites, we could not exactly pin down what his own beliefs were – but he clearly had disdain for the militants and extremists of both sides.

The first stops were in a predominantly Catholic part of West Belfast. There were many political messages and depictions of the history of the Troubles from this side’s perspective.  We saw the still-militarized police vehicles, heard stories of random shootings and innocent child victims, looked at bullet holes in walls and paintings of hunger strike martyrs. We passed the headquarters of Sinn Fein. We saw memorials to the dead – many of them.

 

A short taxi ride later and we were on the other side. Once again there were huge murals, but this time showing William of Orange and Queen Elisabeth among the many tributes to fallen soldiers and victims of violent Catholic extremists. This side had a more militaristic feel to it and the patriotism was much less subtle – maybe because their big holiday – “The Twelfth” had just happened and all the British flags were still flying. Our guide took us past a large empty lot in the middle of this Shankill area where a huge bonfire is lit as part of the celebration. He said every year the surrounding houses are damaged by sparks and smoke and he wondered if such idiocy was allowed to happen in any other major city. His greater outrage, however, was reserved for a particular memorial of a “soldier”, whom he considered nothing less than a mass murderer of random innocent civilians.

 

As we drove through these streets, I watched the families out in their front yards, the children  playing games, their neighborhoods full of these many huge colorful messages of pain and resentment. One man, leaning on his parked car in front of his house, looked up from his cellphone and our eyes briefly met. He seemed a bit irked by our black taxi and I suddenly felt just a bit guilty about this voyeuristic human safari I was on. I wondered if these people sometimes felt like animals in a zoo . . .

In one sense, they truly were caged. Because in the No Man’s Land between these two neighborhoods, there stands a frigging HUMONGOUS wall.

 

I confess, this was the most shocking and disturbing part of the tour for me. I had had no idea that such walls still existed in European cities – to keep people separate from one another.  Our guide pointed out that there were gates along these walls that were closed and guarded at night (and later we actually caught one of them being closed).  I asked him why the wall was still there, seeing as how the peace agreement had happened 20 years earlier. He said it was because the people living there still wanted them.

It occurred to me that that all the murals and billboards and memorials I had passed also didn’t look 20 years old. They were kept up and mostly freshly (re-)painted. They – and I assume the fears and hatreds behind them – were being consciously maintained. Maybe passed on to the next generation, despite the fact that history had moved in a new direction.

I read somewhere a long time ago that the Troubles of Northern Ireland were centered in specific, fairly small areas of Belfast – maybe a few square kilometers in all – along with select neighborhoods in one or two other cities. And that is how it seemed to me during my four days there. From all the people we met and talked to, the vast majority did not identify with one side or the other and most referred to “the northern part of Ireland” rather than “Northern Ireland”. Our next hosts were a lovely mixed Catholic / Protestant couple. She had owned a restaurant in Belfast that had been bombed and more than once, while he maintained that the whole Black Taxi political tour thing was only there for the tourists. They seemed happy together.

I guess people do have some choice in the matter. Some choose truth, reconciliation and the future. Others remain stuck, still fighting the battles of the 1980s, stoking decrepit fears and resentments till the crowds start chanting.

“Build the Wall!  Build the Wall!”

And who’s going to pay for it?

The next generation.

And God Saw That It Was Not Good.

(Summer Vacation – Day Five)

I did something today that I haven’t done in ages. I opened up a bible and read a bit. Full disclosure: the morning had started badly, slowly got worse, and by early evening, I was having trouble writing the day’s post. I did not turn to the bible for comfort, but out of a weird sort of curiosity: when God was creating the world, how did His fifth day go?

Here is the King James Version of Genesis 1: 20-21:

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Oh, the irony! This is how my day went:

In the morning I went to feed the animals and found my German Reich’s chicken looking decidedly . . . un-imperialistic. He seemed an unmoving creature that hath little life.

In the afternoon, I began my house project (“clean porches”) by bringing some pans into the kitchen that my husband had used in a barbecuing competition a few weeks back. As I pried them apart, I discovered a colony of maggots living between them. I scalded them to death and washed them down the drain. The waters sent them forth abundantly.

Later in the day, I buried another fowl.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Forgive me for skipping out on the blog reading today.

Four and Forty-Two

 

Today – on Day Four of “The Plan” – I am honored to say that I have my first official convert. Joan of “Just Joan 42 – Poetry and Stories about Life, the Universe and Everything” fame (or simply “42” as I call her, since she calls me “227”) has recognized the awesome simplicity and feasibility of the plan and has gotten with the program. (Although . . . I am not sure that she truly grasps the spirit of it all – but more on that later . . .)

In honor of this development, I am making 42 the next Blog Friend of the Day to catch up with. I also figure she will be as funny and inspirational as usual.  There has been a poem or two flowing from my fingertips over these past years in an attempt to try out some new form she introduced us readers to. And she is the one that got me to try black-out poetry, resulting in this first try (of which I am quite proud). It is Twump’s inaugural tirade:

But as I said, now the tables are turned – the master and apprentice have traded places. Despite her enthusiasm, there are some . . . shall we say “deficiencies”? . . . in her initial attempts. Firstly, being retired, she seems to think that three columns are sufficient. So, no “Work” requirement. This trend continues. Is “making a comment” enough to fulfill one’s blogging duties? Does “chasing the cat” qualify as exercise? And as for her house project . . . “changing the sheets”? Seriously??

I’ll tell you what a house project is! A house project is turning laundry day into a complete closet cleaning and reorganization, including a quest to find, wash and pair up every single loose sock under the roof and then banish permanently those who remain single. Now everyone knows the mystery of magically disappearing socks. I was determined to solve it. I checked every clothes drawer; I looked in the corners of fitted sheets. I checked boots and shoes and pant legs. And still there were so many lonely socks!

Later, my cleaning fit led me to pull all the storage boxes out from under my bed with the idea of dusting and vacuuming under there. And . . . wahlah! There they were. About 15 runaway sock partners in a dusty row on the floor, running from headboard to foot under the middle of the bed. All of them had been pushed back by a storage bin unnoticed. Mystery solved.

So, 42, I hope you are getting the picture. If not, Lesson#2 will begin promptly after I post this (and may spill over into tomorrow.) It’s pretty late and I am getting tired. It’s the socks’ fault.

 

Day Ten Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety-three

Actually it is only Day Number 3 of my

Summer Vacation Plan

which went something like this:

Up at 5:30 am, coffee and some news watching. Answered emails. Went back to bed and slept for two wonderful hours. Then it was laundry, some general administrative work stuff, and more laundry. Then laundry, some house cleaning and laundry. Some dog walking and some more laundry. Cooked dinner, transferred the young chickens from the duck stall to the chicken stall. Scattered a trail of feed for the dumb ducks to lure them into their now empty house. If they opt to stay outside again, that is their choice. Now I am going to do one more load of laundry and then continue catching up on blog friends . . .

It is also Day Number 10,593 of my married life*. 29 years ago today I got married to a man who is currently on a 10-day fishing trip in Sweden.** Even so, roses mysteriously appeared this morning. They were in my favorite Christmas present from said man this year – a very silly vase which I just love. Yes, that is a picture of me holding my favorite chicken, Winnie. Ly took it.

 

* That is 29 x 365 + 7 (leap year days) + 1 (today).
**  They say “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will get a whole weekend to yourself.” In my case, it is a bit longer. But then, it is probably better that he is NOT here while I am executing The Plan . . .

Grape Silver Candle

It is officially summer vacation. In fact, it is . . .

Summer Vacation – Day One

. . . and I am NOT (!) on the couch with the pukey bowl, a glass of water, aspirin and the remote control, suffering through a post-traumatic system collapse. No, instead I am feeling energetic. I have done some laundry and took care of our animals and chauffeured my daughter and talked to my sister for an hour and a half on the phone, and had coffee with a great friend and honed my plan for the summer and am now writing the Post of the Day . . .

Wait! Back up a sec! What was that about honing a plan?

Oh yes. I have a one. And it is deceptively simple.

I took a piece of paper and drew three vertical lines. In Column One I listed the few work-related things I still have to finish up. Column Two is a list of household projects I have been wanting to get to. Column Three is a list of healthy activities – anything from “bike ride” to “eat a vegetable”. Column Four is a list of my favorite blog people whom I want to catch up with.

Here’s the plan: between now and the arrival of my sister two weeks from now, I will cross off at least one thing from each column every day.

And then I will post about some part of it. Whatever inspires me.

Today, the work thing (Column One) was deleting emails. It may not sound like much, but when you have allowed your Inbox to grow to 2000 mails with 600+ of them still marked “Unread” – it is something of task. The house project (C2) was the first three of what will likely be about 16 loads of laundry. In Column Four, I did not start with my first/ur- blog friend, Ly (she will be tomorrow), but with Quirkyone – because I learned what mistakes to avoid when devising a plan from her hysterically over-ambitious New Year’s Resolutions. That leaves Column Three. What I did today for my mental health was call my sister. What I did for my physical health was taking my Black Cohosh tablet.

Black Cohosh. Aka “snakeroot”. Aka “bugbane”. Genus “actaea racemose” or “cumicifuga racemose”. In German, called both “Wanzenkraut” or “Traubensilberkerze” which, translated literally, is grape silver candle.

Now I am emphatically not advising anyone to take it, but I will tell you that after five years of hot flashes and bizarre anxieties and, lately, insomnia, I finally decided a few months ago that “powering through” menopause was not a good plan. Being a hater of pharmaceuticals, I started trying all sorts of natural remedies. This bugbane, this snakeroot, this “Traubensilberkerze” was the first thing that has worked. It might just be a post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc thing (meaning: the symptoms were about to go away anyway – the timing was merely coincidental), but if it is . . . I don’t care.

I feel better.

So on this Day One of summer vacation, I say thanks to Grape Silver Candle and Quirkyone and Whirlpool and Thunderbird.

See y’all tomorrow.