Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Closing Out

This will be a rather sporadic quick write-up about my day in Dublin. I apologize in advance for the possible "stream of consciousness" that may occur in the blog.

I woke up EARLY for the first time at the Centre, for good reason - I was catching a bus to Dublin. I was fortunate to have another artist leave with me. He lives in Dublin. He found out that there was an earlier bus to the city center. So we jumped on the bus and reached the city an hour earlier. I checked into the hotel, dropped my bags and began exploring Ireland's capital.

The Highlights:

1. My fellow artist, who also knits, told me about a wonderful knitting shop at PowersCourt, a small quaint shopping area with indoor boutiques and a live pianist. There was no way I could go back to the United States without buying Irish wool. So I did. I even chose a color that is outside of my box - yellow. I am such an earth tone baby.

Kint shop called This is Knit
2. I was on my way to the National Wax Museum and Trinity College, but stopped by a vintage clothing store. Wonderful owner. We talked for 45 minutes about him seeing Mighty Sparrow in concert when he was in the Navy...and Bob Marley in Dublin (roughly 9 months before Marley died). We talked about jazz, blues, his favorite band, and Chicago's Kingston Mines and The House of Blues (two great music spots in Chi-town). Finally he asked me where I was heading. I said I was walking to the National Wax Museum, and he was quite appalled. He told me not to waste my time. Instead he took me on a treasure hunt to a small Protestant church called St. Michan. He said, "You must see it. For one, this is where the Handel's Messiah first rehearsed. But more importantly there is another secret as to why I am sending you there." He wouldn't tell me, but he did say it's one of the best kept secrets in Dublin.
Vintage Shop owned by Robert

3. I spent the next hour trying to find this church. I asked quite a few people. One person said, "Oh you must be going to see St. Valentine." I told him it was supposed to be a surprise. He apologized for spoiling the surprise. Finally I got there roughly 45 minutes before the last guided tour. I realized the church had not been connected to St. Valentine at all. This is Dublin's oldest north side parish founded in 1095. The reason he sent me on this wild goose chase is because the guided tour was of an underground vault of mummified bodies - the owner's preference over the wax museum. There were only four of us on the tour - three young men and myself. On the outside of the church there was a cemetery. I didn't think too much of the cemetery until the guide told us to step down into a vault. The steps were steep, and we were definitely underground. It was a scene right out of a movie. We first saw three skeletal bodies - a nun, a man, and a crusader who was 6 ft tall. Because the coffins were made a specific height, the bodies had to be shortened. So the crusader had no legs, and the man had no feet. The bodies were decayed (obviously) - kind of like the bodies I just saw in the film Indiana Jones. The bodies were 300 to 500 years old. We visited Theobald Wolfe who was a leader in the Irish independence movement in the 1700s. He had been arrested and sentenced to hang, but he slit his throat the day before the hanging. The interesting thing about the vault, outside of it looking spooky-as-hell, Bram Stoker (the Irishman who wrote Dracula) came to this vault to get an idea of how to write the story. So when you watch Dracula/Vampire films, the coffin scenes are inspired by this very place. The trip was definitely worth visiting.

stepping down into the vault
4. I went to a wonderful eatery called Bakehouse. I had seafood chowder in a bread bowl. It's funny how my eating habits change when I am paying for it out of pocket. At the Centre I was spoiled - essentially three meals a day, and one of those meals were mandatory. So I was definitely fed. Today, I was quite selective in my food choice. I wanted to eat something that would sustain me for the rest of the day, and I did.

5. I went to Chapters, one of the largest independent secondhand book stores in Dublin. Everything was on sale. I had to buy at least ONE BOOK. I chose a film book, as if I don't have 10 film books at home waiting for me.

6. And the encore of the evening...I went to a reading at the Irish Writers' Centre. This is a monthly reading called the 'Lonely Voice Readings.' One of the artists from the Guthrie Centre was sharing her work tonight - Siobhán Mannion. Her short story (along with three others), Open Season, was selected for this month's series. I wish others from the Centre, as well as spoken word artists from home, could have been there. When I watch a good film...a truly inspiring that is uncomfortable and all-encompassing, often I walk away with all senses entangled simply because the film tells a complete story that allows me to interact intimately with the characters. Siobhán's reading did just that. I was watching a good film tonight, and it was hers. It was one that allowed me to taste the peaches she described, touch the character's body at the end when she passed away, listen to the characters interact with each other...and smell...I smelled everything. I admire people who work hard at being good at what they do. I admire great work. I felt good being among great work tonight. Moreover, I was blessed to have observed the people in her circle who care for her and believe in what she does.

I suppose the closing of this trip was just what I needed. I spent the day walking around Dublin trying to get a feel of the city in very few hours. I touched the surface. Then I spent the evening getting to know an artist who is gifted and good at what she does. I am humbled.

I have a friend who always says, "Surround yourself with good, and you will grow good fruit." Ireland was good to me. Time to grow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I have a friend named Butterfly. Imagine being called Butterfly daily.
"Good Morning, Ms. Butterfly."
"How are you, Butterfly?"
"Butterfly, come here."

My Butterfly friend is celebrating new beginnings. She is in her next-fold in life. I once heard a preacher talk about life in different phases. He called them "folds." First-fold, Second-fold, Third-fold, etc. What determines a different fold is something life-changing. It could be having children, new marriage, overcoming a disease or some other difficulty, spiritual revelation, traveling somewhere, turning 40, 50, 100, and so forth.

I believe this is Butterfly's second-fold. I have watched her constantly give of herself willingly to younger generations so that doors can open. Today, she is opening her own door and pursuing her life long dream as an entrepreneur.

Butterfly is brrrilliant, as the Irish would say. She has a few degrees, but I must emphasize the most important degree. She has a doctorate in discernment. She can recognize good and bad. She reads people's energy. Her intuition is impeccable. She, like the artist I spoke of from the blog A Gathering of Women, knows exactly what she wants to do, and she does not settle. A matter of fact, the two women remind me of each other. They are very level-headed. Obviously, I have known Butterfly much longer, and she speaks with her heart and moves with grace.

Butterfly is celebrating new beginnings, and I am unable to be with her when she lights the candles on the cake and makes a toast.  So this blog is a way of introducing her to the world all over again.

My Toast:
We are akin to newness
embracing rainbows
rising tides
peace be still
glory abound
and if there ever is a day of wonder...this day shall be unto itself...
we call her

Irish butterfly...I followed her for a while until she was still


I have been packing, cleaning, completing blogs, reading more information about Irish storytelling and crocheting. The lap throw is roughly 3.5 ft x 3.5 ft. Essentially, it is complete. However, I need to add two more strips of yarn. Each strip is roughly 6" in width (give or take). One strip is Martina's yarn and another one is a cross between mauve and red wine.

folded the throw to pack away

Dinner was wonderful. The group was small. The group included a hilarious writer from Dublin - a poet; the translator from France; a visual artist (weaver) who is writing a book on different textiles; and after dinner, a photographer from New York who just came from Iceland joined us. We talked about the service industry and how each of us has been treated in different countries. The group remarked that the United States is excellent in the service industry. We also agreed that when the service involves tip and commission, it makes all the difference. However, someone at the table told a story about a woman who tried on a dress in an American department store. The woman asked the salesclerk how she thought the dress looked and the clerk said, "I could care less." The woman ended up buying the dress, which evidently was not flattering.

I am in the service industry. I serve students. I teach. I come from a line of teachers. I was told that we, Currie's/Lurch's/Brown's have a gift. I believe we have more than one. This sounds a lot like the person (in the previous blog) reading my lifeline, right? Well, if it is true that we, Currie's/Lurch's/Brown's have a gift or two, then I suspect part of the goal is to not tire oneself out...keep the gift interesting, a bit un-routine, and sharpened.

I am slightly nervous about losing this sudden drive I discovered here - to write. In this house I write all the time. The environment and social atmosphere is motivation to write everyday and all day, if I so choose. My fear: "What if the motivation leaves when I step off that plane Thursday evening? What if I lose track of time and stop writing because life becomes too busy?"

What then?

I guess that means I will have to pack a duffel bag full of yarn and books and return to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, eh?

Leprechaun and the appearance of things...

Ireland’s pot of gold lies in the richness of its folklore. I would be remiss if I did not mention the infamous Irish tale of the Leprechaun. I barely touch the surface in what I have been told and read, but I am including this very short blog for the two people who asked me about leprechauns. The validity of this tale is a paraphrased patchwork of sorts. It is best to refer to authors like David Rice McAnally, Patrick Kennedy, William Butler Yeats and Seán Ó Súilleabháin. Also, there is a website and more information about the history of leprechauns:

This short being is said to be of mixed breeds – his mother being a fairy and his father being of evil spirits. He looks very aged and withered in the face. His character is mischievous – not sinister but not of good nature, either. He is said to have first appeared in the tales of Kings of Ulster. Ulster geographically covered a number of counties in the north of Ireland. The people who inhabited this area were the Ulaid. Their story is dated around the 4th century. At the time, King Fergus (of Ulster) had seen a leprechaun (possibly more) at a lake. The leprechaun was dressed in short trousers that fasten below the knee, a red jacket, always a hat (but the style varies depending on the area from which the leprechaun resides), buckled shoes, and a sort of frill around the neck, similar to the Elizabethan period. Evidently, King Fergus was kidnapped by leprechauns. However, he was able to overpower them and capture them. In exchange for their freedom they granted him three wishes which he took advantage of, and so, the legend begins...

I was walking along my usual path yesterday. One minute into the walk, it began to rain. I was protected by the hovering trees, which left the pathway with little daylight. Although I could see quite clearly, unusual shadows forged themselves onto the pebble walkway. There was an echo in my footstep,which normally would be fine. However, this echo doubled. It was as if I heard another footstep miliseconds after my footsteps. If you recall the snake rattle I discussed in earlier blogs, for some reason the same rattling sound decided to rear its vocal chord on my mid-morning walk. I didn't quicken my step, because I thought this was a psychological ploy from the previous evening of ghost storytelling. I did however stop in my tracks twice when the rattling increased. All was still, except for the footsteps. I couldn't place the direction of the sound. It wasn't to the left or right of me. It was possibly behind me or even in front. It was not loud but definitely audible. The forest darkened for a moment, and I thought of the film Pans Labrynth. The right thing to do would be to "run like the dickens" but I just didn't have it in me. I was about to announce to Guthrie's forest, "If you are real, then appear. Let's just stop playing games!" Nothing happened. I walked on. The eerie thing though, before I reached the clearing, where the cows and horses were, I saw small footsteps - very small, as if they belonged to a child or extremely short person. Two sets of footsteps. The footsteps were sunken an inch into the ground, and in one of the sets was snake skin shedding. I, foolishly feeling close to nature (i.e. one-with-the-earth), picked up the snake skin to analyze. Maybe it wasn't snake skin. After all, I was told there are no snakes in Ireland. Regardless, I had a firm grip on the thin layer of skin. A gush of wind blew and the shedding crumbled into dust. Ridiculous, right? I turned around and the path was darker than before, as if it were night. I know how nerves work. If someone tells you a frightful story, the image can play out in your head. Well, this may have been the case. However, when I turned back around to RUN towards the clearing, the footprints were no longer there. That, I assure you, was not the rain. It was not raining that hard. I am not confirming any ghostlike stories I have been told, but I will say, "Today I am skipping my regular walk."

Thanks for indulging me in my first fantasy story above. That was fun.

Path less traveled

Forest along the pathway I walk


Monday, August 29, 2011

The Pontificate

Today I met a pontificator. A chatty artist. One whom I wish would have had the decency to shut up, at moments, during the evening conversation. It pains me to say such a thing, but I found myself praying for a sudden earthquake of delirium, knocking the artist unconscious. Okay. I am exaggerating. I just wanted less commentary from the person, especially since some of the commentary was misinformed. On a few occasions the artist had to be corrected by others who were also sitting at the table.  


Today I was in a conversation with an artist about racial identity. A garrulous artist joined our conversation. The person spoke of a historical racial division in Ireland, possibly as a way of fusing my comments about identifying as black or brown or person of color. In the dialogue the talkative artist used the word “Negroes.” I suppose if I were actually in an academic setting or lecture hall or something of the sort, I would have not mind the use of the word – depending on the context, of course. When I heard it, I flinched. I found myself trying to decipher the purpose in using the word. Was it to make a point that this is how Black people were identified in Ireland at some point in time or are people still referred to as Negroes? Since the artist had used the word Black in previous sentences, I thought the point of reference must be “contextual language – historic identification.” Nonetheless, I would have preferred a synonym. I recognize the proper thing at the moment would have been to simply question the artist, since I was curious. My excuse, he was talking so much, I started to drift. I drift right out of my seat and far away from the conversation because at that moment I had met a ‘pontificator.’

My hands have so much to do...

I have used crochet and knitting patterns, but not many. Often my most interesting work has come from experimenting with crochet and knitting needles. I have completed projects unsatisfied and started anew. I have made headway in mid-complex patterns and wanted more practice by starting again. One's perfection is personal. I asked my mom to show me how to knit years ago. She had to remember for a moment. She gave me a basic lesson, which served as a foundation for my being the artist I am today. Although she knew how to crochet, as well, I learned to crochet through a neighbor roughly seven years ago. She showed me how to crochet granny squares, and suddenly my world opened up. I soon attended a few classes intermittently.

Teach a man to fish, and he will fish forever.

My hands are small. My fingers are short and thin. I have heard many people call them baby hands. My hands fit the size of my body. They are not delicate unless I shape my nails and use scented lotion, which does not happen often.

Someone once read the palm of my hands. I was given general details of my lifeline. I want to know what line the person was reading and if this could foretell other futuristic details (i.e. will I have endless amount of money at my disposal, will I travel to places I can't pronounce, will I run for office one day, will I write books about ghosts and everything science fiction, will I go back to school for medicine or oceanography).

I suppose my fear, as of late, is 'will a pattern lead me to my desired result, and if so, given the amount of patterns at my disposal, which one do I choose?'

Subject: "The Pattern" -- Dublin-born Paula MEEHAN (contemp.)
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 12:31:09 -0700

Little has come down to me of hers,
a sewing machine, a wedding band,
a clutch of photos, the sting of her hand
across my face in one of our wars

when we had grown bitter and apart.
Some say that's the fate of the eldest daughter.
I wish now she'd lasted till after
I'd grown up. We might have made a new start

as women without tags like "mother, wife,
sister, daughter," taken our chance from there.
At forty-two she headed for god knows where.
I've never gone back to visit her grave.

First she'd scrub the floor with Sunlight soap,
an armreach at a time. When her knees grew sore
she'd break for a cup of tea, then start again
at the door with lavender polish. The smell
would percolate back through the flat to us,
her brood banished to the bedroom.

As she buffed the wax to a high shine
did she catch her own face coming clear?
Did her mirror tell what mine tells me?
I have her shrug and go in
knowing history has brought her to her knees.

She'd call us in and let us skate around
in our socks. We'd grow solemn as plants
in an intricate orbit about her.

She bending over crimson cloth,
the younger kids are long in bed.
Late summer, cold enough for a fire,
she works by fading light
to remake an old dress for me.
It's first day back at school tomorrow.

"Pure lambswool - Plenty of wear in it yet.
You know I wore this when I went out with your Da.
I was supposed to be down in a friend's house,
your Granda caught us at the corner.
He dragged me in by the hair - it was long as yours then -
in front of the whole street.
He called your Da every name under the sun,
cornerboy, lout; I needn't tell you
what he called me. He shoved my whole head
under the kitchen tap, took a scrubbing brush
and carbolic soap and in ice-cold water he scrubbed
every spick of lipstick and mascara off my face.
Christ but he was a right tyrant, your Granda.
It'll be over my dead body anyone harms a hair of your head."

She must have stayed up half the night
to finish the dress. I found it airing at the fire,
three new copybooks on the table and a bright
bronze nib, St. Christopher strung on a silver wire,

as if I were embarking on a perilous journey
to uncharted realmss. I wore that dress
with little grace. To me it spelt poverty,
the stigma of the second hand. I grew enough to pass

it on by Christmas to the next in line. I was sizing
up the world beyond our flat patch by patch
daily after school, and fitting each surprising
city street to city square to diamond. I'd watch

the Liffey for hours pulsing to the sea
and the coming and going of ships,
certain that one day it would carry me
to Zanzibar, Bombay, the Land of the Ethiops.

There's a photo of her taken in the Phoenix Park
alone on a bench surrounded by roses
as if she had been born to formal gardens.
She stares out as if unaware
that any human hand held the camera, wrapped
entirely in her own shadow, the world beyond her
already a dream, already lost. She's
eight months pregnant. Her last child.

Her steel needles sparked and clacked,
the only other sound a settling coal
or her sporadic mutter
at a hard place in the pattern.
She favored sensible shades:
Moss Green, Mustard, Beige.

I dreamt a robe of a color
so pure it became a word.

Sometimes I'd have to kneel
an hour before her by the fire,
a skein around my outstretched hands,
while she rolled wool into balls.
If I swam like a kite too high
amongst the shadows on the ceiling
or flew like a fish in the pools
of pulsing light, she'd reel me firmly
home, she'd land me at her knees. Tongues of flame in her dark eye
she'd say, "One of these days I must
teach you to follow a pattern."

-- Paula Meehan, born 1955 Dublin.

poem from the link:

My fellow-artists shared this poem with me.
I have two more days at the Centre.
I have one day to explore Dublin.
I am flying home September 1.
There is so much to do between now and September 1.

Lap Throw I am working on called Autumn

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Part 2: A Gathering of Talent

Yesterday at dinner I asked one of the artists, classical pianist and composer, if he would play a song on the piano. He said yes. We agreed the evening would consist of music, visual art and poetry. We set the time for today at 7pm. We decided to have the gathering in the Drawing Room. There were roughly six of us (give or take).

Artists at the Centre often ask each other (when first meeting) “What is your art? What do you do?” I often respond, “I am editing literary work. I am a crochet-knit artist. I am a writer. I am here to learn about storytelling from a different cultural perspective. I am a performance poet.” Today I showed them the crochet-throw-in-progress, the scarf, and I shared one poem.

The pianist shared three classical pieces. I watched his fingers. As he played, I thought of my piano teacher, Carmella Lynch, aka CL. We lived in the same neighborhood when I was a child. I took lessons from her at age 10 (give or take a year). I also walked her two silky terriers regularly. She was a great teacher. I continued taking lessons until I was roughly 17. I could have been really good, if I had actually practiced. I was an average piano student. I looked at the pianist tonight and thought, "How graceful his hands are." Another artist shared three beautiful poems. The first poem was of her two grandmothers whom she did not know but whose spirits are with her. I could relate. I have my two grandmothers’ photographs in my bedroom, as a protection. I may not have known them personally, but they are with me at all times. I imagine them specifically talking to other people (wherever they are) saying, “That’s my granddaughter, Traci. She’s a writer.” We visited the studio to look at Angela’s art. What was a drawing when I had visited her the other day was now a painting. After the gathering, we went to the kitchen for dessert and sat around the small circular table telling ghost stories. 

I felt good tonight. I finally got my Jam Session, and I shared my art with others.

Part 1: A Gathering of Women

My melancholy mood left by early evening (yesterday). I had a lovely time talking to four women. It was actually more than lovely. There is something to be said about being in the company of your own. I have heard men say they prefer the company of women over men for numerous reasons. It wasn’t too long ago I heard this from an artist. Although I am paraphrasing, he said, "Women are more willing to speak earnestly; there is a forthright truth that comes more willingly than with men; I just don't care for the machismic nature of men." 

It is hardly fair for me to reveal everything that was discussed last night because it was such an intimate honest space; one I would have to say, “You had to be there.” I must, however, delight in the fact that I left with a surge of energy to improve upon my being.   

First, we (the five women) decided to meet half past seven for dinner, although we actually had a late brunch (also called dinner) four hours earlier. We set the table for a meal I had not anticipated. We ate and talked a bit, but when the heavy food was in our stomachs and we prepared tea, the stories began. And there were many.

I learned in that group how animated I can be when telling a story. I told three stories – one about my hair and how I cut it off last year; another story was when I had been robbed on the train to Nice, France at age 19; the final story was during a performance for which I had prepared, only to forget the whole poem in front of two hundred people. The stories are of little consequence. More importantly was what followed my oral history.

I learned from the women. I learned about other hair stories, simply by sharing my hair story. One of the women shared a frightening incident about being robbed at gun point. Another one talked about her Egyptian background. I loved listening to the translator talk about the stories she translates, like the Percy Jackson series. There was an intriguing dialogue between one woman who is completing her novel and another woman who asked pertinent questions about setting deadlines for completion. The group suggested I use the dance studio as a singing space. One of the best ideas ever! I went today.

Dance Studio

Inside the Dance Studio

I took a liking to one particular woman whom I least expected would impact me. I thought I would not be in her company as often. She has an incredible ‘Type A’ engaging personality. She is a writer, and I hope to listen to her read a story later this week.

When we saw each other at dinner or in passing, she was polite. I was not overly invested in lengthy conversations, probably because she referred to instances to which I could not relate and people to whom I had never heard of. She has a very direct nature that comes more from her intonations than the actual content. She is very witty, funny and sarcastic. It’s a dry sort of English humor that I most enjoy about her, although she is Irish. She lived in England.

I admire her forthright nature. At one point in the discussion she explained that she had to tell a friend to finish a writing project she has been working on for years. Again, it’s the tone. She’s that voice of reason you want to slap because she is right; she is practical; she is a work-in-progress. She believes in sharpening one's craft. She is very clear about what she wants to do and what she is willing to give. She has had offers to submit a novel, something she has not written and frankly is not interested in writing (at the moment). I know enough people who would probably jump at the opportunity to write a novel (whether good or bad) simply because a publishing-offer is on the table. What I like is the fact that an ‘offer on the table’ is not enough for her. It has to feel right. She has to want to do it. She does not settle. Funny thing, she is older than me. I thought she was younger (no more than a year or two, but nonetheless younger). I spent a lot of time watching her and trying to guess her age because she looks young (like me). She has a sharp ear. Out of the blue, last night in the kitchen when we were preparing for tea and dessert, she told me she was older. I kept thinking, “When did I share my age?” I actually shared my age with the small group to make a point about something I had been discussing. I didn’t know she had paid attention to that detail. What I enjoy most is that people are very observant and keen. They don’t talk for the sake of talking. They talk when it is necessary to make a point. I would suspect their writing is the same. I have met many pontificators, and how annoying it is to hear the droning of one’s never ending voice. But she, along with the other artists I have met (even those who like to talk), do not pontificate. 

Quick transition.

I was in a conversation with the storytelling guru, while crocheting. At some point the conversation stopped, and there was silence. Pure silence. You would think the conversation would pick up again. Maybe he would ask, “How do you move your hands so swiftly? How long have you been crocheting?” Nothing of the sort occurred. I was just crocheting to my heart's content. But then the silence bothered me, so I looked up and he was watching my hands.  I was in awe that someone would find the movement of needle, hands, and yarn so fascinating. So much so that words would be an interruption to his concentration. Hands, I am told, can tell a story. 

The artists here do not talk too much. They share.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Artist Story #3

This morning I talked to Colette Murphy, a writer and social scientist who is working on a biography of Lev Semonovich Vygotsky. Vygotsky was a Russian Psychologist who died at 37. The name of her manuscript is The Mozart of Psychology. The name Mozart is referencing the two hundred plus manuscripts he wrote.

What I found particularly fascinating about our conversation is, of course, our shared interest in knitting, but more importantly the use of language. For example, we talked about the spelling of her name. In Ireland, the spelling of one's name would determine if the person was Catholic or Protestant. Her name is spelled with one 'l'. This would be considered a Catholic name.

Colette shared three short stories. One was about her childhood and how repetition plays a large role in our upbringing. Another story is how we interpret words. The final story is of her husband in his childhood years playing a prank.

Below is the link.

The musicians have left. I feel a sort of lull in the house. It could be the hard rain and thunder at the moment, but I doubt it. I love rain. I love the smell of rain. Although I heard music from a distance (from my window) and I did not have a chance to be a part of a musical jam session, the mere absence of the musicians bears a doleful moodiness in the Centre.

Yesterday a translator from France came. She is staying in Ms. Worby's Room. Just in case you are wondering "Who is Ms. Worby?" she is referenced in Brian's Artist Story.

Today will be a very quiet day. Reading, crocheting, and researching. I end this blog with an ode to the Guthrie jazz musicians. What better way than to play a little "Ella..."

Cheerful Little Earful, which may be befitting to our economic times.


Things are Looking Up...between four leaf clovers and a li'l sunshine love, things are truly looking up...

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Second Excursion around the Countryside

My new balance shoes have seen better days, and my nose has smelled better *shit.* Literally. I am not cursing. I stepped into a pile of cow shit. I thought I was almost home after walking for an hour and a half. I turned left onto the wrong path. The swarm of flies around my head should have been a sign, but I didn’t realize this was not the correct road until I stepped shoe-deep into cow manure, and a tall farm-like structure stood in front of me. The cows to the left could have been a sign, as well, but on this trip I realized that cow herds are everywhere in "tuath" (which in Irish, I believe, means countryside).

Today I walked a longer distance at a much faster pace, except for the last 15 minutes. Unfortunately my back was aching terribly and my feet blistered, so the pace had slowed.

Instead of making the first left on this trip, I chose to walk straight. I knew the walk would be longer when I could not see the actual left turns ahead of me.  

Mother horse offering me a sign of respect
On the walk I noticed a few things. For one, I must have been a spectacle to the animals – horse, cows, dogs and sheep. Please forgive my fascination with photographing animals, but they all seemed to follow my every move. This morning a mother horse approached me. She walked up to me, stared at me and then proceeded to excrete all of the food matter she had digested earlier. I thought this might be a sign of respect – from horse to human. Or not. My buttermilk friends (cows) moved in a group. When I walked, they ran quickly in the same direction, as if they were rushing to meet me at the end of the gate. The sheep did not exactly move towards me. I actually startled them. A few jumped up, and they all simply watched me. The dogs were quite friendly, especially the one I met the other day. However, I did come across a growling small dog that jumped the gate and started chasing me. It was the oddest thing. Every other animal had been so kind. This dog appeared quite furious. I had to take a picture of it. The dog had a sidekick, also irate. However, the companion was chained to a doghouse. Surely if the two had been loose, I would have had a run-for-my-euro.  

Friendly dog above

Furious dog that wanted to bite my leg off

cow herd

wool...after my own heart

I have been talking about the homes built in Ireland. They do not look massive when standing in front of them, but they are sturdy and head strong, as if a hurricane would be a simple pat on the back. I did come across an apple bush and apple tree.  I was tempted to walk into the person’s yard and grab an apple from the tree, but I am reminded of the phrase “keeping to my country manners” and a story my dad told me. He said when he and his brother were boys, in Jamaica there was a old mean woman who had a mango tree in her front yard. He said the tree always had enough big healthy mangos that could feed the whole town, but this woman had a watchful eye on the youth who passed her yard. If she caught anyone even looking at the tree, there was sure to be a lickin’ in the air. Of course, my father and uncle were rebellious – the type who purposely climbed the tree to steal her mango simply to piss her off. And from my understanding, this was not a one-time thing. I did not take an apple. I do not see many fruit trees. I have been fortunate to witness a cherry tree and apple tree on the compound where my sister is. This past year, my mother spent a few days climbing the cherry tree on a steep hill in Gavillaccio (Italy) - website below. I was amazed at the fact that she was able to pick the cherries; so much in awe, that I felt I could do the same thing. I actually slipped and fell off the hill. No one knows this until now, of course. A woman 30 years my senior and clearly more agile than I, came in with a bowl of cherries, as if it were a simple task that a child could do with his/her eyes closed.    
stone home...this is rather large

apple bush along the roadside
I met a farmer, who kindly spoke to me twice. I also saw the postwoman, whom I saw the other day. People who pass me on the road always wave. I was told that everyone here knows each other and/or knows of each other.

I passed a stone church with a small cemetery, more homes, and most interesting were the roads. I thought it fascinating that one of the stone roads had a streak of grass right down the middle. This isn’t common, I suspect.
Aghabog Parish Church

Road with a strip of grass - 1 vehicle on this road at a time

I had a peaceful walk that worried me towards the end, due to the pain, but when I saw the pearly white gate to Tyrone Guthrie’s estate, I was relieved and ready for a scone and some tea.

The Tyrone Guthrie Gate
A worthy adventure.  

Residence il Gavillaccio: the photograph gallery or facebook may lead you to the landscape...and possibly the fruit trees...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Artist Story #2

One of the purposes of this blog is to explore storytelling from a different cultural perspective. I have shared my views in the blog, but there is so much left unsaid.

The second Artist Story is by Brian Hollywood. He has been to the Centre several times. I asked him to talk about himself and share the poem he wrote about the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. I had a delightful time listening to Brian, especially when he talked about the ghost of Annaghmakerrig. There isn't much to say besides, "Take a listen."

Below I have typed the poem he shared.

Annaghmakerrig After Dark
By Brian Hollywood

Ghosts here have elegance.
Instead of spooking spectrally
the Big House fills with fragrance.
They assault our senses florally.
Tonight it is lily, yesterday rose.
These flower-arranging revenants
are rarely lachrymose,
more like blithe attentive servants.
No banshees here, no keening,
no poltergeisting frights.
Just the sounds of pruning
and deadheading
in flowerbeds of the night.

Click on link to listen to Brian Hollywood:

My a List

I have quite a few things to share:

1. Below are photos of the first project I have completed - scarf. I used different yarn (organic cotton, 100% wool for felting, acrylic, and other mixed wools). I am presently working on a patchwork double crochet throw. The theme for this project is Autumn.

same scarf in both photos

2. Today I learned about Irish knitting. Someone asked me if I was doing "Irish knitting?" I said, "I didn't know there was such a thing." She explained that it includes certain garments (i.e. jumpers and sweaters). So I looked it up and found this link - interesting story, especially for knitters:

3. Today was the most animated dinner environment I have been a part of. Everyone was talking...LOUD. Unfortunately, I barely heard anything anyone said. I found myself nodding in agreement to anyone who made eye contact with me. After dinner, the jazz drummer challenged me to a sprint race. Someone said that he might have seen me lightly jogging back to the house yesterday. I wanted to say, "That was a mistake. I know I stand out in the group, but truly, that was not ME you saw!!!" The drummer was serious about the race. He told me he would wait until I put my running shoes on. I want to present some general facts about myself. I exercise pretty regularly. I walk at least 3 or 4 times per week for at least 45 minutes in the morning. I stretch. I eat healthy. I do not run. The last time I ran was in high school when I was on the track team. I really don't want to divulge my age, but let's just say my track years were two decades ago. He must have mistaken the small body frame for being fast. The drummer was so excited about racing. He created a start and finish line. One of the other jazz artists did the count down. The first count down, he was faulted for starting early. The second time we ran to the finish line, and he won. The interesting thing is that the small audience who observed the whole race repeatedly said, "Well, if you had been taller Traci you probably would have beat him." Are you kidding me??? To add insult to injury, the drummer wanted to give me another chance and race again. You must know, in all of my sarcasm, I truly enjoy the group I am with. They are spontaneous, witty, very talented, and of course, fun. But no, I did not race him again.

4. A poet and painter (both from Ireland) suggested I go swimming with them in the lake (after the race, which was after dinner). I have Caribbean blood or very thin blood. It had to be 55 degrees outside. There was no way I was jumping in Tyrone's lake. I did watch them, and for one moment the urge to be spontaneous appeared before my eyes. Imagine me stripping down to my underwear and doing a cannonball into the lake. I had a tough time with this image, as well. After they swam, I visited with the painter (Angela) and observed her abstract vivid paintings. Her art is vibrant. I loved the colors. They were illuminating and very tactile. I could visualize one of her paintings on my wall at home. I was glad to see an artist's work. I really was hoping to listen to someone play the piano and/or share poetry. There is something about the piano that creates balance. It could be my bias since I played the instrument - not very well, but nonetheless I still have my 20+ year old upright piano with me.  I had an interesting discussion with Ronan (the storytelling guru) this evening about Thelonious Monk. I explained that I had a tough time with his music. He was abstract to me. I have not heard everything of his. Of course, this brought on a Thelonious story. Ronan read his biography and shared a number of witty 'Monk' comments.

5. I did not know that Irish is a language in itself. It predates English. It is called Irish Gaelic. Not many people of Ireland speak Irish, but the language is definitely present.

6. Although I spent the bulk of the day uploading the audio to the blog (quite time consuming and frustrating), today was a good day.

Angela Ginn is the painter whose work I admired this evening:

And so we begin the story... from the mouth of ...tellers

I am surrounded by brrrilliant artists who believe in work and play. The personalities range. The rigidity in how much time they spend in their art-space varies. I have the great fortune of bringing my yarn and computer to almost any space in the Guthrie house, but I have taken a liking to the Library and Drawing Rooms. The Drawing Room is where I recorded the first 'Artist Story.'

Dinner was more lively yesterday evening. I was determined to talk to someone. I sat next to the storytelling guru of the group, the jazz musician who is completing a concerto, Ronan Guilfoyle. Indeed he has the 'gift of gab,' and a wonderful gift it is. There were numerous stories he shared about his travels and his love for cooking. One in particular was quite funny simply for the French accent he imitated. He was discussing a restaurant where he ate and particularly the French chef of this establishment. Unfortunately, I cannot replicate the story or the humor. You know the saying, “You had to be there.” However, I asked him, along with others, to share some of their personal stories, and they complied.

To listen to Ronan Guilfoyle's story, please click on the link below:

For more information about the artist:

2 photos of the Drawing Room

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can I Sing?

Someone asked me at lunch today, “Can you sing Traci?” How do you answer that question? If I had been asked, “Do you sing?” The answer would have been a resounding YES. But “Can you sing?”

I responded with, “I love to sing.” The small group shared horror stories of singing and I thought, “Well, if I consider your horror stories, then I can sing very well.” But again, the question and response are pretty subjective.

My voice sounds relatively fine to me. I feel quite comfortable after listening to women like Nina Simone. She has a heavy, beautiful coarse voice. Her tone is thunderous and deliberate. One of my favorite songs that she sings remarkably is Little Girl Blue. When I first heard her, I actually thought she was a 'he.' Do not be offended. That was my young ears - maybe. Maybe not. Somehow her thick voice works for me because in a very small way, she allows me to be me. I do not have a broad singing range, but the notes I sing seem to work for whatever song I employ, and in most cases the notes sound like they are on key. Then again, I am relying on my ear. If we lined up the following women Nina Simone, Beyonce, Jessye Norman, Miriam Makeba, and Esperanza Spalding, I am wondering who the group would consider singers. Can any of these acclaimed women sing? And if they were not famous would you still think they could sing?

This discussion can be applied to anything. Jazz saxophonists. If you ask someone who is better - Kenny G or Sonny Rollins, who do you think the response would favor?

I think I am disheartened, not by the group I was with at lunch, but by how limited some of us are in allowing different types of people to enter our talent pool. I want a 'wake up' pill that allows a whole host of people into the circle of “Can do” and “She is/He is/I am.”
Can you sing
Can you dress
Can you be a model
Is she beautiful
Is he gorgeous
Are they brilliant

The last question is my favorite. The printmaker, who left on Monday, said she was tickled that someone in Ireland called her “brilliant.” When you say, “brilliant” in Ireland, you must roll the “r.” It makes all the difference. The printmaker said in the U.S. they would never use this word. Brilliance seems to be based on the hard sciences or award status; You are in a specific category for a specific thing.

I think I am looking for the nontraditional to be traditional for once, that’s all. And I suppose you could argue that the traditional brilliant are quite nontraditional and few in number. 

Consider this:
If only 50 people know that you can bake the hell out of homemade cornbread, something that no one else in the city of 50 people can do, then you are brilliant. Let’s say that 1 of the 50 citizens learns to replicate your homemade cornbread and s/he improves on it. You still get the credit for being brilliant, and so does the other person who just improved your recipe. Now the two of you open a shop and teach the 49 people how to make the cornbread. Some get it and some don't. Some are brilliant at making cornbread and some aren't. Those who aren't that skillful are 'hopefully' brilliant in something else. Very simple concept. 

So, you ask me, “Traci, can you sing?”
Do you honestly think I am going to answer that question?   

My morning walk in the foothills of Ireland

I wear inserts. The orthopedist created an insert that I am to place in all of my shoes. He explained that I have no arch. As a result, I have lower back pains. As I age, my back could worsen if I do not do something from now. I generally wear flat shoes. On this 13-day trip I packed three pairs of pants, five shirts, two jackets, two pairs of tennis shoes and under garments. I hand wash my clothes.

Today I decided to go for a walk. The path I chose is one I was told to do with someone else. If I could have found someone who wanted to walk this morning, I would have had a walking partner, but I tried asking a few people. I walked alone. And a long walk, it was.

I first made my daily stop at the lake to sing. Then I turned west towards the cow pasture I was told to look out for. I came upon a gate in the middle of the forest (which is where the pathway was). It’s one of those gates that speak to you: “If you go beyond this point, the spirit of Tyrone Guthrie is no longer responsible for what happens.” The gate said something like that, with an Irish accent, of course. I walked on – tough little me. Soon I was out of the forest, and I saw the horses in front of a lake. They were eating. I was still walking along until I tripped on the pathway and startled the smaller light brown horse. I stopped, and it looked. I walked, and it walked. I stared, and it stared. You know where this story is going, right? The horse approached me. We were an arm-length away, and as much as I wanted to touch it I thought, "What if the owner sees or what if this horse likes to eat fingers or what if…" Instead, we had a conversation. Do you remember the show Mister Ed the talking horse (the 1960s series)? This wasn’t one of those moments.  I did all of the talking.  I was complimenting its coat and how beautiful the countryside is. Look, I’m a sucker for eyes. This horse had very wanting “touch me” eyes. Then it jumped again because behind me was a small black dog and an older Irish woman (in her 60s, maybe). She lived in the house a few feet ahead of me. We talked a bit. She asked me where I was from. I said I lived in America. She must have thought I said “Africa” because she started talking about a family who is adopting a little brown girl from South Africa. Then she asked me again, and I carefully described where in the United States – central United States, near Chicago.  She mentioned another person who just got back from South Africa. I smiled, and we talked a little more about the countryside. She explained the two pathways I could take. I chose the shorter of the two and continued on.

The "touch me" horse
The shorter route was a 50 minute walk back to the Centre. I was told that there were no snakes in Ireland. Okay. But as I walked, I kept hearing low rattling sounds. It could have been anything, but I watch way too many movies to think that it was “anything” else but what I was thinking.

The walk was rigorous, and I started thinking about Martina’s scone that she offered me before I left for my morning excursion. By the way, she also gave me some more yarn. How wonderful!

At some point, I had to either go straight or turn left. I chose left. I passed beautiful stone homes and lots of cows. These cows remind me of the ones in this dairy commercial. The difference is that these Irish cows look healthy and large. These are what I call “buttermilk” cows.  The baking goods of Ireland use buttermilk as a main ingredient. (BTW, California cow commercial:

Irish cousins to the California cows

Nic name: Buttermilk cows
My back started to hurt, and I tried adjusting the shoe inserts. I was well into an hours worth of walking, and I had no idea if I were close or far, but it was clear that I was not on the Guthrie acres. One car passed and I should’ve flagged the two men down, but I don’t know what I was thinking. I surely wanted to kick myself though. I walked on for a while and was approaching another fork in the road. At this point I couldn’t see the sun, trees were hovered over me, and it started to look dim. And I did start this walk in daylight. I was reminded that one of the artists had done this walk in the late evening. I am adventurous, but I remember listening to a Black comedian talk about the things that Black people won’t do:
One of MANY dark forests in Ireland

-They won’t walk down a dark alley at night
-They won’t investigate scary sounds in creepy places
-They won’t go into a dark forest alone

This came to mind. As I was wondering which way to go, a vehicle turned on the street. This time I asked where the Guthrie Centre was. The two men explained that I should make a left, and I will see the gate. I turned the corner, as they instructed, and literally the gate was right there.  

So with an aching back, but wonderful pictures to show for it, I have completed my exercise for the day.

On another note, I just went into the kitchen for some water. I saw another cook and asked her what her name was. I think it is so important to learn people’s names. I must say the one thing I like is that everyone addresses me by my name. I don’t do the same, because I seem to forget most of the names within minutes of asking, but the people here remember me. They always say, “Hi Traci. How did you sleep Traci? How are you Traci? How is your research going Traci?”  Anyway, I asked her name, and I purposely repeated the name each time to make sure I heard it correctly. I repeated Germadine, then Gerodun, Geralene, Gerneene. At some point I know she thought, “You idiot. Why is it so hard for you to figure this out?” Finally, I said it correctly. Her name is Geraldine. Embarrassing, but now I know her name.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Great Expectations

Alas, the hopes of spending an evening with the musicians and other artists around the grand piano, laughing gaily, sharing animated tales of everyone's favorite and worse travels...did not happen.

A matter of fact, tonight's dinner with 12 people was the most quiet I had ever attended. I barely said a word at the table. If ever there was a moment of solitude and awkward consciousness that existed, this, My Dear Readers, would be the night. I spoke to no one. People had their conversations with others - pocketed conversations. However, this evening was nothing like the other evenings. I forced myself into other dialogues but I have to admit, it was difficult. I sat around that table thinking, "I really have to push the social envelope tonight. How uncomfortable!" I felt socially inept. On one side of the table people were talking about movies, which I could've easily jumped into, but they were, once again, on the other side of the table. I did not feel like screaming across the room. On another side, two men were having a grand ol' time, laughing and sharing jokes. I wanted to know what they were chatting about, but I repeat, they were way too far, and for all I know they were probably having an inside conversation I wouldn't have been privy to since they clearly knew each other before meeting at the Centre. On either side of me I sat next to the quietest young men. Both knew each other but had no interest in really dialoguing through me, around me, or to me. They ate and sat there, like me, with not a peep, a burp or any other sound. Finally, I decided to be the first to stand up and say, "Dessert time." That transitioned us into the second meal. Most stayed and a few left. I ate my sweets and decided, the jam session is not likely to happen; at least not in my presence anyway.

I did have a productive night...a bit of reading, knitting, and researching.
And now I bid you a second goodnight.

I should note, there is a six hour difference between east coast time in the U.S. and Ireland.

I am worried a bit. I read about the earthquake along the U.S. east coast and the possibilities of Hurricane Irene. People tease me about my foolish science fiction films, but I can't help but raise an eyebrow at the unexpected weather patterns that have been taking place for a while. Not too science fiction, if you ask me. 

Jazz to and from the store...

Today has been interesting. I was about to walk to the store, Newbliss, which is evidently described as “down a ways” when in fact it is a 40 minute walk one-way. I thought about showing one shaved leg to see if that would fancy a passerby, but luckily my fellow-artist, the jazz musician, offered to drive me. We traveled to two towns looking for my items. I had to remind myself not to climb into the driver’s seat, which is the passenger’s seat in the states and in some parts of Europe. Drivers are on the right and passengers are on the left. Also, most of the vehicles are stick shifts. What seems to be most popular here are Volkswagen and Audi. There are a lot of brands, but these two stand out most (to me). The towns are small and quaint. The roads remind me of Italy: narrow, no sidewalks, green. A big tractor was ‘supposedly’ on the side of the road. In fact, it actually took up the side and more than half of the narrow street we were on. The musician had to pass him, and I kept thinking, “If we get hit, I am the one who will be crushed! I need you to WAIT!” He maneuvered his small vehicle around the tractor.

The interesting thing about the drive was the conversation. The musician schooled me on the history of jazz in the states, particularly a loose chronology of the disinterest and disenfranchisement of American jazz in the 21st century, especially as it relates to African Americans. I wanted to contribute to the conversation but it would’ve been me quoting any tid bits my dad had told me. I added light commentary that I could’ve kept to myself. I did quote one or two facts that I learned from watching Wynton Marsalis on 60 minutes. It’s funny, I felt I had to say something, being brown and American. I was about to start claiming my Jamaican heritage at that moment as an explanation as to why I had little to say. At one moment I wish I had read the four big jazz books sitting in my bedroom, along with listening to the 100+ jazz LPs I took from my dad. At some point, I just buckled down and listened. Sometimes, that’s all you can do and all you are supposed to do.

When we returned to the house I felt the wool-portion of the scarf I completed. I agitated the wool yarn so ardently that I rubbed my own skin off. So, at the moment I am nursing a fabric burn on my finger due to the friction from yarn-to-skin and vice versa. The things we do for Art.

The five jazz artists have arrived. They are here until Sunday. They have already brought music into the house. I heard a bass and piano an hour ago, and now I hear a horn. Wow, we may have a jam session tonight. They may ask me to be a guest singer…watch out Ireland!    

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fooooooooood for thought…

Martina's mother crocheted blouse
 Martina is an amazing cook who just gave me lace and wool yarn. I will use the yarn in a throw I hope to begin within the next day or two. She told me her mother, who passed away roughly 21 years ago, crocheted shoe coverings, gloves and blouses. Amazing! Martina started knitting a scarf, but she stopped and gave me the half-completed scarf to finish. She says that knitting drives her crazy but baking is her “peace of mind.” She gave me the recipe for Martina’s Brown Bread. She was so willing to share this recipe. I was timid to accept because watching her cook seemed so personal. I felt as if I had entered her secret cove - the kitchen. Granted, I don't think she cared one bit. She seemed surprised that I took such an interest. I felt like patenting her every-cooking-move. I told her that she moves like my father in the kitchen. She has this spirited flawlessness over pots and pans. She has been at the Centre for 3 years, but not as a cook. She has been cooking there for 1 ½ years. She was working there in another area. Her background is in human resources, similar to my father’s. I saw so many likenesses between the two. She said she offered to help cook the main dishes when one of the cooks was away. What was supposed to be a one-time favor turned into a regular position. The other night she cooked lamb. I thought of curried lamb that dad cooks on special occasions. Tonight she cooked a vegetarian dish: curried beans/peas (not too spicy) over white rice; fried potato skins; and a few fruit & vegetable dishes. When Martina was just about finished with everything, she put a spoonful of curried beans over rice and tasted it. She kept saying, “Something’s missing.” She tasted it again. And then she said, “I know what’s missing.” She added a bit of ketchup to sweeten the beans. She reminds me of the cooks who don't use measuring cups. They naturally cook the way I naturally breathe air. I asked her what the normal Irish dishes are. She said cabbage and bacon or corn beef.   

Martina's Brown Bread
The only requirement at the Guthrie Centre is that all artists must eat together every night at 7pm. Tonight I was with a totally different group. The evening was quiet, at first. There was a group of 6 or 7 artists: a musician (jazz artist who is composing a concerto); and the other artists are writers. I made the mistake of confusing two people I had seen earlier, for being an artist and a taxi driver. I was half-correct. The newcomer (from earlier today) is a writer. She is writing a biography. The person who dropped her was her significant other. At dinner I said, “I saw you earlier from the window when the taxi driver dropped you.” She kindly corrected me. Of course I started to apologize profusely. From what I witnessed, most of the taxis I saw at the Dublin airport were Mercedes, so I assumed such, since she pulled up in a Mercedes. 

The energy picked up when dinner was complete, and we were well into drinking tea and eating dessert. Tonight, I received an oral history of Ireland – the Protestants and Catholics; and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Although different histories, I felt as if I were talking about U.S. history between the Confederate and Union states, more often identified by the Civil War. The artists tonight shared story after story. Everyone around the table was from Ireland or had a direct connection to Ireland. I learned an Irish storyteller is called a shanachie. Stories would often be told in lyrical poems by a bard or professional poet. This is similar to what I am more familiar with, griot (African storyteller or historian). The musician at dinner, who seems to be quite the historian, shared so many family stories. Particularly what I walked away with is the tension that exists between religious cultures, not religion. Again, I thought of the numerous denominations I am familiar with in the U.S. (Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc). I used to think there were tensions among denominations, but not really. People attend whatever denomination suits them. Often when I discuss differences between Christians I find that it has nothing to do with the denomination, but rather the practice or institution of church. Very different from understanding the tensions between Protestant and Catholic. Also, the musician talked about a book he had just finished reading. Salonica: City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430 to 1950 – true story of the co-existence of the three religions in this Balkan city called Salonica.  

There's more food for thought...but I must finish this first project so that I have something else to show besides the blogs and my singing-at-the-lake.

Martina in action!