Bermuda Blues

It’s time for my annual non-travel blog in which I warn of the hazards of travel and extol the virtues of staying home.   I feel it is my civic duty to make those of us stuck at home feel better, so I started this tradition last February with a post comparing today’s airport hassles with The Golden Age of Travel.   While  it’s nice to escape to someplace tropical when the Hollywood version of winter has deteriorated into dirty snowbanks and salt stained boots – sand, sea and sun await only those who choose wisely!    

Bermuda (2)

In this photo, you may see a picturesque cottage on the lovely shores of  Bermuda, an island softly kissed by warm trade winds.   It’s set high on a bluff – there’s a pink sand beach below with clear turquoise waters.   Note the striking contrast between the coral and the blue of the pool and sky.   It looks nice, very nice – everything you would expect Bermuda to be.

While I see a drafty old cottage with no hot water, banging shutters and howling winds, set on a steep cliff straight out of a Daphne Du Maurier novel.

This picture was taken the morning we left Bermuda – the only day of sun and warm temperatures the whole five days.   You never want to go to Bermuda in February – believe me.   It’s not tourist season.   While I knew Bermuda was not as far south as the Caribbean, the travel agent was definitely an optimist.  She assured us the average temperature would be 70ish – golfing weather, but it was really why-didn’t-I-pack-warmer-clothes weather.     

And you certainly never want to arrive late on a Friday, when the proprietress hands you the key to your pretty little cottage and promptly disappears until Monday.   There was no front desk and no restaurant, and it didn’t take long to realize there was no hot water either.   There didn’t even appear to be a hot water tank.   We left a message at the booking office.  (This was in the days before people were instantly available).        

 I’m not that fussy when it comes to winter vacations – give me a pool to sit beside and read my books, and a couple of shore and sea excursions and I’m happy.   Otherwise, pick an island, preferably one not too close to the equator as my hair can’t handle too much humidity.    When you live in Canada, you don’t care where you go, it’s just winter you want to get away from.  

Bermuda pic 3 (2)

We decided to check out the pool but it was hardly pool weather.  As it hovered around 50 F all week the only pool sitting was the huddled-in-layers kind.       

Bermuda pic 4 (2)There was a slightly warmer reading nook up near the Adirondack chairs sheltered a bit from the blustery breeze.   

There was no restaurant onsite, but the cottage had a kitchenette, so we treked a mile or two or five down the road, mopeds whizzing by, to a variety store, where we bought the worlds most expensive peanut butter and some white bread, plus coffee, tea and milk for breakfast…and I think there might have been a bottle or two of wine…Merlot most likely as it goes best with stormy weather.   (This was back in the days when I was able to drink a little).  

The main thoroughfare was like the Indy 500.   Dare step off the curb and you’d get crammed by a moped going the wrong way, but then I’m one of those people who can’t tell right from left.   We decided we weren’t brave enough to rent mopeds so we took taxis or the bus when our cash ran low and we were down to coins. 

Most of the restaurants were closed, but we hailed a cab and found a pub for supper.   The taxi driver informed us it wasn’t tourist season and many of the inhabitants were off-island this time of year.   Really – is that why there’s nobody around?   We had a nice meal, including a wonderfully rich English Trifle, which started my love affair with this dessert, and a very smooth sherry afterwards, (Bermuda is a British island), and thus fortified returned to the cottage immensely cheered – only to find it still had no hot water and there was no return message. 

As I’m one of those people who can’t go to bed without having a hot bath first, I decided to channel my inner Laura Ingalls and set about boiling water on the stove, (being a British island, there was a proper teapot and tea kettle), just like my pioneer ancestors – thus providing me with about three inches of tepid water, enough to wash the travel grime off, but not enough to soothe my cramps.   Luckily, when I travel I bring a whole pharmacy with me, so Motrin to the rescue.  

When we woke the next morning it was still overcast.   Turning on the radio, the weather forecast was for more of the same.   After that came the lost pet report, where listeners could call in and report their lost dogs and cats.  We got into the habit of listening to the Lost Pet Petrol every morning while drinking our coffee.   It was in many ways a charming island.   

Scrounging up enough cash for taxis was a challenge as there wasn’t an exchange place open anywhere and the banks were all closed on the weekend.   Bermuda – one of the banking capitals of the world – go figure.  (Yes, once upon a time there was no such thing as an ATM machine).   The streets of the main town were pretty but deserted on the weekend. 

Bermuda pic 5 (2)

The shopping was pricey and rather staid.   I recall there being a Marks and Spencer-like department store downtown, where I bought a soft mohair afghan in bright pink as a souvenir – which came in handy as the cottage was chilly at night, (blame the British again for the lack of central heating or rather any heating).   It also made a cozy pool cover-up.   

Pink mohair afghan

The wind howled up on the cliffs – so loud I couldn’t sleep.  There was a shutter banging loose somewhere.   It was the perfect murder mystery setting, rich with Rebecca-like atmosphere.   (In fact I think I might put it in my book someday).    

Bermuda pic 6 (2) Manderley

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again….

On Monday when the owner returned, she switched on the hot water, the tank was hidden in a separate building – hallelujah!   Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of a hot bubble bath.   But the weather continued gloomy, (did I mention it was a British island).  

We managed to find a restaurant open each night.   One evening when it was raining, I wore socks with my sandals, a fashion faux pas, but I figured no one would notice – and they didn’t as we were the only ones there.   It was like dining in your own private restaurant.    I tried duck a la orange for the first time, not something I would ordinarily order – but with perfectly crispy skin it wasn’t half bad.   Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Flambe for dessert – popular choices for high end dining back then.        

We took a flat bottomed boat out to the ocean for lack of anything better to do, and watched them feed the hungry fish.   

Tropical Fish - AMc

Tropical fish with a watery whitewash finish – Art by Joni’s mother.

It was either that or some Indiana Jones cave expedition, complete with stalactites and damp claustrophobic caverns. 

Bermuda pic 8 & 9 (3)

Bermuda pic 8 & 9 (2)                                              Where is the underground cave entrance……

We walked the beaches a lot….and talked a lot….solving all the worlds problems and our own, scheming and dreaming in the manner of younger souls.  

Bermuda pic 1 (2)

The sky was pretty in a menacing kind of way (and no it was not hurricane season).

Bermuda pic 7 (2)

It was beachcombing season….

On Wednesday, our last morning I was so overjoyed to see clear blue sky and so annoyed about going back to work with the same pale face that I sat out in the Adirondack chair reading my book and soaking up the sun, sans sunscreen. 

Bermuda pic 10 (2)

It was only for an hour or so before we had to leave for the airport, but I had on jeans with a cute white cotton top with a scoop neck and I didn’t want to get it dirty with greasy lotion The warmth of the sun felt absolutely glorious after five cool and overcast days.    

On the way to the airport the taxi driver commented how nice it was, 80 degrees and the same forecast for the rest of the week.   Really – thanks for sharing.   The plane was delayed by a few hours.  By the time we disembarked in Toronto, my skin was starting to hurt and by the next day it was as crispy as that duck skin, so red it almost blistered, all from an hour in the sun.  Stupid, I know.

Now I’m content to stay home.   However, it wasn’t all terrible – despite the inclement weather, I didn’t come back with a cold the way I normally do, just a souvenir sunburn, and some bad dreams of Manderley. 

(1500 words – next week will make up for it.)

PS.  Book of the Day:   Amazingly I found a classic copy of Rebecca, complete with pretty ribbon, at the January used book sale, a book I have not seen since high school, which begs to be re-read.  

PS.  Quote of the Day:  “There’s nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” (Jane Austen)    Especially true when winter winds are howling – pass the merlot.     

PS.   We might have missed a few things – which way to the Bermuda Triangle?   

Song of the Day:  Gordon Lightfoot – Triangle.

PS.   Have you had any vacation experiences which turned out disappointing?

 

 

 

The Tall Ships

        The Tall Ships have come and gone, sailing away on a south wind and lots of good cheer, as the Gordon Lightfoot song goes.   They have spent the summer visiting ports along the Great Lakes and were in my vicinity for the weekend, attracting 100,000 visitors in the process.   You could purchase general admission day and weekend passes, as well as boarding passes that included deck tours, but as I am not a fan of big crowds or standing in long line ups in the sweltering heat, I viewed them from afar on Friday afternoon – along with thousands of other people lining the shore with the same idea!   

The Tall Ships

Among the six ships in dock, was The Bluenose II, a famous Nova Scotia ship,  and my favorite, the Nao Santa Maria, the flagship from the 1492 voyage Christopher Columbus made when he discovered North America.

The Tall Ships

Photo courtesy of Nao Santa Maria Facebook page

This replica was built in Spain to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the discovery of the new world and has spent the past two years touring various ports of call on this side of the Atlantic.   (The Nao Santa Maria has it’s own Facebook page if you wish to check if it will be in your area).    

The Tall Ships

We probably all remember the grade school rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and we may remember the three ships on that famous voyage, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta, but I was unaware that the Santa Maria did not make the return journey home as it had run aground on a sandbar in Hispaniola/Haiti on Christmas Day 1492. 

Shipwreck AMc

Shipwreck!

Here’s a link with more description about the three ships, and also a Wikipedia link with some information about the design, cargo, and the voyage.   As the largest of the three, the Santa Maria was the main cargo ship, carried the most men, 52 of the 90, and was considered an old tub too unwieldy to navigate river mouths and shallow bays, which was left to the smaller faster Pinta.   Columbus had struggled for years to obtain financing for his project (searching for a sea route to the far east and the treasures of Cathay), until the Queen of Spain reluctantly granted approval for the journey.    How overjoyed they must have been to have sighted land and being proven right, even though they were unaware at the time that it was a whole other unexplored continent.   

The Tall Ships

Ahoy mates! Land ahead! (Photo from Nao Santa Maria Facebook page)

Can you imagine travelling across the ocean in that for two months?    

I had anticipated the opening Parade of Ships to be a glorious sight to behold – a beautiful sunny day, blue sky and water, white sails billowing in the breeze.  While the weather was okay (coolish, sunny but lots of clouds), there was such a brisk north breeze, it wasn’t really a Parade of Sails, it was a Parade of Masts! 

The water was so dark and choppy, I had to lighten my pictures to be able to see anything, plus a cloud managed to obscure the sun every time a ship went by.    One of the crew was quoted as saying the sails were not up for safety reasons, as the river channel was too deep and narrow to allow much maneuverability, and it was too windy and rough once they got out on the lake.   Plus, it wasn’t really a parade, as there were long gaps between the appearance of one ship and the next.   We chatted and visited with fellow sightseers, many of whom had driven great distances, and ate french fries from chip trucks under the bridge, which is one of the touristy things to do in this town.   This is the first ship which came along, although I don’t know the name, as I was too far away to see.  

The Tall Ships

Several were so tall, we watched in awe as they barely cleared the bridge. 

The Tall Ships

The Tall Ships

For $120 you could go on board for a two hour cruise during the Parade of Sails, which was sold out, as were all the more reasonably priced ($85 and $60) morning and evening cruises where the proceeds went to charity.    I suspect the lack of sails was a liability issue also, as they wouldn’t want to risk anything with all those VIP’s and tourists aboard, especially if they were puking all over the nicely polished wooden decks.

The Tall Ships

I had a moment of regret, when the Empire Sandy went past.  It looked like such fun, and I don’t usually get seasick on boats, having been on cruise ships, ferries and even a small motorboat.         

The Tall Ships

But then I remembered the five days I spend on a Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean, back in my younger years, when I could more easily be talked into such things.   I’ve learned my lesson, while something might sound romantic and adventurous, the reality often doesn’t match up.   (Plus I require much more luxury in my vacations now).    I distinctly remember arriving in St. Marten’s and gazing at the small vessel in the harbor and thinking – no that could not possibly be it.   Nothing so small could hold 160 passengers and crew.   It did, except for the two who got off at the first stop and flew home, thus saving themselves four more days of misery.     Everyone on the boat was sea-sick the first 24 hours – the captain explained that was normal because the stretch from St. Martens to St. Kitt’s was notoriously rough.   (Well if that was the case, then why didn’t they depart from a port with calmer waters?)    He said most people were okay after the first day.   Many were not.   He said, stare at the horizon.   It didn’t help.   Better to be above deck, than below.   It wasn’t.   Have some more booze.   I don’t drink.   While the cabins were so small as to be claustrophobic, the rocking of the ship was somewhat comforting when you were tucked up in your bunk bed at night.   I tried not to think about the fact that only a foot of timber separated me from the watery depths.   The food was okay, if you could eat it.  (The dry crackers were highly recommended).    We visited St. Bart’s and a private island for a picnic and scuba diving which was a welcome break.    On Day 3, I applied one of those anti-nausea patches behind my ear – upon awakening on Day 4, I removed it, after walking into a wall and being told my pupils looked strangely dilated.  (Most fixed-dose drugs are not for me, as I am a featherweight).   Night 5 was particularly rough again, the rocking cradle turned into a see-saw, invoking a few prayers.   I was never so glad to see dry land again, and practically kissed the ground at the hotel.    The only good thing about the whole trip was the two days of shopping and restaurants in St. Marten’s capital city.  The only good thing about the ship was there was plenty of hot water in the showers, and they played Amazing Grace on deck in the evening when they unfurled the sails, a nice romantic ritual.   (Funny, I don’t remember the sails being raised during the day, probably too many drunken tourists about who might fall overboard).    Thank God a wretch like me was saved – but I swore never to set foot on a sailing ship again!

It may be exhilarating to be on board when the wind grabs the sails, but sailing is only for more adventurous souls, with strong stomachs.   For the rest of us, the Tall Ships are a pretty sight, best viewed from the safety of the shore.   

The Tall Ships

(photo courtesy of the Tall Ships Festival Facebook site)

Postscript:   Like the best of all plans, Columbus started small, with old ships.   News of his new world discovery spread quickly throughout Europe, so on his second voyage, he was given a fleet of 17 ships, with 1,200 men and the supplies needed to establish permanent colonies in the New World.  Which just goes to show how any new venture can start with one small step, which with a bit of luck and a favorable south wind, can turn into something much larger.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Literary Salon – Travel Books

If you’re not fortunate enough to get away for a vacation this year, what better activity than to curl up with a travel book and listen to the March winds howl, (like a lion the same way they came in).    Last year I wandered into the travel section at bookoutlet.com and never left.   There are so many wonderful travel books available, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, but here are some of my personal favorites.    (Warning: travel memoirs can be equal parts enjoyable and annoying.   There can be a fine line between reading about someone’s wonderful experiences in a sunnier place, especially when you are still in the dull dreary dregs of winter, and resenting the hell out them.    But remember there can be comfort in staying home too…see The Golden Age of Travel post).      

The Pioneer

Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was published in 1923, and could be called the first travel memoir of it’s kind.   Set in Italy, I profiled it in a blog last year – see link   How could a book with a captivating opening sentence like this, not be good.    

“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.  Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

The King and Queen  

A Year in Provence (1989) by Peter Mayle was the first travel memoir I read, and I found it LOL funny.   He went on to write a whole series of memoirs  (read) and a few novels (not read), about Provence.   He made Provence so famous that at one time he moved to Long Island to get away from all the publicity.   He died last year, shortly after his last Provence book was published, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence – Reflections on Then and Now, (read) which is a summary of his life there.   

If Peter Mayle is the King, then Frances Mayes, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, is the Queen, and she made Tuscany a very popular place to visit.   It’s been 25 years since her bestselling book, and she has written wrote four or five more travel books, (read) and has a new one coming out this year See You in the Piazza – New Places to Discover in Italy.  (on order)  She also wrote a novel, Women in Sunlight, last year, which I found so unreadable that I can not recommend it.   I’m still not sure how a novel about four women who travel to Italy can miss, but it did.   Travel memoirs are definitely her forte.   

My Personal Favorite

Susan Branch is my personal favorite of all the travel writers.    For those who think of her as just The Heart of the Home cookbook author, did you know that after she lost her publishing contract with Little and Brown in 2009, she started self-publishing and now has a trilogy of marvelous illustrated journals, with a fourth on the way next year about England, Ireland and Wales.   Her first, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, is about her move from CA to Martha’s Vineyard in the 80’s after a divorce, which I enjoyed as that is a part of the world I would love to visit.  (Her second is about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and is not really a travel book, but more a memoir of her youth).  

A Fine Romance:  Falling in Love with the English CountrysideA Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Her third, A Fine Romance, is about her trip to England and is full of photos and watercolor illustrations, of such sites as Beatrix Potter’s farm in the Lake District and the Jane Austen House in Chawton. 

Susan Branch book

Susan Branch book

I find her monthly newsletters inspiring, and you can check out her books and order them from her website.    I wish she would venture into France and Italy.   

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

All About Paris

One of my favorite books about Paris, is Janice McLeod’s, A Paris Year, which I profiled last year in a blog titled, April in Paris – Part Two  A watercolor artist, her journal is illustrated with her own artwork, and is a quirky and whimsical look at her day to day life in Paris.  

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

Italy Revisited

Marlena de Blasi has written three memoirs about Italy – A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo – At Home in Umbria, which was my favorite of the three.    Her books are well-written and  often poetic, but sometimes irritating with respect to her ex-pat mentality and whining about their failure to fit into a foreign culture.   So if you want to read about someone who makes an impulsive decision to buy a run down palazzo and then complains about how long it takes to renovate it, then this book is for you.    So much of appreciating a travel memoir is based on finding the essayist appealing, still it’s an interesting if illogical journey.  

My Current Read

Elizabeth Bard wrote Lunch in Paris – A Love Story with Recipes, about her  move to Paris and subsequent marriage to a Parisian, which was good, even if I wasn’t much interested in the cooking part, (there are recipes at the end of each chapter).    But I am really liking her second book, Picnic in Provence – a Memoir with Recipes, about their move to a small village in Provence, with their young son.   The writing is honest and real and so well done, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that she has a wee bit of a privileged princess attitude.  

Le Road Trip book

My Latest Discovery

My latest discovery is Vivian Swift, another watercolor artist, found while browsing the bookoutlet website.  (I feel like I’m regressing to my childhood with all these picture books!)    Le Road Trip – A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France is a self-illustrated memoir of her fun and whimsical jaunt through France on her honeymoon.

Le Road Trip Book

 Her latest book (2015) entitled, When Wanderers Cease to Roam – A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put  details the pleasures of finding a place to call home (Long Island Sound) after 23 years of wandering – because sometimes there’s nothing nicer than staying home and reading about travel!    

As you can see, my tastes run to England, France and Italy.   But there’s a whole wide world out there.  What is your favorite travel book?

 

A Visit to An Irish Graveyard

Ireland church
       
         When I traveled to Ireland in the early 80’s, in the days of cheap Euro-rail passes, I went by myself, which looking back was a gutsy thing to do and certainly out of character for me, a reserved introvert (and I might add the one and only time I traveled by myself).   None of my family or friends were interested in Ireland, but it was one of two places I wanted to see when I graduated, the other being New York city.  Ireland was not then the popular tourist destination it is today.    I remember it as a dismal country, full of small dreary towns, but I had Irish ancestors and even at a young age I was the family historian.   It was the stories that interested me.   In addition to researching the family history, I had booked a week at an English-riding academy, as a promise to my younger horse-crazy self.  This was in the days when Glamour magazine (my fashion bible) had the travel section, which profiled said establishment and promised a glorious week in the Irish countryside (I remember the exact wording) with lovely walks by the sea.   I must have envisioned riding to the hounds or galloping along the cliffs like  Poldark, something which appealed to the poetic me.  After spending a few days at the Dublin Library going through old microfilms of land records (computers and the internet had not been invented), I located a section of Leitrim County where there seemed to be a large concentration of Patricks and Marys and Johns with my last name, spelled with an a and not the more common o.   My dad said it was always with an a, but you have to be careful with genealogy records as variations in spelling can sometimes be the recorder’s honest mistake.    
       My great great grandparents Patrick and Mary had immigrated to Canada  in 1846 at the start of the potato famine and their 14 year old son John came a year later through New York.   For more on their story check out last years St. Patrick’s Day blog – Irish Roots.   
Patrick and Mary

Patrick and Mary – (tintype)

Their son John below, sitting in the chair, aged 80 yr in 1912. 

Family Portrait

John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

Patrick was proud of his Leitrim County heritage and had it inscribed on his  tombstone when he died in 1880, where it is barely legible today.    
Gravestone
After sight-seeing in Dublin, I took the train around Ireland, staying in B&B’s and doing some side tours, the usual ones, The Lakes of Killarney,
The Lakes of Killarney - AMc - 2018

The Lakes of Killarney

the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula (the only sunny day), and the Cliffs of Moher.   Readers of my long-winded posts might find it hard to believe but I bailed out of kissing the Blarney stone. Blarney castle (4)

 The medical me was horrified at the unhygienic aspect, especially considering my general lack of immunity to foreign germs, plus the thought of reclining backwards over the parapets at that height was not exactly appealing.  (see picture under Wikipedia link) 

          It was September and the weather was gloomy – it rained every day.  If it wasn’t raining, it was overcast.  (I forgot to put film in the camera, thus missing a whole role of dull gray skies).   Central heating was mostly non-existent.    I was cold all the time, and wore both of the Irish sweaters I had bought in Dublin the first week.  Cliffs of Moher (2)

It poured rain on the Cliffs of Moher and I got thoroughly soaked, then the bus broke down and we sat for hours waiting for a mechanic to arrive.   It was a scary drive back to Cork in the dark with no headlights.   Fortunately, my very kind B&B owner met me at the station, as she wondered why I hadn’t returned at 6 pm as planned.    She turned on the bedwarmer/electric blanket and after I had a hot bath, brought me tea and cookies, while I sat in bed writing in my journal about my dreadful day.  I guess you could say Ireland is where I first started to write, as I kept a travel journal  and wrote in it at night if there was nothing else to do.   Although it was easy to meet people in the B&B’s, I wasn’t much of a party person and there are only so many pub/Celtic music nights you can handle over a three week period.    Looking back over my journal entries, they’re not half bad.      

       The glorious week at the equestrian centre turned out to be one lesson in a drafty old riding ring, listening to a rude female instructor yell at a group of tweens, horses and myself, in that order.   I wasn’t sitting up straight enough, and even though I have a bit of scoliosis, she showed no mercy.  Towards the end of the lesson, when the horse sat down on me, I got off and went back to the B&B just down the road.   So much for that expensive pair of riding boots I had bought in Dublin.    The next morning I woke up with a terrible cold, but luckily I had a nice B&B to convalesce in.  The proprietress kept insisting there were some lovely walks to the sea (perhaps it was she who had supplied the Glamour advertisement), but I barely left the room, sleeping and reading, and being entertained by their talkative twelve-year old daughter (a carbon copy of Anne of Green Gables complete with red pigtails), who kept me amused with her drawings and music collection.   I would surface for supper with the only other guest, an older lady from Dublin in search of a holiday and some company.   She talked non-stop.   I listened, nodded, and after a spell by the turf fire, went back to bed.      
       When I was sufficiently recovered, I took the train to Carrick-on-Shannon.    Leitrim County (see Wikepedia) is located in central Ireland near the northern border.   It’s definitely off the beaten tourist path, but I wasn’t brave enough to rent a car as there were white crosses on the roads marking the spots where tourists had died from forgetting to drive on the left side of the road.  I  found the local parish and the priest said there was a church in Fenagh and they might have records.  He said he didn’t have any records, that I’d come at the wrong time of year and that the area was ‘polluted’ with people with my surname.  I didn’t have time to reply that it was spelled with an a, before he slammed the door in my face.   (Sigh….they must get tired of tourists).
      While I had been blessed so far with lovely B&B’s, the one I booked into  must have been the worst in all of Ireland.    It was undergoing renovations, there was doggy do-do on the stairs, no hot water or heat, and the not very nice landlady told me I had to have breakfast by 8 or I wouldn’t be getting any at all.    She did however make arrangements for a driver to take me out to the parish church.   There was only one Catholic church in the outlying area  and only one cab driver in the town.    The next morning when the driver (your typical small Irishmen), showed up he was dressed in a tweed suit and tie and not a day under 85.   He looked frail, but the B&B lady had assured me he was in good health, just a bit senile, and unlike most Irish people not much for conversation.   The only word I remember him saying was ‘aye’.    

       It was a very foggy morning as we drove out into the countryside and all I could see were hawthorn trees and piles and piles of rocks, swirled in an eerie mist.    It was the most desolate place ever, and I kept thinking no wonder they left.     The west parts of Ireland around Connemara by the sea are rocky but picturesque – but this was just plain bleak.    When we got to the church, it looked like a new modern church, right in the middle of nowhere.

     An old priest answered the door.   His eyes were red and rheumy and he looked hungover, but he opened the church so I could take some pictures.  He told me the church had been built in 1840, (so perhaps my ancestors had worshiped there), but the records only went back to 1855 because of ‘the fire’.  There were a few Patricks and one John listed in his old book but the dates weren’t right.  The church had been renovated in 1970 and there were about 700 people in the parish.  We certainly hadn’t passed any houses so the parish must have taken up a large area of the countryside.   (We hadn’t passed any cars either, so perhaps I could have driven on the right side of the road).  

       When I went back to the car the driver had fallen asleep, so I woke him up and we drove down to the church cemetery which was about a mile down the road, just outside a small village which consisted of a pub, a store, a few houses and a school.    The church graveyard was at the site of an old monastery (Fenagh Abbey) which originated around 500 AD and held the ruins of two churches which dated from the 15th century.   

Ireland church

     There were some newer tombstones, most with the o spelling, a few Patricks and Johns, and lots of crumbled old stones which were impossible to read.   I wandered around for awhile taking pictures – it was a strange  experience being in the place where your ancestors might have stood and could be buried.     The atmosphere was certainly mystical. 

Ireland church

      Patrick and Mary’s parents, being too old to travel, had stayed behind, and I assume John must have stayed with them when all the others left.   Maybe they died in the famine and so he had no choice but to leave a year or two later.  They  probably wouldn’t have had a proper burial place as in 1847, the worse year of the famine, corpses littered the fields and roads and there was no one left to bury them, nor any coffins to be had.  Tombstones were only for the rich. 

Ireland church

I recently read a book by John Kelly, The Graves are Walking, which details the horror of that era of Ireland’s history.

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John KellyMy rating: 4 of 5 stars  A scholarly well researched history of the Irish Potato Famine, this book is an important but disturbing read, especially for those of Irish descent.

 

 

Having read it, I’m having difficulty with the decision of John being left behind, but then they left in Sept 1846 when the potato crop had failed but before the worst of the famine hit, and if it was John’s decision to stay behind and go to school, then perhaps 14 then wasn’t the child it seems today.  Someone must have paid for his passage and put him on a ship to New York, the poor survival rate on the coffin ships to Canada being well known by then.   (NB: there is also a Famine Museum in Roscommon Ireland, a tribute to the national disaster). 

      When I went back to the car the driver had dozed off again and I didn’t have the heart to wake him so I wandered around some more, snapping pictures.  Finally I had to rouse him as I had to catch the train to Dublin.  The fog had burned off by then, so I could see more of the countryside on the way back, poor rocky land, the odd house, a few cows and sheep here and there.   It was September which would have been harvest season if they had been able to grow anything at all, even potatoes.    We passed a small lake, perhaps they fished?  

Ireland church
        The Irish tourism site says that Leitrim County, at 32,000, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in Ireland.   It was certainly a godforsaken place.   At the time of the famine it had a large population of over 150,000, many of whom emigrated.   When we arrived  back at the B&B I gave the driver 15 pounds instead of the 10 he requested.   I was just glad he got me back in one piece – that we hadn’t driven into a bog someplace where I might have been preserved for centuries like the famous bog man in the Dublin museum.  

         Certainly, it was a surreal experience to visit the land of your long lost ancestors.  Now that we have Ancestry.com and numerous online resources, and personal genealogists who will do all the searching for you, I might go back some day, with a more specific plan in mind.   For it has certainly occurred to me, that I possibly wasn’t even in the right place.  A few years ago, a distant relative tried to do further research and came up empty-handed.   There are so few records, that I may have to remain content with my “lost in the mists of time” experience.   

      A friend brought me back some souvenirs from her Irish trip last year, a Leitrim County flag and a miniature bottle of whiskey, which my leprechaun is enjoying here. 

        In the thirty five years since I was there, Ireland has prospered, every small town now a picture of tidy charm.   Her photographs were gorgeous, but then cameras have improved too.   Sensibly, she went in May and had two weeks of solid sunshine and balmy weather.   The clerk in the tourist shop inquired why would you want a souvenir from that place –  nobody lives in Leitrim County.   Well my ancestors once did.   I placed the flag on Patrick and Mary’s tombstone in our church cemetery, as I thought they might enjoy the fact that a great great granddaughter was thinking of them and their old homeplace.    I hope their Irish eyes were smiling down on me. 

Gravestone

A few weeks later, the flag was gone, blown away by the wind, or removed by an unappreciative grass-cutter or priest, someone trying to obliterate the past.   

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Postscript:    When I got back to Dublin, I booked a hotel on Grafton Street which had central heating, plenty of hot water and lots of shopping nearby, then switched to a B&B the night before my flight.   My suitcase was so full of souvenirs that I had to leave the riding boots behind in the B&B.  I simply could not cram them in, so I left them there beside the bed.    I hope someone else found them useful – but I have regretted that decision to this day, as there are many times when I’m mucking around in the garden in the spring when they would have come in handy!  
Irish Cottage - AMc

Irish Cottage

The Golden Age of Travel

Tropical Vacation - AMc         This is the time of year I used to be winging my way south to escape  winter for a week.    Travel-wise people routinely book flights months in advance to get the best prices for the prime travel season over the February/March break, but years ago travel was still an unknown venture for the vast majority of people.   Only 15% of North Americans had even been on a plane in the 1970’s.   It took the hippie generation of young baby boomers, staying in hostels and Euro-railing their way across Europe on $10 a day, to jump start the travel industry so that flying became a commonplace  experience.  In the Pan-Am years of the 50’s and 60’s with the first charter  trips to the Caribbean and Mexico (Acapulco anyone), travel was only for the fortunate few and the very rich.   The jet-setting life of airline stewardesses was advertised in books like Coffee, Tea or Me……a line that would surely be considered sexist now.    My SIL was an airline stewardess in the mid-80’s and said it wasn’t really all that glamorous….more like being a hard-working waitress in the air and trying to sleep in stuffy hotel rooms. 

When I took my first trip in 1975, March break to Florida with four high school friends, we went on a bus.    While a two day drive, the bus at $380, was considerably cheaper than flying, and that included the hotel room.   I still have the set of baby-blue Samsonite luggage my parents bought me, not just for the trip but also for going away to university (currently in the basement  as I never throw anything even remotely vintage out).  luggageToday the majority of people hop on a plane at least once a year and think nothing of it.   It’s hard to remember when flying was a new and exciting experience, whether someplace tropical or abroad.   (The whole concept of Abroad used to be considered exotic, bringing to mind an era of elegance, with ocean liners like the Queen Elizabeth and sleeping cars on the Orient Express).   Now flying is just routine, often fraught with headaches, and certainly not part of the fun of going away.   Unmanned check-ins and luggage kiosks, long pre-boarding wait times, luggage fees, cramped seats, no meals or drinks and a general lack of amenities have taken the fun from the friendly skies.    And consider yourself lucky if no one is ejected from your flight for rude comments or behavior, as many online videos can attest.    A friend of mine was so traumatized by a bad airline experience that when her husband found a great price on a mid-winter trip she turned it down because she didn’t want to have to deal with the airport.   (I am imagining a future where we might be instantaneously whisked away to our destination in our own magic bubbles like the Jetsons).    

airplane            I was 24yrs old when I took my first plane trip, a two-week vacation to Hawaii, a popular destination in the 80’s but expensive even back then.    I flew on on a Wardair Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, a 9½ hour flight straight from Toronto to Oahu – an experience I will remember forever.   Wardair was a Canadian airline company started by Max Ward in 1946 as a bush pilot operation carrying cargo from the Yukon and Northwest Territories to Edmonton, which eventually expanded into a luxury domestic and international travel fleet of aircraft.   Mr. Ward believed that PART OF THE FUN OF TRAVEL SHOULD BE GETTING THERE.    Wardair’s  motto was luxury “Steak and Champagne” flights at reasonable prices.   Here’s a Wikipedia link for more on the Wardair history.

        During our long non-stop flight all 500 plus seats were treated to first class service.    My sister had warned me about the initial rush of takeoff, (which I found a bit scary), but the jet was so big once we were up on the air it felt like nothing at all.    The stewardesses (all female in those days) had passed out trays of candies in preparation for any ear popping.   About an hour into the flight we were treated to a champagne breakfast on real china, then they passed out hot towels.  The seats were spacious.   All drinks were free.   An in-flight movie followed, nothing I remember.   One of the stewardesses, a classmate of mine from high school, sat down with me on her break and regaled me with stories of her four day lay overs in Hawaii.     What impressed me most was the spiral staircase to the upper deck where there was a bar where you could mix and mingle, or just stretch your legs.     Imagine a bar in the sky – very James Bond.airplane   

Later we were served a wonderful filet mignon dinner on the special Wardair Royal Doulton china with snowy white draped tablecloths and napkins, your choice of wine, then coffee and a fancy dessert.    We read and rested, then more hot towels to wipe your face and hands before we arrived – at 3pm with the time change.   I remember descending into balmy weather where we were greeted with the traditional lei necklace welcoming us to Hawaii.   Yes, this flying was a wonderful thing – I was spoiled for life.    

Fast forward a few years, and after a few cramped experiences with Air Canada (famous for frozen green peas and rubber chicken), and other airlines, I was less than impressed .  Flash forward to the 80’s and another set of luggage (wheels had been invented), with a vintage-style carry so chic it once got me upgraded to First Class and salmon.   

As a carry on it was pretty useless, but so Audrey Hepburnish, with all those little spaces for cosmetics and toiletries.    In regular class you still got fed, (I remember a particularly stale sandwich on a flight out west), but all the frills were gone.   A few more years, and Wardair was gone too…..bankrupt.   Mr. Ward had expanded too quickly and people were now being swayed by discount airlines, cheap flights and frequent flyer miles.    

I haven’t been on a plane in years, for a variety of reasons – work, family, medical.   If there is one airborne germ circulating on the plane it will have no difficulty finding my seat.   My last trip was spent in a Mexican five star all inclusive resort with a sore throat and sinus cold so miserable I barely left the room, except to gaze upon the bougainvillea on the balcony.   The food was tasteless, and deficient in chicken noodle soup.   (At least in Hawaii the dreaded sore throat did not arrive until the second last day although it took three days for my ears to unplug from the flight home).    I do hope to travel again someday, but not in a run down but let’s cram everything into one week and arrive home sick and exhausted kind of way, but at a more leisurely pace.   When you are young, cheap and basic will do, when you are older, you require a bit more luxury and space.   High rise hotel rooms where you can’t open a window make me feel claustrophobic, so perhaps an Airbnb or renting a villa for a month would be more appealing.   In the meantime, while everyone is talking about their trips down south, I am thinking of this quote from a delightful book by Vivian Swift, who finally put down roots in a small Long Island town after twenty years of roaming the world  When Wanderers Cease to Roam – A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put. 

Quote:     ‘Travel is not what it used to be.  And that’s a good reason to Stay  Put.’          

In the meantime I am living vicariously through travel books – let someone else deal with the crowded airports and the lost luggage. 

(See the upcoming Literary Salon – Travel Books– in March).     

What was your worst airplane/travel experience?         

 

Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enchanted April

“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.  Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

Despite being written almost a hundred years ago the book, The Enchanted April, is just as enchanting today.   Four very different women, all unknown to each other in dreary post WW1 Britain, answer an ad for an Italian villa.   Two are married but taken for granted by their husbands, one is single and beautiful but tired of grabby men, and one is a widow facing a sad lonely old age.  They have nothing in common other than they are starved for beauty and love, and for the fresh air and sunshine of the Italian coast.

Italian Villa - AMc - 2015

Italian Villa – 2015

I watched the movie first, before I read the book, which is what I would recommend.   The movie is from 1992 and while film quality has improved tremendously since then, it is still a lovely period drama, (and if I’m ever reincarnated I want to come back with straight black bobbed hair). 

My Good-reads review:

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book, but I had watched the movie first. A timeless tale with a lovely story line and such vivid descriptions of flowers, gardens and beautiful countryside that you almost felt like you were there.
I ordered the book because it is one of those timeless classics you simply have to own.   It was a bestseller in it’s day, 1923, and was based on a month long trip the author, Elizabeth von Arnim, made with her husband to the village of Portofino, Italy, which soon became a famous tourist destination because of the success of the book.  They stayed at the Castello Brown, (now a museum), which is where the movie was filmed seventy years later.

It’s such a charming story, that it might inspire you to grab three of your girlfriends and go off on your own Italian adventure.   Who wouldn’t want to live la dolce vita?

Tuscan Villa - AMc - 2015

Tuscan Villa –  2015

Of course in the book the villa came complete with all the necessary servants, so hiring a chef to do the cooking would be the sensible thing to do.  (You could invite Amal for tea, she’s British and may be in need of a cuppa and a break from the bambinos).   Isn’t that part of the attraction of period pieces, there was always someone to prepare the meals, wash the dishes, care for the children…..and look after the garden.

It’s not surprising that there were such lovely descriptions of the flowers and grounds in the book, as the author’s first bestseller was Elizabeth and Her German Garden in 1898.   I have not read that one yet, as I plan on reading it outside on the deck whenever it gets warm enough, as inspiration for gardening season.   But I did read her book, The Solitary Summer, last summer which I enjoyed also, which concerned her need for solitude and beauty in the countryside with her April, May and June babies.  Her first best seller was published anonymously, and the subsequent ones as by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden.   Because these books are old and often out of print they are best ordered online.

Perhaps there is something about being in such a lovely setting that inspires love.  In the book their husbands became more appreciative, although no one runs off and has an affair, (it was a more decorous time), well only the single one.    I remember reading once in a book on Italy about a medical condition called, Stendhal’s Syndrome, which is an emotional reaction to too much loveliness.   A handful of tourists are treated for this every year in Florence, having been overwhelmed by an excess of beauty.    Finally a medical condition we can all aspire too!   Of course we don’t have to go to Italy to experience beauty in our lives – it is all around us, we just have to pay attention.   Is it possible to surround yourself with an excess of loveliness, especially in a world which so often seems full of evil, hate, and ugliness?   Perhaps not, but  it is an admirable goal to  choose to focus on what is lovely in the world, and so much better for your health!   Buona giornata!

Quote of the Day:   “It is their manners as a whole, their natural ways, bonhomie, the great art of being happy which is here practiced with this added charm, that the good people do not know that it is an art, the most difficult of all.”  (Stendhal on Italy)

Song of the Day:  April Love by Pat Boone