Thursday, 4 October 2001
I just spent an enjoyable hour in the hotel lobby here in Clifden (west coast), sitting by a peat fire, reading the International Herald Tribune. Yes, the local paper (the Irish Times) is in English, but they don’t have baseball scores. Anyway, news of interest to me was that in order to stimulate air travel, Aer Lingus (my carrier to Ireland) is offering the same trip I’m on for only about $250. You have to travel before 16 December, and of course you have to make your own lodging and internal travel arrangements, but I’d say that’s an incredible deal. And I’m not the least bitter about them starting the plan after I made my own arrangements. I’d even put $100 into a Save Aer Lingus fund, if I run into one.
Another thing about that fire. It was fake. Of course it has to be. This is a modern hotel, and they can’t have people feeding peat to a fireplace all day and night. But what interests me is that it’s fake peat. Why not burning logs, like our fake fires? Because no one has ever seen wood here. I realized that, as I drove from Galway to here (Clifden). In fact, when I happened upon a remarkable stand of fir trees, I stopped to photograph them. As did others. They had clearly been planted (on too little land), probably for one-by-one transplanting to landscaping sites around Ireland. This tree-less characteristic might apply only to West Ireland, the only part of Ireland I’ve seen so far, and it would certainly make sense. West Ireland seems to be one big rock. As I photographed a peat extraction site today, I ended up walking in the bog. The only explanation I could find for how there could be standing water in the way I was experiencing it was to imagine that not far below that marshy “ground” was more of the Big Rock that is West Ireland. That would make the ground out of whatever organic material that has lain upon those rocks for however many years.
Clifden. I was rather disappointed in myself for stopping so early. But the frustration of trying to take pictures in the constant rain, coupled with the already mentioned extra attentiveness required for driving on Ireland’s narrow roads, led me to realize that it didn’t make much difference where I stopped for the night—going further would just add notches to my gun, and I was able to remember that I’m on vacation and don’t need any more notches.
Clifden is cute. Obviously redecorated for the tourist trade, it first seems suspicious. But then you realize that most of Ireland seems to exist for the tourist trade, so more power to them. And walking along the couple of “main” streets, you hear mostly Irish-accented English (not always the case in, say, Galway), so you know that most of the people you’re seeing are real. Before my hour in the hotel lobby with the Herald Tribune, I spent about that long in a coffee shop with the Irish Times. but I was doing as much listening to conversations around me as reading the paper. The Irish talk about the same things we do, and they use pretty much the same words. They just have a cuter accent. And it is cute, to my ears. Older folks (and, I think, deeper into the countryside) can have a thicker accent—delightful to listen to. But most young people and those in the towns and cities in general seem to have a much lighter accent, probably closer to what urban Brits have. Listening to a 30-something mother and her sub-teen children, I had to listen carefully to prove to myself they weren’t Americans (not at all an unknown item anywhere in Ireland). Then I heard the kid say ‘class’ with that ‘ah’ for ‘a’.
It occurred to me today too that material culture must be unifying all over what we call the civilized world. This is a natural effect of global communication, I’m sure. One consequence of this is that what we call culture is increasingly going to have to depend upon something other than the material. I have seen, for example, books on Irish culture. But these represent an option—a conscious choice. They are not books about what you are experiencing in your life but rather about what you _could_ be experiencing were you to _study_ things that are now extra-sensory. I’ll have to think about this.
Speaking of global communication—Internet cafes are _everywhere_. And their customers appear to be locals. Would I be right in presuming that these folks do not have their own computers at home and so depend upon renting time as needed? I would never have imagined that digital communication (or whatever computers represent) would thrive in such a “forced” atmosphere, but I’m sure I’m too much influenced by my own easy personal access to this medium (he wrote, typing on his laptop). Anyway, it was a pleasant shock to see a young lady entering her search words into Google, as I walked by one of the many Internet cafes (by the way—they don’t serve anything to eat or drink, which is how I happened into one in the first place). In my naivet?, I presumed that Ireland would have its own equivalent of Google. How ridiculous...
Further northwest from Galway City is the rather touristy Clifden. At least in October, though, that just meant freshly painted buildings, as most tourists are back home after September. I appreciated the relative luxury and open space (Galway is a real city, and gets a bit cramped).