Unfortunately, this trip has thrown a lot of lemons our way.
On the flight over, we got stranded for five hours in Kafka’s Airport (aka Heathrow) and lost a full 24 hours of our trip, gone forever.
A couple days later, we rented a car and I began driving on the left. I concentrated hard while driving, because not crashing into things is good. Then when we turned in the car, they spotted a small scrape.
“I didn’t hit anything,” I said. “I would’ve felt that.”
“We didn’t feel anything,” my girlfriend Claire said.
“Still, the contract you signed says that you’re responsible,” said the imbecilic Sixt representative.
I didn’t hit anything, and for that, I was charged $250.
“$250 is cheap,” the man said gently, as if we were getting a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
I had the feeling that he said that to everybody in that situation.
That afternoon, I started getting sick, and that evening while lecturing, I became progressively sicker, until at the end of the lecture, I just wanted to crawl under a warm rock.
Then yesterday, we spent nine hours on a train, and when we arrived at our friend’s place at 11 pm, she said the key would be under the flowerpot. We rummaged around for a half-hour in the rainy dark before we found it–under the flowerpot.
Today on a train, I accidentally dropped my camera and bent the lens. Will have to buy a new lens.
But still, there are things to enjoy.
Every so often, I turn to Claire, point to a cloud, and say, “See that cloud? That’s an Irish cloud!” Or ”Claire! We’re in England!”
On Monday morning, I got up at 5 am and took a long walk through the Louth countryside, trying to make friends with sheep and roosters and swans, none of whom were having any of it. Man did I have a great walk, though.
In Ireland, there was the charming Irish accent, which at once makes me think of singing and leprechauns, separately, not together, because somehow, I don’t think I’d like to hear a leprechaun sing. (He probably wouldn’t take my request, which would be a combination of two songs: Randy Newman’s “Short People” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?” I would call it “Who Let the Short People Out?”)
Then there are all the extremely old buildings in every corner of the country, it seems, and all the castles small and large, and the Irish cemeteries with all their political and overtones.
Then in Ireland, there’s that charming sense of Irish doom, which is hard to explain except in a kind of reticence—not reserve, which the English are famous for, but reticence, which comes from a different place—and which my friend Jack Wise says “stems from 800 years of political repression.”
And then, most of all, there are friendly strangers. On the train through Wales, we ran across an English family that was playing cards. I looked at Claire.
“You know what I’m thinking, don’t you?” I said.
“Yes, I do,” she said softly.
So I volunteered to do a magic trick for them, launched into a set, and for the rest of the ride, we had tour guides eager to make our trip the best ever. They hailed from Chester, which is a city built by the Romans when they ruled the wild tribes who lived in these isles. In the Dark Ages, Chester residents dug up the corpse of a revered forebear, St. Werburgh, to avoid descration by the invading Vikings, and reburied it in Staffordshire.
I have a feeling these Chester residents had never dug up a corpse, although you never know. (I see a bit of sociopathy in the face of the guy on the left, below.) Still, they loved my magic, and treated me quite nicely. They thought they were riding the train with a big shot. Of course, I am. I’m not one of those suckers who worships gratitude, but I am one who worships turning lemons into lemonade. And turning strangers into tour guides fits that bill nicely.
Today, we walked into historic Bradford on Avon, and when I say historic, I mean that the church was built in 1150, the weaver’s cottage we’re staying in was built in 1400, and things that were built after 1800 are considered too new to be worth talking about.
While in the tourist office, I ended up doing a little magic for a pretty blonde, a crowd gathered, and suddenly, the head of the tourist office had offered me a gig performing at the local festival on Saturday. I’m still feeling a little under the weather, but if I feel up to it, I’ll take her up on it. After all, at the first opportunity, I’m all about making a little lemonade.
But there’s another aspect of lemonade that has sprung to mind, too. When I was 28, I was engaged to a young horsewoman named Suzy. She roped me into taking dressage lessons, and we had quite a good time at it, too. I rode a huge white former California jumping champion who knew I wasn’t experienced, and actually threw me a couple times. I shook it off. I was resilient. I got back on. For our honeymoon, we planned to go to Ireland and ride across the country. Suzy said they had property laws that allowed you to ride across people’s land at will, staying at B & Bs wherever we went.
“It’s been my dream since I was a little girl,” she said.
But Suzy’s mother Rebel broke us up. I wasn’t a born-again Christian, so Rebel was insistent that I would be a bad influence on her daughter, which I probably would have. It was a bad breakup, filled with screaming, taunts, cat shit left on my front door, and finally, years of wondering whether I had made the right decision. Suzy had been so beautiful and so brilliant. I still remember her curves, which were even more alluring when she was wearing a tight black dress. Growing up, she had skipped two grades, and tended to make the most original and shocking jokes. Once, while we were both driving on the freeway at 65 mph, she pulled up beside me, honked her horn, pulled up her blouse and flashed me.
Years later, I’m finally in Ireland. Looking on the Internet, I see that Suzy has become such a devout charismatic that she has home-schooled her four children. The schools are way too secular for her.
Being here in Ireland without Suzy was a reminder of the dream honeymoon we might have had. It was sobering. But considering what became of her, I would like to think that the engagement itself was the lemon. I’d like to think that being here with Claire, the lovely, lukewarm-religious Claire, the Claire who would never go braless, much less flash me on the freeway, the Claire whose gentleness is a constant lesson for me and my aggressive daring, which I always think is the solution to everything but really isn’t, the Claire who doesn’t sleep well without my warm body beside her and with whom I’ve consorted for nearly 14 years now, and who…well, let’s just put it this way: Whenever I’ve thought about breaking up with her, it’s always seemed out of the question, because hurting her would tear me apart…I’d like to think that because of all that, Claire is the lemonade.