Monday, June 25, 2007

What Travel Does

JP and Bernice and I just got back the other day from a week in Ireland. Still all messed up from the time switchyness. Our first trip to the Emerald Isle and our first travel abroad with a toddler. It was restive and beautiful and it made us want to travel more and eat more and make more money and basically be Irish, which is what travel is for. But, god, those damn Euros. It’s like an alternate, worser universe of commerce and finance. Just basically imagine everything being twice as expensive, and you get the idea. I learned a few things: you (I) can’t trust your (my) map-reading skills; always order the black pudding (blood sausage); always take more pictures than you think you want; the weather is frighteningly changeable; water-repellent isn’t the same as water-proof; and a week away from the Internet is good.

So I was basically away from music, too, though I did hear the tail end of a Joanna Newsom tune on the radio, after which the announcer described the harpist/singer as sounding “slightly deranged,” which seemed about right. If you’ve never been to Ireland, I’ll say that some of the many things to love about the place are the lovely people – they’re all so Irish -- and everything they say is pretty much better than the equivalent of what we’d say. For instance, instead of asking if a cup of coffee is “for here or to go?” – the person behind the counter will say something like “take-way, yeah?,” or if the waitress is bringing you a pint to your table, instead of asking “Would anyone else like a drink?” she might say “Just the one then?” See, better. And there’s the greyish rainy breezy weather, which is better than the full-on East Coast humidor. We actually saw people wearing parkas in Galway, which seemed only a tad excessive. Other highlights: righteous fish and chips and curry fries (McDonaugh’s), first-rate playgrounds for the toddler, and the mix of Neolithic, Celtic and early Christian ruins/archeology was pretty spectacular. We got to see incredible dolmens, wedge tombs, circular forts, ritual wells, beehive huts, cairns, etc. The endless networks of stone walls are amazing in themselves.

Though Galway is actually known as a music town, we didn’t get to hear any live music, in fact, though we did almost see a famous boudrain-maker’s studio in Roundstone, we got there shortly after it closed. Without any iPod or stereo or anything, I found myself singing this Richard Thompson song over and over again. It was sort of musical shorthand for the general rocky, windblown, hardscrabble British Isles vibe (don’t get mad). I know it’s way too Legend of Roan Inish for some people, but it’s really beautiful.

A guy named Joel turned me on to this. He was a neighbor one year in Asheville, NC. He was maybe 10 years older than me and my housemates, much more of a grown-up. and he took bemused interest in us when we moved in, calling us “the bohemians.” He had a show on public radio, and he’d come over sometimes to chat music. He gave me a painting that I still have. The painting had a great story behind it. Joel said that he’d gotten it from his uncle. Joel’s uncle evidently had a secretary who had a thing for her boss. She painted this soft-porn paint-by-numbers topless lady out in the woods, with her hands in her hair and her eyes shut in a kind of rapturous look, and called it a self-portrait. Well, Joel’s aunt didn’t like Joel’s uncle having this painting around. So Joel’s uncle gave it to his nephew, Joel. I was touched by the story (plus I like old paint-by-numbers pieces), and Joel gave it to me. The painting has come to be known as "The Nurse Lady" in our house, because that's what Bernice calls it, since it's an image featuring breasts. Though I’d been into Fairport Convention, Joel is also the one who got me into solo Richard Thompson, turning me onto Pour Down Like Silver, and Henry the Human Fly.

This was back in like 1990, and I’d just gotten my first CD player, and I was slowly amassing a collection. I think I bought that sort of hair-metal late-era Bad Brains record “Quickness” at the time, which I’ve regrettably since gotten rid of. I also went through an awful lot of trouble to by “Voice of Chunk” by the Lounge Lizards. Jon Lurie had split with his record label and he was marketing the thing my mail-order or something. And I had to send off for the record, which was the last Lounge Lizards record with Marc Ribot. I got way into the title track, and Joel ended up using it as the theme music for his radio show. That was my second-hand brush with public radio something or other. I always loved Ribot’s solo, the drum groove, and the layering of the horns. You hear this sometimes as between-story music on NPR.

“The Poor Ditching Boy” - Richard Thompson

“Voice of Chunk” - The Lounge Lizards


E. Blanco said...

Great to hear about your trip. Sounds like a good time. Lots of sights and joys a plenty. Rain and shine. Shine on. And thanks for the Voice of Chunk. A good to your knees kick and the clack clack clacking sticks on the rim. Yeah, man. Right on.

Lefty said...

This is what I call a Driftwood Premium Post, my frond. $50 a year gets you "DriftwoodSelect," featuring Mr. Poncho's op-ed on Ireland. Good'n.