Sunday night, June 28, Galway, Eire

To come to Ireland (and Northern Ireland where I spent the last two days) is to be immersed in a crisis that, I suspect, barely registers on the American consciousness. Europe is falling apart. I just read a book about Copernicus who lived in the time of the Holy Roman Empire. That was the last time (with apologies to Napoleon and Hitler) that much of Europe tried to be one nation. That one fell apart. Apparently this one is about to crumble too. Three factors get cited in the Irish press.

Russia. She has the natural gas and now she’s bitten off a bit of the EU (the Crimea first, perhaps soon to be joined by the Ukraine). Sweden announced today that they are bolstering their military in anticipation that they might be next on Putin’s menu. The Baltic States are petrified. But there’s no way Europe will actually fight to defend these folks. See 1938 for the last time Western Europe was asked to help defend the little countries of Eastern Europe. The more pressure Putin applies the more Europe gets pulled apart.

Migrants. The Irish are obsessed with the influx of Pakistani’s and Eritreans and others who are finding ways to wiggle into Dublin or Belfast. By American standards the numbers are laughable, a few hundred this year, but they obviously stand out physically among the lilly-white Irish. And once they get here they can drag out the litigation for years till they’ve become part of this Western nation. In Calais, where the ferries leave France for England, there is a community of several thousand migrants living in hovels. They wait for the lorries to slow down, then they hop on. Most get sent back at the border but a few succeed, enough to give all the others hope. And in Southern Europe thousands are crossing the Med to land in Greece or Italy or Spain. Two thousand died at sea last year. The problem for Europe is that the EU mandates no border checks. So once you get to Italy you can thumb your way to Calais. That angers the Germans and French and Scandinavians. If they get angry enough they will insist on reinventing those borders that the EU was supposed to eviscerate. Another body blow to the idea of a united Europe.

Grexit. That’s the new slang for Greek Exit. The Greeks, when they entered the EU in 1998, apparently went on a spending spree with all those new Euro’s they got from German banks. Money was handed out to pensioners and to the rich moguls who could buy politicians. Now they can’t pay the borrowed money back and the Germans are pissed. It looks like Greece will leave the EU and the common currency. Once that spell is broken people figure Italy and Spain will leave, too. A majority in England want to leave but PM Cameron is trying to forestall that. Will this Holey Yoeman Empire dissolve? I read one article that speculated that the Greeks (after they are kicked out of Europe) and Russians will make common cause and try to gouge out a chunk of Southeastern Europe. World War III?

I spent two good days in a small home in Belfast. The elderly lady of the house was retired from teaching. She bent my ear for hours and treated me like a long-lost relative. I ate well–too well. And she even ferried me to a local museum my first afternoon. Which was nice but also a bit uncomfortable. I decided I needed a rest from that kind of thing and found my way to a hostel here in Galway. The Atlantic is a stone’s throw from here. I hope to check it out tomorrow.

june2015dublinI had a young woman take my picture at a botanical garden near Dublin.

paintingfromdublinmuseumI’ve managed to take in some museums. This painting at a Belfast art museum caught my attention. glassartnorthirelandmuseumAnd this glasswork I found fetching.


Saturday, June 27

The people who created the gardens I visited near Dublin wanted majestic, evergreen trees. So where did they go? To the Western US, of course. This is a giant sequoia but the place also had Monterey Pines, Incense Cedars, Colorado Blue Spruce, Thuja’s, and many more.

It’s interesting how Airbnb has changed my traveling experience. I get less reading done and I’m sure I’ll not lose as much weight because the hosts all pamper you, suggesting places to visit, preparing sandwiches for your day and generally treating you like you are their long lost cousin from Utica and they are so glad to see you.

I’m in Belfast which, to my surprise, is a much gayer place than Dublin. The latter seems almost shabby and dour; Northern Ireland seems to have shed the taint of “The Troubles” when Protestants and Catholics spent their days trying to kill each other. I have a bunch more to say but the day is nearly half done (I stayed up to 3am watching the US-China soccer game) and I must get going for now. I’ll try to post this evening. I have some Dublin photos, nothing great, to put on here.

Rhoddies and azaleas were still in bloom here.

Wednesday, June 24, Dublin, Eire

Why I Travel:

I’m sitting in Newark Airport waiting to check in for my 5:45 flight to Copenhagen, thence to Dublin. I would be checked in already except that, by lucky chance, I espied a foursome of electrical outlets over in a corner by the window. Someone else had one outlet occupied charging his phone, but that left me two for my computer and phone. So, rather than risk finding an open outlet in the boarding area I decided to sit here and get my gadgets fully packed with nourishing electricity.

Which leaves time to ruminate on my chosen topic.

1. To lose weight(and lower my blood pressure). Two months spent at home would surely have me adding pounds. My fridge would hold all the usual temptations. The TV would beckon. But on the road I have none of these temptations. My time will be spent—if previous trips are any forecast—walking and looking and walking and looking. My appetite will magically disappear. It has been typical for me to eat but once every 24 hours, and then only because custom demands it.

2. To read books. Away from the TV I’m forced to entertain myself other ways. I can usually get through two to three books per week. And trying to find anything to read in Dakar or Luang Prabang directs me to authors and subjects that I wouldn’t otherwise meet. To keep the weight of my backpack tolerable I limit my inventory to, at most, three tomes. That means I must prowl the streets for anywhere that might have an english language book. Often there are only a handful to choose from.

I began this trip with A More Perfect Heaven:  How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. And already I’ve learned one fascinating factoid. It seems that Copernicus was a medical student at the University of Padua. Left behind in his effects was his textbook, Brevarium practice by Arnaldus of Villanova, a thirteenth-century physician and alchemist. Arnaldus did surgeries apparently. As part of his work he anesthetized patients:  “To produce sleep so profound that the patient may be cut and will feel nothing, as though he were dead take of opium, mandragora bark, and henbane root equal parts, pound then together and mix with water. When you want to sew or cut a man, dip a rag in this and put it to his forehead and nostrils. He will soon sleep so deeply that you may do what you will. To wake him up, dip the rag in strong vinegar.” There’s no mention of what to do with women but I assume they weren’t eligible subjects.

3. To see the world and make myself a more broadminded fellow. I’ve been doing this touring for two decades and so far I can’t point to any evidence that this putative enlightenment has ever reached me, but I keep hoping that the effects are just delayed.

4. To meet people, which I have. Though I secretly dreamed of meeting the one female in the world who would want to pair up with me. That never happened but she might still be out there.

I spent the last week on the East Coast. In keeping with tradition Doug and I took in Shakespeare in the {Central} Park. This year was “The Tempest”.  To get the free tickets one must line up early in the morning for the noon ticket distribution. This year, due to inclement weather, our 6:15am arrival put us near the front of the line. Here’s a bad photo of the line.

the line for the tempest

On the flight to Copenhagen I was pleased to see that SAS gave us a few free films and TV programs. I opted for the first episode of a new Showtime series, “The Affair”. What I didn’t know is that the show featured graphic sex. All of a sudden there were two attractive naked actors engaging on the hood of a car. This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, except that the Danish family sitting next to me could see my screen. Fortunately dad was closest, and his pre-teen son was farthest. But still….it was tense.

More anon.