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No, not that kind of hurling. (I do make sure to sit towards the front of the bus while we’re touring around, however, so as not to participate in that activity). No, hurling is my new favorite sport! I had never heard of it before coming to Ireland, it and may never see it played again.
Hurling is a uniquely Irish sport which has been played here for millennia. By happy accident, we ended up being in Ireland when the All Ireland final match was being played. It was actually a replay, as the first final match ended in a draw and there is no system for a tie-breaker, sudden death, extra innings, or any of that. They just play the whole match over again on another day.
Not only were we in Ireland for the final match, but we spent the first 5 days of our trip in the town of Ennis, which is the county seat of County Clare. The hurling teams each represent a county, and it was a big deal for Clare to be in the final. They played Cork, which has previously won something like 22 titles. All we heard about during that week was the match. Practically every house and car was decked out with Clare banners and flags, and all the shopkeepers had window displays showing the Clare colors, blue and saffron (not yellow, mind you, but saffron).
We got caught up in the excitement, to the extent of purchasing shirts representing County Clare. It was slightly unfortunate that the evening of the match we had moved on to a town called Bunratty to meet up with our tour group. Bunratty is also located in County Clare but is mostly a tourist hub near the Shannon airport. As the proprietress of our B & B in Ennis said (she had a nephew on the team), “Pity you’ll be watching the match with all the Americans.” Nevertheless, we did get to see the match in a Bunratty pub and it was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever watched.
I have a hard time getting too excited about American sports anymore, although I used to follow football. It’s a little difficult to lend support to boys who are getting paid millions to play a game, not to mention greedy sports franchises who require ever larger and more luxurious stadiums generally subsidized by my tax dollars. I used to go see the Giants for $6. Now the average price is $30. Many families are priced out. The whole thing has become too greedy, in my opinion. I learned that there are no professional leagues in hurling, and the Irish hurling teams consist of unpaid “amateurs”. They don’t even have their names on their jerseys, and their numbers refer only to their position on the field.
Also amazing to me was the fact that there were no commercials shown during the game! What? You mean, no needless time outs in order to sell us beer and trucks? That’s right. It was non-stop action. The game lasts 70 minutes with a half-time break 35 minutes in. There were commercials shown during the break, but never during play. The game consists of 15 players on each team, all on the field with a stick called a hurley.
The object is to get a ball—a little smaller than a baseball—into the goal. A ball that is hit over the crossbar between the opponent’s goal posts is called a point and is worth 1 point, and a ball hit into the net below the crossbar is called a goal and is worth 3 points. The ball cannot be held in the hand for more than four steps. It is generally transported up and down the field balanced on the end of the stick, or hit or slapped. It cannot be thrown. No protective gear is worn except for a helmet. There are a few penalties such as not being allowed to body check or grab another player’s jersey, etc. During the match we watched there were a number of penalties called which result in penalty shots similar to soccer, but for the most part it was non-stop action. No calling time out to slow the game down as in football or basketball, they just played flat out for 70 minutes.
In the end Clare got the victory, only their 4th ever. We were terribly excited (and grateful not to have to bury our Clare shirts in the bottom of our suitcases for the remainder of our trip!)
So, I’m a fan. Up the banner, Clare!
We have stayed in the small village of Ennis for three days now, countering the effects of jet lag and exploring the town, napping when we feel like it, hanging out in our B & B, the Grey Gables, owned and operated by Mary, a woman of a certain age. She works too hard at this job, she says because her helper of six years has just left and she hasn’t yet hired a replacement. She likes us because we are staying five nights and require little. Still she chats up every tenant and shows real interest in our exploits, giving tips about where to eat and where to find the best music (you won’t like that one, too loud and raucous). The place is, as she says, two minutes walk from the bus/train station and two minutes from town.
Our slow pace has provided a chance to observe and interact with the locals. It’s fortuitous that we’ve landed in County Clare, the birthplace of Edna O’Brien, whose Country Girls trilogy and autobiography I’ve just read. So of course my thinking about the Irish culture and this place are influenced by O’Brien and also by a book I picked up at the B & B, The Scattering: Images of Emigrants from an Irish County.
Ennis, according to its advertising copy, may be the most picturesque town on this island. The name comes from Inis, meaning island, as it was built on an island in the Fergus River, now channeled to run through the town. The old narrow one-way streets are barely big enough for cars, with sidewalks too narrow for fat Americans to fit. Luckily the Irish haven’t yet caught the obese bug.
Streets are curved in a Medieval pattern so that one can see a tower from nearly every point: the 13th century friary ruin administered by the national trust, the national church of Ireland, the St. Peter and Paul Catholic church and a tower erected to Daniel O’Connell, the first Catholic elected to the parliament in 1828 (a bloodless revolution!).
As lovely as it is, this is a place people leave. Some have gone out into the world to promote Catholicism, some seek the wider world, but it seems most leave for economic reasons. There were a few years when things were looking up for Ireland, but this decade is one of austerity. As in the US banks committed fraud, lied about it and got the taxpayers to bail them out. As in the US, in our very neighborhood, banks are foreclosing on folks and trying to evict them from their homes. We are inspired to see that people are resisting here too.
Oh dear. Here we are one week into our travels and we haven’t posted yet! And so much has happened that is blog-worthy. The thought of trying to catch up is a bit overwhelming, so I’m going to try a short-cut: posting mostly photos with brief descriptions.
Last Thursday (it only seems a lifetime ago) we left foggy San Francisco at 6:30am hoping to get through the hottest part of our drive before the temperatures were unbearable. Redding, for example, was predicted to be 108. We knew we’d be missing that fog before the day was out, and we were right as it was plenty hot in Oregon as well.
After lunch with our friend Marilyn in Ashland we landed at Gypsy Cafe, just north of Grants Pass. Gypsy Cafe is a 46 acre slice of heaven inhabited primarily by friends Barb, Susie, and Myshkin, but we always meet other interesting women there who are either hanging out, passing through, reconnecting, or lending a hand to various projects (including two gorgeous cob homes that have been built on the land). After a great evening of food, drink, talk, and music, we headed off to bed. We were awakened in the wee hours by a tremendous thunder and lightening storm that went on for some time. As awesome as it was, we knew it was going to be bad news in that hot, dry country. After taking off the next morning we learned that over 70 fires had been set by lightening strikes. Our dear friends have since had to evacuate the Brimstone Fire but so far their homes are safe. We have been very concerned for them and it’s incredible to even imagine that this magical place could be destroyed by fire!
Then it was on to Olympia, WA, where Molly’s brother Don and his partner John live.
On Sunday we attended the wedding of friends Lisa Brodoff and Lynn Grotsky, which really deserves a blog entry all to itself. This is a couple who have been together for more than 30 years, raised two (now adult) children and been long-time activists in the Olympia area. It was a big gay, Jewish wedding, by far the most joyous wedding celebration I have ever attended. I have never laughed and cried so much at a wedding. What an honor to be part of it!
Next we were off to the city of Vancouver, where Don & John have a very small but fabulously located condo.
Vancouver is such a beautiful city! I was so impressed with it. Don & John’s condo is situated along False Creek near the site of much of the 2010 Olympics. There are many high rise buildings consisting of condos and retail, but they are spaced out in such a way that you never feel you are in a dark canyon. There is lots of public space, and separate bike and walking paths.
Next we were off to the Sunshine Coast with Don, where John will meet up with us later in the week.
On the second ferry we were accompanied by four large trucks containing 36 beautiful horses used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for a cavalry-type traveling show they do in the summer. I was super excited about this for some reason (too many Dudley Doright cartoons in my youth, perhaps).
Now we are in beautiful Lund, at mile 0 of Hwy 101, pretty much the farthest north point you can drive to on the coast of British Columbia.
Well, that’s it. The best I can do. I’m exhausted just reviewing everything we’ve done so far! It’s been so much fun with many more adventures to come.
P.S. For Pat: this blog entry and the last were contributed by Holly.
I’m an organizational nerd when it comes to packing and preparing for a trip. I get into it. It’s part of the anticipation of travel. I make lists. I now have an extensive Master Packing List on my computer. It has sub-lists for activities such as hiking, biking, staying in motels, camping, mushrooming, hot weather, cold weather, rain. On the left margin are places for Molly and me to each check off our packed items. It’s way over the top. I love it!
Molly appreciates my enthusiasm for organization in the packing area but it’s not her mode of being. She says she’s had good times figuring out how to deal with some critical item she forgot to bring on trips. She likes to leave packing to the last minute. Somehow our opposite ways of preparing for travel seem to merge and meld and result in a good time being had by all during both the preparation phase and the actual travel. It might be construed that I am a control freak, given my penchant for listing and packing anything and everything that might be needed. But once we hit the road I’m relaxed and ready for anything with the knowledge that we have the right gear to enable us to not just cope but revel in whatever comes our way.
We love road trips and typically are a little giddy with excitement on the eve of an adventure. This time the excitement has been tempered by physical frailties. Molly came down with a raging cold a week ago and is improving but not in top form. I’m 9-weeks post bunionectomy surgery, not walking all that well, and dealing with unaccustomed pain. If there were a device like a Geiger counter that measured crankiness, well, the readings would be a little high at our place recently. However, we persevere in our preparations and cling to the magical thinking that everything will be great as soon as we hit the road!
This particular road trip is an annual event. Every year around this time we head up I-5 to Olympia, Washington to spend time with Molly’s brother Don and his husband John. Aren’t we fortunate to have family members we love spending time with? That doesn’t always happen.
A big highlight of this annual trip is visiting friends in Oregon. We will lunch with friends in Ashland tomorrow and spend the night at Gypsy Café, a 46-acre slice of heaven north of Grants Pass (it’s the home base of operations for the We’Moon calendar) hanging out with dear friends and catching up on events of the past year. Breakfast the next morning with friends up the road and then on to Olympia.
Other highlights of this trip include a Big Gay Jewish Wedding of our friends Lynn Grotsky and Lisa Brodoff in Olympia (okay, technically Lacy, but you’ve never heard of Lacy, WA, have you?). These amazing women have been together for decades and have two grown children—just google these women if you want to find out how amazing they really are—and they will finally be able to marry each other thanks to Washington state’s recognition of same-sex marriage. And now that DOMA’s history, woo hoo! We’re not going to a skim-milk wedding, no, baby, it’s a full-on, federally-recognized MARRIAGE, with all 1,138 federal benefits in effect! Just sayin’.
And then there’s the week-long tour of the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia with Don and (sometimes) John, then Bainbridge Island, and Seattle…I’m becoming exhausted just thinking about it all. One day at a time has become our mantra since my surgery, and if you want to accompany us on this little journey you’ll just have to take it one blahg entry at a time, as well.
We’ve landed in one of our favorite type of motels here in Winnemucca, a private, family-owned operation. Poor ol’ Winnemucca is not a destination but a stopping over place for most of us. A place like the Town House Hotel feels like an unexpected discovery in a crappy little town.
Winnemucca, Nevada is still a Basque town. They still have an annual Basque festival (in June), many Basque restaurants and inns owned by Basque families (while the cattle and sheep industries have bit the dust, I-80 and the associated travel industry thrive). So I was terribly disappointed to find on a short walk around the town that the Winnemucca Hotel and its Basque family style restaurant have also bit the dust. I peeked through the front window and could see the magnificent original hardwood bar still intact. The building, as I remember, is circa 1880. When Barb and I ate dinner there on a cross-country road trip in 2000, we heard stories from old timers gathered at the bar and ate family-style steak dinner with a group of miners. Now I’m feeling terribly sentimental about it.
On my walk I encountered very few other walkers. Winnemucca is a drive-thru town. Still, walking is pleasant here and the city has built a park on its creek with picnic tables and a boat ramp. My concrete-finisher brothers, Tim and Terry, will appreciate the beautiful new sidewalk that leads right under I-80.
Tomorrow at this time we will be home. Kind of excited and kind of sad that it’s ending. What a long, strange trip it’s been (especially the midwest!)
We have a special interest in rivers and tried to be conscious of watersheds as we travelled.
We drove over the Missouri at least five times and the Mississippi once, in St Louis. We walked along the river walk on the big bend in the Ohio where Evansville, Indiana was founded.
We picnicked on the banks of the Wabash.
We were aware that interstate highway 70 follows the Colorado up into the Rockies, communing with her as we drove east. We even biked along the new Mill Creek path in Moab.
This evening on our way back west we chose to stay in a motel whose parking lot adjoins the Platte in Ogallala, Nebraska. The Platte is no longer voluminous, but at least in Ogalalla it seems wilder and more real than the big rivers whose banks have been leveed and water channeled into unnatural shapes.
We know the Missouri, like the Sacramento, ran wide creating huge sandbars and flooding a swath of the central plain. Rather than dig a deep channel here, the state chose to build a bigger bridge, so the Platte has room to swell and retreat.
We walked down into the sandy river bottom, now mostly dry, and discovered a whole new ecosystem. It felt like one of those PBS specials on African rivers. At the end of a hot day, the wind blew, gray clouds formed and it started to look like a Wizard of Oz kind of Kansas, er, Nebraska.