Forty Days

By gazanson

Star 6

Comment0

[Sydney, AUSTRALIA]

-----------------------------

The airport terminal.
Those arriving, those departing
Such different faces.
________

As we wander through the Sydney airport terminal, past the arrival gate, into the departure area, I can't help but notice the range of expressions. It is, like the opening to the film 'Love Actually', a melting pot of human emotion. There are those who have just arrived, jet lagged and flat, their clothes all crinkled, and those who look like they're wearing someone else's clothing, or gear donned in the wrong hemisphere; or instead, the bright eyed and excited -- being met variously with hugs, tears, handshakes, or chauffeurs holding signs for a 'Mr Peter Wong'. Then there are those departing, looking either anxious and harassed or joyful and energized, and all shades in between. I don't know of anywhere else where such emotion is on show. And us? We're just relieved to have arrived for now.

Star 1

Comment0

[Dublin, IRELAND]
-------------------------

He beat Stephen Hawking to it!
He has a theory of everything
This Irish taxi driver.
_________

We've just arrived in Dublin. Following our jet-lagged brains outside, we get hailed by a ruddy-faced Irish taxi driver in a grey and green van. 'Hoy there', he shouts across the road. We try our best to get on a shuttle bus that we can see, reached by some impossible Escher staircase ... but somehow end up by his van. We're his! On the way into Dublin proper, he talks non-stop. We learn everything there is to know about, well ... everything! Fresh from watching on the plane the movie 'The Theory of Everything' about the life of Stephen Hawking, he appears to be across it all. A kind of taxi savant! I daresay he knows every street, every building, every person we pass -- how to get to the sacred Hills of Tara up north, what to back in the 12.15 at Limerick on Saturday, and even what sort of Guinness Jesus preferred (for surely, they drank the good drop even back then). He talks about not being able to get a word in with his brother, but somehow I find that unlikely. But what a wonderful, charmed welcome to Ireland. Sure they got potatoes as their birthright, not oil or mineral deposits, but that gift of the gab is pure gold.

Star 3

Comment0

[Dublin, IRELAND]
-------------------------

Dubliners off to work.
The sound of hurrying feet
The same everywhere.
_________

We wake early morning (or is it night?), our brains heavy with sleep, to the sounds of blackbirds, cooing doves and ... the sound of shoes and stilettos hurrying down the path outside our building. The clock tells me it's that time of day -- for some! Situation normal really, except somehow we're removed from it all, free of the imperative to get up and dash off to a desk somewhere. Ah! One of the joys of traveling -- to stand apart from the rush of life, and for a time to be in the world but not of it. To look on with a curious eye, as the rest of the world does what it thinks it must. A chance to notice the sets wobble on stage, the curtains shiver, the lights to brighten or dim. Through the fresh eyes that traveling bestows, it all appears new, fabricated, sometimes plain theatrical. Even as some things -- like the sound of hurrying feet -- remind you that this is your world too.

Star 1

Comment0

[Arklow, IRELAND]
-------------------------

The Irish farmer
Walking his sheep down the lane
Checking his iPhone.
________

Yes -- the iPhone, or smartphone, is truly ubiquitous! What I would have given to see what it was the farmer was so engaged with as we drove by. Was he texting, reading email, checking the weather -- or maybe playing 'Angry Birds'? "Pow pow!", even as his sheepdog kept his flock on the straight and narrow. These are the glimpses that keep you amused and entertained as you travel about in new countries -- little bits of 'status quo' in someone else's world that tickle, puzzle, delight and surprise.

Star 2

Comment0

[Dublin, IRELAND]
-------------------------

Same stone, same wood.
Pubs and churches
Bar stools and pews.
_________

Sue remarks on the number of funeral parlors in Dublin. It's true -- they seem to be on every second street. They are plentiful, like the churches and cathedrals. And, it must be said, like the city's pubs. (I note in passing that it seems a very Irish thing to name the owner as part of the business name. It's O'Flynn's Funeral Home, Sean's Public House, Murphy's Window Cleaners, Fitzpatrick's Financial Services. Just as it is St Michael's or St Brigid's church, say.) But it makes you wonder what the relationship is between the three 'businesses'. Certainly, two of them are much concerned with matters of belief, of life and death, one of them with release from all such concerns. It tickles my sense of humour to reflect that the pubs and churches make use of the same earthly material to create their different 'spiritual' houses -- stone and wood -- and to reflect that the bar stool in one of these houses likely uses the same wood as the pew found in the other; that time spent singing and 'toasting' in one, likely necessitates time spent doing similar in the other. From Flanagan's to St Michaels -- it's just a name away!

Star 1

Comment0

[Dublin, IRELAND]
-------------------------

Dashing to the airport
The thump of the blackbird.
The gloomy morning.
_________

It's not a happy morning. It's just 5am and we're about to leave for Dublin airport in a hire car for a flight to the UK. As we head to the vehicle, bags in hand, James the taxi driver materialises -- believing we had an agreement with him to go the airport in his van. We had said we would ring him to confirm if we wanted him to take us. That proved impossible when he failed to give us a phone number when he dropped us at our apartment. We tried to contact him through the taxi company -- just 'to be sure to be sure' -- to make sure he understood that we might have other plans, but without success. How awkward that all is! It's not made any happier when we realise en route to the airport that we have cut things very fine. It seems the planets are in league against us when I catch sight of a blackbird, swooping low into the car lights on the dark road. And then 'cathump'! I have killed a bird I love. I am filled with a sense of dread -- made worse in the gloomy pre-dawn. We make the flight, finally, but only by the skin of our teeth, and in a highly anxious state.

Star 1

Comment0

[Brockenhurst, UK]
--------------------------

The English countryside.
Everything in its place.
Even the ponies appear polite.
_________

Coming back to England after all these years, I'd forgotten how mannered and polite the English can be. It strikes me all the more after coming via Ireland. Australians relate better l think to the latent mischief of the Irish, the readiness to 'take the mick', to thumb their noses at authority. The restraint of the English led Georges Gurdjieff, an influential spiritual teacher of the early 20th century, to declare that the rigidity of English society made it almost impossible to teach them. The English restraint seems to extend even to nature; the very birds themselves -- chaffinches, doves, robins, blackbirds -- seem agreeable, 'in their place'. As do the ponies wandering the heath in the New Forest.

Star 2

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
-------------------

The silent forest.
Deer, hawks and ancient oaks.
And the sound of a car alarm!
_________

The New Forest was created as a royal forest in about 1079 by William I for the royal hunt, mainly of deer. It takes little imagination even now to feel its links to the past. Walking in the forest one day, over the heathland and into the woods, I stand in awe, watching the hawks overhead, and far off now, listen to the sound of the deer I have startled. But even more startling is the sound of a car alarm -- somewhere deeper still in the forest it seems, or on an unsighted road winding through the forest near by. For a moment, past and present time become entangled, confused. For a few seconds, it might well be a hunting horn blown by the young prince ... .

Star 1

Comment0

[Salisbury, UK]
--------------------

In a different country
Even a supermarket
Is full of surprises.
_________

We're wandering around the Waitrose supermarket in Salisbury, marveling at all the differences between what we know and this. Different foods differently packaged, the prices, the shop layout, the trollies themselves -- all of it is fascinating. The staff wandering the store keep glancing over -- it could be we're enjoying ourselves too much! We're thinking -- we'd pay money for a ride this interesting at the local fair. It's a reminder of how all the world is like this, always -- we just don't see it. We become too familiar with things, losing the joy and excitement of shape, colour, touch. Travel certainly brings it all back to life, though, like a magic eye picture, in stunning 3D.

Star 1

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
-------------------

The old grey donkey
Head butts the gate.
The fresh shoots in the garden.
________

A large number of horses, ponies and donkeys roam through the New Forest. You can find them anywhere and everywhere -- on the heath, grazing by the roadside, sometimes just standing in the road itself, with traffic all banked up -- and occasionally in people's front gardens. This old grey donkey has learnt that the front garden of the cottage we're staying in has lush green grass. He was shooed out the other day by the owner, but today is back. He stands at the 6-foot high garden gate, butting it, pushing all his weight against it, attempting to get in. A few other younger looking donkeys stand off to the side, watching the old man's efforts. But the rope that the owner tied round the gatepost holds -- and after 10 minutes, the donkey wanders off with a sorrowful backwards glance.

Star 1

Comment0

[Egham, UK]
-----------------

The river Thames.
Five or six houseboats
All owned by divorced men.
________

Stopping by a houseboat to chat to one of the owners, I learn that all the boats are owned by men now divorced, all of whom live permanently on the boats. The houseboats are all moored together, in various states of disrepair, or repair. Much like their owners no doubt. Across the river, looking out at the houseboats, are a string of wealthy homes, with shiny power boats moored to their jetties. As if to remind the houseboat owners what they have lost perhaps. Or to re-inspire them. Or maybe, as in the case of the fellow I'm talking to, representing a life they have no interest in. Certainly my man seems happy enough, cheerily shouting "hey geezer" to the other fellows as he heads off along the shore.

Star 1

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
-------------------

After the rainstorm
A sheet of white blossoms
Beneath the magnolia.
_________

There's a mature magnolia blossoming in the garden of the cottage in which we're staying in Beaulieu in the New Forest. The days have been still and sunny, for the most part. Finally comes a morning with high winds and rain. Afterwards, the sky clear again, and the blackbirds and robins once more plying their sweet trade, I see what appears to be a white shadow beneath the magnolia tree. Almost a mirror reverse of the tree itself, there are now as many petals on the ground as in the tree itself. A strangely beautiful sight!

Star 1

Comment0

[The Alps, ITALY]
-----------------------

French, Swiss, Italian.
The towering alps
Defy all worldly labels.
_______

The train trip from Geneva to Milan takes us through the alps. Over our shoulders, receding quickly as the train gathers speed, we see the white glistening dome of Mont Blanc, standing head and shoulders above the rest, off in the French alps. I hear myself exclaiming 'Wow!' repeatedly as we move through this unworldly mountain scape -- through Switzerland and finally into Italy. All of it, so wondrous! And to see how mankind has managed to adapt to this rarefied world, little villages poked away here and there, houses clinging to steep slopes, roads and train tracks pushing through forests, over cascading streams, and into impossible mountain sides. It takes your breath away! And with it your words and labels!

Star 0

Comment0

[Milan, ITALY]
------------------

Bustling Milan station.
Their eyes are already
Searching our pockets.
_______

We arrive at Milan station and head off to buy a ticket for the trip to Cinque Terre. We are immediately set upon by a slick looking Italian with eyes that can't stop still -- one of many suspicious characters lurking about that we can see. He offers in halting English to help us purchase our ticket. He is wily enough that before we know it, we have let him lead us to a ticket machine to go through the steps to purchase a ticket. It's like a scene from a Dickens novel. I'm looking down to see if my fob watch or silk handkerchief is on show! Someone bumps into me ... purposefully I feel. We decide to escape this Italian Fagan's clutches -- no harm done. Learning in the process how to get a ticket from the machine. And learning too that pick-pocketing is alive and well in Italian train stations.

Star 1

Comment0

[Corniglia, ITALY]
-----------------------

The bearded old man.
Brushes the wall with his fingers.
Stares rapturously at the church.
________

A Zorba like figure, old with a big grey beard, vigorous and loud, wanders the village, accosting young people to speak to them of love. "Amore, amore!", he declares, in the soft evening light. Afterwards is seen walking down the lane brushing his fingers along the walls stopping now and again as if listening to the stones. Later, returning from the restaurant, we find him squatting on a bench, one leg up, staring up at the church across the plaza, smiling at something only he can see.

Star 0

Comment0

[Corniglia, ITALY]
-----------------------

This sleepy Italian village.
Even the roosters
Get up late.
________

In the morning, it takes a time for things to stir in the village of Corniglia. The roosters up on the hill don't seem to rouse till the villagers are up and about -- a reversal of practice everywhere else. Meanwhile, the tortoises in our villa garden snooze on -- or perhaps are awake, plotting and planning their day. Certainly, the male tortoise has his eyes on the female. Once the morning warms up, he pursues her around the garden. She can't even eat her lettuce in peace without him attempting to mount her. No embarrassment there! Some Latin lover indeed.

Star 0

Comment0

[Vernazza, ITALY]
------------------------

"Bravo!" the busker roars.
Watching my silver euro sail
Through the air into his basket.
________

As we descend the mountain into the village of Vernazza, we hear the sounds of music -- the sort your feet immediately want to dance to. The musician soon comes into view -- a big fellow with black hair like a pirate and a mischievous dark blue eye, a keyboard organ balanced on his swashbuckling knee. Caught up in the moment, I reach into my pocket and pull out a silver euro and throw it from many metres away up into the air, looping finally, amazingly into his basket. He roars approval. It's one of those moments in time, or out of time more like -- the sun sparkling off the spinning coin, his glinting watchful blue eye, the gypsy music -- and the throw that shouldn't have been possible.

Star 1

Comment0

[Corniglia, ITALY]
-----------------------

A giant bumble bee
Pushes aside the petals
Of the purple sweet pea.
________

In our seaside garden and along the roadsides, huge bees come raiding for pollen, many of them with their bags already overflowing. You can see faint puffs of pollen falling from their legs as they push into the blossoms. The lure of the fresh ripe sweet pea is obviously too much today. They are everywhere I look, in the flowers in the garden, and in the purple sweet pea growing by the roadside near the station. Some are ginger and hairy, as if wearing tiny fox stoles. Others are black like small grizzly bears. I listen for their buzzing, but they are oddly silent. They all display pure intent, however, wholly devoted to the task at hand.

Star 0

Comment0

[Corniglia, ITALY]
-----------------------

Italian men through a bus window.
Hands, arms, shoulders, heads
All of them in motion.
________

We are waiting to catch the bus to the station. There are a few Italian men lounging in the bus shelter, basking in the morning sun. One or two others wander over and soon they are all engaged in conversation -- each of them waving their arms about to illustrate or make their point, oftentimes just talking over the top of each other. The most common gesture is slightly shrugged shoulders, arms thrown wide with hands open, and fingers splayed. This is a lesson in animation, in use of your whole body to express -- an anatomical rumba. The whole morning suddenly seems more interesting, vital and alive for it. And the bus ready for another adventure. Viva Italia!

Star 0

Comment0

[Bristol, UK]
-----------------

Like a game of peek-a-boo
Airplane doors close then reopen
And a different world appears.
_______

It's all quite magical really. This business of hopping in a plane, sitting back with closed eyes, then some time later hopping out again -- into a different world. We've now gotten used to the trick and fail to appreciate it. But look at how it delights a child especially -- the improbable act of taking off and staying aloft. Then arriving somewhere completely 'other'. A modern version surely of a magic carpet ride. I love it. And though I understand the physics of it, I can still marvel at the amazing, stupendous fact of it.

Star 0

Comment0

[Bradford-on-Avon, UK]
------------------------------------

Bradford-on-Avon.
A perfect miniature village
With plastic dogs, shops and cars.
________

Even as we walk through this village, there is a sense of disbelief almost in how picture perfect it is. Like a postcard, or an illustration in a child's book. Surely the woman over there walking her red setter, the boys playing cricket, the man in the deerstalker hat standing by the river Avon, or the perfect 13th century barn over here, are all staged ... all of it made up of actors and stage props. Or poured out of a child's box at Christmas onto the living room rug. It is all marvelous really; I feel like a latter day Gulliver walking through Lilliput!

Star 0

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
-------------------

During a lull in business
The ice cream van driver
Tries one himself.
________

An ice cream van has been parked over on the heath near the ponds most of the week. Enough people go exploring or walking near by, it seems, to warrant such trade. Certainly the Brits seem to love their ice cream cones, whether on the heath or walking along the sea front, For that matter, who doesn't? But today things are a bit quiet. It may be boredom, it may be curiosity, he may have reason to keep the ice cream dispenser 'lubricated' (as if) -- but there he is, preparing an ice cream cone for himself. He stands there licking it with that air of satisfaction known to ice cream lovers everywhere. Even the New Forest cows grazing nearby would be hard put to look more content.

Star 0

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
--------------------

Empty birds nests
In an empty tree
Full of promise.
________

On a walk down to the village, I'm struck by the number of nests silhouetted in the trees. Last year's nests to be sure, but ... such beautiful stick architecture. We know that they will not be used this year; it seems a shame somehow. But still -- they seem to be ready to host new Spring life, like a template of sorts, poised, full of potential. It makes you want to look inside, even though you know they are empty. That is the nature of a nest, of a cradle for new life. It may be that this feeling too is enhanced by the force welling up through the trees in which they sit -- beech, oak, birch, and apple -- many of which are just beginning to show leaf and blossom buds, all ready for Spring themselves.

Star 0

Comment0

[Sway, UK]
---------------

These village names!
'Wooton', 'Tiptoe', 'Sway'
Sound like a drunk stealing home.
_______

To an Australian ear, English village names sound completely charming -- somehow invented, You wonder whether the English themselves take them completely seriously. Who was it first proposed these names? Or did the names spring 'naturally' from the gentle, fanciful English countryside, like the trees, birds and other creatures I have written about? Certainly, they conjure up an air of a fairytale almost, like something from a children's book. A place where farmers are ruddy faced, the local policeman is respectful and respected and need only carry a stick, all little girls want to marry the prince, and the local gentry drive by and toot each other. And where even the drunk, wandering home beneath the stars, is regarded kindly.

Star 0

Comment0

[Beaulieu, UK]
--------------------

Boris the wonder dog
Shows his happy face
At the kitchen window.
_______

I had to acknowledge Boris, the happiest little poodle-terrier in the world. "Who cares what I am'", I'm sure he'd say. "Let's play chasings again!" Boris lives in the house next door to our cottage. There was never a happier dog than him! Or a faster one! Or a better jumper! He delights us every day he comes to visit. A bright little white face at the kitchen window, inviting us to play. Why not! Spring is here; the sky is filled with sunlight and birds and butterflies from the forest. The lawn is greener than green. The sky is bluer than blue. And this little dog's in love with it all. We'll all be sad to say goodbye in a few days time. :- (

Star 0

Comment0

[Lymington, UK]
----------------------

Lymington harbour.
A few hundred masts
Rocking at their moorings.
_______

Yes -- a ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for, as that TV ad declares. And all these boats seem to know it -- you can almost hear their longing sighs for wind, spray and ocean wave as they rock at their moorings. I have never seen so many boats gathered in the one place. Later that day, we are shown through the village of Hamble by Sue's brother, Martin. The marinas there in total house 5,000 sailing boats! Whoa! You look through what is a virtual forest of white masts, like acres of silver birches. Hamble has an extraordinarily old and active maritime history, dating back to the 1300s. In more recent times it manufactured Britain's World War II seaplanes for example. It is perhaps this history that bestows on the place such a sense of adventure, that lends the boats even greater character, and that causes them to rock more assertively at their moorings.

Star 0

Comment0

[Henley-on-Thames, UK]
----------------------------------

Twelve classic bikes
Impeccably maintained.
Champing at the bit.
_______

Like the boats in the previous entry, bikes are made to be used. These beautiful old bikes have all been lovingly restored. They are lined up in a row in the darkness of the shed -- their tyres all pumped, ready for the road. The collection (ranging from the late 1930s through to the 1960s) is owned by Martin, a school friend of Sue's. Martin has invited me to select one for a ride around Henley. The bikes almost seem to be leaning forward, whispering "Pick me!" I select a maroon coloured bike built in 1947 by a great British rider of his day, Freddie Grubb. The bike and I collectively are 128 years old! This doesn't stop us putting in a great performance on the road and later up a nasty one-in five climb though. The bike, to my surprise, actually rides better uphill than my carbon fibre Wilier bike back home. Martin suggests this is to do with the stiffer frame and shorter wheelbase. This needs investigation!

Star 0

Comment0

[Henley-on-Thames, UK]
----------------------------------

By the gates of Friars Park
I hear the sweet sound
Of that weeping guitar.
_______

We visit George Harrison's mansion, Friar's Park, the garden of which features on the album cover for the classic 1970 album "All Things Must Pass". I feel extremely reverent about this visit. He was my favourite of the Beatles. I especially appreciated the spiritual cast of his music, the sense of mystery and 'otherness' he captured in his lyrics. I go very quiet inside and through the gates, hear, almost astrally it seems, the strains of that unique guitar -- think 'My Sweet Lord' or 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. I feel a wave of deep gratitude, recalling what a part his music played in my late teens, and mentally give thanks to him. In his words "I'm grateful to anyone who is happy or free/ For giving me hope/ While I'm looking to see/ The light that has lighted the world." ['The Light That Has Lighted the World'].

Star 0

Comment0

[Nether Stowey, UK]
----------------------------

In Nether Stowey
We sleep in Coleridge's library.
Not a single verse on awakening.
________

With all the hoopla surrounding the fact that our hotel room was once a library, used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, sometimes to write poems, I had hoped to wake with something, anything, in my poor brain. As Coleridge woke from an opium induced sleep to pen the opening lines to 'Kubla Khan'. But my head is completely empty. Still, it is an exciting thought to be in the same room -- even if the buzz isn't anything like the genuine sense of awe I felt outside George Harrison's residence in Henley the previous day. And except for 'The Ancient Mariner' (a ripping good yarn that!), Coleridge's verses -- e.g. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree" -- don't rate against Harrison's material, like that quoted in the previous journal entry. I am in the end a child of my times it seems.

Star 1

Comment0

[Woolacombe, UK]
--------------------------

We build tors on the beach
And a rock mandala.
Just two kids in the sand.
______

We have started, without intending it, to erect small stone tors on beaches we visit -- the odd one here and there at least. The stones here in this Woolecombe beach inlet are perfect -- many of them are flat, wafer thin. And so easy to stack. If we didn't need to leave shortly, I suspect we might get carried away this morning and build a dozen or so. Tall, short, fat -- however, whatever. This playful habit started some years ago when we visited a small remote beach on the South Coast of NSW -- one along from Murramarang Beach near Kioloa. I was telling Sue how I had walked to this beach one day and found 'growing' there a few dozen tors. A mini forest! Beautiful and mysterious. They were everywhere I looked -- on the sand itself, on the pebbly banks, on the large rocks in the shallows. I could think of a range of causes but preferred to leave it be, to just enjoy them. People will we hope get a similar kick from the occasional tors we have left behind -- in Italy, UK or elsewhere. The two we have made just now on this charming little beach in North Devon should stand for a time -- maybe.

Star 0

Comment0

[Bournemouth, UK]
---------------------------

The old brewery truck
Belts down the road
In a cloud of cherry blossom.
_________

I've just been admiring the masses of soft pink blossom on the roadside trees. I walk off to the sounds of an approaching truck. A moment later, the blossoms are falling around me, blowing about in clouds. The truck has carelessly clipped the branches of the tree, at speed. What a shame! At times like these, it is hard to recall and accept that man too is part of nature, that a brewery truck is as much a part of it all as the tree, comprised of the same elements of earth, air, fire and water ... just in a different mix. We're all rolling round on the same blue and green ball. I just wish at times we were kinder, more considerate stewards and custodians of it all.

Star 0

Comment0

[Galway, IRELAND]
-------------------------

Stone fences.
Just high enough
To keep the sheep in.
________

Crossing west from Dublin to Galway, we are struck by the strange beauty of the stone fences crisscrossing the landscape -- many of them more rock piles than fences as such, and most just high enough to keep the sheep from wandering into the next field. The contrast is all the greater after England, where 'fencing' is comprised mostly of hedgerows or a mix of green and conventional timber structures. When you see the sheer numbers of stones littered across the Irish landscape, though, you can see the sense in this practice. Most fences are 'unfinished' by conventional standards -- meaning they are very ragged on top, with no attempt to cap them as such. I joke that you only need do enough to make the sheep think twice -- and to get down the pub for a Guinness. This emphasis on 'just doing enough' seems characteristic of the Irish in general, part and parcel of their more relaxed attitude to life. I'm sure too it helps form the basis of the Australian 'she'll be apples' approach to life.

Star 0

Comment0

[Maam valley, IRELAND]
-----------------------

This heavenly landscape.
Light simmers in the clouds
And spills down the mountains.
________

We are on our way to Ashford Castle up north past the largest lake in Ireland, Lough Corrib. A simple drive. Or so we think. Next minute, as we emerge from what they call the 'Lake district' in County Mayo, we are tipped into the most astonishing, fantastical valley, where light runs like water down and over the hills and mountains, or moves upwards in shimmering white waves; the stone and heath, dark as blood over here, or floating, hovering in a golden wash over there. If there are portals to heaven on earth, this must be one of them. But it's not about angels and harps and pearly gates ... but elemental forces of startling power and beauty. Enough to transform you into ... who knows what, or when. Certainly, we feel completely different, changed, for having passed through this 'otherworld'.

Star 0

Comment0

[Cong, IRELAND]
-----------------------

The eagle owl
Has a five foot wing span
And eyes as big as planets.
________

We have been learning to fly hawks at Ireland's School of Falconry located in the grounds of Ashford Castle near the village of Cong. What a totally engaging experience that has been -- walking through the woodland for almost two hours with Tommy, our instructor, and the two hawks 'allocated' to us, Wexford and Cala. After returning the two hawks to their perches, Tommy invites us to fly Dingle, an eagle-owl -- the largest owl species in the world it turns out. Dingle flies from Tommy's glove to ours with appropriate arm/glove gestures (and the reward of food). When he lands on our gloves, his wings spread wide -- five foot wide no less. A massive feathery fan! His eyes are enormous in his solemn flat face, filled with the consciousness of all the world it seems. Of comets, planets and solar systems I feel sure. His eyes are orange as marmalade. Or fire. Tommy tells us the owl can hear the heartbeat of even a small mouse off in the field. We watch as the owl responds to a small girl on the other side of the hedgerow -- because, Tommy says, he can hear her more rapid heartbeat, and this puts him on edge. For a time, Sue and I are a privileged part of this other world made of pure watching and listening. And fierce intent.

Star 0

Comment0

[Tralee, IRELAND]
------------------------

Love at first sight.
The Irish wolfhound
Leans into my legs.
________

We're staying overnight in Ballyseede Castle, gazing out through the reception room windows as twilight begins to fall. A large Irish wolfhound suddenly appears in the front garden. I hurry outside to greet this most wonderful animal -- almost mythic in my mind. He for his part moves off quickly, round the corner with me in pursuit, calling to him. He finally takes pity on me and half turns about to wait for me, standing there like a beautiful old horse. When I reach him, I throw my arms around him. He responds by nuzzling me. He is so tall and leans right into my body as I hug him. He is grizzled, with tan and grey markings -- and quite old. We are soon 'best friends'. I feel as I did when we flew the hawks the day before -- extremely privileged to be allowed into the world of such a marvelous creature.

Star 0

Comment0

[Dingle, IRELAND]
------------------------

The plaintive air
Of the Uilleann pipes,
As the rain pours down outside.
________

Standing in a small Irish pub, drinking Guinness, listening to a group of Irish musicians play traditional music ... pure joy. Heightened all the more by the rain pouring down outside. We are stopping overnight in the small, extremely charming town of Dingle in County Kerry and have found our way to O'Sullivan's Courthouse Pub. We have someone on guitar, someone on a squeeze box and flute, and someone on Uilleann pipes -- sometimes referred to as Irish bagpipes, played by pumping air into a bag using elbow action. The loveliest, most haunting tune of all, played mostly with the Uillean pipes, is 'The Faeries Tune'. The piper tells the tale of how a fellow he knew was walking though the twilight on one of the nearby Blasket islands and heard music on the wind that he believed to be made by the faeries. And hurried home to write it down. A friend of his teased that it might have been the whales, but you sense how ready people are to accept the existence of the little folk! It seems to me that Ireland lives, very comfortably, on the border of this and other, more rarefied worlds.

Star 0

Comment0

[Waterford, IRELAND]
-----------------------------

Only in an Irish pub:
A shelf filled
With poetry books.
________

I said yesterday that Ireland comfortably straddles the border of this and other, more rarefied worlds. Those worlds include the realm of the imagination as captured and expressed in literature, poetry and song. In all our encounters with the Irish, they were each of them willing to go the extra mile to help us with our queries. Often walking out the door or down the road to help us on our way. Even simple directions were given as if it were a chance for a bit of storytelling -- "so if you were to go down that road there, you'll see a park with a statue in it of some of the freedom fighters from 'the Troubles' of 1916 who ..." Or such like. So we are almost unsurprised the next evening to go in to a pub for cottage pie and find ourselves sitting besides a book shelf of poetic works by various English language writers. All the great poets are represented. And the books appear to be more than ornament. Try setting something like this up in a pub in Australia or England or elsewhere and you'd be ridiculed. Me? I'm much impressed. This country really is my second home.

Star 0

Comment0

[Waterford, IRELAND]
-----------------------------

Such animation!
Asking for directions
As if to a pot of gold.
________

We have stopped many times in Ireland and asked for street directions to pubs, streets, hotels and the like. As we did yesterday in Cork looking for the house my grandmother was bought up in, and today in Waterford, looking for the house in which she was born. Luckily the family name is a well known one -- but even so, the Irish characteristically show much enthusiasm for our various 'quests', never appearing put out, and happily putting to the side whatever they were doing to help us. Professor types in museums, directors of cancer councils, pharmacists, women and men in the street. This often involves offers to walk part way with us, or today, to hop in the car, dog in tow, to drive there. It is all done with such relish we might have said we were looking for a pot of gold left behind from the morning's rainbow. And surely Ireland has more than its fair share of those; rainbows that is.

Star 0

Comment0

[Abu Dhabi, UAE]
------------------------

Hats, headscarves, turbans
Promenading through the airport.
An exotic fashion show!
________

We spend four hours in Abu Dhabi airport waiting for our Sydney flight. Time enough to marvel at the variety and range of cultures and religions represented by skin colour, clothing and, more than anything, head coverings. I can't think of a dress item that is more varied. I really should have counted all the different kinds. Or better still, taken snaps of them to better illustrate the range of materials, colours and shapes on show. Each of them reflects or tells the tale of the many different minds, beliefs, attitudes they cover. I figure the variety of travellers is greater at Abu Dhabi airport because of one thing: it is more a stopover airport than a start or end point; in other words, more people are transitioning between countries than are leaving from or arriving in the United Arab Emirates. In the end, though, all share the same experience of 'being at an airport'. Weary eyes are weary no matter the headwear, and a head bobbing in and out of sleep is the same everywhere.

Star 1

Comment0

[Canberra, AUSTRALIA]
-----------------------------

We slip back into town.
Everything's the same
Everything's different.
________

So there we are. The trip comes to an end with a coach ride to Canberra from Sydney airport! Forty days of wandering overseas -- forty days denoting a period of 'testing' or travail in the bible. It's true -- we have been tested at times. Sue's mum being hospitalised the most difficult of these. But we are mostly elated, charged with wonderful, uplifting experiences and encounters. Of wilderness (light-polished mountains, deep mossy laneways, seething black Atlantic ocean coastlines and menacing, misted wooded glens -- ask me about 'Devil's Glen' in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland); of beautiful, noble creatures of heath, sky and forest (ponies, hawks, eagle-owls, Irish wolfhounds); and of wonderful people (English, Italian and Irish musicians, farmers, shopkeepers, ice cream vendors, children, and travellers from other lands in colourful robes and hats). This is why, as we pull into Canberra, we see at once a world that is known and familiar, and yet, because we are changed and look -- for a time at least -- through 'other' eyes, we see a very different one too. As the writer Henry Miller suggests: "One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things". Here's to that!

SHARE THIS JOURNAL