Monday, July 31, 2006

Bernoulli's Principle

At certain moments the order of the universe as we know it astounds me. One of those moments (or, better, a kind of those moments) is flying in an airplane.

Some time ago this guy named Bernoulli (or at least I think that’s what his name was; if I’m wrong, someone will correct me) discovered an important characteristic of air. He discovered that when air is moving over a surface it exerts less pressure upon that surface than when the air is still. Better yet, he found that the higher the speed of the air across the surface, the lower the pressure. This knowledge came to be known as Bernoulli’s (if that was his real name) Principle.

So what? you’re thinking. Big whoop. Maybe you’re remembering that kindergarten exercise of taking a piece of paper and holding one edge up to your bottom lip and blowing, then seeing the paper rise to the occasion. Maybe you were more interested in colouring that piece of paper or tearing it up or perhaps laying it down altogether and eating Crayola (because they do taste better) crayons. And maybe when it came time to actually give the principle an equation (in high school physics) you were more interested in that early-blooming girl across the room than in cracking the spine of your Bartleby, Grumman, and Oppenheimer (4th Edition) textbook.

Alright, so was I.

But now it fascinates me. Why? Because I’m looking out over the wing of a 747 jumbo jet that cruises at twenty-some thousand feet over Lake Michigan. And a “wing” is little more than a three-dimensional application of Bernoulli’s Principle. No, we don’t need to go into the physics involved. But even if you’re a physics professor, how can you not be astounded at the fact that two forty-foot-long metal wings can take these umpteen thousand tons and hundreds of people to twenty-some thousand feet above sea level and across an ocean? All because some little law of the universe involving the velocity of speeding molecules!

Of course, this is just the beginning. Birds have been using the same principle since long before humans dreamt of flying on their own (if we can call it that). Jet engines are involved—another wonder of human achievement. Beneath the historical process from observing birds serving wine at twenty thousand feet is an amazing human ability to observe, induce, deduce, and experiment until dream becomes reality. It’s thrilling, really.

The interwoven threads of universal laws, observation, logic, and will produce a beautiful tapestry, a surpassing gift from our Creator. I dare say that this gift, with all the colourful images woven into it, exceeds in value the gifts of early-blooming women and even Crayola crayons.


Family and Friends

We’ve now been on opposite sides of the globe in the same six-month period. We have seen summer in two different hemispheres. We have visited umpteen cities, flown through more than a dozen airports, and strolled through a lifetime’s worth of museums. We have stepped silently around a hundred sanctuaries, taken almost ten thousand digital photos, and tried more than a hundred restaurants, many of which did not have menus in English. We’ve seen and done a lot of things.

In the last two weeks we have spent some time in Manchester and Charlbury, England. We have friends from Fuller in Manchester, and I have an aunt who lives in Charlbury. As we approach the culmination of a seven-month string of travels, we have experienced a shift in the focus of our journey. In the case of Manchester and Charlbury we went to visit with people rather than to see places and take photos.

I have found it quite refreshing. Upon arriving in Manchester we settled in as guests in our friends’ flat and stayed up until all hours talking. More so than riding up the Eiffel Tower, more so than walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and more so than sliding down the hill in a Zorb, it was fun. I got a particularly good kick out of the visit (which lasted four days) because the husband of this couple of friends is someone who enjoys chewing on the same theological fat and gristle that I do. After weeks of talking mostly about maps, bus schedules, the next meal, and sometimes about our post-travel plans, I found it quite a treat to spend a few hours a day discussing the things that get me fired up. Plus it was good to visit folks who had a shared experience with us; you just can’t have that kind of rapport with bus drivers and ticket agents, no matter how cordial they are.

After our jaunt in Scotland we stayed with my aunt for another four days. There we were part of a happy convergence of cousins whom I have not seen since I was a teenager (or before); now they have their own homes and children (who are quite fun in their own right, especially with a huge garden and several squirt-guns). More late nights and several rounds of the water of life followed, wherein I got another treat equal to if not greater than that of good friends: family around the table. I found this time especially valuable given the impact of Dad’s death on me. To be able to spend time with (and experience the wonderful hospitality of) my dad’s sister proved a great treasure. I left encouraged by some conversations we had about the generation before me, talks that tested the waters of memory and touched the soft underbelly of the family of which I am a life-long part. It was good.

Seeing the sights, soaking up the sounds, and feeling the history of nations pass under your feet is all well and good. But the people have been the highest points in this journey. I can lose sight of that all too easily amidst the dazzle and excitement of tramping and touring. Even as I write this I am aware that the words will be uploaded to a place where other people—other friends and family—will read them and in some small way share in our adventure. We are blessed by the Lord to have received the means and impetus to do the traveling we’ve done in the last seven months. Yet we are blessed even more by those with whom we get to share the experience of that travel—those we have visited, those who have read our ongoing commentary, and those to whom we will tell our stories. Praise God for such blessings!


Friday, July 28, 2006

Laying Down Life

At the heart of Edinburgh Castle is an extensive and ornate war memorial. Within its vaulted gothic walls are large stone inscriptions commemorating Scots who died in the armed forces since the First World War (The Great War) down to today. On stone shelves are books—so heavy we might call them tomes—listing all the known names of these deceased and often their home towns and dates of death. All in all, the list of names amounts to hundreds of thousands of people. Alcoves set in the walls are dedicated to specific conflicts and those who died in them. Between and within the alcoves bronze relief sculptures depict emotive scenes from the conflicts to which those coves are devoted. In the words and sculptures you can remember soldiers, engineers, nurses, and civilians. A slow walk through the monument moves the heart.

At the centre of the memorial, in a room designed to look like the altar-space of a sanctuary, stands a large green marble monolith. Upon this monolith sits a bronze sculpture formed to imitate the ark of the covenant from the Old Testament. On the four corners of the monolith kneel four angels, their wings pointed high, their hands folded in a posture of prayer, and their faces lowered in submission. The ark itself, a chest with riveted bands and a lid, has on its face a relief of Saint Margaret (the patron saint of the castle, whose chapel from the 11th century still stands on the castle’s highest point) and on its back a relief of Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. On the half-circular wall of this sacred space is a relief showing every variety of Scottish soldier. Beneath that is an inscription declaring that those of the fallen whose names are unknown to us are certainly written in the book of God.

After walking through heaps of Roman Catholic Church buildings all over Europe, I have become somewhat attuned to the pattern and meaning of the architecture and artwork. There is a place for the altar in the sanctuary, the place where the real body and blood of Christ are found and experienced in the Eucharist. Around the space of the sanctuary are little chapels with smaller altars, each of which commemorates the life of a saint. The saints are usually depicted in paint or sculpture, their names inscribed, and often their stories told on plaques. The saints are clearly the heroes of the Roman Catholic faith, who followed the life of Christ to their deaths (natural or otherwise) just as their shrines and altars follow the procession of the twelve stations of the cross up to the high altar where the Spirit of Christ seems somehow to be more present.

The war memorial in Edinburgh Castle is a sanctification of those who have died in war. It makes a powerful declaration that these deceased war heroes are holy, set apart, with their lives surrounding, perhaps embracing, and leading to a holy of holies. In the holy of holies sits an ark of covenant to Edinburgh and Scotland that shall remain perpetually sealed and therefore forever mysterious.

I did not realize quite what was going on until I noticed a pattern in the inscriptions. Each little alcove, or chapel, contained a declaration of remembrance of those who had “given their lives,” or “laid down their lives,” usually “for king and country.” This language about “giving one’s life” or “laying down one’s life” struck a familiar chord with me. The chord was first sounded in the Gospel According to John:

“I lay down my life for the sheep,” (John 10.15); “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 13.15); it is re-iterated in the First Letter of John: “We know love by this, that he lay down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3.16).

Here we have the same language of laying down life. There are more similarities in the language I have heard about those who die in the military. We often speak of the “sacrifice” made by those in the armed forces, especially in times of conflict; the same term applies to the life and death of Jesus. We usually say that a person “serves” in the armed forces (whereas someone who works in corporate marketing simply “works”); Jesus likewise, in life and death, did so in service. Those who designed this war memorial wanted it to be known that these deceased citizens had laid down their lives; Jesus does the same.

The form of the declaration made by the war memorial struck me as much as the content. The architecture, including window shape, stonework, floor plan, and desire for silence showed that the memorial is meant to be a religious structure and experience. To all those who come from Christian traditions descended from the Roman Catholic tradition, the signs and symbols are clear. This unabashed equation of death in the military and religious status stunned me. For it seems to me that such an equation, whatever the truth in it, makes an important silent omission.

Most of the sculptures in the memorial depicted people with weapons. Weapons—everything from the bare bodkin to the howitzer to the bomb—are standard issue for those in the military; it might be argued that the military does not exist without weapons. Their presence was no surprise. But their ubiquitous presence in this quasi-Christian religious format brought a problem into sharp relief.

The language used to speak of dead soldiers parallels—I think may originate in—the writings about Jesus’ life. Yet in the same breath these writings (the Gospels) that speak of laying down life, sacrifice, and service explicitly reject weapons. When his zealous followers attempt to fight for his freedom on the night of his arrest, Jesus tells them to put up their swords: “do you think I could not call twelve legions of angels to fight for me if I wanted?” he says. “Laying down life,” “sacrifice,” and “service” in the life of Jesus mean death without resistance to human power. The meaning is made grotesquely clear in the just King’s execution on a cross.

In this war memorial, where the same terms are being used and individuals being elevated in a religious framework, “laying down life,” “sacrifice,” and “service” mean submitting to the risk of being killed by an armed enemy. Herein there is certainly great sacrifice, and most civilians certainly feel that they are being served by those who make the sacrifice. But this giving of life is precisely for the purpose of resisting human power: it is a promise to make the enemy give up his life before the soldier will give up hers. In the soldierly understanding of “giving up of life” is an implicit expectation and promise to keep life (one’s own) and to take life (the enemy’s) if necessary. It is a distinctly different kind of sacrifice and service.

The juxtaposition of the religious ethos in the memorial with a different kind of sacrifice left the distinction between Christ-like sacrifice and soldierly sacrifice hidden. In that obscurity I think there is great danger: they are not simple lies that have power, rather they are lies that masquerade as truth.

Let us be clear: the war memorial in Edinburgh Castle is not the first time such an equation has been made. Every obelisk that marks and every cross that adorns a monument to fallen soldiers makes a similar comparison, if not in such complete architectural terms. Many cultures through time seem to have made battle sacred. Even the Roman Catholic Church in the time of the Crusades directly equated military service with service to the Lord; throughout the church buildings of Europe you can see many a window depicting saints with swords and shields with the sign of the cross. But let us not dream that our forebears were without mistake or sin; let us learn from them instead.

Let us also not dream that those who enter the military have an easy task. There must be great fear involved in preparing for and going into armed conflict; there is even greater pain and loss in enduring armed conflict and yes, even surviving it. We must never underestimate the courage and the effort put forth by anyone who faces an armed enemy.

Those who have died should be remembered; for its successful work in doing this thing I applaud the creators of the war memorial. Their artwork is exquisite and the architecture stunning. The poetry of the inscriptions and the presence of the books moved me to tears at times, tears which need to be shed after the horror of war by which most of these dead were afflicted. And the silence requested of us as we entered the memorial was right, meet, and proper. But there was another silence left by the monument itself that I think must be filled by a word of living and peace-full truth. When such a word is spoken there comes the possibility of finding the very thing this memorial cries out for but itself cannot achieve: peace.

This peace will be found neither in weapons nor ideas, neither trade nor treaties. This peace will not be found in such things, or in any thing. It will only be found in a person, the Prince of Peace, the one who laid down life in the perfect way and took it up again that we may do the same. It will be found in Jesus Christ. Let us not attempt to substitute anything for him and his presence, at very least because those who have died in war and now sit at the feet of his throne would be shamed to see us doing so.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Perfect Town

I have decided that Pitlochry, Scotland is the perfect town to visit. The little town is situated about halfway up the mainland of Scotland from Edinburgh, at the blurry line between the lowlands and the highlands. It has all the things both simple and demanding travelers require:

Easy access by train;
Basic hostels and luxurious hotels;
A gorgeous waterfall;
A cute vintage downtown area with distinctive shops;
A mountain with a great summit view;
Countryside that includes sheep, cows, and rolling fields;
A castle ruin;
A supermarket;
Forest and alpine trails;
A whiskey distillery with free tours;
A picturesque river with walking suspension bridge and fishing;
A microbrewery;
Beautiful local parks with flowers in brilliant bloom;
An ancient church building with historic graveyard;
Another whiskey distillery (with cheap tours);
Local events involving kilts and bagpipes;
Everything within walking distance; and
Lots of friendly Scots.

So, when you decide to come and visit Scotland, make sure to stop for a few days in Pitlochry. You’re sure to enjoy it.


P.S. This entry was inspired not by any offer of money or fame from the Scotland Tourist Board but rather by our actual experience in Pitlochry.

A Dram and a Pint

After walking to the east end of the picturesque town of Pitlochry and then up along a cool forested track we stopped at the Black Spout waterfall. We’re into waterfalls big time. I’ve never attempted to figure out what universal attraction waterfalls hold—nor shall I. But we like them. So we enjoyed Black Spout, took some photos, and walked on. Through some more woods. Along some low stone fences covered with moss. Under huge beech trees. Past cows and sheep lazing in the hot late morning sun. Up the lane to Edradour Distillery.

Edradour (pronounced EH-druh-DOW-ur with a Scottish brogue) is Scotland’s smallest whiskey distillery that produces the bottled spirits for commercial sale. (Moonshiners don’t count in the rankings.) The fact that every step of the process happens under the same roof is a point of pride for these Scots. Edradour is a small cluster of bright white buildings with red doors and trip nestled on the bright green slopes of the lowlands.

If you pay attention to the tour, you discover that to say “every step” happens under one roof is a bit deceptive. You see, Edradour is a non-mechanized, non-computerized distillery. Not one distillery of this type still malts its own barley (the process of getting the barley to germinate and producing a sugar mash). They just can’t afford to, because that’s the most labour-intensive part of the process. About 40 years ago (Edradour’s been in business since the 19th century) this cottage distillery had to outsource its malt process. Only those distilleries that have mechanized or computerized their production—that is, the large distilleries—malt their own barley. So now the malt barn at Edradour is a reception area and museum. It’s where our tour guide, Ian, gave us the full run-down of the types of Scotch whiskey and what makes them what they are.

But the malting is still important. Part of the malting process is the drying of the barley over a fire. In Scotland those fires are made with peat, a black, slightly oily substance from the fens of Scotland. The barley, as it dries, picks up the smoky flavour of the peat and will then transfer it to the finished whiskey.

Everything after malting is done under one roof, though: the fermentation, cooling, double-distilling, and bottling. Edradour produces a tiny 15 casks of whiskey per week, which are then stored for at least 10 years to mature. Edradour uses casks imported from Spain and Portugal—wine, sherry, and port casks in their former lives—to store the whiskey and give it its distinctive flavour. We had some at the opening of the tour. I’m not a whiskey drinker by habit, but I did appreciate the smoky-woody-sweet flavour of the wee dram.

“Beer” Tour #6: Edradour Distillery.

After our tour of Edradour we sat down on a little bench overlooking the babbling brook and gardens of the distillery. Then we were off through more fields, forests, and fens to Moulin, the original village of the glen that gave birth to Pitlochry. In Moulin is a small brewery where we got a brewery tour—that’s right, the second encounter with alcohol production in one day. Now, to be honest, “tour” is a bit of an overstatement; Moulin Brewery is one room, about twelve feet by fifty feet, that used to be a stable for riders going north from Edinburgh. But the size of the brewery did not keep the woman working there from giving us an exhaustive description of the brewing process, complete with the unique details of Moulin Brewery.

Most of Moulin Brewery’s output is tapped right across the street at the Moulin Hotel, a posh little establishment that’s hosted travellers since about 1695. A few bottles make it out of town, but since their bottling machine can only fill six bottles at a time, it doesn’t go very far. The kegs can’t go very far, either, and our spokesperson explained why.

Moulin ales are all natural—no preservatives. But the ale comes out of the fermentation casks with too much yeast and such in it for the taste of most Scots. Normally this problem would be taken care of with some manufactured chemical—but Moulin’s all natural. So the brewer adds a little packet of fish swim bladder and crushed eggshell to each keg. That combination acts as a “magnet” for all the cloudy stuff in the ale and sends it to the bottom of the keg. However, because this little precipitate is all-natural, it breaks down with time. That means the keg can only be moved ten times before it’s got to be tapped and drunk. (It also means the keg has to be finished in one week in summer, three weeks in winter.) So unless Moulin goes chemical, it might be hard to set up an export market.

I want to know who figured out that putting fish and eggshell in beer took out the particles. I should have asked.

After the tour we crossed the street and had a couple of pints. Sara had the Braveheart, a light blonde ale. I had the Old Remedial, a stout with some honey added in the brewing process. It was a bit like a sweet Guinness or Murphy’s, and with a solid alcohol content. (That’s why the lady at the brewery called it their “winter warmer.”) I just hope “remedial” means something different here.

Beer Tour #7: Moulin Brewery.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Irish Gumbo

When we flew into Dublin from Paris we did so on Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. I glanced over an article in the airline magazine describing the new face of Dublin emerging in the last decade or so. Ireland has, much by its own effort, experienced an influx of immigrants. Its economy has been up—perhaps as a result of its membership in the EU—and it has tried to curry the favour of corporations looking to expand into or out of continental Europe. As a result of all this international intercourse, Ireland and especially Dublin have become places where more languages than English and Irish are spoken and more colours seen in the skin than Islander Pasty White. These mean that different cultures are moving in.

Dublin is now a place where you can walk down the street and see faces that reveal Asian, Indian, African, and Mediterranean heritage. If you sit on a bench along the River Liffey and close your eyes you will hear Irish, English, Czech, Swahili, Japanese, and Spanish in the air around you. It’s a tapestry of many colours hung on the eastern wall of the emerald isle. And of course there are people who want Dublin to change back; there are people who want Dublin to change more; and there are even more who don’t know what to do with all this change.

On Wednesday last we went to the performance of Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, the home of the Riverdance troupe. Their specialty is Irish music (including the Uillean pipes, fiddle, and bodhran) and traditional Irish céilí dancing. The troupe’s skill in these arts takes your breath away, or failing that, inspires you to clap and tap your feet in joyful merriment. The show is impressive artistically and fun for the audience.

The second half of the show indulges in more story-telling through the dance scenes, describing especially the development of Irish culture. One of these dance scenes especially sticks in my memory.

It begins with a change in backdrop to show a stylized city scene (perhaps Dublin, New York, or Los Angeles). Two dancers take the stage who are, notably, black. They are accompanied by a single musician playing the oboe. They’re performing a jazz tap routine that is much looser, more improvised, and more playful than the céilí that’s dominated the show so far. Indeed, these two guys could be dancing in a club in New Orleans. Their heads and bodies sway to a funky jazz beat; their knees and ankles fling to a ragtime step. They’re dressed in black trousers, one with a black button-down shirt and the other in a white t-shirt with the sleeves cut off.

They’ve just finished their first dance when at the back of the stage another spotlight comes up. Here are three white guys, dressed in green and brown striped shirts buttoned to the collar, accompanied by the fiddler. The two black jazz dancers stop and stare. The fiddler begins her song and the three céilí dancers take the stage, tapping in strict formal style: hands at their sides, faces forward, torsos still atop the flying feet. They are in perfect harmony with the fiddle and with each other’s steps.

They finish the number and the oboist begins again. The two jazz dancers do their thing, spreading their groovy dance and languid motions all over the stage in a not-so-silent challenge to traditionalism. The tension begins to mount; the feud begins. Each set of dancers asserts with perfect skill the primacy of its dance over against the other in a scene reminiscent of West Side Story—without the words. Even the fiddler and the oboist go head-to-head in a confrontation of bow and reed. The jazz dancers do a mocking imitation of the rigid céilí dancers; the Irish men return the gesture.

But as the two dance groups go back and forth, something happens. Their dances change. The jazz dancers get a little more coordinated in their steps; they keep their torsos a little straighter. The céilí dancers loosen up a bit; they allow their arms to participate more in the expression of the dance. They are becoming more like one another. The challenge of their encounter becomes an interchange. Their tapping voices become a discussion and then, as if by some unknown plan, a consensus.

In time the five dancers are dancing together, the two instrumentalists are playing together. And now they’re doing urban jazz céilí, a dance that remembers the form and discipline of the old Irish style but embraces the free-flowing spirit of the immigrant way. It’s Irish gumbo, New Orleans wool, a knitting of cultures on the dance floor. The experience is so much fun that I might miss, amidst the clapping, hooting, and tapping, my chance to witness the real power of the dance. It is, after all, a creative and meaningful response to the changes in Dublin, Ireland, and the northern Atlantic world I found described in a little Aer Lingus article.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006


We've spent   the last three nights in Killkenny soaking up the area.  We stayed in a castle that has been converted to a hostel.  Great ambiance!   Monday we did the tourist thing in Killkenny and visited the Killkenny Castle which has been renovated and restored. It's a beautiful image of what the castles looked like 200 years ago.   Rooms have been restored to period and great care has been taken with the details.  We also visited the St. Canice Cathedral and climbed the ladders up to the top of the tower.   Then we strolled through town stopping by the Black Abbey and wandering around the downtown area.  Tuesday was a down day.   We spent the day at the hostel/castle, took a walk through the country and relaxed- as is necessary in all travels!  It's been a great couple days and a wonderful tour of Ireland .  Tonight we will finish it off with a date to go to dinner and see Riverdance in Dublin.  Tomorrow we fly to Manchester- England that is.   We'll spend the weekend with friends then move on to Scotland. 

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Kin of Inis Mor

We stayed a night on an island off the coast of Ireland, on the west side of Galway Bay. There are three islands there; Inis Mór (IN-ish MORE) is the largest of the three. The west side of the Island is 300-foot bluffs that plummet into the Atlantic. The island slopes from the west side to the east (facing Ireland) and is a criss-cross pattern of grey stone fences and bright green squares of pasture land dotted with cottages.

When we were there the weather was calm, clear, and gorgeous. But much of the year (such as in February, when I was there last) the weather coming in off the Atlantic can be brutal. Yet here is this small fishing and herding town that keeps a community on an island dotted with ruins that go back thousands of years. It’s a fascinating place. So fascinating, in fact, that I was inspired to wax poetic.

The Kin of Inis Mór

Just past the boggy, hilly reach
Of Ireland’s emerald shores
Reclining in defiant pose
Of calm before the roar
As if the tempest, storm and gale
She might by will ignore
There lies our mother, we who are
The kin of Inis Mór.

Caressed by wind and sun and rain
Her face is soft and green
The cattle, goat and sheep attend
Her hair and skin to preen
Upon her bosom do they rest
When night and weather sore
Afflict all those who call her home
The kin of Inis Mór.

Upon her back the whipping rains
Etch lines across the stone
Like stripes of penitence, the strains
Our saviour took alone.
But she is bitten, clawed, and scratch’d
With cuts that show her core
To keep from searching, stinging pains
The kin of Inis Mór.

The granite hunks of rugged rock
While speaking not a sound
Of ancient warriors and clans
Write songs upon the ground
The stairs and towers whisper still
Of those who came before
To prove that we are not alone
The kin of Inis Mór.

By sunrise every day we leave
The soft caress of fern
We put the green of Eire to bow
And safety far to stern.
We seek uncertain fortune’s yield
To increase winter’s store
Depending on the lee she gives
The kin of Inis Mór.

On days the Lord is kind with wind
And gracious with the sun
Off to the west to graze by bluffs
Where white and gray and dun
The cormorants and seagulls fly
We take our flocks, and more:
We claim the wide Atlantic for
The kin of Inis Mór.

You ask us if the mainland by
Its quiet weather calls
If ever does temptation tug
With softer fields and squalls
To leave the blust’ry rocky isle,
Our posts on crumbled tors?
For naught we dare depart our kin,
Our mother, Inis Mór!

Yet sometimes at horizon’s edge
The younger ones can see
A greater, broader, fuller life
Than what they here can be.
And those who hear with heavy hearts
The fading of their oars
Pray safety in the greater storms
Than those of Inis Mór.

Whate’er the distance or the height
Or how the time has passed
The mother’s voice is fresh and strong
And with a grip so fast
It holds the anchor of their hearts,
Their mem’ry’s greatest store
That they were born and they shall die
The kin of Inis Mór.

So when the Lord with clarion voice
Will open up the tome
Of life and call her children up
To take their heavenly home
Then clothed again in Eden’s dress
Our mother those she bore
Will with a peace divine embrace
The kin of Inis Mór.

Then from the hearts of everyone
Shall pain and sorrow flee
And where the only tempest winds
The dancers’ feet will be
While drinking to the Father’s grace
We shall recall once more
The one who made us by the sea
The kin of Inis Mór.

-- emrys

Saturday, July 15, 2006

La Salsa

Down on Mary’s Street in Galway is a little restaurant called La Salsa. I mean little: it has enough room for three customers and a cash register on the first floor and five tables on the second. Walking into the place gave me a flashback to Gazpacho in Durango (the town’s celebrated New Mexican cuisine, where the margs flow smoothly). It was Mexican (or New Mexican?) food in Galway, Ireland.

In my experience, going for Mexican or Latin American food in Europe is like shooting craps. (No pun intended, although sometimes it works out to be all too true. Don’t dwell on that one.) Sometimes you just have to walk into a place to realize that this “Mexican” restaurant sprang to life when some enterprising individual (God rest his soul) saw a blog about Mexican food and said, “Hey, I can do that in Ireland!” It’s like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates: you’d be surprised what kind of crap you can get. (Too many puns dropping here. Cleanup in Paragraph Two, please!)

But we gave it a shot, because we wanted cheap food that could also fill us up. And hey, there’s always the long shot. So we gave our orders to a woman who looked and spoke as Irish as they come. Spicy smells emanated from the kitchen in the back and a young woman dished out metal platters with burritos wrapped in paper. It was a good start.

We went upstairs and sat down on chairs painted in solid primary colours and padded with materials that looked like they came from the Mexican section of Oriental Trading Company. There were paintings of scenes from Chihuahua and Guadalajara on the walls; sombreros decked the windows and banister. Everything you’d expect from a good overwrought attempt at Mexicana. The only chink in the glitzy neo-Mexican armour of the joint was the television playing past episodes of Charmed. But hey, even New Mexico stoops to having Charmed on its airwaves.

The food was awesome. If I closed my eyes I might actually imagine I was back at Gazpachos, Nini’s, or any other hole-in-the-wall beans-and-rice joint south of the Four Corners. Bonus: the portions were even Southwest portions. The burrito was big enough to feed a prospector and his horse for a week in winter. Just enough to feed me ’til dinner.

As we left, I had to ask the lady at the counter. “Where’d you learn to cook Mexican food?”

“San Francisco,” she replied in her gorgeous Irish lilt.

Well, it ain’t New Mexico. But she could have fooled me, and that’s good enough for this cowboy.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Butter Museum

My name is Emrys, and I am a dairy snob.

I realized the fullness of my condition only a few years ago. We were at the home of friends who had presented us with a meal that included baked potatoes. After we had said grace and begun to eat, our hostess exclaimed that she had forgot to put butter on the table. She returned from the fridge and put a tub on the table saying, ‘Well, it’s actually margarine. I hope that’s OK.’

I remember looking at the margarine and looking back at our hostess and saying, ‘Actually, do you have any real butter?’

I think Sara came close to death by embarrassment that day. I, however, take it as a testimony of how close we were with these friends. (Our hostess did laugh at my comment, after all.) I think Sara took it as a supremely rude gesture: to reject a hospitable offering of food—or at least condiment. In spite of my rudeness and any potential offence, however, we made it through the evening with much joy. And, as it turned out, our hostess did in fact have real butter on hand for this dairy snob.

That’s right, I’m a dairy snob—or, as I would prefer to say, a dairy connoisseur. There is a difference between margarine and butter; between sweetened vegetable spray and whipped cream; between ice cream and ice milk (or frozen yogurt). Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the advances in culinary technology that make these supposedly healthier and cheaper substitutes more tasty. But for reasons real to the palate or imagined in the mind, I strongly prefer the real thing, from a real cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing animal. I’m a dairy connoisseur.

Thus, when we arrived in Cork a few days ago and I saw on the tourist map that the city has a “Butter Museum,” I felt an instant attraction. Sure, I know the basics of butter: derived from milk, produced by skimming and churning, often coloured to look more yellow. But the abundance of cows we passed on the train ride here made me begin to imagine grandiose things for a place called the “Butter Museum.” Among other things, I saw in my mind’s eye loaves of freshly baked bread and wooden tubs of fresh butter (perhaps mixed with a little honey?) for the tasting. Hey, if breweries give you a sample pint, shouldn’t a butter museum give you a sample pat?

So we paid our five euro and went in to learn more about butter than anyone outside of the dairy business has a right to know. For instance, did you know that the dairies of Ireland all constitute a single effective co-op? The brand name is “Kerry Gold,” named after County Kerry, just west of County Cork. And if the temperature of the room in which one is churning butter is too warm, the butter will not “break,” or congeal in the churned cream. (Until folks paid attention to the temperature, this failure in churning was attributed to fairies. So they might nail a donkey’s shoe to the bottom of the churn in order to ward off the troublesome sprites.)

Alas, they didn’t offer us any free samples of Kerry Gold butter. I suppose if I want that we’ll have to visit a creamery, but so far I haven’t heard of any offering tours in the area. I reckon visiting creameries is not as popular a tourist activity as visiting breweries. Being a diary connoisseur does not seem to be as in vogue as being a beer connoisseur. But I’m not changing. I’ll enjoy any beer that passes my way (especially if someone else is paying), but I’ll pay top dollar for the real McCow and snub my nose at the rest. That’s right.

’Cause I’m a dairy snob.

~ emrys

Yeah for WIFI

We finally scored WIFI so I've put up lots of new photos... look right :)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Blarney Stone

We are in Cork and today we took the side trip out to Blarney Castle and visited the Blarney Stone. A beautiful are and great castle ruins and a con scam to get tourists to stand on their head, get tipped over the side and kiss the outside of the castle wall. Emrys did it. As for me- well, I passed. Pressing my face up to a wall after who knows how many others had been there, not my cup of mocha. But I did take lots of pictures and wandered the grounds which were beautiful. It was a fun day and tomorrow we're off to Galway!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Perfect Mocha

After a walk though the woods in a chilly summer drizzle, taking in the remains of the small Ross Castle next to a lake and walking back to town, it was time for something hot to drink. So while standing on a corner trying to decide which way to go we spotted Murphy’s Dessert Shop. And the clouds parted, angels sang and a beam of light… well not really. But we went in and ordered drinks and I got the best mocha I’ve had in a long time! A perfect blend of coffee and chocolate- neither out-doing the other and the creaminess of the steamed milk not lost to the richness of the others. Chocolate shavings on top and this was purely divine! Emrys said his cocoa was pretty good too. Murphy’s in Killarney, if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Beer Tour 4 & 5

Most drinkers of beer recognize the name of Guinness as representing the quintessential stout brew. It is an Irish brew, and its home is in Dublin. So our visit to Ireland and Dublin would not be complete without a stop at the Guinness brewery. Dublin is a very small city, so everything is within walking distance. We walked down to the city block where several huge silver columns rise up out of the ground—silos used in the brewing process. We saw the old wooden doors that led into the original courtyard of the place where Arthur Guinness began the production of this world-famous beer. And we saw that the admission fee for a brewery tour was 14 Euro.

14 Euro? For a tour and a half pint? Hey, we’re on a budget here!

You can get two pints at the pub for half that price, and remember the last time we went through a brewery. After all, in the words of my sister-in-law, “If you’ve seen one brewery, you’ve seen them all.”

Now, it’s all well and good to call it a “beer tour” when you’re in central Europe, where beer is the poor man’s water. But here in Ireland you can’t stop at beer. You have also to honour the deep tradition of the “water of life”: whiskey.

Jameson whiskey also hails from Dublin, Ireland. So, for the sake of those depending on us for the motivation of their future travels to Europe, we made a pass by the old site of the Jameson whiskey distillery. (Don’t worry—we’re actually going to visit one in Scotland.) We couldn’t go for a tour, both because of budget constraints and also because the place was jam-packed due to the World Cup madness. They’ve got a pub, you see, and during the World Cup all pubs become sardine cans of football junkies.

But for those of you more interested, perhaps, in a good whiskey than a good lager, there it is: Jameson distillery in Dublin.

~ emrys

A Week On Camp

It was an interesting week. We were helping out with Dublin Christian Mission’s Family Camp. Families come out to the camp for a week of holiday and camp experience. It was a very different from the camps that we were used to. Camp was comprised of a field, a portable kitchen, tents and port-o-loos and recreational equipment that you’d expect to have around. Worship sessions were optional for campers and everyday was a different outing off of camp. Sara was in the kitchen most of the time and Emrys was doing games and stuff with the kids. We were also two of the three heading up the evening sessions for the youth- or those who showed. For those who came, we had great times of discussion about all sorts of things. After the first night I decided that if the kids showed up and had something to say, we were doing good.

With roughly 75 people at camp ages 3 months to 67 years old, there was a lot going on all the time. From 7:45am until all hours of the evening and early morning we were serving the camper families. Sleep was in short supply and by the end of the week, we were exhausted! All in all a good experience and this is just a nutshell version- but that’s all for now .

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Crying Babies

When you take as many train and airplane trips as we have in the last few months you’re bound to end up in certain inevitable situations. For instance, you’re bound to be kicked out of your first-class seat because you’ve only got a second-class ticket. You’re bound to be caught on a platform with a bunch of football hooligans. You’re bound to be stuck in an embarrassing situation with an acute lack of toilet paper.

And you’re bound to be sitting for several hours in the same cabin with a crying baby.

I’m not a parent yet, so I can’t really speak or reflect from that point of view on the phenomenon of crying babies. But I’ve known several new parents and have the requisite cultural knowledge of the infant state. Conversations with said parents and general knowledge, combined with a few recent experiences involving crying babies in tight spaces, lead me to reflect a little on this remarkably human situation.

Babies cry because they have a need, either real or perceived. They need something, and they cannot communicate the specifications of this need in linguistic terms. Therefore they do what ultimately and almost unerringly commands the attention of all adults: they cry. There is something particularly poignant about the crying of a baby. Perhaps it is a deep-seeded pity for the fact that a baby has very human needs but cannot yet articulate them. Perhaps it is a more visceral, animal resonance that reminds the lower parts of our brains of our own experience as babies. Perhaps the Lord designed our inner ear to hear more sharply the particular pitches and tenors of babies’ cries. Whatever the case, it strikes a certain chord in my heart. That chord is dissonant, however; the consistent crying of a baby grates on the heart and the nerves.

There seem to be times when the need that gives rise to a baby’s cries cannot be identified. We may see no symptoms of teething; the mother may try unsuccessfully to nurse her child; the father may get no results from rocking the child in his arms; the temperature may seem to be just right. Yet the baby continues to cry. The only thing that is clear is that the baby suffers for some reason, some unfulfilled need.

As I sat at different times and in different cabins occupied by crying babies, I wondered why adults don’t cry as babies do when their needs arise. Conversely, at what point do children learn that inarticulate crying is not the best way to summon the meeting of their needs? Several tools come to the aid of developing individuals: articulate speech allows us to ask for specific things like food, blankets, or the toilet. Certain gestures achieve the same effect: witness a toddler who gets her mother to pick her up by looking up and raising her arms (instead of simply crying). Another tool for getting one’s needs met is the recognition that certain people can fulfill our needs and certain others cannot. I have never seen a toddler ask her baby brother if she could have a cookie (she asks her parents, of course); a baby will cry for everyone to hear.

There are exceptions, of course, to the development of the ability to communicate need. Even beyond the age when they will cry because they are hungry or cold, children will give inarticulate cries because of physical pain. Witness a child falling down on the concrete; there is pain and there is surprise. There is a need for comfort, but that need is expressed not by linguistic expression but by crying. (Of course, there is the strange instance of the child who, when adults are present, will scream bloody murder when he falls; but if no adult is paying him any attention, he’ll stand up and get right back to what he was doing. I suppose this is a different kind of need.)

At some point along the journey of life, we learn how to suffer in silence. Somewhere along the line we learn (or decide) that expressing our needs in an outward fashion will not get those needs met. There may be thirty other people in the train car with that crying baby. Ten of them may be quite tired; twelve of them may be hungry; five of them may be experiencing physical pain from wounds old and new. But none of them is crying like that baby. Most of them are not telling anyone that they suffer. Many of them, I’m sure, will not tell anyone at any time about their suffering.

I wonder if, too, there does not come a point in the life of many people when all suffering is done in silence. Even those sufferings that clearly result from a difficulty in human relationships (which may be worked out if spoken out) or from a basic physical dysfunction (which may be taken to a physician) are borne in silence. This seems to be the exact opposite of the crying baby situation: instead of crying out loud to all the world that she is suffering, the silenced adult cries out in no form to anyone. And whereas a crying baby will attract the attention of everyone in the train car, the silent adult will attract none. Perhaps this is the purpose: just as people often get annoyed by crying babies (rightly or no), people are afraid that their own words of suffering will be deemed annoying or bothersome. But what a horrible life to live, the suffering of silence!