Fifty years ago this month I arrived in New York on a student charter flight and traveled to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus. This is my account of my 1970 trip, first published in The Dabbler in June 2012.
The kiss was the longest, most passionate I had ever seen outside a movie. The passengers craned their heads above the seats for a better view while the driver tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. The young couple stood in the bus doorway, he on the dusty ground, she leaning into him from the bottom step. We were somewhere in America, the land spreading flat and empty and endless all around. The scene might have had all the emotional drama of a classic movie lovers parting, but we all knew these lovers had met a mere 24 hours before.
Within sight of the gleaming Shard, a forest of construction cranes, and a Victorian railway bridge lies Crossbones, a hidden corner of London history. We turn off Southwark Street into a narrow lane called Redcross Way and pass through a dank tunnel. It seems like the kind of alleyway Jack the Ripper may have favored, but this is another part of London, Southwark, south of the river. We are looking for the prostitutes’ graveyard. Opposite The Boot and Flogger pubwe see a sign for our destination, the Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance. From here all we can see is a high iron railing festooned with ribbons, plastic flowers, and all manner of memorial objects. A plaque reads “R.I.P. The Outcast Dead.” This was unhallowed ground. I see one soiled white ribbon with a name in fading script, “Elizabeth Hayes from the Workhouse.” Turning the corner to find the Continue reading “The Prostitutes’ Graveyard”→
How would you pronounce the name of Poulsbo, a tiny town on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State? This is a trick question, because unless you live there or you know someone who does, you are certain to get it wrong. That’s because Poulsbo may be the only town in the United States, or perhaps the world, that ended up with the wrong name. All Continue reading “Can You Say Poulsbo?”→
One summer afternoon in 2005 my husband and I strolled along the Graslei, the east bank of the river Leie in the historic heart of Ghent. To our right were the old medieval warehouse buildings with their distinctive stepped gables. Behind them the three famous towers of Ghent stood sentry over the city – St. Baaf’s Cathedral, the Belfry, and St. Nicholas Church. Directly ahead loomed the grim Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders. But across the river on the Korenlei was an incongruous sight, an enormous construction crane towering over the historic buildings of the old grain port. We learned from my cousins who live in Ghent that a Marriott hotel was under construction there. Not Continue reading “Ghent – A Harmony of Old and New”→
There is always something new to discover in places you think you know well. I’ve been traveling to Crisfield in Somerset County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for decades. My husband’s family were Chesapeake watermen and farmers for generations, going back to the first English settlers in the seventeenth century. The drive from the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. is like a journey back in time. History seems to have passed by Crisfield, a backwater town where old values, and old prejudices, linger on. The place has a Continue reading “A Mansion Fit for a King”→
Like so many people across the world I watched with horror as Notre Dame Cathedral burned. I felt grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy its beauty before this devastating fire. After my visit I wrote favorably about how France protected the character of its churches and cathedrals as houses of worship, unlike the eyesores of secular installation art I had seen in cathedrals in England and Belgium. This is an excerpt from my post Please, Not in the Cathedral:
“It is hard for me to admit that France may be superior to England or Belgium in any way, but Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and Sainte-Chapelle were mercifully art installation-free. All were making an obvious effort to maintain the atmosphere of a house of worship despite the hoards of tourists. As we entered Notre Dame a large sign spelled out Silence in a lengthy list of languages. In addition an official stood by with the sole duty of saying “Shhh” every few minutes and as needed. It was the loudest, most officious Shhh I had ever heard. Ignoring these admonitions many tourists chattered away, at first in whispers but gradually becoming louder. When the noise level became too high a recording came on with a spectral Shhh echoing through the vast space like the voice of God himself. Then the word Silence was intoned in a multitude of languages like the tolling of a great bell from the Tower of Babel. For a time a mortified hush fell over the crowds until a fresh influx of visitors started the chattering up again.”
May the silence now be broken by the sounds of reconstruction until Notre Dame is restored to her former glory.
The excited cries and yells of the teenagers echoed down the narrow, winding stone staircase and into our tiny hotel room where we were trying, unsuccessfully, to unpack without bumping into one another. We had just arrived at the Porta Rossa Hotel in Florence, a 13th century building that looked as though it hadn’t been renovated in all the centuries since. It was a kind of Italian Fawlty Towers, only with a real tower. We hurried up the stairs to find the source of the excitement. A rat in their room wouldn’t have been out of place in this medieval pile. Continue reading “A Room With a View”→
The newspaper clipping is yellowed with age but carefully folded and preserved in a box of papers left by my Irish grandmother. The box was inside a larger one with an assortment of family papers that sat in the back of my closet for more than two decades. I would have opened it far sooner if I had known all the little treasures and poignant stories held within: my father’s British Army ID card, congratulations telegrams sent to my parents on their wedding day in 1947, my Flemish grandmother’s passport stamped with all her visits to England when I was small, annual receipts my Irish grandmother kept for the upkeep of the grave of the baby she lost to pneumonia before my father was born. The yellowed newspaper clipping my grandmother kept so carefully all her life was the announcement of her father Hugh Carney’s death in 1913. Continue reading “A Funeral and a Turf War”→
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I pulled from my shelf this book of Stories and Myths from the North West of Ireland by Michael B. Roberts. Last summer I bought it at the Liber Bookshop in Sligo just a few days after we had the privilege of touring ancient sites in the area with the author. Roberts is an anthropologist and storyteller who has dedicated his life to preserving and renewing the myths of his people for future generations. We could Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Cailleach of Sligo”→
Along with every other English schoolchild I learned the story of the Spanish Armada. In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent the largest fleet ever seen to conquer England, depose the heretic Queen Elizabeth I, and restore the Catholic faith. But luckily a storm blew up driving the Spanish ships off course. Trying to make their way back to Spain many were shipwrecked on the west coast of Ireland. Good Queen Bess was triumphant and England saved. End of story. Later, when I studied history for my degree, I learned the more nuanced version, setting the Armada story in the full context of sixteenth century European power struggles and religious conflicts. The story ended the same way though, with English triumph and Spanish shipwrecks. Not a word or a thought to what happened to the Spaniards who washed up on Irish shores. But I discovered in Ireland that the end of the English Armada story is where the Irish story begins. A story of Continue reading “The Spanish Armada – According to the Irish”→