What to pack for a three-week summer trip, city and country


IMG_20150705_101438935By Caitlin Kelly

First admission — we brought with us an empty duffel bag to contain our purchases, which cost us an additional 70 euros overweight charges (about $85.)

But my suitcase came in five kilos below the weight limit on our way to Ireland for three weeks’ holiday while Jose’s came in .7 kilos over, thanks to a lot of heavy camera equipment. (He is a professional photographer, after all.)

When I travel, and knowing everyone has their own style, I prefer to dress well when in European cities, (and all cities, really.)

I hate “looking like a tourist”  — I saw many women my age wearing T-shirts, thick-soled running shoes and hiking clothing in a stylish urban place. Because I work alone at home in sloppy casual clothing anyway, travel offers me a nice chance to dress up. So, when in town in Dublin, I wore skirts or dresses and flat shoes. I didn’t pack a rain jacket (I find them clammy) and knew I could buy one there if I needed it — we enjoyed the driest Dublin June in 40 years!

I also would come back to our hotel sweaty and tired after a day’s exploring, so always wanted to change into fresh, clean clothing for dinner.

Jose typically wore dress shirts and khakis or nice jeans, with a great pair of Vans denim sneakers or, in the country, hiking boots. He also brought a lightweight navy blue blazer for dinners out and brought two ties.

In the country, I wore yoga pants and long-sleeved T-shirts and sneakers.

Before we left, I scored some great clothing at the Canadian store Aritizia, whose clothes are affordable, stylish, simple, comfortable and washable, perfect for travel.

I brought:

three dresses (here’s one of them, although mine is a deep burgundy, which I had shipped to NY from their Chicago store)

two skirts

five cotton long-sleeved T-shirts (could have done with three)

Fleece came in handy when playing golf in 19 mph winds (yes, I checked!)
Fleece came in handy when playing golf in 19 mph winds (yes, I checked!)

a warm fleece (Patagonia)

one short-sleeved cotton T (for working out or hiking)

one dressy black T shirt

one black duster (long jacket)

one pair of flat sandals, one pair of light mesh sneakers (Merrells), two pair of black leather flats

bathing suit (unused!)

cotton nightgown

a small portable umbrella

a pair of leggings (worn for hiking, relaxing, golf)

two pair of yoga pants (dark gray, dark brown), worn as trousers

three light sweaters, (one cardigan would have been enough)

two purses, one dressy, one casual

two necklaces and other jewelry

five scarves (very well used!)

Also useful?

Binoculars, a headlamp (for reading in bed) and a very tiny pocketknife (which cut a lemon into slices for our in-room end-of-day gin & tonics!) I also brought a small sketchbook, pocket-sized watercolor kit, colored pencils, several brushes and a pencil.

Depending on your budget and sense of style, I love almost everything from this American, woman-owned company, Title Nine (nope, I get nothing for saying so), from great sports bras to bathing suits to sneakers to casual/comfortable/stylish skirts and dresses perfect for summer travel.

(For non-Americans, the company name is familiar to and beloved by all athletic women, named for a piece of 1972 federal legislation that decreed equal opportunity and funding for female athletes in U.S. educational institutions receiving federal funds.)

If you’re planning a winter vacation of any length, here’s my post from Paris last winter, detailing what I took for a month in Paris and London, and which worked perfectly in frigid temperatures in two of the world’s most stylish cities.

A little retail therapy
A little retail therapy

So…what came back with us in that duffel bag?

Because I’m a voracious reader, some unread Irish and UK newspapers and magazines, (lots of story ideas in there!), guidebooks, maps.

In Dublin, on sale, Jose scored two gorgeous blazers and two shirts; in Ardara, a thick wool turtleneck sweater. We bought two copies of a book illustrated by artist Pete Hogan — whose watercolor work we admired hanging from the fence around Merrion Square one afternoon. We had a great conversation with him and he allowed me to photograph his paintbox.

paintbox

I bought little in Ireland, which is unusual for me (and I did hit the sales!): a pair of olive suede sneakers, (84 euros, made in Portugal), several books, five antique forks and an antique Indian bag and a purple wool sweater for a fat five euros at the flea market.

I also bought, (yes, weirdly), a pile of great/affordable lingerie at Brown Thomas, Dublin’s poshest department store and at Marks & Spencer. Much nicer quality and lower prices than here in New York!

Soooo comfortable! They're called Softinos
Soooo comfortable! They’re called Softinos

This was a journey documented with many photos, some of which you’ve seen here, and memories and new and renewed friendships. Ireland has many very beautiful objects for sale — from wool scarves, hats, sweaters and throws to ceramics, glass and porcelain.

Maybe next time.

Do you travel in style?

Any tips?

Three weeks in Ireland…final reflections

By Caitlin Kelly

Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland -- Europe's highest cliffs
Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland — Europe’s highest cliffs

It took a while to determine the bird we heard everywhere in Donegal, and whose trilling song sounds just like a modem, (Google it, young ‘uns!). It turned out to be a skylark, an unforgettable sound.

Our rented house, which was ear-ringingly silent, awoke on our final morning to a distinct tap-tap-tap. It was a fat magpie rapping its beak against the window before fanning its feathers indignantly and strutting off into the grass.

After a glorious week in the cottage — a three-bedroom house, architect-designed, (and it’s available the week of July, book here!)  — in Donegal, we returned to Dublin, a four-hour drive. My husband was kind enough to do all the driving. We rented a VW Golf, diesel, and liked it a lot: quiet, comfortable and very economical on fuel.

It was tough to find hotel rooms for the week in Dublin on a month’s notice, and every single hotel was booked the night of July 1 — for an AC/DC concert!

There’s a flea market in Dublin but only on the final Sunday of every month, which happened to be the one we’re here for. I love exploring flea markets so that was a definite.

I scored! A hand-knit wool sweater for five euros, a mirrored Indian bag for 10 euros and five silver-plate forks for five euros. That’s my kind of flea market.

Our vacation has been filled with surprises, most lovely, a few less so.

Like:

— The driest Dublin June in 40 years. Yay! We had only one day of rain. I’m returning with, (yes, really) an Irish tan.

— The tree-shaded canal a block from our hotel, lined every few feet with comfortable benches, where I sat and watched a duck with her five palm-sized ducklings

The Luas -- which means "speed" in Irish
The Luas — which means “speed” in Irish

— The worst public transit system I’ve seen in any major city of comparable size. There are only two tram lines and they’re very short and they don’t intersect. Yes, there are plenty of yellow double-decker city buses, but no official bus map available. Even locals agree it’s a disaster.

— A ton of construction all around Trinity College (as they expand the tram system), making road traffic and pedestrian traffic a big mess.

— The best foie gras I’ve ever eaten at L’Gueleton. Go!

— Sunset in Dun Laoghaire, a quick DART ride from Dublin, and dinner at there at Fallon & Byrne in People’s Park

— The shocking loss of three people suddenly swept out to sea while walking on shore in Baltimore, Co. Cork

An amazing collection of Asian art at the National Museum of Decorative Art, including a room filled with Buddhist tangkas

The Titanic Museum in Belfast, (a 2.5 hr train ride north of Dublin) was well worth the cost of trainfare and the time to travel there. We spent 3.5 hours at the museum itself, which is typical, and enjoyed every minute.

— Getting to know a dear Dublin friend’s husband and adult daughter, and renewing a 30-year-old friendship forged on a fellowship we shared in Paris

— Salmon, salmon and more salmon!

— Oysters, oysters and more oysters!

— Cheap and plentiful Dublin taxis

We will dearly miss a nation of people who still thrive on lively, engaged conversation. It was blessedly very rare indeed, anywhere, to see people staring at their damn cellphones while sitting with others in a social space like a pub, bar or restaurant.

We will miss the extraordinary light, a sky that stays lit until almost midnight.

We will miss the glowing green of stone-walled fields.

We will miss the warmth of new friends.

Jose gazing out the window of our rented cottage
Jose gazing out the window of our rented cottage

We will miss the silent, craggy beauty of Donegal, where only the wind could be heard.

We will miss being able to cross an entire country within a few hours’ driving.

I will miss seeing my family name — Kelly — on shops and trucks and signage everywhere.

We hope to return soon!

Have you been to Ireland?

What did you enjoy most?

Ten more travel tips — Key? Ignore the experts

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ll post a final Irish piece later this week.

In the meantime, some more tips:

Ignore everyone’s advice, including the guidebook(s) Really? Maybe. We use Fodor’s and read stuff on-line and read some travel stories before/during our travels, but so often the things that have given us the greatest pleasure are not mentioned anywhere while everyone insists you must do atonofthingsthatdonotinterestyouintheslightest! For example, our very first night in Dublin on our own, Jose found a quiet, simple restaurant a block from our hotel. Great food, good prices, dead quiet, Mamma Mia.

Of course, we have tried other activities and restaurants mentioned by the guidebook, but one of the best days we’ve had here was a day-trip (15 minute ferry ride) to the island of Arranmore, with not a word about it in our guidebook. I am a Very Bad Tourist. I loathe crowds, standing in line, crowds, others tourists, heat. There are only so many statues/monuments/buildings/museums I can take (and it’s shockingly few.) That alone rules out a lot of official sights we are urged to get to. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s your vacation.

Do what makes you happiest, not ticking off a list to please other people! Posting your trip as you go on social media, if your friends are well-traveled, will elicit a shit-ton of advice.

Ignore it as needed.

It costs HOW much?!!!
It costs HOW much?!!!

Prepare for surprise budget-busters In Dublin, there are only two tram lines and, yes, plenty of city buses. But no (?!) printed bus map, a basic asset in New York City, for example, with which to plan your day. So we’ve been taking taxis everywhere. The good news? They are plentiful and cheap. But not a cost I had planned on.

In other cities, it might be the cost of loads of laundry or shoe repair or a doctor’s visit — or all of these. Allow for some surprise costs. IMG_0377 Enjoy some local services

Jose got a great five-euro haircut in Dungloe. He did the same when we were in Cuernavaca. I’ve treated myself to massages and salon visits in Paris.

My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change -- and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish -- is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster
My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change — and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish — is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster

Use local transit — bus, trains, commuter trains and subway

We took the train north to Belfast (2.25 hours one way) and were thrilled with how clean, quiet and quick it was. You’ll get a much better feel for how life is lived locally if you’re sharing transport with natives, whether a matatu in Kenya, a tuktuk in Bangkok, a shared taxi in my hometown of Tarrytown, NY or atop one of London’s double deckers. Our many long bus rides across Mexico were a highlight of our vacation there.

Get out of town!
Especially if you’re traveling in summer heat and humidity, cities anywhere can quickly feel exhausting, dirty, smelly and oppressive. Almost every city has a beach or some green hills nearby; from Manhattan, a 40-minute train ride straight up the edge of the Hudson River is cheap and gorgeous and drops you off in our town. Within a half-hour of Dublin are gorgeous beaches and waterfront in one direction, the Wicklow hills in another. In Toronto, take the ferry across the harbor to the Islands and spend a glorious day biking through the parks. Sit on a patch of green or sand and just…breathe. nyt Read the local papers, in print

If you’ve got language skills, use them! If you’re in an English-speaking country, there’s no better way to really get a feel for what people around you care about right now than reading the letters to the editor, op-eds, editorials and — oh, yeah — the news and feature stories. Don’t stick to CNN. The whole point of fleeing your native culture is to immerse yourself in another.

Bring (and collect) business cards

Yes, really. We’ve handed them out to all sorts of people along the way, some social, some for business. You may want to re-connect with people and they with you. Yes, social media are great. But a well-designed business card carries a professional formality some will really appreciate. (Like Japan.)

Lincoln Center, NYC. Not likely to disappoint!
Lincoln Center, NYC. Not likely to disappoint!

You will, occasionally at best, be disappointed. It’s no big deal!

It happens: the food was too spicy (or not spicy enough) or the service was bad or the bed was too small or the room too noisy. Change whatever you can, (without being an Ugly Tourist!), and go with the flow as much as possible. A vacation in a foreign place means adapting to all sorts of things, some of which you’ll enjoy more (or less) than others. Moderate your expectations and do your homework.

Make local friends

Thanks to my blog and to Jose’s use of social media, we’ve made some terrific new friends by being a little brave and open to the idea. In Paris in December and January, I loved meeting up with four of my blog readers, Juliet, Mallory, Gillian and Catherine — all of whom were only virtual friends until we all made the effort to get together. It might have been terrible! But it wasn’t. In Dublin, Jose and I met up with a local photographer and his wife that he had met through Facebook. We had a great time.

I treasure my little robot, bought in Paris
I treasure my little robot, bought in Paris

Shop for souvenirs in the least-likely places

Yes, you can easily buy a snow globe or a linen tea towel or an Eiffel tower. But why not head off the beaten path and check out local pharmacies, hardware and grocery stores, sporting goods stores and other less-predictable venues for interesting and offbeat souvenirs and gifts?

We still use a polka-dotted apron we bought in Paris at BHV, a major department store and a bright-green enamel corkscrew from a local wine shop there. I use a white enamel pen I bought down the street from our Paris flat.

I treasure the Corsican polyphonic music a man there gave me as a gift, and listen to I Muvrini often. You might find a fantastic skin care line or a great bag of spices or a fantastic cheese knife. In Ireland you could bring home a hurling ball — a sliotar. Ah, go on!

Travel — and enjoy it! Ten tips from a globe-trotter

By Caitlin Kelly

Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland -- Europe's highest cliffs
Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland — Europe’s highest cliffs

I’m writing this from a gorgeous hotel in Dublin called The Schoolhouse, which was converted from a red-brick Victorian schoolhouse into a hotel with a small, lovely garden. Jose and I are here for seven nights.

As you can see, we prefer places the Irish would call characterful to the mass-market chains — places that are small, intimate, quirky and historic. We typically rent or borrow an apartment when in Paris or are lucky enough to stay with friends.

Having — so far — been to 39 countries, and often on a tight budget, I’ve learned how to have a great time out there, whether a road trip near home or a long-haul flight away.

Here, a few tips; we have no children, so these are likely most useful for people without them.

This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage
This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage

What do you want most from your vacation?

I think this question is the single most important of all. If all you really want to do is slarb out, sleep/eat/read/repeat, own it! Nor do you have to head to a beach to enjoy a lazy time of it. It might be a cottage in the woods or a luxury hotel or a rented flat. If your partner/spouse/BFF wants to be up at dawn and hitting all the official sights the second they open, how will that affect your vision of happy time off?

A full, frank discussion before you start booking lodging or travel is a good idea. Few things are more miserable than arriving somewhere with a person, (or a crowd), with wholly different notions of what “holiday” means.

I loved traveling in a dugout canoe in Nicaragua
I loved traveling in a dugout canoe in Nicaragua

What makes your pulse race?

For me, it’s armloads of natural beauty — so places like the Grand Canyon and Thailand and the coast of British Columbia, not to mention Ireland! — fit the bill perfectly. But I’m also a big city girl, and love to shop, eat, sit in a cafe and people-watch for hours. So my perfect vacation combines both. Your great love might be the craps table or flea markets or museums or a cooking class or…

Fewer/slower beats seeingeverythingallatonce!

I realize that, for many people, a distant journey might truly be once in a lifetime, so the compulsion to try and see and experience everything is a strong one. Resist it!

Our three weeks in Ireland, which is my fifth time here and my husband’s first, has included only two stops, Dublin and Donegal. The Oklahoma couple stepping into our rental car reeled off the list of their destinations and it made me dizzy. I loved getting to know Donegal much better, and doing quick day trips — an hour each way or so — from home base, (a rented cottage), easily allowed for that.

This photo contains all the things that make me happy, whether at home or far away: painting, writing, a pot of tea and a stack of newspapers
This photo contains many of the things that make me happy, whether at home or far away: painting, writing, a pot of tea and a stack of newspapers

Know/respect your own typical rhythms and those of your travel companion(s)

Few things are as nasty as fighting endlessly on vacation, a limited time as it is, about who’s sleeping in too late, “wasting” hours on a late-afternoon nap or partying too late into the wee hours.

Jose and I often take a “toes up” while traveling to recharge us after a day out before heading out again for dinner. On this trip, we bought a small bottle of gin, cans of tonic water and even a few lemons. Nothing like a shower and a fresh G & T in the room at day’s end! We also bought biscuits, nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit so we had some healthy snacks waiting for us.

If you long for a lazy lie-in and an hour’s bath, do it! Dragging yourself all over the place to satisfy someone else’s schedule, or your own expectations of doingitallorelse! is no fun.

Pack lightly, and carefully

Especially in Europe and in smaller hotels, (i.e. no bellhops), you’ll be humping your own baggage, whether up and down the London Tube stairs or across a cobble-stoned street. Ireland is known for offering all four seasons every day, even in summer, so I packed light wool cardigans and plenty of over-sized scarves while Jose layered cotton T-shirts beneath his dress shirts. Unless you’re in the wilderness or a very poor country —  (both can make great vacations, obviously) — you can likely buy whatever else you need in-country. My bag was six kilos under the allowed weight on the way over to Ireland, and I planned to ditch several books here. I knew I’d also be shopping!

Give your tired old dogs a rest!
Give your tired old dogs a rest!

Rest!

It’s tempting to spend your precious vacation driving long distances every day and/or racing from one tourist site to the next. I saw a fellow guest here with a very long list in his hand. Sigh. We had only six days in Donegal and a very ambitious list of what we hoped to see. Hah! Instead, we enjoyed lazy mornings and headed out at 11:00 or so for lunch and exploration; daylight til 10:30 pm helped.

But there is much left to see, even in that one county, and we’re already planning a return trip. On our one rainy, cloudy day I read, painted, snoozed.

The whole point of vacation is to restore, refresh and recharge our work-weary souls.

Consider renting a place

We don’t use Air B & B but have rented apartments in Paris and a cottage in Ireland. It’s great to shop local food markets, get to know the local baker/butcher/produce store and see what different products are on offer in the grocery stores.

Washed Roosters?! It’s a potato.

IMG_0080

Aubergine = eggplant.

I also like being able to cook breakfast and dinner at home, which is both cheap and healthy; our groceries for a week (in which we also ate out), were 70 euros which bought so much food we took some away with us when we left.

L1000220

Being able to do loads of laundry, even daily as needed, saves a fortune on hotel laundry costs and allows you to pack much less. (More shopping!)

Leave room for serendipity

Highlight of this trip?

L1000262

An unplanned exhausting/exhiliarating golf game with two retired schoolteachers on a links course on Cruit Island, (pronounced Crutch); if we’d had a rigidly-planned schedule and insisted on sticking to it, we’d never have had this amazing experience. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had on the road: spectacular scenery, 2.5 hours of vigorous/fun exercise, making new friends, experiencing one of the most Irish of sports — links golf, (from an old English word for ridge, hlinc.)

L1000287

L1000282

Another night we headed to Dungloe’s Corner Bar, and ended up listening to one of the nation’s top musicians who just happened to be in the bar that night.

In Dublin, where the flea market is held only one day a month, it was the one Sunday we were here. Yay! I scored a gorgeous plum-colored wool sweater (five euros), an antique Rajasthani mirrored bag (10 euros) and a set of five silver-plate forks for five euros.

Make time for yourself, all alone

If you’re dying for a haircut, massage, mani-pedi or some shopping, do it. By yourself. Maybe you’d rather take photos or just sit still and read a book, magazine, email or newspaper. Jose and I already share a small apartment and now both work from from home — so three weeks’ vacation joined at the hip can feel a bit oppressive.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two off from your companion(s) — or vice versa — and coming back with fresh stories and photos to share.

Sit still and just be (there)

Found in Nicaragua
Found in Nicaragua

In a world of constant connection, turn off your bloody phone!

Ignore email/Twitter/Instagram/your blog.

The only way to truly savor where you are is to be there. To remain fully present. To sit in total silence, whenever possible.

One afternoon, I spread out on the spongy vegetation of Arranmore Island and just napped. I sat on the edge of a cliff and stared at the gulls below me, the waves crashing against the rocks, the bobbing orange lobster-pot markers.

I treasure the combination of a blessedly-emptied mind and eyes filled with beauty.

Three weeks in Ireland — the first few days…

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_0062

Silence. Wind. Birdsong.

The tang of burning coal. A whiff of the Atlantic.

The fuchsia of hollyhock and heather and the brilliant yellow of gorse and buttercup.

Piles of peat, cut up and laid out in rows to dry before burning for fuel.

This is my fifth visit to Ireland, the first for my American-born husband. My great-grandfather was the schoolteacher in Rathmullan, County Donegal whose son emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where my father and I were born.

Hence, back to Donegal!

We’re now in a rented cottage in Dungloe, Co. Donegal, the furthest northwest one can get in Ireland one can go; I found it through a quick Google search and hoped for the best. Then we’ll be back to Dublin for another week, with a likely trip north to Belfast to see the Titanic Museum and maybe a Game of Thrones location tour.

We love our new home for the next week: It is totally silent, filled with light thanks to its multiple skylights, and with clear views for miles across the inlets and hills. Custom-built for a local businesswoman and architect-designed, it’s simple, clean and modern, even with its gorgeous stone exterior.

We flew Aer Lingus  into Dublin on Bloomsday, June 16, and spent four nights with friends in Rathmines, a lovely residential neighborhood a mere four tram stops from St. Stephen’s Green, the heart of the city.

I wandered around to get oriented, too tired and jet-lagged to take in official sights. We enjoyed a meal out at Peperina, a neighborhood bistro and a drink at a local pub — just in time to watch a race from Royal Ascot on television. I had a fantastic meal at Avoca, a cafe/shop in Dublin, scored a great pair of suede sneakers and we drove the 4 hours north to Donegal.

There’s so much light! In Dublin there was still light in the sky at 11:45 pm, fully sunlit by 5:00 a.m. — here, further north, there’s even some light in the sky at 3:30 a.m. and it’s fully bright by 4:00 a.m.

While in the north we plan to: visit Rathmullan and Letterkenny, drive around the headlands, visit a few local islands, listen to traditional music, eat some lobster. I’m also hoping to get an Irish-language tutor for an afternoon while we’re in the heart of the Gaeltacht, those few remaining parts of Ireland where most people speak Irish and many road signs are only in Irish.

It’s a gorgeous-sounding language and I’d be thrilled to learn a bit of it.

Here are some photos of our trip, so far; with no phone or Internet access at the cottage, we have to head to a pub for that. Perfect!

From inside a terrific local seafood restaurant, The Lobster Pot, in Burtonport, Co. Donegal, The Lobster Pot, owned by a Minnesota emigre
From inside a terrific local seafood restaurant, The Lobster Pot, in Burtonport, Co. Donegal, owned by a Minnesota emigre
Along a local walkway -- the site of a former railway
Along a local walkway — the site of a former railway
The view from across the road. Can't walk down to the sea very far -- thorns and bog!
The view from across the road. Can’t walk down to the sea very far — thorns and bog!
The cottage, 3 bedrooms, great views
The cottage, 3 bedrooms, great views
Jose gazing out the window of our rented cottage
Jose gazing out the window of our rented cottage
I've never heard of a washed rooster -- Irish potatoes on sale in Dublin
I’ve never heard of a washed rooster — Irish potatoes on sale in Dublin
The range of shawls, sweaters, caps -- in the most gorgeous colors! These are shawls in Avoca, a Dublin shop
The range of shawls, sweaters, caps — in the most gorgeous colors! These are shawls in Avoca, a Dublin shop
Interior of the International Bar, Dublin
Interior of the International Bar, Dublin
A serious Dublin dive bar, founded in 1833, where my bar-mate offered me a quarter of his roast beef sandwich (Delicious!)
A serious Dublin dive bar, founded in 1833, where my bar-mate offered me a quarter of his roast beef sandwich (Delicious!)
A Dublin doorway
A Dublin doorway
My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change -- and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish -- is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster
My one-way ticket, 2 euros, 20. The fun bit? The voice telling riders to take their ticket and their change — and announcing every tram stop in English and Irish — is that of my Dublin friend, a career broadcaster
The Luas -- a two-line tram system running through Dublib; Luas means
The Luas — a two-line tram system running through Dublin; Luas means “speed” in Irish

A question of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

trust-torn

We can’t survive without it.

I’m writing this from a friend’s home in Dublin, where we arrived last night from New York.

This week, five broken-hearted sets of Dublin parents will fly to California to collect the bodies of their young adult children, all of whom died when an apartment balcony they were standing on suddenly fell in Berkeley; all five of them were visiting on work visas. A sixth, who lived locally, also died, and seven other students were injured.

It is, of course, front-page news in today’s Irish Times.

I’m a nervous flyer. I love to travel and have been to 39 countries so far; this is my fifth visit to Ireland. But every time I step into an aircraft, I’m fighting anxiety, no matter how annoyed this makes me. When, which is inevitable, we hit turbulence, it’s a battle for me to stay calm — to trust the pillots’ skill and experience, the careful work of the mechanics who maintain aircraft and the plane itself, built to withstand much stronger forces than I’d like to experience.

I've lost my appetite for that area of NYC, and tall buildings
I’ve lost my appetite for that area of NYC, and tall buildings

It’s all based on trust.

Yet, every day, our trust — in authority, in material safety, in the food and drink we consume — is tested:

An enormous recall of Takata-made airbags, whose explosion have killed 3 people and injured 139

— The bridge crossing the Hudson River where I live is so old (now being re-built), it’s been called the “hold your breath” bridge for years

— Those recently killed on a Chinese ferry and the young students lost on a Korean ship

— The disappearance of MH 370 and the deliberate crash of Germanwings flight 9525 by a deranged young pilot who had, somehow, passed multiple medical tests

— Recalls of contaminated food and drink, like the Blue Bell ice cream that killed three people and put seven others into the hospital.

Everything we touch, every interaction, relies on our ability to trust one another to some degree:

That the elevator will ride smoothly and safely; that the meal we order won’t be prepared by contaminated hands; that our surgeon is sober, skilled and well-trained; that our mechanic isn’t lying when he tells us our vehicle needs extensive, expensive repairs.

Friendship relies on honesty and loyalty. So does a healthy marriage; if you can’t trust your own partner or spouse, who can you rely on? Which is why adultery is such a devastating blow — you choose your own family and it falls to pieces.

Teachers trust their students to do the work and not plagiarize or cheat. Students trust their teachers to be fair, smart, helpful and wise. Both of them have to trust in the authority of a system that more often privileges test scores or tuition fees over the needs of either group.

And yet we also bring a widely disparate set of hopes and expectations to the table. Some students lie. Some teachers are incompetent. Some surgeons gown up while drunk or high. Nurses can’t or won’t rat them out — risking patients’ lives. (As someone who’s had four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, it’s an issue I’ve had to consider personally.)

Anyone looking for love, certainly when dating people they don’t know well through mutual friends or family, takes a risk.

I spent a few months in 1998 being wooed fervently by a charming, witty man I met through a personal ad. He kept proposing marriage to me — until the day he opened my mail, activated my credit card, forged signature and started using my cards — i.e. committing multiple felonies. When I confronted him, his three little words shifted from “I love you” to a chilling, well-practiced “It’s not provable.”

That certainly shifted my notions of who looks, sounds and is trustworthy. It also deeply shook my confidence in my own choices about what signals of trustworthiness are real and which are not.

The New York Times newsroom...without trust in its product, we would have no readers
The New York Times newsroom…without trust in its product, we would have no readers

As a career journalist, my entire reputation relies on my editors’ trust in me: to vet the sources I use for their veracity and authority, to meet my deadlines, to produce excellent work, to report accurately, to quote and attribute my sources properly.

When other writers screw up — and it happens a lot — all of us cringe and know we’ve lost even more of the public’s little trust in us.

The law is a blunt instrument when redressing broken trust — no amount of financial compensation will bring back a broken marriage, a dead child, a ruined career.

When, where and how much and in whom should we place our trust?

That’s the question I have yet to answer to my satisfaction.

You?

Sobbing upon departure — when place sears our soul

This weekend I’m visiting Decatur, Georgia, speaking Sept. 2 at the literary festival about my new retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” If you’re in the area, come on by!

I don’t expect to find it hard to leave, but you never know.

There are, I’ve discovered a few times, places in the world that sear your soul, where you unexpectedly feel so at home you can’t bear to leave, plotting your return even as you reluctantly pack your bags.

I rarely cry, especially not in public. But three places, (so far), left me in tears of regret and longing as departed: Corsica, northern Thailand and Ireland.

Corsica

I had one week between the end of one job and the start of another. I was single and craved something absolutely amazing.

I love France and speak French and friends had raved to me for many years about this island, known for its rugged interior — and fierce desire to separate from France.

Corse-bastia-port2
Corse-bastia-port2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flew from New York to Nice, Nice to Bastia and rented a mo-ped at the port, while the hotel owner in Bastia helped me plot out a five-day circle tour of La Balagne, all in the north. It still remains one of the best holidays of my entire life, (and I’ve been to 37 countries, so far.)

Imagine buzzing along empty, winding country roads in brilliant sunshine, with the maquis, the island’s thick scrubby undergrowth filled with herbs, sending its rich, delicious sun-warmed fragrance into your nostrils. Meander down a series of hairpin turns to a hotel at the ocean’s edge, so close you’ll hear the surf from your bedroom window. It’s a lovely old house from the 1850s or so. You eat dinner, alone, on the terrace at dusk.

One day it poured so heavily I couldn’t wear my glasses, (which I really do need for driving), nor did my helmet have a visor. I got a black trash bag from a restaurant to cover me, and kept on going, whizzing past 1,000-foot drop-offs into the sea. People invited me into their homes for a meal. I chatted with a handsome young mason in a bar, who gave me several CDs, still some of my favorite music ever, the polyphonal a capella group I Muvrini.

The landscape is wild, untamed, primal, timeless. When my plane took off for Nice, I cried so hard the flight attendant came to comfort me and ask what was wrong. I couldn’t even speak for grief, watching the island disappear into the clouds.

I’d found, as I did in every place that has seared my soul so deeply: beauty, peace, scent, kindness, history, adventure.

Here’s the story I wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal.

Northern Thailand

I visited in January 1994 with my husband, our new marriage already in tatters and soon to blow apart.

We’d visited Bangkok and Chang Mai, both standard tourist destinations, and decided, spur of the moment, to fly further north to Mae Hong Son, which one guidebook called the most beautiful town in Thailand. I’ve only seen one other airport — in Bastia — so rural and tiny that sheep grazed a few meters from the runways. As we walked (!) into town, the only sound was that of bells from the temple across the unpaved street.

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Ho...
English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand Русский: Город Мэхонгсон, административный центр одноимённой провинции (Таиланд) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guesthouses, then $15 a night, ringed a lake. We rented mo-peds, (clearly, my favorite mode of transport), for a day-trip even further north to the Burmese border. Madness! The road, quite literally, was under construction, with huge machines grading the land, their quizzical drivers gazing down at us in pity and wonder.

We went with Roy, an Englishman we’d met at our guesthouse, who’d worked in developing countries delivering vaccines. When the road forked, with a sign we couldn’t read, what next? “Follow the power lines,” Roy said.

The road dust was a thick, silky red, so deep I put my feet out on both sides and used them as pontoons to steady the bike. As we pulled into town for lunch, men wearing extremely large rifles across their chest stared at us — we were now in the Golden Triangle, then the world’s largest suppliers of opium.

We ate lunch, then turned south in the golden late afternoon light, back down the insanely steep hills we’d so eagerly climbed. On one turn, (no guardrails), I got off the bike and had my husband walk it down, too terrified of flying off the road and over the treetops to my certain death. I’d already fallen and shattered the bike’s side mirror, giving me a tiny scar on the inside of my right wrist as a permanent souvenir of the day.

When our plane took off a few days later, having witnessed the town’s legendary three mists, I cried hard. I knew I wouldn’t be back any time soon. And I knew I’d never be there again with that man.

As in Corsica, I’d been transported by the emerald-green landscapes, silence, the kindness and wisdom of strangers. Another deliriously crazy, ill-advised, adrenaline-pumping adventure.

Ireland

I’ve since returned four times, but this was my first visit — in the days just before Christmas of 1985 — visiting a friend, a fellow journalist, in Dublin.

With a surname of Kelly, you’d think I’d identify heavily as Irish, but I don’t and never had. Like me, my father was born in Canada.

But, there, everywhere, were people who looked like me. Who loved to chat, and prized witty, intelligent conversation. Who liked a good glass of beer. Who valued the ability to burst into song.

I felt at home in a way that hit me hard, that I’d never felt in my native land or my home city, Toronto.

Stores and restaurants and passing delivery vans had my name on them!

As I filed into the small aircraft that flew me to Bristol to visit my mother, I found myself blinking back tears.

And every visit back to Ireland since then seems to touch a sort of sense memory, a “me” that maybe existed 100 or 1,000 years ago. Maybe I was Grainne, the 16th. century pirate queen!

Here’s a beautiful post, recently chosen for Freshly Pressed,by a female American professor about how living in Afghanistan at the age of 10 so deeply affected her.

Has this sort of geographic coup de foudre happened to you?

When and where?

Happy St. Patrick's Day! A taste of Ireland from an Irish great grand-daughter

Topography of Ireland
Image via Wikipedia

Slainte!

That’s “cheers” in Irish — pronounced slawn-tche. Hoping your day is full of craic — fun.

I’ve visited Ireland four times, and loved it, even once driving the entire circumference of the island with my Dad, chasing up and down its green hills and visiting Rathmullan, Co. Donegal — a seaside town on Lough Swilly where my great grandfather was the schoolteacher. Family lore had it that, after big storms, there’d be jellyfish on his front lawn. Yeah, right, I’d say — but there was only a narrow road between the seawall and his lawn. True.

We even visited his one-room schoolhouse and I saw his handwriting in the old ledgerbooks. The building was for sale and we fantasized, briefly, about buying it.

Landing in Shannon, Ireland’s western airport, means staring down at a patchwork quilt of every shade of green, tiny plots of land, each marked off with a stone wall. It’s magic. You drive on the left and the narrow, twisting roads, with high hedges and limited sightlines, is a real challenge, especially with jet lag. I went, alone, to follow two American women, one from San Antonio and one from D.C., at the annual September singles’ festival in Lisdoonvarna —  where men outnumber women about four to one — for The Washington Post, Ottawa Citizen and Dallas Morning News. It’s a hoot. I’ve never felt so alluring!

Dublin is terrific, but Galway City is fantastic — a college town with lots of great pubs, friendly and manageable. My Dad and I once spent an afternoon collecting mussels from Galway Bay, went home and made soup; for a while, he owned a house, built in 1789, just outside the town of Athenry — then, it cost barely more than my suburban New York apartment. I loved looking across the countryside through its wavy, 200-year-old windows.

Here are some of my Irish favorites:

Guinness. Yes! Dark, cool, creamy, distinctive, it’s probably Ireland’s best-known beer.

James Joyce. I am a faithless wretch, never having read his work, so he’s not technically one of my personal favorites — but you can’t leave him out! I have visited his home.

Luka Bloom, a singer-songwriter, I love his album The Acoustic Motorbike.

The Chieftains, founded in 1962, probably Ireland’s best-known band for traditional music.

The Aran Islands. The shaggy cows there are the exact shade of Guinness. There are three islands, reached by ferry from Galway, and filled with 15th. century churches and pre-historic ruins.

Colm Toibin. His latest, recent book, “Brooklyn: A Novel”, has received rave reviews. I’ve read his earlier work and loved it.

William Butler Yeats. You may already know some of his poetry’s lines off by heart — “Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams”.

Glen Hansard, winner of the 2008 Academy Award for “Falling Softly” his gorgeous song from the lovely 2007 film, shot in Dublin, “Once.” He also starred in one of my favorite films, The Commitments, from 1991, whose soundtrack is a must-own.

Films The Field, Waking Ned Devine, Ryan’s Daughter, which united the formidable talents of Robert Bolt and David Lean (who did Dr. Zhivago) and The Dead, set in Dublin in 1904, starring Angelica Huston and directed — his final film — by her father, from his wheelchair on oxygen, John Huston.

Grainne, (pronounced Grahn-ya), the lady pirate:

Grace O’Malley (also called Granuaile) was a famous pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in Ireland in the 1500’s. She was born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland and was the daughter of sea captain Owen O’Malley. As a young child, Grace always knew she wanted to be a sailor but as a female, she was discouraged repeatedly. Extremely upset when her father refused to take her on a sailing trip, legend has it Grace cut off all her hair and dressed in boy’s clothes to prove to her parents that she could handle the trip and live a seafarer’s life. Seeing this, her father and brother laughed aloud and nicknamed her “Grainne Mhaol” meaning “Bald Grace” (which is believed to have led to her nickname “Granuaile.”) Eventually, through her persistence, she was allowed to go to sea with her father and his fleet of ships.

As a child, Grace often sailed with her father on trading missions overseas. Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace she climbed up onto the sail rigging. Watching the battle from above, she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father, raising a dagger behind his back! The brave Granuaile leapt off of the rigging, through the air and onto the pirate’s back…. screaming all the while! The distraction this caused was enough for the O’Malleys to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates.

She spent her young life learning the ways of the sea and grew to be quite the sailor — eventually having her own fleet of ships. Her family had become wealthy mainly through fishing and trade, but in her later life, Grace took up piracy by taking on Turkish and Spanish pirate ships and even the English fleets. She grew her estate to include a fleet of ships as well as several islands and castles on the west coast of Ireland.

In her later years, Grace developed her reputation as a fearless leader through her efforts in battle along side her followers. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons while out to sea. The very next day following the birth of the baby, the ship was attacked by Turkish pirates. Though exhausted from giving birth Grace grabbed a gun, went on deck and proceeded to rally her men against the Turks, forcing their retreat.

I’d love to hear some of yours…