After mayterm and before returning to the good ole US of A, I spent four days of surreal transition in Barcelona with Mr. John Jefferson. We drank a lot of bad cappucinos and a lot of great wine; we spent hours and hours with Picasso, Dali, and Van Dongen; we weaved through gothic streets in a constant state of lost; we stewed over Hopkins and the Beatniks; we ended the trip in complete poverty and spent our last pence on kebab. We also carried around paper--me, a journal; John, three carefully folded pages. My little scribbles ended up scattered through my journal, on napkins buried in the bottom of my backpack, or on torn scraps that were tucked into pages of my book. I've attempted to collect them and piece them together to shape into something worth posting soon while the trip is still recent, but most of them require a significant amount of editing or expounding. However, there is one small haiku that I am satisfied with. It was the first thing I wrote, on the train that we assumed would take us from the airport to the city center of Barcelona (lots of assuming in countries where you don't speak the language).
Being set on the idea Of getting to Atlantis, You have discovered of course Only the Ship of Fools is Making the voyage this year, As gales of abnormal force Are predicted, and that you Must therefore be ready to Behave absurdly enough To pass for one of The Boys, At least appearing to love Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.
Should storms, as may well happen, Drive you to anchor a week In some old harbour-city Of Ionia, then speak With her witty sholars, men Who have proved there cannot be Such a place as Atlantis: Learn their logic, but notice How its subtlety betrays Their enormous simple grief; Thus they shall teach you the ways To doubt that you may believe.
If, later, you run aground Among the headlands of Thrace, Where with torches all night long A naked barbaric race Leaps frenziedly to the sound Of conch and dissonant gong: On that stony savage shore Strip off your clothes and dance, for Unless you are capable Of forgetting completely About Atlantis, you will Never finish your journey.
Again, should you come to gay Carthage or Corinth, take part In their endless gaiety; And if in some bar a tart, As she strokes your hair, should say "This is Atlantis, dearie," Listen with attentiveness To her life-story: unless You become acquainted now With each refuge that tries to Counterfeit Atlantis, how Will you recognise the true?
Assuming you beach at last Near Atlantis, and begin That terrible trek inland Through squalid woods and frozen Thundras where all are soon lost; If, forsaken then, you stand, Dismissal everywhere, Stone and now, silence and air, O remember the great dead And honour the fate you are, Travelling and tormented, Dialectic and bizarre.
Stagger onward rejoicing; And even then if, perhaps Having actually got To the last col, you collapse With all Atlantis shining Below you yet you cannot Descend, you should still be proud Even to have been allowed Just to peep at Atlantis In a poetic vision: Give thanks and lie down in peace, Having seen your salvation.
All the little household gods Have started crying, but say Good-bye now, and put to sea. Farewell, my dear, farewell: may Hermes, master of the roads, And the four dwarf Kabiri, Protect and serve you always; And may the Ancient of Days Provide for all you must do His invisible guidance, Lifting up, dear, upon you The light of His countenance.
We had a class at Trinity College this morning with Nick Johnson, an American who took off for Europe after college in the states to research German ensemble theatres in Berlin on a grant. From there, he got his PhD at Trinity, specializing in Samuel Beckett's prose work. Now he is teaching classes at Trinity and meanwhile is the artistic director of the up and coming Painted Filly Theatre (http://www.paintedfilly.com/). He also acts and directs. Yes, I was inspired and maybe fell a little bit in love. Nothing funny, it was just reassuring to hear someone describing my dreams as their reality.
Afterwards, I was feeling particularly hungry for some new art. As if the 20 plays I've seen in the last few weeks aren't enough, right? But art is paradoxical like that, the more you eat the hungrier you get. And each new flavor and texture is so delicious that you want to gorge yourself on it forever, until you are reminded that there are hundreds of others still to try.
So I stomped down the cobblestone streets of Dublin without a destination or a map or any real idea of where I was, which is always the best way to find what you want. For an appetizer, I found a little market with tables full of silver jewelry (I resisted buying another ring only because I have run out of fingers) and hand-bound leather journals (which I resisted only because of the two small crumpled bills in my wallet). There was a great vintage shop with pink walls and teal floors and beaded hangers with tempting frocks and jackets. Somehow I pried myself out of that store without a purchase as well. My thriftiness broke down at the sight of bookshelves with sale signs. For only four euro I bought a used copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and the 50th issue of the Poetry Ireland Review from 1996.
At this point, I needed some real food if I was to continue aesthetically fasting, so I crashed at a table outside Metro Cafe. I expected good things based on the many smiling faces filling the tables (note: always pick restaurants based on the diners, rather than the menu) and was not disappointed. It was more like a community than a restaurant, almost everyone at the tables around me knew the staff and caught up about their hangovers and their families in between ordering. The guy who waited on me practically ordered for me, and jovially begged me to trust him that the penne pasta salad with pesto was the best thing I could possibly order that day in all of Dublin, besides a Guinness, of course. He was right. While eating, I people-watched and flipped through my new book of Irish poetry. One of my favorite finds so far is Peter McDonald. I'll share a little exerpt from his poem "Day-trip to Iceland" that I found particularly striking after the conversation this morning about the difference between America and Europe's cultural scenes.
Although we started in Belfast,
my people in the recent past
took their part in the general flight
to a fresh suburban satellite
where homes increase a hundredfold,
and few are more than ten years old,
where culture is a shopping mall
and there's no history at all
To sum up the rest of the day, I hit two more bookstores: Books Upstairs and Dubray Books. Dubray was first, a little more commercial but with a great poetry and drama selection. I bought Marina Carr's play "Woman and Scarecrow" because we had talked about her in class and if the Irish love her, I will probably love her too. Also, a collection of poetry by Leonard Cohen, "Book of Longing" because my Dad sent me his Live in London cd's and I've been crazy for his lyrics for the last two weeks. His writings, like his drawings that accompany his words on many of the pages, are rough and sensual with simple lines and smudged edges that touch something very human and very deep. When I read it, my chest tightens in that way when you try to hold back an excess of emotion in a public place.
Books Upstairs is dark and musty with lots of little neon orange sale stickers on covers. Basically, heaven. For cheap, cheap I bought "...She Also Wrote Plays: An International Guide to Women Playwrights from the 10th to the 21st Century" because, well, duh. And "The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation" which is the best beat anthology I've found, with 18 authors. I leave you with one of my favorite excerpts from Kerouac's "On the Road":
"We seek to find new phrases; we try hard, we writhe and twist and blow; every now and then a clear harmonic cry gives new suggestions of a tune, a thought, that will someday be the only tune and thought in the world and which will raise men's souls to joy. We find it, we lose, we wrestle for it, we find it again, we laugh, we moan. Go moan for man. It's the pathos of people that gets us down, all the lovers in this dream."
Freelance theatre critic with Santa Barbara Independent.
Critic Fellow of Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Critics Institute.
Founding member of Ratatat Theatre Group, sometime-dramaturge with Lit Moon Theatre Company, graduate of Westmont College with a degree in Dramatic Literature.