Saturday, November 01, 1997

A Retro Post

This is a "backwards" post on the blog.  I recently came across some e-mails that I wrote in 1997 as we were traveling, backpacking, in Ireland and Europe.

So it is pre-Key West and should probably be in a different place or on a different blog.  I'm just trying to see if back-dating will work in Blogger.

Saturday, 11/1/97

        We're off to John and Barbara's tomorrow, to attend Mass, and to make a
first attempt at getting a gravestone rubbing of the O'Brien stone at Ahenny.  We
saw the stone when we were here ten years ago.  It dated from the 1100's or 1200's
and, although there's virtually no possibility of establishing any relationship
with the O'Briens of Janet and Barbara's family line, they have an interest in
getting the rubbing just because of the name connection.

        This will give me an opportunity to send e-mail, so I will try today to get
one or two more episodes of our journals written.  This one picks up where Jnl 118
left off.  It's Monday, September 29, and we're at the train station in Monaco,
having just returned the Hertz rental car.

        The train ride to Riomaggiore is along the Mediterranean coast of the
Ligurian Sea and the Gulf of Genoa to the city of Genoa (where Christopher Columbus
was from), with a train connection there toward La Spezia and Pisa.  After Genoa,
the land begins to rise until the train is passing in and out of tunnels as it
clings to the side of cliffs falling steeply to the ocean below.

        I first heard about Riomaggiore on the Internet, in the discussion
newsgroup "rec.travel.europe".  It is one of the villages that make up what is
called "the Cinque Terre e Riviera", so called because the area includes five
villages along the Riviera.  The several people who commented on it all had good
things to say about it as a place to visit.  We heard about it again from Linda
McPhee, who had been there (went for a day, stayed for more than a week).  She even
lent us some of her literature about the area, along with her Italian and German
phrase books, and book on the manners and customs of the countries of Europe.

        Riomaggiore is the last (southernmost) of the five villages, and the last
stop before La Spezia in the direction of Pisa.  The train station leads out to a
small plaza, in which we saw a number of people milling about.  While I went in to
the small tourist desk at the station to obtain literature and inquire about a
place to stay, Janet began a "conversation" (they spoke little English; she speaks
no Italian) with a couple in the plaza.  At first, we thought that they were
tourists looking for accomodations also.  In fact, they turned out to be Mama Rosa,
and her husband, Carmine.

        Mama Rosa is 'famoso'.  She has been written about in Let's Go Guide, in
various newspapers, and appeared for twenty minutes with Rick Steves on his Europe
Through the Back Door program on PBS (earlier this year).  The transcript of the
program is supposed to be on the web site <http://www.ricksteves.com>.

        Carmine speaks a little English.  He and Mama meet many of the trains
coming in to Riomaggiore, where Mama sorts out the students and other young people
who have come to stay at her hostel, located just alongside the station.  Carmine,
when we indicated that were looking for a place to stay, asked us to wait for him
while he made a phone call.  In a few minutes, we were joined by his brother-in-law,
Lorenzo Mazzini, who said that he could put us up for 70,000 lire per night --
about $40 -- in an apartment of our own.  He pointed it out, high above the plaza
on the side of the cliffs above us.

        As we walked (slowly) up the roads leading to the apartment, Lorenzo
chatted about how he had worked in shipyards all over the world, including in
America, after learning his trade in the shipyards in La Spezia during and after WW
II.  His wife is Papa Rosa's sister, and they all work together in a little
industry suporting tourists.  Lorenzo and his family own several apartment
buildings in Riomaggiore, and rent to tourists coming into the area.

        We arrived at the building he had pointed out from below -- and still had
to climb three flights of stairs to get up to the apartment.  It was worth the
climb.  We had a bedroom and bath, and a full kitchen with a balcony overlooking
the ocean.  To the right were hillsides covered with grape and olive orchards.  To
the left, we looked down at the road leading into the village center, with houses
and terraces above and below it.  Charming in the extreme.  Lorenzo and his wife
live in an apartment just below us; his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild live
on the first level.

        As Janet explored the apartment, put things away, and arranged things as
she wanted them, I went out on the small balcony, sat in the chair there, put my
feet up on the railing, and just watched the sun setting into the clouds on the
horizon (hiding the island of Corsica from view).  As it descended, the sun reached
a point where it created the effect of shining an orange spotlight on the sea
before the clouds.  I watched the spotlight until it faded away, feeling already
that it wouldn't be very difficult to stay in this place forever -- or for a long
time at least.  I remember thinking that it would be a great place to write in.  
The magic was just beginning.

        We had eaten a hurried meal in Genoa, outside the train station at about
1:00 p.m.  It was now almost eight so we started out toward the village center to
see what was available.  As we turned the corner and began to walk down, we were
both completely taken by the village spread out before us.  Picture a narrow
horseshoe-shaped valley, with houses descending the cliffs all around the "U" to a
floor that opens onto the harbor.  Janet said it felt like we were in a movie, and
I knew what she meant.  

        We chose one of the several "streets" leading down to the floor.  The
streets are lanes, passsages really, winding down among the houses, connected by
stairs.  Here and there we'd meet someone climbing the stairs with bags of
groceries, or we'd be passed by someone heading purposefully toward the village
center.  We landed at the bottom, and turned onto a wider stone street, lined on
both sides by shops.  People were in the streets here and there, chatting, as
children ran around playing.  I was half-expecting a mother to lean out of an
upstairs window and shout "E Anthony -- mangia!; it was only Monday, but it sure
looked like Prince spaghetti day.   (That will only mean anything to someone from
New England who remembers the Prince spaghetti commercials).

        Janet was planning to make us a meal "at home" the next night, so we
stopped at a cooperative store and bought the makings for salad and pasta, and a
bottle of wine, then went to a Trattoria and had dinner, and walked back in the
moonlight to our love nest by the sea.

        The next morning -- what?  No, no, we aren't going to write about those
kinds of things!  

        The next morning, Tuesday, we walked back into the town, bought bread, post
cards and a new pen for me.  The village is as spectacular in the day time as it
was the night before.  It seems the quintessential Italian fishing village.  The
houses stack upon one another back into the steep hillside.  Windows and roof
terraces with laundry waving.  We came down a different passage this time, passing
by apartments with very ornate doors, a stack of grape baskets with signs of having
been recently used, a man working on a grape press in a utility room next to a home.
  The street was busy, busier than the evening before.  Once again we saw people
standing in the street (there are no cars in the village) talking; there were many
more shops open, so we stopped at a small cafe and had cappuccino and briosches.

        Briosches are something like a croissant doughnut.  They are shaped like a
croissant, seemed to me to be a little heavier, not as flaky, and are filled with a
variety of fillings -- I liked the chocolate; Janet preferred the custard cream.  
The coffees here, as in the rest of Italy, were quite varied.  We mostly stuck to
cappuccino, though we tried espresso (too concentrated), cafe-au-lait (not enough
flavor), and hot chocolate (a-a-a-a-h!).

        There is a controversy just mounting in Ireland and England over a decision
by the EEC to require that Cadbury's and others label their best-selling candy bars
as containing something other than chocolate (I forget the exact terminology and
haven't the resources to look it up just now, but is something like "cocoa-based,
milk enhanced coating".  The Swiss, who are not even a member of the European Union,
brought a complaint forward and were upheld.

        The European Union, the "United States of Europe", has caught my attention
and interest.  I stopped at the Dublin Information Office of the EU, the European
Union.  The EU is governed by a Council (The European Council), consisting of the
heads of state or government of the EU member states; and by a Parliament, a 626-
member body with elected representatives from each country in proportion to their
population.

        There are currently 15 member states.  They are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Germany, France, Finland, Great Britian, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, The
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.  Provision has already been made for the
addition of other countries to the Union.  Poland is one, Hungary another, and
several more have expressed interest in joining.  

        A couple of countries, Switzerland and Norway, have so far opted not to
join the Union.  Membership in the EU is not without opposition in some (probably
all) of the member countries, but the parties in opposition seem to only be fringe
groups, and have no representation in the parliaments.

        The EU is already larger than the United States in population: 372M vs.
264M, though it has but a third the land area.  The Gross Domestic Product of the
EU is the same as the U.S., though GDP per capita is about one-third less.  A newly
revised constitution has been drawn and is being considered for ratification by the
naational parliaments of the member states.

        Anyway, we finished breakfast, then separated, and I walked back to the
apartment via the harbor to write.  Janet went shopping.

        As we were travelling in Europe, I tried to keep a more detailed written
record in my paper journal (a student's copybook).  It was difficult to write every
day.  I can't write on the buses (too bumpy); don't care to write on trains (it's
better to read, or sleep); and would rather not write in short spurts while
travelling around (too distracting).  I prefer to write in the morning, usually
while Janet is out or otherwise engaged in doing something.  I like listening to
the radio while I write, usually a talk/music program.

        There is a program here on RTE 1, the government station, called "The Gerry
Ryan Show".  He's a top personality here, does a variety of interviews, gives the
news and weather, plays a bit of pop music, and is good at what he does.  The mix
is very eclectic.  There is a discussion of "au pairs" on right now, in light of
the Louise Woodward case in Massachusetts.  The conviction has drawn a right
hostile reaction in most places over here as, it appears, it has done there.

        When Janet returned, we left to walk along the "Via dell'amore", Love Lane
(so named because it is such a romantic place to walk with a loved one).  The lane
is actually a footpath along the cliffs leading from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the
next village along the Cinque Terre.  The lane is mostly open, with just an iron
railing between the lane and the cliffs.  It is fairly wide.  At one point, it
passes through an old rail tunnel which has been opened up to give views of the sea.
  There are a number of murals painted on the inner wall, and of course, the
graffiti of many who have passed that way.  We asked an American tourist (from
Denver, on a two week water color class) to take our photo sitting on a small stone
bench, the back of which was a profile of a man and woman kissing.

        We didn't stay long enough enough in Manarola, but long enough to see that
it was similar to Riomaggiore.  There are three other villages beyond Manarola:  
Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterossa al Mare.  The only sense we have of them are
the train stations -- though we have bought a book describing them.

        The rest of our stay in Riomaggiore was uneventful.  We had a lovely salad,
some bread, and a bottle of local wine in our apartment, went walking to the
village once more to get some dessert and look around again, walked to the top of
the village, where we found a car park and a real hotel, then got lost coming back
and got to look at some of the more modern and luxurious homes and apartments that
lie further back from the sea.

        Now it was Wednesday, and we were getting ready to travel to Rome.  We went
to the village once more, for breakfast, then back to the apartment to collect our
backpacks, and to the train station.  Once again Mama and Papa Rosa where in the
square, Mama welcoming more students to her hostel.  Papa Carmine was going to La
Spezia to do some shopping, and that's where we would get our train for Rome, so we
travelled together that last leg.  He left us at the train station there.

        (To be continued.)


        Back to the present.  It is now November 4, Tuesday, and it is spilling
down rain.  It also rained on Sunday, so we didn't go to Ballinurra that day either.
  Janet and Barbara, nevertheless, have gone to Carrick to get some messages (Irish
for groceries).

        We went to Dublin again yesterday to do some more genealogical research at
the National Library.  Janet and Barbara spent almost four hours looking through
Indexes of Names, parish indexes, tax rolls, and microfilms of birth and marriage
records.  I lasted for about two hours, and now have the references to the numbers
of Kelly's listed in Co. Galway during the 1855 Griffith's Valuations and the 1820
Tithe Applotments.

        I went to the Temple Bar area to try to send this e-mail, and to collect
mail about the forthcoming visit of the Funhogs, but the Planet Cafe has lost its
computers (seems the owner wasn't paying his lease payments), and the Cyberia Cafe
had no provisions for connecting ones own computer to the Internet, though they do
have Internet-connected computers to use.

        We are expecting the Funhog delegation -- Keller, Rebecca, Swope, Hamilton
and Scooter -- to arrive next Sunday, and have planned two full days of Funhog
events.  We hope to be able to take them to a jazz brunch, do some sightseeing in
Dublin, attend a performance of "Irish and American songwriters in an experimental
musical extravaganza", do a pub crawl in the Temple Bar, visit the Guinness Hop
Store, travel along the east coast to Wexford, and so some walking and hiking in
the Comeragh mountains.  Guaranteed to send them back to England exhausted.

        I hope to be able to transmit this message today.  It remains to be seen if
the rain will let up enough for me to get to the computer shop.  I may be able to
get our host here at the campground to use his telephone for the few minutes it
will take me to do and e-mail exchange.

        Until next time,

Love to all,

Bob and Janet

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