year in review 2020

When your year starts off in Hawaii, you know the next twelve months are going to have to be pretty spectacular to beat that. Actually, the year was shaping up to be a good one – daughter Bridget’s bachelorette party in New Orleans in March, and her fairytale wedding in Ithaca in July. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s go back to January to the beach in Hawaii.

The Japanese half of the family met up with the American half smack dab in the middle – or as close as we could get if were to meet on land – in the beach town of Kailua on the island of Oahu. We took side trips to the north of the island, famous for its waves, and Honolulu and Waikiki, but most of the time was family time, eating and playing and the usual family fun. You know.

As vacations go, best ever!

Back on the mainland, life returned to normal, and the month ended on a high note, out to see Dave Jordan at the Ogden Museum. Jordan has been playing for years but was under my radar until local radio station WWOZ put his latest album, Burning Sage, in the rotation. I liked what I heard, so I was keen to see him, and was not disappointed. Here’s Tucumcari Tonight from the new album.

February slid in with a Super Bowl party over at my cousins’, and keeping to the “watching TV” theme, the next week was the Oscars. Normally, I wouldn’t watch them – it’s no fun if you haven’t seen any of the movies, which is me to a T. If it’s not on Netflix, I haven’t seen it. But this year was different. In October last year, my girlfriend Celeste came down for the New Orleans Film Festival, and we went for the whole deal – minus the gala dinners and hob-knobbing – so we ended up seeing a lot of movies, and some of them ended up with Oscar nominations. Reflecting on that now, I wonder what the 2022 Oscar ceremony is going to be like … but, hey, that’s for next year’s letter.

Mardi Gras parade season got down to serious business February 16, culminating on Mardi Gras Day, February 25; and in between those two dates, it’s all parades and partying. I have learned to pace myself, and some days that actually works. This year Dennis came to town, and we sent him home with a lot of killer Mardi Gras schwag. The day after Mardi Gras – Ash Wednesday – was a full day of NOLA MUST DO items, starting with church service at the iconic St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The place was standing room only, everyone come for the ashes and maybe a bit of repentance. As we stood cheek by jowl, no one – well, at least not me – was thinking about COVID-19. Next on the NOLA MUST DO list was $20.20 lunch at Antoine’s. That’s their thing. Next year it will be $20.21. Who says there isn’t inflation?

The next day, we headed up the mighty Mississip to the Whitney Plantation. Unlike most plantations, which focus on the plantation owners’ houses, the Whitney tells the plantation story through the lives of the slaves. February also saw the French Film Festival come to town, so checkmark all over that! And to close out the month, dinner at my favorite restaurant, Jacques Imo’s, followed by what turned out to be my last live show of the year, Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen at the Maple Leaf. A little Jon Cleary, if you please.

March came in with a bang – first my friend Celeste arrived, fresh from Ecuador – and we settled down to some serious foodie activity, starting with another NOLA MUST DO restaurant, Sweet Soul Food. Their bread pudding is to die for. That, as it turns out, is a typical refrain in NOLA. But I’ll save all my gushing over bread pudding for another time. On the heels of Celeste’s arrival, daughter Bridget arrived with the girls in her wedding party, ready for her bachelorette party, New Orleans style. She couldn’t have chosen a better place to hold it. Better yet, I had no responsibilities other than to show up for the food and drink, and I passed that test with flying colors. I got to meet the in-laws for the first time, too, spending quality time with Joyce and Haskel out on the town.

On March 10th, the last of the bachelorette party flew home, and on March 11th, I went into lockdown. And all around me, the city shut down.

For a while there, my major (only) social event of the week was grocery shopping with the seniors at 7 in the morning. But having nothing else to do besides buying food is just what I’ve needed. It’s meant a lot more uninterrupted time to write my book. And that’s what I’ve been doing the past nine months, sitting at my laptop, writing away. I suspect that’s where I’ll be throughout 2021, and 2022, and 20…

Remember when YouTube first showed up and it was the best thing ever? Well, these days, best thing ever is FaceTime and Zoom, for all the quality time I get to spend with family and friends, not to mention violin recitals and weddings (yes, Bridget and Justin had their Zoom wedding in May!). There is so much to be grateful for this year, but like most people, I am definitely looking forward to what next year has in store.

All my best wishes to y’all for the new year!

Shannon

P.S. If you want to receive my very irregular posts, go ahead and add your email under the Follow Me button up there on the right. I don’t anticipate an onslaught of posts happening, but one never knows.

johnnies be good

It’s inevitable. If you go on a road trip (which I did), and the trip is long enough (which it was), you’re bound to get hungry every once in a while (or more frequently than that, if you are me). The result is plenty of time spent in restaurants.

Some people’s thinking follows a pattern: food served, photo taken, photo up on Facebook for the world to see what you ate for lunch today. It’s not that I’ve never done that, but it was never my thing. My thinking went in a different direction: into the toilet.

Literally.

I became enthralled with the creativity that had gone into some of these restaurants’ bathroom doors and just had to capture it. It got so that I was trying to figure out how to monetize my love affair with these doors. A book, I thought. A book full of bathroom doors the world over – wouldn’t that make a great holiday gift. Or maybe an e-book for your Kindle, perfect reading material on the john.

While I sort out the details on this financial goldmine I’m sitting on, here’s a sample, starting off from Ireland …

O’Shea’s, Dublin

Let’s go to Ecuador next …

A few from Canada …

Lougheed Pub, Harvey, New Brunswick

It looks like I was eating and drinking considerably more in the United States. In no particular order …

And that, mesdames et messieurs, bouys and gulls, is the end of the tour. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

one more sunset por favor

Smooth or crunchy? Cane’s or Popeye’s? Mets or Yankees? Sunrise or sunset?

Me? I’m sunset all the way.

Granted, it would be almost impossible for me to choose sunrise, for no other reason than I would never be up at that hour, and if I was, the odds of me remembering to take my camera with me would be next to zero. But I have seen a few, and truly, I think the science will back me up here, sunsets are simply more beautiful. Plus, there is a good chance I will be awake.

Just look to the west, beyond the ocean, beyond the trees and the mountains, and watch the sun melt into the horizon. The mix of color and light changes from moment to moment, and each one of those moments is an Impressionist painting for me. I understand what Claude Monet saw in the lilies – every day the same, every day totally different.

Here’s my impressionist take on the sunsets at Harris Beach in Oregon …

North America’s Pacific Coast offers some of the most spectacular mountains and forests to explore by day, and when evening comes, simply stop the car wherever you are and take in all the ocean has to offer at sunset. From San Diego in southern California all the way up through northern California, Oregon and Washington, then over the Canadian border into beautiful British Columbia, it’s one glorious view after another. Here then, from south to north is what the sun will do.

Before we head inland, there’s more coast, this time in Ecuador, also on the Pacific Ocean – two beach towns on the southern coast, the sleepy Manglaralto and the party/surf town of Montanita, not that you can tell the difference at sunset …

Off to Ireland …

Back to the innards of the United States …

The Grand Canyon …

There are always more …

And now up to Canada. First, the interior of British Columbia …

… and Quebec

From my wonderful stay in Chania on the island of Crete …

One last one, to finish off – looking out on the Atlantic Ocean from Spanish Point, Ireland …

wall art

Street walkers, in the broadest sense of the word, have a lot to see, if they keep their eyes open. There’s likely plenty of street walkers who don’t bring their cameras along with them when they head out, but not me. If I’m in a new city or town and walking the streets, chances are, the camera is ready and waiting.

Without further ado, here are some samples from the road. For those who like pictures more than words, this blog’s for you.

CANADA

NORTHERN IRELAND

IRELAND

ECUADOR

UNITED STATES

These first six are from the Mission District in San Francisco. Such color!

If you’re ever in Miami, you’ll want to spend an afternoon walking in the Wynwood Arts District …

It all makes me want to hit the streets again!

a mooving story

We’re not going to go too deep here – not too much soul searching or navel gazing as to the why’s. It is what it is.

I used to collect cows.

There, I’ve said it. I think I was a collecting type person from the start, but my efforts never really amounted to much. I remember having a stamp collection, but its ragtag bunch of specimens looked more like a discard pile than something resembling a sensible collection. Same with rocks and shells – always an impressive start, but somehow it just seemed like too much work to make a real go of it. When I got older, I started collecting 45s and LPs, but those required some serious money to maintain and grow, and I was sadly lacking. Alas, another modest attempt at collecting, stopped in its tracks.

A little older still, and I’d be at a friend’s house and see their collection of beer bottles or bottle caps or matchbooks or baseball caps, and I’d think, what a great collection; I wish I’d thought of that, but now it’s too late. A collector wannabee.

Then along came cows. The kind of cows that stand around in farmers’ fields eating grass all day. When our family of four – mommy (me), daddy, two young children – moved to New England, we were leaving behind the big city and heading to the country. We were actually moving to a suburban town, but as anyone can tell you in New England, if you want to go somewhere, you’re a half hour away at a minimum. And a lot of those half hours-plus were spent driving through the countryside, with the farmers’ fields, and those cows standing around eating grass all day.

Never let it be said that every moment isn’t a teaching moment. If we go with that thought, you’d understand that whenever the kids were in the back seat and I was in the front, whenever we passed a field of cows, I’d call out “mooooooooo” to the cows. I didn’t even necessarily have to open the window – it’s not like I cared if they heard me – I sure didn’t want them thinking some cow was driving by on the road asking for directions. The first time I did it, it felt innocent enough – teaching the youngsters in the back seat that these were actual cows, which to that point in their lives existed only as pictures in books. The second time I moooooed when we passed a field of cows, we all laughed. By the tenth time, it was a contest as to who could spot the cow and moo first.

The logic that says if I would do that with cows, what about sheep, and horses, and I don’t know, giraffes, and hippopotami, and zebras? I never felt the urge. Not like with the cows. And you can guess the rest.

My cow collection was born. I’m going to jump to the punch line here. I started collecting cows in the early 1990s and I stopped collecting in 2014, when I downsized my life, and the cows didn’t make the cut. But during all that time, I was a housewife with this house and that house and another with bathrooms and kitchens and bedrooms galore, all waiting to be filled with cows. I’m going to share just one from that period. I only recently saw this photo as I was putting together this album. It’s one of my favorite pieces – two cows sitting on a wooden bench – that I picked up in a gift shop on Prince Edward Island, probably an Anne of Green Gables gift shop, and when I saw it, the cows were screaming at me to get them out of there, so into the shopping bag they went. In this particular picture – really, a motif, with the tiny cows grazing below and the white and black cow going to town on the windowsill – there is a ball of tinfoil between the seated cows. That was during my PeeWee Herman stage – remember when every week, he’d patch another piece of tinfoil to his monstrous tinfoil ball? But this isn’t a story about tinfoil, it’s about cows.

It’s only natural that I would want to feed my cow universe with photos from the road. Without further ado then, here’s a sampling. If you’re on your game, you’ll spot straight away that they’re not all cows. Ireland has way better sheep pictures than cow pictures, and once you let the sheep in, you never know what else will weasel its way in.

Who says cows don’t have any fun? Postcard from Holland …

my fling with Elvis

My affair with Elvis was short and very sweet, and thankfully for all concerned, it ended without rancor. Although to be fair, I’m not sure Elvis was ever invested in it the way I was.

Our formal introduction came one Saturday afternoon during my prepubescent years, plunked down as I was in front of the TV set for the Saturday movie matinee. The movie that afternoon was one of those beach blanket bingo/race car Elvis movies that they churned out ad nauseum in the mid-60s. I wasn’t even a teenager at that point, so his arrival on the world stage years earlier as the swiveling-hipped heart-throb had passed me by. And that slew of plotless films he starred in did nothing to capture my interest. But at least I now knew who he was. And although our little fling was years in the future, at least in the mid-60s we were both alive, which is saying something.

The years passed, and while his career was ebbing and flowing, it was all rather beside the point to me. Until that fateful day in 2012, when my daughter and I, fresh from our first visit to New Orleans, arrived on the doorstep of a fellow couchsurfer in Jackson, Mississippi. She insisted that the following day we absolutely must drive the Natchez Trace Parkway – for its beauty – en route to our next stop, Nashville, Tennessee. The bonus, she assured us, was if we took that scenic route, we’d go right by Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Why not, right?

I can’t say what it was that triggered it, but it was love at first sight, the moment I sat down on the front porch of Elvis’s house, strumming a guitar, and thinking, Elvis must have sat right here. All I know is I was smitten.

So, of course, when we got to Memphis, we were all over Elvis – the pink Cadillacs, Graceland, Sun Studios. Sure, we did the ducks at the Peabody Hotel and walked Beale Street, but we were there for Elvis.

From then on, we watched for him everywhere the road took us …

Austin, Texas …

At one point we caught up with Route 66, and that was an Elvis goldmine. First, Albuquerque, New Mexico …

An on to Flagstaff, Arizona …

And of course Vegas …

He’s everywhere …

And the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland … Look at that lip!

Bridget and I, international travelers that we were, turned the car north to Canada, and wouldn’t you know, the worldly bon vivant Elvis was right there waiting the moment we crossed the border into British Columbia …

And he was there as we travelled east …

Our year with Elvis on the road was something else, but when it was over, it was over. All I have left are the memories … and the movies, and the documentaries, and the Elvis calendar, and the Elvis playing cards.

We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out, because I love you too much baby.

This Is It!

You know how it goes — you’re standing in the grocery store, reading the ingredients list on the back of a can of beans, trying to decide whether butylated hydroxyanisole is the kind of thing you should be putting in your body, and there over the PA system comes a note you’ve heard a thousand times before, a smile comes on, and before you know it you’re singing Bright Side of the Road, not too loud, mind you — just loud enough for the shoppers around you to be thinking now would be a good time to be practicing that social distancing thing, and to be on the safe side, let’s make that 15 feet. Regardless of what others around you are feeling at that moment, you’ve found a new lease on life in the canned goods aisle, you figure how bad can that butylated hydropolyethylene be, you toss two cans of the beans into the cart, and sing your way over to the shelf with the Red Dye #1.

Or you’re driving down the street and Into the Mystic comes on the radio. You pull into your driveway, put the car in park, and sit and listen to the entire song. It’s not like you couldn’t put your fingers on at least 116 versions of the same song in your collection once you get inside. No, you have to sit in the car till the song is finished. Total sacrilege otherwise.

It’s the same wherever you go. At the bar, at the dentist’s office, standing in line at the chair lift, or sitting in the chalet, never even noticing there’s background music going on, and then a Van song comes on, and all of a sudden, perfect order is restored to your life. What is that all about?

As peculiar as that is in the social fabric of life, I can do it one better. What’s it called when you’re walking around, acting pretty normal in the general scheme of things, when you spot it: a sign of Van. Literally. And you have to take a picture.

I got plenty more …

But we’ll leave it at that. At least for the signs. Because there are always the posters …

Then there’s Van on the wall …

Safe to say that taking snapshots of the word Van whenever I see it on my travels (although you’ll be glad to know that I can now walk by a Van Accessible sign without pulling out the iPhone every time) falls on the weird side of the ledger of life, and singing along every time I hear Van in a public setting is on the creepy side, but what do you call the side where I take pictures of Van lyrics? To wit …

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has a few feet devoted to Van. You’ll have to click on each photo to get the gist …

I think I can safely say that we’ve covered the gamut, at least visually, of my penchant for all things Van. Blame it on the lockdown that I’m sitting here sorting through my sock drawer of Van photos. Not your fault, I know. I take full responsibility. And speaking of live music, or lack thereof, I’ll wrap it up with the visual reminder of the last two Van shows I went to. I’m looking forward to updating this particular gallery!

que ha estado pasando, or how I spent the Donald Trump years

You know, I am generally pretty good about keeping my promises. But apparently not perfect. Just moments ago I read my previous blog post, which dates all the way back to the end of 2016. I made a few promises in there about all these blog posts I’d be writing momentarily, and wouldn’t that be fun!

As we can see, that never happened. What happened instead is I began writing my book. In Earnest. Actually, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Making this story short, on your behalf, at some point very early on, I realized how much work it is to write a book, in this case, a historical novel of saga proportions. I knew that was going to be true going in — I’d learned that lesson when I wrote the Astral Weeks book. But just let’s say I was reminded of that lesson. Only this time, 10 times worse, because this book is big, at least in terms of words. And the very short of it is I adopted my favorite Edna Ferber anecdote, which was, and I paraphrase, she is sitting at her upstairs window, type type typing away at her current script and looks out the window to see these lovely brawny young men working on her landscaping. She thinks she maybe should go down and help them out, being cordial and all. Then Edna, the wise one, says to herself, “If you’re going to be a writer, write. If you want to be a gardener, garden. You can’t do both.” So for every time I came up with a splendid idea to blog about, I’d chastise myself with a “No dilly dallying, sistah, you’ve got a book to write, and no one else is going to do it for you.” At this point, I figure the book is going to take me 10 years to write. I hope it’s less, but I’m inclined to think I might be underestimating. So that’s my excuse for not blogging this time. I’ve had years of experience making excuses, but this one, I gotta say, is my best excuse yet.

Que pasa? Escribiemo un libro. And that’s how I’ve spent the Trump years. I tuned him out the minute he showed up. I had already done the same for Hillary long before, so whoever won was going to go ahead and do whatever big government thing they wanted to do, and they weren’t asking me for my input. So politics doesn’t really interest me anymore. I’ve kind of opted out of all that. Perfect time to write a book!

Based on what I said earlier — the no blogging while writing the book – you’d easily come to the conclusion that if I am blogging now, I must have finished the book, right? You’d be wrong on that.

My book is intended to be in four parts. Last week, I finished writing Part 1. That’s meant a shift in gears … Part 1 is now out with my three readers, who have a gargantuan task ahead of them (but I’ll save that for another day – but remind me, OK, in case I forget?). The main thing for blogging purposes is that I am not writing the book this week, maybe I’ll take a couple of weeks off. So I can blog to my heart’s content. Ensconced in New Orleans during the Trump years – there was nowhere else I’d rather have been, and I’ve got lots to tell you about it. Stay tuned.

2016 comes to an end in New Orleans

I’ve told myself a thousand times that if I’m going to keep a blog, the #1 key thing to do is write said blog. Which is all well and good, and it really is all well and good, but I might as well be talking to a brick wall. My sad excuse for an explanation about my four-month hiatus from blog world is that it’s been busy. Too busy for blogging, at least.

But the good news is that the crazy busy is over. What a couple of months it’s been, and it’s great to be at the other side of it all, ready to carve out a new year with lots of blogging in it, I trust!  Let me catch you up on those four months of zig-zagging …

I last left the blogger me in Ireland near the end of August – having spent three wonderful and industrious months there. Then it was on to Greece for five incredible weeks; it was the perfect getaway, and I promise, there’s a blog post to follow! I just have to cull through the umpteen hundred pictures of Greek sunsets first.

From Greece, I flew back to Boston at the end of September and went up to New Hampshire, and got to spend ten days with son Sean, who had flown in from Japan for his friend’s wedding. New Hampshire had a beautiful fall this year. It was an unusually late year for the leaves; they were just beginning to turn the first week of October. Driving along the back country roads, it was a daily delight to watch a real-life paint-by-numbers scene in action: the beautiful New England countryside, with its canopy of green slowly being filled in with splotches and speckles of oranges and reds and yellows.

In the middle of that beautiful setting, I was busy packing up my stuff, with the only really hard part being the books – ten boxes of books that are have-to-haves, they’re my job. The thing is, if you’re already bringing ten boxes of books, how many more boxes of books can you legitimately bring? I said “one,” and I got by with one and a half. There’s always the library, right? And while I was at it, I got myself a 2004 Toyota Corolla, packed up my stuff, and on October 11, headed south for Louisiana.

My idea was to drive, no detours, no nothing, just drive. The upside of just driving, no detours, is it makes pre-planning the road trip totally unnecessary – just get in the car and go, bring enough money for tolls. The downside is you don’t make any plans. So it wasn’t until I was sitting in my hotel room outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, 350 miles into my trip, when I realize that I’ll be in Virginia the next day, and hadn’t I always loved the beauty of Virginia the few times I’d driven through it, commenting that I really should come back one day and stop to smell the roses instead of whizzing by on I-81.

This turned out to be the day. I spent it meandering through Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the part of it that’s in Virginia – and what a spectacular day it was for the eyes and the soul. Van does such a soulful rendition of “Shenandoah” for the Ken Burns “Irish in America” documentary, and it touches my heart every time, and today I’ve got it on repeat till my heart is bursting with the serenity and beauty of this special spot. It’s well worth a blog post, but that’s not going to happen; we’ll just have to make do with a few photos …

From Virginia, is was back on the highway, down through Tennessee, a slice of Georgia, then Alabama and Mississippi, and on into Louisiana. A little factoid I did not know but do now … In 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley declared that the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama” would now be plastered on all things tourist-related. The lady at the tourist center located just as you cross into Alabama asked if I wanted a bag for the free map she’d given me. I was about to decline – small carbon footprint, right? – when she pulled out a large white plastic bag with Sweet Home Alabama blazoned across it in blue. I told her I’d take it. It’s a very nice plastic bag, thank you, with a drawstring. First Shenandoah and all that Virginia conjures up about the Civil War, then a bit of Patsy Cline driving through Tennessee, and now my own Lynyrd Skynyrd bag. South, here I come.

First stop in Louisiana is Luling, a little town outside of New Orleans, to visit with cousins and dog-sit Chloe and Wally while the cousins take a trip up to Michigan. My main job, besides dog-sitting, is house hunting. I am the designated scout for our gang of three, let loose upon the rental housing market in New Orleans, to find us the perfect home. The gang is daughter Bridget, friend Steve, and me. Those two would be joining me in New Orleans in two weeks’ time, hopefully at our newfound home.

The last time I went looking to rent a place was in the ’70s, so I’m a bit rusty at this. And picky, it turns out. The short story of those weeks traipsing around New Orleans, minus any angst, is that we’ve got ourselves the quintessential Southern home in a lovely little neighborhood. Yes, it’s got high ceilings, and every room has a ceiling fan, there’s warm hardwood throughout, and there’s a spacious backyard with an orange tree!! (eating one as we speak), but I think what secured the deal for me was the front porch. A porch with a swing – what more could I ask for?

Louisiana may be a southern state, and New Orleans its crown jewel, but New Orleans is no southern American city, no ma’am.  It was founded by the French, later was under Spanish rule, then the French again, until where we are now: a possession of the United States. History will tell us how well that works out in the end, but in the meantime, New Orleans seems undisturbed by whoever it is in charge; it marches to its own drum. To me, it feels like a northern Caribbean outpost that just happens to be in the United States.

Now that I’m here, I’m here. Maybe it’s time to put down some roots. And indeed, if it is time, I couldn’t have found myself a better place.

 

 

Ireland once again – or how I spent my summer vacation

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you hoped they would. Ah, such is life, and such is my life. My grand plan to move to Ireland for a year or two – to write this book that’s been in my head for so long – came to naught. The fellow at the Irish Embassy who had assured me I would have no trouble getting permission to remain was, like many an Irishman, only half right. It was the other half that gave me grief, and the short of it is, my dream of two years in this country that feels like home turned into a different reality: three months, like any other tourist.

Talk about putting a crimp in my game plan. But if Plan A wasn’t going to work, I’d have to come up with Plan B. In order to work, it was going to require a serious work ethic on my part … if three months is all I was going to get, then I had better apply myself and get every stitch of research I could get done in that allotted time. So that’s how I spent my summer vacation – at the library, with my nose in one book or another. With a few days off to explore various settings in my book.

I must have taken about eleventy hundred photos, but unfortunately, the bulk of them were taken inside libraries, so not a lot of the green, green grass of home type pictures that capture the beauty of Ireland. But let me show you a bit of where I was …

… and how it all fits in.

Remember ’48

1848. County Clare, in western Ireland. It was the third year of what history now calls The Great Famine, and the story of Clare during that time is one of misery – poverty, starvation, destitution, sickness and death. But that is not really the story I am about to write. But it is the story of that time, so there is no glossing over. The plantation system, instituted by Cromwell during the 1600s, was in effect, with the English or Anglo-Irish aristocracy owning most of the land in the country. They were the landed gentry, and those who chose to live on their estates, lived in the Big House and rented out most of their land to farmers, who in turn worked for the landlord. And this is where my story begins – in the Big House.

So naturally, visits to the Big House (three of them, actually) were the order of the day. It was my great fortune to meet a local historian, Dr. Joseph Power, who graciously showed me around and got us into those three homes. Two of them are currently under renovation, and the third is a veritable castle that today is a five-star hotel complete with its own golf course. Dromoland it’s called.

The fellow on the plaque in the center photo (who just happened to be born at Dromoland) played a pivotal role in Ireland’s historic uprising during 1848. The group he belonged to, Young Ireland,  have become somewhat of a footnote in Ireland’s long battle for independence from British rule, and its their cry for freedom that has inspired me to write their story …

… from the point of view of a young servant girl who is also searching for her own freedom from within the confines of the Big House she serves somewhere out in eastern County Clare. It’s dicey writing historical fiction – the blending of fact and fiction. But here’s one fact: there is a little village that sits on the Fergus Estuary, which in turn flows into the Shannon River, whose location and history have sparked my imagination. Much of that spark is thanks to Joe Power’s “A History of Clare Castle and Its Environs,” which leaves no stone unturned about this tiny dot on the map. It’s become my dot, for better or worse. It wasn’t called Clare Castle in 1848, but you’ll just have to wait for the book to find that out.

Here are a few pictures of what it looks like today, with a little history thrown in …

But as I mentioned, most of my time was spent at the library – either at the Clare County Library or the Local Studies Centre – in Ennis. Research is a lot like weeding a garden – just when you think you’ve got ’em all, there’s another … and another … and another that needs tackling. Peter Beirne and Brian Doyle at the Local Studies Centre went far beyond the call of duty and were forever finding me another and still another every time they headed up the stairs to find me yet one more book I simply had to read. I was in good hands. And if you hang out at the Local Studies Centre long enough, other history buffs are bound to show up. Lucky for me, Ciarán O Murchadha, a local historian with a wealth of knowledge and plenty of books to his credit, shared his time with me and pointed me in the right direction more than once or twice.

I was very sorry to leave – but my time was up, and I had to get to Dublin for a round of research at the National Library, with the prospect of weeks of sitting at the microfilm reader, scouring the newspapers of the time. But first, a stop in Ballingarry, another little village, this one in the heart of Tipperary, where the fellow in the plaque up above led an uprising on the last Saturday of July 1848. For the past ten years, the Ballingarry 1848 Society has led a walk that retraces the steps that our Young Ireland rebels took that fateful day. I couldn’t miss that, right? Talk about history.

From Tipp it was off to Dublin. And while my time there was mostly work, there was a bit of play. An afternoon spent in Parnell Square, poking my head in at the Irish Writers Centre and the Irish Writers Museum, and a visit to the Hugh Lane Gallery, with much to cheer about the country’s artists, including Seán Keating and Jack B Yeats, both of whom painted in a romantic-realist style during the Irish Independence period and capture it all with great beauty and style. There’s also a room devoted to the Impressionists, and any day I see a new Pissaro is a good day. It was a very good day, indeed.

But undoubtedly the highlight of my play time was the night John Collins and I caught Richie Buckley playing sax with the Ronnie Greer trio in the upstairs room at JJ Smyth’s. Richie lent such credence to Van’s band during the ’90s and was there for Van’sRichie B and SDV blog Astral Weeks Live tour in 2008/2009. His call and response on “Summertime in England” is forever etched in our minds, one of those musical pinnacles. That’s me asking Richie about the call and response during the “Common One” segment at those two Hollywood Bowl shows in ’08. He said Van just threw it at him at the last minute – no advance warning. Sounds like Van – you just never know. Fantastic to catch Richie here in Dublin. As John said, “Just one of those great nights.”

Let me leave you with just a taste of the good stuff …