Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I'm Moving!

Letters to Aran has moved to!

Isn't it exciting?

Don't let the name change worry you. I'm still the same Synge-obsessed woman I've always been.

See you there..!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Literary Footprints

I recently stumbled upon this interactive map, showing the places that Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye visited in New York.

Walking in Holden's Footsteps, NY Times

Which inspired me to try to map out the places Synge visited on the Aran Islands.

This morning (thanks to the freaky SNOWSTORM in New York today!) I came up with a very rudimentary version of my own Synge map, but this is in no way complete. I'd like to develop this further using a more detailed map in the future. These are places I was able to visit during my own travels (with the exception of Gregory's Cave - I couldn't figure out where that was exactly).

If anyone knows of places to add, please let me know!

Maybe in the future I'll also do a Synge in Wicklow map, since there are so many places he visited in the Wicklow countryside, as well. And the Blaskets, and Kerry, and France, and Germany, and...oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?

** Italish, a project through the publishers Querci and Robertson (they're Italian writers with interest in Ireland, and vice versa), is doing a similar sort of mapping game of Synge and the Aran Islands. It's in Italian!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Stinging Fly comes to New York!

Last night Columbia University was treated to a visit by five Dublin writers and the literary magazine The Stinging Fly in honor of their latest issue, which has a New York twist.

The Stinging Fly was started in 1997 and publishes new Irish and international writing including short stories, poetry, author interviews, essays, and book reviews. Three issues are published each year, and in 2005 The Stinging Fly Press was created for book publishing as well.

Emer Martin began the reading with a darkly funny excerpt from her latest novel, Baby Zero, showcasing her punchy dialogue and distinct characters. I enjoyed her reading style as well -- she really inhabited her characters with her voice and facial expressions. I definitely plan on picking up a copy of her book.

Sean O'Reilly read next, a piece whose name I sadly didn't catch (the room the reading took place in had the windows wide open and the street noise from Broadway occasionally interfered), but the piece was a tense dialogue between a man and woman having relationship problems who cross over from Northern Ireland into Donegal. I enjoyed the realism of his dialogue, and the anger that bubbled underneath the words. (If anyone knows the name of the piece he read, please inform me!)

Aifric Mac Aodha, the literary editor of the Irish language magazine Comhar and Irish language poetry editor of The Stinging Fly, read poems in Irish and in English. I loved hearing both the original and the translation. I've been to many readings in that room (Dodge Hall 501) and I wondered if anyone had ever spoken Irish in that room. Aifric had a very soft voice, but her poetry had a quality of violence, even sharpness, and I enjoyed the contrast. She also read a poem about a pilgrimage to an island -- I particularly enjoyed that one, for obvious reasons!

Keith Ridgway read an excerpt from a short story that was fiction-but-based-on-true-events, about a young man over from Ireland living in New York. One line that I liked in particular was something like, "I'm twenty and stupid. The two don't necessarily go together but I happen to be both."

Max McGuinness finished up the reading with part of his short story "The Great Irish Novel" about a man who is challenged to write the so-called great Irish novel. He read in a booming, dramatic voice that echoed through the room. The dialogue was snappy and funny, and I could definitely see his theatre roots (his first play, Up the Republic!, was performed in Oxford and Edinburgh in 2007-8).

It was an extremely enjoyable night, and I felt inspired by the writers who read their work. Many thanks to The Stinging Fly for making the trip to New York, and the Columbia Journal for putting the evening together.

Tonight (Thursday) at 7pm there will be a launch party for this issue of the Stinging Fly at Swift Hibernian Lounge at 34 East 4th Street. Readers will include Ciaran Berry, Tim Dwyer, Martín Espada, Emer Martin, David McLoghlin, Idra Novey, Jana Prikryl, Mark SaFranko, and more. Go hear some fantastic Irish literature!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kindred Sculptors: Noguchi and the Aran Islanders

Last weekend I took a day to explore a bit more of the neighborhoods of Astoria, Queens, and thanks to a Japanese sculptor, I found myself transported back to the Aran Islands for a few lovely hours.

God, I love New York.

First stop in Astoria: The King of Falafel (it won a Vendy Award for best street food in NYC). Mostly lived up to the hype.

Second stop: Socrates Sculpture Park, where said falafel was consumed while sitting in a field buzzing with dragonflies amongst strange, amorphous sculptures in front of the East River.

Third stop: The Noguchi Gardens and Museum, a museum devoted solely to the work of the Japanese sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, whose 20th Century artwork made me think about -- you guessed it, the Aran Islands.

Noguchi (1904-1988), worked with huge slabs of stone (many different kinds, from basalt to marble). He didn't shape them into recognizable forms, but would work for a few months to a year or more on one piece, getting to know the stone by the process of slicing, chipping, hammering, polishing, to reveal all the stone's qualities.

The Garden

I believe this was a basalt sculpture. I liked the rock's natural color variation.
Stone Fountain
I'm not sure what kind of stone this was, but I liked how the outside was raw, and that even though he carved out a smooth chunk on the inside, he marred it. It reminded me of the rocks on Aran, and how the elements would always play a role in shaping the stones on the island, and the land itself. The Aran Islanders, of course, shaped the land as well by cutting up the stone to make farmland. They effectively created their landscape. I wonder if Noguchi would have seen the Aran Islands as a work of art.

(Or, if the islanders would have thought Noguchi was nuts for spending time playing around with rocks instead of farming).

Limestone cliffs on Inishmore, near the Black Fort, eroding
Crikes and glints in limestone in Inishmaan

The Wormhole, Inishmore

I feel like Noguchi would have gone crazy over the Wormhole. Look at all that color variation!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blue Skies Smiling

Summer has finally fled New York, and the beautifully cool air has been reminding me of Ireland. I've been hard at work on my writing, but still trying to get outside more.

A few nights ago, the sky at sunset reminded me of one particular day on Inishmaan.

Sunset over NYC
Storm passing by Inishmaan
It's hard to see from the photo, but looking out into the distance, beyond the railing, the blue sky over the Hudson was almost the exact color blue in the Inishmaan photo, with a layer of flat clouds drawing a parallel line over the horizon. There are guardrails in the Inishmaan photo, too, but they're made of a different kind of material. And across the water there's another bit of land. For Inishmaan, it's Inisheer.
For us, it's New Jersey.

In other news, I went camping for the first time last weekend. Synge would be proud, I think. He had great respect for the nomad:

This old man I have spoken of wanders about Wicklow. As he sleeps by Lough Bray and the nightjar burrs and snipe drum over his head and the grouse crow, and heather whispers round him, he hears in their voices the chant of singers in dark changers of Japan and the clamour of tambourines and the flying limbs of dancers he knew in Algeria, and the rustle of golden fabrics of the east.

Granted, I was just a nomad for one night, but for me (an admittedly anxious person to begin with, afraid of bugs, the dark, and things that go bump in the night) it was a great accomplishment. And I had a great time and even got 8 hours of sleep!

As soon as I have the photos uploaded I'll share my camping experience, as well as hiking through a ghost town in the woods, just an hour outside NYC!

Hiking at Bear Mountain

Monday, September 12, 2011

Green with Envy and Environmental-Friendliness

I'm back from my blogging hiatus, rejuvenated, rested, and swirling with creativity! It's been a very productive past few weeks as I've been organizing my interviews and notebooks from this past summer's trip to Aran, thinking about how to arrange everything. I'm happy to say it feels like it's coming together.

Lately I've been yearning more and more for a garden, and hoping that the next place I move to will either have some sort of backyard space or roof space, or even just a little balcony where I could grow some tomatoes and cilantro.

Hanging out the other day on the roof of my friend's apartment, I could see her neighbor's hardcore roof garden, which only made me more envious.

Secret roof garden. WANT.
Then today I saw that my aunt Carol Weber, an interior designer, posted a link to an article in the Examiner, a publication she writes for.

The article covers how many companies in the U.S. are trying think of creative ways to make roofs of buildings more environmentally friendly, including creating green spaces on roofs.

At first glance, this photo from looks like a house overgrown with vegetation. On closer inspection it is a house with a carefully constructed design, and the green plants on the roof serve a specific purpose.

According to Carol's article, there are two types of green roofs, intensive and extensive. Taken from her article in the Examiner:

Intensive green roofs use about 12 inches of soil and can act as a park with many types of plants and shrubs. Many intensive roofs have walkways and benches as well. They include added layers to the basic vegetation to allow for an intense irrigation, drainage and root protection system. This type of roof top works well on flat roofs, such as a typical city skyscraper.

Extensive green roofs are much lighter with only about 3 inches of soil and a simple layer of planting requiring low maintenance. These roofs are used mainly for their environmental benefits and can be used as a material even on a sloped rooftop

This all of course made me think of the Aran Islands (as many things do).

I remembering reading about a cottage on Inis Meain that uses this kind of green roof technology to create a sustainable home with a low carbon impact.

Sustainable cottage on Inishmaan, photo from Aran Isles Blog Post
The roof is made of thatched rye, and has a living green roof of sea pinks, which are the beautiful pink flowers that grow naturally on Aran.

Imagine a roof covered in little pink flowers. Pretty, functional, AND good for the environment. What more could you want?

I wonder if they'd turn the roof of my building into a Green Roof?


Sunday, August 28, 2011

We Weathered the Storm

So as you've probably heard by now, Irene was not the mega disaster city officials feared it would be. Though millions did lose power, trees fell, streets and towns flooded, and a few deaths were caused (I believe the unofficial count now is 16, but I'm not sure on that), it really could have been much, much worse.

NYC officials defended the decision to shut down subways and buses, as some of the train yards in low-lying areas did get flooded, and had the trains been there, it would have been a real mess.

I spent the night in with Kyle, eating pretzels and Cadbury chocolate, baking muffins with flax seeds and sunflower seeds because I forgot to buy bread, and watching a Parks and Recreation marathon. I wonder how Leslie Knope would handle a hurricane. Probably she'd try to save the penguins from the zoo, first.

Leslie saves the penguins from the Pawnee Zoo

Damage in my neighborhood was really minimal:

Columbia University Campus - not too bad

Riverside Park - a little swampy

A few trees down
All in all, New York City fared pretty well. There are even a bunch of places open for brunch today. You know us New Yorkers. We can't live without our bagel and shmear.

No ferries from Aran needed for me this time around. Thanks anyway, Mr. O'Brien. I'll let you know next time I need a ride.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Big Wind is on her Way!

Taking a break from my blog hiatus to update on Hurricane Irene.

The NY Times is answering questions about how to prepare for the hurricane, HERE

Friday in New York we enjoyed a sunny day of calm before the storm - Hurricane Irene is on her way to possibly pummel New York and the east coast of the U.S. We don't know much right now about the storm's expected trajectory or what category hurricane it will be by the time it gets to us, but NYC Governor Cuomo has ordered evacuations of low-lands and shoreline residences in the Rockaways, Battery Park, and Coney Island, as well as other parts of lower Manhattan.

A calm East River, looking across at Manhattan from Astoria Park

The entire subway and bus system is also going to begin shutting down Saturday at noon in preparation for the storm, along with the LIRR and NJ Transit.

New York isn't used to all this talk of hurricanes, and all the last-minute panic got me thinking about how so many places in the world, including the Aran Islands, are used to wet and wild weather on a more routine basis. The islands themselves have survived countless storms. The Night of the Big Wind in 1839 brought incredibly destructive hurricane force winds and rain to the islands. An ice age melt left these stones deposited all over the islands:

Ice Age deposits. "Tourists"

Other places in the world are more prepared, both logistically and mentally, to deal with this kind of a weather event. I have a feeling that most New Yorkers are not sure if we've adequately prepared ourselves.

Maybe if I had a curragh I'd feel better.

Curraghs at the old pier on Inishmaan

Every few years a hurricane grazes us here in NYC, but usually does not cause this level of alarm. This is the first time we've had evacuations, and the first time the MTA has issued a total shutdown. In my last blog post I wrote about how a somewhat heavy rainstorm got the subway stuck underground for an hour. No wonder the MTA has cancelled service.

Grocery stores this afternoon were swarmed with confused shoppers buying up the city's supply of canned beans and peanut butter, bottled water and batteries.

No more bread at the Gristedes at 103rd and Broadway!
As long as my power doesn't go out, I'll update again soon.

If you don't hear from me by Monday, send over one of the Doolin Ferries to come get me!
The Happy Hooker - how much does a one way ticket from Manhattan to Inishmore cost?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Be back soon!

Letters to Aran will be on hiatus until Labor Day weekend as I write, plan work, research, and gear up for the fall, and then I will return with more posts about Synge, Aran, theatre, and NYC!

Summer Sunset, Killeany Harbor, Inishmore

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Rain Conquered the MTA

Life on the Aran Islands, historically and even now to a degree, has been dictated by the weather. Stormy seas, wind, and rain, could seriously impact the lives of the islanders. Over time the islanders had to adapt to their living conditions, and the local mythology (and even ancient Celtic spirituality) expressed the power of the elements.

Rain-streaked window, Inishmaan

View from my room - sliver of sky
It's funny - so much of the time, in this city of New York, on this island of Manhattan, we fool ourselves into thinking that we're more powerful than the elements. When it rains we can take shelter in apartments, coffee shops, restaurants. We can have groceries, take-out, clothing, pretty much anything delivered to our door. I can't tell you how many times I've stepped outside to see glistening pavement, having been completely unaware that it had rained. My window looks out across at a brick wall, and I only see a sliver of sky, so most of the time I don't know it's raining unless I hear the pitter patter of raindrops hitting my air conditioner. In this modern age in this modern city, it is possible to be completely oblivious to the weather.

This past Tuesday proved that New York City hasn't got the weather beat.

I was on my way downtown to see Jerusalem, a play with many Celtic influences (more on that later). I left my apartment with plenty of time to make it to meet my mom, sister, and boyfriend for dinner before the show. In fact, I left enough time so that I'd be ten minutes early (call me obsessive, but I like being early for things). I knew it was raining outside (I'd checked the forecast online, and also I heard the rain on my A/C), so I brought my rain jacket, umbrella, and wore shoes that handle water well.

I scowled at a woman who was walking in front of me and twirling her umbrella, sending water droplets flying into my face. What a jerk, I thought.

I made it to the subway, relatively dry, only having had to walk one block to get to the station. All was going according to plan.

But you know what they say. We plan, and God laughs.

Oh 1 train - why do you hate me?

In between the 103rd st and 96th st stations, the 1 train stopped. This happens from time to time when there's train traffic. Usually nothing to be concerned about. But two minutes turned into five, five into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into forty. Forty minutes stuck underground, in a tight, enclosed space crowded with fifty other people, feels much longer. Not to mention the anxiety of New Yorkers in general. We're all on tight schedules. Forty minutes seriously derails our plans (pun intended). People were beginning to get angry. Kids were whining, babies crying. We weren't being told much by the announcer, just that there was a "signal problem" at the station and they were "working on it" and "we should hopefully be moving soon." All those uncertain terms and the announcer's increasingly unsure tone didn't reassure me. After a few more minutes the announcer squawked - we were all to walk to the rear car of the train - then walk through the tracks to get back to 103rd st. The train was being taken out of service.

Due to water damage - from the rain.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

As we all began to shuffle through a space that looks like this:

but feels like this:

...people were getting angrier and angrier at the situation, rolling their eyes at people walking slowly through the cars, cursing the MTA for their ineptitude. People began taking photos and video on their phones in disbelief. An irate man and an MTA worker got into an argument, and the MTA worker left the car in a huff, muttering some choice words under his breath.

The general feeling on the subway: Zillions of tax dollars to maintain the subway system, enduring fare hikes amidst service cutbacks, and it had been undone by some rain? It was even raining that hard!

Thankfully we didn't have to walk through the tracks. The damage was repaired and the train lurched forward, and everything was okay. Fifty-five minutes later.

The shock and disbelief finally turned into humor. A feeling of camaraderie erupted on the train. People began joking about the situation, how ridiculous the whole thing was. People I'd usually never talk to on the subway became instant friends. We'd all been through this surreal experience together, and now life would continue.

For me it was a reminder that I don't live in New York City - I live on the planet Earth. And weather exists, and weather affects me, and sometimes things break down. We may have lots of services, choices, and conveniences, but we can't make the rain go away.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

From the Garden to the Gaeltacht - Synge and Wicklow

During my trip this past summer, I traveled from Aran to the Wicklow countryside, in the east of Ireland. I wanted to see what was "home" to Synge - what he had grown  up around, what made the Aran Islands seem so wild and exotic to him. I wondered, as I took the ferry to Rossaveal, the shuttle bus to Galway, the GoBus to Dublin, the train to Rathdrum, and a cab to Avondale, how Synge made this journey a hundred years ago. For me it took from 8am to 6pm (with wait times in between connections). I imagine it took him much longer to make his way back east.
The rainbow that wished me farewell on the ferry from Aran

Synge used to walk and cycle around Wicklow. Synge's walks in these areas, and the people he encountered, inspired the plots and characters of many of his plays (in addition to his time spent on Aran). In his Wicklow writings he mentions places such as Glenmalure, Sally Gap, and Rathdrum. I wasn't able to make it to all the places he talks about, but I did see enough of the area to get a good feel for it.

The Wicklow landscape is so different from Aran. Aran is bare, exposed, gray-brown-green, angry waves, and raw slabs of stone.

Inishmaan, Aran Islands

Wicklow is called "The Garden of Ireland," for good reason. Trees and bushes and ivy and grass and flowers abound.

Golden field near Avondale, Rathdrum, County Wicklow

The Wicklow mountain peaks scrape the clouds. The gaps between the mountains form secluded glens.

Upper Lake in Wicklow National Park

Wicklow is wooded, with green trees, carpets of grass and moss, and bubbling streams, and rolling fields.

Trees, grass, moss galore! Wicklow, Ireland.

The Avonbeg River, flowing through Glenmalure, Wicklow, Ireland
It's no wonder to me now, after having seen the place Synge came from, why Aran was so strange to him. If Wicklow were a chalkboard, Aran is what it looks like after the eraser dust settles.

Considering where I was coming from, it was a real change for me, too.


Next time: more on Synge's plays that were inspired by Wicklow...

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Eastern End of the Western World

Check out my latest Aran Islands Blog post on the hidden gems of Inishmore's eastern end.

The Black Fort, exterior. Inishmore, Aran Islands

Highlights include the Black Fort, a beautiful coastline, and the puffing holes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Just came across this post on the Irish Fireside Blog.

A pub in Denville, New Jersey is building a traditional thatched roof! There's a nice article in about the process of thatching the roof, as well as some great photos as well.

Photo from article of Master Thatcher Colin McGhee
I wonder what it will look like when it's done!

Maybe like this?
200 year old thatched cottage on Inishmore
Or this...?

Thatched cottage on Inishmore

Or this...?

Thatched cottage on Inishmaan

Or this...?

Man of Aran Cottage on Inishmore
Or this...?

Teach Synge on Inishmaan

I just hope it doesn't end up looking like this...

Thatched cottage with a chunk missing on Inishmaan