Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Returned, and now Leaving

The sort of yearning I feel towards those lonely rocks is indescribably acute...
-JMS, The Aran Islands

Friends, I've been horrible at updating during the trip, mostly because at night when I return from whatever hike I've been on I just want to collapse and go to sleep. I've just returned from an internet-less past four days on Inishmaan where I met the President of Ireland, watched "The Cripple of Inishmaan," sat by the fire in Synge's house, and hiked until I thought my feet might fall off. It was a beautiful weekend, except for the weather, which of course cleared up as soon as I returned to Inishmore.

Tomorrow I am off to Wicklow and the Synge Summer School. I will try to update more fully in the next few days, but I think I will have to save the more juicy entries for when I return home in early July, so stay tuned...

A Fiery Sunset on Bonfire Night, Inis mor, Aran Islands
Midsummer Bonfire, Mainistir, Inishmore, Aran Islands

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Garden

Killeany Lodge, Inis mor, Aran Islands
A few days ago I spent a beautiful afternoon at Killeany Lodge, a spiritual center and eco-friendly lodge on Inis mor with a huge organic garden. Last summer during my trip I met Helmut and Irmtraud, the German couple who owns the Lodge, and I was looking forward to seeing them again. I arrived at 9:30am on Tuesday for a yoga session that was as tough if not tougher than yoga classes I've attended in NYC at Om, and when I finished I had a huge smile on my face for having gotten through it, plus with all those endorphins running through me, I felt wonderful.

Garden, Killeany Lodge, Inis mor, Aran Islands
After yoga I splashed some water on my face and decided to help out around the Lodge before lunch. I began my work pulling arugula leaves from the garden off of the long stems, with a Japanese woman named Mako who was staying at the Lodge for two weeks and helping out in the garden. Mako told me that back home in Tokyo she has a salon and works with healing energies using different stones and crystals. She looked at my ring - a small faceted emerald - and after waving her fingers over it a few times told me it is a very powerful stone, good for seeing truth and clarity. I don't know much about crystals or energy from stones, but I liked the sound of that.

Irmtraud, a 70 year old woman who did yoga better than many of us in the room, showed me to the garden, and instructed me on how to pull out weeds effectively, and how to give the soil more air by raking my fingers through it. I weeded on my hands and knees for nearly two hours, and threw the weeds onto the compost heap. Gardening is hard work! Especially a garden this size. I have such great respect for Irmtraud for keeping it so beautiful and healthy. But it was extremely satisfying to look at the stalks of garlic, now free from overgrown weeks, standing proudly in their bed of soil. Irmtraud held up her hands - her fingernails encrusted in dirt - and said that her hands look this way because if they didn't, someone else's hands would.

Herb garden, Killeany Lodge, Inis mor, Aran Islands
Lunch mainly came from the garden: arugula salad, sauteed vegetables (I'm not sure what kind, they were bitter, and supposedly very good for the liver), salted mackerel in a tomato gravy with mushrooms, some noodles, and for dessert, the garden's first crop of strawberries of the season, and Mako made custard with eggs from the ducks in the yard. It was all delicious, and it was so special to me to eat food that I knew exactly where it came from - I had seen it on the ground, growing, just a few minutes before the meal. It made me wish I had a garden, and I feel motivated to try to make my own windowsill garden in my studio apartment. I'll have to look into it when I get home in July...

After we cleaned up, we had fresh peppermint tea, and the four of us women (me, Irmtraud, Mako, and a painter/writer named Nonie who lives on the island) talked about the island, the mysteries of the forts, and read some of our writing out loud. It was truly a beautiful day, spent with beautiful people. I'm happy to have found a small community of spiritual, mindful of people on this island. I'm sure there are others here, too, that I haven't met yet. Aran was always a spiritual place, a place of pilgrimage, where saints and seekers journeyed to - and I'm happy to see it continuing this trend, even if it looks different now than it did centuries ago.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Photos that make me go "Ooohh!"

Celtic swirl, Teampall Einne, Killeany, Inis mor
A sailboat makes its way across the water, north side of Inis mor
Patterns in the sand streaked by the waves, beach on Inis mor
Blue blue blue beach, Killeany

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Music of the Island: Update from Arainn

It's been a beautiful past four days! I meant to update more often during this trip, and will try to do a better job, but as you can imagine I've been keeping myself pretty busy here. There's so much to see and so little time, it seems. But a trip to the cliffs yesterday was a fitting meditation on how much time has already gone by, reminding me that maybe I shouldn't worry so much about it.

Waves giving the southern coast of Inis mor a beating

It's hard to find a place that has internet access on the island. This was not something J.M. Synge had to deal with! But there was a bit of a mixup with the place I was meant to be staying in, and the internet didn't work, so I moved to a different place (that, and it was much farther from Kilronan than I had thought - and I like being in Kilronan and seeing the comings and goings of people on the ferries). It's too bad, because the first place, in the village of Eochaill, had a view of the fort Dun Eochla from my room. I was seriously excited about this, because Synge had a view of Dun Conor on Inis meain from his house, and I thought it would be great to go up to the fort every day and sit on the inner walls as he did. But alas, I moved "downtown" to Kilronan. I suppose that's where Synge and I differ. He preferred the solitude of Inis meain to the busyness of Inis mor. I like being around more people. Maybe that's my New York habit, but there it is.

View of Dun Eochla
Now this is my view. Not too shabby.

Beach at Kilronan
So far we've been to the far eastern end of the island, hiked up the eastern coast to find the puffing holes (Kyle has awesome navigational skills), and hiked to my favorite place on the island so far, the place that has always felt very powerful to me, the Black Fort.

Me, outside the Black Fort
 Last night we saw a beautiful performance in Kilmurvey called An Island Story. Three women - Deirdre ni Chinneide, Julie Ni Cheirin, and Marian Ni Chonghaile, put together a one hour history of Aran culture through music, dance, and images. This was their first week of performances, and I was really impressed with how tight and well rehearsed the performance was. I could tell how passionate they were about the subject matter, too. They were all very talented - beautiful singing voices, fancy footwork, and they also made sure to connect with the audience and talk to us, making us feel comfortable and relaxed, and encouraged us to listen to the sounds of the island, and in doing so, to listen to the sound of our own self, our heart. Very moving. The show will be going on all summer, Monday through Friday, so if you're here and have a chance, I highly recommend it.

Marian doing a sean nos dance during An Island Story

The moon was pretty spectacular a few nights ago, and we found out it was the full lunar eclipse!

Lunar eclipse over Kilronan

I've been talking to residents and people who have come here to work for the summer, some who I met last year, some people I've never met before. Everyone has a different story to tell about the island and their relationship to the island, and I'm gaining more and more perspective on this place every day. I come home at the end of the day feeling tired, a little bruised here and there, but totally exhilarated, and, my new favorite phrase, "happy of myself." 

In the next few days I plan to visit the Wormhole, take a day trip Inis Oirr, meditate and do yoga at Killeany Lodge, see a Celtic spiritual service, visit Dun Aengus, and celebrate the summer solstice/St. John's Eve at bonfire night...

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'M HERE!!!!!

I am on Inis mor, sitting above a coffee bar at the internet cafe.Coming in on the ferry today the water was glittering turquoise. I stood on the back of the ferry and watched the port at Rossaveal disappear behind me, and as we approached I saw that long ridge of green, gray, browns, and creams.

The trip here barely seemed real. A flight, two buses, and the ferry. It all flew by.

I'm afraid for now my updates may be infrequent, because there seems to be no internet in the house I'm staying in, but will do my best to keep you updated as things progress.

Kyle arrives tomorrow evening. Did I mention how wonderful it will be to share this beautiful place with my beautiful man?

I'm off to get some sleep. A more coherent post to come in the next day or two.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On the Eve of my Aran Adventure

My dear J.M.,

It's been a long journey, from growing up (which, I'm realizing, is a constant process), to reading your plays, to discovering you. We both love theatre, we both write, we both grew up with similar fears and anxieties, similar health problems, similar spiritual ideals, and we were both looking for something - something like God, or love, or confidence. And I think you found it, whatever it was, on Aran. That's why I went to Aran last summer. I believed that you held the key to my happiness. You had laid it all out, in your books and your plays, and the answer to everything, I thought, was to go to Aran.

It was a strange and wonderful summer. Full of "varying moods of rapture and dismay," as you called it. And I did find that much of what you wrote about was still alive on Aran. And much of what you wrote about was long gone. Nevertheless, I began to find what I was looking for. Thanks to you.

Tomorrow I'm going back to Aran to keep looking.

This past week amidst travel plans and unexpected health issues, I've been doing a lot of reflecting. I thought about postponing the trip out of fear that something might happen, that I might get sick abroad. I wondered what was stronger - my fear about my body, or my rocket-fuel excitement to get back to the complex and beautiful place I love that has occupied a good portion of my thoughts for the past year.

I'm happy to report that love has conquered fear, my dear.

I think you would be proud of me, J.M. I'm looking forward to seeing you soon.

Me at Black Fort, Inis Mor, Aran Islands, summer 2010

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Kidney Beans and the Aran Islands have in Common

I've been MIA this past week because I've been dealing with some unexpected health issues. As you can imagine, I had to deal with them ASAP so that they wouldn't interfere with my trip. Needless to say it's been a harrowing past few days (filled with many doctors visits and a day in the ER) and today I'm finally starting to feel better, so pray to whatever god(s) you pray to or do a rain dance or keep your fingers and toes crossed that I continue to feel better and can go on with my trip as planned. I will be monitoring my symptoms for the next few days, but my doctors have given me the go-ahead, so that is good news!

One of the things the doctors were tossing around was that I may have had a kidney stone. This was not good news, of course, but during all of this I realized that "Aran" comes from the Gaelic "ára" which means "kidney." The Aran Islands may be named this way because of the kidney-like shape of Inishmore, or referring to it as a long ridge, or the back of land. Luckily I do NOT have a kidney stone, but the irony was not lost on me.

Map of Inis mor. Note the kidney shape.
Kidney beans. Because why would I post a picture of actual kidneys?

Regardless, I take comfort in the fact that my dear J. M. Synge dealt with chronic health issues his entire life, and that didn't stop him from going to Aran...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

So although I may go, I'll be coming home soon...

Travel Advice from Sesame Street. Yep.

Sitting on the roof of my apartment last night, looking up at the moon, I was suddenly hit with a memory of a song my parents used to sing to me when I was a little kid - "I'd Like to Visit the Moon" from Sesame Street.

I looked it up online. Sesame Street Wisdom - getting it right every time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ferries Galore! Aran and NYC

Circle Line Ferry Port, NYC
Yesterday, for our anniversary, Kyle took me on the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan. It's a 3 hour ferry ride that circumambulates the entire island of Manhattan. I loved it! I learned so much about New York City that I didn't know: on the north side of Manhattan there's so much lush greenery! We went under 20 BRIDGES during the three hours. The East River isn't a real river, it was constructed for shipping purposes. And Manhattan didn't used to be an island - the river on the north was carved out, again for shipping.

Me on the Circle Line, gazing at the NJ Palisades
Of course, I couldn't stop comparing it in my mind to the journey on the Aran Islands ferry, which is much rockier, but also shorter (40 min). But both are crowded with tourists from all different countries. The views from the water of the land are different, to be sure...
Aran Islands Ferry, at port in Kilronan
Kilronan, from the Ferry

Downtown Manhattan from the ferry
So different, but beautiful in their own ways.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Synge's Holy Well

Holy well on Inis Mor
Synge's play "The Well of the Saints" is based on a story told to him on Inis mor about the holy well An Ceathrair Alainn, the Well of the Four Beautiful Persons. This well was known to cure blindness and epilepsy. Synge wrote down an old man's story:

A woman of Sligo had a son who was born blind, and one night she dreamed that she saw an island with a blessed well in it that could cure her son...Then she went out with the child and walked up to this well, and she kneeled down and began saying her prayers. Then she put her hand out for the water, and put it on his eyes, and the moment it touched him he called out: 'O mother, look at the pretty flowers!'

I wonder what Synge thought of this story. He was a staunch atheist, so I am inclined to believe he didn't go in for the story. But he had so many health problems, maybe he was attracted to the idea of a quick, magic fix.

Photo from DruidSynge's production of Well of the Saints
In the play, a blind husband and wife, Martin and Mary Doul (Doul means blind in Gaelic) go to the well to be cured of their blindness. They are both cured temporarily, but they realize that they are both very ugly - the townspeople had cruelly led them to believe they were the most beautiful people in Ireland. The play is a meditation on beauty (inner and outer), knowledge, and faith. It's one of my favorite Synge plays.

Last summer I visited this very well on Inis Mor, and performed the ritual of circling the well and placing the water on my eyes (I have a history of eye issues). The well water didn't cure me, and I wasn't expecting that it would, but I was curious about the ritual itself. Walking around the well was actually rather meditative, and I'd like to try it again this summer when I go.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Manhattanhenge and Celtic Mythology

Photo from Hayden Planetarium Website 
Last night at 8:17pm marked Manhattanhenge, the day of the year when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the New York City Street grid. Kyle and I went down to 57th street to see what it was all about. It was hard to see, and I think the clouds or the New Jersey skyline may have obstructed some of the view. But we saw the beginnings of Manhattanhenge at around 8:10, when the huge red sun was perfectly centered between the buildings at the end of 57th street.

In Celtic mythology, the sun is of utmost importance, and the setting sun in particular is seen as a gateway to the "Otherworld." That's why so many of the structures on Inis Mor such as the wedge tombs and Dun Aengus open westward - the sun's rays which shine from the west towards the east are meant to enter these structures and fill them with sacred light.

On days when the setting sun aligns perfectly with an ancient structure (such as the summer solstice at Stonehenge), it's believed that this was a particularly holy day during which some sort of rituals were performed to worship the gods.

I don't think New Yorkers performed any rituals during Manhattanhenge, except maybe to stand in the middle of the avenues when the stoplights turned red to admire the sunset and try to snap a few photos amidst the honking of cab drivers.

I am excited that I'll be in Inis Mor this summer during the summer solstice. I wonder what rituals or celebrations I'll see, if any, at the sacred monuments on Aran...