Category: Ireland

Lincoln in the Bardo in Galway


On my first day of walking around Galway I stopped into a local bookstore, as was inevitable. There I found a book I had been meaning to pick up but had no time to read as I was finishing my Masters Thesis and then moving back to CT. Now, though, I would have plenty of time to read George Saunders’ first novel. The author, known for both is short stories and his non-fiction essays (most notably this fantastic piece about Donald Trump) delved into the longer-fiction end of the pool with Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel told through a combination of dialogue (kind of) and historical accounts (a mix of real and made-up sources) about the time directly preceding and following little Willie Lincoln’s death. The boy’s spirit (or something) pops into being at the beginning of the novel and the rest of the book concerns the other spirits’ quest to help him transition onto the next place while his father, the unpopular President only 1 year into the Civil War, lingers around the cemetery and, following real events, holding the body of his young boy in his arms. That is the majority of the story that happens in this book, but Saunders accomplishes much more in the course of the novel.


Saxophones in Galway

I’m pretty sure saxophones are not traditional Irish instruments, but that didn’t stop the person playing it as I sat with some new friends from Lehigh at a small restaurant outside yesterday. I had arrived in the country at a tiny airport that had more sheep than planes at it at about 8:30 AM local time (that’s about 3:30 AM back in Connecticut where I started my journey) and it was grey. So grey. That grey mixed with the deep greens that covered the landscape as I took the bus about an hour up to Galway was familiar to me. It was the green and grey that I had seen in countless films and TV shows and it was what I expected to see. There were few times in my transatlantic flight that I didn’t see clouds out the window, though we were above them most of the time. In fact, I filmed a pretty cool little video as we broke through the cloud cover taking off from Bradley International Airport on the way to Philly, my pit stop into Ireland. Check it out:

Anyways, back to the saxophone. It provided a nice background to the conversation I was having with my new charges. I’m here to make sure all the study abroad students from Lehigh stay safe and have working appliances in their apartments. That’s about it, after the end of this week. They’ll all be here and settled in and I’ll have about 5 weeks left to just chill out in Galway. In that way, the sax was the perfect accompaniment to my first small meal in Ireland. It sets the mood for what I hope will be a smooth and easy transition time for the students and myself. If we can get in harmony with each other quickly and easily, everything will run like a jazz song and we’ll all be able to experience fun new things.

And hot damn, Ireland is both very familiar and quite strange. Their plugs are so weird looking! There’s no grape jelly at the store (don’t worry, I got raspberry instead). They drive on the wrong side of the road and therefore walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk, too. My impulse to cut to the right if I’m on course to hit another pedestrian will only exacerbate the problem as they go in that direction as well. And I’m still not used to looking in the opposite directions to see if cars are coming as I cross the street. And speaking of streets, Galway is a medieval city and that means that there’s no real rhyme or reason to the way that the streets work. It’s not a hub and spokes as in Paris nor is it a grid like many modern cities. Instead there’s a complex web of streets and I still don’t understand how people navigate them in their cars as the signs are incomprehensible to me so far. I’m still calling everything dollars instead of Euro, but between food shopping last night (after a 2-hour nap) and going to TK Maxx (yes, it’s the same store as TJ Maxx but it has a K instead of a J for what I assume are nefarious reasons) to pick up a towel and washcloth and bath mat, I’m at least settled in a can now take the time to start exploring the city. Tomorrow most of the students will be arriving and it’ll be a busy day of getting them from the bus station up to our apartments, but after that and the next day of getting them to the University where they’ll be doing their work, it’ll be time to start working on my own things.

Which brings me to what you can expect to see on this blog for the next month and a half. I’d guess about twice a week you’ll see stuff like this about my experiences in the city. But I’ll also be doing some academic work to make this trip meaningful. I have full access to the University all the students will be going to, so I’ll be doing some reading and writing about what I read. I want to shore up some of my literary theory knowledgebase, so I’ll be reading some Jameson, some comics theory, and probably some film theory as well depending on what they’ve got at the library here. If you want to see what I’m seeing as I see it, follow me on Instagram and Twitter (this one is a new account, by the way, so follow that one from now on if you’re interested). The best pictures will likely also show up here as well. And I think that’s about it. I’m also going to be on a mission to have fries from as many restaurants and pubs around here as possible. I’ll be sure to let you know which place has the best examples of the form. I’m sure you’re all desperate to know. If you have any questions, leave ‘em here and I’ll address them! I’ll also take recommendations on places to visit if you’ve been here before. For now, so long.