Friday, October 30, 2009



Throughout my 3 years at U.C.C., certain books , characters, philosophies etc. popped up across various disciplines and modules on a continual basis. There was no holding these heads down under the water...they were just not going to be ignored. Although impossible to explore these 'distractions' in any greater depth, because of the timeframe of essays and exams; I struck a deal with myself, to return to them once the degree was over. I didn't grapple with the whole research thing particularly well, enjoyable as I found it... always seemed to cast my nets too widely. Whilst studying Dante's Divine Comedy, names like Ulysses, Aeneas, Odysseus, Virgil and hundreds more came up, as well as John Milton's Paradise Lost, James Joyce's Ulysses, The Iliad, The Aenead ...and so on.

I decided my first port of recall would be a revised English translation by D.C.H Rieu of his father's translation, E.V.Rieu of Homer's The Odyssey. It's enthralling! I read only a few pages at a time, so as to digest thoroughly, the names of all protagonists and places. It is no wonder that modernist writers like W.B. Yeats and James Joyce referred to mythology in their writing, it allowed a freedom of transportation and escapism, in contrast to their realist predecessors. In lst year I was fortunate to study Celtic Civilization, which for someone like me, who hasn't a word of Irish, required my establishing my own code of deciphering and pronunciation of these strange, but beautiful Irish words, for essay and exam recall purposes. That was hilarious fun! We made a whistle-stop tour of the Druids and Celts, their gods, the bog-bodies, the bronze and iron ages, the gauls in Hallstadt and Europe and their defeat by Julius Caesar, and the Tain (Maeve and the bulls!) Of course it was the early christians who wrote down these stories of the oral tradition, and, as they were the only ones who could read and write at the time, there was plenty of room to modify and manipulate, adding their own religious/anti-pagan slant on things. I was intrigued by Fergus, who struck me as being the only character from the Tain, who had a conscience. I wondered was he a sort of Jesus Christ figure, inserted by the early christians. That's one to go back to. The order of geiss, which covered the criteria of honour, bravery and hospitality was paramount to being a great hero or god . I became totally embroiled in the whole magic, sometimes not being able to tell fact from myth and legend, and was horrified when I discovered that Cuchulainn was killed by his own son. I took it all terribly seriously, apart from Dagda, who had such a long penis, it was wrapped round his neck several times! Dagda provided much light relief from stress of exams and essays for myself and Mary, another mature student. So Dagda, whether you're in the liminal world of Tara or Tua Nuath, thanks for the laughs! So what has all this got to with the Odyssey?

I have only read as far as page 70 and already Telemachus, who sets off to search for his father Odysseus (who has not returned home to Ithaca since his battles in Troy, having been waylaid by Calypso along the way) has already been feasted on at least six occasions. Not unlike celtic mythology, and stories like Bricriu's Feast, there is a huge emphasis placed on hospitality in Greek mythology. Half the time, the visitors are fed before they're even asked who they are. (Could you imagine any of us doing that today. Imagine an absolute stranger at the front door. 'Come on in! Sit down there now love and I'll get you a fry. Would you like a bit of black pudding with it?') Telemachus is urged by Zeus's daughter Athene, who can transform herself into anything or anyone, to search for his father, as Penelope (Odysseus's wife and Telemachus's mother), finds herself besieged by suitors, who believe Odysseus to be already dead, and are making themselves far too comfortable, drinking all the best wines, ransacking and pillaging the household. While reading this wonderful story, my thoughts stray back to my beloved Crete, and in particular, the working village of Kalives...a place I find myself wishing to return to again and again.


I have visited Crete several times and feel that somehow, when the plane touches down, I am home! With the colours of soil, sea and sky, light drowning everything in sensual mystery and magic, soothing smells of wild oregano and majoram, welcoming rattle of crickets in olive groves, the senses simply explode. Of course, then there are the people... who consider themselves to be Cretans first and Greeks second. That is not difficult to understand, when you read about their history of Turkish and other invaders/ marauders and the disasterous, bumbling and extremely inept decision-making of the Allied Forces during the German invasion of the island in World War II. They are an incredibly steely, proud race of people. Greek people, are, as a rule very laid back and welcoming, and remind very much of Irish people, especially, when they say 'eet's no problem!' However, there is something particularly hospitable about Cretan people. I have a very dear friend Manolis, who works as a curator in the museum in Chania, whom I met five years ago, whilst staying in one of his villas in Megala Chorafia, a small village close to the ruins of Aptera. We celebrated my daughter's 21st birthday party during that holiday. He organized a barbecue, wouldn't hear of my supplying any food or wine whatsoever and even organized a magnificent chocolate birthday cake. He took us on a personal tour of the ruins in Aptera, and provided an excellent historical account. He brought us to a family christening in the village square, where we were feasted like royalty, where even the Greek musicians brought us over wine to the table and the locals tried to teach us to dance Greek-style! As the chief navigator, Mano arranged maps for me, when we caught the overnight ferry to Athens, to visit the Acropolis and various other places of interest. I have been back there several times since and on one occasion, he was genuinely deeply offended when I sneaked up to pay a bill while his back was turned. The last time I was there, he took us to a taverna in the mulberry tree-lined village square in Stylos, about four miles from Megala Chorafia, nestled in the White Mountains. All Cretan food is grown or produced on the island and everything is eaten as it comes into season. Sheer heaven! Mano came to Ireland to visit us in the January that the smoking ban was introduced. My heart went out to him as he stood outside, freezing, in our cold climate, smoking in the doorway of the restaurant. How hospitable was that for our Cretan visitor!

Chania, the magnificent harbour of North Western Crete, was known over the centuries as the gateway to the East. It is also home of the second airport of the island. Chania, Souda Bay (naval base) and Rethymon were also military intelligence headquarters of the Allied Forces during World War II. The Venetian buildings of Chania, stretching out across the harbour, ooze romance and mystery. I stayed in the most exquisite room at Hotel Captain Vassilis overlooking the water. A dream-laced bed danced in the breeze, filtered through half-closed shutters; a white victorian bath only a few steps away to cool hot, satiated bodies in candle-lit shadows.


Likewise, while reading the Odyssey, Godfather 1,2 and 3 sprang to mind. They all begin at a christening or a wedding or some kind of family function. Here we go again, the whole feasting, hospitalaity thing! I only got to see those films quite recently and was blown away by them. I don't like the whole blood and guts thing, but I love Italian culture, their food, their music, their passion, and raw sensuality of the language. These movies are cinematic triumphs and the final scene of Part 3, is probably the most incredible filmic moment I have ever witnessed

Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino had never wanted to follow in his father's (Marlon Brando) footsteps, but could not escape the restraints of family duty. His wife (Diane Keaton) while still loving him, could no longer live the mafia lifestyle and had left some years previously. During the final scene on the steps of the opera house, where his son had made his opera debut, Michael and his ex witness the horrific shooting of their daughter (Sophia Ford Coppola, daughter of the film's director, Francis Frod Coppola)... a bullet that was meant for him. During this scene, there are no words, only images and music; Al Pacino's performance during this scene is quite spectacular. The blistering torment at the death of his daughter, the death of his marriage, the waste of his own life, is vomited all over the screen in a silent scream, which is taken to another level of excruciating pain, as sound resumes mid-scream. As the camera alights upon Corleone's ex-wife's face, it is obvious that this is the first time , she really understands her husband's torment; that he had no choice but to go with the family dynasty, that in someway, he sacrificed his own life and just how miserably difficult it had all been for him. It is an unforgettably powerful moment. I visited southern Italy and Sicily last year, and tried in vain to get to Corleone, but others within the travelling party were not as enthusiastic as I. I'll get there next year, however, even if it means taking a selfish sabbatical!

Corleone, Sicily

My Cretan friend, Mano, texted me recently, asking me where I was, because he had been expecting to see me in October. However, there has been no time for holidays so far this year, but I am hoping to get to Connemara in November when the Clonmel show is finished. I need to feel the wind on my face, get soaked to the skin and covered in mud, swim in the ocean and smell peat burning. Hopefully I will find a house at the edge of the ocean; so that when leaving windows wide open, I will be surrounded and overwelmed with sounds of crashing waves and howling winds! Will cook a huge pot of stew to last a couple of days, then a pan of chilli to last another few, lighting lanterns and candles to read by. The first time I passed through Oughterard and saw the sign that describes the town as the gateway to Connemara, I took that as mere publicity hype. However, my head was stuck to the windscreen as I drove from the town into perhaps the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen. Oughterard is undeniably what it says on the tin; it is a portal to another magical world, another planet almost, of not just ocean, but mountains, lakes and streams. It is quite instantly astounding! So you see from the hospitable feasts of the culinary type as written about in Celtic and Greek mythology, and seen in such mafia movies, there are also feasts for the soul. I'm also a great believer, that being hospitable is great for the soul.


There aren't too many rules in our house, and as the girls grew up there were really only two. 1. They should always always say 'please' and 'thank you'. 2. No matter who came into our home, they would be treated with kindness and dignity, which meant putting on the kettle, offering whatever was on the go and switching off the television! What is it like when someone offers you a smile...what a gift!... particularly if you're having a bad day. Another form of hospitality? I hadn't been in Ireland very long, and still a little precious about dear old Blighty, when a man, for whom we had waited two years to fix the roof, was sitting having a cup of tea and a slice of apple tart, said: 'In England, they ask you do you want a drink and they never give you as much as a biscuit with it, plus they all wash their cars on a Sunday morning.' I was quietly piqued, but sure enough, the next time I went home to Crewe, visiting mum, my dad, the uncles and aunts etc. etc. I didn't get as much as a slice of bread, never mind a biscuit, and as I walked around my old haunts one Sunday morning, guess what... they were all out on their fronts washing their cars!

Crewe railway station holds many magical memories for me. I would travel with two very excited little toddlers, from Limerick Junction,Tipperary by train as far as the boat in Dun Laoghaire and by train from Holyead to Crewe. The journey took approximately thirteen hours in total. What fun we had; such interesting people and conversations. Pulling into the station, stepping out on to the platform, looking for a taxi or a bus with my young family, introducing them to part of my heritage and indeed theirs, was very special. Many of my Irish friends spent the night on Crewe railway station waiting for a connection to Euston, London during the 60's and 70's when jobs were scarce or they were visiting relatives in Kilburn. Crewe is mainly associated with being the main railway junction in the North West of England, having a pretty decrepid soccer team, Crewe Alexandra and is home to the Rolls Royce and Bentley factory, which has now been taken over by BMW as far as I know.

Crewe Railway Station

So from the reading of The Odyssey, one train of thought, gathering momentum as it passes through various connections, arrives finally in Crewe. Flights of fancy fuelled by imagination need no aeroplane or field to land in. Like mythology, our minds can transport us anywhere. Isn't it just so exciting!
To finish on a musical note, from an old music hall song, ' Oh Mr. Porter, what shall I do? I wanted to go to Birmingham, but they dropped me off at Crewe!'

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