Monday, August 06, 2007

















"Chicken for One"


Eleven summers ago, I got a job that paid a liveable wage.
Ten summers ago, I got over a broken heart.

And nine summers ago, I got confident.

That summer, I was back in love--with a new feller, someone intriguing and exciting yet damnably inscrutable and taciturn--ready to embark on the extended dance re-mix tour of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man.

Unequivocally, I heart Ireland, so hopping a plane across the pond for six weeks was a pleasure. Moreover, when I hit 31, my crow's feet and I had a talk (Crow's Feet: "Caw, Caw. You'se a crinkled hag. Caw!" Me: "Listen, Ass-hat, I can easily put duct tape over you and claim it's some new mid-face fashion trend, so tread lightly"). Ultimately, after some squabbles and a few lost rounds with a bottle of Oil of Olay, Crow's Feet and I decided to start a skin-maintenance program...and where better to do that than in the misty, pore-drenching climes of Guinnessland? Plus, I had a good friend who was hankering to see the place, who was willing to pay, as well, for a mutual Polish friend to accompany us; too, I had a cousin who was keen to join the fray. The four of us women agreed to do the deed, spending various stretches of time together--on again, off again, depending on the locale and personal desires.

Whereas my trip to the UK the previous summer had been tinged with melancholy and the need for some self-esteem recovery, this holiday was, simply, purely, about joy. I felt strong, healthy and as though my life held at least seventeen kinds of possibility. Let the wind tousle my hair! I shouted. (...metaphorically, of course. Who would I have literally shouted that at? A flight attendant? Would he then have stopped the beverage cart long enough to run a manicured hand through my tresses? As if. Those attendants are way too self-absorbed to do me such a favor. It just wouldn't happen, so I must be metaphoricalizing. Catch up with me here, Mortimer.)

But lookie: the wind did blow my hair, even though I never actually said it out loud. The Wind Goddess, Mariah, must have read my wishes. Mariah also hosts an infomercial on late-night tv, in which she hawks her tarot-reading powers. Having financial trouble? Call her 1-800 line.

A rough cross-section of that vacation reveals

...tumbled castles







...a whiff of King Arthur (not the scent of decay you'd expect)



...hospitality from strangers whose walls dripped with history (but not, to my dismay, lager)



...and a terrific snog

Overall, there was much beauty on that journey: the sights, sharing a beloved place with friends, seeing a best girlfriend get married on the Isle of Man. And there was much that was stressful on that trip (suffice it to say, not all personalities mesh well, and it became necessary for some of us to part ways and recover a bit in separate corners before reuniting).

Due to the clashes, however, I stumbled into something I mightn't have chosen deliberately: traveling alone. Much is made of "women who travel alone"--I've seen whole tomes on the subject--but, in this case, gender wasn't the issue at all. Mostly, my solo week was remarkable because it was comprised of the minute acts of courage that any traveler has to muster when not buffered by the words, presence, and security of a partner or group. These acts aren't visible to any outside onlooker, not palpable to anyone save the lone individual. But what I learned that week is that once the protective layers of companions are shed, the lone traveler experiences a kind of vulnerability--and welcome exposure--that is a privilege.


Thus, even though I spent six weeks seeing and eating and moving from place to place that summer, the lasting impression I have of that time is actually of one rare week, when I hopped a bus all by my Big Brave Self, bidding my cousin adieu for that piece of time, and stayed by myself at a B & B in Killybegs, Co. Donegal.

Almost immediately, I discovered that being alone meant I was more approachable. When I'd been with friends, no native would approach me or strike up a conversation, but by myself, I was making friends in the line at the cash-point machine, having lingering cups of tea with my B & B hostess, chatting with farmers driving their tractors down the road. As well, I became very conscious of how much time I spent in my room (could have laid on the bed all day, finishing A Prayer for Owen Meanie, even as I cursed its saccharine hero), making sure I had a destination each day that would counter my natural inclination towards the horizontal. Perhaps most gratifying about that week were my forays into hitching; since Donegal is sparsely populated and bus service is irregular, sticking out the old thumb was the prime way to get around. Of course, I'd seen Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher some years before, so every time I emerged from a stranger's car, all my limbs intact, breath still in my lungs, the air struck me as redolent with four-leaf clovers, and my steps were positive boing-a-sproings of relief.


Heady with the sense of adventure, I explored the county, hiking the glorious Slieve League, buying hand-knit sweaters, popping in to witness a religious Blessing of the Fleet ceremony in a warehouse at the dock, fending off the advances of a gormless but lusty fisherman.

Occasionally, my stomach growled, a noise that intimated I might, at some point, need to eat.

Alone.

And you know? That was ultimately the hardest part of the entire deal. I dodged the issue a few times by purchasing my lunch from a grocery, but eventually, as is my wont, I craved hot, cooked food. So I paced outside a family-friendly pub for some minutes before entering. Once inside, I eyed the bar and then eyed the tables. It was too dark to pull out my book for occupation. I would have to sit, alone, and eat, alone, staring at nothing, talking to no one.

I ordered the chicken. It came with potatoes.

Then, the next day, as I strolled past a different pub, music wafted out--excellent fiddle music. On a whim, I dodged in and worked obviously and diligently on my travel journal (first day I'd kept one!) until I was certain my presence wouldn't raise a hue and cry. Emerging several hours later, I felt as though I'd found my new home. Each night thereafter, I visited this pub, pulling on my pints as I listened to the most-lovely music played by the proprietor and his mates, easing into conversation with my fellow fortunates.

Within the space of seven days, I had A Local, knew some familiar faces around the village, and had gawped during an evening of dancing at my B & B hosts' favorite club (Just me and a hundred 55-year-olds, circling the floor in a waltz, the native ladies in their pumps, me in my London Underground hiking boots). Being alone had given me an entree no passport ever could.

This congenial time of personal expansion ended rather too abruptly, in truth, when my cousin decided to rejoin me in the next leg of my plans: to stay a week in Connemara in a small town called Cleggan. Resolutely, we aimed towards fun, even achieving some (despite an afternoon on the back of an Irish pony).


In Cleggan, and then in Northern Ireland at the farm of distant relations, and then on the Isle of Man, we had moments of great togetherness as we whizzed down the "wrong" side of the road in our rental, taking refuge in that small car when a herd of hungry cows surrounded us, licking their, em, cuds (and chewing their chops); we descended into hilarity rolling around the Giant's Causeway and mock-attacking at various ring forts; we simultaneously missed heartbeats when we realized we'd visited the town of Omagh in Northern Ireland three days before an IRA bomb in the main square created the higest body count of any during The Troubles. We found a common vibe, and I easily fell back into the comfort of companionship.

However.

As it turns out, learning to forge ahead while feeling nervous and uncertain and alone was a tremendous gift. Nearly the moment I landed back in The States, before I'd even laundered my unmentionables, I was informed abruptly and ignominiously that the new feller was quite over me--had been for some time but was too passive to make the cut earlier (You know, before my trip, during which I then could have rustled up a little comfort in the pub or on a beach. The fecknob).

In the ensuing weeks, as I lay sleepless and agitated and profoundly heartsore, lonelier than I'd known I could be,

at least I had Donegal.


30 comments:

White Forest said...

cool pics!

jen said...

i just love coming over here. your adventures. you. the soul shining through.

and fecknob? love it.

AmyTree said...

I love the getting-to-know-you-in-retrospect!! Such a saga (and what lovely photos!). x

Glamourpuss said...

'Fecknob' - great word.

Your observations cut to the heart of the matter - travelling alone is a gift - it forces you to be brave, and while I have encountered pity from some (the waitress in a Haworth resaurant as I ate dinner alone one Saturday night, on the whole, people are warm and welcoming and you get to see and do stuff you'd never experience in a group.

When I am scared and times are tough, I remind myself that I travelled from one end of Japan to the other, entirely alone, and without a word of Japanese. I lost a lot of weight on that trip.

Puss

yinyang said...

I've only been able to eat lunch alone a couple of times. It's a small thing, but it's hard to do. And hitchhiking too - you're brave.

velvet said...

One is the perfect number sometimes and it sounds like a marvelous trip. Yet another great story!

Oh, and he was a spineless turd for not being a man sooner. Coward! Sorry about your heartache, though.

My Reflecting Pool said...

boing-a-sproings. heheee. Great descriptions, great story. Wonderful bravery. You weave a wonderful tale.

lime said...

i am so loving this travelogue and the lessons it imparts. i haven't tralled alone as extensivley as youhave but what little i have done yes, there is a freedome that occurs, and i rather like it. i've avoided certain adventures since being married because the mister is not so interested....but the wanderlust still pulls. maybe it's time to plan a few solo forays....thank you.

Jazz said...

More. More. More!!!!!

Balou said...

What a great trip and what a great lesson. I've often been afraid to do things alone but your experience makes me want to try it out.

furiousBall said...

I wish I had a David Lee Roth quote to clarify all this, but alas, Diamond Dave is even at a loss for words. What?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience. Those must be really cherished memories. Thanks for sharing.

Logophile said...

What an amazing way and place to discover more about who you are. I am loving this retrospective.
And also,
Fecknob indeed, I LOVE that

mcewen said...

We're back after 20 days in England in the )(**& rain, kissing the sun bleached sands of California, but you post makes me feel homesick all over again.
Best wishes

frannie said...

fecknob, indeed!!

you are so brave to go it alone! much braver than I!

Jill said...

I've never had the nerve to brave a restaurant alone with the protection of a book. Maybe I'll try it sometime.

Voyager said...

One can be a wonderful number for travelling. I have never been to the land of leprecauns, but your photos make me want to go. I did once travel alone for a month to New Zealand and Australia nursing a recently broken heart, and met so many people I wouldn't have if I had travel mates. Including one lovely British Army officer on a skiing vacation. Wink.

Wizened Wizard said...

What a great memory! It may be that the times we hold dearest are those we spend "alone", a state we too seldom experience. Your week in Donegal sounds wonderful. Suddenly I want to travel - - all by myself.

Diesel said...

fecknob, eh? Filing that one away.

Claire said...

I love that word -fecknob-!
You are far braver than I. You need to write a book for cryin'out loud!
btw - I would so love to visit Ireland. I'm jealous! Love the pics.

Vest said...

You are so lucky to be a tourist visiting these places of serenity and beauty.
I have visited Nth Ireland and the Isle of man way back a fair bit. Ill send an excerpt from my memoirs which relates to the I O Man in a seperate comment as there is no email arrangemet,you may choose to delete it or otherwise.

Vest said...

Christmas. I went to the Isle of Man where I visited people who had befriended me during my training. While on this visit, I met my first wife.
It had been eleven months since I had received any form of affection from a woman. Well-meaning friends had introducedme to Peggy Wallace, a young woman who was eighteen days my senior. She was about five feet six inches tall, with a slim build, brown hair, and hazel eyes. She shied away from heavy petting. It was she, however, who wanted wedding bells. They rang in September 1947.
My best man was Mr John Christian, an old friend who claimed to be related to Fletcher Christian of HMS Bounty, ‘The mutiny and all that.’ Peggy, I soon discovered, was as nervous as a nun and as frigid as a cold kipper. Although I thought it prudent not to enquire about the previous loss of her maidenhead, I was at a loss as to why it required such an enormous amount of coaxing for her to perform even the most basic marital exercise. This sort of situation gives credence to the theory ‘Try before you buy’. However, this unloving relationship remained the same to the end of the marriage.
I had returned from duty in the Mediterranean when Peggy told me that it was all over; she had found another love. This came as a shock to me. I wrote several times to try to resolve the problem. She replied only once to my letters and returned all of them (the proverbial Dear John.) After a while, I wrote my last letter, indicating to her that I had accepted the inevitable and that divorce proceedings could now commence. It was all over three years later. The least said about this matter the better; it was a complete disaster. Thanks to generous funding by my saintly stepfather, I was able to retain an expensive legal firm, at Wine Office Court, LONDON, EC4 to disentangle myself from this unfortunate liaison.
Information I received from my legal advisor came as a surprise. How it was uncovered remains a mystery. I was told that it was discovered that Peggy had inherited property on her marriage to me under provisions made in a will by a benefactor. The total amount of time consummating the marriage; in all about ten weeks, and I having contributed next to nothing, left this nice lady the opportunity to unload me as unwanted baggage. Was I set up? Who knows!
Peggy remains the only former love for whom I have little regard. Whoever she shot through with probably saved me from a fate worse than death. I often wondered who her new love was. Maybe it was a very large frozen Codfish.

Jeannie said...

I bow to your courage to travel alone. Eating alone is very hard.
I don't understand how you only meet locals alone though. My husband and I always meet tons of people everywhere regardless of whether we are in a group or just us. I have been to N. Ireland a couple times and once the locals heard my accent, they were very friendly and chatty.
My husband is always after me to join him when he goes home. If we can plan a tour around the south as well, and maybe a jaunt over to Europe, I might consider it.

Mother of Invention said...

A perfect picture to end a great post, Jocelyn!
I applaud you on your comfort level of being alone. I never did that and even now would find it more difficult than when I was young.

Dorky Dad said...

Fecknob is now in my vocabulary.

I adored Ireland when I was there, especially the music. My personal fantasy has me living out my years in county Kerry learning to play folk music.

Diana said...

Someday, someday. I have dreams of a lovely pub-to-pub walking tour. (Hopefully hand in hand with my groom, rather than on my own, though.)

Shari said...

I am so jealous. Ireland is one of the places I want to visit. Maybe some day...

Thanks for sharing your pictures of beauiful Ireland.

CS said...

WHat an adventure. I did not travel alone until I went to Australia this winter. Turns out, I like travelling alone. It's very freeng.

urban-urchin said...

I LOVE Donegal. I was there for a week shooting a music video around the same time they were shooting Braveheart nearby- so finding crew was a bitch. But we stayed at the Red Castle- a beautiful hotel cum castle and watched many a wedding party foray in and out (in fact up late one evening waiting to meet the star stylist we flew in for the job, i watched one incredibly drunk just married couple as the groom fell ass over tea kettle down the stairs and his lovely bride pulled a Linda Blair into the nearby umbrella holder). The locals were lovely and trusting and the landscape is some of the most beautiful i've ever seen. sigh- thanks for the memories...

Princess Pointful said...

Travelling by oneself is the best way to really get to know yourself... there's something so comforting when you like what you find.