My favorite part of the beach is feeling the immenseness of God while seeing the careful details of His creation–a tiny shell, a delicate strip of seaweed. And all of the while, the waves rhythmically pummel the grainy shore.
In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes that maybe God is like a child in the way He enjoys the repetition of His creation. It’s not that He is stuck in a rut or that He even has a factory that stamps the same design on daisy after daisy. Instead, He delights in the repetition of His creation like a child, “[exulting] in monotony.” “For we have sinned and grown old,” writes Chesterton, “and our Father is younger than we.”
I think about this as I pick smooth pieces of broken shells out of the sand around my towel. The sea creeps closer. Then the wind picks up and I turn my back to it and watch people walking their dogs along the walking path. On top of the mountains swelling beyond the port, are caps of brilliant snow.
The roar of look-alike waves settles something so deep in me that tears prickle behind my eyes.
Just that week, darkness had threatened with a roar, but the roar of a starving lion rather than a roar of majestic waves. And for a few awful moments I had felt its breath on my neck, breath that smelled of despair.
Will the lion come back? My heart races to even consider it. Please no, God. Not again. But, if I’m honest, there are tired days I want to let myself be consumed, as if stopping the struggle could bring relief.
I pack my things–my damp towel, the handful of broken shells, and my sunglasses. As I walk to the bus stop, the salt from the ocean spray still clings to my lips. I lick them. And then I lick them again. The salt remains. I smile, imagining that I smell like the sea.
My heart has quieted. Perhaps it was in the faithfulness of the Father’s repetitive creation. Or the delightful majesty of ocean and mountains. Perhaps. But even in the bitter wind, His Presence is here.
I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.
So, where did I leave off?
Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.
We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.
We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.
We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.
After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.
Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.
Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.
After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.
The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.
I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.
We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.
The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.
Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”
I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”
He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”
And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.
You may be tired of hearing about Ireland. I was only there a few days, after all. I suppose I could be succinct, but where’s the fun in that?
Friday morning we rolled out of bed at 4:45. We had packed our lunches the night before, so it didn’t take us long to get out the door and to the bus stop. Some of the grief from our place of residence had been eased by sleep. We were determined to love the day.
We had booked a day tour from Dublin (east coast) to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway (west coast). Our guide gave us a fascinating peek into Ireland’s history and culture as our coach bumbled out of Dublin. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the scenery as the sun rose over the Irish countryside. Mists came up from the green rolling land, promising that fairies and leprechauns were real after all. It was breathtaking, but only one small part of a breathtaking day.
The weather was perfect: a mixture of sun and clouds and a constant but empty threat of rain. And the cliffs–Oh, the cliffs! No wonder the place was full of tourists with their cameras. My heart wanted to stop at the wild beauty of the place. (And having a cardiac arrest at the Cliffs of Moher would not have been so bad, really. Rather romantic.)
As we wandered up and down the marked trails, soaking it in, I couldn’t shake the sensation that I had stepped into a very beautiful photo.
We traveled through the Burren, our driver skillfully maneuvering the mammoth tour coach down skinny roads next to steep drop offs. We made a brief stop for photos in the National Park where craggy rocks dropped off into the ocean in impressive cliffs.
Our guide gave us another fascinating history lesson before we stopped at the Kilmacduagh Abbey ruins. I wanted an hour or two to roam, not 10 minutes.
Our last stop was Galway, an outstanding city on the west coast. Our guide told us just to go and enjoy the city without trying to see too much. That’s the best way to experience Galway, he said. He also gave us a list of restaurants, recommending the famous Galway fish and chips.
My friend bought us dinner at McDonagh’s for an early birthday gift–smoked fish and chips and fresh oysters. The last time I had tried oysters, I had wanted to gag. But that was in rural Illinois, about as far from the ocean as you can get. Would I gag this time? I was nervous as I squeezed lemon on my oyster. To make it worse, the place was packed even at this odd hour and we were sitting elbow to elbow with strangers.
But I didn’t gag. The smooth oyster that slipped from its shell into my mouth was fresh, clean, and sweet. I eyed the leftover oyster on the plate until my friend generously gave in.
While my friend did a little shopping in an Aran Island wool shop, I sat outside to listen to buskers who looked like brothers. They seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of their harmony, maybe especially when I dropped coins in their guitar case.
The entire evening felt enchanted. I slipped a few euros in my pocket and we wandered the streets of downtown Galway, stopping to listen to almost every street musician, even the dude singing “Galway Girl.” The way the Irish value the arts is something one can sense, even in a brief interaction with the culture, such as I had.
And, wouldn’t you know, we found another Butlers and strolled back to the bus, hot chocolates and truffles in hand. Darkness fell as we rode back across the island to Dublin. It was a day that made be believe I wanted to stay in Ireland forever.
Well, except the dirty little cottage that we had to return to.
Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.
I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)
My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.
I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.
As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.
I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.
Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.
“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”
I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.
From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.
Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.
I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.
On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.
In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.
I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.
One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.
At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.
The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.
The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.
Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.
I took a vacation day to get out of town and soak in some green. Most of the immigrants got off the bus at the Mytown stop. An assorted crew of elderly Spaniards remained, talking like they all knew each other. Maybe they did. Then there was me, who probably left them wondering if I had missed my stop.
The weather was gorgeous, but I forgot how long the hike was from the bus stop. I also forgot just how intense the Spanish sun can be when you’re hiking uphill. I was sweaty when I finally parked myself under a tree to revive myself with L.M. Montgomery and roasted almonds.
The park was quiet, only the occasional picnickers and the North African couples who came to do their illicit smooching (who I tried to avoid until I decided that they should be avoiding me).
Winding down the mountain on the bus ride home, I was staring out the window at the departing green when I realized that the bus radio was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” The refrain (however monotonous) was a fitting closure to a morning that had sent me back to my country girl roots.
Lord willing, in a few short days, I plan to move. As excited as I am about this next step, I am sad to leave Immigrantville behind. There are lots of things I will miss. Some things are big, but I will miss the small things too… like the daily view from my bedroom window.
I have been snapping photos, trying to enjoy the view to the fullest before I start waking up to a view of my new neighbors’ windows.
Alive and snapping air
Orange, yellow, red apples
Orange, yellow, red trees
And unraked piles of leaves
From terrific prairie wind
Whistling through brown stalks of corn.
Is it possible to be so alive
In a season that’s dying?
Today is a lovely day, Where the sprightly green of e.e. cummings Is disappearing With drops of gold and red From God’s paintbrush. The thick summer air Turns crisp with apples, Wind, and insects. And the sun--oh, the sun!-- Is an entire orchestra as it sets And beckons brilliant constellations.