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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

An Teach Beag

Well, I had jumped off the bus in Clonakilty in a moment of whim, and tomorrow I will have been here three days. The town just keeps getting better the longer I stay.
After a nice bike ride to the beach yesterday afternoon, I relaxed at the hostel for dinner and then headed off to the evening session at An Teach Beag, the local trad pub. The fiddler du jour was one Seamus Creagh, whose wife I had spoken to yesterday morning. The fellows at the Corner House were quite right to put me on to him — fantastic fiddler. I remembered my tape recorder this time, and got at least some of the session recorded. Including, as usual, them goading me into playing a couple of old-time tunes. There was a piper visiting from Brittany, three fiddles (other than myself), two accordians, a guitar, a singer/flutist, and a very appreciative crowd.
Part of the appreciative crowd were Spanos — the fellow I met at lunch yesterday — and a couple of his Greek friends. They’ve been in town only a couple of weeks, and it was their first taste of Irish music. They seemed to like it. Spanos was insistent that I stop by again today, and he’ll give me a free place to crash for the night. Which sounds pretty good to me. The hostel was full of loud, drunken surfers last night, and not a good place to sleep. If I can couch surf with one of the Greek fellows tonight, that would be far preferable. Spanos himself turns out to be a lapsed physics PhD student with an interest in the philosophy of science. Naturally, we found no shortage of things to talk about, particularly as we both left academic life for similar reasons of being frustrated with the insularity of the institution.
So I’ll stay in Clonakilty again tonight for the Saturday session, and then get on to Skibbereen, I think. There’s a Monday session there, they say. Then I meet my next WWOOF host in Bantry on Tuesday afternoon, and shake the road dust from my boots for a couple of weeks.


Well, yesterday I bought a bus ticket to Skibberren, and got on the bus in the early afternoon. I was passing the ride pleasantly enough, when I started seeing signs for Clonakilty. The fellows at the Corner House had told me about a fiddler named Seamus who lives somewhere near Clonakilty. So, while the bus was stopped and letting people on, I made a spontaneous decision and got off.
So now I’ve been a day in Clonakilty, childhood home of The Big Guy, Michael Collins. No session on Thursday night, so I passed the night quietly at a pub on the outskirts of town — the local’s local. Only one other old fellow in there, with a West Cork accent so think that most of the time I didn’t know if he was speaking in English or Irish. It may have been a creole of the two, for all I know. It was as quiet a night in Clonakilty as any could be. I had the entire hostel to myself. I tried giving Seamus a call today, but he wasn’t in and I spoke to his wife instead. Seems he should be in town tonight for the Friday session. I’ll plan on heading down there tonight to check out the scene.
I decided to blow a bit of money today, since I probably won’t be spending any for a couple of weeks. I rented a bicycle for the day and rode out into the countryside to the ring fort outside of town. As luck would have it, it’s not open yet. I had a good long think as I looked at the not-very-tall fence surrounding the fort. Figuring that the monks were long-dead and the tourist board was yet on vacation, I climbed the fence, taking care to keep my genitals well clear of the barbed wire, and had a look about. The fort itself is surrounded by a stockade wall of wooden poles, the gate of which was fortunately unlocked. It’s a set of tenth century mud and thatch buildings, some of them partially underground. A tour guide would have been informative, but since the resident deer weren’t talking, I took a few photos and will read up on the place later.
After nosing about for a bit, I hopped back over the fence and rode my bicycle back along the harbor coast, stopping to fiddle by the seaside for an hour or so. Then, since I was by the sea for the first time in Ireland, I decided to pay for my first sit-down meal — fresh fish and chips in a local pub. The fellow who waited on me was a Greek guy named Spanos. He’s working for a couple of months in County Cork and then will be traveling around Ireland for a bit. He gave me his mobile number and seems pretty keen on going out for a beer later. I’ll give him a ring once I figure out the session schedule. A drinking partner can’t be a bad thing, and he seems a good guy.

The Corner House

One of the frustrating aspects of keeping this travel journal is that so many more interesting things are happening around me than I can reasonably record. I could easily spend as long writing about each day as I’ve spent living it. Of course, that would preclude being able to go about living the next day. And so I’m made a little bit sad about all of the pieces that I’ll be losing forever. My memory has always been lousy, and photos can only capture certain things, and aren’t really my medium, anyway. So I’m left with no choice but to extract the most life possible out of each day, and write down the bits that are still left with me by the end of it.
I had a nice morning in Midleton, and ran into Seamus on the street. He offered my coffee and directed me to visit the Corner House pub in Cork (in which I now sit). I hopped a bus into Cork City and wandered around until I found a hostel for the night. Then I set out, fiddle in hand, in search of adventure.
It didn’t take too long to find a bit. After a stopover in an Internet cafe, I headed down to the tourist district in search of street musicians. Cork is a different sort of city than Dublin. It feels younger, grittier, and more my style. Lots of posters up for anarchist meetings and graffiti that say things like “Beat Inflation — Steal”. Pretty okay. And yet, the street music scene was thin, at least on a Wednesday afternoon. I found one fellow playing Pixies covers on an acoustic guitar and asked for a bit of direction. He said that he made his living busking in Cork, but that most of the other buskers were fair-weather weekend warriors. As far as the local law, anywhere was fair game for playing. So I picked a busy-looking spot on the main shopping strip and went to work.
The fiddle, I think, has enormous advantage over the guitar as a busking instrument. For one, it’s a bit more novel, particularly given where I am and the style that I plaly. Folks here don’t hear a lot of old-time fiddle, and they generally seem to like it. Secondly, the tonal range of a fiddle simply cuts across the background noise much better than a guitar does. Particularly when I play out of cross A tuning (which I do a lot), I can make a good bit of sound, especially if I’m singing at the same time. It of course also helps that I have an unusually loud fiddle.
Anyway, busking went well again. In a bit less than two hours, I had covered the cost of my bus ride into town and my bed for the night. Then the weather (my constant foe in Ireland) turned bad, and it was back to the hostel for a feast of instant rice. Now I’m at the Corner House put, awaiting the evening session. And I’ve forgotten my tape recorder yet again. Still more moments lost forever…

Floating to Cork

My time with Patsy ended well, but it has ended. We got most of the finishing touches done on the wall yesterday, and then went out to drink beer and shoot pool at the local to celebrate. Like the rest of the human race, both Patsy and I are more talkative with a few pints in us. We chatted a bit, shot some pool (Irish rules, of course), and then went home. I slept soundly, and then we went to finish a few more things on the wall today. That done, I was ready to move on to a bit more society before my next WWOOF. Patsy was on his way to Middleton to meet a girl, so I hitched a ride with him, said goodbye on Main St., and checked into a hostel for the night. The woman at the hostel saw my fiddle and immediately directed me to the local Tuesday night session at Wallis’ Pub. It was another great trad session. The proprieter, a friendly fellow named Seamus, was handing out free pints to the musicians. I took advantage, of course. As usual, folks seemed interested in what I was doing. I scratched along with the Irish tunes, played one old-time tune for them, and generally enjoyed the company of human society. The gents at the session compiled a list of pubs for me to visit up the west coast of Ireland. A concertina player named John Hastings from County Clare wrote down several of his favorite haunts and which nights the sessions happen. I should now have a good musical map of western Ireland. I’ll have to make a new one when I get up toward Donegal, but what I’ve got now is a great start. There was also a dancer at the pub tonight named Mags who did a terrific brush (broom) dance. I made her show me the basic steps so I can dance a few hornpipes and reels later, should I happen upon a good Ceili.
Being in the company of dancers and musicians is a blessing like no other. It constantly opens doors for me that nothing else would.

In and Out of Time

My sense of time is a complete mess here in Ireland. For starters, I haven’t got any sort of watch or clock with me. Time didn’t mean much when I was hiking; the available light and the ache in my knees were timekeeper enough. Secondly, I’m so far north that my usualy reckoning of sunrise and sunset havent’ caught up. It’s a bit after 9:00 at night, and the sun has just set, with enough light left outside by which to read. I haven’t yet figured out what time the sunrise happens. Thirdly, it’s always cloudy. Today was one of those rare afternoons where the sun shines for a bit, but most days it isn’t the case. So to tell the time by the light the way I would at home is to differentiate between shades of grey, taking into account the thickness of the cloud cover. All of this means that I never really have any idea what time it is. Fortunately, it still doesn’t matter much.
Today being Sunday, it was a relaxing day off. I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast of bread and cereal, and took the bicycle into town a few miles away. Not that there’s much to the town — a few pubs and a couple of general stores — but it was something to aim for, anyway. I bought a few food supplies for dinner, and took a leisurely ride back as the sun decided to make an appearance from behind the clouds. Then it was a bit of fiddling on the porch, a snack, a nap, some tea, and more fiddling. For dinner, I made a heart attack in a pan — sausages, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes fried in butter. Delicious — I’ll probably be dead by morning. I feel like my caloric requirements are still on overdrive. And since my host is a fellow who survives almost entirely by the providence of his juicer, drastic measures were called for.
My peat fire from last night burned so well that there were still hot hoals in the stove when I opened it to build tonight’s fire, which has already warmed up the cabin nicely. I’ve also trimmed the wicks in the lamps and gotten them burning better, so everything in my world tonight is light and warmth. I’ll have a bit of bread and cheese before bed, and then read a bit more about the lore of Slievenamon. Tomorrow will be a longer day of stonework, so it would be well if I were rested.