Galways

The first thing striking an arriviste about Galway, after you’ve got over all the bars and oysters and musicians that you trip over amongst the medieval city’s small streets, is the water.  This comes crashing down from Lough Corrib via an argumentatively ever-turbulent river, sneaking along in placid canals whose unexpected grey curves defeat the most obstinate of navigational determination, and, there in the most pressing implacable way, the cold bay out to the south.  Not only because this is a town built for fishing and sea-trade you feel its presence everywhere, and you can taste the sea on coming into the town and leaving it, if you wander around the docks or over a bridge or two, or go drinking near the Spanish arch, which unexotically looks as though it might really be for a short railway. Where I live is along the coast road, and what sold me was the walk from the town.  I kept looking left and would have bumped into things, but that the promenade is bare.  You get penetrating wind and I expect plenty of horizontally penetrating rain walking along here, but also wonderful moons when skies are clear, a brisk saltiness in all things, and mountains across the bay.  At least, I’ve been calling them mountains as that is what their looming and brooding seems to deserve.  They are part of that bit of County Clare known as the Burren, known for wildflowers and limestone formations and no trees: and they squat there, gently but immovably sloping, every time I go past and I imagine between times.  Between me and them is a great expanse of water, below, and of sky, above; and all these have a way of combining in infinite variety, glowing and dimming the light in colours that change and change.  Altogether I can’t think of them as hills.  Even though I know that just a good cycle west along the coast the land starts really crumpling up into some properly grand Connemara peaks.   Those are real mountains.

Anyway, greeting my mountains and barring the full whack of the Atlantic is a spit of land that goes to meet them with brief low cliffs, and I have to figure out how to get to this – running at dusk I keep missing and finding other bits of coast, all very interesting but none as romantic and solitary.  Meanwhile running along the strand with head turned seems to act as my tribute.

Which so far happens pretty often.  I take any chance I get to pay my respects to the yellows and misty blues and greens and purples (all the colours A.E. ever claimed were in Ireland); and whenever I cycle back from town there seems to be a glimmering moon over the bay, which adds a silver to the winking lights and dark purple.  Listening to Galway Bay FM as one ought, while unpacking and tidying the house, I overheard the announcement for a 10k run on the following Saturday, helpfully less dispiriting than the half-marathon on the same day.  I thought if I went and looked at my mountains a few more times I might be fit enough to finish in a reasonable time, and so I was, though the wind up that hill at 5k and in the turn towards the finish made life sticky.  Also the pedestrians, who wandered in and around and in front of all the runners as they were enjoying the sunshine, though I had little breath left to berate them.  It seems it’s a habit of those in Salthill when the weather is not abominable to promenade leisurely on the promenade.  The only concession made to economic necessity is to power walk, which means to walk wearing more tight fitting clothes and have a determined expression on one’s face.  And to go without a dog.  This is apparently the limited but legitimate expression of that kind of self-flagellating Puritanism suitable for a country in depression.

And Salthill is in depression.  It once evidently was a mildly thriving seaside spot, along the lines of small 1930s resorts on the English coast (though with better views), but it has within the last ten years faced a double plague of apartment building and now sunken prospects.  So white elephant hotels jostle with bad casinos, picture-framers with fish-and-chips, and the obsessively smart B&B’s with grey paved driveways and hopeful palm trees show an empty face to the world from their double-glazed porches.  I live just a minute or two from the sea up a hill past a mournful leisure centre whose brightly-coloured exterior tubes must be rustily thinking on former glories.  The prospect from my study is the corner of a Gaelic rules football pitch, named of course after (dead Irish patriot) Patrick Pearse, though an enormous new stand, optimistically constructed like so much here, rudely cuts out all but one goal.  On Sundays I can watch maybe a third of a match, but hearing the rest while seeing only a white-kneed goalkeeper pace up and down and then at half-time jog off obediently is unsettling.  Hurling is played here too so then the unseen incidents provoking the loudest jeers and yelps and screams probably involve players taking swings at each other with their sticks.  I keep watching in hopes that a brawl will enter from stage right.

If this is the view outside, inside my flat is capacious and snug all at once. I’ve arranged books and postcards to my taste in the study in order that I’ll want to go in, and have a wonderful large desk which is still virgin tidy.  The kitchen is electric and small but the living room has a fireplace and chimney in which to put a real fire, to me a glorious luxury. I’ve got smokeless fuels and a pile of wood fit to burn a big carbon footprint should I want to, but have only tried one fire, which was mesmerising as they usually are.  Come the darkness of winter I look forward to huddling.  The place is scruffy but none the worse for this – yet to hang pictures over wall stains but I’ll talk to the Salthill framers.  Lots of bathrooms, seemingly too many now the previous occupant has tidied up, and a futon so all very visitor friendly, if I can persuade anyone to brave the wind.

My office in the college has a nameplate and little else – a computer that doesn’t connect to the internet, a view of grass and a driveway, with the awareness of a river beyond – but again its spareness makes it a good place to begin things, as soon as I am Recognised.  I won’t go into the extent of a bureaucracy that might have shamed Kafka, as it is starting to seem more tiresome than amusing and I want to think Higher Thoughts; but it does raise interesting philosophical questions about how anyone proves they exist.  Descartes wrestled with this, but then he wasn’t locked out of a computer system.  I think therefore I’m not.  My only consolation is the mountains, which are indubitably there.

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~ by thebicyclops on October 20, 2009.

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