Al and Marsha's Journal




March 10th


Back to work today and all is going well.


A couple more unsolicited thoughts from your writer; I have been doing some thinking about cultures and how they differ. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to other countries, and have observed a number of different cultures in action.


What has occurred to me is that, aside from the obvious differences of colour and language, what differentiates most cultures from each other is rooted in things much more simple and subtle. I have experienced five different English speaking cultures, and they differ from each other as much as Canadian culture differs from Turkish or Israeli culture.


I have started to take note of the subtle differences in how things are said and done here in Ireland, and here are my initial observations:


1. Toilets – they don’t have bathrooms, washrooms or restrooms in places like shops, offices and restaurants… they have toilets.


2. Toilets again. – actually this is a more general observation that didn’t hit me until this weekend when I was driving down Lough           Swilly….. in every country I have visited each one has a different mechanical means to flush toilets.  Isn’t that strange?


3. Toilets again – if you are ever in Ireland and see a door with only the word “Fir” on it, that’s the men’s toilet, and “Mna” is the ladies toilet…… just so you know.


4. Time – 2:30 is half-two.


5. Speed bumps are “Ramps”


6. Salads… as described above… a common base with a variety of tops


7. I have yet to get a bill in a restaurant without having to wave frantically at the waiter and ask for it, or to go up to the register to ask for it.  A lot like France in this regard.


8. As I have previously mentioned, almost without exception so far, everyone is most friendly and courteous. You never pass someone in a hallway without them acknowledging you. Drivers are almost universally courteous to each other, and people in stores always cheerful and happy to oblige. It is most refreshing.


9. “Right now” or “now” is “at the minute”


10. When a house is sold the sign doesn't say "Sold" it says "Sale Agreed"


I will drop more of the amazing observations into this journal as they appear to me…. Stay tuned for more.


March 11 - 14th


These were all  long work days with little time  for  anything except working eating, and sleeping. No new touring, no new  insightful observations.... too pooped.  Actually, I exaggerate, even though I logged almost fifty hours at work this week, the project is going very well. It's on time and looking very good. The people with whom I work are very pleasant  and totally dedicated to getting the job done. On Thursday night six of us went out to dinner together at the Lemon Tree restaurant, and we had a great time.


March 16th


Glenn is going to Belfast today, and spending the night there prior to his plane ride  back to San Diego tomorrow. I decided, in my  newly found spirit of adventure to drive him there, and then return to Letterkenny. Off we went at about 10:30 in the morning, and followed the easiest and most highway-like route.


On the way I made a few new observations, and had a little rethink (is there such a word? There must be as my spell checker didn't object.) of a previous one.


The drive to Belfast has the slightly unnerving characteristic of being a route through much of Northern Ireland, including that most frightening of IRA names...  Londonderry, or Derry as it is more  commonly referred to. (P) Once again, normal people, doing normal business, in a pretty little town.


On a couple of occasions in Northern Ireland I saw a sign which said:


                            "When those who make the Law

                             break the Law

                             in the name of the Law

                             there is no Law!"


That is an exact quote, and try as I may I have no clue what it is about.  Obviously, however, the people of Northern Ireland are expected to know exactly  what it means because that's all it says. I am not even sure if it makes sense at all.


By the way, I saw another sign several times along the way: "Heavy Plant Crossing".  Now I don't know about you, but that sign evoked some very interesting images in my mind. One in particular was a vague recollection from a sequence in Disney's Fantasia, which involved what to my child's mind looked like giant malevolent trees dancing. Could this be where those trees were from?


As always I was entranced by the countryside, with its mile after mile of rolling farmland, interspersed from time to time with  little villages each of which, on driving out the other end, thanked me  for driving carefully.  I wonder if those lunatic drivers were driving slowly enough to get the point.


Speaking of driving, one of the things one must be able to handle when driving outside the centre of any city is the fact that around any corner of any of these one and one half lane, or even two lane roads with numbers which designate them as main highways, one may encounter a line of cars crawling along, at the head of the line being a farm vehicle. Much patience required here as there is very little chance to pass safely. This lack of passing room didn't deter the idiots though, who were prone to passing on curves and going uphill.


Another terminology item:


Passing Lanes when they rarely occur are "Crawling Lanes". Invokes another image doesn't it. What it really refers to are those cars in the "being passed" lanes.


Back a few dozen paragraphs or so I was ranting about the housing which I had seen, and how bland and homogeneous it seemed. Well, thanks to a wrong turn on the way East from Derry I happened upon what  was obviously a "posh" neighborhood where the houses were very charming, individual and  modern looking and very large compared to what I had previously seen. This little bit of serendipity immediately translated into another of my philosophical jumpings to conclusion. (Bill G's spell checker didn't like "jumpings", but to hell with him, its my journal.) 


What I have decided about this house matter is that it is a class situation. The middle class live in the one story cracker boxes, the upper middle class live in the two story cracker boxes with fake dormers and bright colours, and the upper class live in the big, individual, elegant houses. Where do the lower class live? In row housing and flats. Does any of that sound familiar. A rose by  any other name is still.......


Another observation, which in some ways is counter intuitive..... In Northern Ireland, which as we all know has been torn by political turmoil for god knows how long (euphemistically referred to as "The Troubles".... elegant understatement), the roads are infinitely superior to those in County Donegal, in the Republic.  If one were to close one's eyes driving West from Londonderry (the passenger I mean, not the driver) one would know the precise moment when the car crossed the borderless border. (Yes, there are no border crossings of the type we have between Canada and the US, although there were until quite recently.) Roads in Donegal are pitiful, literally. Some potholes threaten to swallow cars whole. On the route to where I am working last week some workmen flung some ashphalt into several holes on the road. By the end of the day the cars driving over them had returned them to their previous state. My guess is that it is an anti-unemployment program to keep as many people as possible filling and refilling pot holes forever.


The countryside in Ireland is dramatically different from that which we are used to. There are no geographical rough edges, with the exception of the edge of the sea, where the cliffs are very rugged and high. The tallest mountain in the country is barely 3,000 feet. All of the terrain is rolling hills and shallow valleys. (P) This is due to the effect of receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age scouring the land. This probably accounts for all of the rocks in the soil as well.


Enough for now..... it's time for dinner, and a nap....  In my next entry I will explain the Telly in Ireland.... or at least as it is seen from the Castle Grove Hotel....


Footnote: I decided to go up the road a bit to a pub and restaurant called the "Silver Tassie" (I think "Tassie" is short  for tassel, but even if it were, what does it mean?) where I have had a pleasant meal before, hoping to repeat the experience. Wrong!!  The place was jammed from front to back with local revelers having a grand old time. And, because the folks over here have been at this a lot longer than we have, the place was full of kids from no age to teenage, having a great time with their friends, and their families. Very strange experience to see little kids running around a bar.  


I am not sure whether this is a regular Saturday night circumstance, or because it's St. Patrick's Day weekend, which as you can imagine is a big deal here. More on that later.


From the back there was a deep booming sound coming through the floors and walls. I went to investigate, and after walking down a short corridor towards the music (?) I entered a scene which would be instantly recognizable to any reader who has ever been to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  There were about a hundred ten to thirteen year old boys and girls in this room. All of the girls were dancing with each other and with a great deal of energy and precocious sexiness, while the boys stood in great discomfort around the edges trying to look disinterested and cool.  Talk about deja vu all over again.!


I gave up on that idea and went back to the elegance of the Castle Grove and shared the dining room with another batch of families celebrating still more confirmations.



March 16th


I  took on another excellent adventure tour today from Letterkenny down the unexpectedly excellent highway to Donegal Town. Aside from the idiot drivers  passing on hills and curves it was a pleasant drive. 


In one situation (Marsha, don't read this  part) I became aware of a black convertible behind me with the young driver craning his neck to try to pass. Incredibly he decided to pass when he had to pass me plus three other vehicles, and there was a car coming the other way. He got along side me and at that point realized that he was in deep doodoo. So what did he do, he moved into my lane. Now, being the cautious and aware driver that I am, I could see what was going to happen, so I moved onto the shoulder (lucky for me, him and the driver coming the other way, there actually was a shoulder wide enough to accommodate both of us. Normally there is no shoulder at all.) But here's what really got me... the idiot just moved on and passed the rest of the group when he could without so much as a finger wave to thank me for saving his sorry ass. What a jerk. 


After an otherwise uneventful drive through more beautiful rolling hillsides and through a pass flanked on both sides by low hills, which on the map are called mountains, I arrived in Donegal Town. (P)


It is easily as large as Letterkenny, and just as closed up for Sunday except for a few pubs and souvenir shops.. Even the public loos (toilets) were closed. I guess they think that no one has to pee on Sundays. I strolled around for some time, taking pictures of doors, and buildings, before continuing on toward Killybegs further along the coast of Donegal Bay. 


The road now resumed its narrow, twisting nature and followed the coastline quite closely. I passed through a number of small towns; Mountcharles, Inver, Dunkeely stopping regularly for picture taking and sight taking in. There have been many places with wonderful photo opportunities which I have had to pass up because there was no safe place to stop. When I say the roads are narrow, and mostly without measurable shoulders, I am not exaggerating. 


As I got close to Killlybegs I saw a sign proclaiming the town as "Ireland's Premier Fishing Port". As I entered the town I could see why. The place reeked of fishing both visually and nasally. (P)  


I looked about  for a bit, decided the atmosphere was a bit too much, consulted my map and moved on to a side excursion further along the coast of Donegal Bay to Kilcar and Carrick. The  scenery was spectacular with many hillside farms, most of which were populated with sheep, all overlooking the spectacular bay. (P)  


After a bit I turned back and headed to Killybegs where I would turn North on the return loop to Letterkenny. I did not tarry in Killybegs, but passed straight through.


This might be as good a place as any to mention the absolutely amazing quality and abundance of road signage. It would be almost impossible to get hopelessly lost driving around this part of the country. I find it very easy to navigate to where I want to be, and to find where I am on the excellent maps. One place where confusion could reign supreme for someone from North America is the  roundabouts, but they are so well marked that you would really have to be asleep to take a wrong exit from one.


The road continued Northwest through a number of delightful small towns; Meentullynagam, Ardara, Kilrean to Glenties where the main road (Ha!!) went on West and I  turned onto a secondary highway Northeast to Letterkenny. 


Almost as soon as I left Glenties the countryside became at once higher rolling hills, and more and more desolate looking. The hills were totally bare of trees, and covered in what looked like desert scrub. Ireland is, of course, most decidedly not a desert. There were occasional  patches of pine trees, but it soon became apparent that these were all planted as forest farms. Aside from tiny little bits of trees around houses, etc there are virtually no natural stands of trees. The guidebook claims that less than 1% of native oak stands remain in Ireland. (P)


This may explain why, on every bit of construction I saw being carried out, the main material for at least the exteriors is cinder block. The scarcity of wood, and the inconvenience of using native rock for new construction has led to the cinder block being the material of choice.


At one point I began to see piles of white plastic bags in some fields, and in others, the bags were laid out in rows.  At first I thought it was a tip (garbage dump), but after a time I realized that these were bog fields and the bags  were being  filled with peat for market.

Peat is a very large natural resource in Ireland. Virtually the entire central plain of the country is bog, and peat has long been used for a variety of things, such as burning for heat and cooking, for roofing, etc. Ireland has no coal or oil of its own, so the peat bogs still perform a valuable service.


After driving through about forty-five kilometers of these winding roads, across one lane and one and one half lane bridges, and through the rolling hills and valleys I  arrived at Letterkenny, and headed for the nearest available loo. (I still can't use the word toilet in public without squirming). 


Back at the hotel, I began the tasks of updating this journal and sorting through the pictures I had taken for the best to be used here to  illustrate my observations.


About 7:30 I went down to dinner, and once again relaxed in front of the crackling wood fire, sipping my diet coke, and reflected on the day's journey. Very satisfying moment. I chose a combination of sea bass and smoked haddock for dinner, and it was most pleasant, and as usual, elegantly served. 


A couple of meal related observations: At least in this dining room, they offer a "mid-course", which is between the starter and the main course. The mid-course is always  a choice of either a soup or a sorbet. Another twist I notice is that after the starter the server removes all remaining bread and butter before serving the main course. New one on me.


I promised a couple of entries back to mention the telly. I have a feeling that cable television does not exist, at least in Letterkenny. Virtually every house has a UHF TV antenna sticking up on the roof, like the old days in Vancouver, except the antennas are much smaller. Those which don't have antennas often will have a small satellite dish. 


In the Castle Grove I get a very strange set of channels. If one were to count every channel on the set in my room on which there is a viewable image (viewable means readily decipherable through the snow in about half the cases) there would be about twenty channels. This is the strange part:  These channels are separated every five channels or so by four or five totally unreadable channels. And then it gets even stranger, every one of the readable channels is repeated three to five times seemingly randomly, not all necessarily totally clear. So, when you sort it all out, there are about six separate channels viewable at a time.  Even stranger is that some of the duplicates are out of synch with the others running the same program by at least a minute or more. Very weird.


There are a couple of channels which specialize in American programs, but for the most part they are either BBC or Irish programs.


I saw an amazing program last week about the life of a Lithuanian Holocaust survivor who became a world famous lexicographer.  


It's been an interesting and rewarding weekend so far, and its not over yet. Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. Stay tuned.



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