The past few months have been both busy and not particularly so. Elections are coming in the US, and along with it my anxiety tends to go through the roof. I feel less anxious here in Italy, though, separated by an ocean and a lot of land mass. On my desk are printed out ballots for both the primary and a special election for schools infrastructure and funding in my county of legal residence back in the states. They’ll be marked and sent back soon.
In February Tanja, a Slovenian woman from Koper I met through Internations, came to Trieste and we visited the Asian Art Museum together on a rainy weekend afternoon. I believe it was first Sunday of the month, and all Italian state museums are free to enter on that day. I’ve walked by the museum many times. It’s on a pedestrian lane and there is construction happening around it right now so the path is partly blocked. The collection is small but a nice one, and fairly eclectic.
A group of us from north and east of Venice have been meeting monthly for coffee and lunch, which has been fun. Next weekend we’re venturing into Koper for the afternoon. The Venice group has a Sunday brunch occasionally, and I go to that if they aren’t too far away; a train trip early in the morning for brunch can be a bit grueling when you’re a night owl. The food and the company are quite nice, though. This month’s is in Treviso, in walking distance from the train station.
March saw me visiting Ireland for the Ulidia 5 conference on the Ulster Cycle tales. The conference itself was held in Maynooth at the university there. I got to stay in a lovely but obviously old and poorly plumbed building. The shared shower was the sort where you push a button on the wall and get 10 seconds of freezing water. (Of course, it is a Catholic college. Suffering not optional.) The architecture was gorgeous. I bought several books at the university bookshop, and went to the famous Dublin bookshop Hodges Figgis afterwards, before finding a hostel for the night on my way home.
At the conference, I got to hear papers from many scholars whose work has influenced me over the years, and was introduced to many others. I had dinner with a table full of people including Elizabeth Gray, who gave a splendid talk on ravens and wolves, satirists, and the féinnid in the tale of Deirdre. There was a reception and festschrift release for Tomás Ó Cathasaigh. Plenary sessions were given by Máire Herbert, Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, and Ralph O’Connor. The French scholar Gaël Hilly spoke on Lug and Cú Chulainn and the use of magical postures in battle, which was quite interesting. I have to say that it was entirely geektastic for someone with my interests.
Two of the people to whom I was introduced were Kim McCone and his wife Katherine Simms, whose names some of you will certainly recognize. For my fellow Celtic Pagans and Polytheists, I will report my favorite quote from the conference, uttered by Professor McCone: “I’ve gone nativist. I really hate the McCone orthodoxy.” Apparently they have a flat in Vienna and would like to visit Trieste sometime, so I gave them my contact information and told them I would be happy to show them around the city.
I was also introduced to Damian McManus, whose book on ogam I found particularly influential when I was writing my own book on the topic. He had done a reprint of the book recently, but hasn’t been able to sell them because someone pirated it and posted a PDF online for free. He was extremely generous and sent me five copies of the reprint in return for a copy of my poetry volume, which I sent out to him last week.
I left the conference before the final speaker on Sunday so that I would have the opportunity to get to Hodges Figgis before I had to fly home on Monday. My plane left at a painfully early hour, so there was no way for me to stop in on Monday at all. They have an incredible selection of books on Ireland, and on early and medieval Irish history and literature, which is nearly unmatched, from what I can see. Kenny’s in Galway has a much larger collection of books on the topics actually in Irish, or did when I visited there some years back, but I was nowhere near Galway this trip.
The city was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Art and information was everywhere in Dublin, and the hostels and hotels were packed. I did manage to find a room in a hostel, Kinlay House, which had a bus direct to the airport right outside their door. I was quite pleased, and the cost was low. The staff was informed and polite, which is always good.
I spent a lot of time sitting in the airport at Gatwick on the way home. After having spent time in Maynooth among scholars and Irish speakers, it was quite a pleasant surprise to hear a small group of Irish speakers at the airport. I’ve studied some modern Irish and was able to understand a few words and phrases here and there. They were older folks, mostly, which wasn’t too surprising. I’m not sure where they were from, but it was a real pleasure.
After I got back to Trieste, Tanja invited me to come to Slovenia for Easter Sunday. We went out to the little coastal own of Piran for lunch, and then to Koper. It was a glorious day. The restaurant we went to for lunch was packed, and we were lucky to get a place at all. Many people were told there would be an hour or more to wait, particularly if they were groups and had no reservation. Larger tables are always more difficult to get. Being just the two of us, a table had just emptied when we got there and we were able to just walk over and sit down at the outside table. The fish was delicious. After lunch we drove to Koper and had coffee before heading back to Trieste.