Monday, October 22, 2007

Footsteps of the Ancients

Sunday, October 21, 2007, St. Tropez, France

11 am and I have stumbled into the end of a race! Adults have just finished their 16 km run through the winding narrow streets of St. Tropez, and the kidlets have just zoomed past me for their 2 km sprint! I cheer and take pictures at the finish line. The 2 Euros crepe is sweet and delicious, but both internet cafes I seek are closed. Well, that’s a good thing actually, it feels eminently sane to close some shops at least one day in the week, and I will find something tomorrow in Barcelona. Anyway, if one of them had been open, I might well have missed this bit of time on the Mediterranean shore…listening to the waves skitter across the coarse sand and pebbles, basking like a black-clothed lizard in a low, warm sun. And I can’t even record this, so all I capture is a picture of the hills and houses across the bay…nothing to DO but be here now!

Friday, October 19, Pompeii, Italy

Wonders abound! Somehow I did not connect this cruise and its itinerary (even though I’d seen the listing of areas and cities) with the exploration of ruins…but of course! Wasn’t the entire Mediterranean coastline the playground, battle field, and home land of a consistent and changing parade of cultures? In 79 AD the citizens of Pompeii, just inland from the lovely Bay of Napoli, had had earthquake warnings of something rumbling beneath their beloved Mt. Vesuvius, but its actual eruption took them completely by surprised. And perhaps we would even now know little about their response to it if it were not for the records of the Greek Pliny’s, elder and younger, uncle and nephew, who observed it first hand? As with Carthage, I’m inspired to back track and learn even the standard history, as I remember so little of it from school. So we walk and crunch our way over the lapilli that broke through the roof tops that were being restored from earthquake damage, we poke into the baths, the brothels, the bakery, the restaurants…and the ghosts of 2000 years ago drift and peer out at our motorized, digitized presence; some of us from an inconceivable distance half way around the entire planet. What an extraordinary thing is humanity!

Wednesday, October 17, Carthage, Tunisia

Welcome, once again, to an ancient world! This time it isn’t monolithic standing stone circles of 5000 years ago, it’s the ruins of the original Punic (Phoenician) Carthage, topped by more ruins of the Roman Carthage above. Bricks, mosaics, sculptures…Romans knew how to build what they wanted!

Tuesday, October 16, on board MSC Melody

3:30 pm, 3 hours out of Ibiza (Balearic Islands), on a course heading of 101° (nearly due east) for Tunis on the north African coast..

I am wired in many different ways here…looking north out a portside window at the horizon that bisects the tall windows of the pool/buffet area. Lunch is over, tea time is in half an hour and soon I’ll go get my harp to play for the new friends from Belgium. The Mediterranean Sea is navy blue, a color I noticed last night, and one I don’t think I have seen in nature before. In my ears the Tethys mix # 4 of harps, flutes and kotos washes over the background voices, child-shouts from the pool, and ambient music, providing a watery sound track for the moving sea before me. I have just downloaded the recent pictures from my camera of yesterday’s departure from Barcelona, and last night’s sunset…and the pictures I took are true to the majesty that unfolded for almost an hour as the clouds and sun danced their backdrop for the waves and wake of our passage.

Then as now, the waves are moving from the east and today I am grateful for that as my incipient sea-sickness is not so bad when we head into wind and waves, rather than broadside, and due to the cool, cloudy (occasionally rainy) weather today I am kept more indoors than I’d like. I am now keeping the acupressure bands on my wrists as they help more than I imagined, but I try to stay in view of the horizon. I got a Dramamine from the information desk just in case, but the captain’s party is tonight, I am going to dress to the 9’s and will take the pill only after if at all…the swells are bigger now, just in the 15 minutes of writing this. Best get below decks for the harp before they get any bigger…

Monday, October 15, 2007, setting sail on MSC Melody

The awe of the sea…the mystery beneath the deadly, beautiful surface…the lure of the horizon where the eye rests on its flat expanse…what lives beneath its opaque and long-lived nature?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dancing on the Edges

Sunday, October 14, 2007, Barcelona, Spain
Dancing on the Edges

Ah the best laid plans…nine weeks in Europe has just been shortened to six…on October 24 I will depart Malaga, Spain and then London, England for northwest North America (Seattle, USA and the BC, Canada interior) …and home. There is still much that I would and could do and see in Spain, but various personal and professional needs began to assert themselves a few days ago, coincidentally (or not!) as I was preparing to leave Ireland, and I so changed course to return ahead of schedule.

Thus the journey will continue on board the MSC Cruise ship Melody for a week in the western Mediterranean (leaving Barcelona tomorrow with ports of call in Ibiza, Tunis, Palermo, Napoli..and oops, I don’t remember the route!) but I will only be able to take the pictures, I will not be able to share them, that is until we dock. But perhaps I’ll take advantage of a week of life incommunicado…what will that be like???

At the end of that week, I have two more days of intense adventure to get to Malaga by overnight train, fly to London, wait overnight there, and then fly to Seattle. Isn’t it a grand thing to have a travel agent for a daughter!!!

Safe adventures to you all, dear ones who have traveled this marvelous route with me to this point…I will pick up the thread in a week.

Oh! And from December 1 – January 15, we have a 6 week jaunt through Baja Mexico and the Yucatan, Mexico, so don’t stay away long, I’ll keep the blog going until it goes…so to speak!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gulf Stream

October 9, 2007, Dublin, Ireland

Gulf Stream

It’s a balmy day, misty and nearly raining, following last night’s hard rain as we came into the Dublin airport area. But early this morning as we drove to the airport to drop off Debra for her flight home to Chicago, and as Ted then took off in his new rental car for a couple of more days of travel in wonderland, there was a lightening and blue coloring to the sky in the west…the pattern here, we have found, and so the sun may find me yet today.

But this prompts my thoughts about the Atlantic Ocean current known as the Gulf Stream, and the World Ocean Project I have set up for my on-line Oceanography students: to investigate the Gulf Stream, to investigate the issue of global warming, and to put those together to investigate the possibility of a cooling trend in northern Europe if global warming causes changes to the Gulf Stream flow. So if this topic is of interest to you, please see the first comment to this post for the project assignment...

Awakening the Stones

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Barcelona, Spain

Awakening the Stones: playing harps in Ireland’s stone circles

I’ve been off Ireland’s soil for a little less than 24 hours now and I’ve wanted to express my experience playing the harp, or even just letting it sing in the wind, in the stone circles we’ve visited. Debra and I brought harps into 4 circles: 2 near the Co. Kerry town of Kenmare a couple of weeks ago, and 2 more on Monday, as we left Culdaff and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. Each time we found an ideal recording wind, not a coincidence as the circles we’ve visited are all sited on mounds or low hills, surrounded by a circular depression or set of valleys, which in turn are ringed by higher hills or mountains. Of the four circles and winds, I hope that the 2nd one yields a good windharp recording.

As I walk toward and then around a circle, the first thing I’m aware of is the silence…again, no coincidence as the setting has been rural, open, either pasture or hill slope. But the silence is the first thing that registers. Then the wind. There may be sheep or cattle nearby and there may be occasional birds. But these soft and subtle sounds of another presence complete the silence; they do not break or intrude upon it.

We tend not to talk to each other at first. We each take our own path around or into a circle. I don’t fantasize an awareness, but I do sense a presence, if only of time…these are human artifacts still standing in landscape as much as 5000 years after they were placed here. I touch the occasional stone, wondering where it came from, and what it signifies in its location. I lean into its warmth if the day has soaked a little sun into its surface.

Once we pull out the harps and they start responding to the wind, we let that be the substance and foundation of the sound. In an “improvisational tuning” the harps give the most resonant quality of sound, and we also have an easier time improvising both with the wind and with each other. The combination of wind, harps, and stone circles becomes its own iterative or self-perpetuating experience, where one exists within and because of the other.

There is much more beneath this quick summation, but time runs along and I must catch up…but to finish with this:

At the last circle I did not take my harp, it was packed and inaccessible for the short time we had. This was the Beltany Stone Circle near Strabane, and we were en route south and off the island. I began to walk around the outside of the circle as Debra unpacked her harp. I heard its instant windsong over my right shoulder as I progressed and suddenly the notion of “wakening the stones” came to me…as always with me, this was a set of words and images that bubbled up from within, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go so far as to say it came from anywhere “out there”. So with that careful (science-based!) caveat, I maintain that the idea of “wakening the stones” was a valid one, and so I let it be…the stones were wakening with the presence and sound of harps in their midst. And when was the last time that happened?

Go here: for visual and a bit of sound at the Uragh circle near Kenmare, Co. Kerry, shot by a woman on a Celtic mystery tour.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Rifts in Time and Stone

Friday, October 5, 2007
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Rifts in Time and Stone: From Table Mountain to Giant’s Causeway, from Washington to Ireland…

There’s no planning these things, they just happen…they arise out of a moment, a space, a glimpse into a pure creation, and sometimes our efforts to capture or instill them into a quasi-permanent state are just that, efforts…but sometimes they become the next painting, the next picture, the next piece of music, and something is birthed and becomes its own piece of the world.

I was challenged earlier this year, by a musician friend at Table Mountain Star Party outside Ellensburg, Washington, to set my double-strung harp’s levers so that one side would sound different from the other. Easy enough to do, but I’d been intimidated by the magnitude of unknown potential in the past, and had never done it. This time I did, and as a result, something very pleasing happened. Now three months later, near the cliff edge of Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, I noodled around a second time with this new “tuning” on the little harp, and the sound became musical; and then a little more set, or codified, so that it began to make a statement, tell a story. And as this was taking place, I remembered its origin, on the high, flat top of Table Mountain, playing through the day before sunset, dark, and the night’s starry explorations.

The “table” part of Table Mountain arises, literally, out of the Ellensburg valley floor, as the top surface of the 17 – 5 million year old sequence of flood basalts known as the Columbia River Basalts, or CRB’s. The cliff edge I inhabit today however, arises out of the Atlantic Ocean on the far northern coast of Ireland, where massive 60-odd million year old columnar-jointed flood basalts , older cousins to the CRB, erupted and “paved” the geography of Ireland, as well as Scotland (Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave) 20 miles north, now separated by 20 miles of open sea.

It isn’t the first or only time that I have sensed my harp strings creating a bridge…other times it has seemed to be a bridge out of life, as my hospice patients were dying. Today it was a bridge of time and space, linking two beautiful but vastly different (in appearance and age) landscapes. And it was a link “in” time, as only moments later another guest of the cottages came to listen, and said, as they so often do, how “rare and special” it was to hear a harp played in this land. Is it really so rare? That’s not for me to say because my experience is so limited, yet my experience of this past month has been consistent in this theme. And so once again I feel inspired anew to bring my harps to Ireland for a long and fruitful stay.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Familiarity of Bones

Monday, October 1, 2007
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The view of the sea again, the entrancement of the wind, and the passage of time over the grassy hills, these things have brought me back to this land that surely I once knew with the familiarity of bones.

Last night’s musical adventure in The House of McConnell in Ballycastle followed on the heels of the previous evening in the Smuggler’s Inn Hotel, near Giant’s Causeway, a few scant hours after our arrival here. It amazes me the way the music surfaces yet again after a full day of driving, but it does! But last night was its own phenomenon and as such, needs more preface:

We had driven from Shannon to Dublin and back on Friday and for all those 12 hours I got my 30 seconds worth of playing a slow air to and for the Trinity (ada Brian Boru) harp in the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College (renamed Dublin University). The slow air, one of my favorites, is Oidche Mbath Leibb or Goodbye to You…recorded on cd#2, Full Hearts, Empty Mind ( This was the heart of my musical pilgrimage to Ireland…to pay homage to a harp from the 13th or 14th Century, although it was romantically and incorrectly attributed to Ireland’s 11th C first High King, Brian Boru. My overt romanticism didn’t go so far as to imagine that the ancient harp would resonate with mine, but there was something deep and compelling about just being there and letting the modern harp strings sound out toward to the ancient instrument behind glass. The officials in the library were taken aback by my request to play, but enjoyed it anyway, and perhaps it won’t be an isolated event…I know I’ll go back to play there again.

Saturday morning we picked up Ted at Shannon Airport and after another 8-9 hours driving arrived at Giants' Causeway where we went harpubbing (or is it pubarping?) before we even unpacked, and for the first time in 3 weeks there was a harper there! She was playing a 22 string lap harp with great energy and skill! Ted and I went out again last night to meet up with Sabine and Dick (harper and does that make him a harphubby?) who is also a fine fiddler and hammered dulcimer player. But the real treat for me last night was to learn of Sabine’s knowledge and passion for geology, paleontology, and archeology, and as a result we talked shop longer than we played harps! So I will be taking her up on her offer to prowl the nearby beaches for fossils, and in return will give her my 2nd copy of the Geology of Ireland map from the Geological Survey of Ireland office in Dublin (thanks to Frank Fagan there).

The morning scoots away from me now on a brisk sea breeze, and the sky is clouding over towards noon…so, more sooner dear friends! We go off now to hop around on the 60 million year old (born yesterday!) basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway…they point toward Scotland, a mere 20 miles across the water.