Sat Nov 7, 2015
You will be in this remote Irish cottage for seven days.
First, let’s define remote: you are a mile away (on foot) from Innishannon, the closest town.
You can get to Innishannon by walking on a narrow country road from your cottage. You pause every couple hundred meters to duck into the margins of the thin roads as a couple cars come speeding past. There are no sidewalks nor lane dividers.
After a hairpin turn, Innishannon appears. It is flanked by leafy trees and a pair of red park benches. It looks less like a town and more like a road with buildings on each side; Wikipedia will later tell you that it boasts a population of seven hundred, but it feels more like seventy.
It has a couple markets, and a couple takeaways (this is what the Irish call takeout Chinese food), and a couple off-licenses (this is what the Irish call liquor stores). A gas station marks the far edge of town — which itself is only three blocks away from the near edge of town. Beyond that lies an impressive grey church, looming on a distant hill.
It is a quiet and wonderful place. You can hear your thoughts and the wind and little else.
Transport in and out of Innishannon is via Bus Éireann, Ireland’s national bus service. Every thirty minutes a bus appears to take you to Cork.
Cork is hard to describe — it is a mosaic. The bus station where you arrive is near the shopping district. The shopping district looks like Dublin, and like most shopping districts: there are the Zara’s and the Clarks’, the cute bookstores and the cappuccino shops. The streets are filled with prep-school kids in matching ties and blazers, with hip couples and their strollers and their unblemished faces, with the tourists who are totally more conspicious than you are. It is only a little past noon, but the pubs on each street corner are already bursting and boisterous, with people overflowing outside the entrance.
Then you walk a couple blocks away, and the hum of foot traffic slows and softens. The buildings look a little messier; the storefronts look a little harsher.
Then you walk a couple blocks away, and you run into St. Finbarr’s Cathedral. It dwarfs you. You have never seen anything so beautiful.
Then you walk a couple blocks away, and you run into a college campus (you’re not sure which one.) It makes you miss your college campus; it makes you miss the way you felt on your college campus, having that faith in your territory.
And by then you have walked many blocks, and your feet are tired and your heels are sore. You pop into a coffee shop that has Ikea barstools and Ella Fitzgerald playing in the background. You are surprised by the freshness of their bagels and the overwhelming urge to sink into a couch cushion.
You start to head back to the cottage.
Now you are not in Cork, nor are you in Innishannon. You are in your remote Irish cottage, a couple yards away from the river. It is quiet and dark and just cold enough to be comfortable. For the first time in many months, your mind is not half-wandering amongst a code editor or a book or a bottle of whiskey.
You resolve to visit certain places during the week. You visit Fort Charles and Blarney Castle; you go back to Cork, and eat at the English Market; you spend a few mornings walking across the river and adjoining gardens.
But mainly you rest and bask in the warmth of the countryside.
Days later, when you are back in Seattle, you deal with jet lag for the first time in your life. You will fall asleep at 9 pm and wake up at 5 am. For the first time since you moved to the west coast, you will leave the apartment before 6 am, descending Capitol Hill, walking down John and Olive and Denny before dawn.
The streets at this hour will be so quiet. Something about that calm will remind you of Ireland: the way you can feel so warm even in rain.
You will remember a week where your biggest concern was tending to a fire (less for the actual warmth and more for the victory of having successfully tended to a fire.) You’ll remember the dog that roamed the Blarney Castle grounds and the dog that jumped on your laptop and refused to let you work and all the other dogs you’ll never see again.
You will think of the way that your memories of these places persist like quiet, friendly ghosts. Remembering Ireland will feel like remembering a wonderful dream, which was once warm and vivid but has grown hazy.
(It was about the footworn bricks and rolling plains, sure, but it was about existing in a new place. It was about feeling weightless.)
You will smile and shiver and turn right onto Westlake. You are only a couple blocks away from the office, and the sun has almost risen.