Musings Travel Narrative

Letters, birthdays, and The Great Fire

I fell off there for a minute after that surge of productivity.  I should have known I was going to burn out but still made mention of a next day post about some more Ireland stuff.  It has only been a week since my raving Hula infomercial but everyday I’ve had a nagging feeling to get something down, anything.  My mind has been elsewhere lately and I need to rein it in for my own sanity.

A friend I wrote to at the end of March returned the gesture.  This past Saturday, I saw the envelope on the side table by the door, having been brought in by my roommate at some unknown hour.  Joy was not the word.  I wanted to run off to some cozy nook to rip it open and examine the contents, but was at that moment heading to lunch with a good friend and her husband, both of whom I hadn’t seen since before I left for Spain.  After catching up for a solid four hours, enjoying the moments of sun and warmth at the local bar’s outdoor seating area, I came home, grabbed the letter, and flopped down on my bed.  It was everything I had wanted it to be, and I say this not because it was simply a physical letter; no, her response was thoughtful, insightful, and thought-provoking.  I’ve read through it several times since then and only enjoy it more.

Sunday, I went back to the corner bar to get some food and a drink and to begin crafting the response.  She had expressed an interest in keeping the correspondence going — after having left Austin for LA, she attempted to do the same with friends back in Texas but lamented upon the fact that she was doing most of the sending.  So, I cracked my notebook open to a blank leaf and began to fill the pages.  The flow was interrupted by the arrival of my pizza, people coming into the bar, banter with the bartender; reading over it tonight, when I finally finished it, it seemed a little disjointed but actually, by being so, accurately mirrors my stream of consciousness and thought process.  It clocked out at 4 pages, front and back.  I’m looking forward to a steady lot of incoming letters in the future.

Ireland stuff.  Always in the back of mind, a little anxiety-producing, but a prize to keep my eyes on.  Much to my absolute surprise, I found out that I don’t need to apply for a student visa to study there.  This means I just need to hop a plane to Dublin, then present myself at the Garda station with proof of 3,000 EUR in an Irish bank account, acceptance letter to the school, and proof of insurance.  With those documents, they’ll issue me a resident card and then I’m bona fide and can get a part-time job and generally just enjoy the benefits of living legally on the Emerald Isle.  I had previously been stressing about the timing of applying and the requirement of proof of 7,000 EUR which I will probably not have on my own accord by the time I leave.  I can do 3K no problem without any sort of loan, so this is a huge relief.  My main source of stress now is house stuff.  It’s the stuff that never ends.  But, it will all get done despite my track record of poor planning.

This weekend, UCD is hosting an “admitted students reception” at Busboys and Poets in DC.  From what I can gather from the invite, it will be part social, part Q&A session.  It just so happens that it falls on my birthday, which has presented the opportunity of making a half day of it in the nation’s capital doing hood rat stuff with my friends.  My roommate and her boyfriend are going to take the train down with me on Saturday morning, then my brother and sister-in-law, who are in town from Arizona, are meeting us at the bar where the reception is being held.  I got tickets for them to join; I only plan to stay for an hour and a half, then we’ll meet back up with Sophie and Monty.  After some gallivanting around DC, my brother, sis, and I will drive up to Frederick to meet my mom, dad, and grandma for dinner.  Finally we’ll complete the triangle of travel back to Baltimore to spend the night among friends in local haunts.  It has the potential to be one for the books.

As previously promised, I’ll end with one of my favorite memories from my travels through Ireland last summer, after I left Spain for good.  As small as Miltown Malbay was, so many interesting things happened.  This is one of them.


It was the first time in what felt like a long time that I had no time commitments.  I was completely free to do whatever I pleased.  But, in the tiny village of Miltown Malbay on the West Coast of County Clare, there wasn’t much to fill those vast spaces in my waking days.  My daily schedule looked much the same that week; every morning I would wake in my hostel room, the other four beds still vacant, shower, then walk across the narrow street of the main drag to get a full Irish breakfast.  I would linger over the toast and tea long after the beans and black pudding were gone.  A book in hand, I would occasionally catch myself gazing out the front window, absentmindedly watching the slow pace of small town life, temporarily blind to the words on the page.

Usually, I would return to the hostel’s pub to sit with Aidan, the bartender and day manager of the hostel.  There, I’d have more tea and read the paper, occasionally stopping to chat with him about a news story or some other odd piece of life.  This day, however, the weather was slightly more inviting so I paid my check and started off down the road.  Around the bend at the end of the main street, an ancient old church sat, stones weathered.  As I continued on and got farther away from the shops and stir of life, houses spaced out and I was soon the only one on the road.  A short time after, I approached a figure coming from the opposite direction.  As we got closer, I could see that it was an elderly priest, also out for a stroll in the weather that was decidedly less chilly than the previous days.  Upon passing him, we gave each other a friendly nod and hello, then continued on our separate ways.

When I reached the end of the lane, the wind had picked up, causing me to double back and cut my wanderings short.  I was almost in sight of the old church when I spotted the priest, hands behind his back, keeping a slow but determined pace.  Once again, we were almost face-to-face when he stopped me.

“Where are you from?” He asked with a curious tilt of his head.

“I’m from the United States.”

“Yes, but where?”

“Baltimore, Maryland.”

A smile spread across his face as he looked past me, as if no longer seeing me, and was quiet for a moment.

“I had an uncle who lived in Baltimore in the early 1900s and owned a hotel.  But there was a fire.”

“The Great Fire of 1904.  It destroyed most of the downtown area.”  I looked at him somewhat incredulously, wondering where this story would lead.  In turn, he nodded, then proceeded.

“When the hotel caught fire, my uncle ran in to get his young daughter out of the building.”

His smile grew wider as he got to the finale.

“Then, he went back in and grabbed up all the drink at the bar and took it out to the firefighters who were fighting the blaze.”

I smiled just as widely back at him but was at a loss for words.  I didn’t know if it was true, but it was quite the story.  What were the odds?  A hotel in Baltimore, my beloved city?  He, however, was unfazed by this moment and not skipping a beat, changed the subject.

“You know, Ireland is a very Catholic country…”


Extraordinary story, right?  It’s true.  And I can prove it.  Stay tuned, for tomorrow I will explain tonight’s research that amazingly led me to not only the priest who told me the tale, but his uncle’s hotel in my very own Baltimore.

I said tomorrow, and this time, it’s a promise.

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