Friday, October 12, 2018

A Ryokan in Santa Fe or Zen and the Art of Road Trip Maintenance

Leave it to dynamic duo and No Crowds reporters, Gary and Lorraine, to find a Japanese-inspired, hot springs mountain hideaway, ten minutes from downtown Santa Fe. I so want to go.

Yes, Gentle Reader, we know.  Santa Fe, in the southwestern high desert of the US, hardly qualifies as a “No Crowds” destination.  After all, it’s been mentioned prominently on “Grace and Frankie”, so clearly the secret’s out.  Not that it is without attractions:  a lively arts and culture scene, great restaurants, the wonderfully weird “Meow Wolf” installation, and the architecturally magnificent open-air opera house, to name a few.  The influence of that most recent famous resident, the American modernist Georgia O’Keeffe, is everywhere.
However, today’s story is about Ten Thousand Waves, an inn and spa built and run in the Japanese Ryokan tradition, high in the hills surrounding the city. In fact, it’s almost a doppelganger for my favorite ryokan in the world, high above the city of Kyoto. (Note:  sadly, Ten Thousand Waves does not have traditional rooms like the one in Kyoto where you sleep on tatami mats on the floor – an oversight that should be corrected).  We managed to snag an evening here thanks to a recent cancellation (everything usually books up weeks in advance.).  
Our evening began with an excellent meal at Izanami, the Japanese/southwestern fusion restaurant, which takes pride in never serving sushi.  The dishes were as creative as you might imagine, from mushrooms we had never heard of, to Wagyu filet mignon that we seared on a hot river rock delivered to our table, to a grilled avocado with a soy reduction sauce. The wine list included sixty odd types of sake, and amazingly, our waiter was knowledgeable enough to tell us about the differences in flavor, production and aging.
As good as the meal was, the high point of the evening came next, at the spa next door. We checked in and were issued our kimonos and ushered to the changing /shower rooms.  Once ablutions were complete, our host led us to the real No Crowds experience - the private Japanese garden I had booked for the two of us.  She introduced us to our huge spa pool, waterfall with cold plunge pool, and sauna, all for our exclusive use, and then left and locked the door behind her.  As the night cooled and the stars came out over our garden, we realized that the zen attitude here was having an impact, and that we really needed a break from the craziness of the news and the world in general.  Not only was every aspect of the operation designed to instill calm, but the management was prescient enough to make sure there was neither wifi nor cell service available in the spa.
If you plan on visiting Ten Thousand Waves, book ahead.  Their website details each of the themed private gardens (as well as public women’s and coed spas) and allows booking of them as well as hotel rooms, massages and treatments, and restaurant reservations.  As latecomers, we were not able to get an outdoor table, but I would highly recommend this, giving you a chance to dine on a deck suspended over the valley below.  As for me, I have acquired a nicely shaped river rock and some grass fed beef tenderloin, to keep us going till we’re able to return.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Beat the Crowds in Banff

The exploits of professional crowd-avoiders, Gary and Lorraine, continue. This time, they provide invaluable advice on how to avoid crowds in one of Canada's most popular tourist destinations. 

Banff, the first national park of Canada, holds a place in Canadians’ hearts akin to Americans’ love for Yellowstone or Yosemite – it’s iconic.  Developed by the Canadian Pacific Railroad as an excuse for people to take the train (which still stops at Banff Station), it's become a ski town…with a heart.  It also seems to have similar appeal to many across the British Commonwealth:  we heard South African and Geordie accents, and in at least one hotel, every single server was a Kiwi.  Perhaps it was the prospect of exchanging a Southern Hemisphere winter (or a grey Yorkshire summer) for the bright sun and crisp mountain air of Banff in July? 
Sadly, the region has also fallen prey to a few mega-tourist operators, who believe the best way to experience the solitude of the mountains is to herd folks onto tour buses so they can experience “packages” of selfie-ready photo opps at a discount.  Don’t do it. Instead, do the following.
1.     Come during the Calgary Stampede.  This is a wonderful event every summer that takes place just an hour down the mountain, and probably worth attending some time – the mother of all rodeos. However, it literally vacuums all of the tourists out of Banff at the height of summer, leaving those who remain the chance to experience the town and the surroundings with far more peace and space.
2.    Take your afternoon aperos at the Fairmont Banff Springs.  Stay wherever you want in Banff (rental homes, hotels, AirBNB’s all proliferate, but book early to get a good place, even if you are camping in the national park as we were).  But go to the Grand Dame of the town, wearing your finest layers for a crisp day, and sit outside on the deck surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountain scenery you will ever see.  For the (eye-watering) price of a glass of wine or an Aperol Spritz, you will own an exquisite piece of real estate for the afternoon.
3.    Take the waters.  Banff was chosen by the railroad as a destination due to its prolific hot springs. Today the springs look more like a community swimming pool, but the view for the bathers is to die for, and the killer price (less than C$10) can’t be beat.  If you want, you can also rent old-timey bathing suits for men and women to relive the days when Banff was young. Check the hours and – this is very important – show up about 45 minutes after opening.  In this way you will avoid the line that forms before the baths open, and get there before the late morning/afternoon crowd arrives and fills the parking lot and springs.
4.    Go to the top.  Take the Banff gondola to the top of the mountain, carefully avoiding “package deals” which pair this with, say, a boat tour of Lake Minnewanka (meh).  Go at lunchtime, so that before or after your hike you can enjoy the very excellent cafeteria (prime rib and fresh king salmon stations; excellent dry reds from BC’s Okanagon Valley, etc), or the more relaxed sit-down restaurant.  Both have wonderful views, it goes without saying.
5.    Fire up the two wheeler.  If you’re driving, bring your bike.  Otherwise, rent one.  There are miles of paved biking trails, and for the younger, fitter mountain bike crowd, you can take your bike up the lift and ride the ski trails down from either the Banff or Lake Louise gondolas.  One of the unadvertised gems for us was the “golf course loop”.  Doesn’t sound like much, but it is a seldom-used 10 mile road that runs past the golf course and then through deep forests and along the shores of the glacial melt-driven Bow River.  Stop ahead of time at the venerable Nester’s Market in town for the best in gourmet picnic supplies, and then choose any of the wonderful clearings and lookouts along the way for the perfect al fresco repast.  You will see few humans, even on a busy summer’s day, but you will probably encounter deer, otter and maybe even an elk or two.
6.    Drive the Icefields Highway.   This is one of the most astounding drives on the planet, with constant views of glaciers and majestic mountains.  At the north end, you will find the Columbia Icefield, which feeds glaciers that in turn feed the pacific, arctic and atlantic oceans.   It’s a sight to behold, as are the signs showing the glaciers’ retreat over the last 100 years.  Do not, repeat do not eat at Icefields Centre.  The food is Bad Ski Lodge Leftovers from Last Winter.  Instead, buy a cup of coffee and snag a seat by the window so you can admire the power of nature.  The Centre is nearest to Jasper, so if you want to avoid the crowds, stay in Jasper and drive there in the morning, continuing on to Lake Louise and Banff in the afternoon.  You can take an all-terrain Ice Bus that takes you out on the glacier’s surface, or chopper rides to get the aerial view.  There is also an airborne walkway similar to the ones in the Grand Canyon and Norwegian fjords, but from what we saw, it’s a bit of a ripoff – even the most intense acrophobic would have no qualms.  And of course, you have to take a bus to get there.
That’s it for No Crowds Banff.  There is so much more to do and see, from the dozens of wildlife-heavy  hiking trails (stick together, and bring bear spray if you are going far) to a lively arts and music scene, to the world-class brunch (15 types of Benedict!) at Tooloulou’s, but alas, these have been discovered, so you may need to share them with the crowds.  On the other hand, we hope that the list above will supply you with a reasonable set of boltholes to disappear into when the crowds get too intense.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Skip the Crowds - Cruise the Alaska Marine Highway Instead

When No Crowds began, the idea was simple - focus on ways to escape the hamster wheel of global tourism. This article from No Crowds reporters, Gary Ransom and Lorraine Carulli does exactly that, outlining how to experience America's last frontier authentically, comfortably and without crowds.

Alaska is a money machine for the cruise business. Passenger numbers are up each year. Liners of all sizes, including the “panamax 2”(largest vessel that can use the new, widened Panama Canal) are being repositioned from various parts of the world to ply the Inside Passage. Thousands of passengers wake up in Juneau, or Ketchikan, or Valdez and to their delight, discover they can disembark to one of the massive cruise docks, rather than wait for their turn to take a tender to shore. The towns are set up to cater to the instant crowds, and shore time goes smoothly, even if your bags are checked on returning to the boat, in case you tried to sneak some landside booze into your stateroom. An entire industry has even sprung up to manage those absent minded cruisers who miss their sailing and must be put up overnight, then flown by charter aircraft to the next port of call. Back on the boat, sailing past hundreds of miles of wilderness, watching icebergs calve from glaciers, and maybe getting a distant sighting of some wildlife, passengers get a taste of “the last frontier”, as the Alaska license plate reads, without having to leave the safe confines of their city on the water.

Now compare this “all crowds, all the time” experience to the Alaska Marine Highway. It’s an official highway, because this ferry system is the only way to move your car between most towns in southeastern Alaska (including the state capitol). Our choice was to leave the car behind in Seattle, and take the ferry as passengers without a vehicle, which is a very good deal. We started our ferry ride in the little town of Gustavus, where we had arrived by air a few days earlier to stay at the charmingly retro Glacier Bay Lodge and tour the magnificent bay, nestling the shoreline in our small tour boat to see wildlife on the land (bears) and the water (orcas, sea lions, puffins), as well as getting scarily close to the calving ice wall at the foot of the Margerie glacier. Glacier Bay is big enough for many of the cruise ships – 90% of tourists who visit the bay never set foot on land – but those massive vessels are unable to get close to land or glacier to view the full magnitude of nature at work. For obvious reasons, only two of the big cruisers are allowed in the bay per day.

You buy a single ticket on the ferry system that covers your entire trip, then get off when you want and spend as much time in each town as you choose. The first ferry ride was a relaxed afternoon on a small boat – maybe 150 passengers and a few cars – landing us in Juneau in time for dinner. Juneau is a wonderful, and rather improbably state capitol, which handles the cruise passengers with ease, and then becomes a really interesting place in the evening, after the last cruise ship has sounded its “all aboard”. Shops, unbelievably fresh fish, and 150-year-old wild west saloons, complete with saloon girls and piano players, complement newer technologies like wine bars and microbrew pubs (try the Husky IPA from Alaska Brewing).

Our second and final ferry ride was, in a slightly larger boat, the overnight to Ketchikan, through the Inside Passage. We stumped the unbelievably cheap $150 (!) for a “stateroom”, which consisted of two bunks, a full bath and shower, and a closet. Bring as much food and drink as you want (ice and microwaves provided), or check out the cafeteria and bar. For those backpackers willing to go economy, the choices included stretching out across 5 seats in the lounges (sleeping bags allowed),capturing a chaise lounge in the open air, but heated, solarium, or pitching your tent on the open boat deck. That’s right, pitching your tent. Of course, free showers were available in all public bathrooms.

Watching from our stateroom, we enjoyed sunset and sunrise on the island-dotted passage, and shortly after we turned off the wider route taken by the cruisers, we were suddenly in the midst of a huge pod of humpback whales, cavorting, blowing and breeching all around us. The view from the stateroom window was unbelievable.

Being the only mode of transportation for locals, the ferry stops at towns along the way, rather than plying nonstop to its destination. That’s a feature, not a bug. At one of those towns, whose population was primarily Tlingit, we felt privileged to almost be one of the locals. Having steeped ourselves in Tlingit culture and traditions over the previous week, we knew that tribes and individuals greeted travelers (historically in canoes) with a chanting song, especially when the travelers were returning members of the tribe. At this ferry stop, a full retinue of locals had appeared, with drums, to serenade three ladies clearly returning home on the ferry from Juneau. The call-and-response from travelers and villagers continued through the docking process, followed by whoops and hollers as the families were finally reunited on land. Very cool – we were touched.

If you go, it is possible (although a bit confusing) to book your own ferry tickets, either as a passenger or with a vehicle. We chose to work though Viking Travel in Petersburg, who specialize in ferry-based vacations, and also handled scheduled air, hotel and floatplane reservations for us. The ferry system is very extensive, going as far north as Anchorage and covering parts of the Aleutian chain, and you can take it all the way to or from Bellingham, Washington if you choose. The ferry schedule for the summer is posted each year in January, so check it out. Remember, most routes are not covered every day, so timing your trip to catch the right ferry to the right place is a bit of an art. But you will love it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Winery Runs Through It

No Crowds is back - and so are No Crowds reporters Gary Ransom and Lorraine Carulli. These never-really-retired international consultants are now travelling the American landscape and this story, ostensibly about Kalispell, Montana, says a lot about the American spirit and makes me want to head for Montana.

Our Kalispell story begins a few years back and a few miles away, in Bozeman (AKA the Big City). Meredith and her twin sister were both in the pre-med program at the University of Montana. Their dad was a doctor, their grandfather was a surgeon, and, modern times being what they are, the girls were expected to follow in the family tradition. In particular, their science achievement had been exemplary, so they were obviously good material.

But fate intervened. The summer after aceing her MCATs, Meredith took a job at a Bozeman wine bar (I’m guessing it was THE Bozeman wine bar), and discovered a completely different application for her skill in chemistry – she fell in love with wine.

Fast forward to 2018 in Kalispell, an old west town situated, as the guidebooks say, squarely on the continental divide, with mountains to the east and west, still snowcapped in July. Host to the somewhat aspirationally named Glacier International Airport, Kalispell has a fine National Park 30 miles to its north and the crystal clear waters of Flathead Lake 15 miles south. It’s in the process, as the local paper writes, of being discovered.

Meredith is now the owner and proprietor of Tailing Loop Winery ( out on Highway 35 just at the edge of town. Her voice and bubbly energy seem out of scale for her compact frame – she could command the attention of an audience of 500 without a mic – so everyone in the winery gets entertained by it, whether that was their plan or not. Meredith is an energy machine behind the bar, spinning stories and finding out where people are from and what brought them here.

As we work through our flights of wines on offer, we strike up a conversation with the couple next to us at the bar – locals who are thrilled to have a winery in town. The wife, sitting closest to us, asks where we are from, and replies “oh, Florida”, as if describing a nasty intestinal flu she has just recovered from. But then she brightens and congratulates us on discovering northwestern Montana. I feel that she would absolutely not be surprised if I told her that, after a week here, I had called my realtor back home and told her to sell the place and everything in it, and send us the proceeds so we could buy our cabin in the woods. “We see that a lot”, her husband would say, tapping the bar for emphasis.

Tailing Loop has a décor that can only be described as a cross between Cowboy Shabby Chic and A River Runs Through It. There are sepia-toned drawings of cowboys and saloon girls (each one armed with fly fishing tackle, rather than weaponry) by a local artist on the wall, an event room dominated by a massive buffalo head, and a front porch that appears to be stolen from the set of “Longmire”. Everything is raw, unpainted wood, with varnish slathered on where appropriate or necessary.

“But wait”, you say, “you can’t grow decent grapes for wine in that climate!” And you’d be right. Which explains why, several times a year, Meredith and a friend set off on a 12 hour journey through the night to Washington State, and return with a truckload of grapes from three vineyards. The rest of the work to produce the unoaked chardonnay, excellent pinot noir, syrah-based rose, tempranillo and more is done locally. And of course, since Tailing Loop has movie nights on a regular basis where an ancient projector runs spaghetti westerns from the 60s, she would have to have a Montana sangiovese to accompany the Italian cowboys.

But Meredith is still following the science closely, and is watching several experiments with developing grape rootstock that is hardy through the high plateau winter. If they are successful, locally grown wines are only a graft away, and it’s clear that by then, Meredith will have herself a vineyard. She’s already started some vines. Meanwhile, she’s comfortable living over the store (she actually does, along with her guard cat) and building an unlikely business in a fascinating corner of the world. And her mom finally accepted Meredith’s unusual career choice, with one condition – that a wine be named after her, and that it would have the saloon girl on the label.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sheep-worrying in Wales

It can be a criminal offence to worry sheep in Britain. That seems fair. I’m sure worried sheep produce less luxurious wool and probably taste funny too. But what about when you worry about the sheep? Little lost lambs (they weren’t) gave us great cause for concern. Marauding herds running right for us (they weren’t) were a city girl’s idea of a brush with death. I learned a lot about sheep during a recent fifty-mile hike through the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales this weekend.

Mostly I learned that my Tanager teammates preparing to Walk the Bryson Line through Britain this June to raise funds for 5 fantastic charities are great trail companions. They got me over barbed wire, down a path that had become a running river, over a snowfield and through a biblical amount of mud. We dealt deftly with diversions, pubs closed for renovations (bugger) and walking along major roads.

I have also learned that my friends and family are the most generous of supporters. God bless every single one of you who has made a contribution to the Royal Brompton Hospital that got me back on my feet and back on the trail.

If you would like to contribute but haven’t yet, here’s the link.

And if you feel really sorry for my teammates who have to spend 30 days trekking with ‘little miss smartypants, you might want to consider a donation as well.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Never Give Up

This Sunday, I went on a 18 mile training hike for Walk the Bryson Line -  a group of 'mostly Americans' living in Britain preparing for a 569 mile/30 day trek through the British countryside to raise money for some fantastic UK charities.

This June, we'll be walking an average of 19 miles a day and this February training session, with hail and epic amounts of mud, gave me a taste, but only a taste, of how 30 days non-stop at this pace and distance will feel.

But this Sunday, I also read a moving and beautiful article in the Observer Magazine about walking in Britain by Stuart Heritage that got me thinking - about my Mom. The story starts out, "My mum was a great walker. Now I'm following in her footsteps, to help me get over her death." And here's one of my favourite parts of the article:

"But walking suits me. It's a pursuit that rewards persistence over ability, the methodical grinding down of obstacles over the showy exploding of them. Hood up, head down, keep going ... You find a spot in the distance and point yourself at that. Repeat those steps enough times and eventually, you get to where you want to be ... Trust in the route. Trust in the plod."

And I'll add here, Trust in your genes. Like Stuart Heritage's mum, my mother was a walker - in Bhutan, Nepal and on Everest as in the photo above. But those 'walking' genes aren't the ones that will get me from Cape Wrath in Scotland to Bognor Regis on the south coast of England. What will, I wrote about shortly after my mother's death in 2015 and recount below.

Why We Travel

When I was growing up, my parents often travelled to faraway lands. It didn’t worry me during the day, but at night I dreamt over and over again that they died in a plane crash.  I dreamt it so often that I taught myself how to control the story. Just as the plane was about to hit the ground, I would tell myself to wake up and not to worry, it was only a dream. One night, probably from boredom or just curiosity, I let the dream finish its terrible trajectory.  This night the plane crashed. Everyone aboard was killed. At the funeral, my father was quietly lowered into the ground. My mother, by contrast, sat straight up in her coffin right before they closed the lid and said, “If you think I am taking this lying down, you are sadly mistaken.” She got up and walked out. I never had that dream again.

So you can imagine the shock when she did die.  Not violently in a plane crash but quietly in a bed following a stroke. The doctors had prepared us for what was coming, but I didn’t believe them. After all, she had defied so many expectations and predictions. After a skiing accident, they said she might not walk again. She walked. Snow blind on Everest, she found the path. In jail in Algeria, she got out. Dead in my dreams, she quit her own funeral.

So you can see why I thought, of course, she would make it. When I arrived at the hospital following the call from my father, she was singing “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” from Mary Poppins and asking for bourbon. Even at the very end, even when the nurse whispered, “I think she’s gone” and began to check for a heartbeat, Mom took a huge, deep, gasping breath that made us all jump out of our skin. See, I thought, she isn’t ‘gone’. Not my mother. But a few minutes later, she was.

But this is supposed to be a travel story – about an adventurer - an old-school, lady traveller to be exact. Please note that I did not say old-school woman traveller. My mother didn’t set much store on feminist activism. I think she was bored with it. Instead, she just did her own magnificent thing. As the Reverend Tom Midyett said at her service, “Nan was an artist” with all the individuality that statement implies.

The sweetest words my mother ever heard were always, “No, you can’t do that.” Maybe she never intended to do it. Maybe she didn’t want to do it. But the minute something was forbidden, she would get a really fun, terrifying glint in her eye. I think she lived for those moments. And then she was off, to Africa, to Antarctica, to New York, to altitudes and deserts and rivers and castles, to all the places that for all kinds of reasons she was not supposed to go. She was Boudicca in a Chanel suit, Sacagawea leading Lewis and Clark, Gertrude Bell mapping the Middle East - always leading the charge against convention and expectation. 

And just when you thought she’d done it all, she’d head off again. ‘Where’s  your mother now?’ was my favorite question as a child. It still is. So where’s my mother now? It’s hard to say. Off on some adventure, causing trouble, I suppose. I hope. 

I like to think of her this way. On her very first trip - 15 years old, excited, apprehensive, about to board the train in North Carolina bound for New York City and Julliard and my father and us, her children, and everything that happened after that including Antarctica and Algeria and Everest. My mother taught me this. We travel because God gave us two feet, a strong heart and a sense of adventure. We travel because, aware of all the hazards, we still want to do it.

What I was thinking about while I was walking in the mud and the hail this weekend was this. Your mother would never have given up. 

And neither will you.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fun Times in Dublin with Laura Healy

Almost 20 years ago, I met Laura Jane Sanderson Healy in London outside Puffins Nursery School where both of us had enrolled our darling daughters. The daughters are now at University. Laura and I are still 'bessies' and Laura is still one of the best writers I know.  Herewith, her action-packed romp through Dublin with tons of tips and great ideas. Thanks, Laura for a wonderful post.

Last fall I returned to Dublin, Ireland, after a decade’s absence and had a complete ball. The place was buzzing like I had never seen. My husband of Irish origin was working in his father’s hometown for a stretch, so Temple Bar Hotel in Fleet Street was our boutique oasis in the midst of Bourbon Street-like Temple Bar, an historic, quayside area on the south side of the River Liffey. No Crowdsers would best enjoy life here during quieter weekdays. Tour Temple Bar Gallery + Studios; patronize the eclectic Jam Art Factory and scoop up the colorful animal jewelry (I have the fox brooch and stag necklace) by ARTY SMARTY. Look for alley murals depicting Ireland’s dazzling writers (Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett) and scruffy musicians (Phil Lynott, Bob Geldof); seek out classics, local lit, or cards at The Gutter Bookshop, or join the Socialists at Connolly’s and get your manifesto on. Musicians play in the street and in the many Temple Bar pubs; you will always hear Thin Lizzy’s electric version of “Whiskey in the Jar,”  sometimes detect a stray Cat Stevens’ song, and Trad (Traditional) Irish Music feat. whistle, bodhran, and fiddle is always on the boil.
  The Irish Film Institute In Eustace Street has two cinemas, a library, a film shop and bookstore, and cineastes coffee-klatsch in the center’s cafe and inner courtyard. On a spooky, rainy afternoon shortly after my arrival, I watched Aoife Kelleher’s “Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village” about the supernatural happenings parishioners recounted at the then small country church at Knock in 1879. (Disclosure: I was lured to this particular screening having once been assigned out of London to report on a moving grotto statue in County Cork.)

  Truly miraculous to lovers of the stage is the Dublin Theater Festival, which appears religiously every September and was a favorite of my droll, late father-in-law. Husband and I saw three fab revivals: former borstal boy Brendan Behan’s prison drama THE QUARE FELLOW at Temple Bar’s Smock Alley (the renovated boys school-church-Restoration playhouse which began life as the Theatre Royal in 1662 and where Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan premiered their witty plays); Somerset Maugham’s THE CONSTANT WIFE at The Gate; and Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at The Gaiety.

Good, casual restaurants around Temple Bar are Gallagher’s Boxty House (named after the Irish potato pancake) and Elephant and Castle along Fleet Street, the fun French bistrot The Green Hen on Exchequer Street, and The Bull and Castle by F.X. Buckley, a gastropub/steakhouse across Lord Edward Street from Christ Church Cathedral. We had dinner with my husband’s cousin here one, because it has recently been called one of the best restaurants in Dublin, and two, to celebrate the fact that it was once the family pub called Healy’s. 


  The author James Joyce is ubiquitous in Dublin, and he and a friend sit forever in bronze beside the cobblestones of Anglesea Street smoking and drinking at the pub bearing that surgeon-writer pal’s name: Oliver St. John Gogarty (“Buck Mulligan” in Joyce’s ULYSSES). The middle name of St. John is pronounced “sinjin,” by the way, so you know, and the pub is at the corner of Fleet Street and Anglesea. One Sunday evening, my husband took me to The Parlour Bar upstairs at The Stag’s Head Pub to see Robert Gogan’s one-man-show “Strolling through Ulysses.” Gogan is hilarious as he “introduces” all the pertinent characters of Joyce’s epic novel in just 75 minutes with one wee intermission; you can buy his officially annotated version of the book — ULYSSES BY JAMES JOYCE, REMASTERED BY ROBERT GOGAN — to keep from going mad or reaching for the lotuses. Do not take children to this wickedly lewd performance.

  Museum wise, The Little Museum of Dublin is a winner: relaxed and attractively-curated, the donated collection is housed in a fine Georgian house on the north side of the St. Stephen’s Green park. For a small fee, amusing guides take turns presenting the place to you, beginning in the drawing room on the First Floor (up one, in Europe) where you may partake of colorful liquorice candies while you sit on a sofa and listen to the spiel about the most ancient city’s rebellion against a foreign power. The history of the Irish Free State is carefully explained before the small group moves into a room full of cultural treasures including the podium President Kennedy spoke at when visiting town and a wall of celebrity photographs (I loved seeing one in particular of a parading Goya painting —  The Diceman was a performance artist I once saw “sail” as a “ship” down Grafton Street to advertise the old Switzer’s store’s SALE). Upstairs, Irish rockers U2 have a floor of their own.
  Where do paint-splashed studios go when their artist kicks over all the buckets in the room? In the case of Irish painter Francis Bacon, to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, which reassembled the messy thing intact from 7 Reece Mews in London’s South Kensington to Charlemont House, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1. It’s fun (and free) to see, and I loved eating lunch at the gallery’s cafe across from an art-loving grandmother and her little granddaughter. I needed sustenance to spend the next hour studying “The Metronome Bursts of Automatic Fire Seep Through the Dawn Mist Like Muffled Drums and We Know It for What It Is” by Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen for The Hugh Lane's Artist as Witness 2016 program (the quote came from LIFE journalist John Saar, whom I once worked with in New York).

  “During the Cold War, the light automatic rifle — the F.A.L. manufactured by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal in Belgium — was the most distributed weapon in non-communist countries, and therefore named the "right arm of the free world;” however, the rifle appeared on both sides of the ideological spectrum in the various conflicts around the world,” the artist writes. The gallery website explains that his “selection of TIME and LIFE magazines, alongside RTÉ archive footage from Northern Ireland, reveals how both weapons and journalism are entangled in the fabric of our history. He installs the magazines in chronological order and his meticulous editing of image and article provokes a collision with the values of freedom and capitalism as embodied in these publications. This dramatic installation transforms information into sculpture. The pages selected date from the late 1950s to 2016 and present profound political and social upheavals which are repeatedly mirrored in our current news; a devastating critique on the ongoing tragic spectacle of war and its production.”
  I had to look it up, but in November 2013, the Bacon triptych of his portrait painter friend Lucian Freud was the most expensive art ever sold at auction when it was knocked down at $142.4 million at Christie’s New York. That’s one way of bringing home the Bacon. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here are some fun links: