Thursday, 8 December 2011
This is the most amazing searching for more information about my Great Great Grandfather, Rev. Robert Haskins Crozier in Mississippi, I found this...a plotted history of his whole life, along with a photo of him. A Goldmine. Thank you, writer of this blog, Mr McQueen?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

About Love on the Balcony Project

Tristan and Isolde
So what's this? An audio box full of stories, ramblings and music. You stick the earphone plug in a hole on one side of the box, and you get a story. Each one is a chapter. One is on death. One is on Life. Another on Being. On Happiness. On Place. Chapter Four is a story about Love. I wrote this... having listened to the people Rhona, Artist in Residence in the Bernard Curtis Buildings in Bluebell, Inchicore, interviewed. John Foley, who wrote the Chapter on Being,  is a philosophical writer who lives in the building. He had a lot of interesting ideas about love, platonic, catatonic, pure and impure, selfish and selfless. His musings inspired me. Then I heard an interview with Fiann O Nuallain who spearheaded the project Bluebells for BLuebell. H got me interested in Tristan and Isolde when he mentioned that Isolde was an Irish Princess, daughter of the King of Ballyfermot. Tristan and Isolde imbibed the love potion in Temple Bar. I loved the idea that this old love story, this myth, was appropriated by Dublin and specific little pockets of Dublin... to have a listen to the story, beautifully narrated by the actress Rose Henderson, click on the link above.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Síofra: Time in Tangiers

Síofra: Time in Tangiers: "I hadn't expected to go to Tangiers this year, but somebody came to join me in Tarifa, after my sister's wedding in Bolonia, and as soon..."

Time in Tangiers

I hadn't expected to go to Tangiers this year, but somebody came to join me in Tarifa, after my sister's wedding in Bolonia, and as soon as they arrived, we were both set on Tangiers. It was only 45 minutes across the sea, of course. So we went there. To the Hotel Continental, which the British built in 1876, I think. Drifting over the sea, I began to feel anxious. I did not know where I was going. I did not know why I was going, other than that I had never set foot on African soil in my life. I had an image in my mind of Marrakesh, of boiling markets and touters pulling out of you- something like India, in North Africa. I have a Polish friend who fell in love with Morocco, whose husband was offered a few camels for her, because she is so beautiful. She figured she must have been a Bedouin nomad in her past life.

 I had always loved mint tea, and always savoured the mint tea I had had in the tea rooms in Granada, as a teenager.

And I loved chicken tezhin. There was plenty of both, in Tangiers. And argan oil, and rose oil, and lima oil, which I found in the Madini perfumier, in little hexagonal glass bottles with golden tin tops, just like you see in India. In fact the whole place, with its winding little back streets and its soukhs and its carpet shops and its drapiers and tailors and perfumiers and tea shops and schools of music and butchers with skinned cow's heads and the slippers with upturned Alladin toes and the sleepy hotel, all reminded me of India. Apart from the raw cow heads in the butchers of course. And that there was no filth, no stench. Strange, I almost missed that, I was so used to an anachronistic place stinking to high heaven. And there was less noise. Less jostle, altogether. I mean in Benares, there are men carrying corpses chanting 'Ram! Ram!' as if it meant 'Beep-beep!' pushing past you in the narrow little streets. And there are proud cows that stop for nobody. Not even the irritating mopeds. But that's Benares. A place I can never forget. This was Tangiers, which had a languid kind of post-colonial feel to it. And a melancholy feeling in the air, that this mandolin player seemed to encapsulate, in the School of Music. There was a sweetness and kindness in the people there (apart from the pushy guides), who took my son in their arms, and lifted him up to the sky, as if he was their own. Two days in Tangiers, and all of these memories. I don't know what else to say, except to give you this poem, which says it all, for me:

In Tangiers

One morning
In an alcove
Of the Hotel Continental
In Tangiers
I wrote a secret-
And shared it with the visiting ghosts,
While the wedding guests from Paris
Ate stale croissants
On the balcony
And the early breeze
Ruffled their hair.

Night came.
Prayers wailed from the Mosque.
A mosquito droned past my ear
Sweat poured from our skin
In the middle of the Moroccan night.

And then I knew, that in Tangiers,
There are no secrets.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Síofra: Portals at Sea

Síofra: Portals at Sea: "Minke whale as we saw on the sea stretch between Dunquin and the Blasket this past April. I was at an enchanting evening of Kirtan s..."

Monday, 6 June 2011

Portals at Sea

Minke whale as we saw on the sea stretch between Dunquin and the Blasket this past April.

I was at an enchanting evening of Kirtan singing with  Jack Harrison about a year and a half ago, and between the passions of his singing, he told us the most fascinating stories about music- in this land. 
His CD, the Wind Across the Sea, says a lot about this, in its title alone. It comes from the understanding in Ireland that music comes through the air, from the Sidhe, or the faeries.  

The Wind Across the Sea is inspired by the Song of Aimhirghin, the warrior poet said to be the first human to set foot on Ireland, then inhabited by the Tuatha De Dannaan, or the People of Danu. 

(The Tuatha De Danaan are known throughout ancient Ireland as the people of the goddess Dana/Danu.   Banished from Heaven because they had learned the knowledge of magic,  they came to live in Ireland, which they dominated until they were defeated by the Sons of Mil and were referred to as the 'Sidhe' thereafter).  

When Amhairghin Glungheal (Amairgin of the White Knees), a bard-shaman of the Sons of Mil, or the Milesians, landed on the Southwest coast of Ireland 2500 years ago, (as is recorded in the 12th Century Book of Invasions), he sang this song to call Ireland out from the mist that the Tuatha had cast over the coast. He composed this song when he had landed: 

I am the wind across the sea
I am a dewdrop let fall by the sun.
I am the fire on every hill. 
I am the shield over every head. 
Who (but I) is both the tree and the lightening that strikes it? 
Who (but I) is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewn?
Who knows the period of the moon?
Who knows the path of the sun?  

 The mist was lifted, and the first human arrived on Irish soil. No wonder we are wall to wall with poets on this island, having had to seek the permission of an ancient tribe of Sidhe to even inhabit this soil.  

Jack told another tale,  of the song Port na bPucai, the air of which was first heard by men in a curragh on the waters  between the Blasket and Dunquin, near Dingle. It means 'Song of the Ghosts', or some say, the 'Song of the Faeries'. The latter would suggest we are back to our old friends the Tuatha De Dannan for provenance.  Some say the men were coming back to the island in the mist, and heard this song which they thought was the sound of spirits, or Sidhe, which they had disturbed. So they made this air using the notes they had heard to placate the unhappy spirits. 

More recently, people say they were hearing whale-song reverberating through the canvas hulls of their boats. But this song, which was brought to this island by the last fiddle player to leave that Blasket island in the 1960's, comes from the old Irish way of seeing the world: that every rock, river, mountain and in this case whale, is inhabited by a spirit. Just as it is in the first poem written here,  the Song of Aimhirghin. The Spirit is in everything- the sun, the moon, the wind and the tree and the lightening. 

Michael Morris, composer of Eriu's child, has a beautiful version of the Song of Amhairgin. He sees this verse as one of the most magnificent verses in the Irish tradition, a "hymn to the mystery of existence" from Ireland's Dreamtime, embodying the wisdom of Plotinus that "all is each and each is all".  

There are so many airs that are said to have come from the faeries in Ireland. Danny Boy, for instance.  The original air, the Derry Air is an ancient one taken down 150 years ago from a blind street fiddler in Derry. But Michael Morris says that before that, the song literally rose out of the hedges, when a man who fell off his bicycle, drunk, into a ditch,  and he heard the air.  Luckily, he  remembered it when he sobered up! A song played by Elvis, and sung at Diana's funeral and so many weddings, despite being a song of separation and longing, came from the ditch!   

Another example of this mysterious exchange is The Coolin,  An Chuilfhionn,  an ancient air said to go back to the 13th Century,  the original words of which describe 'a fairy woman'. Hearing this on Eriu's Child, it's not at all hard to believe that the provenance of this song is from the other side.

The words to Port na bPucai are as haunting as its air. It is a song that truly emerges from the Passage between the worlds. Listen to it, and be haunted. There are many versions, and a few different titles: Caoineadh Na HInise, The Lament Of The Island, The Music Of The Fairies, Poirt Na BPúcaí, Poirt Na BPucai, Port Na Bpúcaí, Port Na Bpúcai, Port Na BPucaí, Port Na BPucai, Port Na BPuchai, Song Of The Pookas.

 I love this one, by  Cormac Breathnach: 

  Is bean ón slua sí mé, do tháinig thar toinn
I am a woman from the fairy host who traveled over the seas
Is do goideadh san oíche me tamall thar lear
I was stolen in the night and taken beyond the sea
Is go bhfuilim as ríocht seo fé gheas' mná sídhe
And I am held hostage in the kingdom by the fairy women
Is ní bheidh ar an saol seo ach go nglaofaidh an coileach
And I can only be in this world until the moment the cock crows
Is caitheadsa féin tabhairt fá'n deis isteach
I know I have tasks to do here
Ni thaithneamh liom é ach caithfead tabhairt fé
Which I do not like but must comply with
Is caitheadsa féin tabhairt fén lios isteach
I must return to the fort and do not have anything to do
Is ná déinig aon ní leis an dream thíos sa leas
With this body of fairy people down in the fairy mound

Hearing these stories of music and poetry coming out of the mist, at Jack Harrison's concert made me experience an echo.  Just weeks before I went to his concert, I had written the opening passage to my new book, in which my characters were approaching an island enshrouded in mist, through which came a strange music that had to be deciphered, in order for them to enter the island which was inhabited by a tribe of ghosts that had been massacred during the reign of Elizabeth I. Then I heard these two stories, and again I understood that we are never not being prompted by the muse, that they bring us, as always, exactly where we need to go to find treasure. 

It doesn't stop there, either. Just last April, I was in Dingle to visit an old friend, who had moved there three years ago. This was the first time I had been there since I was a child, and the only thing I could remember was eating periwinkles with a cocktail stick from a polystyrene tub, somewhere on the street. On our second day, this time, in Dingle, my friend took us out on her boat. It was my son's first time on a boat. I had no idea where we were going. I have to admit, I had even forgotten that we were so close to the Blaskets

 We had a small wish: to see Funghi the Dolphin, but that was about it, and there was no guarantee of even that. Little did we know what we were in for. We bumped straight into Funghi soon after we took off, and sped around (it was a Rib we were on) the coast, past the huge raw chunks of bare cliffs, until we stopped, surrounded by black fins. Sharks, we thought. My son was terrified. I wasn't sure what I should be, being a bit of an obtuse sailor. In the end, it was decided they were minke whales. On we went, heading fast towards the Blaskets. We were then visited by a pod of dolphins, who leaped in and out of the water around us, as if to greet us. An ecstacy of water, movement and blissful play.  My son shrieked with delight, as I think I did too. Funghi was one thing but this was epic...

It wasn't long before the Minke whales were back, skulking around us, just after the dolphins had gone away. Then we looked at the bank on the Blasket: we were being watched by a hundred seals. No I didn't count, but there were at least that many.  My son wasn't scared anymore. He had been met by all the guardians of this sea. He knew he was safe. 

And it was only when I got back, that I understood where I had been.  The air of Port na bPucai had come from this very place.‎.. according to one source, the men in the curraghs heard the air when they were in this stretch of water between Dún Chaoin and the Blasket Islands, called the Blasket Sound. Just where we had met the dolphins and the minke whales. 

 Whether it was whale song, or the keening of a wandering faery woman, this was the very place. And I had come here, not even knowing where I was. It makes me wonder, again and again, who is in charge? 

"The tune is expressive of the spirit of the island and also of the
belief, central to fairy lore, that fairies imitate mortal beings and
their lives. A great deal of lore exists about fairy music and there
are numerous accounts of fairies playing music and dancing."

(R. Flower, The Western Island or The Great Blasket, Oxford 1946).

Maybe it's a good thing, that I don't go around with guidebooks when I visit a place. Things just happen.  I know, my geography is appalling. I don't have a Sat Nav, I go blank when I look at a map, and similarly when I am given directions. It's as if I just go 'Puff!' inside my brain. But I don't care, because I find myself following a secret thread, nudged along, all the time, by my muse, and led to exactly where I need to be. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Hag of a Muse

Vasilisa  finds herself face to face with Baba Yaga

I lived in the woods myself, once, when I was writing a book about two Polish brothers separated during the Second World War (Malinski)  I lived in a wooden house, at the bottom of an exquisite garden of vegetables and flowers, owned by friends of the family, who lived at the top of the garden in a wooden house on stilts.  I had known them since I was one year old.  I had a stove,  which blew smoke into the cabin when the winds were strong.  A long winter, with watery eyes. It's no wonder then, that I had a dream about an old woman in the woods, just beside this cabin. She was in a part of the woods that nobody knew about. She lived in a hut. She had fled a devastating war. She painted  large canvases, all day long. She smoked a pipe. She had a hundred cats. And when I woke up, and the visitation was over, I realized who she was. Baba Yaga. In new clothes.  A refugee from the war, hiding out in the woods. A post-war Baba Yaga. Right beside me. Watching over me. Calling me to write a book about her, when I was in the thick of Poland and the war.  A book was born.

So my muse is a hag. The hag from Russia, who has turned up as far away as  Jamaica, I have heard.  She's all over Eastern Europe of course- Romania, Yugolsavia, Poland and the Baltic countries. Pinkola Estes says the stories of Vasilissa the Beautiful (in which the little girl goes into the dark forest and finds Baba Yaga, who puts her through the ringer with tasks until she is 'initiated'), go back to the old horse-Goddess cults predating classical Greek culture. It's about initiation to intuition. An induction into wisdom. "It is like a diving instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows, old La Que Sabe, the Wild Woman. " (Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes).

I must have picked her up during my time in Poland. Eating pierogi and szarlotka. Consorting with the old wizard, Piotr Skrzynecki. Drinking miod in the long white winters. And zybrowka with apple juice in the summers. Thinking about the war, and all the terrible things that had happened to the old people I saw on the streets, in the trams, on the trains, in the Milk Bars, in the grocery stores. Somewhere along the way,  I found Baba Yaga. Or she found me.  At the time, I wasn't interested in my own Gods. All I wanted to do was run away from Ireland, forever. To be lost in that compelling little city, Krakow. I didn't know then that she, Baba Yaga, was surely a friend of the Cailleach, our own hag of the hills, who must be some cousin of Kali.

So, what did I do, when I found myself visited by Baba Yaga, in that log cabin, all those years ago? I told her to wait. I had to finish Malinski, first. I had to go to India, where among the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by Tibetan exiles, I came across Kali in the Hindu temples. And then I came back, and I lived in Norway, in yet another wooden house, on the outskirts of Oslo, in Ski, surrounded again by tides of snow, with no running water and a Polish boyfriend on the run from, I won't say what. I landed a job teaching English to members of the Norwegian Conservative Party, but job never happened, because the paperwork was too complicated, and I was suspended between the Employment office and the Police HQ for months, carrying various pieces of paper that eventually came to no good result. In linear time, at least. In snakey other -time though, I got my muse. She reappeared, when I was all alone in that Log Cabin, while my Polish boyfriend was off painting walls in Oslo. I began to write the story, in the attic of the cabin. You couldn't stand up in it, the ceiling was so low. I began to write on a cushion, in front of a tiny window that looked out over the Scots Pine trees.

 My Vasilissa was Finella, who came from a long line of Dreamers.  Finella the Dreamer. Her mentor was Baba Yaga, who  after she met her in the forest,  things were never the same.  As they never have been for me, since I met Baba Yaga in my dream. So, this is the story of how Baba Yaga and the Dreamers came into being. Muses  are  strange and tricky if you don't obey them !