Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) – it’s molificent!

 

MoLI - Newman House

MoLI – Newman House

MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.

Some of our literary greats

Some of our literary greats

Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.

A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dear Dirty Dublin

Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!

Even the statue has a book!

Even the statue has a book!

The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.

The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So,  what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!

A place for quiet reflection

A place for quiet reflection

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Filed under Art, Dublin, flann o'brien, Ireland, James Joyce, poetry

Almost Home

 

Point of departure

Point of departure

As I neared Holyhead the weather improved. Soft, white clouds that had been travelling with me for the previous couple of hours silently disappeared, leaving a brilliant, blue sky. The sunlight reflected off the chrome of oncoming traffic making me squint and smile at the same time. It was a glorious day and a great start to my summer holidays.

Driving down to the sea the reception on the car radio was sporadic, and picking up RTE was a real hit and miss affair. Not having listened in since Christmas I was eagerly looking forward to it, when Larry Gogan’s dulcet tones suddenly filled the car. As I drove slowly around a steep bend he said ‘And now Mary, what is a gelding?’ There was a momentary pause as the Just a Minute Quiz contestant gathered herself, and answered. ‘It’s a horse with no pe..’ she answered, as the radio reception disappeared into a haze of loud, electronic crackling. I had to grin, and thought ‘Yes, almost home’.

Holyhead, never the most attractive of towns, was looking fine, bathed as it was in the strong sunshine. Flowerpots overflowed with blooming plants and freshly painted railings stood out against grey walls. Lines of paintings hung from the railings where artists and enquiring tourists chatted and haggled over prices.
The ‘art fair’ was a pretty addition to the town’s image and, although there were not as much on show as could be seen on a Sunday morning at Merrion Square, it was busy and drawing keen attention.
The town was alive, with tourists dressed in brightly coloured clothes, strolling easily.
There was a fair amount of sunburnt skin on view, indicating the glorious weather that had been hanging around North Wales for the last few days. There had been no such sunshine in smoky, old London which had, as usual, managed to act like a sweat box making travel on the underground unpleasant, while the sun fought hopelessly to escape from behind a thick covering of greyness. No sunburn there, just frayed nerves and short tempers.
I drove slowly towards the docks, passing the Cead Mile Failte pub on my left, outside of which a small crowd of happy revellers were enjoying a ‘last drink’ before boarding the ferry. One man was playing a guitar, another was tooting on a tin whistle, while the others around the table sang, and cheered when I honked my horn. ‘Nice one,’ I heard somebody shout in a familiar accent, as I slowed and waved over.

Ferry Time

Ferry Time

A couple of hundred yards further on I joined the end of a long, crawling queue that was working its way towards the magnificent ferry that awaited. ‘Here we go,’ I thought and rolled the window down.
Living in North London I hadn’t been to the coast in months, and when I closed my eyes I soon imagined walking on the quiet expanse of the strand at Brittas Bay where the fresh air could purge even the most blocked and needy spirit.
A friend at home had rented a small house there for a month and he had invited me to stay over for a few days. I was looking forward to spending some time there as it would be a perfect way of relaxing and unwinding from the stress of living in crowded London. Also, taking a walk on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire was always therapeutic and an absolute must for all returnees. I would do that with Mum and Aunt Liz, that would be fun and, of course, there were always calorie-laden ice creams to consume.

 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

This was going to be my first visit home on holidays since my dad had passed away, and I felt that it was going to painful. He had been one of three fatalities when, out of the blue, a drunk driver crashed his skidding car into a bus shelter. It happened so quickly that there was no chance for any of the victims, who were all killed immediately. It was a tiny crumb of comfort that he had not suffered, but beyond that it meant little to any family members. Anyway, my mother, although hurt beyond words managed, as I knew she would, and when her sister, Liz, moved back to Dublin to be with my mother and I could hear the improvement in her voice when we spoke on the telephone.
This was great news, and now I was looking to seeing both her and Aunt Liz, whose farm in Roscommon I had often visited on school holidays. Playing there was always a novelty and my young imagination was let loose as I chased Indians, rounded up stray cattle and built campfires where I sat at the end of a tough day with John and Peter, two local boys who had joined my crew as we drove herds of cattle to the great, dusty market in Abilene. They were wonderful days and thinking about them brought a smile.
I was lost in daydreaming about another roundup when the sharp blast of the following car’s horn made me sit up and hurriedly join the now slow moving line of cars.

The new ferry seemed a mile high and was truly impressive. I’d heard about it from friends who had been on it recently, but I was taken aback when I was up close. The thought occurred that Noah would have got some serious amount of animals on board if he’d had the chance, and boy where would we be now. Interesting….and already I liked the idea of travelling on this new star of the sea. The ferry swallowed the seemingly endless amount of cars and trucks like a giant, gorging whale as I parked and made my way upstairs and joined the growing crowd of travellers.
The smell of fresh paint and newness was strong and the main area was as hectic and noisy as Moore Street on Christmas Eve. The place was bright and airy, the floors spotless, unlike those on many of the old ferries when I first travelled across the Irish Sea.
Children screamed at each other and their parents, as they dashed about like headless chickens, dodging baggage and jumping on seats. At least they had seats to sit on I thought, as I tried to find a place that was relatively quiet.
I travelled the length of the ferry and marvelled at the amount of people aboard, and the shops and restaurants that were doing business. I passed a cinema that was showing the latest summer blockbuster, and I thought that maybe I’ll come back later and watch it. Must get a seat, I told myself again, and spotted one against a far wall. I flopped down heavily, put my head back and sighed in relief. ‘Almost there,’ I said quietly and closed my eyes.
I drifted off to the rhythm of the ferry and seemed to have dozed for ages before a familiar voice made me open my eyes.
‘Howya, Chris,’ said a grinning Paul Kavanagh, a friend who I used to play football with in Dublin. I had almost slipped off the seat and was only stopped from hitting the floor by my knee wedging itself against my neighbour’s haversack. I straightened up and shook hands while he crouched down and started to chatter at a mile a minute as only Paul could. ‘Knackered, eh?’
‘You’re not joking,’ I replied, rubbing my eyes before running my fingers through my hair in the faint hope of waking up. I yawned, loudly. ‘No offence, Paul, I just needed 40 winks. You know yourself’.
‘More like 140,’ he laughed, as did the others sitting around me.
‘Jeez, I thought he was dead,’ sniggered a big bloke as he elbowed his friend. ‘Hey, your man’s actually alive,’ he added, sending his friend in to a fit of giggles.
‘Yeah, and at least he’s stopped bloody snoring,’ chirped somebody else as Paul suggested a pint.
‘It’s a miracle,’ the big bloke added, as he cracked open a can and passed it to his friend.

Sail on....

Sail on….

The bar was packed and difficult to stand at as the ferry moved up and down in the uneven sea. We also moved from side to side while people staggered about with great difficulty. The only person making easy progress was a guy who was obviously drunk and unconcerned with the staccato movement of the ferry. He moved freely while those around him clung onto banisters and tables in a desperate effort to remain upright.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and here in the middle of the Irish Sea, I was witnessing one, as homo drunkus moved with ease in a straight line from his seat to the toilets. It was a stunning insight, and made me think of astronauts careening about on the space station – and they were sober!
‘Welcome home…nearly,’ said Paul, handing me a pint. ‘And here’s to both of us having a good time.’
‘Absolutely…and it’s really good to see you, Kav. Slainte,’ I said, and we hooked our elbows onto the bar and hung on. Drinking on a rolling ferry was not for the faint hearted, and we had to try and anticipate each rise and fall of the ferry and before taking a sip. It led to some funny moments, but it did the trick as it took our minds off the rest of journey that passed quickly.
We discussed holidays and Dublin’s chances in the All-Ireland championship before swapping phone numbers. Without realising it we found out about mutual friends back in London, and we arranged to meet up for a few less buoyant beers in the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, a pub we both knew and which was close to where we worked. Things were looking good, and we were now only 30 minutes from home.

I went out on deck and the stiff breeze was invigorating. The loud cawing of dozens of seagulls overhead made me look up as they swooped and played in the clear air. They looked and sounded like they were having fun, maybe even welcoming me home, and I hoped that some of their excitement would be coming my way.
As we approached the coast the waves lessened, and the spray was refreshing after the stuffy atmosphere of the bar.
A few lungfuls of fresh air made me feel light-headed, but it was a million times better than being just another poor, sweaty commuter on the hot and fetid underground.
I made my way to the front of the ferry, gripped the railings and enjoyed its rise and fall. ‘Dublin, you’re looking good,’ I said into the breeze, where only the seagulls heard my words. The twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, with their red and white painted hoops, were getting bigger and clearer with every forward movement of the ferry. To the left, a fleet of small yachts off Dun Laoghaire harbour, their sails flickering in the sunshine, were enjoying a perfect day for racing. Beyond the city I could see the Dublin Mountains, their outline a jagged edge against the blue canvas of the western sky.
I stayed where I was for a few minutes, smiling as the salty air tugged at my shirt and tickled my nose. Now, only the sound of a flapping flag intruded, and I closed my eyes in blissful anticipation and said once more ‘Yes, almost home.’

Dublin's famous Twin Towers

Dublin’s famous Twin Towers

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Time Please…

 

Same again...

Same again?

‘Another one bites the dust,’ well not just yet, but it’s coming. The sad news is that The Bernard Shaw, a pub that I often visited, will soon be closing its doors for the last time (sometime in October, I believe). It is a cause for regret by patrons, and those who see its demise as the loosening of another thread of the city’s fabric. As one patron said ‘It’s like the heart’s been ripped out of the neighbourhood,’ and it’s easy to see why.

Situated on Lower Richmond Street, a stone’s throw from Shaw’s birthplace at 33 Synge Street, the pub is more than just an enjoyable hostelry serving great pints and good food. Over the years it has become an integral part of the community, with its Eatyard (a very popular place to sample food from many countries), music shows and support for local events; its closure will undoubtedly be a body blow felt by many. As Shaw might have said: ‘Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is the closure of a favourite pub.’  I’ll drink to that.

A pub...and much more besides

A pub…and much more besides

 

 

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Picture Perfect

Floating colours

Floating colours

I have always loved the way light made it come to life. Bright sunshine spilled in through the dining-room window before getting under the surface and breathing life into my favourite painting. The tropical yellow and red blobs shimmered in a sea of blue, as black dots and squiggles seemed to move between them. The blobs crept towards the edges of the canvas, and I loved all the swirling, crazy shapes that drew my attention. It was as though I was looking at a dream, and I smiled at the creative mind that created this wonderful piece. The master of so many similarly, brilliant works was none other than Joan Miro, a man known for his vibrant imagery and captivating playfulness. An original, certainly!

‘It’s wonderful David, really wonderful,’ said Laura excitedly. She was standing a few feet from the canvas and gazing with studied interest at Miro’s handiwork. She took a sip of wine and pursed her lips as her eyes slowly moved across the painting. Her head moved from side to side taking in the scene, and a slight grin broke from the edges of her mouth. I liked watching the bewitching influence this painting cast on those who stood before it – it never failed. As I looked on it was as if Laura was having a conversation with it, something I understood very well, for I, too, had often been in a similar trance. It was not the first time that somebody had been so impressed, but the fact that Laura was an art teacher was doubly pleasing. She turned to me and smiled, nodding her head in a knowing fashion. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied and looked over at the shimmering colours.
‘Pity it’s not an original,’ she said, with a little giggle. ‘Where did you get it anyway?’
‘Well that’s a long story,’ I said ‘and one that I’ll tell you again when I’ve more time.’ I headed for the kitchen. ‘Right now I have to put food on the barbeque for all those folks in the garden, so you’ll have to excuse me. OK?’
Laura nodded and her gaze returned to the painting that was now bathed in the shifting rays of the afternoon sunbeams that danced between the swaying leaves of the palm tree on the patio.

La Seu, medieval cathedral

La Seu, medieval cathedral

A few weeks later Laura phoned and asked if she could come over. Her voice held a note of excitement.
‘Sure,’ I said ‘you must have known that I’ve just opened a bottle of wine!’
She laughed. ‘Brilliant, we’ll be there in ten minutes. Bye.’ She put the phone down immediately and I was left wondering. We, I thought, who is this other person? But then that was Laura’s style, always meeting people and introducing them like long lost friends. All good fun, really. And anyway, I knew she wanted to see the painting again, and she wouldn’t be disappointed, especially as it lay highlighted in golden light.
‘Salut, Joan,’ I joked and raised my glass to the Spanish painter before stepping out onto the patio.

When Laura arrived she was accompanied by a man, who she introduced as Pablo Morientes from Majorca. He was giving a summer course in her art school and he had a lifelong interest in the work of his fellow Spaniard. His hair was jet black and he had a bushy moustache above a mouth that suggested he was a happy sort. A firm and friendly handshake was reflected in his intelligent, blue eyes. ‘Hola’, he said shaking my hand.
‘Hola, como estas?’ I answered.
He grinned. ‘You speak Spanish?
‘A little,’ I offered. ‘But only if you speak slowly.’
‘Bueno. But I prefer to speak English – practise OK?’
‘Of course,’ I said and showed both of them into the dining room before I went to get two wine glasses.
I could hear them talking as I rinsed and dried the glasses and wondered just what Pablo might have to say about my Miro. The little painting that measured 20”X18” was the centre of attention just as it was the day I came upon it four, or was it five, years ago?

Port D'Andratx

Port D’Andratx

I was on holiday in Majorca with the explicit intention of improving my Spanish and staying at my sister’s villa in Port D’Andratx. I went to see Frederic Chopin’s winter hideaway in Valldemossa with its magnificent view of the blue expanse of the Bay of Palma where La Seu, the magnificent cathedral, dominated. Later, I visited a number of galleries, of which, thankfully, Palma has plenty. The Museum of Contemporary Spanish Art has a collection of great works by Picasso, Dali and many other local artists. It also houses a few by Joan Miro, and I was delighted to see these works in a Spanish environment. Seeing them here, in their own place, was a special treat.
While strolling through the narrow streets near to the Plaza Major I met my Miro. I had been browsing aimlessly through the colourful and noisy streets, taking in the local artists and musicians when, for no particular reason, I stepped into a small shop and saw the painting. It was lying against a wall at the back of the shop and covered in a layer of blue dust. I knelt down and drew my finger across the top of the frame and immediately fell in love with the bright colours. I moved back a little to get a better view and knew exactly the wall in my house that could do with something like that hanging on it.
‘You like, senor? asked a voice from on high.
I was taken aback and stood up.
The owner of the voice was a large, middle-aged woman wearing plenty of gold bracelets and rings. She was very attractive and her brown eyes seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.
‘Yes,’ I managed to say ‘it’s…..it’s wonderful!’
She nodded like the practiced trader she was. ‘€200.’ She smiled and took a step back, giving me time and space to consider her offer.
I made a face. ‘It’s nice, but €200 is a …..’
Neither of us said anything for what seemed like the longest time. ‘OK, give me €175 and it’s yours.’ She smiled like a seductive siren.
I grinned and opened my wallet where €160 waited. ‘That’s all I have,’ showing the empty leather folder. I waited.
She rubbed the notes deliciously and eyed me closely, and smiled. ‘Because I like you,’ she said and the deal was done. I followed her to the counter where she put the dusty painting into a large plastic bag and said ‘Adios’ before giving a new customer her full attention.
I walked to the Plaza Major, had a few cold beers and wondered at what had just happened. What was it called? Doing one thing and suddenly finding yourself involved in something else? Then I remembered. Serendipity, that was it. What a wonderful name for spending an aimless afternoon before buying a lovely painting, which only a few hours earlier I had no thought of doing!

Perspective on Palma

Perspective on Palma

Laura and Pablo were standing in front of the painting when I entered the room and poured the wine. ‘Rioja,’ I said and we clinked glasses.
‘Gracias,’ said Pablo.
‘You like,’ I asked.
He took a sip and nodded approval. I then glanced at the painting and Laura’s eyes widened.
Pablo took another sip before replying.
I waited. What for, I had no idea, but just the element of unknowing was exciting.
Pablo left his glass down, put his hands together and then drew one across his mouth.
I sipped some more.
‘It’s wonderful, David. Really wonderful.’ He paused. ‘Can you tell me where you bought it?’ He added quickly ‘If that is not too, how you say, nosey?
Two sets of interested eyes never moved from me as I told them the story of my find in Palma.
Both shook their heads and I could see that Pablo was very interested. ‘Do you know much about Miro’s work?’ he asked, a serious tone to his question.
‘I know that he was involved with the Surrealists, and that he lived in Paris for a number of years.’ I put my glass down. ‘He also worked in ceramics and moved to Majorca where he died on Christmas Day 1983.’
‘Bueno,’ said Pablo. ‘Like other great artists he had many different phases in his career, one of which was the painting of his Constellation series. These are similar in style to your painting and there are only 23 of them, recorded, that is.’ He paused for effect, I supposed, and the small room was silent.
Laura took a sip and licked her lips in anticipation.
‘There has always been a rumour that Miro did another painting in the series, No 24, but it has always been just that…..….a rumour.’ He turned to look at the painting. ‘But now I’m not so sure.’
Laura raised an excited eyebrow. ‘What do you mean, Pablo?’
‘Having studied Miro’s work for over twenty years now, I think,’ he looked at both of us ‘that this may be his missing work. This may indeed be Constellation No 24.’
I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. My mouth was dry and I looked wide-eyed at Pablo who was now grinning. Mischievous or what, I thought, and stepped closer to the painting as my heart beat a little quicker.
‘You’re joking,’ was all that I could offer.
‘I think not,’ said Pablo slipping into his professional artist’s mode. ‘The brushwork I recognise and the images used are similar to those in the other Constellation paintings. The canvas and framing look original, so I think that it might be Miro’s missing masterpiece.’ He let that sink in and I felt my jaw drop at the thought of having an original Miro hanging in my house. I took a big sip of wine and looked at Laura who was equally dumbfounded. More serendipity, I thought, and went to the kitchen and got another bottle.
Later, we sat out on the patio discussing the merits of the painting and Pablo grew more convinced as the evening wore on. He wanted to take photographs of it and discuss ‘the matter’ with his colleagues in Spain and asked if that was alright with me. I couldn’t object and chatted with Laura while Pablo took a number of Polaroids of No. 24.
‘It’s so exciting, David,’ chirped Laura the excitement in her voice now loud and obvious. ‘What will you do?’
‘You mean if it’s real?’ I replied, trying to calm my growing excitement.
‘Of course,’ said Laura.
I put my glass down and looked up at the setting sun, now a large, red sinking ball. I shook my head a few times. ‘I don’t know, I have no idea.’ Then I turned to Laura and winked. ‘But it could be fun!’
Laura smiled her largest smile and both of us laughed out loud.
When the wine was finished Laura and Pablo left and I was on my own with the thought, however fanciful, that only a few feet away Miro’s Constellation No 24 was looking down on me. Wow, I thought, and closed my eyes as the breeze rustled the leaves on the palm tree.

Shapes of Things to Some

Shapes of Things to Some

About a month later I received a phone call from Pablo. He said that he had shown the Polaroids to his experts he knew who were intrigued with ‘his find.’ It may indeed be the missing Miro but that they needed to see it, ‘in the flesh’ as it were. ‘Can you bring it to Palma?’
I was stunned. ‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘I can’t get over for a fortnight,’ I added ‘would that be okay?’
‘Fine, that would be fine,’ Pablo replied ‘and it will give us more time to check things out.’
‘Right then, I’ll be in touch before I travel. Okay?’
‘Adios, David.’
‘Adios, and what is Palma like now?’ I asked a definite edge of excitement in my voice.
‘Fantastico!’ he said his voice rising, before clicking off.

Pablo and one of his colleagues, Antonio Diaz, met me at the airport and we drove to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro. The Foundation is named after Miro and his wife, and If there was something useful to be found out about my painting then we were certainly in the right place. It oozed refinement,and everywhere works by the great man were on show. It was indeed an Aladdin’s cave of Miro paintings, sculpture and glistening ceramics. and a place he would surely have been proud of.
I was introduced to the Director, Fernando Gonzalez, a tall man in an immaculately tailored black suit who had the unmistakable bearing of a leader. His inquisitive, bright eyes never left mine as he shook my hand and showed me to a chair in front of his desk. He asked me to tell him ‘the story’ and I did that over a cup of coffee. He was intrigued.
When I stopped he opened his palms to heaven and said, ‘That is amazing. Absolutely amazing.’ Pablo and Antonio were grinning at the unlikely tale and I felt my face redden. I mean, here I was in the Miro Foundation, telling these experts how I had discovered a painting whose ‘existence’ they had considered a rumour, and now it may just become a reality. It was a great surprise, and the silence in the room fuelled the edgy anticipation.
‘Shall we go down and see, Manuel?’ said Fernando rising from his chair. Pablo opened the door, smiled and we walked down a picture-laden corridor to the conservation department. This is a fabulous facility with state of the art equipment for the repair and preservation of works of art. The hum of activity hung in the air alongside the gentle hum of the atmosphere-controlling machines.
I handed over the well-wrapped package and waited as the Chief Conservator, Luis Rivera, cut the painting free. There was an audible intake of breath as the painting was placed on a long glass desk that was lit from below. The Director bent down to get a closer look as did Antonio and the Chief Conservator. Pablo turned to me and winked.
‘How long are you staying in Palma? asked the Director as the others followed his words.
‘My ticket is for a week,’ I answered.
‘Excellent,’ he replied. ‘We would like to carry out some tests, you understand, so as to establish the authenticity.’ He shrugged. ‘Or not, as the case may be.’
I nodded.
‘Very well then, Pablo will keep you informed.’ He glanced at my painting. ‘And thank you very much for bringing it here. It is very good of you.’ He leaned over and shook my hand.
Everybody was smiling, and it looked as though the experts had come across the Holy Grail and couldn’t wait to get on with their examination. I hoped they were right, sort of. Well I had bought the painting because I liked it, and that’s all. I never imagined anything like this happening, and anyway, what could I do? That word serendipity floated back into my mind and all I could do was think of Miro and wonder what he might say. Bueno, maybe. That was something none of us would ever know, but I was sure that he would be happy with his painting being ‘found’. Gracias, mucho gracias!
Over the next few days I took in the sights of Palma and came to understand why the city played such a vital role in the lives of Miro, Picasso and Salvador Dali. The atmosphere on the streets mixed easily with the smells of tapas from the restaurants and, combined with the warm, Mediterranean breeze, it made a heady concoction that excited the imagination. Its creative nudge was undeniable and Pablo agreed with my observation over dinner one evening. He was non-committal about events at the foundation, but by the same token said nothing to discourage me. ‘When are you going home, David?’ he asked later.
‘Saturday,’ I replied, knowing that half of my allotted time was already used up.

Mucho vino!

Mucho vino!

We drank some more of his fine wine and chatted about life in Palma and his part-time work at the Foundation. He loved art, had painted since he was a child, and had won competitions both in school and college. He sold some of his work but not enough to allow him to give up his teaching role at the university where he lectured on art history, specialising in the life and work of Spanish artists. It was through this that he had developed his love for Miro, and he had published numerous articles on his favourite subject.
It was easy to see why he was so taken by my painting, and why he had asked me to bring it here. His love affair with the works of Miro was obvious, but the possibility of discovering Constellation No 24 was simply incredible. At first they had not believed him at the Institute until he produced the Polaroids and told his side of the story. The other experts were so taken with his enthusiasm that they suggested that I should be invited to Palma – with the painting of course! So here I was looking out over the bay and the hundreds of yachts and sailing boats in the marina.
A day later I picked up a note at the hotel’s front desk. ‘Collect you at 1 o’clock. Pablo.’ I read it a second time and sat down with my mind racing about what might lie ahead. It was buzzing but I knew that I should be happy. If nothing else happened at least I had enjoyed the week in beautiful Palma and made a new friend in Pablo. And, come what may, I was going home with my Miro safe, where an empty wall awaited.
Pablo and Antonio were on time and we drove through the busy traffic, open-top, as the breeze kept us cool. Driving past the magnificent marina the sunlight sparkled off the chrome and steel of the myriad of sailing boats. Everywhere there was light and sparkle and it was a thrill to sit back and take it all in. I loved the rush of wind on my face and the tangy smell that came from the sea. It was a classic Mediterranean mixture, and I closed my eyes and breathed in the invigorating vapours.
When we reached the Foundation we made our way to the Chief Conservator’s office where he and the Director were waiting. I noted that the large room was almost empty of furniture but it had quite a few paintings hanging from its white walls. In the middle of the room, resting on an old, well-used easel and demanding attention, was my Miro.
The Director stepped forward and shook my hand, his eyes betraying nothing more than a friendly greeting. ‘I hope that you are enjoying our city?’ he asked, stretching his arms out extravagantly. I thought that I saw a little grin sneak out of the corner of his friendly mouth.
‘Yes,’ I replied ‘it’s been great. Bueno.’
The Director stood over my Miro and I could see him draw in his breath slowly. He was preparing himself, and only a tiny mote of dust moved in the sunlight. He looked to his colleagues and turned to face me. ‘My dear, David, we have studied this beautiful painting very carefully. Very, very carefully,’ he stressed ‘and we are of the opinion that it may indeed be Constellation No 24. Our initial examination shows similar techniques and materials used by Miro, and we would like to carry out some more tests. Gabriel Solano, who is considered to be the pre-eminent scholar on Miro, is arriving from Madrid next week, so we would like him to see it. If that is alright with you?’
The silence was deafening.
The sunlight danced across the floor and flicked against the edge of my Miro. It tickled the surface and a spark seemed to explode and hit me in the eye. I felt as if the air had been sucked from me and I could not hear anything. Was this really happening? I blinked and looked around at their anxious faces. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I replied ‘no problem at all.’
They all nodded and the Director shook my hand firmly. ‘Gracias, mucho gracias,’ he laughed, and the others clapped congratulating me.
‘It’s a wonderful day for you,’ said Pablo ‘and for Miro. He would be very happy. He is coming home.’
We drank some fine wine and the Director offered me one of his favourite Cuban cigars. He and the others, especially the Chief Conservator, explained their findings and their reasons for thinking that Miro’s missing masterpiece had been found. It was all very professional, and exciting.

After I left Palma, Pablo kept me informed of progress. Finally, after two weeks, I was surprised when the Director himself called. With his excitement barely under control, he said that Constellation No 24 had indeed been found.
I was lost for words and could hear only the gentle hum on the line. ‘Thank you,’ I managed. ‘What now?’
The Director had clearly been expecting this and his answer was calm and controlled. ‘David, such a painting could be, no,’ he corrected himself ‘is, worth a lot of money, especially if it goes to auction. You understand?’
‘I understand.’
‘Well, the Foundation would love to add it to its collection and it has many rich patrons.’
‘I see.’
‘So, why don’t you come over next week and we can work something out,’ continued the Director. ‘We’ll send you tickets tomorrow, okay?’
‘Fine. Next week is fine.’
‘Gracias, David,’ he said. ‘You have made a lot of people very happy. And many, many more will also be delighted when they get to see your Miro.’
I grinned broadly.

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma


The next few days passed in a daze while I prepared to travel. Miro’s painting was certainly going home, but what did it mean to me? And could the Foundation’s patrons donate enough money to purchase the painting and make a big difference to my life? Hopefully, I thought, for the umpteenth time. On the day of my flight I locked up the house and grinned at the empty space on the wall where a stray sunbeam lay. ‘Adios,’ I said.
Palma was hot and humid and Pablo definitely had an extra bounce in his step. He was a happy man and he talked excitedly all the way to the Foundation. There he introduced me to Carlos Lopez and Diego Falcone, two of the Institute’s richest patrons, who shook my hand and thanked me for finding the missing Miro. And so it was that within five few minutes I had signed over my rights to Constellation No 24 for a very significant amount of money.
And one other, small thing.
And it’s this small thing, a brilliant copy of my Miro, done by one of the Institute’s artists, that now hangs on the wall in my dining room where it entrances people. ‘A pity it’s not an original,’ they say. And you know something, they’re right!

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Across the Bay

FloatOn

FloatOn

As I drove from under the shade of tall trees the view across Dublin Bay to Howth was as magnificent as even. With my window open the salty air tickled my nose and all I could do in response was smile. It had happened many times, and the clear blue water that stretched and stretched before becoming one with the distant horizon intensified the good feeling.
I parked my car, turned and took in the view just like the dozen or so onlookers who were seated at the viewing point on the curve at Seapoint. From here you had an uninterrupted view of the expanse of the bay, that on a bright day like today was simply ‘the place to be’. Lost in the far-off blueness yachts were cutting across the water heading back to the marina in Dun Laoghaire, while beyond them a large cruiser made its way leisurely towards Dublin Port. Such liners were a recent feature in the bay, and their gigantic presence always generated plenty of photographs and comments on social media.
I knew the scene in front of me well but I realised, and not for the first time, that I had never sailed across the bay to Howth. It was something that I had always wanted to do, as I would be able to take photographs of the city from a new vantage point. But, not being a member of a sailing club the opportunities were non-existent until last week. As I was putting my photography equipment away after a shoot in an office where the owner, a man named Chris, had two framed photographs of a boat on the water, he asked ‘Do you like boats? I noticed that you seemed quite interested in these pictures.’
I nodded. ‘Firstly, these are fine photographs, and then it seems to me that whoever is on that boat is having fun.’ The boat was leaning to the side and slicing through the water with ease. It was exciting.
Chris smiled. ‘Well, that’s FloatOn, my boat, and she really moves. It’s a Berwick Westerly 31and it’s the best boat that I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few.’
I looked again at the picture and I could almost feel the spray in my face as Chris talked about being on the water and going across the bay to Howth or down the coast to Greystones.
‘Do you sail?’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘but I like the sense of freedom that it offers. People say that they feel released when sailing, and I think that I can understand that. Skipping across the water is something that I have often thought about…and it’s still on my To Do list.’
Chris smiled again. ‘Well, in that case, I’d like to welcome you aboard FloatOn sometime.’
That was a week ago, and now as I looked out from my car at the endless blue scene in front of me, I was excited because tomorrow I would, finally, be on the water and sailing to Howth. From where I was now the distance didn’t far, and I reminded myself to look up from the boat and take photographs of the where I was now. Then I would have the story from both sides, as it were, and with that thought I started the car and slipped into the traffic, and away from the beautiful vista.

Dublin Bay, with Howth Head, from Seapoint

Dublin Bay, with Howth Head, from Seapoint

The late-September sky was clear, with a few white clouds high up and barely moving.
Lines of boats bobbed at anchor as sunlight sparkled from their metalwork. It was an image that I liked and I took some photographs, before spotting Chris who was waving from the end of the West Pier. Ship ahoy, I thought, the excitement now undeniable as butterflies, or whatever, buzzed in my stomach.
Chris looked me over, head to toe, and nodded approvingly. ‘Suited and booted, you look fine,’ he said offering a firm handshake.
I quickly glanced at my new clothes and felt as it was a good start. ‘I got them from a friend-of-a-friend who is on holiday this week. He’s a member of the National Yacht Club and, thankfully, we are almost the same height and weight.’
‘You look fine, Joe, and ready for action.’
‘Sure am,’ I replied wondering if that was just a figure of speech or should I be aware of something more serious. I’d had some negative thoughts in the last day or say and I chided myself for them. Why was I thinking like this? I was going sailing with a man who was a seasoned veteran and boat owner, and others, across Dublin Bay on a glorious day. It was what I had always wanted and now I was having dark thoughts that kept coming back like the tide. That was an unfortunate, if accurate, phrase and I tried to let it go and busy myself helping Chris.
The breeze was warm and fresh, and above us seagulls swooped and cawed as they fought over scraps that a sailor on a nearby trawler tossed into the air.
‘Here, put these in the dinghy,’ Chris said as he handed me a box with milk, sugar, coffee, a bag of doughnuts and two packets of biscuits. ‘I have a sweet tooth, several of them in fact, so we’ll have something when we get a little out.’
‘Sounds fine to me,’ I said as we were joined by the third member of our motley crew.
‘And this is, Dave,’ said Chris introducing my new shipmate. ‘He’s a dentist,’ he added ‘and I’m sure that we’ll not be in any need of his skills today.’
Dave shook his head playfully before asking. ‘Chris, I thought there was going to be four of us today?’
Chris shrugged, and shook his head. ‘Kevin, my travel agent friend, got involved in some business in London that dragged on…and he didn’t get back yet. So, it’s just us, The Holy Trinity, who’ll be having lunch in Howth later.’
I looked over to Dave. ‘Are you a sailor?’
‘A few times a year, I guess, as I’m usually found on the golf course. I’ve done this trip maybe a dozen times and it’s always fun. Do you sail, Joe?’
I had thought about that a lot since Chris had invited me onto the water. It was during summer holidays, I think I was fourteen, and I went with a group of local friends to an outdoor, pursuit centre near Courtown in Wexford for a week. We went climbing, horse riding, surfing, orienteering and sailing, by the end of which we were so exhausted that we were happy to go home. It had been a great time and I did remember having a feeling of lightness as the teacher took control of the tiller and the boat picked up speed and moved easily over the shimmering water. I laughed as the salty spray hit my face – oh yeah, that had been fun. ‘Once, and that was a while ago,’ I said ‘but I have been studying up lately.’
‘That’s good to hear,’ said Chris as he stepped aboard the dinghy, and took us to FloatOn.
‘I like the name,’ I said when aboard ‘where did that come from?’
‘Well there’s nothing funny or suggestive to it, if that’s what you mean? I know that’s often the case, but FloatOn is meant to reflect exactly that – Float and On. I think it was a combination of floating and drifting on, both of which are immediately identifiable with the sea.’ He looked over the length of the boat. ‘I like it, and it sounds good, too. That’s important.’
‘Yeah, it’s one of the best that I know,’ added Dave who had just tied his lifejacket on.
Half an hour later after Chris had given me a quick A-Z of the boat we were ready to go. I recognised most of the items he pointed out from the YouTube videos that I had watched, the one titled ‘Sailing for Dummies’ being my favourite. He was impressed, but when I said that the only time I had encountered a halyard was when I did the Irish Times crossword, he stopped the ‘lesson’ and laughed out loud.
‘I must remember that one,’ sniggered Dave making a face.
‘Right, gentlemen, I think that we are ready to move off.’
‘Have you checked the weather, Captain?’ asked Dave.
Chris adjusted his cap and pulled it tighter over his silver hair. He was, I had found out, fifty-seven years old but looked much younger, the years sailing a boat in the fresh air had obviously been a benefit. He was in better shape than most of my contemporaries who were nearly twenty-five years younger. ‘I have, and we might get some rain later. It should pass over quickly and, apart from that, we should be fine.’ He glanced out to sea. ‘It’s a lovely day for a crossing; you’ve picked well, Joe.’
I hadn’t picked anything at all, but I appreciated the inclusivity of his words. And, I hoped that I might in some way contribute to the day’s outing.
So, just as we moved slowly towards the sea the clouds that had drifted across the sun slid away and we bathed in strong, bright light. I took a few photographs, taking my time as I tried to get used to the movement of the boat. Around me salty air was now so much stronger than I had expected and I felt great.

Martello Tower at Seapoint

Martello Tower at Seapoint

Chris talked about the crossing, something he had been doing for longer than he cared to remember. There were tales of people getting sick, no surprise I thought as a wave lifted the boat momentarily. And he reckoned that FloatOn could probably sail over and back on its own so familiar was it with the journey. He was a font of stories, the old sea dog in the mood and enjoying it. He pointed off to the right. ‘Looks like the good weather has brought out the crews,’ he said as we turned to take in the spectacle of thirty, no maybe forty, yachts racing. The sails billowed as the crews moved about doing whatever was necessary to get more speed. I leaned on the roof of the cabin and took a stack of photographs knowing that I would probably not get this chance again. With the zoom fully extended I knew that I had some good stuff, as the yachts quickly moved away from us and into the open sea.
Beyond them the Kish Lighthouse, its whiteness standing out from the surrounding blue canvas, shone briefly before a passing cloud took its glory.
I took a few shots of where I had been sitting in my car yesterday but I was much further away than I had expected and I knew they would be much good.
The tide was coming in and I could see it breaking against the stones below the Martello Tower. Traffic moved silently along the road, for all I could hear now was the wind rippling the main sail and the sound of waves hitting the boat.
‘How far are we now?’ I asked Chris who was looking closely at the sky.
‘Oh, we’re about half-way now, and you can see straight down the Liffey estuary into the city.’
Being this far out at sea I had to gauge my bearings by finding the twin towers of the Poolbeg Power Station and then looking to the right. Sure enough I could see up the river and the cranes along the quays. The glass and metal from some of the recently erected buildings sparkled like Christmas trees. This was new to me and again I took a load of photographs.
‘Getting in plenty of work, eh,’ said Chris.
‘Yeah, and the sunlight really is such a big help.’

A leisurely cruiser

A leisurely cruiser

Chris pointed a finger to something over my shoulder. ‘Hey, you’re in luck.’
I had been so lost with taking photos of the river that I hadn’t noticed the cruise liner that had come from behind a line of warehouses and was now heading out to sea.
‘We’ll get a little closer,’ Chris added ‘and then you see just how big these boys are.’
Ten minutes later both Dave and I took photos of the enormous ship as it moved with purpose past North Bull Island, and in no time it was gone.
‘That was great,’ I said, and noted that that Chris was again looking at the sky.
I sat at the back of the boat and watched what Chris was doing. With so much experience he made it all look simple and I decided that I must take some sailing lessons. I would ask him about it later as right now I felt he was concentrating on something I didn’t understand.
‘That wind has certainly picked up,’ said Dave, looking back at Chris and I didn’t miss the concern in his voice.
Chris didn’t reply as he kept looking at the sky.
We were now getting close to the southern side of Howth Head from where the Baily lighthouse kept watch.

Baily Lighthouse - silent watcher

Baily Lighthouse – silent watcher

In a matter of a few minutes the sky darkened and the breeze rose.
‘Take down the main sail, Dave,’ Chris shouted ‘as I’m going to turn on the engine. This is getting too rough; I don’t like it.’
Dave made his way carefully along the deck and began to take down the flapping sail. He struggled at first but he got it down and managed to tie it to the boom as the boat was knocked about by the rising waves. On his way back he slipped and cried out in pain.
I was already up and moving when Chris shouted ‘Help him, Joe.’
Dave was holding his knee and his face was contorted in pain. ‘I’ve twisted bloody knee,’ he spat. ‘Shit.’
I leaned down, grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him to the back of the boat. He was smaller than me, and with my shoulder under his I managed to get him into the cabin.
‘It’s not broken,’ he said ‘but it hurts like hell.’ He let out a lungful of air. ‘Thanks, Joe, you’d better go and help Chris, I’ll be alright. Go.’
‘Sure?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’
I went back on deck where Chris was working hard at the wheel. ‘How’s, Dave?’
‘He’s twisted his knee, but nothings broken.’
Chris managed a tight grin as he looked ahead at the rising waves. ‘I wasn’t expecting this,’ he said ‘but shit happens.’
‘What’s happening?’ I asked.
Chris gritted his teeth and pulled hard on the wheel. ‘We’ve been hit by a squall that I never saw coming. It’s like it came from behind Howth Head – we’ve been ambushed.’ Once more he strained to keep control as another wave slammed into the side of the boat.
The cliffs below Howth Head were disappearing in the falling mist and I wondered just how bad things were going to get. We left the marina a man short and now one of us was lying injured. That was not good but I consoled myself that I was with a man who knew these waters as well as any sailor. We’d be okay.

Wheel of good fortune

Wheel of good fortune

Seconds later a big wave hit us hard and FloatOn was knocked sideways. Chris managed to hang onto the wheel but not when the next wave hit. This was bigger and he was tossed past me where he stumbled, fell and banged his head,
‘Oh, God, Chris,’ I shouted ‘are you okay?’
He didn’t answer and then I saw the blood on his forehead. I felt for a pulse and thankfully I found it, although it was slower than it should be.
‘What’s happened,’ cried Dave ‘are you okay?’
I leaned into the cabin. ‘I am, but Chris has been knocked out. What are we going to do?’
Time seemed to stand still before Dave said ‘Drag him down here and I can take care of him, okay?’
I nodded and wiped rain from my face.
‘And then you can sail the boat. I mean we’re not far from Howth marina.’
I couldn’t believe what he said. ‘Me…but..’
‘Just do it, Joe, there’s nothing else we can do.’
The boat was rocking more and more and I knew that he was right even though I was scared stiff. ‘Ok, I’ll get him now.’
It took a mighty effort to drag Chris across the deck but surprisingly the rolling of the boat actually made it easier than I had expected. When I got Chris into the cabin Dave was standing and he had an open a First Aid box on the bench. ‘Do your best, Joe, you’ll make it,’ he said as he began to check the mark on Chris’s head.
I struggled to get back on deck that was now sluicing with water. Around the boat the waves seemed to grown and I knew that I had never felt so nervous. There was another lurch to the left before I got behind the wheel and began to pull it down. We had to get away from the cliffs and the lack of visibility meant I had no time to lose. It was a struggle and the muscles in my arms ached as I held on and headed directly into the waves. Boom, boom rang the sound of crashing waves as I held on and rode the madness. It can’t last, I told myself, it just can’t last. And then, just as the pain in my arms and legs had grown unbearable I spotted sunlight on a side rail. It couldn’t be, I thought, suddenly feeling a new rush of energy surge through my screaming muscles. The waves continued to drench the boat but the worst of the buffeting seemed to have passed. Minutes later the mist that had been my enemy drifted away and I was guiding FloatOn past the northeast corner of Howth Head. The sense of relief was overwhelming and I fell forward onto the wheel.
‘We made it,’ I shouted down to Dave ‘we bloody well made it.’
Dave laughed. ‘I knew you’d do it, Joe. Top man.’
‘And how’s Chris?’
‘He’s still unconscious, but his pulse and breathing have settled.’
‘Tell me, how am I going to park this bloody thing?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry, Joe, I’ve already alerted the local Life Guard and they’ll come and take us in.’
Phew, that was a relief, I said quietly as I guided FloatOn towards the marina. Ten minutes later a man who knew exactly what to do was in charge and he took us into a berth.
‘That was a close one,’ he said.
‘You’re not joking,’ I agreed. ‘And thanks for the help.’
‘And by the way…you did very well. Very well indeed,’ he added before heading off down the quay.
Getting a compliment from a professional was unexpected, but I would have preferred if he never had reason to say anything.

Chris had mild concussion and he was kept in the local hospital overnight. Dave had his leg strapped up, before a sailor he knew from Howth Yacht Club drove us back to Dun Laoghaire. It was a fine gesture and I made sure to send him a Thank You note a couple of days later. And when I called to see Chris at his home later in the week he still had a bandage above his eye. He looked like a boxer who had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson, but he was recovering.
‘I owe you a big thanks, Joe,’ he said, giving me a hug.
I shook my head. ‘You owe me nothing, Chris, absolutely nothing.’
Over a cup of coffee I told him what I had done and he sat in silence taking in every word. ‘I spoke with, Dave, and he told me what you did…and just how bad the conditions became.’ He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to remember something, I suspected, or maybe it was to forget what happened. He gently shook his head, opened his eyes, and met my gaze. ‘But then we had you, Joe….we had you.’ He smiled, and it was a crooked one considering the bump to his head. ‘Well done that man.’
I didn’t respond, as we shared a moment that neither of us would ever forget.
Chris sipped his coffee. ‘And, of course, we never got to have lunch. I was so looking forward to that.’
‘I know, but I’m not exactly starving,’ I replied, tapping my belly.
Chris grinned. ‘But we will do, I promise…and I’m paying. Okay?’
That was fine with me. ‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, and we both laughed at that.

Dun Laoghaire marina, with Howth Head beyond

Dun Laoghaire marina, with Howth Head beyond

 

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May Day, May Day…

No deal, no red lines, no nothing – no way

Can somebody, pleasssse, get me a large Gin & Tonic!

Can somebody, pleasssse, get me a large Gin & Tonic

Brexit is Brexit – just hear what I say

But surrounded by fools

Who don’t know the rules

Get me out of here – I bid you all good day!

 

 

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Trinity College Book Sale

It’s that time of the year again and for all book lovers out there the 30th Trinity College Book Sale will be taking place next week. https://www.tcd.ie/booksale/ This is a great book sale, and one that I always like to attend as I know that I will come across books that are unique, out-of-print and bought at a good price. Now that’s what I call a good book sale.  I wrote a piece about last year’s event and you can read it here. Enjoy!

 

Examination Hall

Examination Hall

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