Category Archives: Travel

Between Chris Rock and a Green Place

 

IMG_0126

 

Back at the start of the summer. I spent the weekend in Gibson’s landing on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia; a knick knack tidy little town where one is never far from an art exhibition or a market selling jalapeno red pepper dip or a shop selling jokey hand towels; the kind of town where people go to follow their bliss and frequently catch up with it and even if they fail, a freshly baked muffin or a gluten free pie is always available as compensation.

Add to that, some magnificent views of the coastal mountains, Mount Big Thing and Mount Next Big Thing, and some good weather and you have a perfect place to relax, read and enjoy the sun, which I did, bringing with me a Rolling Stone, a New Yorker, the previous weekend’s Sunday New York Times (it takes me a week to read it) and Bruce Springsteen’s excellent autobiography (the Boss can write).

Both Rolling Stone and The New Yorker had articles on Steve Bannon.  Matt Taibi’s piece in Rolling Stone was funny, caustic and concise; the New Yorker piece by Connie Bruck rambled on forever, generally adding to the picture I already had of Steve Bannon as a dangerous amoral individual. One quote got my attention, from an anonymous friend: “he never fit in the world of investment banking, – he was this gauche Irish kid”. Over in the New York Times, there’s a piece on Jimmy Fallon, turns out he’s Irish too: “I’m Irish, I need all the luck I can get”; apparently his stage mark is in the shape of a four leaf clover. I would like to point out  that the shamrock which is used as a symbol of Ireland is actually a three leaf clover (it was used by early Christians to explain the concept of three gods in one, the Holy Trinity, those 5th century Irish peasants must have been a clever bunch, if they could grasp that one). Never mind, Jimmy Fallon is talented and likeable, so he can be Irish anytime he wants.

Back to the New Yorker where Calvin Trillin writes an article titled “The Irish Constellation” in which he explains that for a long time he thought the Orion Constellation was actually called “The O’Ryan Constellation”. He stretches this extremely lame joke way beyond the point where it is even remotely amusing. At the end of the article he describes being at a talk about The Orion Constellation in which an Irish man who, he says, has an accent like Barry Fitzgerald,  gets up and makes a comment that reveals that he too is under the same misapprehension regarding The Orion Constellation. Laugh? I nearly cried. By the way, for those of you under the age of a hundred, who don’t know who Barry Fitzgerald was, he was an Irish character actor who won an Academy Award, for playing an Irish priest (no surprises there). He died in 1961, my mother thought Barry Fitzgerald was old.

My wife interrupts my reading to tell me that Sean Spicer is Irish American and likes to wear green shamrock covered pants on St. Patrick’s Day. This is more than irritating, the only consolation is the sun is out and I’m getting a bit of a tan. Yes, that’s right a tan, I mention that in case by now you are picturing me as some  helium-voiced shillelagh swinging, freckled-faced mick. Maybe I’m being a bit sensitive.

I turn to Bruce, one of my heroes.  As I said above, Bruce can write and when the subject is New Jersey, Asbury Park or his early life, he writes really well. It turns out Bruce is half Italian, half Irish: his mother is of Italian descent; his father is of Irish descent. His mother is hard working, positive and supportive; his father is miserable, disappointed, drinks too much and is prone to unpredictable rage. Later in life, his father becomes mentally ill. Bruce suggests that this mental illness and perhaps his own depression came over with his Irish ancestors who came to America to flee the famine. C’mon Bruce, throw us a bone, if you have to indulge in facile causation, perhaps you might concede that your gift for language and story-telling, your talent for writing laments (The River, Downbound Train) comes from your Irish heritage. This is all getting too much, I look up and down the beach and wonder if the other people hanging around enjoying the sun know that I’m Irish.

Then rescue comes from an unlikely source, an article in Rolling Stone about Chris Rock. Apparently Chris is a U2 fan. On the day of his father’s wake, he found time to run to the record store and buy a copy of “Rattle and Hum” which had been released that day. “I love Bono”, Rock is quoted as saying. Flash back to North Florida, early eighties and I’m driving along a coast road close to Amelia Island, sand from the adjacent dunes drifts across the road, the sea is doing that blue sparkling thing, I’m listening to “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday” on the radio, hearing it for the first time, and the hair at the back of my neck is standing on end. “How long must we sing this song”, the old politics is being rejected by an Irish band and they are playing my music – rock and roll – not some maudlin shite dispensed by  some bearded guy with a banjo and a beer belly. You see back then if you asked anyone two things they associated with Ireland, they would say drinking and terrorism (terrorism that was partially funded, ironically, by Irish Americans). But Bono broke the Irish stereotype and for a while, at least, Ireland was cool. Ireland was where U2 and Bono lived.  I have been a fan of Bono ever since.

So, all you republican ersatz Irishmen out there with your shillelaghs and your shamrocks and your antediluvian politics, look for a personality somewhere else,  co-opt someone else’s imaginary identity; dress up as Mounties, wear lederhosen, I don’t care, just leave us alone. By the way, the current Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadker, is gay, fiscally conservative and the son of an Indian father and an Irish mother. In other words, he is a complex human being not a cartoon.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day in Ollantaytambo/ Station Road (2 haiku’s)

We got off the train from Machu Picchu at the Ollantaytambo station, walked up the station road to the town square and came upon this: Mother’s Day in Ollantaytambo. It went on all day – entertainment, raffles, prizes, politician’s speeches. The ladies seemed to enjoy themselves, although they never clapped once.

IMG_0548

Later that evening, we had dinner in the restaurant down at the station and walking home we witnessed this haiku-worthy scene.

Station Road

                I

Two black dogs humping

a puzzled white terrier

on the station road.

              II

Puzzled about what?

about the expectations

of the dog in front.

 

photo by Marie Feeney

 

 

Of Fish and War (Re-Mix)

 

Nha Trang

At the National Oceanographic Institute,

among tanks cramped

with circling neurotic fish

(Hit the glass. Stop. Turn around)

there is a multi-coloured specimen

whose toxin,

the sign says,

renders its victims

“unconspicuous or even dead”.

Further north

in the Hanoi War museum

conspicuous beneath glass

lie the dog tags

of dead American soldiers –

to a man

young, buzzcut and hopeful.

 

IMGP0855

 

Photo  taken outside The Hanoi War Museum

 

Las Vegas

This appeared some time ago, thought I’d give it an outing.

 Las Vegas

tattooed junkie

frantic call box

all that glitters

raddled toupee

prime rib buffet

entertainers

not so prime

cadillac

fossil fool

hot spot

for the uncool

synthetic jewel

neutral desert

Umbrage in Umbria (Remix)

Umbrage (2).JPG

Umbrage in Umbria

In which Diane Lane

plays an American woman

recovering from the pain

of a recent divorce.

Sandra Oh will feature

As her quirky  sidekick,

Tonto to Diane’s Lone Ranger.

Smoldering local love interest –

Xavier Bardem or Antonio Banderas –

they’re not Italian

but if you want “smoldering”

you’ve got to call in the Spanish.

We’ll need a Brit,

Maggie Smith, perhaps,

as a sage but ageing dowager.

Max Von Sydow is still alive

(I’ve just googled him)

he could be the priest

but that might be too much Swedish gloom

we need wry and twinkling.

Morgan Freeman, I’m thinking

an explanation will be needed

as to how he got there.

Richard Gere will appear

near the end,

as the ex-husband

rich and massively contrite

now that his bimbo has fled –

the philandering bastard.

And as for the umbrage

taken by whom

because of what

you’ll just have to wait for the movie.

Colombian Palette / Hacienda Merida Re-Mix

 

Photos taken in Medellin, Cartagena, Guatape – Colombia.

Hacienda Merida

The rooster crows

before the break of dawn –

damn, preemptive cock.

He is joined

by the  gecko

behind the bed,

the village dogs,

birds,birds and more birds

and finally

Fiona the donkey

whose indignant heehaw announces

she is not ready for another day

tethered to a pole

in feckless shade.

 

 

Patrick’s Irish Pub, Medellin, Colombia

bangers and mash

I have to admit that when I first moved to Canada from Ireland I used to dread St. Patrick’s day – the fake Irish accents, the green beer, the where’s-me-lucky-charms awfulness of it all. I have since learnt to embrace it.

I never felt quite like that about Irish pubs, I have always regarded them as oases of something approaching familiarity when I found myself in a foreign country. I once got quite sick from food poisoning in Nicaragua and when I was well enough to eat again, I had a longing for Irish stew which I found in an Irish pub run by an ex farmer from Limerick, but that’s another story.

I was recently in Medellin, Colombia, staying in the El Poblado district and I dropped in to Patrick’s Irish Pub to sample Ireland through a Colombian filter. The pub had the usual collection of Celtic bric-a -brac, Gaelic geegaws, Paddy paraphernalia, Shamrock gimcrackery. As is often the case in Colombian bars, one wall was half covered with television screens showing mostly football/futbol/soccer; though there was one screen devoted to UFC and another showing old MTV videos – Rob Zombie, Deborah Harry, Metallica , Eric Clapton singing “Cocaine”; oddly appropriate, Pablo Escobar once lived in this neighbourhood, his house is now a civil engineering office. Yes, this was the soundtrack of Patrick’s Irish Pub. Occasionally, the screen would go blank and they would play “The Rocky Road to Dublin” as a reminder.

The waitresses were young and wore short kilts, I found myself wondering what they thought of this strange universe they found themselves in every evening – a heavy metal Ireland full of tattooed bruisers. I ordered bangers and mash, which is technically more of an English dish, and it was spectacularly bad – two chorizo sausages on a soft bog of mash potatoes. Still, the beer was good -craft roja from BBC (The Bogota Beer Company).

Outside it was a beautiful warm evening and locals and tourists were pouring into the area to sample the restaurants and salsa bars – a mass of colour and pounding drum beats, the feeling that the party was getting started and would not stop until the early hours of the morning. Back in Ireland, the pub is a warm convivial place that people go to,  to get out of the weather ; here in Medellin , Colombia,  Patrick’s Irish Pub felt more than a little redundant.

 

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 7, The Note

Earl sailed up the Belize coast

In his brand new custom built boat

With the mother of all hangovers

No water and a note

And now he’s sitting drinking

In an ocean-side tourist bar

Trying to get a jump on happiness

In the hour before happy hour

I had just landed on Caye Caulker, which is little more than a sand spit off the coast of Belize, when it started to rain heavily. There was nothing else to do but go to an ocean-side bar, in the hour before happy hour. It was as crowded as a bar gets on Caye Caulker and there was this guy bragging in a loud voice about how he had just sailed up from Placencia in his new boat with “the mother of all hangovers” and no water on board. The guy was a bit of a jerk, so I decided to write him into a poem (which turned into this song lyric) and give him a hard time. By the way I tried working “Placencia” into the lyric but the word just hissed and flopped around like a drunk snake, so I gave up on it! Take a listen, and then John Mitchell will explain how he managed to sound like a rock band all by himself!

Here’s John:

I could hear “The Note” played by a real southern rock band. That’s the attitude I took to the musical arrangement. Earl had a bad case of the regrets mixed with a helping of anger, a bad hangover and topped with a soucent of despair, all in all a pretty heavy feeling, so it needed rough and heavy music. The opening distorted guitar lick is a nod to “Susie Q” by CCR played through an overdriven Fender Deluxe amp. I tried to make the track sound like a 5 or 6 piece band playing live in a smokey, roadside bar. I added the rock and roll piano on the choruses, as if Leon Russell was playing and the greasy Hammond organ as if Greg Allman was sitting in, especially the solo played through an overdriven Leslie speaker with a tear in the cone. I think Earl would appreciate how the band interpreted how he was feeling after getting “The Note”.

Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of Fish and War

Nha Trang

At the National Oceanographic Institute,

among tanks cramped

with circling neurotic fish

(Hit the glass. Stop. Turn around)

 

there is a multi-colored specimen

whose toxin,

the sign says,

renders its victims

 

“unconspicuous or even dead”.

Further north

in the Hanoi War museum

conspicuous beneath glass

 

lie the dog tags

of dead American soldiers –

to a man

young, buzzcut and hopeful.

 

IMGP0855

 

Photo  taken outside The Hanoi War Museum

 

So Long, Halong

 

As we ride out of Cat Ba

through a valley circled

by limestone crags,

a compilation of pop ballads

 

from the seventies and eighties

oozes from the speakers

and the affable English backpackers

at the back of the bus

 

groan in faux horror

as Aerosmith follows Bryan Adams

follows George Michaels

follows Michael Jackson

 

but when the Bee Gees launch

“How Deep Is Your Love”

the backpackers quieten down

and the driver stops honking his horn

 

at the dogs, children, women

in cone hats and cyclists

with finely balanced cargos

who drift carelessly

 

in front of the bus

as if it was an invisible

visitor from the future,

and we all strain against

 

the tug of the song’s chorus

far too cool to sing along

except for one backpacker

let’s call him Nigel

 

or Christian, or Jason, or Justin

who, in a high piping voice

declares his oneness

with the song’s embattled lovers.

 

This poem was first published in Oddball Magazine, about 4 months ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slim’s Sudbury Vacation ( a poem and a post-poem interview)

The Stack (remix)

And what a

beautiful

plume we have

here, Nigel,

 

a plume with

time on its

hands, look at

it loping

 

across the

sky like a

giant Chinese

dragon, let’s

 

hail a cab

to find the

plume’s end, where

the last wisps

 

of vapor

drift upwards

and a blue

mist hangs, yes,

 

there it is

in the sky

to the west

stalking the

 

cars in the

parking lot

outside the

big box mall

 

while the sun

bawls and the

sky gets all

indignant.

 

Post Poem Interview 

You played well out there tonight, Slim.

Slim: Well, you know it’s not about me, it’s about the poem, I’m just part of the process.

Are you suggesting that you are perhaps some kind of conduit linked to some higher power, some higher resource.

Slim: No, I am just mouthing platitudes, isn’t that the idea?

Quite, so I am sure everyone is wondering, who is Nigel?

Slim: He’s my cousin.

That’s a very English name.

Slim: That’s hardly surprising, he is English.

Do you call him ’Nige’ for short?

Slim: No!

It sounds like he could be a member of one of those floppy-haired synth bands from the eighties, you know, like Soft Cell or Human League or The Pet Shop Boys. Didn’t XTC have a song about a guy called Nigel. Is he in a band?

Slim: He’s a welder.

Does his hair not get in the way?

Slim: He’s bald, where is this going?

(mumbles) somewhere slow or nowhere fast. So tell me about the structure of this poem.

Slim: I took the 3 syllable line, 4 line verse , I have been using, and applied it to a poem that I was never happy with and it worked, at least it made me trim a lot of the fat and I came up with a better poem, I think?

……….what? Sorry I nodded off there for a bit. Well, I’m sure you are itching to get back to the dressing room and join the rest of the lads in a lukewarm bath of diluted sweat.

Slim: Can’t wait!

 

 

 

I,ve Got Your Back (2)

This photo was taken in the late evening, walking south on Sandymount Strand, Dublin. We had just come from Mulligan’s Pub where we watched Ireland tie with Sweden in the first round of Euro 2016. The plastic shopping bag is from Tesco’s and contains comfort food – bags of Tayto Chips (Ireland’s national potato chip) and Cadbury’s chocolate bars.

The chocolate bars in question are Cadbury’s Boost (formerly known as Moro) and Cadbury’s Flake. A Cadbury’s Flake is not really a bar, in that the word ‘bar’ implies solidity, rigidity, the flake is a fragile thing and starts to disintegrate as soon as the package is opened. When Phil Lynnot of Thin Lizzy complained of getting “chocolate stains on his pants” (Dancing in the Moonlight), he was probably eating a Cadbury’s Flake.

There is a feeling of opportunity lost captured in the resigned slope of the shoulders of the people in the photo, Ireland should have won the game against Sweden and at that point faced an uphill battle to reach the next stage of the tournament. In the next game we were thumped 3-0 by Belgium and then needed a win against Italy to make it through. It was looking like the game would end in another tie, when about five minutes from the end, Wes Hoolahan gets the ball inside the Italian half, Robbie Brady, in one of those moments of telepathy that happens between players that have played together for awhile, runs towards the narrow gap between the two Italian center backs which is exactly where Wes puts the ball. Robbie’s head meets the ball and in a flash it’s in the back of the Italian net. The whole Irish nation, scattered across continents like green confetti, jumps from its seat with a collective roar; grown men with beer bellies and heads like bowling balls blub like small children; the Irish players pile on top of Robbie Brady in a tangle of beards, tattoos and expensive haircuts; the Irish manager and assistant manager – two men who would have previously considered a handshake to be excessive intimacy – grapple tearfully like emotional Olympic wrestlers and why not, why not! We are a small country, we have never felt that winning is our birth right, so when we do win, well, catharsis doesn’t begin to describe it.

Take it away, Phil.

 

 

I’ve Got Your Back (1)

Photo taken above Lough Tay, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. Down below is where the television series “The Vikings” is filmed. Most tourists bypass Wicklow and head down to the Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Clifden, all great places, but 45 minutes max. from Dublin you have this and much more.

My parents’ ashes are scattered near this spot, they were great walkers (they would not have used the term “hikers” or “hill walkers”).

Just don’t get lost in the mist.

Love in Front of the Camposanto (Hell ain’t what it used to be)

The Camposanto has been called one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world….hang on a second, what’s happening on the front lawn..

IMG_0395 - Copy

What are they up to and why is no one paying attention? Maybe because they are doing this ..

IMG_0390.JPG

and this….

IMG_0396.JPG

Meanwhile , inside the Camposanto, all is quiet..

IMG_1040.JPG

Hang on….IMG_0394 - Copy.JPG

Let’s take a closer look…

IMG_0394.JPG

What in Hell’s name is that devil doing, is he actually excreting lost souls?? Some one should tell that couple out on the lawn to stop what they are doing or else this could be their fate!

Notes: Most of the frescoes inside the Camposanto were all but destroyed by allied bombing in 1944. They are now undergoing restoration.

From Wikipedia:

“Despite these common depictions of Hell as a place of fire, some other traditions portray Hell as cold. Buddhist – and particularly Tibetan Buddhist – descriptions of hell feature an equal number of hot and cold hells. Among Christian descriptions Dante‘s Inferno portrays the innermost (9th) circle of Hell as a frozen lake of blood and guilt.”

A Hell that has frozen over.

Seville, Ai Weiwei and 5 Tons of Ceramic Sunflower Seeds

I first became aware of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Seville of all places. I was walking north along the east bank of the Guadalquiver on my last day in that beautiful, exciting, sunny city. This section of the east bank does not have much to offer – unless you like graffiti covered vacant lots. I came across a roller blade/skate boarder park where there was a competition going on  – elaborate flips, balancing tricks, spectacular wipe-outs, lots of black, lots of tattoos, some magenta hair, Spanish rap music. Looking across to the west bank of the river I saw a brick chimney and what appeared to be a series of bottle-shaped kilns. I crossed the river at the next bridge and using the chimney as a guide I found myself in a museum of contemporary art, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC).

The museum is housed in a building with quite a history. It started out as monastery, was used as a barracks in the Napolean invasion, then became the site of ceramics factory (hence, the kilns) and finally in 1997 became the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC). In the grounds of the museum are various chapels, the priory cell, church, the sacristy, cloisters, monks’ chapter, refectory, gardens and orchards.

Inside the museum, there was an exhibition of the works of the Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei. The focal point of the exhibition was Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” project which was first shown at the Tate Modern in London where he covered the floor of the Turbine Hall with a layer of hand-crafted porcelain sunflower seeds, a total of 100,000,000 seeds, with a combined weight of 150 tons.

It took more than 1,600 Chinese artisans two and a half years to manufacture this pile of ceramic seeds; each seed is hand-painted and unique, a huge and costly undertaking.

The Seville installation was a smaller version of the Tate installation, consisting of 5 tons of seeds spread like a carpet on the floor of a white-walled room. Outside the room, a video played providing information on the project and showing the artisans working on the production of the seeds. It also showed footage of the original Tate exhibition.

I have to admit that while I could appreciate the sheer effort that went into this piece, and having listened to the video explaining its significance and read further how one of the artist’s intentions is to draw attention to Chinese mass production practices, practices that serve western consumerism at the expense of the individual, as a work of art, it left me completely cold, visually bored. The English poet, Rosemary Tonks, said “The main duty of the poet is to excite – to send the senses reeling” and the same could be said of art in general. Ai Weiwei is a sincere and brave person and there were other Ai Weiwel works on show which better highlighted his talent as an artist, it’s just that this piece, despite the gargantuan effort that went into its production had no visceral impact on me whatsoever.

That is not to take away from the fact that my unplanned visit to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC) was one of the highlights of my visit to Seville. Though modest in size, the grounds, history and the placement of contemporary art in the white walled hush of a Carthusian monastery is an experience that should not be missed.

On my return from Europe, I was talking to Slim about the paucity of themes or rather the sameness of subject matter in European religious art. You’ve got the crucifixion, the annunciation, the beheading of John The Baptist, the ubiquitous Madonna and Child and endless emaciated martyrs staring skywards like a Brazilan soccer player in a post goal celebration.

Slim, who had just spent the weekend watching back to back Guy Ritchie movies, scratched the location on his head where there used to be hair and said: “Paucity? No one fucking says that anymore. It sounds like a fucking terminal disease. ‘He died of late onset paucity. It was the paucity that got him in the end”. He then stomped out of the room, hitching up his sagging jeans as he exited. He can be an eloquent bugger at times.

Later that day, he came back with a poem called “Great Moments” which was later re-titled “The Sistine Chapel Contract” which has been posted here before but, for the sake of completeness, I am including again.

The Sistine Chapel Contract

 Me and the lads

are in the studio

working on our

Madonna and Child

when in walks Mike

with a strange look

in his eyes

and cool as you like

he says:

They want me to

paint the ceiling

of the Sistine Chapel.

We say

Wha’?

He says:

The Sistine Chapel,

they want me to

paint the ceiling

of the Sistine Fucking Chapel.

Well,

you could have

knocked us over

with a feather.