We don’t always realize the extent to which time alters our memories. That which seems so vividly remembered may or may not be an accurate reflection of fact. We all have a wonderful capacity for distilling meaning from the events that shape our lives. Sometimes, upon reflection, it almost seems as if things happened for a reason, perhaps in fulfillment of some grand design.
Then, from time to time, you get the chance to revisit the facts themselves. A dusty old photograph, long since forgotten may just emerge as if by magic from a pile of junk you were about to throw out. You look closely. Was I really that awkward? An old video maybe, shot by the parent of a friend on old 8 mm film, the colours faded, the quality blurred and scratched but still, enough details. The garden was pretty small…funny I recall it as larger. A chance conversation with someone you’d not seen in years; a different perspective on a shared event. So I really was not at the centre of the whole thing…not how I recall it. Evidence; trustworthy but still laden with facts that stand at odds with the remembered details, leaving you unsure of just what to make of it all.
Through it all we still try to bear witness to our own lives.
Our third extended stop was to be Cork. Since we were leaving from Carlow the choice came down to either taking the train back to Dublin and getting another directly to Cork from there (Yes, Sinéad, you were correct) or, taking a bus straight on to Cork without the side trip back to Dublin. We opted for the latter. Not only was it significantly cheaper overall, but also the more meandering route it took brought us through a few places we had never been before,.
A trip on a bus gives you time to think and enjoy the journey. Yes, there are many who just enjoy the feeling of being in control, being actively engaged in moving a vehicle through space and time, but not all of us feel that way. Sometimes it’s nice to just let yourself be transported.
Place yourself sufficiently close to the front and you get the benefit of an ever-changing panorama as the bus makes its way along the country roads. Fields, old churches, abandoned castles; all just slide along. The vista is punctuated, from time to time, by a stop in one town or another; a coming and going often only signaled to the lazy riders like me by changes in the barely perceptible hum of the diesel engine, shielded, thankfully, from us by layers of insulation.
Not quite the way I remember it. The engines used to be much louder. Or at least that’s how I think it used to be. Same with the trains. On all the trips so far you could not even hear the engines, much less the clicking of the wheels on the rails, just the sounds of the passengers.
My God will those two ever shut up! Two elderly ladies in the row behind me are on the way to Waterford and they haven’t stopped talking, loudly, about … stuff/nothing … since they got on board. No worries, I’ll just slip into that same head space I’ve used so often. You may call it “daydreaming,” but I call it an escape from unwanted noise. It serves me well. Classes, sermons, boring speakers (who would likely beg to differ) and now this, thankfully no match for the layers of sight and sound that can emerge from the juxtaposition of memory and imagination.
Muine Bheag, Waterford, (the place of origin of my Dad’s ancestors) Dungarven and Youghall, one by one the places slip by leaving only a fleeting vista of real life in Ireland. But how much of it was real? Details? No, more like a collection of broad strokes on a canvas. After all, much of the journey was viewed through barely opened eyes and half-listening ears.
And finally we’re there. The bus stop is not far from the hotel but we get a taxi anyway—too much luggage and the trip is all uphill. The taxi driver was originally from South Africa. He’s been back there, of course, but has been here long enough that he considers Cork as home. He’s anxious to tell us of the sights of his adopted city and I compare his items to my own list.
The Cobh: “It was the last port of call for the Titanic and it’s really beautiful.”
Blarney: “It’s great but get there early or you’ll be in among loads of tourists.”
The City Itself: “Cork was built on an island where the Lee separates two different ways.”
We arrived at the hotel. “It’s a great place. I use the gym there. See that bar there? (It was Henchy’s Pub) You have to go if you want to visit a really nice Irish Pub.”
We decided to first have a peek down in the city centre. Without the luggage it was only a 15 minute walk, all downhill, and soon we found ourselves near St. Patrick Street. Crossing one of the bridges over the Lee memories of time spent with Uncle Michael came flooding back. He used to take me down by the river and we’d feed the ducks from one of the bridges. But which one? The one we were on? Maybe. The next one on either side? Not sure. I thought I’d remembered the spot but frankly it could have been any one of them. It had to be one of them, though, because Drawbridge Street was nearby.
I said the name and felt drawn as if to a magnet. But to what? Things felt so different.