There’s a comfort in ritual, regardless of the origin. Perhaps it’s the way you fix your morning coffee or maybe it’s in the community-wide response to the death of one of its members. We can’t afford the cognitive effort to deliberately ponder, plan and execute every single one of our actions. For so many scenarios it’s just as well that our response is more-or-less predestined. How we prepare certain dishes, the routes and means by which we get to familiar destinations, the customs with which we greet those with whom we feel a sense of kinship, these and so many other actions are best left in the realm of the familiar.
And so it goes, day after day so many of our affairs are carried out, semi choreographed. Life proceeds and we step out to tunes so familiar, the movements rehearsed and precise, made so much more refined from decades of practice.
But from whence comes the music? For whose pleasure, ultimately, do we perform, day after day, week after week, year after year?
A vacation brings with it the chance to vary the daily rituals. Sure, you can replace the day-to-day habits with ones equally mundane, returning, perhaps, to a childhood home, a cabin in the woods or whatever else happens to be “your” vacation spot, wrapping around yourself a place almost recognizable as home yet separated sufficiently by distance, time or even appearance that a visit there offers just enough variance. Your momentum carries you on unharried, only the vista changes.
You could, instead, choose to try something new and visit a place for the first time, maybe even do things you’ve not done before. Sometimes comfort is not what we seek. New experiences bring with them the opportunity for change, even growth. As some, including N N Taleb have pointed out, stress, skillfully applied, can result in renewed strength. So, too, time spent in foreign surroundings brings with it the chance to reacquaint oneself with the finer points of the senses while, at the same time, use that input to explore, play and, perhaps transform somewhat.
The trip to Ireland had been playing out more or less that way. Dublin—recognizable, Carlow—new, Cork—a bit of both. And now Galway. Since neither of us had ever been there we figured the experience would lean more towards the new. In the three days we spent there, though, there was as much accustomed as was not. The city is right on the sea, at the head of a largish bay; not far away are stretches of impressive rocky cliffs that end at the cold, unforgiving north Atlantic—all so very familiar.
Like just about everywhere in Ireland, though, there’s an overall feeling of strong and complex links to a storied and often torturous past. Canals, a river with evidence of salmon traps—things unheard of in my familiar environs. Old bridges, an even older port–Columbus was said to have visited here, a sub-community (the Claddagh) that, even in the recent past, still spoke in the ancient tongue. Even the vessels, though nonetheless seaworthy, were built on thoroughly different lines from the ones I’d grown up with.
Strolling along the narrow streets of the city centre, in the midst of a throng comprised of university students, residents and tourists such as myself it was not hard to imagine the place as just about anything: fishing town, college town, port, fort, tourist destination…your choice.
And so it went. For three days we strolled around, explored and had a few laughs, willing participants in a dance at once ancient yet still eerily familiar.