One of the first books I can remember loving was The Hobbit, which my father read to me before bed when I was in first grade, and which was infinitely more interesting than the little paper books we could color on with phrases like, "The cat is on the mat." As a result, one of the worlds of wonder of which I am most fond is The Shire, the homespace of Middle-earth, and the place to which both Bilbo and Frodo have such difficulty returning. It is, after all, a common trope that you can't go back home again. Still the scenes in the Shire are, if sometimes tinged with a bit of sadness, warm and comforting.
Having lived in Oxford, I suppose I even further romanticize the Shire as representational not only of the rolling English countryside, but also of a place that could encourage the arduous work that goes into creating a separate world with its own peoples, languages and lands. A quick look over the wikipedia entry will show just how detailed the Shire, and all of Middle-earth, is. [The comparison between Iceland and the Shire seems particularly apt (reading W.H. Auden on Iceland before actually going there marks the country as forever a bit English in my mind), as the whole of the country felt a bit magical.] I'm about 90% sure that my writing style, which has always involved really long, detailed descriptions, as well as my obsession with historical homes, can pretty much be entirely attributed to reading Tolkien as a small child. I don't know how accurate this fantasy really is, but I certainly imagine Tolkien at a big hardwood desk, next to a warm fire, typing and reading encyclopedias, and sometimes chatting with the Inklings over pints at the Bird and Baby. It's either a bit rainy and gray, or it's beautiful and all the students are punting and drinking Pimm's.
Clearly, the Shire speaks directly to my love of home and of reading, and considering the importance of both of those things, I don't know that much can be said beyond that. If you need more, check out one of the myriad of atlases, guides and criticisms of Middle-earth and Tolkien. Or pick up the books. They taste like Harry Potter, only much, much better.
I'm reading Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney now, and really loving it. In particular, I've loved his selections from North, most of which are cold, salty, and focused on the bogland. His most famous of these poems is Bog Queen,but I'm fondest of "Strange Fruit" and "The Grauballe Man." The titular poem, reproduced below, touches the foreign and the local (at least for Heaney) in the most wonderful way. I can't wait to get my hands on the entire book.
To fill in some of the downtime between travels, I've decided to instate a "Worlds of Wonder Wednesday" tradition. Each Wednesday, I'll post a bit about a place of imagination, fantasy and wonder, a place that does not exist.
Since I only know two people who don't love Mad Men (one because there's too much smoking and one because there's not enough feminism) and the season premier is this Sunday, I think it's time to take a moment and long for New York, circa 1964.
It seems to me that this was the last time glamor wouldn't really feel old fashioned, when hats and gloves were not only appropriate, but often required. Still, things were changing, and in February, The Beatles made their first-ever trip to the states, landing in a frenzy, of course, at JFK Airport (newly renamed after the assassinated president). It's also around the time of the Second Vatican Council, which certainly changed things for Catholics in New York. Maybe it's hindsight, but fashions in music, clothing and lifestyle seemed to change more quickly in the 1960s than any other time.
Most importantly to me, the 1964 World's Fair, an event that seems to encapsulate everything I want to write about, came to New York. I think my entire life has been colored by this event, a full twenty-two years before my birth, and I've been left with a dull nostalgia for the future promised at this fair, and at the Tomorrowland Pavilion at Disney World.
New York, 1964 is, to me, trapped between two visions of the world, old and new. It's clear which one was winning out, which one is always winning out, and how it's worked for the city, and for the country. And let's not forget that 1964 is probably the last time in history that anyone liked all those post-war buildings up around Central Park.
The first city I ever visited in Europe, Dublin holds a special place in my heart. I went on an AFS school trip there in summer 2002, and spent a few days each in Dublin, Bath, and London with my best friend Shelby. My first trip abroad, and my second without my parents, it was quite the experience, and we had a lot of fun. I went again while studying at Oxford, spending a weekend in the city with friends at Trinity, and while the trip was completely different the second time around, it was also fantastic.
I've never had a chance to go further into Ireland than just outside of the city limits, and since I've only ever spent a few days in the city at the time, my experience there is fairly superficial, but my parents are going on a ten-day road trip around the island next week, so I thought I'd make a brief list of some of my favorite things to do in the city.
Dublin Writers Museum: Ireland, despite being a small nation, has an incredibly rich literary history. Being an enormous literature buff and a poet, I'm fascinated by how Ireland managed to create (if not always foster) so many incredible writers. This museum houses the most wonderful literary ephemera, including Samuel Beckett's telephone and James Joyce's glasses. I want one of these to open in New York. Right now. (18 Parnell Square, €7.50 - but there's usually a BOGO coupon on the website, so try to find that before you go)
Trinity College Dublin: Kind of the first college I ever visited, and one with an awesome prospectus, I sort of assumed I'd end up going to school here. That didn't happen, but it is an amazing institution with one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. While you're in the library, make sure to check out the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from around 800 CE. Two of the four volumes of the book are always on display, one showing a heavily illustrated page and the other showing a page of script. And in case you're wondering what you're "reading," it's the four gospels of the New Testament and some other stuff. (2 College Green, free)
Gallagher's Boxty House: We learned about Gallagher's from Samantha Brown, who is totally crazy but usually has good suggestions. The boxty is a traditional potato dish, made into pancakes or dumplings, and since my favorite thing in the world is the dumpling (and carbs in general), I was really, really pleased with this, and thinking on it is making me want one right now. I can't remember which one I got while we were there, but looking over the menu now, the Gaelic Boxty looks really good. They also had very nice brown bread and butter while we were there. It's also located in Dublin's main tourist strip, which makes for a fun walk around. (20-21 Temple Bar, €12.95-16.95)
Guinness Storehouse: The first brewery tour I ever went on, the Guinness Storehouse is probably the ultimate one. An enormous factory with displays on every part of beer-making, the storehouse also has a fantastic section on old Guinness advertisements (think toucans and "Guinness is good for you") and a collection of every style of bottle made. The admission fee seems a bit high, but you get two tastings along the way, along with a pint to enjoy in the skybar, which has a wonderful view of the city, and a clear-rock-paperweight-thing-with-a-coin-in-it to take home. And if you like Guinness, which I don't really, the ultimate place to try it is Dublin, because it changes slightly in any sort of transport, and tasting it in its truest form is awesome. I haven't visited the Jameson Factory, but I've heard that's also pretty cool. (121 James's Street, €15.00 - but you get 10% off if you book online)
You'll notice there aren't any pubs on here. I haven't been to many in Dublin, and can't remember the name of the only one I actually enjoyed (which was technically not in Dublin anyway). There are also about a million things to do in Dublin that aren't on this list. If you have any suggestions, feel free to share!