Saturday, December 09, 2006

“Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall.”

Previously on our Trip to Cork: It is a bank holiday weekend and our flight to Cork has become an extended tour of circling the airport for nearly an hour and then flying off to refuel at Shannon. At Shannon, a deserted airport lounge is our home for the next couple of hours or so. Dinner has become a priority over missed entertainment. Fortunately, I have discovered that the vending machines at Shannon accept US dollars. (It's because of the military flights, my husband explained later. Well, Yankee Doodle Dandy!) And now: Part the Second of

Part the Second in a Series of Three

Before going further I should explain, in 2002 I was traveling on business to Europe quite regularly. We were involved in a major programming effort with the subscription fulfillment software and the whole thing was based in Bognor. I was identified early on as the one person here who could represent our interests and be responsible for the testing. In retrospect, I was woefully unprepared. But we made the deadlines. And now I generally go over just once a year for upgrades or enhancements.

But it was on these trips that I could take a Friday night flights over to Ireland and enjoy a weekend. The first trips had been to Dublin – the first one would be officially B.H. (before Horslips) in summer of 2002 – but even the June 2003 trip was still before I knew many people in the guestbook and my plans were my own to make.

So I thought I'd branch out from Dublin a bit. I identified Galway and Cork as other possible weekend spots. I flipped a coin. And Cork it was.

And you've already heard about the flight over from Heathrow.

But by midnight, we were finally on the ground in Cork and I went out to catch a cab to the hotel. Mossie Daly was the cab-driver's name. I have his card somewhere.

Because revenge is a dish best served cold.

I wasn't, as you can guess, in a cheerful mood. But I quickly explained the whole business traveler on a weekend jaunt and been to Dublin and everyone says Cork is very nice, etc. etc. Then Mossie said "Are you going to visit Blarney Castle?"

Oh. Shit. That's here? I gave an inward sigh. Should have gone with Galway.

"Oh! Wow! That's here?" I enthused politely. "To think I nearly went to Galway!" And the Bernard Hermann score from Vertigo started playing softly in the background of my imagination.

(Backtracking for a moment: I have a fear of man-made heights. My earliest memories are of the terrors of down-escalators in shopping malls. I tend to avoid window offices in tall building, high balconies, or modernist stairs where the treads are held by metal risers, allowing you to look down and down and down the flights. I believe that my eyesight, which plays tricks on my depth perception, is part of it. But there's also just a primal response beneath all that. And whenever I mention that I'm going to visit Ireland, someone will invariably say "Are you going to kiss the Blarney Stone?" And then because it is not nice to say "Sure, when Hell freezes over" I usually change the subject.)

Mossie went on for a bit about the area and offered his services for a day's tour of all the regional highlights. Something he does for the visiting Japanese golfers. I suggested I was more of a 'find my own path' sort of tourist and probably would be too busy enjoying the many attractions of Cork throughout the weekend.

So by 2 p.m. the next afternoon after I had thoroughly savored the many attractions of Cork, I called Mossie. "Okay, you're on. But that Castle is out of the picture."

To his credit, I did see much more of the area than foot travel or mass transit would have given me. Cobh, in particular, was the highlight of the day. And through the radio station in Mossie's cab, I discovered the whole genre of Irish country and western. So there was my money's worth right there.

But he would not let up about that Castle. Finally I agreed that it would be a shame to come all this way and not just go see it. From the ground. Get a few photos for the album. While he checked in with his sons who were keeping a running report of the day's football game going for him via cell phone.

And when I was standing at the Tower's base I looked up to the highest part and saw the hole with sky beyond suddenly fill with the head of some foolish tourist – for all the world like Marie Antoinette at the guillotine – and Bernard Hermann cranked it to 11. I looked back down to ground level to steady myself and found Mossie holding two tickets for the climb.

"They come as part of the package," he smiled apologetically. "I'll be right there with you. It's all right. It's very safe!"

Really, I still can't remember how he convinced me, but it might have been a play on my innate sense of competitiveness. And the climb up was quite a bit like hiking a particularly rocky trail. (Natural heights are not a problem. I'll peer over the edge of a volcano with no fear at all.)

But the shock of the Tower's hollow core at the top – the rook in my chess set isn't hollow! – seriously unsettled me and early signs of full panic were beginning to manifest. My ears began buzzing and it became very, very important that I not look over the edge of the railing into the interior of the tower's depth where I imagined I would see the broken bones of some poor Japanese golfer...silken tropical shirt faded by the the bottom. It was also important to not see the stones of the parapet's edge in the foreground. Instead I kept eyes focused on the distant horizon and followed the ant-trail of tourists around to the exit tower.

Mossie tried pushing his luck one final time when we reached that hellish spot where the hole in the crumbling masonry allows people to slide out on a cardboard mat and do what they think they need to do. There's someone there too, with a tip jar, and he offers to spot you and help with the process. He looked up at me expectantly. Mossie looked at me expectantly.

"You know," I turned to Mossie, trying to keep my voice low and steady. "It's a good gig. God knows the mouldering bones of P.T. Barnum are rotten green with envy. But I'm not kissing that damn Stone. I'm in marketing. I think I'm fine as is. I also think I'm going to need to sit down soon."

I did nearly break into complete panic at the exiting stairs. The uneven and worn stones that would require close foreground attention and the little frayed rope railing for gripping pushed me dangerously close to the faint I was trying to avoid. Only the press of tourists at my back and the thought of what sort of rescue effort would have to be mounted to get my unconscious body out of there kept me anchored to alertness.

By the time we reached earth, I think Mossie was finally convinced that I wasn't just being an obstinate American tourist. He let me sit down on the grass until the buzzing in my ears stopped and my heart rate slowed.

Later he bought me an ice-cream cone and didn't even add it to the day's bill. And we drove back to Cork listening to T.R. Dallas and Margo on the radio.

Stay tuned for Part the Third:
"One foot in the grave, one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel..."

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