Along the road between Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon, clusters of plain white crosses mark where people have died in car accidents. The roads outside of Dublin are terrible, especially in the Northwest. Of these stark notes on the peril of poor road infrastructure I counted 15, before attention strayed to a countryside set in jewel tones of amber, ruby, and garnet.
The last leg to my friend's house is undertaken on a boreen, one of those narrow, roughly paved country roads on which cars pass each other with difficulty; a pre-modern road. Across the glassine lough is a big wood-processing factory with smoking white chimneys. A sheepdog regularly visits the house, for pets and scraps. After our big night out, we feed Ben the remains of our fry and he eats everything except the cherry tomatoes.
We had gone into town for my friend's birthday, rambling from pub to pub and even a massive nightclub heaving with stag and hen parties, before ending up in two chippers, full of roaring young people—lassies shivering in their high heels and smeared makeup, lads lined up at the counter in sagging jeans probably sandblasted in a factory in Tijuana. Arriving back at my friend's, I fished a burger out of a greasy bag and tossed it to Ben, before retreating into the house for hot whiskies and even more heated political debate.
The next morning I walk around a still house replete with silky shadows and reflections, savoring how personal significance had accrued on walls and shelves, in nooks and crannies, even in the pink-tiled bathroom where a seashell-shaped soap dish signalled an absent feminine eye. Hidden stories glimmered in every thing. The framed print of a Tudor-era map of Ireland. The odd gold-framed mirror etched with the outline of a jaguar. The photo of a young version of my friend with his long-deceased sister. Inherited chinaware. A stone holy water font and a key holder from Salou. A print from William Blake’s The Lovers Whirlwind. Records, books, and plants, all carefully chosen and placed. The home of a connoisseur, curating for his own private pleasure. Common and banal elsewhere, these cherished things acquire depth and solidity in this nutshell of a cottage.
After breakfast, we quaff brandies (hair of the dog, of course) while discussing books, including Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I'm reading at the moment. Everything that happens to her feels too serendipitous, such as her first encounter with Allen Ginsburg in an Automat. But a successful life (fulfilled, rather?) always feels lucky. Every turn in the course of that life shapes the artist, even when it feels terrible at the time. Every loss and blessing are understood as crucibles in retrospect.