Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Illustrated Guide to UK Touring, Days 4-6

Earlier in the month, I posted about my first three days of touring (see here). Now I shall continue the story with the next three days, also known as: IN WHICH EVERYTHING IS ABOUT IRELAND, EVER.

See, on day 4, I once again took another train to Newcastle, where I had a school visit. I'd never been to Newcastle, and I was struck by two things: first of all, that their city center was beautiful, and secondly, when Newcastle school children say vowels out loud, they all sound like 'a' to my American ears. It resulted in the following conversations:

TEEN: Would you sign this post card?
ME: Sure. What's your name?
TEEN: Ashleigh.
ME: Spell it, please.
ME: Uh, write it, please.

Sorry, Newcastlians. I got the hang of it by the end, but I was pretty lame at the beginning.

Anyway, from Newcastle I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a librarian conference. By the time my Scholastic colleague, Hannah, and I, arrived at the Belfast airport, it was pitch black and sort of raining, but I had to be dragged off the tarmac in a state of shock. It's not that the Belfast Airport looks much different than other airports, it's just — when I was sixteen, there were two things I wanted more than anything. I wanted to be an author, as a career. I wanted to go to Belfast.

Standing there on that tarmac by the plane that had just brought me from Newcastle, I wished so much that I could tell 16-year-old Maggie that right before her 30th birthday, she'd be in Belfast because of her best-selling books. It would've meant a lot to her.

Maybe I did, and that's why I kept writing. Time travel is funny that way.

Anyway, so once I got over my shock and awe, we caught a cab from the airport. Our driver and I got to talking about life and Irish music and bagpipes, as you do, and then, this happened:

DRIVER: So I don't know if you ladies are in for the hunting, but it's lovely up here. I just got two pheasants today.
ME: Oh. Nice?
DRIVER: Yeah! I have them in the trunk now.
ME: the. . . trunk! Now? On . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
ME: They're just laying there!?

Average Irishman's Trunk

Yes. They were just laying there. The driver then explained to me that if he prepared the pheasants now, they would be "gamey." So his solution was to take them home (in the trunk of the car. Where they'd been all day.) and "hang them in the garage or someplace where people don't go often" until they stopped being so "gamey."

ME: How long will that be?
DRIVER: I dunno. Two weeks?
ME: on . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
HANNAH: What about maggots?
DRIVER: You obviously work around the maggots.

At this point I decided that everything the man said was untrue and that we were being driven around by a crazy person. I didn't mind too much, because I was in Belfast, and also because I suspected if push came to shove, I was wearing better kicking shoes than Hannah and therefore she would be the first he stuffed into the trunk with the pheasants if the conversation went that way.

So the next day dawned misty and bleak, which was pretty much what I expected. We hitched a ride in a car without a parking brake to the school where the library conference was taking place, and then I proceeded to open up the conference with a talk about The Scorpio Races. I'll confess that I felt a little nervous about this. Not the talking itself, but the fact that I was now talking about my novel about Irish water horses while in Ireland. Despite the fact that my childhood looked like this:

The Siblings Playing Music on Halloween
(halloween. I am dressed as a maid. I'm sure it was meant to be deeply ironic)

Maggie and Liz jamming together
(continued bad hair, me with harp)

Very early Ballynoola band gig
(me with my band)

Young Maggie as Bridesmaid and Musician
(I am both a wedding musician and a bridesmaid in this one)

. . . I still feel a little like a cuckoo when it comes to Irish music. Yes, we grew up playing and listening to Irish music, but it's not as if either Stiefvater or Hummel (my maiden name) are the most Irish of names out there. My family just loved the music and history and culture, and 29 years of describing why it was that I was not very Irish at all and yet played Irish music had made me defensive. Basically, I was waiting for the Northern Irish librarians to first shout PRETENDER! at me and then elaborate with a condemnation of how I had stomped in, all loud and American, and co-opted their mythology. But they didn't. They were brilliant. They told me my parents had raised me right and then they told me they'd read the book and loved it.


Then, no rest for the wicked, so we were off in a car to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland (the lower 26 counties that are not part of the UK) for a bookstore event there. It rained and then was sunny and then was rainy and then sunny again, and by the time we got to Dublin, it was gorgeous.

I'm afraid that I had another wide-eyed staring uselessly moment when I discovered that I was looking at the General Post Office in Dublin. One of my senior theses was on the 1916 Irish uprising, and that was where it all started. I'd looked at so many pictures of it in my life, but there. it. was.

I was dragged gently to my bookstore event, then, where I struck up a conversation with the bookstore lads (one of whom I'd met before. one of whom I hadn't). The following conversation happened:

BOOK GUY: . . . and, like a pheasant —
ME: WAIT! WAIT. Talk to me about pheasants. Let's say you shot one. Then what?
BOOK GUY: Well, it's rather gamey at first.
ME: So I've heard.
BOOK GUY: So what you want to do is hang it up in your garage —
BOOK GUY: *pleasantly bewildered*
ME: Just because you don't believe in the principle of decay does not make it go away!
BOOK GUY: I'm telling you, it is totally edible.

At this point, I have decided that either all men in Ireland are out to have a laugh on my behalf, or possibly, decomposition doesn't happen in Ireland. I have now fixed an image in my head of the average Irish garage.

Average Irishman's Garage

BOOK GUY: How do you make pheasants in the U.S.?
ME: We don't.

But apparently, we do. And apparently, we hang them up in our garages. (no, really.)

Anyway, after a delightful event in Dublin, we immediately got back on a plane that night to head back to London (I did say no rest for the wicked, didn't I?). The following morning we headed to the studio to do over a dozen radio interviews back to back.

No. rest. for. the. wicked.

It turned out that our friendly coordinator for all of these interviews was, in fact, Irish himself. We had the following conversation:

IRISH RADIO GUY: Where are you from in the States?
ME: Virginia.
IRG: No kidding! My father is a carpenter and he worked in Virginia for a few weeks. On a pub, actually, in Richmond, that was done with all Irish labor. About 10, 15 years ago.
ME: . . . Richmond? My band played for the opening of an Irish pub in Richmond. What was the name of it? Was it Siné?
IRG: I'll call my dad right now!
ME: *does radio interview*
IRG: THAT WAS THE PUB. He said there was a piper — OH THAT WAS YOU.

In which everything is about Ireland, ever.

I will post about other days on tour in a few days!
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