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Mike's Random Thoughts From The Road #7
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another collection of stories or thoughts that didn't fit snugly anywhere into an update.
1. one night in dublin, stephanie and i went on a literary pub crawl during which local actors took us around to some of dublin's best pubs and acted out scenes from books or plays written by local authors. a recurring subject of their portrayls was james joyce, specifically of his book ulysses, (an impossible-to-read book), so the pub crawl ended at the pub davy byrne's in which some scenes from ulysses take place. we ordered two pints of guinness and, as we waited, we talked with doug and ann, an american couple we had met at one of the pubs. doug came on the crawl to learn more about ulysses and to get inspired to read it again - he had tried a half-dozen times over 10 years without success. he was thrilled to be in davy byrne's, and, after we all got our beers, we toasted to him getting through the book.

"i am going to try it again," he said. "i mean it's so cool to be in here and know that james joyce himself was here researching the book."

doug was especially fascinated with a bell that was hanging from the wall behind the bar. a plaque hung underneath it that he wanted to read in order to confirm it was what he thought it was: molly's bell; the bell that was rung whenever molly walked into the bar. his curiosity needed satisfaction, so he asked some locals that were leaning on the bar near the swinging door if he could go back there and read it. he was back there reading the plaque as bartenders rushed back and forth past him to serve the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of one of dublin's most popular pubs. i either thought i saw molly walk in or just wanted to get doug in trouble so i shouted out:

"hey doug! give it a ring!"

he didn't hear exactly what i said, but he had heard something - he looked around with a confused look on his face - and then returned to reading the plaque.

"doug! give it a ring!" i shouted again.

doug heard me the 2nd time. he looked around and then grabbed the cord hanging from the dusty old bell and gave it a hearty pull. CLANG-CLANG-CLANG.

the bartenders stopped in their tracks, dumb-founded. they shot furious gazes at doug and started yelling "GET THE FUCK OUT!! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!"

doug calmly looked over at them, picked his guinness up, shrugged his shoulders, and walked out from behind the bar. the four of us pushed through the crowd to get outside. i laughed as i slammed my guinness down before we reached the exit. as i passed by them, i heard the same locals who let doug back there say: "i've been coming here for 20 years but i've never heard that bell ring."

we got outside and i wondered if doug was going to yell at me. we were talking excitedly about it when doug said "i don't understand it. those locals told me i could go back there and then one of them told me to give it a ring - when i did, the bartenders screamed at me to get out. it was worth it though - it was a great feeling to ring it."

"uhh doug? that wasn't a local who told you to ring it - it was me." i braced for a punch. instead he threw back his head and laughed out loud.

"no way! shit, that makes it even better!" he slapped me on the back and we headed out with the girls for a fun night at the stag's head - a pub without tempting bells....
2. i rode the trans-siberian railway from moscow, russia to beijing, china, a journey which takes 7 nights. i decided to break up the trip into the 3 segments, the first being from moscow to irkutsk, siberia over 4 nights. i shared a 4 bedroom cabin with a russian babushka, an old women perhaps 60 years old. she spoke not a word of english. i had, fortunately, studied russian in college, and, although it was very rusty, i was able to communicate the basics with her. i also had a lonely planet phrasebook containing dozens of helpful phrases in english and russian which helped the 90 hour journey go more smoothly. her name was valterina and she took care of me. she cooked noodles for me, cleaned up my messes, and always helped me with my russian. one night while sleeping, the train lurched and my pillow fell onto the floor - valterina snapped it up instantly and placed it back under my head. in the mornings, when the siberian chill found its way into our car, she would grab an extra blanket and tuck it in around me.

on night #4, i was getting off the train in irkutsk at 1:30 in the morning. although she was continuing on to the end of the line and had no reason to get up, valterina insisted on helping me off the train. i couldn't convince her not to, that it wasn't necessary, so i gave up. earlier that day, as i was wandering around in the train, i walked by our cabin once and saw her with her reading glasses on, reading my phrasebook and writing things down on a piece of paper. i wasn't sure what she was doing but i guessed she was trying to learn something in english to say to me when we parted ways.

at 1:15, the conductor grabbed my foot from the hallway and shook me awake. i clumsily stumbled to my feet, put on my clothes, and grabbed my stuff. valterina was awake and dressed and was holding my bag and laptop - she was going to carry my stuff to the door for me. she helped me get my backpack on, and then we walked together to the stairs as the train pulled into the dark station. i walked down the stairs to the platform and turned around to collect my other stuff from valterina. she handed my bags to me and then i said "pleased to meet you" and "goodbye" in russian. she looked down at me from the train car and held out her two arms, pointing them in a dramatic pose, and said "i love you!"

i smiled and, a bit embarrassed, questioned her, chuckling "you love me?" as the train pulled out of the station, she looked at me again and repeated the only english phrase she knew: "I LOVE YOU!"

i love you too valterina, my sweet russian mother.
3. macaroni and cheese is better the second time around. i just warmed up a batch i genuinely did not like the first time but absolutely adored the second time. it was a damn shame i didn't have more. next time, i am going to cook it, pop it into the fridge, and then reheat it the next day. i wonder if i can get away with that?
4. what celine dion "sings" is not music.
5. i am the mosquito mecca. the bloodsuckers make a pilgrimage to me at least once in their lifetime and get as much time on me as possible. i could be swimming in a lake of deet but they'd still risk their lives to get at me. i get bit while in bed in an air-tight room. i get bit when everyone around me comments on how few mosquitoes are out that night. i carry two backpacks with me: one with all my regular stuff in it and another with the buckets of insect repellent i need in order to save my blood supply. in thailand i am shocked i didn't need a blood transfusion from all that i involuntarily donated. the best mosquito repellent you can find for yourself is me - just put me in the middle of your picnic and i'll attract all the bastards away from you and your loved ones. i spent a lot of time on this trip in malaria zones and, although i haven't exhibited the symptoms yet, i know for sure i was exposed to it. though when i keel over dead from malaria, i wonder what will happen to the mosquito that gave it to me? they'll destroy him for ruining their mecca and will then have to find another - that is, of course, after they finish sucking all the blood out of my bumpy corpse.
6. a guy named kevin chatted me up at an irish pub one night. we sat outside on a picnic table drinking pints of guinness with the other travelers i had met there in waterville, county kerry. he invited us all over to his house for a party that night. after he learned that i played guitar, he said that i could give a concert. it sounded like fun and so we all finished up our pints and followed him over to his small one-story home.

about 15 of his friends were there and my group had 10 in it. after i got a drink, they handed me the guitar and i played a few tunes, strumming chords and singing decently as i do. then i handed the guitar to a guy who writes his own songs - he sounded like jimi hendrix; finger-tapping, singing very well- everyone was mesmerized. he played 3 songs and then took off. the guests, all drunk with intoxicating music, turned to me and someone shoved the guitar back in my hands - they needed more entertainment.

i looked around the room and sheepishly asked "i have to follow that?" they laughed but were waiting for more music. i couldn't really think of what to play but then thought of something they were sure to like: U2. i took a deep breath, started banging out the chords to "still haven't found what i'm looking for" and shouted it out. everyone joined in and then applauded when i finished. i pulled it off.

playing U2, the music-heroes of ireland, in ireland, for a bunch of irish folks, after someone just rocked some great original material? it was like cooking spaghetti for a group of hungry italians in sicily - a scary but, ultimately, very satisfying experience of my trip.
7. i was cycling north along the atlantic coast of portugal when i turned from the main road and pedaled to the edge of the sea. i followed the road until it ended and then cycled down a dirt path until it plunged off a rocky ledge to the ocean far below. from high above the water, i looked north and south at the endless lines of white waves breaking on the long shore at the base of the cliffs. waves thundered below me as they voilently smashed into the jagged rocks just off-shore. the sun was going down. i rode back into town and bought some lunch meat and then ate two sandwiches while sitting on the cliff edge and watched the sun set. i had the area all to myself.

i also had no place to stay for the night so after looking around for a reason not to, i set up my tent on top of the cliff. i locked my bike to my tent and climbed in as the stars began revealing themselves. the wind howled and blew my tent almost flat. i didn't get much sleep.

at 3:30 in the morning, the wind reversed it's course and started blowing out to sea. my tent surged with the force of the gales and i thought i was going over the edge. i realized i had to get out of there so i started packing my stuff. i took a moment though to watch the lighthouse, far downshore in sagres, portugal (the brightest in europe), swirl around, warning ships away from the southwestern-most corner of europe . the lighthouse in lisbon - 100s of kilometers up the coast - flashed its warnings as well. far off-shore, 5 freighters rocked with the waves, each illuminated only by their single bright light. i watched as a smaller boat raced from ship to ship, perhaps checking their cargo or helping them navigate. i observed it all for over an hour as giant waves crashed against the cliff i was standing on. i then put on my helmet and biking gloves and climbed on my bike, riding off into the dark interior of portugal, sleepy, but delighted with the lightshow i had just seen on that rocky, noisy stage.
keep on keepin' on,
mike
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