The Only Good Type of MSG

Full credit of today’s clever title goes to my good friend and fellow traveler Marie. Apparently her blog is too serious for such an amazing title and but my less then academic blog is capable of using it however. 

We finally got to see the fabled Blasket Islands today. To travel towards Dunquin we drove along the narrow one car lane of Slea Head Road  perched along he edge of the cliff side, the Atlantic ocean spread out in front of us with a storm front running parallel to the coast. As the storm passed and the sun broke through, there they were, the Blasket Islands illuminated in all their glory. And how I wish I could show you pictures but for now it would appear that I lost all my photos. So trust me, seeing those bright green islands jutting out from shifting shades of deep blue and cyan seas. The winds blowing along, carrying waves with white frothy  peaks crashing into the jagged rocks of the island. As if they are trying to reach the top of the cliffs, crashing again and again reaching higher and higher, but never achieving their mark.

Dunquin itself was such a reflection of the beauty out on the sea. It’s a quaint little village with houses that seem fake or out of a movie. Worn down white walls with slatted roofs, you can see how the wind and sea salt have weathered them down. Yet they each stand proud and resilient with the ruins of past villages and houses as neighbors. Nestled inside a ring of mountains. Clouds drifting along the ridge line, rolling over, like waves in the sea. With the sun shining down on us, birds soaring and calling from above, and the Great Blasket on the horizon, I swear we were in paradise. Once again I saw why this land attracted those such as Judy, why it attracted Artists and scholars, why it had called to me as well.

We travled to the Blasket Center, a place of remembrance and learning. Its purpose is to remember the harsh way of life of these stalwart islanders. Though their population never peaked above 200 people, even in their prime, they have created an astounding amount of literary works. Some world renown Irish writers have come from these Islands, or at least played visit to them. Paig Sayers is one such women, who all young Irish are required to read. I hear that it’s actually miserable to read as a child but many come back to her works as an adult with a new appreciation. I will talk more about this wonderful Island, its people, and its mark upon the world tomorrow after we have gone into the island and explored its ruins and history.

Until then we must head inland for a good dosage of MSG. Maria Simonds-Gooding is one of Ireland’s most premier painters and print makers of modern time. She stands apart from others for a few reasons. She has such a deep connection to the land of Ireland, its natural landscapes, and the struggle of its people, yet she herself is not Irish. She was born in India and its here that her connection to the earth, the ground, and the people who struggle daily at the basic level was formulated. This has perpetuated throughout all of her work. She has traveled around the world painting and print making based off the people who live closest to the earth. The people who toll away to make a living, who must fight to survive. From south american, to the American Indian, to the Blasket Islands, this is where she truly finds her inspiration and what she attempts to capture in her works.

I’m not setting out to write an art critique though, I have no words to really describe her unique essentialist art form, but I highly suggest that you look into it on her website which is linked to her name above. What I really want to focus on, what I have always focused on, is the individual who Maria was as a person. Walking towards her front door I instantly had this homey feeling, reminiscent of my almost daily visits to a house up in the Sandia Mountains back home. We walked down the cobblestone path between walls of flowers and trees, the smell of a fire calling us towards the house. Like the rest of the town, her cottage was quite simple and quaint. It was a reconstruction of one of the houses of the Blasket Island people. When they were forced to evacuate the Island one man, Mike Shea, decided to bring his roof with him to the mainland. Roofs were expensive and he didn’t want to pay for a new one so he brought it over and built his house around this original roof. Upon entering into the house we were greeted by a women just as warm and inviting as the surroundings. Marias voice was soft, with a gentle British accent, but full of this energy and excitement. When she looked you in the eyes you knew she was completely in the moment, completely attentive in talking with you and engaging you.

After a lovely conversation in which we all talked about ourselves and our plans and aspirations she took us back to her studio which was a real treat. She explained the processes of making her paintings and more specifically her print making. She had recently moved towards Aluminium as her current medium and is absolutely loving it. It was fascinating to see the process that she has to go through to make these prints. We were even able to see some of the current pieces that she was working on which was really cool. More wonderful than all of that were the stories she told about her life and little pieces of sage advice that would slip out. She told of how she use to go swimming with Fungie the Dolphin, Dingles local dolphin. She had gone out with a group of people who had all had some form of serious trauma in their life and interacting with the dolphin was a form of therapy. One man in particular, Bill, had spent 20 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Ignoring all others Fungie swarm right up to Bill and just sat with him nose to face, unmoving for the entire swim. Once Bill was done and got out of the water Fungie swam off ignoring the rest of the group. No one was hurt by this, Maria explains it as being one of the most powerful moments she has seen, as if it had happened to herself.

Seeing her tell this story you could see how much she actually took from it. If you were to freeze each moment, and capture her expression you would see the laughter, the excitement, the hopefulness, that this women has. Maria is so alive and so full of love and passion, for the people she meets and for the art she produces. I think this is what I really took away from meeting this women. That having a passion for something, being involved in the moment is essential to life. Far too often were engaged in something far away, not completely there in a conversation with someone, not really seeing what were looking at. With our busy lives it’s never about the moment. Instead we are always focused on where we are going, what we are doing next, who we need to talk to tonight. We miss out on so much, the pinnacle of life that is happening in the moment as we are lost somewhere else. ts a terrible truth of living in American society, one that we don’t even have time to stop and look at. I think this is what truly is magical about Ireland and the Blasket Islands in particular, is it forces you to take that moment to appreciate everything around you. Staring out at the horizon, you can just feel yourself relaxing, your feet sinking into the grass like roots, your lungs being filled by the breath of life. A great calm washes over you in this country, and maybe that’s why it attracts and creates so many beautiful writers, poets, artists and musicians. You can’t help but want to express the wonder that is around you. Maria is one of those individual who was captured by this place, and maybe that’s why I am so drawn to her. I know that even in my short three weeks here that I need to take some time to appreciate the moment and not be so worried about the future, about what I’m going to say next, and instead just go with flow. That’s something I really hope to hold on to for as long as possible on my return home to Denver. Maria you extended the invitation to visit you again sometime, and if I ever return, scratch that, when I return, you can count on me showing up at your door.

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