Sunday, April 05, 2020

GALLANT AND GALLIVANTING IN COVID TIMES: TOCHT AND THE SACRED MOOD OF PLACES



                                          Tachtadh beag é
                                          tachtadh an bháis
                                          ach is tocht rómhór é
                                          tocht na beatha.

tocht – a catch or stop in the throat from emotion, a silence. A small strangulation it is, the death strangulation, but a great stop it is, the stop of life. The death rattle is nothing, compared to the silencing of life.”
– Tim Robinson. 

With an intensity of perception, an intensity of reflection, these lines were delivered in  an echtra, or rihla or travelogue that explored the etymology, toponymy, social tapestry and geography of a very Irish landscape – an exploration undertaken by a very English Yorkshireman. In translating Caitlín Maude’s poem “Dan” in his book, Connemara – A Little Gaelic Kingdom the author and nomad Tim Robinson pointed to the mechanics of a journey’s end, to a silence of stillness. His own quietness came in the past week in London, the tocht rómhór of a Covid-19 infection at the age of 85, two weeks or so after his wife and co-pilot in many of his meanderings, Mairéad had also passed on. He is never to come this way again, never to undertake another periêgesis, or a “one-foot-in-the-sea-and-one-on-shore pilgrimage around south Connemara, constant only to the inconstant coast”. He, and his maps, and his poetic licence have been a boon companion in my own journeys to the quays of Connemara (see links below) and an instructor via the medium of a language of landscape for my poor grasp of Irish, a far better múinteoir than those baton-wielding thugs of my schooldays.  He was, as Colm Toibín said of him, a writer who could capture the “sacred mood of places”. 



Go n-éirí an bother libh, Tim and Mairéad Robinson. 

I am reminded by the Robinsons' loss, and by all of the other terrible losses that have occurred as a consequence of Covid-19 around the world, of my own mother Pamela’s death in 1999, at an age not much more than I am now. She died far too soon from acutely progressive fibrosing alveolitis, a rare respiratory manifestation of her autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis. It is a condition that also occurs in some Covid patients requiring ventillation. She had a passing heralded by periods of improvement followed by longer periods of deterioration and in the finish, by the willed cessation of her ventilator. 

In the ICU that evening, at the appointed time, surrounded by her family, all of the alarms that had previously signalled challenges to her existence were muted and the mechanical exhaling hooshing sound that had always surrounded us when visiting her suddenly ceased. The noise was there one moment and then gone, a gossamer chord of that existence rendered. The moment was the "tocht na beatha", the silencing of life and in that instant the heat of her life also quickly evaporated, dissipating to leave only the cold silence behind and her journey’s end.
My late mother Pamela Derham nee Coyle gallivanting!

When I think of my mother I always think of the notion of gallivanting; my mother had an incurable sense of departure. Indeed my father would tease, and sometimes accuse, that Pam would spend the required amount of time getting to, and overcoming the difficulties of getting to, a place and then in no time at all put all her effort into getting out of it, often very shortly after she had arrived. It was the thrill of departure that excited her, the destination or indeed the return was somewhat irrelevant and one of her favourite words for this sense of wandering in herself or others was “gallivanting”. Its usage when applied to her friends was wistful and non-judgemental, 

I suppose he is off gallivanting somewhere.” 

It implied an admired and sometimes wished-for shared wandering, a flight of exploration but also an encouragement. Courage mes amis, gallant mes amis. Her usage was romantic but gender neutral and when attached to a freedom of thought and action and an absence of malice, it engendered a sense of wellbeing, a sense of desire in both observer and participant. This notion of departure, this gallivanting was entirely liberating and could be towards a person or indeed a landscape.
The sands of time from a Connemara beach

Gallivanting in my mother’s understanding was a “circular” journey. She knew that she or her friends would always return from a trip but it was the manner of the route to return rather than the actually getting back that mattered. My mother's essence could best be described, like Odysseus, as politropo. Odysseus took 10 years and Joyce’s Leopold one day to leave and return, secure in the knowledge that they would return to Ithaca and Eccles Street.  Homer awarded his hero’s foretold certainty of return by referring to Odysseus/Ulysses as polytropos, the many faceted man, wily and versatile. In traveller speak Odysseus was of the type who turned (tropos) his face towards adventure more often (poly) than not, striding out into unknown detours for the sheer excitement and occasional necessity of it. Knowing you will return from any journey makes that journey no less valuable. A change of your worldview, because you have perhaps circumnavigated it, is not inevitable but is a consequence of choice.

My late mother-in-law Catherine Kearney nee Hill

On the other hand, my late mother-in-law Catherine’s use of the word gallivanting was somewhat the opposite. It was more censorious: 

Ah! That will put an end to his gallivanting”; 

said with slight relish as she referred to either illness or marriage (or variations on those themes) clipping the wings of her target gadfly. Gallivanting in her usage was also a gender-neutral activity but noticeably a far greater degree of opprobrium was often reserved for the female of the gallivanting kind, the falling  woman. Gallivanting in her mind was a terminal condition, a journey that was linear, predictable and that would change everything… before ending with a shuddering halt, with a denouement. Returning to Homer, Achilles journey to Troy was also foretold but his gallivanting was linear: he knew he would not be returning and once embarked was determined to make it as glorious a journey as he could. 

While aimlessly surfing (a form of “lockdown” gallivanting) the Net recently I came across a perfume maker called Gallivant who produce fragrances for “Urban Explorers.” An advertiser’s algorithmic dream I ordered a “Nomad” box of small travelling spray bottles dedicated to different cities and am working my way through the scents dedicated to Berlin, Brooklyn, Istanbul, London, Tel Aviv and Tokyo; cities that are now also in lockdown leaving only echoes of their former selves. The scents are strong yet the differences are subtle: a top note here, a floral note there… although the difference between Berlin and Istanbul a little too subtle for my nose and my memories of those cities. 


Gallivant derives from gallant and originally indicated the movement associated with the art of flirting, of wooing women. The meaning broadened to be understood as to be roaming about without a real plan. Gallant itself derives from the Old French galant, a word for courteous and a knightly virtue but it also means courageous. As a noun it is translated as one who woos women, a seducer. There is some evidence, however, that alternatively gallant and ultimately gallivanting derives from the German geil, a word for horny or lecherous. All of a sudden there is less troubadour and more of  a predator wandering about. This etymological juxtaposition of gallivanting ideals was brought to life by James Joyce’s short story “Two Gallants” where two, already old young men do their best to exploit the romantic attachment of a slavey, a housemaid, to one of them. While Corley departs to do the wooing, to undo the girl’s trust, Lenehan paces aimlessly back and forward across the city, stopping just once for a plate of peas, a so-called gallant gallivanting, but ultimately intending to be part of a plan to demean the girl by stealing from her or getting her to steal a gold coin from her employers. 

Currach and scallop shells at Sruthán Buí Leitir Mór
[Of note the Irish word "tocht" also refers to a cross board used for sitting on in a boat.]
see: 
http://deworde.blogspot.com/2015/02/rihla-journey-47-quays-to-connemara.html


In these Covid times, these subterranean times, wandering aimlessly out-and-about, or gallivanting even, on the surface of the oikumenê has ceased and a previously indulged and mostly innocent pastime has become something far more sinister, far more dangerous, contrived and controlled. Thankfully even if there less gallivanting about there is far more gallant and courageous behaviour being shown by society in general but health workers in particular in dealing with the humanitarian crisis. 

Like my mother and mother-in-law’s differing interpretation of the notion of, and indeed the language of gallivanting, the language and landscapes of our daily experience has changed. The pilgrimages have ceased: the circumambulation of the Haj, the scallop shelled trodden path of Sant Iago and detours to the local Holy Well. Exploration and religion have become virtual and philosophy turns to metaphors of movement and time travel. There is reassurance, however, in the fact that the sun still sets in the west and you can keep moving westwards in your virtual world towards that setting sun and still arrive to the east of from where you left. Journeys of your mind without a defined purpose but laden with the potential for continuous distraction and detour are like that. 

Gallivanting is truly like that.


LINKS TO SOME ‘GALLIVANTING’ OF MY OWN:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

QUARANTINE PAST and PRESENT


The following is from the glossary at the end of the book from my first novel, The Simurgh And The Nightingale see: http://deworde.blogspot.com/2009/01/simurgh-and-nightingale-novel.html


Plagues
Plague (Ch.3) is caused by a small bacterial bacillus Yersinia pestis which on occasions can look like a safety pin. It occurs primarily in rodents and is transmitted to man by fleas or by between people by airborne droplet infection. There are three types of infectious presentation. The first and commonest type, called bubonic, is characterised by the development of swellings or buboes particularly in the groin and armpits. This type requires the flea as a vector. The second and third types are pneumonic and septicaemia plague both of which are highly fatal. Infection in these types is caused by person to person contact. Plague was thought to have originated in the Caucasus and then spread along developing trade routes. Generally sporadic in outbreak, catastrophic pandemics such as the Black Death that hit Europe from 1348 to 1350 killed about a quarter of the entire population. That particular outbreak began in Caffa in the Crimea and spread along sea-routes to other Black Sea and Mediterranean ports. Incubation varies from a few hours to twelve days and people developing the pneumonic or septicaemia types would die within 48 hours.
           The traditional response of rich communities to a reported outbreak of plague was to ‘leave quickly, go far away and return late’, leaving the poor to suffer most. It was not until after the cost of the Black Death to their populations that governments began to introduce measures to contain the infection. Venice introduced detention of ship’s crews for thirty days - the trentina - in 1374 and extended this to forty days - the quarantina - quarantine period (Chs.3,39) in 1403. In August 1423, Venice established the Lazzaretto Vecchio on the island of Santa Maria de Nasova for the detention of foreign traders and those who were actually sick. The original name was Nazaretto in deference to the hospice for pilgrims from Palestine that already existed on the island but it soon adopted the name of the institutions that had previously been established to isolate lepers, the Lazar houses or lazzarettos. By 1500 Venice had four distinct isolation units including the Lazzaretto Nuovo (Ch.3) which was established on Saint Erasmo island in 1468. It was in the same year that the authorities in Milan confirmed the true contagious nature of the disease by organising the first comprehensive contact tracing epidemiological study.

In 1377, the Great Council of the Republic of Ragusa, which had become independent of Venice overlordship in 1358, passed a law establishing a trentino, or thirty-day isolation period. The 4 tenets of this law were as follows: 
(1) that citizens or visitors from plague-endemic areas would not be admitted into Ragusa until they had first remained in isolation for 1 month; 
(2) that no person from Ragusa was permitted go to the isolation area, under penalty of remaining there for 30 days; 
(3) that persons not assigned by the Great Council to care for those being quarantined were not permitted to bring food to isolated persons, under penalty of remaining with them for 1 month; and 
(4) that whoever did not observe these regulations would be fined and subjected to isolation for 1 month. (adapted from: Sehdev PS. The History of Quarantine. CID (2002) 35; 1071-1072)

           Ports, and the ships that sailed from them, were the greatest source of spread and all boats entering Venetian and Genovese waters had to display a flag - the patent (Ch.39) - showing they were free from disease and a certificate - the pratticke (Ch.39) - from their home port’s health authorities, proving it. Even today sailing boats on entering a foreign port hoist a small yellow quarantine flag which remains aloft until inspected by the port authorities.  

Sunday, February 23, 2020

GALWAY – IN BETWEEN SHOWERS


The Long Walk ( connecting the Old Dock to New Dock) from the Claddagh Basin.
The Claddagh Basin is the terminus of the Eglinton Canal.


Claddagh Basin Bollard


The Fisheries House of Galway's several or private fishery alongside
two sluices of the 1850 Corrib River regulation weir and 12 sluices of 1950s regulation weir.

Claddagh Basin Railing

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

CIGARETTES AND HAND SIGNALS


Came across this "Album of Cigarette Cards of National Importance" recently, published when the speed limit had just been increased from 20 to 30mph.


The UK Minister for Transport who wrote the introduction to this Album in 1935 was a Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Liberal-National who was a firebrand orator and politician who had built a very good reputation - albeit self-serving - in the Ministry of Transport. Best remembered for the orange light-topped candy pole Belisha beacons that mark pedestrian crossings.  

Neville Chamberlin, impressed by this work, appointed him Secretary of State for War in 1937 but almost immediately Hore-Belisha began to clash with the Army hierarchy, firing the Chief of Staff and two other senior generals. Hore-Belisha subsequently also fell out with his appointee General Lord Gort - Gort was a Prendergast Vereker, and from an estate just south of Galway - who along with others orchestrated his removal from the War Office at the onset of the Second World War. 

A subsequent switch to the Ministry of Information was blocked because Hore-Belisha was Jewish, and the establishment did not want Hitler using that fact to undermine the truths about Germany's actions, as England's political masters wanted it interpreted.  "Truth" was also the name of the Conservative-owned English periodical in which most of the attacks against Hore-Belisha occurred. It was also a magazine that was very shortly afterwards accused of having Mosleyite fascist sympathies. Chamberlin later admitted that "anti-semitism" had fuelled the move against Hore-Belisha. 

Hore-Belisha was described as a showman and his modus operandi was described by one commentator as where, "Trivialities find equal place with matters of consequence."







Detailed instructions in how to deal with either a rear wheel or front wheel slip.


The advice for Cyclists begins


Note the "Belisha" beacon marking the pedestrian crossing in the bottom right card of the following picture.


The advice for children begins


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

SOLSTICE

My youngest grandson was born on the winter solstice three years ago, at home (not intentionally): grandfather supervising, father delivering and older grandson scurrying off to get twine and a scissors for the umbilical cord. It is such a fantastic memory of our particular family's transit in time and as a consequence I really do like this time of year, and the primeval, axial link with all the generations that have gone before and have yet to come. This years solstice was on the 22nd December and the Blackrock diving platform in Salthill, Galway in a certain light is akin, I often feel, to a solar temple jutting south into the waters of Loch Lurgan (Galway Bay): a Göbekli Tepe; Sneferu's pyramid; a New Grange to our  revolving destinies.