Monday, June 07, 2010

Rihla (Journey 15): Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland – iMachination.

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This Rihla is about Lahinch, Co.Clare, Ireland.

The BMW Z3, Mu, and Me

A Gumption-Trap and my Z3

‘The gumption-filling process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it. But it’s nothing exotic.’
Robert M. Pirsig,
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Chapter 26

I drive a 13 year-old BMW Z3. Built in February 1997 in Spartanburg, South Carolina I took delivery of it in April of the same year. It has a 1.9L M44B19 straight-four cylinder BMW engine and approximately 110, 000 miles on the clock. Beyond that bit of mechanical insight I, like John Sutherland and his 'Romantic' approach to the mechanics of his BMW bike in Pirsig’s book, have left its maintenance to a wonderful car mechanic called Lars Walsh (and his father Larry before him) and it has served me well. Lars, a man of few words, always refers to my car as 'tight'. I think this is a mechanic's compliment, a bit like calling a good looking girl 'fit', there is always a hint of uncertainty as to how that compliment should be received. Driving the car has always been a pleasure and I have often equated the Z of its Z3 moniker with a Zen origin rather than the more prosaic, and more classical, BMW allusion to Zukunft, the German for future.

Last weekend I experienced, for the first time that I can sincerely recall, on a really beautiful day, the (or is it a?) sensation while driving the car of absolute calm, absolute stillness, a muted (and here I mean the Japanese Mu where man and machine unask questions of each other) on the journey from Galway to Lahinch to play golf.

Looking down to Galway Bay from Corker Hill

That particular Saturday morning after leaving the main Kinvarra-Ballyvaughan road at the Corranroo crossroads I climbed up Corker Hill to the Burren escarpment between Abbey Hill and Greim Chaili. It was early in the day and for some reason, just after Turlough, I turned off the CD player, and let the car do what it does best. It was almost as if the Z3 was built for this particular road, this particular journey, and like a surfer on a wave it was as if I was on the outside looking in, peripheral to the volition as the car decelerated into corners, hugging the ditches and then accelerated out spewing loose gravel behind. There was a complete transfer of trust to the car’s mechanics, to its imachination.

In a completely unexplainable way, despite the fact the roof was down, I felt a quietness envelop me. The purpose of movement through the landscape became meaningless. The questions became unasked.

Pirsig and Hofstader

I thought not of the road, the speed, the much-anticipated golf game. None of this! Instead I thought later of Douglas R. Hofstader and Robert M. Pirsig.

A number of years ago Hofstadter wrote a book called Le Ton beau de Marot, a book written in Praise of the Music of Language. On page 69 he asked the reader to find a suitable French translation for the title of Pamela McCondrick’s book on the early development of Artificial Intelligence called Machines Who Think. He wanted the suggestion to convey the personality of the machine and not the mechanical ability. I wrote back suggesting a single word ‘Machination’.

Hofstadter replied by e-mail,

‘I like your answer very much, but I think I can do even a little better. I would slightly tweak it, adding one letter at the beginning, to give “Imachination” ( which in French sounds almost identical to “imagination”, the only differnence being the voicedness, or lack thereof, of the second consonant). What one thereby gets, in just one word, is, on the one hand, a clear suggestion of machinery and mechanicalness, and on the other hand, a strong whiff of the living creativity of the human spirit. What more could one want from a title?
Best wishes,
Douglas Hofstadter.’

And then there was Pirsig. I had read his famous book Zen and the Art of Mortorcycle Maintenance for the first time back in 1979 during a summer in San Francisco earning my university fees laying water pipe in Stinson’s Beach and sewage pipe near Candlestick Park and preparing for a road trip we intended (and subsequently made from California to New York via New Orleans.) However along with other books that summer such as Catcher in Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird the impact was sidelined (undermined even!) somewhat by many of the other real life experiences we had and it was only about 15 years ago I took the opportunity to re-the book. In no small measure it encouraged me to understand that philosophy, as with all scientific investigation, can only ever aspire to an approximation of the ‘Truth’ and as a consequence there is no one ‘Truth’.

And there I was on a road in North Clare. In a Pirsig amalgam. Just Me, Mu and the Z3. There are limitations though. From the perspective of now it can neither be captured or fully re-created. Like a speck of dust in your eye, the experience floats away to the side when you try to focus on it. Soren Kierkegaard said once,

I believe that I can see myself quite vividly as a little boy running about… But alas, I have grown older and cannot catch up with myself.

Moi aussi!

Anyway past Carran, left at Shessymore, right at Lemenagh Castle and into Kilfenora I surfed the Z3’s imachination, and perhaps mine. To either side of the road are multiple remnants of both early iron-age Celtic inhabitations of the clan of Corcu Modruad. and also of the 10th century Dalcassian (Dal gCais) O’Briens. Hard copy testimonies to more difficult journeys than mine.

Kilfenora (City of the Crosses) is the smallest diocese in Ireland and the Bishop of Kilfenora is no other than Pope Benedict ( the diocese is administered on his behalf by the Bishop of Galway). This thought and a slowly moving tractor forced me out of my trance to take full control of my Z3’s ambition. As an aside I have ‘issues’ with the current pope. He has taken a very hard line with the Irish Bishops over the sex abuse scandals, implying a collective responsibility, (rightly!) while ignoring the facts pointing to his own complicity and also the ‘ironic’ fact that he himself is an ‘Irish’ bishop. Yet another approximation of the ‘Truth’.

From Kilfenora on to Ennistymon and Lahinch time returned and reality.

The 8th hole at Lahinch

The golf? There are moments on a summer’s day in Lahinch when all is possible, and all is forgiven. Sports psychologists call it the zone. Clarity and purpose become as one. In my case though I had left it in the car. But what a day! What a day!

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