My time in Tulsk lasted only a few days, but it provided a few home-cooked meals and a roof over my head. Staying here also gave me the chance to save money I’d need to continue the trip to school in Ballyvaughan. The farm was so far removed from the village center that there was no possibility of spending a few pounds here and there on food, drink, or activities. Like my time in Dublin, I mostly kept to myself while on the farm, taking pictures and reading my travel guide. Over the course of just a few days I had two very different Irish experiences – the bustling city life of Dublin and the isolation of a Roscommon farm.
I boarded the bus in Dublin and set off for the tiny village of Tulsk in County Roscommon. I’d be staying at Conor’s mother home before moving on to the West. The 100-mile journey provided my first glimpse of the Irish countryside. After a couple of hours, the driver announced our arrival. Exiting the bus I was greeted by… nothing really. The stop was a dirt lot in front of a private residence.
For my first full day in Dublin, my priority was sorting out money for the four-month stay. Based on a recommendation, I’d brought a cashier’s check that I’d use to open an account. I’d supplement the rest with ATM withdrawals and purchases from a debit card.
I stopped for a bit in the bus station before starting my search for a place to stay. A man clad in nothing but denim, with a shaved head, and spiderweb tattoo on his face stared angrily at me. I was 21, had never been away from New England on my own, knew nobody in Dublin, and was getting the evil eye from a stranger who knew I wasn’t from around these parts. I decided to move on.
I was far from worldly as a child, or even into early adulthood for that matter. I’d spent most of my early life within New England (a few day stints in Washington D.C., Florida, and New Jersey aside). It had been a goal from a very young age to visit Ireland, the birthplace of my paternal ancestors. I’d always felt a connection to it – not only because of my Irish last name, but it felt mysterious to me. I grew up surrounded by my mother’s Italian family, hearing stories from my grandmother about her parents and other relatives from “the old country.” I was not as fortunate with the Irish side – my father had passed when I was 12 and neither of his parents made it past the mid 1940s or ’50s.
I found an opportunity to explore Ireland in the form of a poster hanging on the wall of my college’s student center. Happy looking students explored the countryside underneath the words “Burren College of Art.” I applied, was accepted, and a few short months later, departed from Boston for a four-month study abroad program in County Clare on the West coast.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I blogged about restaurants in New Mexico, despite not having been there when I started. Phew, that feels like a weight off my shoulders.
I was asked by my employer several years ago to write about the New Mexico food scene either based on neighborhood, type of cuisine, or other linking factors. Luckily I’d already had some knowledge of Southwestern Cuisine, though New Mexico has some of it’s own distinct variations. Red and green chile is almost an obsession in the region and can be found in many restaurants. It’s essentially a stew that can be used as a sauce on everything from eggs to pizza. I’d had a version before on a trip to Colorado, though New Mexicans will tell you it’s not the same.
Art class was a bit of an oasis for me. Despite being considered a reasonably bright kid, I didn’t excel at academics – reading on someone else’s schedule just wasn’t my idea of a good time. I’d been drawing and painting from an early age and found it was something that both came naturally and gave me a great sense of enjoyment.
It was in high school art class that I’d make some of the most meaningful friendships, even though many didn’t last beyond graduation. Two of those friendships came my freshman year in the form of two seniors – both of whom I couldn’t be more dislike. It was in painting class where they’d started performing parody songs to entertain others. They’d tap out the rhythms on desks, textbooks, or any other surface the could find. Topics included obscure literary references, chronicles of their experiences hanging out in Portland, and just about anything else under the sun.
I was so into it that I’d offered to help them record their music. It should be noted that this was a ludicrous situation that makes me sound like a teenage entrepreneur/record producer. I had neither the money for, nor did I posses, any recording equipment. My brother, a musician to this day, did own enough cables and splitters for me to assemble something that would work. In addition to recording, I started designing band t-shirts to make in art class, photographed practices, and designed the cassette insert. They chose the name Mint Chocolate Chip as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Vanilla Ice.
Over time they’d developed their musical abilities. To fill out the band, there was a rotating cast of other musicians playing lead guitar and drums (see also Spinal Tap’s drummer issues). We eventually outgrew the cassette recorder and foraged cables and made the decision to pay for a studio about 30 minutes south of our hometown. We made the journey one evening, along with a substitute drummer and cheap electronic drum pads and began the process. Now, I’d led a fairly sheltered life up until that point and, not having spent many nights away from home, I had no clue how to call long distance to alert my mother I’d be home late. It was, after all, the mid ’90s and we didn’t have them new-fangled iPhones and email and texting was in its infancy. After a few failed attempts, too embarrassed to admit my lack of knowledge of telephony, I gave up. I figured “I’d told her we’d be hours, what’s the worry?”
Recording went until the next morning and we were happy with the final tracks. We paid our $75 and headed home. My mother was waiting in the doorway, having stayed up all night, wondering if her 14-year-old son was still alive. I was immediately grounded. Any photoshoots would have to occur at my house, sans-drummer number two as he too had suffered the same punishment.
We eventually sold the cassettes for $5 a piece, easily making back the recording money. The mere mention of Mint Chocolate Chip to those who bought the cassette or were lucky enough to catch a performance will immediately bring a smile to their face.
Movie referenced: Cool as Ice