My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland was in Sligo, in 1995, a very different island then now I get to think about it. The Peace Process had been engaged by all parties the previous August and even if the fires of “The Troubles” had been finally put out, the cinders of a violent conflict were still red hot. I remember that day well, got up that morning to walk around the town, said hello to “The Hero” in the Silver Swan Hotel now known as The Glass House, my first gig in a professional kitchen too! It was hanging over the Garavogue River that crosses the town, all the way to Lough Gill to the East, beautiful Yeats County…
Chili Sin Carne
” You know what would be great lads? Let’s sail our 130 ships to invade England, but instead we will go by Scotland and we’ll take them by surprise by coming from the West of Ireland… It’s gonna be great, who’s in?”. And so I was amusing myself imagining the unlikely conversation between a Spaniard Captain and his crew somewhere in the 16th century while standing on Streedagh beach in Co. Sligo, just off Grange. A place where one can still see at low tide, a wreck of the Spanish Armada, some 430 years ago, quite humbling standing there really, 24 ships were lost in the campaign and around the coast of Ireland due to bad weather and treacherous shores, poorly mapped then and where the survivors at Streedagh met a very grim fate at the hands of the locals and some “Red Coats” joining the killing spree… It must have been quite a sight, and I was there, standing on the strand, taking it all in and thankful for more peaceful times, well at least here and for now.
After nearly two years, 20 months to be precise, my father popped in for a couple of days. I am not a great traveler I must admit and due to unexpected setbacks this year (bloody car), going to Brittany for a week wouldn’t be financially very wise. So Brittany came to me, smiling as usual, more zen than me and debonair, with each time whiter hair; I am now the same age he was when he first visited me in Sligo, all these years ago. Sobering thoughts, well, at least something was these last few days!
North by North West
I haven’t been very well for the passed three weeks, a bit of a dose I often get in Spring, people say it is the change of season, I blame the “put the clock forward for a bit of light” malarkey; this messes me up big time! I mean, seriously? Who had the brain wave? A former French President claimed it was to save energy, I think there is something much more sinister behind it, a hidden agenda… I told you I was feeling feverish. Anyhoo, instead of taking a good rest, I went gallivanting in Killybegs with a healthy stock of paper handkerchiefs, and the week after my colleague “Murph” and I had planned to visit a few customers out west, and a cheese and wine tasting in Letterkenny. It was on the card for a couple of months, and the sensible thing would have been to stay at home; I really wanted to go, helping my colleague of course, but I also wanted to see what was happening out there. Sniffling and coughing I went, stubborn like a pig headed Breton, delusional like a teenager who keeps believing that “it’ll be alright”! Thinking about it, I must have been a charming traveling companion, trumpeting like John Coltrane one minute, sounding like a husky hoarse Barry White an other. Our first stop was in Oughterard, a lovely shop in the heart of the town, O’Sullivan’s…
I have been putting it off for a while, or rather meant to do it for some times and somewhat forgot; Well over twenty years now in fact. But the other day, the idea of going on a wild goose chase, travelling to the north west of the island to witness the wonderful ballet of Barnacle Geese, had been resuscitated by my friend Jonathan Shackleton. I must have mentioned it in one of our conversations, and as he was soon to be heading back to Antarctica for another few weeks’ round as a guide and lecturer, time was ticking, and by the time he’d come back, they would probably be gone back to Greenland. He rang me a couple of days before to confirm, and Sunday last, we finally went.
The day I became a “Pizzaiolo”, or for you and me, a pizza chef, started in the autumn of 1995, after spending five months in Galway; “Blue eyed girl” and I were coming back to Sligo. “Arnold The Hero” gave us a lift, the skies were very low like today and my mood wasn’t much higher. Maybe it was the fact that I was leaving the “City of Tribes” for another little bit, maybe it was the fact that he played a cassette of Mano Solo ( son of “Cabu”, one of the cartoonist killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks). Don’t get me wrong, his material is great, just freaking depressing when you are hangover and rain is battering the Western land… Or maybe it was the fact that I had to find a job, no pressure so… A few days later, I saw an ad in one of the Italian restaurants of the town; bold as brass, I jumped in thinking I would have nothing to lose, I had no experience in the food business, or very little. I remembered what one of my peers once said to me: “ If you are in a night club, and you fancy a girl on the dance floor, if you stay on your chair, your chances are virtually none; if you get up your ass, and ask that girl if she would like to dance with you, your chances suddenly jump from 0 to 50%”. That is more or less what I did that day, and I got the dance…
“I am your Indian”
I am your Indian, the black moon rambler in a field of rye, your witness cherishing your words. I am your Indian, the Armorican who sees your pain, the sarrazin child who will drink with you the silver chalice of life until the lees will touch our lips. I am your Indian, your scout who listens and feels free by being given a gift; a bond, your ear, your heart. I am your Indian, together and with each other, we will find the unreachable peace.
Franck aka Fanch Ar Moenner
Be Well and Keep Happy
Conchiglioni Al Forno
Sometimes, dinner ideas come in the weirdest kind of ways. For me, it happens at night, when my mind rambles between two dreams, remembering an anecdote or feeling a story germinating; I must admit, I have found myself waking up and typing a few ideas on my phone, fearing dawn would wipe them all out of my mind. “is it serious Doctor?”. But not this time. Last week, I was an absolute horror to be around, grumpy,grouchy, frustrated and ready to set off like a trapped animal. That is the consequence – at least for me – of tempering with the clock. “Putting the clock forward”, “summer time”, saving day light… What a lot of rubbish! And for 40 years, we have been, like sheep, putting our clock forward of one hour, for the next 6 months. The result? 4 days of pain, at the border of depression. On the third day, I decided that staying around wouldn’t do any good so I took my car, my camera and I headed west toward Sligo…
Pork Curry with Yogurt Bread
I have to be honest here; before I moved to Ireland, Curry was completely alien to me. In every French cupboard, there was of course a sticky and out of date jar of “Curcuma” or, for you and me, ground Turmeric. We didn’t know what to do with it, and I can tell you that no matter how broke you are, fluorescent pasta is not attractive!
That was it. I finally got there, woken up from an uncomfortable sleep. The nasal call screech from the bus ‘speakerphones announced my arrival to the antechamber of the “Big North West”; after reading all the books, attended conferences and Dervish like audiovisual slide shows. My Bus Eireann ride was laboriously one point turning and reversing into its terminus allocated space; A skilled job well done. While the warning lights and the monotonic Morse code like reverse gear of my ride were still on, I took my green and yellow rucksack as well as a couple of unmatched travelling bags from the hold. It was late and pitch black; no amazing landscape I got drawn to a few months back, just the warning orange beacons of a 45 sitter on wheels, and the olfactory welcome of a turf and coal shandy, spewing from chimneys of the neighbouring terraces. I was only three hundred yards from my friends’ home, a safe house, a warm bed and a line in the proverbial sand that was going to be a brand new life. We all have to begin somewhere; Sligo Town was to be my Starting Blocks and I never looked back.