True community is found in the midst of solitude.
I spent the last weekend in the remote fishing town of Dingle (An Daingean meaning "the fort"). The town lies in the shadow of Mt. Brandon perched on a shallow harbor that opens into Dingle Bay. It is the westernmost town in Europe. Although it's a tourist hotspot, the town has maintained much of its traditional Irish character fueled by a fishing industry that still brings in money and by its good fortune to lie in an official Gaeltacht area. Irish is the language of choice in Dingle, and while everyone spoke English, not all the signs were bilingual. I've managed to absorb enough Irish through osmosis to stumble my way around, for example "Síopa leabhar agus caife" means "bookstore and cafe," "uisce" means "water" and "fir" and "mna" mean "gents" and "ladies" respectively. Don't get those last two mixed up. The language gives the locals something distinctive that allows them to retain a sense of local color that I think many touristy shore towns across the world have lost.
That said, Dingle was expensive and overrun with Americans. While it was good to meet fellow Yanks, I could tell that their presence had driven up prices in the little shops and galleries. I practiced a little restraint and limited my souvenier buying to a Kerry football jersey (super-comfortable, I'm wearing it now) and a couple postcards. Booze took up the lions share of my budget. I made a mission of trying all the whiskeys in town, though not all at once obviously. I had a Paddys on Friday (really smooth and mellow), a Bushmills on Saturday (full-bodied and smokey) and a Powers on Sunday (starts out mellow, but has a spicy after-kick). I also sampled Cork Dry Gin (very citrusy), Smithwicks Ale (good stuff, great flavor), Murphy's stout (roasty espresso flavor) and Harp lager (kindof blah and pissy, not really anything special).
I was a bit worried that I'd get lonely in Dingle, but within fifteen minutes of arriving at the hostel I had made friends with Lianna from Germany and Zach from Michigan. Lianna was taking a deserved break from her four-week cycling tour of the Irish coast. She had started in Dublin and planned to go all the way to Galway! She had an extremely thick German accent and tended to over-emphasize words when she was excited (which was, quite honestly, all the time). She was also pretty generous with her pocketbook and I managed to get lots of free drinks from her. Zach was your typical American beatnik backpacker, hiking around West Cork and Kerry by himself. Zach has a strict philosophy of living life leisurely, enjoying cheap rolling tobacco, maladroitly prepared food that he had foraged from Irish grocery stores and taking five and a half years to finish his double major in philosophy and history. The three of us made pretty good craic in a small town of almost 50 pubs. Friday night there was a mild thunderstorm that managed to knock out power to the whole town. We were at O'Flagherty's Pub enjoying Paddys and Guinness to candlelight. When the lights finally came back on, the owner, Fergus O'Flagherty started playing some trad music. The guy is an absolute renaissance man, plays the button accordian, tin whistle, bouzouki, banjo, guitar, uillean pipes and sings very nicely (sort of like the lead from The Dubliners). We had to stagger back to the hostel in lashing rain, which was no fun.
Saturday, Lianna and I checked out as many of the little shops and galleries as we could. I gave my mom a 10 minute call for 1.50 euro. We also played a couple rounds of bowling. That night, after a dinner of ham and cheese sandwiches (saving money for drinks by doing a little grocery shopping), the three of us hit the pubs. We started the night at John Benny's listening to a traditional singer called Pauline Scanlon, who I might add was super-hot. We eventually wandered over to a place called Dick Mack's, which is a legend with the locals. It's the oldest pub in Dingleand used to be a general store. You really don't get more authentic; I couldv'e been Yeats in that place. There's no food, just booze and the gate bears the inscription "Where's Dick Mack's? It's opposite the church. Where's the church? Opposite Dick Mack's." The place was loud, crowded, and smelled of B.O. and stale Guinness. At about 11:30 a skunk-drunk bachelorette party stumbled in, singing and halfheartedly flirting with the stinky fishermen. After Dick Mack's, we ended up at a place called An Droichead Beag, where a lone guitarrist played soulful covers of rock songs and traditional Irish diddies. If Marc Seely were Irish, he'd be this guy. The crowd loved it, everyone was singing along and dancing their arses off. We got back pretty late that night, getting semi-lost on the way back to the hostel. At least it wasn't raining.
In short, travelling alone affords me fantastic opportunites to meet people that I wouldn't otherwise talk to. I met scads of people, Irish and American, this weekend and we all got along just fine. I think that people travelling alone learn to find or create community wherever we go. True community is found in the midst of solitude.
Wish I could write more, but Anna and Frances are pesking me to play a game. It's good to be home.