Friday, September 10, 2010


I carried the anxiety about my son's heart in my own, tense and guarded, for more than a year until yesterday when he wrote me to say that, after tests, Everything Looked Normal. It was a year ago July when at the age of 23 he suffered a heart attack due to a side effect of a prescription medication. P. and I were here -- in Ireland, on Achill Island -- when the call came from my other son. I spent most of the next few days on the phone, to him, to his brother, to my sisters, to various docs and nurses. It was not a serious heart attack, as those things go, but the fact of his young age and my distance -- 6000 miles -- made me frantic. And he insisted I not come home. Insisted, like he's never insisted before. My brother-in-law reinforced his request, and I felt obligated to respect it, but few things have been more difficult. We stayed the remaining five weeks, in daily communication with skype chats.

And I truly was not aware of how closely I held those remnants of anxiety until yesterday's news, when I literally felt an untightening in my own heart, an unknotting of my tongue. It was an extraordinary moment of awareness.


We'd planned the drive to Achill prior to the good news, but our pilgrimage to one of my favorite places couldn't have been more timely, despite the rain, which intensified as the afternoon light lingered into evening.

Upon recommendation from the barmaid at Minaun View (pub), we took a turnoff to the end of the road below the headlands and cliffs of Minaun Heights --

We discovered St. Finians holy well partway up a steep sheep-path, beside a spectacular waterfall. The ovine creatures perched above us on edges and outcroppings, unconcerned by precipices:

-- while I clung to the scrubby hillside, my sandaled feet slippery and soaked, attempting to balance (it was very windy), avoid the numerous dung piles, and take photos. (The sacrifices I make for my faithful readers!) I neglected to dip my pagan fingers in St. Finian's waters, feeling adequately blessed already, and anyway, it wasn't worth losing my footing, and I didn't fancy an afternoon careen down the slope to the rocky road below.


Then it was on to Dugort, on the other side of the island.
Paul: "What's in Dugort?"
Me: "I don't know. I just want to go there."

And on the remote edge of the continent, in an Irish hamlet without a pub (didn't know this was possible), as we wound between houses situated nearly on the road itself, I saw the usual sign -- "Photographs, Prints, Gallery" -- and expected the usual disappointment, the usual poorly rendered oil paintings, the cliche ocean-beach photos, etc.

But when we stepped into the tiny gallery, we found ourselves in our own version of heaven: Franticham. (Actually not pronounced "franti-cham" as I first thought, but "frantic-ham".)

Belgian print/book-maker Frank Van Maele and the Korean artist known as Antic Ham collaborate in some pretty damn exquisite book-making, printed and bound in the tiny studio --

right there in cliffside Dugort, overhanging the North Atlantic:

I felt as if I had wandered into a dreamscape wonderland, had at last discovered water after wandering, parched, for centuries. Here were hand-tied books, hand-bound books, books with odd catalogs of items, poetry, prints, postcards, all with a high level of artistic integrity, begging to be taken home by, well, me. And Paul.

We fell in love with this: Franticham's Fishbox. Twenty-six prints by twenty-six artists, signed and numbered. In an actual fish-n-chip box from a restaurant in Westport. With actual fish (dried and encased behind a tiny plastic window). Guess what we came home with? Twenty-six fish. In a box.

I wanted to stay and have Frank Van Maele teach me everything he knows about print-making and the art of book-making. (He doesn't give classes.) I wanted to stay until I'd perused every last piece of paper in the cottage. He does what I've dreamed of doing for many years, and seems to make a living doing it.

Ironic, though, that in this era of diminishing print-on-paper, we would happen upon this mecca of art/paper/print, not on the map, not in the guidebooks (Frank eschews inclusion in any), with only a small sign hand-painted on the side of the house. And to think of the many times we've driven to Achill Island, and never bothered the mile-or-so detour to Dugort!

This, of course, further reinforces my argument that as the written word enters the digital age, the paper books and presses that manage to persist will be those that exhibit a high degree of artistic integrity: letterpress-printed text, lino/wood-cut/silk-screen-printed art, one-offs, signed-and-numbered editions. What could possibly be a death knell for many books as we know them could quite possibly become a boon to books as I would prefer to know them. No more boxes of unsold poetry books piling up in the basement! No more shelf after shelf of mass-market paperbacks in bookstores! No more deforestation caused by crap books! (Okay, a bit of an elitist rant here but I! Don't! Care!)


We returned to the house well after dark, in mighty wind, stinging rain, with an invasive damp in every thread of clothing, but over all was the sense of having spent a day blessed by the universe.

Yes, it's all good.


  1. I'm so glad your son is well, and your own heart is released. And look where it's release led this amazing discovery.
    I sat in the hairdressers the other day, eavesdropping on a conversation beside me:

    "I tried to read that book, but just couldn't get into it."
    "Why do you think that was?"
    "Oh...I couldn't get it on my Kindle...had to read it in a book...just wasn't the same..."

    As I listened, I lovingly turned the page of the book I was reading and thought I would probably never be able to explain to these two young women how the feel of the book in my hand was almost as important to me as the content of the story inside.

  2. dear T: I treasure this most recent window into your world, that transcends the usual, which in your case is so often a special world of grounded beauty and plain-spoken thoughts. as another mother of another son, i can *almost* imagine your knotted interior all these long months. what wonderful news from him.
    and i cannot express how eagerly i have been following your trip. i am currently immersed in a book about seal lore, in Ireland & Scotland (the selchie). and every image youve posted and word youve written these past days has fed my intense desire to clamber along those hills by the sea. thank you for taking me with you. (and that dream of a book/print studio....!)
    cheers & love,

  3. Jacqueline -- at least we can be thankful that she was reading. But you really have to laugh at the supposed anguish of having to read a book on paper! Ha!
    (I imagine that at some point in time there will be a nostalgia for the printed word, and it will surge forth again.)

    susan -- I am blessed again today by your comments. xxoo

    My neighbor here, Anya, a young woman, took me riding one afternoon a few years ago on her horse "Belle", and as we traipsed along the winding shore, she said once she and a friend took their horses swimming in one of the more remote coves in the area, and were joined by a pair of seals, who watched the humans and horses, and vice-versa. Since then I'm always on the lookout for seals on my solitary roams. It's a holy place!

  4. Thank goodness for people like these, it's finding them in odd-ball places that makes life so interesting.

    Very pleased to hear about your son, It must be a huge weight lifted.

    Bisou, Cro.

  5. Sounds like a PERFECT day!

  6. Your relief comes through so vividly.

    Love, c.

  7. Hi T. Very good to hear your relief and to be able to share your joy about your son's good news.

    I was struck when reading this post by the word 'frantic'... how last year, your visit to Achill Island was characterized by feeling frantic about your son's heart attack and being so far away, and how this year, the word turned up again but in a totally transformed shape and situation... the artists and their artists' books. Healing can come in surprising and wonderful ways. (I'd have been tempted by the Fish Box, too! Thanks for the link.)
    L, C x

  8. hi Premium T
    This is Francis from Redfoxpress in Dugort, Achill.
    Just came across these lovely words.
    I remember you both well.. was just sorry I did not ask for your emails .. maybe you can send it to us at .
    We even met in february the bookshop you were talking about in Seattle .. we met him in San Francisco.
    we have also a blog
    where you can follow our whyereabouts, and a website to see our new books
    best wishes