Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Galway Arts Festival

We’ve decided to spend a week in Galway, relaxing and enjoying the Arts Festival.  We had not planned to attend the Arts Festival or for that matter to come to Galway, so we have got lucky once again on both counts. 

The Arts Festival is an annual event here in July and is one of the most influential arts enterprises in Ireland.  Galway is a beautiful town, nestled between Galway Bay and on the banks of the River Corrib.  It is a beautiful location and the town is now bustling with activity and visitors due to the festival.  I read that the festival will feature over 500 writers, artists, performers and musicians from America, Asia, Australia and Europe and of course Ireland. The Festival will highlight dance, physical theatre and spectacles from America and Europe illustrating the Festival’s continuing commitment to staging extraordinary, ambitious and innovative projects.

We have arrived at Eire Square by bus and one of the chaps in the bus ropes in a fellow traveller who is
going past our accommodation to show us the way.  We are constantly surprised both by the friendliness and hospitality of the Irish.  So many people have gone out of their way to help us out and this has made our stay here extra special.

We have checked into student accommodation once again, as we are staying here a week.  It is a 20-minute walk from the city centre and our apartment is comfortable, spacious and relaxing.  We are really happy to be here.  There is a big supermarket across the road so the first thing we do is stock our fridge with groceries and then cook a big bowl of spaghetti.  We are already confident that we’ll enjoy our time here.  It will give us a few days to get caught up with our writing and to relax with plenty of time to enjoy the festival and the surrounding sights.

The buskers at the festival were quite incredible.  They ranged from really incredible performers with sophisticated sound systems to others like the ‘Plink-Plonk’ man who stands around with a cardboard guitar next to a music stand with a sheet of music muttering the words to his song!  I loved the guy dressed up like an Indian sadhu who seemed to be magically suspended in air and I was happy to part with a few euros for the privilege of taking his photo.  The chap who made beautiful sand sculptures of a dog or pig, was also incredibly talented and a draw card for the kids as were the people who posed as statues dressed up in elaborate gear.  Most of all there were musicians everywhere.  The girl on the harp played beautiful music and the variety of bands and solo artists playing both rock and Irish music added a great vibe to the pedestrian area.  The group playing Irish music captivated us and we purchased their CD as a souvenir.

We learn that Oscar Wilde was actually Irish and I reminisce about the days when I had read his complete works.  I loved the story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Importance of Being Ernest was one of my favourite plays – it had me in stitches!  Ah – he was a
man with great sense of humour!   It was fun to meet and chat with some of the artists and buskers at the festival.  We found the man who ties himself up in knots selling balloons.  We had seen him in Edinburgh and he is doing the rounds in Europe.  He is off to Denmark soon…so who knows we might bump into him again.  It was fun to chat to Chris the painter.  He gave us a few tips
on where to visit and promised to put us in touch with a friend who runs alternative tours in Berlin.  We get an email from him later and once again we are amazed at the generosity of the Irish people. 

Both Steve and I were keen to experience a bit of theatre while we were here but unfortunately, this Festival is very popular and many of the shows we wanted to see were sold out.   We bought 
tickets for one show at the main festival and left feeling a little disappointed there weren't more shows available.  

It was quite by accident that we bumped into a group of people gathering signatures on a couch.  Curious, we stopped to chat.  It was then that we heard about the Fringe Festival here in Galway, which was not being promoted by the organisers of the main festival.  We learnt there was a show on that night – The Great Couch Rebellion and after signing the couch we promised to return for the show.   We really enjoyed this bit of theatre, set around the economic crisis that is gripping Ireland.  The show centres around Adam and Eve, a young couple gripped in the throes of a mountain of unpaid bills, a mortgage that hangs like a noose around their necks and unemployment.  The show centres around Adam, a rather complacent Irishman and his feisty and pregnant Greek wife who tries to provoke him from his apathy to get up and make a stand about the austerity measures and their plight.  It is piece of theatre set around the crisis that is facing Europe today and highlights the fact that so many people just carry on despite the obvious signs of collapse, convinced that things will work themselves out in the end.

The second show we saw was called Stella and Lou and was produced by the Northlight Theatre.  It is a very topical story, and centres on conversations in Lou’s bar.  Lou is a retired widower who rarely ventures too far away from his beloved bar.  He is afraid to love again since losing the woman he lived with and loved for so long.  Stella is a nurse who has never experienced real love and is petrified of dying alone.  She has plucked up enough courage to ask Lou on a date and shake him out of his apathy.  The play also includes a much younger character in Donnie who is struggling with the demands his fiancé is making on him to turn their wedding into this imagined fairy tale.  He is shocked at how much it will all cost and the fact he may have to re-mortgage their house to pay for the horse and carriage, her dress and her numerous other new demands she dreams up each day!  We enjoyed the show immensely because it was so true to life and had so many poignant moments that so many in this mostly middle-aged audience could identify with.

The other highlight of our time in Galway was spending a day with our friend Helen.  You may have read Helen’s Story, which I wrote while we were in Scotland.  Helen lives close to Galway and made the trip to the city to join us at the festival.  We spent an enjoyable day together watching circus performers, comedians and musicians as well as catching up on our news since we parted ways at Findhorn.  Saturday was a really fun day at the festival as there were many special street performances. 

I love this aspect of travel.  The instant friendships we make with perfect strangers who then move in and out of your life as you pass through their city or they through yours.  Facebook helps us stay connected but these face-to-face encounters help make the friendship real.  It is our last day in Galway and we enjoy the sunshine and have a splurge at a Spanish restaurant before bidding this town goodbye.

"I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod:  My shadow does that much better."  Plutarch

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