bright lights in the City of Sin

no, dear readers, I have neither abandoned nor forgotten you. there was merely the matter of four fantastic weeks of football which I was obliged to watch and celebrate. lots of persuasive arm-twisting to get people to join me for 6:30 a.m. or mid-work-day matches. now it’s back to the important work of dreaming about what new (or old) places I might visit (or re-visit) here and in my travels.

during this hiatus, one of my co-workers went to Las Vegas for the first time (to celebrate her twenty-first birthday) and was, in a word, underwhelmed. it’s hard not to have certain expectations for a city with such notoriety; pop culture has cultivated such an unattainable image of what Vegas ought to be, what ought to happen there, the insanity and hilarity that will ensue on any visit, that reality won’t be able to compare. or, at least, not for anyone I know. with the bigger-than-reality dimensions Vegas takes on in popular culture, upon hearing her reflections I was rather thankful that my primary purpose in visiting Vegas each time was to see friends.

my first trip was chock-a-block with tourist attractions that were, for the most part, worth the effort. no matter how kitschy or cliched, you can’t avoid the sights that make a place famous. I find that the ones that I even have passing interest in are worth the effort, if for no other reason than to say you’ve seen one cultural icon or another. the fountains & gardens at the Bellagio were impressive, the canals at the Venetian something different, the floor shows were what one would expect, the Forum Shops gave me a headache from the lack of natural air, the lions at the MGM Grand were rather depressing, the Cirque du Soleil production of Ka was unquestionably spectacular — a stage that went fully vertical !, if also priced spectacularly.

but for all it’s glitz and glamor, had I not been visiting friends, I’m fairly certain I would have hated Vegas. (of course, if not for visiting those friends, I’m also fairly certain I would never felt any need to go to Vegas …) the very principles on which the city thrives — consumption, excess, careening headlong towards something “bigger” and “better” at any cost — are antithetical to the kind of travel that I enjoy. how many of the casinos that I saw when walking down the Strip for the first time in August of 2005 will be there in five, ten, fifteen years? some of them are already gone. the Bellagio seems iconic now, but so was The Dunes, which stood on the same location from 1955 to 1993. Vegas suffers from the same lack of “historical weight” as does San Diego and other sites in the American West, but Vegas has taken this deficit and capitalized on, exploited and extrapolated it. not only is there a lack of history, but there’s a complete rejection of the remotely culturally passe. Arabian themes? so early 90s (the Aladdin is now defunct). perhaps the Bellagio remains so iconic because it has modeled itself on something with historical weight (Lake Como in Italy) and Paris-Las Vegas is kitschy but memorable because it, too, rests on the historical cred of another structure.

my co-worker was disappointed that nothing truly “spectacular” happened; there were moments, she said, but nothing sustained, nothing that lasted. and maybe the fact that she didn’t have a sustained feeling of the exceptional lies rooted in that lack of historical weight. someplace that so cavalierly discards the icons of its past cannot produce the environment necessary to create moments of historical significance. I’m sure it happens for some people, that Vegas provides that experience for people who seek it out, but I’m also sure that I’m not the type of person to get satisfaction from that kind of experience (and I suspect that neither is my co-worker). I like my travel experiences to have more depth, and more permanence associated with them.


during my day in Cork, I took the opportunity to visit the J. Jameson & Son’s Old Midleton whiskey distillery. it was my first experience with using Bus Eireann for local connections, and what a good relationship we developed (why don’t we have public transportation that is this easy to use in the U.S.?). the facility that we toured was in use until 1975, and the distilling process has since moved to a larger one on the same site. whiskey in Ireland is made either here or at Bushmills in the North. that produced in Midleton is transported to the Dublin facility for bottling and packaging.

not knowing anything about the process, I found the tour at least informative, but I have since discovered that our ‘guide’ did little more than recite the information provided on the pamphlet. it felt like something aimed directly at tourists for whom English was not a first language (and there were quite a few on our tour).

the barley is dried out in a kiln using anthracite, which is a smokeless fuel that results in the distinctive taste of Irish whiskey. that made in Scotland uses peat to fuel the fire, which gives the drink a smokey taste. Irish whiskey is also distilled three times, in contrast to twice for Scotch whisky and once for bourbon. initially, to test the proof of whiskey after it was distilled it was set on fire. if it didn’t burn, the proof wasn’t high enough. if it exploded, it was too strong and given over to the workers at the distillery.

the top photo is of the masher, where the dried out barley is mixed with boiling water. during the process the starches in the grains are converted into fermentation sugars, resulting in a liquid known as “wort”, which is then sent on to “washbacks” for fermentation.

the bottom photo is the oldest building on the site, dating to 1794, when it was built as a woollen mill. it was used as a military barracks during the Napoelonic wards, and was turned into the distillery in 1825. the waterwheel at the side dates to 1852. it’s 22ft in diameter and made of cast iron. it also functioned until 1975.

at the end of the tour, i took the opportunity to compare bourbon, scotch, and whiskey, discovering that i don’t much care for any of them!


full day and a half in Cork. arrived earlier than expected day before last on a bus from Dublin, after one from Belfast. spent Sunday afternoon walking around the city — Beamish Distillery, St. Fin Barre’s cathedral, City Hall, Patrick Street and around. finally sorted meeting up with Nicolette & Kelly (they actually came down from Belfast by train yesterday, rather than Sunday), and had an amazing night’s sleep at the hostel in MacCurtain Street.

yesterday more walking around Cork City — the weather has been fantastic thus far! and then i took a bus out to Midelton to see the Jameson Distillery and the kitchy ‘Jameson Experience Midleton’. the distillery bit is quite interesting, but the tour is somewhat perfunctory, seems like it’s designed for the tourist who doesn’t much care about the history of the company or who has a limited understanding of the English language. the facility we toured, however, was in constant use from the time the complex was built in the 1840s (?) until 1975. the process has now been moved to a newer complex on the same sight, where all whiskey (except for that produced by Bushmills) is produced.

back in Cork, we went out for dinner at a restaurant down the road with a waterfall in the courtyard. very posh compared to where/what i’ve been eating so far! after sitting for a bit, we went to explore the city centre and ended up having some pints and participating in a pub quiz. (and ran into about a dozen students from USD, who are attending the University of Cork … wait, i thought i was in Ireland … ?)

today, picking up the car and heading north.