Ever wake up to one of those chilly, cloudy, windy, rain-spitting days where you’d really rather roll over and go back to sleep for a week? Hell, this is Ireland, nearly every day’s like that, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to sleep for another hour or three.
But I’d planned on meeting some friends for lunch and spending some time and money in a few more bookstores, so I made my way to the bus stop to leave Cork’s orbit behind. No longer just an hour from home, I’m venturing into West Cork. Unlike the “nearby” towns I’ve haunted in the past few weeks, Skibbereen is different. At least to me it is. The other towns are all close enough to Cork to rely on it for various amenities. Skibb, with its significant blow-in/ex-pat community, supplements its wonderful collection of restaurants with a pair of excellent museums and just general niceness. While I get down here a few times a year, I’ve grown a new admiration for friends living in Skibb who come up to Cork on a reasonably frequent basis – returning home on long late night drives on winding local roads. Oh, and by the way, the lunch was wonderful! I’ll be back.
I’m thinking that the major reason for my morning’s lethargy was my dread at seeing firsthand the town’s new concrete flood control plan. Ireland’s OPW, never known for their deft hand in anything, has imposed a Stalinesque channel of concrete on the River Ilen. [If your only tool is a cement mixer…] This environmental and aesthetic travesty [along with the OPW’s Bandon river paving] has been used as a rallying cry for groups in other parts of the country fighting to save their local rivers. Suffice it to say that I support the “Love the Lee” campaign. [http://savecorkcity.org/]. I doubt very much if the OPW recognizes the irony of their riparian destruction running beneath a memorial to O’Donovan Rossa, a 19th Century Irish patriot who specialized in the explosive destruction of things he disapproved of.
And the other reason for my borderline depression? One of my favourite bookshops on the planet – one of those places where you like to just stand and breathe the atmosphere – had closed its doors and moved its trade online.
The Time Traveller hasn’t really died, but it’s reincarnated itself in two different bodies. One of them, now called Antiquity, is where I had one of the best lunches I’ve had in a l-o-n-g time while also drooling over [but not on] some rare books that I can’t afford.
The Time Traveller used to have a Cork location a few hundred yards from my house. I fell in love with both locations, even though I could rarely afford the first editions and out-of-print classics he stocked. While his retail locations are gone, he’s never left his online home. While I rail against many things the internet has done to retail, in the Time Traveller’s case it makes sense. Its unique inventory carries a worldwide appeal that makes bricks-and-mortar redundantly expensive.
I didn’t ask about inventory ownership, but I noticed that Antiquity stocks many of Time Traveller’s books. I recognized a fair number of books from my past – all unaffordable. I guess it’s a sign of age that things you gave away to others are now considered collector’s items – when they were everyday tools to you. I almost bought two books I’d never seen or read before, one by Thomas Merton and another by James Joyce – til I saw their prices. I’m a reader & user, underlining passages and dog-earing pages. I’m not a collector, so I left them for those with more appreciation for original bindings. I satisfied my urging with an unexpected and much more affordable collection of Irish detective stories. They join my collection of airplane reading.
Oh, and back to Antiquity – Time Traveller’s current incarnation. I’d known of the change in ownership and scope for a few months, but wasn’t prepared for what I found: a coffee shop/café full of regulars from Skibb’s British and German ex-pat community as well as a regular stream of locals. All on first name terms with the new owner, the menu, and collection of international newspapers. And in case I haven’t mentioned it before, the food’s to die for. I’ll be back.
And no, I didn’t forget to return to Cathal O’Donovan‘s Skibbereen Bookshop. I’d been in this converted pub before to shop their discount table, smartly positioned where you need to go past regular displays and all the school books & art supplies that keep the kids & parents coming in. Sure I looked. Sure I saw some I’d like. But I went back to the front of the store to shop the new releases inventory. Isn’t that why I came?
And next week? I’ll be even further from home. But not really, since any town that can support an independent bookstore is most likely good enough to become home.
See you there and then.
This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.our friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.