Swans on the Grand Canal come up expecting to be fed, spread their wings and hiss. Back off, says J. Do I look like a Leda? says l. The small black wave-bobbers l thought were coots turn out to be Yeats’s moorhens. (But for the last week my resident niece, just turned two, has been using a syllable that sounds like “coots,” for which no one has worked out the referent.)
Black and white magpies, black and white wagtails. The local oystercatchers surprise by being black and white where they aren’t orange beak. They hop between broken strata of tide-pooled granite under the Joyce museum tower at Sandycove, where a nice tableau is set up in the round room: tea set, empty Guinness bottles, medical textbook open to “paralysis,” big figure of a black panther at the hearth. Downstairs is a portrait of Throwaway the horse and a terrible inherited hunting waistcoat. From the top turret I verify the sweep of the bay. There’s a lighthouse (Kish?) out on the horizon. The profile of Howth imposes on the lower slopes like an island. My daughter and nephew go up and down the narrow stairs and bounce between the turret walls, luckily too high for them to surmount; this is obviously more fun than a typical writer’s house, and they are tolerant of my interest in the writer.
—I think, says R., he went up to the top to daydream, and write stories, and to smoke cigarettes, if he smoked.
On the return train she munches through a snack of roasted seaweed. My nephew stares with mounting horror at his California cousin, and then opens his mouth and vomits all over Irish Rail. We have a box of tissues completely insufficient to the task. R. lends him her pants and away we run. Train motion and food aversion might have played their part, but there is also a circulating virus that has chosen me for its Christmas lodgings. I suffer many tactical defeats in the washroom and am kindly brought some green tea. Happy Christmas!