"Have I ever told you about the first time I saw the Book of Kells? The flight last year to Ireland … my ancient age … I shall not travel again but, I can tell you, I'm so grateful I was able to travel as much as I did when I was younger … places you daren't go anymore. Some places are no longer even there to go to! It was all different … Etruscan sites you trudged to through fields and the farmer let you in … you've been to the Villa Julia in Rome of course … that lovely reclining couple. " So began another Friday lunchtime conversation with my old prof.
"The first time I saw the Book of Kells it was covered with a glass box and, other than the librarian, I was the only person there and I paid nothing. It still is covered by a glass box and the place now is full of people, there are informative displays all beautifully done and it costs $18 to get in. You've seen it, of course."
"Actually not," I said, "I have never been to Ireland and I haven't ever wanted to go." As surprised as she was she listened as I began my tale.
Kate knew I had lived in London during the 1970s but had never connected that with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) beginning its terrorist operations there. The history of those ten years is complex and not unhappy (after all, towards the end of them, I met the Celt) but I remember the fear and the uncertainty caused by the terrorists (they considered themselves military and people like me as civilians) – I remember twice turning corners in the West End and hearing and feeling bombs explode behind me; I remember sitting with friends above Bond Street and, on opening the window after realizing how quiet it was outside, being screamed at by a policeman behind a barricade to get out of the building and away from the isolated car parked but yards away down on the street; I remember too, a bomb detonated at a bus stop outside Green Park tube station, killing a twenty-three-year old man … just standing at a bloody bus stop, for God's sake … and injuring many other people including children; and … and… etc. I remember a lot and have, thankfully, forgotten much.
Forgotten, maybe, yet this story, such as it could be over lunch, made me angry and I wanted to stop talking about it, which I found hard to do, so resentful was I about those years. I did say though I wasn't in any way comparing IRA terrorism with the Holocaust, to some extent I understood why my old friend, a Jew, would not visit Germany, and that I still couldn't hear the word Boston without remembering where much financial support for the IRA came from.
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation, indeed.
Every Friday we lunch, my old prof and I, and that day we ended with how she'd been in Cork when John Kennedy drove by in a big American automobile that must have been specially imported for him. One year later the President was dead and, if you are given reading the entrails, so began civilization's tumble down the rabbit hole.