A boy stands stiff and nervous on the edge of a school stage, facing an auditorium filled with parents, relatives, and friends.
It's the end-of-term play, Macbeth. And the young thespian who is playing the part of Donalbain, son of Duncan, is kitted out in time-appropriate apparel - tunic, sandals, and sword. And smothered in greasepaint.
In Act 2, Scene 1, his long rehearsed moment finally arrives. And puffing up, he loudly and earnestly declaims:
"To Ireland I, our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer. Where we are
There's daggers in men's smiles "
Seconds later, the speech is over. And breathing a sigh of relief, audible in the first three rows of the audience, Donalbain exits, stage left. To quickly change for his other parts - a witch and a doctor. For this is a small school, and actors, in their time, must play many parts.
SCROLL FORWARD 50 years.
I'm cycling down the Slippery Elm Trail, direction North Baltimore, valiantly battling 20-mph winds, when Donalbain's words suddenly pop into my head.
But this time, for some quite unaccountable reason, a sentence that half a century before had meant nothing whatsoever now made perfect sense!
What almost certainly kicked off that memory was the fact that in a few days, we're off to Ireland. A country that we love but haven't visited for seven years. And anticipation can do strange things to a fellow's psyche.
There'll be plenty of touristy things to do, of course, but also bits we've missed on previous visits. One of the great beauties of returning to a place you already know is being able to dig a little deeper into specific corners of the culture.
In our case, this means learning more about the patient art of stone wall building. And peat cutting. Watching sheep dogs being trained. Casting a fly into the swirling waters of the River Nire. And attending a ceilidgh at Melody's Pub.
We'll visit a couple of cheese makers. In Gubbeen, perhaps. Drop by a whiskey distillery for a blind taste test. And see what's been happening to Irish cuisine now that so many native sons have returned to chef in the newly flourishing economy.
But it's the Dingle Peninsula, on the far west coast, that will be of particular interest this time. Not because of its most famous inhabitant, Fungie, the tame dolphin who still swims in Dingle Bay, but because of a little island outcrop known as the Blaskets.
Inhabited till the late '50s, these tiny islands held the last remnants of true Gaelic life and culture intact. As such, they attracted academics and linguists from all over the world, eager to access the past through this tiny enclave of islanders in one inhospitable corner of the world.
The presence of these interested outsiders spurred some of the islanders to write down their day-to-day experiences, their history and traditions. And the stories make extraordinary reading.
Though abandoned these 50 years, you can still travel out to the Blaskets on a good day by rowboat or by coracle and see the remains of the cottages and farms that once housed Peg Sayers and Maurice O'Sullivan, Tomas O'Crohan and Michael O'Guiheen.
NOW, WHETHER you're going to Ireland - or any other place overseas - this year, you'll need to check your passport rather carefully. Due to increased security concerns, the rules have toughened, creating all manner of confusion for the traveling public.
It has to do mostly with expiration dates.
From the perspective of the United States Passport Services, of course, U.S. passports are valid until the stated expiration date. But - and this is a big BUT - any foreign country has the right to require that a U.S. passport be valid for a specified length of time AFTER the passport holder leaves the country in question and returns to the U.S. - normally three months, but now frequently expended to six months or more.
This was brought to our attention by friends and readers who have recently received an array of confusing information from people like AAA or from the U.S. Passport people themselves.
The answer falls solidly into the category of "better safe than sorry."
So check those passport expiration dates well in advance of your next international trip. With enough lag time, renewing a passport is not a difficult matter. In Lucas County contact the main post office for the necessary forms. In other counties, call the county clerk of courts.
If you have fewer than two months to play with, consider requesting expedited service and, additionally, paying for overnight service in both directions.
For further details and to download forms, visit: www.travel.state.gov/passport_services.html. Contact information for foreign embassies is available at www.travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html
Contact Roger Holliday
and Claudia Fischer at: firstname.lastname@example.org