Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The House of Bast (Part I)

One of the greatest delights in pursuing a career you really enjoy is that the inevitable eventual success gives you a certain fiscal freedom. This monetary autonomy is especially of immense value to those people who have no family ties or relatives and have to fend for themselves at every turn in life. Growing up in a city so rich in history, music, arts and architecture instilled in me- Astrid Alvintzi, a sense of awe and respect not only for the Art but also filled me with a thirst to someday go out and venture beyond the walls of this famous city. So, becoming a professional guide was quite the natural choice for a footloose orphan girl who always seemed to know the safest short cuts, the best packaged deal offers for tourists, those little places which are cozy (giving you a home away from home experience!) and exquisite too, yet not mentioned on the tourist maps and most importantly the who’s who of the tourism industry of one of the world’s most enchanting cities- Vienna.

Life, despite its harsh beginning definitely took a turn for the better when a chance meeting with a couple whom I was giving a personal tour of the ‘Basilica Mariazell’ proffered me an offer of a lifetime. 

It was with great aplomb and a million thanks to God that I held on to this prospect of hosting a new travel show. The proposal suited my interest and the money was good. I worked hard and cashed in on my Middle Eastern looks. Somehow I was in a country where in most likelihood I had not been born and so it intrigued people when I told them romantic and thrilling tales about my lineage- of how a Syrian girl happened to be in Austria or how my Palestinian or Moroccan mother had to leave her ‘love child’ at the orphanage or die a gruesome death at the hands of her royal family (obviously my tales were all cooked up.) Anyways, coming back to ‘Venture’- yes, that was the name of my travel show; it happened that within a year it acquired a steady viewership and became a popular show watched every weekend. 

Life had taught me the value of a good financial backup. So, I started saving and soon this security became a plump cushion. However, "success much like an avaricious mistress despises frugality and requires high maintenance. Invest in her and she’ll make you the happiest man and if you didn't, then, she’d simply desert you for someone who did." And so it happened that while my show was much liked, it had nothing new because there emerged a lot of other travel shows which made the competition very tough. Before long the ratings began to fall and I knew that I had to think of something fresh and untried to give the new season of my program a boost. Now the trouble I faced was that every idea and concept I came up with had either been taken to be worked upon or was already in the works.  Finding myself in desperate need of help and inspiration, I didn’t know where to go and where to look. For the first time I felt alone. Ever since a young child, I had learnt the importance of making contacts in my struggle to live. I realized that that’s what I made all my life, no Friends, no Companions but Contacts: People serving as nothing but resources for my survival. I had never been bothered before but it pricked me to be alone today.

Half the events of our life lose their value when we haven’t the warmth of camaraderie to share it with. In fact I didn't even know where I belonged because the people at the orphanage had always been a little shaky and sketchy about my ‘roots’.
As I pondered on this word ‘roots’ my eyes fell on a travel brochure of an Irish village peeping out of the magazine holder. Something about it caught my attention. After a brief perusal, the result was that my footloose soul prevailed and packing my bags I set out for ‘The House of Bast’.

Green- It was all I could think of when I spotted Ireland from up in the air. 

As the flight touched the Dublin airport, I felt as if I was coming back to my home after a long time. Instead of checking into the more convenient hotels built inside the Dublin airport complex, I checked into the ‘Rathsallagh Country House Hotel’ (which took less than an hour’s drive from the airport) for the quiet romantic ambiance it provided. Tomorrow was going to be another hectic day. Taking a light dinner I went to my room and slept like a log.

The next day after a quick breakfast I took a look at my schedule. It was a full day self drive tour which would take me from Calary Bog, the Roundwood Church, the Reservoir to the Glendalough - a must see tourist attraction with a history spanning centuries, to Glenmacnass waterfall, the Lough Bray lakes, Glencree and then winding up at the small town called the ‘House of Bast’ near Enniskerry. Driving through the countryside over bog roads, through valleys and mountainsides, just stopping to admire hundreds of years of concrete history, (some well preserved and some a little ruined by the Viking invasions and years of neglect) taught me humility and made me realize the significance of Nature as the best teacher.

It was afternoon when I entered the picturesque village of Enniskerry. Stopping at Poppies Country Cooking, I treated myself to classic cream scones and washed them down with Irish coffee. 

Courtesy: Poppies Country Cooking

It had started to drizzle so I watched the scene outside with the coffee mug warming my hands. Life seemed just perfect at times like this. A flower seller stood across the road with his cart loaded with pots and pots of geraniums, poppies, tulips, roses along with towering lily stalks of pure white in the corner of the cart. I ordered another coffee and while I waited I thought it best to inquire about the directions to the House of Bast from the owner himself. Peter turned out to be a very pleasant man who told me much about the village, the local gossip and some of the ever enchanting folk- lore of the Irish.

To my surprise he said that he had never heard of such a place before. Amazed that he did not have knowledge of an Egyptian styled town, so near to this village, (as the brochure had proclaimed) I went to my car to get that booklet. To my dismay neither did I find the brochure in my bag nor did my map show any town in the vicinity named ‘House of Bast’. Surely it was a mistake! I checked the map again to see if I had missed something but it was as if the place had never existed. But that wasn't possible right?!

To Be Continued...