My Irish Spring: A Journal

Day 1: We made it through the storm.

As I sail to visit my Irish workplace, I realize that storm Henry is hitting the country, and set for an adventurous and windy flight from Basel Airport. This is a curious coincidence indeed, if one thinks that, according to the Gaelic calendar, today is day one of the Irish Spring. 1st of February is in fact known as “Imbolc” (meaning literally “in the belly” in the Old Irish Neolithic language, referring to the pregnancy of ewes) and was celebrated from pagan times as one of the four great festivals in the calendar – the other three festivals are Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. ‘Imbolc’ heralded the start of Spring and the arrival of longer, warmer days, and was later Christianised into St Brigid’s Day.

As I wander in the airport lounge waiting for my flight to board, I decide to sit, and to sit just for the sake of filling one of those two shamefully left empty seats by the older gentleman who is watching the Amsterdam gate screen. As I ask him in German whether the seat is free, he immediately replies to me in Italian; and I sit and say: “Now you have to tell me”.

Now that I think about it, the conversaton that followed was very short in terms of duration. Yet it was extremely intense and engaging, and still felt like an entire life. Mohammed is an older Somali man, with lively eyes and a smiley mouth: his teeth are the only element of his face that actually carries the burden of old age. He tells me his story in perfect Italian, though “he has never been to Italy”;  he knows all about Italy, and loves its story, culture and heritage, and he does hope to visit sometime. We talk, and he is very keen, as he usually “listens to the Italian radio, watches the Italian TV (!), but never gets to talk to anyone”. He simply studied Italian for 12 years, in Somalia. He studied at an Italian catholic school led by “i preti” (of course he can list all his teacher’s names), who made him read the Bible: “Yes, I am a Muslim, but you have to know and read as much as you can in order to understand people.” He kept his language skills going while working with Italian collaborators as a surveyor, until war broke, and he and his wife decided to flee the country for the good of their seven children. “I had a very nice and well-paid job, and we were settled. However, my wife had to persuade me that earning and living a good life is actually less important than life itself.” They now live in Holland, his mom, sisters and brothers scattered around Europe. He can’t stop talking and asking questions, though he apologises: he is usually not that curious, but he has never met “anyone like me” (?), a musician, who’s also a researcher and a teacher, and all that makes him very curious about my life. “Go on, ask, Mohammed” I say “our flights will set us apart, and then I will just be Francesca, and you Mohammed”. He says in English with dreamy eyes: “You’re a PhD holder…”  And he uses the word “sufference” to describe what he thinks was my journey through travel and studies. I feel a bit uncomfortable by his dignified awe. “Yes, right: however there are many like me. Instead I think that you are unique”. And he rightly asks: “Why?” I felt very stupid.

I could have said: [Because you are an older man who speaks Italian with the dignified elegance and kindness that not even Italian men have sometimes. Because you endure the status of “war refugee” even if you were a respected professional in Somalia. Because you have to put up with the stupid humanity who leaves empty seats around you, and that says that you’re beyond being invisible to them. Because you speak of tolerance in humanistic terms, even if you are a Muslim whose education was moulded by catholic “intruders”. Because your eyes are so grateful and eager to keep this conversation going, and hear about my “journey” as if your own journey of real loss and pain was somewhat less relevant. Because you showed me in a few minutes an empathy I don’t easily find even in the people I love.]

“I have to go now, Mohammed: I think they’re boarding my flight.” We wished all the best to each other, and I quickly fled, throwing on my back my always-too-heavy backpack: “You see, this is the weight of culture, Mohammed!” I joked, stupidly, made him laugh with his unbelievable smile, and went to queue with the Swiss and the Irish.

Picture 1
From my window seat

Day 2: Good Morning Ireland!

Woke up to a freezing Irish morning, with a spectacularly clear blue sky.

Good Morning Ireland!

The day went in papers, bureaucracy and in solving small but potentially problematic issues. It is true: even artistic projects need loads of bureaucracy to keep alive, and an enormous amount of tiresome backstage work to piece things together. Fortunately, seeing colleagues and friends made things less unpleasant: it was actually a joy to be around them again!

In the afternoon, I found in my mailbox a copy of the book to which I contributed a chapter, and which was published last December. The book looks good and shiny, but I am not sure I’ll go over my writing again… I will enjoy the final product and read the other author’s works, beautifully done!

Chapter in New Book

Tomorrow, hopefully the day will allow some time for creative work and practice. Meanwhile, I’m in for an early sleep today!

Day 3: Resuming Practices

Today I got my time back. I was actually able to go for my morning run in the beautiful Carton House estate, thus stealing an hour of dry weather to the rain.


Running was one of the few practices I could focus on today. There is nothing like a sign-up sheet for the use of students’ practice facilities to keep your discipline going!


I actually resumed singing, and felt restored by exercising breathing and vocalising. I found the search for the right focus on text and music nearly therapeutic. Both running and singing helped me find my way.

Those two acts of contact and reappriopriation of my own body made my day brighter. I believe this is what practices should be about.

Day 4: ‘En-Dangering’ Monodrama©

Yes. You have it Facebook: this was indeed my Friends’ day.


Thanks to my Irish friends: Antonio and Laura for coming to the rescue, ©Ryan and Alison for supporting me throughout an unexpected drama! Pheeewww!

Day 5: Meet the Pianist

Today I had a fabulous rehearsal session with Irish professional accompanist Aileen Cahill, one of my partners in my MU- branded upcoming ‘monodramatic’ adventure. Aileen is an enthusiastic and energetic musician, and having her on board promises to be an exciting experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my first session with her, and look forward to our new meeting next week!

Aileen Cahill, Pianist

Day 6: Metamorphosis Event

It was a privilege indeed to assist to the launch of The Metamorphosis Project, a creative collective of Irish artists and researchers who collaborate in producing practice-led artistic research.

Metamorphosis is a practice-led project engaging artists from visual art, film, architecture and music composition in collaboration with academic researchers from the Humanities and Sciences. Launched on February 1 2016, the project presented a multimedia exhibition in Smithfield Square, Dublin 7, housed in a pop-up gallery composed of shipping containers, and an interdisciplinary symposium on February 6th themed “Collaboration in Research and Arts Practice”.

What I enjoyed most was the possibility to interact with professionals speaking my same language, and sharing a similar militant approach to art and research. I see a potential for future collaborations already happening there. Congratulations especially to the Metamorphosis project-leader Jennifer Halton for setting up a much needed project and for having carefully organised the event!

The Metamorphosis Team. Ph. Pamela Blake


Day 7: A Rainy Sunday

Irish weather can be tricky. Let me dwell in some nostalgia here. From my Solitary Hotel room, I am missing home and my love today. That said, I was lucky enough to bump into this inspiring poem by Constantine P. Cavafy, just because sometimes this is what you do.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον θυμωμένο Ποσειδώνα μη φοβάσαι,
τέτοια στον δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δεν θα βρεις,
αν μέν’ η σκέψις σου υψηλή, αν εκλεκτή
συγκίνησις το πνεύμα και το σώμα σου αγγίζει.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον άγριο Ποσειδώνα δεν θα συναντήσεις,
αν δεν τους κουβανείς μες στην ψυχή σου,
αν η ψυχή σου δεν τους στήνει εμπρός σου.

Να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος.
Πολλά τα καλοκαιρινά πρωιά να είναι
που με τι ευχαρίστησι, με τι χαρά
θα μπαίνεις σε λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους·
να σταματήσεις σ’ εμπορεία Φοινικικά,
και τες καλές πραγμάτειες ν’ αποκτήσεις,
σεντέφια και κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ’ έβενους,
και ηδονικά μυρωδικά κάθε λογής,
όσο μπορείς πιο άφθονα ηδονικά μυρωδικά·
σε πόλεις Aιγυπτιακές πολλές να πας,
να μάθεις και να μάθεις απ’ τους σπουδασμένους.

Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη.
Το φθάσιμον εκεί είν’ ο προορισμός σου.
Aλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου.
Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει·
και γέρος πια ν’ αράξεις στο νησί,
πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στον δρόμο,
μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη.

Η Ιθάκη σ’ έδωσε τ’ ωραίο ταξείδι.
Χωρίς αυτήν δεν θάβγαινες στον δρόμο.
Άλλα δεν έχει να σε δώσει πια.

Κι αν πτωχική την βρεις, η Ιθάκη δεν σε γέλασε.
Έτσι σοφός που έγινες, με τόση πείρα,
ήδη θα το κατάλαβες η Ιθάκες τι σημαίνουν.
(Από τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984)

Day 8: A Marvelous Journey

Looks like a better day today. The Irish Weather has graced us with some dry clouds. I took the time to I arrange my travels around Ireland next week, and to postpone my return to Switzerland at a later date. I also received good news: I will be presenting my paper at the upcoming conference of the Performance Studies Network in Bath this summer.  While savouring the idea of going back to one of my favourite British cities, take a look at some pictures from my 2014 trip there!

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Day 9: New Collaborations

Today I met with my Irish friend and Metamorphosis project-leader Jennifer Halton to discuss possible involvement of her team in my productions. Our conversation was extremely fruitful in terms of collaborations and planning, and I can’t wait to have Jennifer on board with me on my ‘monodramatic’ adventures! It was also my first day back to caffeine after a forced withdrawal, and that made me feel like a human being again. Café Bon-Bon in Maynooth is just the perfect nook for all those conversations to get going…

Café Bon Bon


Day 10: Musical Recordings

Recording Selfie

Yes: despite all the running around, my Italian-Irish fab friend Antonio found the time to go over a few songs we performed last year with me. We recorded a few live excerpts, justto catch up with Irish concert life in preparation of my longer stay in Ireland. I shall thank him for his generous effort and for finding some time to go over a few oldies with me. A couple of our recordings will be available soon on this website, under the audio section. Stay tuned!

Day 11: #underpressure

Tight deadlines and lots of  chocolate/coffee!


Day 12: Read-Through

Met @aileenpiano again today, and yes: we were able to read through our entire La Voix humaine vocal score. I am very excited to work with Aileen, now that plans for an actual performance of Poulenc’s monodrama near. I left the rehearsal room motivated to internalize the score as soon as possible, and that is all I should be doing in the next few months (along with a couple of other things, obviously!)

COCTEAU Voix humaine pochette disque2

Day 13: Auch kleine Dinge

Far from being able to forget about upcoming commitments, I found a few hours to relax with my Irish friend Laura. I also working on a presentation I need to give next week, but we were also able to unwind and chat over coffee and even a glass of wine. Very grateful for precious little things!


Day 14: My Funny Valentine’s

A Valentine’s day away from Love and Home, and under work pressure. Not exactly how you would picture Valentine’s Day, but I am still lucky to have good friends near me, and a watchful love, even if from a distance. I feel anyway like celebrating a magnificent sunny Sunday, and a (lonely) room with a view!

A room with a view

Day 15-17: En route

Leaving Maynooth for three intense days of work and presentations in Cork. Pretty excited to see new scenarios and meet new people. Loads of work and nerves await me, but I love being greeted and spoiled by new hosts and friends.

A view of Cork City from Patrick’s Quay

Day 18: Time after Time

Time to resume work with my Irish Mentor Chris Morris, before I actually go back to Switzerland tomorrow. It’s been quite a journey, but a wrap-up is much needed in order to schedule work for the next few months. As a matter of fact, between February and April, besides resuming work at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel,  I will be presenting my work at international conferences and undertaking my training in the UK, while my trip to Harvard is getting unbelievably close!


Day 19: Time to Say Goodbye

Time to leave my Irish family here in Maynooth. Once again, the degree of love and empathy I experienced during my journey through this yet unripe Irish Spring went beyond my expectations. I am blessed to have such colleagues and friends, and I look forward to actually sharing ideas and projects with them. I will see them again soon, when spring will be actually all over, for the delight of those of us who keep traveling nonetheless, through gray and blue clouds.

Flying back to Switzerland