Monday, June 18, 2012

Travel and Six Degrees of Separation, by Harvey Gould

"You'll receive many pleasures from travel," my dad told me once, "one of them including possible unintended friendships."  He then told me of the time he and my mom were on vacation in Mexico and on a bus in Mexico City.  Not far from them, three men were jabbering away in Spanish.  My folks, wanting to express something privately to each other, spoke in Yiddish.  One of the men turned to my parents and asked, "Jewish?" Three Mexican Jews and two American Jews on a bus in Mexico City, all of whom spoke Yiddish? What are the odds?  Whatever they were, this led to a friendship that for many decades kept them in touch with one another.
I remembered that story when I was introduced to the owner of this blog, Jan Schwert. Here’s the background.
In 1971 one of my wife’s and my friends, Dan Flaxman, traveled throughout Ireland. During that trip he stayed at a B&B in Dingle, owned by a Mrs. Farrell. He returned to Ireland in 1972 and 1973, both times again staying at Mrs. Farrell’s B&B.

Left to right, Sarah Flaxman, Harvey Gould and Dan Flaxman at Slea Head, Dingle

In 1990, Jan and her husband, Ron, were in Dingle and met the same Mrs. Farrell. Jan’s blog contains numerous stories of events that occurred to her and Ron in the course of their extensive travels. Years after their encounter with Mrs. Farrell, Jan put up a post on her blog about meeting her.
 In 1998 my wife and I were returning to Ireland for an extended stay, something we ended up doing over the course of a twenty-year period. That year, we invited Dan and his mother to spend some time with us there. They came, and as a side trip, we went to Dingle. While there, Dan insisted on trying to find Mrs. Farrell’s B&B. Though by then it had been perhaps thirty years since he’d been there, we couldn’t talk him out of his hopeless quest. Lo and behold, not only did he find the B&B, but Mrs. Farrell was still there and operating it and we spent an afternoon with her, having tea and listening to Dan reminiscing about the time he’d stayed there many decades earlier.

Harvey's wife Karen at Dingle with Great Blasket Island and movie set from Ryan's Daughter

In 2011 I published memoirs about the years my wife and I spent in Ireland. I included a chapter on Dan’s and his mother’s visit, and, among other things, told the story about his insistence on trying to find Mrs. Farrell (though, in my book, I refer to her as Mrs. Murphy).  Inspired by reading that story, and again recalling Mrs. Farrell, Dan started searching the web on another impossible quest—to find information about her. Voila! Our modern day Don Quixote found Jan’s post about Mrs. Farrell. After he and Jan exchanged a few emails, Dan put Jan and me in touch with one another and not only have we become “email” buddies, but she’s done a guest post on my blog about (drum roll, please)—Mrs. Farrell.
So, dad, boy were you right! Indeed there are unintended friendships from travel! In this case, it started with a few strangers meeting the same woman in a tiny town in Ireland. Then, through an unforeseeable series of coincidences, they were introduced to one another with a forty year gap from the initial meeting to the introduction. Based on those remarkable circumstances, Jan and I are now doing guest posts on each other’s blogs. Who said there’s no such thing as six degrees of separation? Here’s to travel and here’s to our own Don Quixote!    

Guest blogger Harvey Gould is the author of A Fierce Local: Memoirs of My Love Affair with Ireland, a finalist in the San Francisco Writers Conference Indie Publishing Contest. His book includes tales of fascinating people he and his wife met and unique events that occurred to them during extended stays in Ireland over a twenty-year span. The memoir is inspired by the lessons the couple learned when Harvey was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told he had no more than five years to live. For more information about his book, visit, follow him on Twitter at @afiercelocal and "like" his page on Facebook. Harvey also blogs at


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