Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two versions

Version #1: She is researching a book about how there would not be an HSBC today were it not for the dozen or so young Irishmen who landed in Hong Kong in the mid to late 1800s.

Version #2: She is researching her family tree.

Both of the previous statements are true when it comes to describing what I am up to these days, yet the first leaves me feeling that my work has some merit, while the second leaves me feeling like a doddering old fool who should be left to her tatting.

Why is this? Why should one version trigger more cultural coin than the other?

In Victorian times, that there was a high regard for the role of amateur in the development of knowledge. The notion of a Gentleman Scholar was not an oxymoron – although because women were not yet regarded as Persons, they didn’t count and so therefore, I wouldn’t have either. The events where these men gathered to gabble about their most recent discoveries were expected to support the advancement of human knowledge and understanding – the latter being what is virtually impossible to find these days with a quick Google.

Do we look down our collective noses at bird watching in the same way as we do when we hear the worlds: family history? Do we have that same inner judgemental voice that would regard bird watching as frivolous while by contrast ornithology is decidedly important? I don’t think so. Perhaps to some extent we do, but my sense is that we don’t regard bird watching as quite as daft as trudging around gravestones, transcribing old deeds, and scrolling microfilm past glazed eyeballs.

Sometimes I wonder if there might not be a wee touch of sexism in how we judge the differences. After all, there is a disproportionate number of women in the study of family history, while it is disproportionately males who twitch their binoculars in the direction of every tweet, hoot and caw of the winged species.

The reality is that both ornithology and the study of history would be kneecapped were it not for the contributions of bird watchers and genealogists respectively. Amateurs often start with the observable bits of detail while the scholar often is good for contributing the grand organizing view, and there is a middle point where the two blur. These days, the twin tools of computers and the internet have made the blur territory even larger.

For myself, I am actually incapable of constructing a history that is both accurate and compelling without first nailing down the who, the when and the where. That is what the family tree is for, nothing more. It is simply the bones, and they are absolutely necessary for adding on the flesh and creating context. It is only after I have the bones all connected that I feel confident to venture a guess at the whats and the whys and wherefores of it all.

Okay, for some people- and even me too when I am procrastinating - there is the baseball card collecting aspect to it all. Whatever.

Actually, the main point of this blog is to give you heads up about my next one which will terminally boring to anyone who doesn’t have a passion for reconstructing the skeletons in the JACKSON closet.

Consider yourself forewarned. I think I will write it tomorrow.

Blogging Time

The day before I started this trip, I decided to launch myself into blog-land. With all the buzz of impending departure, there was not time for sober second thought. It was more like lets get this bird in the air, and I simply squeezed it in amongst a great swat of other things that I both needed and wanted to do.

Make granola for Andreas, enough for six weeks, Tick. Have lunch with Vanessa. Yum and Tick. Do check in with KLM. Tick. And so on.

Not that I hadn’t been thinking about starting a blog for some time, but for some reason I had always felt daunted. Often when I went out for a coffee or lunch with my friend Colleen, which is not often enough, she would shake my cage and say, You gotta have a blog. People will love it. One of the things that I love about Colleen is that she always has more confidence in me than I do. Yeah, well.

Colleen is a travel writer and her blog is at times heart warming, other times informative, and at other times it is just totally out there zany. I read them all, and when I am travelling it makes me feel as if I am still wrapped in the warm coat of her presence.

Some of my favourite Colleen blogs are the ones where she has included videos. There is one about her chickens named Karma, Confidence and Courage. I think that blog is called Chickens at Large. Or else, there is the one where a woman in St. Lucia is pitching her various hot sauces. She has a search engine, so it is easy to find these two amongst the hundreds of blogs that she has done to date. SEE: http://colleenfriesen.com/blog/

Another couple of friends, Kerith and Sarah also have a blog. I think of them every time I make excuses to myself about not being free to both craft and post another blog. One of theirs was both composed and posted while they were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I kid you not. Kerith had a solar blanket draped over his backpack and used his thumbs and his mobile phone to keep us all in touch with their progress.

On top of this, Sarah climbed this mountain as she does everything in life – with one leg. The other was taken off decades ago thanks to the idiocy and immorality of a drunk driver. She was a child at the time, and had been simply riding home at dusk on her bicycle as so many of us have done. In the flick of a steering wheel, her whole life was thrown one of those major curve balls that we all hope and pray to never have to embrace.

Her blog is centred on the development of a new type of crutch that is so much more than a crutch that she has called it: Sidestix. They are the Ferraris of crutches and incorporate both Sarah’s imagination and life experience with Kerith’s engineering know how. For example, the top of the line shock absorbers mean that the shoulders of those who use them are protected. Think of what our hips get like as we age. Now imagine if our shoulders had to do the work of our hips. Bingo. Sidestix are the answer.

Of course Sarah being Sarah, this crutch is set up so you can clip on snowshoes, pitons, skies or anything else one might want. Not that I do any of these things myself with my two still reasonably good legs, but Sarah does and plans to continue even though she is now past the half-way mark of her first century. SEE: http://sidestix.com/journal/

There is one more site that I want to mention. Yesterday, my friend Morgan alerted me to a blog by his friend Derek, a friend I met only briefly at Morgan’s wedding, but whom I immediately liked.

Derek is forty something years old with a wife and two children. He is also living while dying from cancer. I reread his blog this morning while I was still tucked in bed at Linda’s house in Belfast, and I bawled my eyes out. Not only because this is all so sad, but because it is also all so good. Derek is not only living with dying, but writing about it with a grace and clarity that is a gift to all of us. Big time. SEE: http://www.penmachine.com/2010/11/endgame

Back down to earth here and my small little patch of it focused on the deeds and misdeeds of people 300 years ago, you can probably see how each of these three people are hard acts to follow – each in their own way – but I promise to post a few more blogs in the next few days. Whether they will turn out to be inane or whatever, at least I hope to honour the more than 2,500 of you who have so far climbed aboard in the past month – a number that totally slays me. I can’t believe this whole new world.

And now, I think I’ll get out of bed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Till its Gone

Last Monday, Christine and I did a bit of a gadabout which included the Creggan graveyard. Back in 1839, it was described as: the last resting-place of all creeds and classes, as well as many bitterly opposed in life, sharing it with princes, poets, pastors and paupers. It is also the last resting place of many of my ancestors, who were probably none of the above.

Ever since this most recent visit though, I can’t get that line from a Joni Mitchell song out of my head:

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone

In this case, I know what is gone – at least one gravestone is missing – but, unlike Joni, I haven’t a clue what I might have had, that is, if it hadn’t gone.

I do know that in 1795 arrangements were made by David Jackson’s family for 16 feet square for a grave lot adjoining Mr. Johnston and that both lots had been granted with liberty to enclose same. The Jackson’s lot still has a solid iron fence anchored in a concrete curb, although the gate has been torn off and left there, and the Johnston’s has a tall masonry wall. So far, so good.

You would think then that since the Jacksons had ample offspring, that there would be a fair number of stones and inscriptions here, but actually there are only two. One for an infant, and one for a number of family members. Both of them were transcribed in 1972 when Kevin McMahon published Inscriptions in Creggan Graveyard. The puzzling thing is that our family also has a transcription of a third headstone done by Mary Skuce sometime before she died in 1958 - but there is nothing there today except an expanse of grass where it might have been.

If Mary Skuce’s transcription had been a perfect fit with the facts as we know them, then the absence of this stone wouldn’t really matter, but unfortunately it raises as many questions as it answers. The inscription was probably badly eroded, so it is no surprise that there are some errors in her transcription. I’d like to walk through it slowly since it is easier to work through it in pieces than in one great gulp:

To the memory of George Jackson

late of Creggan who departed this

life Sept 3rd 1782 aged 64 years

also to the memory of Margaret Jackson

wife of the above named.

Creggan Charter School records agree with this death date. We also have George’s will dated July 1782. His given age at death, however, means that he would have been born about 1718 which means he would have been only 19 years old when he was hired to run the school. That’s a little on the young side. Also, he was the first schoolmaster when it opened in 1737, and schoolmasters were supposed to be married, so he may have had a first wife who died for whom we have no record. Again, he’s a bit on the young side for that. The wife that we know about was at Creggan at least by 1744, because the Creggan Church records note: Mrs Jackson to be payed for working ye surpus & the linen for the communion table and keeping ye vessels clean.

When did George’s wife, Margaret, die? We had her death as December 7th, 1797, but this seems to have been a clear misreading of the transcription. That death date actually belongs to a second George Jackson included in this next bit, but who was this other George Jackson?

George Jackson who departed this

life the 7th day of Decr 1797 in the

75th year of his age

If the age at death is accurate, he would have been born in 1722, which makes him too old to be a son of the first George. Given that the stone was probably hard to read, perhaps the pertinent text should have been: 45th year of his age not 75th. If he was age 45, then he could have been a son of the first George since the date of birth would now be about 1752.

Perhaps this second George fits with either Richard JACKSON (1778-1848) of Liscalgot or John JACKSON (1804-1840) of Tullyvallen. Liscalgot is a townland adjacent to Urker, and was the site of the Charter School where the first known George and his family lived before moving one townland over. Tullyvallen is just to the north.

The townland of Tullyvallen is one of those niggling clues that resists interpretation. In 1688, about 249 acres of Tullyvallen, Parish of Creggan were granted to Thomas BALL to the use of Daniel & Sarah JACKSON. In another source, Thomas BALL of Creggan was also listed in Ferguson Certificates as having 5,253 acres as an assignee of Edward Richardson, Ellinor Blackiston, Dan Jackson, Sarah Jackson, Elisabeth Hepburne and Katherine Jones.

So, who the heck were these JACKSONs and why were they part of the Cromwellian confiscations in the Barony of Upper Fews, Country Louth? Just to complicate things further, Tullyvallen was also known as Tollyvallen.

Are you following me, or have your eyes glazed over?

So far, I do not know where these Tullyvallen JACKSONs fit in, let alone where they came from, but there a few possibilities: Daniel JACKSON in the Coleraine JACKSON tree and Rev Daniel JACKSON of Santry who died in 1707. Also, about a hundred years after the appearance of Daniel and Sarah at Tullyvallen, the 1766 Religious Census noted that a protestant Richard JACKSON lived at Tullyvallen.

Part of why I want to pin these JACKSONs down is that in 1739, turf & cows were purchased from an unnamed Mr. JACKSON – father of George JACKSON - for the use of the Charter School. Tullyvallen is close enough to trot a few cows over, along with a few wagons of turf.

Anyway, this is enough for one day. The rest of the inscription, along with my suggested changes indicated in red, reads as follows:

and also

To the memory of their son David

Jackson late of Liscalgat-- he died

suddenly on the 13th day of Febry 1796

in the 8th year of his age

also the body of Mary (Cullinar +?) Gillmor

daughter of the above George who

departed this life 28th of Sept 1790 aged 70

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray

As I zoned out on the bus from Dublin on my way to stay with Christine at Gilford Castle, I was initially content to simply watch the landscape unfurl. Then the MP3 sounds emitting from the ears of the lad in the seat behind me started to get under my skin. It had that thin, tinny sound as if he and I each had our heads in separate tin cans that were somehow linked by string – the way that we used to do that as kids. So, I met fire with fire and hauled out my own IPod.

Since I was going to be seeing a production of The Picture of Dorian Gray later that night, I decided to see if I had Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis with me. I had first heard it on a five CD set that my daughter Sabrina had given me last Christmas. In it, Rzewski recites passages from a letter that Oscar Wilde wrote when he was in prison at Reading to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. Part of what makes this composition so under-your-skin-effective is the use not only of voice and piano, but also whistles, hums, sighs, moans and a bleat or two from a bicycle horn.

 Unfortunately, it turned out that I hadn’t copied that particular piece onto my IPod yet, so I contented myself with several sections of Rzewski’s The Road. It was infinitely better than the tin-can-on-my-head buzz emanating from behind me. By the end of the ninth piece, the bus was on the downward slope approaching Banbridge.

The play based on Dorian Gray was staged at a converted barn at Anaverna House, Ravensdale, Co. Louth, the ancestral home of the Fortescue family, and also adjacent to a couple of townlands where previous generations of COULTERs and BRADFORDs had lived – families that figure in the ancestry of the Thomas Jackson, the character who is the focus of my current research. The serendipity of this bit of geographical proximity amused me.

The owner of Anaverna, a wonderful gent called Vere Lenox-Conyngham, has transformed the buildings in the stable yard into a number of artists' studios and music recital rooms. It is a space that has an ease and organic integrity as one room flows into another. Supper was prepared by the same young man who had painted the stage backdrop – and both were perfect. After dinner, about 40-50 of us sat in two sides on either side of the stage area. There is a word for this kind of staging, but I forget what it is.

The adaptation of the novel was spot on, the acting was surefooted and according to one member of the audience who chatted with us afterwards, the production was even superior to the April version. It had played then to full houses in the James Joyce Tea Room at Bewleys on Grafton St., Dublin. Certainly, I left with a satisfied smile on my face. Part of the pleasure was also catching a glimpse from time to time of Vere, whose face radiated a boyish delight in the pleasure of the audience.

One of the other bits of serendipity that night was that we were joined by a painter friend of Christine’s, Lindy Guinness also known as Lindy Dufferin, since she is also the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, aka Lady Dufferin. Perhaps not co-incidentally, given her ancestry, she did have the requisite Guinness in hand. Age-wise Lindy is technically in the territory of seventy, but her body moves with the ease and impetuousness of a teen-ager. She also goes jogging daily. Do you think that kind of vitality could be bottled? I could use a whiff of it from time to time. During the entire meal, she was nonstop irrepressible, talking and corkscrewing around, the better to hear Christine’s every word. As a bystander, I was simply listening and watching and enjoying every minute of it.

Her estate at Clandeboye is just down the road from where I will visiting my 3rd cousin Eilie in a week or so in Bangor, Co. Down. Unlike most of us, Lindy has a staff of something like 300 running the show and taking care of her. I feel like a queen, she said, I do have to say I love it. As for me, I found her absolute frankness to be a breath of fresh air.

At Clandeboye, there are hundreds of acres of farmlands, woodlands, gardens and dozens of buildings. Heck, they even have a saw mill, and make yoghurt there. Not at the same time and place, I presume. In fact, the whole estate has been so well run over the years that it has been able to stave off being chewed up by piecemeal development like so many other Irish estates.

The estate also has an essential historic value as a completely intact repository of records reflecting several centuries in the life of an Irish Ascendancy family, a family which was pivotal in many of the significant events of not only Ireland but the British Empire – including Canada. When Lord Dufferin was Governor General of Canada, starting in 1872, the Supreme Court of Canada was one of many institutions introduced under his watch.

These days, Lindy is not only well known for her advocacy of environmental issues – after all, the headquarters of Northern Ireland’s Conservation Volunteers lies within the estate – but also for her gifts as a painter. She is about to have an exhibit of her recent paintings at the Palaise Royal in France. You can also catch a glimpse of her own version of her life in a Sunday Times article, April 19, 2009.  As I said earlier, do you think they can bottle this intensity of focus and vitality?

When we got home, Christine showed me a biography written about Lindy’s famous sister-in-law, Caroline Blackwell. Caroline was not only a novelist, but had a habit of marrying illustrious men, the painter Lucien Freud and the poet Robert Lowell being two of them. I have ordered a copy of Dangerous Muse on www.abebooks.com  because the next morning when I dipped into Caroline’s biography was when the final serendipity penny from the previous day dropped.

Before I started out on this trip, I had done some work on the BLACKWELLs of County Down because one of the descendants of Isabell BLACKWOOD, who died in 1738, was a Susanna NICHOLSON who had married a Hugh JACKSON. He was one of the local merchant and farmer JACKSONs who show up in the Bangor area in the 1600s and onwards. I had also already found a mention of a Mrs Anne BLACKWOOD née JACKSON – though I still don’t know who her husband was. She had died 30 Jan 1814 aged 90, and was buried at the Bangor Abbey graveyard. Since her age at death means that she was born in 1724, this date is early enough to intrigue the hell out of me.

Who knows where this next set of questions will take me? Mostly, I never know where the next set of critical slam dunks will turn out to be. Curious. Curious. Curious.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Too much Food.

Usually, I start my Dublin days with a few pieces of wheaten bread and either almond butter or cheese and a daub of either jam or marmalade. With a mug of coffee, I am good to go. Today, I had run out of bread and didn’t want to buy more since I am heading up north tomorrow. So I had a couple of oaten crackers.

By the time I was walking up Grafton Street past St. Stephen’s Green for my last day at Dublin’s archives, I realized that two oat cakes were not going to cut it. I usually start work at archives at opening time and work right through, stopping only for water. I emerge six hours or more later as a shadow of my former self, achingly hungry, and ready to scarf groceries from passing pedestrians. And that level of hunger comes after my wheaten bread start.

Then God in her wisdom gave me a gift. I spotted a Crêperie on Lower Kevin Street, just as I was about to turn down Angiers and then left onto Bishops. It brought back memories of my teen years in Montreal and the Crepe Bretonne, a restaurant that made my sixteen year old self feel so sophisticated and full. Just a nibble, I thought.

Fafies is the only place to serve food like this in Dublin. Check them out. They make organic savoury galette crêpes with a special blend of buckwheat flour which they import directly from Brittany to Dublin. The staff – possibly owners - told me more, and I succumbed. Utterly, and I ordered a mushroom egg galette. This turned out to be more food than I planned, so I had to walk around the area a bit in order to eat it at a reasonable pace. But oh, was this galette worth it. If I were not leaving Dublin tomorrow, I would be back in a flash.

The walk meant that I discovered St. Peter’s cathedral as well as St Peter’s Park which includes a literary celebration of about a dozen of Ireland’s most famous male writers. The park was restored thanks to the generosity of Jamieson’s Whiskey and the publicans of Dublin. Wall Street has a name for this: Synergy. Hmm. Maybe not.

The day at the archives started out as a not unusual slog. Order up a microfilm, thread it into the machine, flash read what is possible and hope I am not missing the obvious. Unspool and return it, get another one out and repeat the previous steps. Oh sure, I harvested a little fact here and a little fact there, but nothing that was amounting to much until I found one of the particular nuggets I had been seeking for quite some time.

I had known for years where Thomas Jackson had been born in 1841 in Co. Leitrim, but I knew nothing about his father’s farm or the house he started life in. Now I do. It was modest, about 39’ by 22 feet and stood about 12 feet high. It had a thatched roof, solid stone walls and was finished without ornament. In essence, it was the traditional thatched Irish bungalow. The land around it was good clayey soil... generally used for meadow although some of it was cold clayed and gravelly soil ...rather shallow on cold white gravel subsoil. Other parts of it were good rushy pasture. All this, I learned and more, thanks to the hand-written notebook of an assessor in 1841.

The notebooks of other assessors were not as revealing. Some kept saying No house in this townland is worth £5 per annum – this in spite of the fact that maps and church records would indicate otherwise. It made me wonder if one’s house could get dropped from the assessment if you greased the right palm and your house was also modest enough to just fly beneath the radar with a little bit of an extra nudge. I clearly have more to learn here.

After working till closing time, I packed up my gear and stumbled out into the early evening of my last night in Dublin. I had decided some time ago that I wanted to close this part of the trip with a repeat appearance at a Nepalese restaurant called Diwali's on South Great Georges Street.

I had been there a week earlier and had my socks knocked off with the range and subtlety of the seasonings. That day, I had been hooked the early bird special for £16.99, not a bad price for a decent meal in Dublin. First up was a basket of poppadoms with three kinds of condiments, one made of onions marinated in a light red pepper sauce, another a sweeter and lighter hit of pepper and a third of mint yoghurt. I tried them in rotation, then counterclock-wise, then at random. Every which way worked. Already, I felt like assuming a prayerful position.

Then I was served Sakahari Samosas, perfectly plated with ying/yang sauces either side of them. The crunch of the crust counter-balanced the softness of the potato and cumin was clearly evident but not so much as to dominate. My main was the Achiri Lamb. The only problem was there was more than I could finish. How do people do it?

That meal was also the first time I have ever been seen someone try to dine and dash. He was a white man, wearing a blue turban and a silver serpentine bracelet. His checked shirt covered an expanse of belly and wasn`t tucked in. I wouldn`t have caught it, but the waiter was onto him in a flash. Like a dancer, he interposed himself between the man and the exit and then engaged him in conversation. He had some sort of passive force field that moved the man back into the restaurant. They kept talking. When the waiter had to stand aside to let in new customers, the man gained ground towards the door, but the waiter was like water and was once again between him and the exit. The dance went on for at least fifteen minutes, until the man pulled out his wallet, paid and actually thanked the waiter. Ghandi would have been proud.

I did my best to honour my second Dalwali meal, but after starting the day with that buckwheat galette, I had to leave a third behind. Sad. The Gorhali Sag Pat Sizzler was a mixture of zuchinni, eggplant, onions, peppers and tomatoes that were marinated and then cooked and served on a cast iron platter. I know that it is usually a put down to describe something as all sizzle and no steak but that was exactly what this was and it was perfect.

In the end, I waddled and burped my way back to The Fleet Street Hotel promising that I won’t eat this much again. Or at least, not any time soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chinese Food in Ireland

My first encounter with Chinese food in Ireland was from a take-out in the City of Armagh in 1995. It was my first time back in Ireland as an adult, and  I was traveling with my brothers Bruce & Struan, and Struan’s wife, Sara. After eating pub food about for more than a week, we were getting a little crazy for vegetables. Much of Northern Irish cuisine seemed to have one foot in the 19th Century and the other in the 20th . It was great food for farmers, but a little heavy on the hips for the rest of us.

I once saw an Irish T-shirt: I gave up potatoes, drink and sex – it was the hardest day of my life. Okay, I substituted one word on the T-shirt. Guess which one.

Back in 1995, at the Charlemount Arms Restaurant on the main drag of Armagh, my brother Bruce placed his order and was asked, Would you be after having chips with that? He didn’t realize that his meal already included the de rigour mashed as well as baked spuds. Now, since he said yes, it also came with chips as well.

In Irish restaurants in 1995, anything green on a plate was most likely to be a sprig of parsley, so when we hit on the idea of Chinese food to address our vegetable deficit, we were already salivating.

Our order was taken by a woman of Chinese extraction who spoke with a flawless Armagh accent, and it included pork and vegetables, chicken and vegetables, and beef and vegetables. We would have ordered vegetables alone, but that was not an option. We should have known we were in big time trouble when she asked us, Would you be after having chips with that?

Sure enough, back at our B&B when we peeled back the aluminum covering, we saw pork and glutinous gravy with a padding of sliced cabbage beneath, then chicken and glutinous gravy with a padding of sliced cabbage beneath, and naturally, the same same for the beef.

Fortunately, the one foot of Irish restaurant cuisine that had been firmly anchored in the 19th Century has taken a massive stride into the 21st. Ethnic restaurants now abound and the traditional Irish restaurants have also taken their cue. It is not unusual to find – gasp – broccoli.

This time in Dublin, I ate at two Chinese restaurants. The first was a mid-week lunch special for €8.90 at Jimmy Chungs which bills itself as Scotland’s largest Chinese Buffet Chain. This seems to be a somewhat nervy claim to make in the heart of downtown Dublin. None the less, €8.90 is only one euro more than what a McDonald’s meal will set you back, so the place was understandably humming with happy customers.

Now, if you were a weightlifter in the heavy-weight division, there is enough animal protein available in this buffet to enable you to lift a Volkswagen in a clinch. There were several choices amongst the usual animal fare: chicken, pork, beef. Some of it was quite good, with a hint of anise in the seasoning. The only stand alone vegetable dish was a sort of slurry with cabbage being dominant and a few slices of carrot for colour. Perhaps Jimmy Chung knows his market and perhaps this is what sells. Oh yes, there was also the ubiquitous chips. As my vegetable option for this meal, I decided to try them with the garlic spare ribs. Not bad.

While I can recommend Jimmy Chungs for a fast, cheap, filling and reasonably satisfying meal, my most happy discovery when it came to Chinese food in Dublin was Fans Cantonese Restaurant.

I chose Fans, not because of anything that I had heard about the food but because of its address: 60 Dame Street. This is the same address that was on the 1867 wedding certificate of my great-grandfather, Thompson Browne. Both he and his father, Samuel, were merchants in the family business, the woolen trade. Their offices and Dublin residence was situated exactly where Fan’s stands now. Ironically, Thompson’s eldest son went to Hong Kong in the late 1800s to work for HSBC and then 35 years ago, Hong Kong immigrants came here to open this restaurant.

Because I am traveling on a somewhat modest budget, the €15 Early Bird Special advertised on the billboard attracted me. Four courses, count ‘em, four courses for the beyond reasonable price of €15. 

When I entered, I felt a little concern over the fact that I was apparently the only customer. The other dozen or more tables were all empty. This seemed strange. Just down the road, I had walked past a diner filled with people who were all chowing down burgers and fries and “three way chilli” for not much less than €15 all in. Were the empty chairs in Fans telling me something that I should heed?

I need not have worried. Probably, it is the ones in the diner who should be worried. They were missing out big time.

At Fans, the service was prompt, the background music was pitched loud enough to hear but not so loud as to overwhelm, the napkin was cloth and the chairs were all covered in white silk brocade. A basket of warm shrimp crackers started me off, followed by sweet and sour soup, black bean chicken, rice, ice cream with fruit, and a coconut macaroon. Fan’s black bean chicken rivaled any I have had at Hons on Robson Street in Vancouver, or at the higher end Chinese restaurant, Sun Sui Wah on Main Street. The chicken was tender, there was more than enough of it, the green peppers still had their crunch and the sauce was flavourful without committing the sin of being greasy. All in all, an unexpected treat.

60 Dame Street. Not an address to forget.