Since 1991, there hasn't been a return flight from Ireland (and that's about twenty flights we're talking about here) on which I didn't "start a book." Always with the good ideas, I scribble wildly in my journal, or lacking that, an airplane napkin, a used beer mat I'd stuffed in my pocket at the session the night before, the back of my print-out ticket, or once, a barf bag. But this very well may be the first of such journals I actually will publish. Hooray for the unedited, un-peer-reviewed blog!
Funnily enough, I'm not sure I had much to say. Here's what I wrote on the return flight on Sunday, slightly edited:
Well, big deal. Another trip, and happy to be returning home. Friday, I wrote that "everything is better in Ireland." To which I say: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
It's a bit surprising that I even have the chance to write on this plane, as I've got my wee friend beside me, but she's finally self-occupied with one purple horse, a tiny mouse in a dress, and a pile of plastic accessories. Six hours into the flight now. Two to go, and to be honest, so far Mini Me has been fabulous.
Somehow, today I'm fresh as a daisy--at least on the inside. Coulda used a shower before the flight, but what the hell. I'd only get dirty again anyway. Last night's going away party finished up at 4 am. There were five of us left, and we were milking every second we could from each other's company. No one wanted to give in and go to bed; we kept asking each other for just one more song. It was great to hear our friend Gabo Roberts singing again. His voice is so powerful and natural, his delivery so heartfelt, it's really hard to understand why he's not famous. Seems to be people like that under every rock in Ireland, and Ireland has a lot of rocks.
Last night was a good old fashioned house party singsong, where eight or so people gathered around in a tight corner of the living room, and sang song after song, everyone chipping in on the ones they knew, which was most of them. This part of Ireland, I always miss. In America, if someone pulls out an instrument and begins to play, one or two people may listen, but most will continue to talk to each other loudly, often directly next to or in front of the musician, no matter how good the individual may be playing. In Ireland, if you're in the room with the session, then you either participate, listen, or leave. If you want to talk to your neighbor, it seems that you generally leave the room to do so.
Music is participatory, not background--and that has been one of the most difficult adjustments Steve has had to make here in America, though it's fair to say that it's an adjustment he hasn't made--and I hope he never does. Oh, you can find situations here in which people really will listen and sing along, but usually the room is lacking an ample supply of carnivores, and there's always this sneaking fear that someone might break into "Kumbaya" at any moment.
Let me just tell you, though, that even in Ireland, this sort of environment is quickly disappearing. For example, our first two days in Ireland, the talk everywhere was of "Jedward"--John and Edward Grimes, two Dubliners who'd made it through several eliminations of "The X-Factor," the British equivalent of American Idol, in all of its glitzy, grossly excessive glory. It appeared to be a novelty to have Irish artists make it so far on the show, and everyone was talking about it.
So, the big show was on, on our first Sunday in Dublin. It was George Michael night, and the twins did a version of Wham!'s "I'm Your Man," wearing all white: skinny jeans, blazers, high top sneakers, and "Choose Life" t-shirts, good Catholic boys they must be. Then there was the hair: an exaggerated bouffant rising five inches off the tops of their heads. They could barely sing, couldn't dance, but had those Elvis Presley crying eyes, and perhaps therein lay their appeal. Actually, I'm not really sure what their appeal was, but it was widespread. We were in a pub filled with about 200 people when the X-Factor came on, and all fell silent to watch their performance. The barmaid shouted, "There'll be no drinks served while this is on!" and everyone glued their eyes to the TV. God, it hurt to watch. All over the news, of course. Ain't they cute?
It is almost certain that the old Ireland is nearly gone. That's what happens with progress, eh? The Celtic Tiger came and went, but in its wake, though most people complain about recession, things are a heck of a lot better than they were before the feline invader. They're speculating on how bad it is, but they're doing it from the kitchen tables of their 4,000 square foot houses, from their kitchen extensions, from their comfy leather couches. It is my humble opinion that things ain't too bad, folks.
When I first arrived in 1991, the EU didn't exist. Ireland had its own currency, and its own laws. Things were very tough then. Ireland hadn't recovered from the horrid recession of the 1980s, and in the little town of Thurles where I first landed, and subsequently ran out of money in, and further subsequently fell in love in, and still further subsequently spent about six months in, things were very bad. 20% unemployment, no tourism. Everything felt dirty and grey. In my memory, the town then was dingy, outdated, backward, and depressed. I revisited that town on this trip, and was amazed to find twice the number of shops open, brightly painted shops, fully stocked shelves, cafes and restaurants, a BENETTON right on the square, and a brand new two-lane highway belting out of town and cutting across formerly untouched fields. It was great to see that the town had come along and appeared to be bustling... but the highway? DEPRESSING! It made me sad, but I'm just a visitor. I'm sure the locals are happy that they can get around more quickly--that is, those locals whose land wasn't destroyed by a concrete ribbon. The ones who like it most probably also were watching Jedward with great interest.
Progress. Ireland has come a long, long way, and much about that is good—but it has left behind a great deal in the process.
Progress most certainly has a price.
* * *
Speaking of progress, how is yours? We're at day 47--nearly halfway there, and man, this is going quickly. I'm afraid that I fell off the wagon a bit last week, only managing three days of real practice in the nine that we were away. I'm back on track now, and I did miss it. How about you?