The men shave every day.
Almost nobody wears shades.
The tea's great, the coffee's tired, and the Guinness does taste different but I suppose so does a Coke in the States.
But the first thing you notice coming down from the clouds is that it really is green.
I mean the greens are green. Must be the northern light, the high white sea air. Blowing in and blowing everything else out but for some reason jacking up the affect of …the emerald.
I'm in Ireland. Land of my fore bearers. For the first time.
And the other thing you notice right away is how much they like pool. Or snooker. Or whatever the Hell it's called. It's on national tv. Gets more coverage than tennis or the NFL even their own soccer teams. It's all over the papers. Intense fellows in tight vests (waistcoats) and ridiculous checkered pants, being spoken of as "hard men", magicians, wizards.
The announcers telling the audience to keep it down.
Keep it down.
I went to see a play about Northern Ireland this afternoon. You could have cut the silence with a knife. You could have set a tea cup on it.
I've rarely been in a theater that was so focused on a common point.
It's a common complaint that the Irish like to talk, that they're good at it but I think what they're good at is listening. They weigh nuance, tone, lilt like nobody else….and in this particular play those things added up to whether someone lived or died.
It was something to sit in a room with people of an age that any one of them could have been one of the killers- or soldiers- on stage. Or known one. Or cared.
And then the lights came up, we applauded - that contained steady applause, like a stream's sound between narrow banks- when an audience truly likes a thing, it's not loud nobody hoots but it keeps going and you see it on the actors' faces, "Ah yes, I hear you.."- and out we went into the drizzle.
It does rain all the time. God bloody bless it. What heaven to be in a place where water wind and clouds are constant. When the sun comes out it's like live music coming out a city door.
If I didn't come from here someone seven generations ago must have paid at least a long visit.
I woke this morning to a church bell. Real iron being hit down the street somewhere calling the faithful. I get the feeling that everyone here is one of the faithful but they don't always come.
Sat in a bar the first night and beyond the fact I was proud I'd powered thru the jet lag I was plain happy to be in drinking establishment …no... a place where people gather and other people are good enough to serve beer…... and there was no tv. Not a game, not a network show, not that dull hum in the background, with a row of faces facing away from each other as they spoke- but a room full of people talking, in circles, in a steady murmur, a little like the applause after the play, but softly.
I sat with two people I'd never met, one from Dublin the other married to him and from Pittsburgh. She was a medievalist, he was a pharmacist. Both were generous to this stranger, him buying more rounds than I did and she from my city telling me about this ancient city she'd been adopted by and adopted.
We were about two blocks from the ring road, what had been the ring of the wall of the old city against its river and she said it's strange to be in a place that unlike the rest of europe wasn't destroyed by a recent war but by an ancient struggle that's been pulling down churches and houses and schools for centuries. You'll find older buildings in London than you will here because until the 1920s London made sure what was left of history here was theirs. Or what they wanted in Ireland.
If my mother had been born here she would have been 7 years younger than the Free State. My grandfather might have fought in the streets.
It's funny. When you get to place you get it.
I might know it intellectually and I might still laugh off including Ireland as I talk about the British Isles, "Sorry, but you know what I mean!" But here I am and I feel it as plain as day. This was an occupied country.
And then we say good night and make jokes about the Irish penchant for public urination and the American penchant for guns and walking back along the canal it all feels like….what might have been home to someone I knew.