Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Irish get it right

First one, and then two more shop girls move over closer. We talk and talk in the busiest department store in Cork, Ireland.
It happens a second time in a Killarney supermarket where I am asking directions to the tea aisle.
On the third occasion as I am passing by, the owner invites me inside his Galway pub in the middle of the afternoon for a look and a pint. To be truthful, I am with four or five others, and we have a grand tour. We are treated like long lost cousins from America, which in fact, some of my group could be.
It has been quite some time since I have had conversations like that. There are sharing of opinions to be digested, rather than differences to be confronted.
I left the United States and all the conservative-liberal hate talk behind for a month. It is a relief. And pure conversation for its own sake is a pleasant reminder of how lovely it can be.
Earlier in the week I visited Londonderry, or Derry, and walked the walled city and the outside streets to the peace bridge honoring the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998.
Here are the positive results of successful negotiations. Granted it isn’t perfect yet. However, it’s further from the years and years of bloody “Troubles” in the region.
A resident of Derry tells me, “First you must have conversation.”
Once I get a little confused and need assistance from someone to point me back in the right direction. I find out that the preferred way to ask for directions in Ireland is to turn the encounter into a social event, like when two strangers meet at a wedding reception.
Thus, I fell comfortably into conversation with an older gentleman donning his tam and walking stick. I have the usual explaining to do when he asks where I am from—“New York, but not the City of New York.” We converse about his relatives living in Toronto. He can relate somewhat to my neck of the woods. I leave with his recommendation for two pubs and a nearby botanical garden.
It never fails but an independent bookstore is a perfect place to have a conversation with other avid bookies. Ireland has its share, and such stores are alive and well.
Hodges Figgis in Dublin offers a huge selection of Irish literature. When I pick up a small paperback book of contemporary stories by a local author, two sales clerks tell me how she is a personal writer friend. Of course, we three go on about our own writing, too. I am made to feel quite at home on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.
Someone remarks to me that what they love about the Irish is that they don’t seem to be after your money. That is true of the Cork shop girls and the Dublin booksellers. The Irish want to know everything about you instead.
Yes, the Irish are talkers and writers with a quick wit. Theirs is an amazing literary past with four Pulitzer prizewinners in modern time. And storytellers. They are as numerous as small town pubs.
Perhaps that is why if you prefer to stay somewhat anonymous in your travels it is best to stick to larger cities and avoid small talk at all costs in rural places.
I stop for a cup of coffee in a tiny coastal town, and naturally, my camera is shooting pictures immediately. A woman about my age approaches and divulges with a twinkle in her eye that if I walk two blocks further north, I will find better flowers to photograph. We stroll together chatting, and yes, her gardens are magnificent.
A good rule of thumb in Ireland is to enter into a pub, stay for a drink and wait for something to happen. It will start with conversation and end with a fine evening of music by the peat fire. That is what the Irish have been doing for hundreds of years.
One night I am in a 300-year-old thatch roof pub. It is pouring buckets outside, and I huddle near the blazing fireplace. Local folk are finishing dinner. A musical group generally doesn’t start playing until people are warmed up with conversation. It is the center of everything Irish.
As the musician begins his repertoire of familiar tunes, a classic redheaded 4 year old hops up on the stool behind him. She is dressed in her finery with her long hair pulled back with a blue ribbon. I assume that she is his daughter until he tells the audience later that she is a child that comes with her parents and listens spellbound for an hour at a time. She is hearing the tunes and absorbing the words oblivious to the rest of us.
Ireland is an easy place to visit and feel right at home. I think that the people are very skilled at relating. There is fluidity to their language that makes it all sound so easy. It’s a skill less developed with other nationalities, and for the Irish it is so instinctive, it doesn’t even look like one.
I tap into the cultural warmth of Ireland and embrace it. Hopefully, I brought back a little bit of it, too. I’m looking forward to stopping on the street to have a chat with you.
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