Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How to Make an Auld Fella in Cork Smile

This past weekend, Peter and I went on a trip to deepest, darkest Cork. The original plan involved a week’s holiday in a rented cottage in the western part of the county. The scenery in that part of the world ranges from interesting to spectacular and since Peter’s been working on augmenting his Irish photography portfolio, it seemed like the perfect working vacation location.

I sort of messed up the original plan when I accepted my contract position, but since Halloween is a public holiday here, I was able to accompany Peter on a long weekend. He’s still out there, snapping away in the wilds of western Cork. Last I heard from him, he’d shot about 15 rolls of film, gotten soaked to the bone on three separate occasions and discovered some beautiful locations. You’ll hear more details about the trip on Travels with Grandma, when I have pictures to accompany the report.

I booked a train ticket to get from Cork to Dublin on Halloween. I was traveling fairly lightly – just a regular backpack and my hurley. You might find this hard to believe, but my hurley is the secret to happy photography outings. Peter takes his photographs and I run around like a mad thing, whacking a sliotar around wherever we happen to be. I stay out of the shot, far enough way not to damage anything and close enough for him to call me over if he needs help.

It’s much better for me than sitting in the car or reading or laying around on the grass. I enjoy physical activity and I need a lot of practice to become competent at my new sport. Peter practices his craft, I practice my sport and we both go home happy.

On Monday, Peter left me in Cork about 2 hours before my train was due to leave, so I walked around for a while to pass the time. During my wanderings, I learned an interesting thing about old men in Cork – they love to see a girl with a hurley.

I got smiles and “hellos” from much of the male over-70 crowd. One guy sidled up to me and asked “Yer not going to beat me up with that are ye?” I laughed and told him “Absolutely not. You’re not wearing a helmet.” I had a couple of other auld fellas make similar jokes. Apparently, the charms of the hurley are not limited to Cork or to old guys. I had a nice chat with the cab driver in Dublin, all of it started after he asked me if I played camogie.

It’s not a great time to be an American in Europe. Eleven years ago, I had a wonderfully warm reception in Ireland – I never bought a drink the whole time I was here. I could walk into a bar and have cheerful conversations within a few minutes. When people heard my accent, it made them want to talk to me. It was easy and I’ve wondered if part of it was just that I was at a different stage in my life – I was a young, single woman traveling alone.

Ireland has changed a lot in eleven years. Cheap airfares mean that the country is inundated with tourists, not all of them very respectful or polite. Cheap airfares and the buoyant Irish economy also mean that the Irish get to travel more and are less interested in finding out what America is like from an American because they’ve already been there.

America has also changed a lot in eleven years. The go-it-alone-cowboy foreign policy of George Bush does not play well in Ireland at all. He’s seen as a dangerous fool at best and a hell-bent-on-destruction crusader at worst. I didn’t vote for Bush, but that doesn’t really matter. The majority of the people in the United States re-elected Bush so every American is guilty by association.

Assimilating into a new culture is a difficult thing to do, particularly when your country of origin is an object of ridicule, resentment and suspicion. When I started playing camogie, I was looking for an outlet for my energy and frustrations. I was hoping to make some friends and learn some new skills. I wanted to get fitter and faster. I never imagined that camogie and my hurley would improve my cultural acceptance. I guess that’s my bonus free in.

2 Comments:

At 3 November 2005 at 17:10, Blogger Shane said...

Hey it makes sense. Guys like sports, girls and weapons. Put them all together and you've got yourself a conversation starter.

I admire your desire to learn your new sport and I'm happy that it has also brought you the ancillary benefit of cultural assimilation.

 
At 5 November 2005 at 00:49, Blogger Career Guy said...

Well then, when we come to visit next, you'll have to bring your stick thingie so we too will be accepted. ("We're with her")!

 

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