Friday, October 29, 2010

Strange sounds on Dublin Bus

“...agus ...dúirt sé ...ach...agus ansin...”. I’m on the bus home on a Wednesday night. Tragically, when I first heard fragments of the slightly sharp cadences, I thought the two ladies were Scottish. Well, that’s what simply first came to mind.

No, it’s Irish. I think this is only the second time I’ve heard Gaeilge on Dublin Bus (having used it nearly every day for around 14 months now). And this second time, it’s the beautiful Donegal dialect.

“Hmmm, Garbhán, you say that as if you’re not from Donegal!” Aye, well, I am from Donegal, but since leaving I’ve adopted the ‘standard’ Irish – ya know, the one where the ‘fada’ is not ignored? It was only as a student at university when, defending Donegal Irish, I was meet with the slap-in-the-face realisation that Donegal Irish ignores fadas. ‘Tá’ in Donegal is, of course, spelled the same, but it’s pronounced ‘ta’ and not ‘taw’, as it should be. This becomes a big problem with words which are distinguished only by the addition of a fada, e.g. ‘ait’ and ‘áit’, meaning ‘odd, eccentric’ and ‘place, locality’ respectively. [I still call myself ‘Garvin’ and introduce myself as such most of the time, but I prefer ‘Garbhán’, pronounced ‘Gar-vaun’]

Moreover, during my ‘education’ in the Irish language, I had ‘teachers’ from all over the country, so not only did that lead to the subtle adoption of the nuances of the various dialects, but it sped up the wheels of confusion – and, with only one discernible competent Irish teacher to put on the brakes for a brief period, the wheels continued to roll.

If you, the reader, are not from Ireland, you may be presuming that I can ‘speak’ Irish. Aheh, no. Forced to learn something through an inadequate system and inadequate teachers led me to perennial frustration with the issue. [And if you are from Ireland, you probably not only appreciate the last comment, but you feel exactly the same way.] Consider studying Wittgenstein. On language. From the age of five. For twelve years.

You’d be less frustrated.

Nevertheless, I refuse to accept that Irish is too slippery for me ever to grasp. I’m not giving up. For instance, when I’m on the bus, I replace the normal background noises with background noises in Irish. No, I don’t have a high-tec headphones set that translates Dublinese into Irish Dublinese on-the-fly; I simply tune into Radio na Gaeltachta (it’s one simple step towards re-learning Irish).

Of course, this time on the bus the background noises were in Irish. Well, two of the sources, anyway.

“Oh great!”, I thought, “they’re getting off at my stop. So, they’ll hear me say my usual [I am serious – I say it to every bus driver upon getting off], Donegal-dialected ‘go raibh maith agat!’ to the bus driver!” Then, they'll realise that they're not the only 'natives' in jackabeen Dublin. 

Of course, another passenger gets between me and them –“I’ll just have to say it louder than normal”.

“Ok, here I go”.... [The driver’s phone rings] “go.. *ring*... *ring*... ra...*ring*... *ring*.. ibh. *ring*... *ring*... ma *ring* ...ith *ring*... *ring* *ring* *ring*... *ring*

Well at least I know that I said it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I wouldn't call them 'seasons'.

“When’s a good time to visit Dublin?”, a friend wrote to me recently. I laughed. Since that question nearly always inquires as to periods of good weather, you can understand my amusement.

Ireland has a temperate climate. Or, that should be ‘temperamental’? If one could claim that Irish seasons exist, Spring and Autumn would be the general, vague appellations. Other countries have seasons. The components that are traditionally believed to make a Summer or Winter don’t materialise to the requisite degree here in Ireland. Actually, the same could even be said of Spring or Autumn.

For in Spring, nature’s poor performance in Ireland has to be artistically enhanced by daffodils which have been planted by the institutions and those endeavouring to instil optimism. And for Autumn, well, you don’t really get the ‘Autumn Leaves’ that Sinatra, Piaf, Jones and others have been singing of – leaves ‘of red and gold’ -  instead, we get soggy, half-decomposed, mucky-brown leaves. You’ll ruin your shoes if you try to kick them. They’re not colourful, they’re not light, and they’re not bright. That is, of course, unless Ireland has one of her ‘periods’.

Irish weather is really punctuated by these ‘periods’ rather than by any ‘seasons’. You’d be wise to accept this now lest you suffer successive disappointing summer ‘seasons’. If Autumn has a ‘period’, the weather will be curiously dry, which means the Irish Autumn leaves will appear more like ‘Autumn leaves’. Dry, kickable, colourful, cheerful. What joy when that happens! Oh yes, we always love one of these ‘periods’, and not least in Summer!

“Question 4 (a). ‘An Irish Summer’, describe this paradox.  Explain the various connotations of this phrase that are conjured by the author.” 
More than any other ‘season’, Summer comes to Ireland in discernible periods. ‘Heat waves’, they’re called, funnily enough. They arrive when you need them least – exam or school time.

 The first summer ‘period’ occurs at the end of May and may last into the second week of June. This is when the kids are doing exams and have to study, inside.
The second summer ‘period’ arrives sometime in August, though sometimes in July.
And the third, and last, summer ‘period’ peeks out at the beginning of September. This is when the schools are back. A torment for the children.
Old folks tell of a time when summer came in season form... Failing memory, that’s what I put it to.

In ‘Winter’, it does get colder and darker, but only snows for seven days in total or less (or else you’re in the mountains). The snowfall on those days is merely an inch or two. And, because of the perennial wet climate, the coruscating, delicate snowflake is cruelly murdered the instant it touches any surface. With that, children’s hopes melt as well. Once or twice, the snow will be as plentiful (up to four inches or approx. 12cm), and it will be cold enough, for the snow to remain on the ground for at least two days. And then the kids are out: attacking cars with snowballs, building snowmen or giant snowballs as quick as they possibly can – these must stand and survive as long as they can - reminders that winter had arrived. And the size of these monuments reflects how glorious a winter was experienced in the realm.

"So, that's the weird thing about Irish weather, my friend - we never know when it's a good time to visit Ireland or just Dublin. Often, the Irish weather tends to be great when you've just left Ireland. The welcome weather arrives when she's least needed, ironically." 

If, however, my friend wasn’t talking about the weather, then the best time to visit Dublin would be during one of the many festivals, which seem to creep up on Dubliners – they’re only identified when they’re half-way finished.

Failing that, the best time to come and see Dublin at its most splendid and most authentic would be either....

The middle to the end  of the eighteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth century. 

Make a note in your calendar.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The French experience

Yep, I got it – French cliché music in a French café – something you wouldn’t get back home. Fair enough, French music is rare enough let alone French cafés in Ireland! But, ya know, when we do hear Irish cliché songs at home, it’s usually in Dublin or Killarney, i.e. just for the tourists. You’d never hear an of-sound-mind Irish person shout, enthusiastically and whole-heartedly, for the band to play Molly Malone! Ironically, the place where music like that could be played is the same place where people of-sound-mind are absent, or, if present, where they are turned into people of-unsound-mind.

In case you didn’t know, the French are clichéd – the things you think are stereo-typical of French people are just typical. It’s fitting and apt that the French have given us the word, and it would lose its meaning if its truly French character were to go.

I’m sure you can appreciate, as much as I do, that we still spell it ‘cliché’ and not something as truncated as ‘cleeshay’ or ‘clichay’ . Heavens no!

So I heard a typical French song in a real French café (outside the city centre of Paris, in Porte de Montreuille), except... the café was run by, and full of (save yours truly, of course), second generation immigrants. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

On this day.... and by 'this day' I mean yesterday, or 50 minutes ago

Edgar Allan Poe died on this day (Oct 7) in 1849. He’s one of my favourite writers, loves the macabre, the depressing, the puzzling and the accurate – yes he was quite the pedant and an obsessed perfectionist. Check out some of his poems if you want an example, or even some of his criticisms which were often pedantic to the extreme. He is regarded as the inventor of the detective novel. It’s quite poetic, actually, that his death also alluded to the mysterious – the circumstances of his demise have never been satisfactorily determined.

I don’t have a huge interest in reading novels – I’m more into the history books for leisurely reading (I realise how strange that may sound!) – so my writing skills leave a lot to be desired, especially since graduating from university and leaving academia for the time being. Nevertheless, when I eventually get round to reading a novel it will be one of the giants. I’m reading Joyce ‘at the moment’, but Poe’s short stories are fantastically well-written and accessible (just have a dictionary handy). Check out ‘The Purloined Letter’, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ to get you started.

As for poems, well, you need to be prepared. For instance, you can’t read Poe on a sunny day. Make it a Sunday, a Sunday evening. Better still, a dark, stormy night, preferably with a full moon. Then begin reading. They’re not the kind of thing to engage in if you’re in a happy mood and want to remain thus. 

‘The Raven’ has fascinated me for years – until I finally learned the whole thing off! What a work! Tis a bit tricky remembering, however, when to recite ‘rapping’ instead of ‘tapping’, as well as some other similar parts. Here’s my favourite part:

 “Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.”

Tragedy and misery are in such high doses with Poe. Eh, yeah, that’s how I’m able to connect Poe to Ireland. So, there was a reason I was including Poe on this blog. It was revealed at the end – just like Poe’s detective tales.

Continuing with tragedy, but, paradoxically, in a lighter way, I want to mention one other event that happened on this day in history:
On this day [yeah, I know - I always do my blogs a day too late!], in 2003, Californians voted to recall Governor Gray Davis from office and elected Arnold Schwarzenegger from a list of 135 candidates. And with that we link back to Poe through Dylan Moran, who referred to Arnold in one of his shows, and who, it can’t be denied, has a Poe complex.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sinn Féin, the IRA and fighting for....??

I used to think that fighting for a united Ireland was a commendable effort. That is until I looked at what they were fighting for. Look at the Republic. Look at everything that’s wrong with it. Why would you want to join the North to it? Shouldn't you be fixing the problems of The Republic, or at least preserving it? Where the hell were Sinn Féin and the IRA when the Irish government was building a road through the sacred site of Tara? Where were they at Rossport? They attack innocent police officers in the North and they don’t attack the rich and corrupt men and women in Dublin for their betrayal of this country.
 They don’t protect this country from what can really hurt it – the government. Arguably, if a British government were installed at Leinster House, they couldn’t do more damage to the country than our Irish government. Firstly, they’d be more competent (it’s hard to imagine a less competent government), and secondly, the people of Ireland would recognise them as foreign rulers and therefore, due to suspicion, would not let them away with anything. People seem to think, be it sub-conscious or un-consciously, that an Irish government instinctively protects Ireland. No. Politicians are politicians no matter what their nationality. They only serve no.1.
 Who the hell is standing up for us? Who will protect us from the Irish government? The socialists? The EU? Hardly. No one will. Something needs to change, and change drastically!
I think we must keep the North away from the Irish government. Look at all that has been preserved there, and all that has been destroyed here.