Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mad Dogs & Irishmen?

Englishmen proverbially roam imperiously under the sun, given it never used to set on their realm, suitably a ruddy or rubicund shade spreading over the Victorian globe. Take Ulysses, Chapter two, as Mr Deasy blathering about Shakespeare (quoting Iago's "put money in thy purse" but attributing that sentiment to his presumably thrifty Statford maker-- the authorial fallacy!) interrogates Stephen:--

He knew what money was, Mr Deasy said. He made money. A poet but an Englishman too. Do you know what is the pride of the English? Do you know what is the proudest word you will ever hear from an Englishman's mouth?

The seas' ruler. His seacold eyes looked on the empty bay: history is to blame: on me and on my words, unhating.

-- That on his empire, Stephen said, the sun never sets.

-- Ba! Mr Deasy cried. That's not English. A French Celt said that. He tapped his savingsbox against his thumbnail.

I could go on quoting Joyce endlessly, but back to one problem of that empire. While much was made last century of the Irish "spiritual" conquest of the world, as a cleverly ethereal counterpart to the King or Queen's domain, the Irish still must have recorded many instances of being unable to adapt. When I was eighteen, I met a Capuchin Franciscan friar from Ireland, who disdained my own expressed sentiment to stay out of a hot summer sun. He'd suffered no harm, and couldn't understand why a native-born Californian like me would wish for shade.

As I've been thinking and reading about the desert lately, my mind keeps wandering back to the problem, at least for me, of "climate adaptation." I'd like to find out more about my pet theory that I cannot fully acclimate to Los Angeles despite my nativity (if not epiphany) here because of my Irish "blood," the fact that genetically for thousands of years-- possibly back ten or even fifteen centuries in Hibernia according to Stephen Oppenheimer's recent interpretation of DNA studies (speaking of this and Celts, French and otherwise, see my review here)-- my ancestors lived in cooler climes, which the body adjusts to, of course, over time. Not enough time, I counter in one's own lifetime, for fully adjusting to the newer region. At least for one as fair-skinned as me?

This relates to the Zionists who came back to Palestine from the shetl. Didn't they at least a notable number wilt in the Negev after so many years in the yeshiva? We all know the sabra stereotype of rugged he-men in little sun-hats toiling on the kibbutz, but I keep skeptical: surely many of them digging ditches and hoisting plows could not handle the relentless heat? While the unforgettably named (a stereotype of Victorian Albion but actually quite contemporary) Francis Spufford wrote (the title's a great quote from the gallant valediction of stoic Robert Falcon Scott of the ill-fated Terra Nova South Pole expedition) "I May Be Some Time: Ice and the British Imagination," has there been a counterpart for what Sir Richard Francis Burton titled, more erotically, the "Sotadic Zone"?

How did the mad dogs and not only English but Irishmen handle the midday tropics, the desert, the dunes? Burton famously learned a raft of lingo and disguised himself as an Arab, and we have plenty of erudite islanders who followed his eager steps into the Middle East. But, how about the ruddy nuns in wimples, the priests in black soutanes, the traders in pith and miners in denim? How did the Irish manage as they tramped the past couple centuries of trails in the name of Church, Crown, or Capital?

[Hard to find an image by name. I googled "mad dogs irishmen" to find this Indymedia blog entry, with a bowlered image from an anti-Orangemen mural, fittingly ablaze, at least pictorially so. No Orange March]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thinks of pale litte Ronnie Tolkien and his constant sun poisoning in the Orange Free state -- so that he grew up to invent one of the world's few mythologies in which the sun isn't a totally beneficent figure.

Or for that matter, all those Aussies with melanoma.

Rodger Cunningham