Saturday, March 14, 2009
Paddy's Purim Party Promotion
St. Patrick's Day often arrives near Purim. "Irish are in search for a Pot of Gold, Jews have both pot and gold."** "St. Patrick Jewish": this URL led to various, uh, "instant dating" sites. I'm no party person, but I chase Irish-Jewish net-rainbows!
For Patrick's Day, we commemorate the Roman British youth from it seems Caledonia's shore. Claimed therefore as kin by the Welsh, true natives to that region. (These namings get complicated quickly; I'll pass them over for brevity.) Kidnapped by Niall of the Nine Hostages, taken off to Éireann, and enslaved next Slemish mountain's slopes until he escaped and, two hundred miles south-east, found a boat back to Prydain and freedom.
Later, he returned. Justifiably eager to eliminate the old ways into which he'd been sold, his missionary work made the Celtic fastness that Rome never colonized into the loyal bastion of Rome's successors ruling from the Vatican. For all the advances brought into the land of saints and scholars, I wonder at the knowledge lost.
There used to be an "in memoriam" each 14 October in the Times of London for the fallen leader at once Senlac, then Battle Abbey, still Hastings. Survivors mourn however vainly past defeats, present victories of one culture over another, one nation's vanishing under another nation's rising. As with Harold's defeat by William, the Amerindians by Columbus, Pizarro, or Cortez-- or the capitulation of Rheged or Elmet to the Saesnag-- such defeats as Patrick spearheaded among my ancestors in Christianizing their lands loom in hindsight as inevitable.
If not them, than someone very like them would have invaded. We no longer give our schoolchildren Columbus Day off; I think I enjoyed it as a holiday in grade school. It became anti-PC, and "Dia de la Raza" supplanted it among those understandably resentful of La Conquista. Also, Italian American lobbyists I supposed were outnumbered by the burgeoning Latino voting bloc somewhere three dozen or so years ago. Still, Americans love to dress up and celebrate each other's cuisine and costume. Within limits allowed; my former hometown of Claremont forbade, in its ultra-collegiate sensibility, Thanksgiving dress-up last year at one elementary school as insensitive to indigenous individuals. Irish, contrarily, seem to care less about boorish, beery, and bovine depictions. We join in, we laugh it off.
"Real" Irish jeer at us plastic Paddy green-beer Yanks. The Irish who missed the famine ships did not raise a "raimeas" about their patron saint, we Americans were chided. But, I spent one March 17th in that capital city, for an Irish Studies Diaspora & identities conference. Staying in 2005 at a B&B near UCD, I was certainly out of the way of the civic mayhem. Not yet evening when I made the long bus slog from Swords south, I did note how happy the bus driver and his mate were when I disembarked and wished them their night's cheer. It was a long walk from Donnybrook to Belfield; I'd received typically wrong information at the airport's tourist info desk about the proper route and stops. As I pulled my luggage like a dork, I breathed the fresher air beside the highway's fumes-- after ten-hours-plus on Aer Lingus, I was pleased to stroll.
A couple nights later, it was Saturday. RTÉ news earlier that day that I watched in my little room regaled me with reports from market towns the breadth of the island with DIY parades that reminded me of where I endured my teens, Temple City and its spring Camellia Festival, homemade floats inching down Las Tunas made by youth groups. Even more boring than Pasadena's Rose Parade, but displaying municipal pride. One element spicing the Irish settings was a very high and colorfully visible presence of international contingents, African and Chinese and Middle Eastern. I couldn't tell if these dancers and marchers were immigrants themselves resident in Ireland, but I figured they were. How many would, as I did, fly into Ireland on their own dime? Let alone dress up in folk costume in Portlaoise if not Portadown?
Not that I wore any garb! On my way home Saturday into Sunday morning, down the couple of miles back from Donnybrook-- even further away after the conference ended with a dinner at a indefinably ethnic, vaguely upscale restaurant waited on by Poles, where I was surrounded by a half-Irish, half-Indian from India playwright, grad students from Serbia, Switzerland, and Africa, and professors from Hungary and Germany-- I passed inebriated teens splayed about spilling out of pubs. They'd closed as I hiked past the hungover lads and screeching lasses. News the next day echoed the chaos whose faint reverberation rolled from the city center out to that more respectable southside suburb. Even if "donnybrook" shouldered into Béarla a century and a half ago as a byword for brawl after its tumultuous local fair.
Apparently the most boisterous St Patrick's Day to date, severe reporters told us. In terms of arrests, that is. I suppose the Irish were now showing us tourists that they too could join the globalized frenzy that marks-- in chain-pubs from Prague to Portland to Perth with manufactured tin signs and ye olde furniture that's made somewhere in another Dublin suburb or perhaps in China-- Celtic caché and cliché.
Purim, by contrast, remains a loss-leader outside the neighborhoods with schmaltz and shtreibls. Cinco de Mayo ads that at least in my California turn ubiquitous find no counterpart for this movable feast of the Jewish revenge on the Persians. As a friend of mine sums up, if not originally, Purim repeats the plot of every Jewish holiday. "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." At least fun days, unlike Tu b'Shevat where all you do is talk about trees and eat nuts, or the lugubrious fasts and bewailings about fallen Temples and fatal shtetls shadowing darker defeats with far fewer left to tell terrible tales.
Possibly the only excuse that Jews and Irish share when excessive drinking's the norm. You're mandated to imbibe until "Haman" (boo-hiss accompanies every mention of his name during the Purimspiel's recital) from Esther's "cousin" (a kissing one and a wily procurer some whisper) "Mordechai" cannot be distinguished. As for Patrick's homage, the match of Irish and booze somehow fits, even if verbal glibness also tends to be part of the package deal every night in a pub or in a parlor.
There's a crucial difference. The Irish cartoon draws the staggering fellow as so waylaid by whiskey or stout that he's unable to perform with the skillet-weilding buxom colleen when and if he stumbles home. For the Jews, there's not the shame that cloaks sex in guilt for, well, 1500 years since 432 A.D. up to about thirty years post-Vatican II, throughout 32 Counties. And still within my kinfolk home or abroad.
Purim does disguise, as with many festivals of spring, sex. There's tellingly no Irish equivalent surviving that lauds female seduction or fashions fertility symbols. Good Queen Esther puts the moves on her compliant king after he shunts proto-feminist Vashti out of his harem. Uppity Trophy Wife #1 refused to strip for her husband's pals. At least from what I'm told. Ahashverus'-ex might have been told by her man to show even more hospitality to his drinking buddies. So midrash rumors.
The shape of the delectable cookies with tasty filling does not persist as triangular only to mimic Haman's pockets or his wacky Persian hat. I read in a Victorian erotica collection an inventive story about how Esther enticed her way, along with ten willing if still virginal gal-pals as handy handmaidens, into the royal bed. This distaff diligence did make me wonder about what I'd been missing from the Oral Torah, the stories transmitted that never were recorded until much later. Although 1880's under-the-counter titillation from downmarket London's Whitechapel may be pushing the date of earliest extant manuscript provenance.
I find it intriguing that St. Patrick's Day has been stripped of its religious connotations-- how likely are you to find on a liquor store's sign our mitered bearded First Primate of All Ireland vs. a cavorting leprechaun or Java-Man-shovel-faced Hibernian hoisting a pint amid a shower of shamrocks? Purim, by contrast, endures as purely a Jewish holiday. Like Passover and Chanukah if underplayed for the Mommy & Me or Peace Now crowds, Purim tells how the harried Hebrews hammer hell. Threatened by pogroms and pashas, they lash back. They mow down their tormentors-- who drown in the Red Sea, who get backstabbed by anti-Hellenist predecessors of the haredim, or whom hang suspended from Shushan's gibbets.
These haggadah and spiels may be sanitized for family use, but they remain bloody. Their full meaning, perhaps like the Kabbalah not being studied unless by men past forty, carries danger. Most chronological red-letter days have proven less benign for the Jews. Those Irish brawlers if for one night (although the marketing makes it look that every night's a chance to get wasted if an Irish bar at hand or when an Irish beer's in hand) forget the elimination of so much pagan lore, the eradication of Celtic orientations, and the domination of Catholic power for so many centuries. The misfortune that accompanied Patrick gets romanticized, caricatured, and-- if by drink as so much in our life-- mercifully if dangerously blurred.
The twist? Patrick wiped out paganism without annihilating its adherents. The Catholic benefits-- eventually no more slaves, a lot more hope of an afterlife, a lot less chance you'll make it to that heaven however praised, a lot less respect for nature and women: this turned into the Roman and Apostolic trade-off that the natives, whether on the coasts of Peru or Panama or Donegal or Down, the pale or swarthy natives dared not refuse.
By comparison, Jewish commemorations lurk in the ruler's shadows. Being often martial in origin and recalcitrant in spirit, they're more subversive than Lucky Charms or "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons. Chanukah finally, around the decade when we erased Columbus Day, earned a Winter Season Stamp. It gets a polite nod on the public service spot, or Google art decoration of the menorah, but these ecumenical greetings issue from the monotheists still in charge. The majority outside Zion no more fills up water pistols to shoot colored spray on Diwali or shuts down from sun-up to sunset during Ramadan than they bake hamantashen or rattle groggers.
Part of the problem may be these floating lunar holidays. They drift around the season, if not as far as Islamic dates. While this predictable progress does not stop most people from figuring out-- unless you're an Eastern Christian or Greek Orthodox-- when the Easter bunny pops up, it does leave these persistent fasts and feasts cherished by the minorities in American and abroad marginalized, and I'd reckon by them happily so.
Perhaps it's a saving grace not to have every holiday or tradition sold to the masses. Irish culture's been so manipulated that even at home, those who once mocked us abroad now turn themselves into Anglo-Americans in not only media consumption but beverage choices. The commodification of franchised bars, mass-market beers (Guinness despite savvy ad campaigns now owned by Italian giant conglomerate Diageo with a token amount of the Black Death still trundling out of St. James Gate vs., say, Canada), and endless promotion marks the conversion by corporations of Mexican and Irish festivals into American-- and exported-- excuses to get plastered.
As I prepared to release this to you: my wife informed me of the forthcoming lament by Bill Barich, "A Pint of Plain." He writes how now more Guinness is downed in Nigeria than Ireland. Paddy's praisers prefer Coors Light, on ice. We despised Irish Americans can now shake our heads at those we left behind. At the risk of sounding intellectual, this attests to the darker flipside of globalization and assimilation.
I blame it ultimately on George Washington. I heard St. Patrick's Day was pushed here to counter the redcoats' attempts to lure with the King's shilling the New York City Irish immigrants into the military. Colonial American ranks upped their patriotism by appealing to the Micks, so gradually-- as you had to I suppose appeal to the Scots-Irish and the Protestant and Dissenter as well as the Catholic crowd to fill the cannon fodder-- we started a craze. So well that the American invention of corned beef and cabbage became a sign of a stereotypical bogtrotter's favored fare.
Image: **"St Purim's Day"-- #3 on Bangitout.com's Kosher Top 10 list that I mentioned in my first paragraph merited repeating: Use it as a toast for libation. Trying "Irish" with "Purim," I trawled one usable result. It's from a messianic Christian's travels in Israel; lovely snapshots fill Reuel McFarland's globetrotting "Who is Yeshua?" blog. A less scenic shot: "Our Haifa Irish Band and Purim Get-Together." April 29. 2007. His entries suddenly stopped last erev Rosh Hoshanah. I wonder if he's finally found what he so devoutly desired?