Showing posts with label Irish pub. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Irish pub. Show all posts

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ag feacháint Acadia agus Port Nua

Fhan muid in aice leis an gcladach Atlantaigh faoi dhá. Go minic, bhreathnaigh muid áit chomh seo (suas) ina riasc ag imeall Cuan na Doingean, Cuan na Róna, agus Riasc Deas i Maine ar Oiléain an Mhóta Fhasach. Bhí ag thiomáint i bPhairc Náisúinta Acadia, mar chonaic muid radharc go cosúil sin aríst agus aríst eile.

Gan amhras, bhi lá breá ansin. Shúil muid go Cuan na Long agus Oiléain na mBarr fós. Measaim go raibh ag shúil deag mile an Lá na Marbh sin.

Ina ár óstan, thug mé faoi deara cóip an amhran "An Buachaill Choilíneacha Fiain." Bhí óstan ag ainmithne "Castlemaine." Is áit Caisléan na Mainge i gCarrai.

I gCuan na mBarr, d'ól muid ina "Tuirlingt Laoire" bideach: de reir acu is an teach tábhairne na hÉireann soir sna Stáit Aontaithe, Áfach, cúpla bloc soir, ag trasna ón gcé, bíonn an teach tábhairne Tigh Phádraig mór ag dúnta lasmuigh den séasúr, ach go raibh comharthaí dátheangach, i mBéarla agus Gaeilge go nádurtha, go leír timpeall air.

Is maith linn an baile Port Nua ina Oiléain na Rhode trí lá ina dhaidh sin; tá suiomh stairiúl leis áiteannaí lán de Chumann na gCairde agus Gúidiach adhartha agus áruis cáiliúla ag imeall an aillte. Fhan muid i seomra iontach ina Ard-Mheara de Ghrasta a toghail ar Alfred Vanderbilt i 1909. Ar an drochuair, go raibh sé ach oíche amháin.

Seeing Acadia and Newport

We stayed near the Atlantic shore twice. Often, we saw a place like this (above) around Bass Harbor, Seal Cove, and Pretty Marsh in Maine on Mount Desert Island. We drove in Acadia National Park, so we saw a sight like this over and over.

Without a doubt, it was a lovely day. We walked to Ship Harbor and Bar Island too. I reckon that we walked ten miles that All Souls Day. 

In our inn, I noticed a copy of the ballad "The Wild Colonial Boy." The inn is named after "Castlemaine." It's a place in Kerry.

In Bar Harbor, we drank in tiny "Leary's Landing": according to them it's the easternmost Irish pub in the United States. However, a few blocks east across from the pier, Paddy's large pub was closed off-season, but it had signs all around it in two languages: Irish and English, naturally.

We liked Newport in Rhode Island three days later; it's an historic site full of houses of Quaker and Jewish worship and famous mansions along the cliffs. We stayed in a splendid room in Grace Mansion built for Alfred Vanderbilt in 1909. Unfortunately, it was for but only one night.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

John McNulty's "This Place on Third Avenue": Book Review

John McNulty is not as well known as his colleague at the 1940s' New Yorker, Joseph Mitchell. Both explored the seedy side of a now-vanished East Side, but McNulty, son of immigrants, got the mood down equally well: "He's Irish, so he broods," to paraphrase his summation of one bartender's quote at Costello's at Third Avenue around 42nd Street.

Both Mitchell and McNulty thrived on capturing the rhythms of the speaker on the streets, and for McNulty, especially at the bar. Mitchell chose McSorley's, Mitchell Costello's. They listened, one suspects, more than they themselves spoke, but their essays conveyed what they heard for us, decades on. As with an oral history, we read and the tales unfold.

The best are around WWII, as the stories arranged by his widow, Faith, demonstrate the entanglements of Grogan the Horseplayer, Clancy the gigolo, and various characters. One bartender, the night before he is called up to serve, lets out bitterly with well-aimed barbs after fifteen-odd years of silence at his feckless, boasting, sodden customers. One bickers in a great vignette with a barkeep over his attempt to hold back a barometer's little figure of a woman signalling calm and a little cardboard counterpart, a tiny man as a harbinger of storms: this approaches existentialism by what it says and what it suggests.

It's a small book, easily read in a night. It got off to a shaky start, as you can feel McNulty improving after he's hired by the magazine and begins to get down his own style, and his pacing--by the time the war comes, the pace arrives and McNulty finds his voice by channeling that of others--no easy feat. It must have been a challenge to do this, for him.

Faith's foreward places her husband in his own struggles with the bottle, his tenure at the magazine, and his haunting the place that made his reputation. The patter nears music in how accurately it sustains notes of the voices, when they leap out of the silence as each man contemplates "the mirror" of a face he may not recognize or want as his own.

Out of such encounters, McNulty skillfully, and subtly, limns the tension of life in mid-century Manhattan. The fashions, slang, and drinks may change--Costello's seems an early casualty of what later decades might call yuppification after it gained a reputation in McNulty's magazine, ironically--but the lessons remain. Decency, skulduggery, and a challenge to repeat truth rather than tall tales. One senses, after his wife's remarks, that McNulty himself gazed into the mirror many nights. (See also my Sept. 2012 review of Mitchell's anthology, Up in the Old Hotel . This McN to Amazon 10-23-12)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bill Barich's "A Pint of Plain": Book Review

"Drink is a good man's weakness." Proverbial wisdom Barich passes along during his personal and historical tour of Irish pubs. "Fairytale Ireland" may be marketed under the "Irish Pub Concept" pre-fab faux-antique corporate chains, as traditional pubs decline and decay under stricter drunk-driving laws. These in turn necessitated by the commuters ripping along (Barich estimates a fifteen-fold increase) rural roads as tract homes tear up fields for the Celtic Tiger's rapacious tail. And, such new residents don't frequent the "local," preferring their Carlsberg or Coors in cans from the logoed franchises that replace the family-run stores in the market towns overwhelmed by the blow-ins from the cities and all over the world.

So the cycle continues, and Long Island-born, California-residing Barich, now moved himself to Dublin, tells the tale of a slow death to civility, custom, and charm. About half his book takes place in Dublin, and he tells each chapter set there with grace and pace. He knows how to veer from his main story into anecdotes and byways before returning to his narrative, and this relation of his saga reflects well how a tale's told by a teller in a pub. He classifies the remaining pubs into trophy bars, pitched for tourists more than the neighbors and often based on their venerable status; pleasant but less distinguished corner houses; and corporate chains, which in Ireland appear to erase their "tradition" for a streamlined gentrification, even as abroad you find such enterprises as a hundred "Harrington & Sons" fake pubs saturating the Italian consumer.

Such globalization leads to Irish rejection of Guinness as an old man's heavy stout. Younger Irish follow their Anglo-American cousins in choosing more wine, and lighter German or American beers to quaff, often at home rather than in the company of those who at many pubs tend to be older, more insular, and stodgier. Younger Irish appear too to be suburban rather than urban in their tastes; immigrants replace the stereotypical publican, and such changes are more than cosmetic. They, for Barich, represent the decline of what Perry Share calls the "third place" of camaraderie outside home or work that the pub has long represented, the true public house.

The erosion of such ties for many Irish shows their fragmentation along Western lines as they retreat from the communal, village, farm-based culture into a sprawl of strip malls, semi-detached estates, and endless commutes far from the small towns where the suburbs now stretch to and supplant. Like farmers, publicans find few of the next generation willing to take on the intensive labor demanded to make a living.

"It's been said that a publican must be a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat, and a doormat," Barich observes (21). He's good at summing up, in the second half, his encounters, or lack of such, in rural Ireland. Outside Sligo town, Barich finds one pub in the middle of a dark nowhere, a remnant of when the pub was also a house, and run by the family for the surrounding peasants. Three fellows hunch over the bar, "each in solitary contemplation of his jar. Their mood was desultory, as if a night at the pub was a dreary job they meant to quit as soon as they could." (163)

In Clonaslee in the Slieve Bloom mountains, bored teens in hoodies under a drizzle hunch too, too young to drink legally. Smoking, they slouch outside the supermarket. "Whenever an older boy wheeled by in a car and blew his horn, they roused themselves for a salute, pumping their fists and leaning hopefully toward the driver as they might toward a cherished vision of the future." (213) In this village, Barich also seems to stumble upon his Platonic vision of the type of pub such as Dublin's Brazen Head could never live up to. M. D. Hickey's stands, with four people inside the room the size of a walk-in closet. The true nature of the old pub, half-house, half-shebeen, here welcomes him with that elusive, however energetically marketed by the Tourist Board, hospitality that finds fewer givers and takers in these hectic, yuppified Irish times.

There were, perhaps it being hectic, a few slips in proofreading. "1852" for "1952" should mark one capital city pub's leasing. A "Vicentian" priest makes an off-stage appearance, while three times, "Malm Cross" gets a mention instead of "Maam" (or alternately "Maum") for the anglicization of the Irish toponym "Mám." Given Barich's ill-starred exploration of Cong of "The Quiet Man" fame or blame, it's puzzling how this error of that nearby place name would be tripled.

Otherwise, his scholarship's apparent if worn lightly; there's a list of his sources appended, but the very readable, brisk text moves free of footnotes. Barich does not end on any hokey epiphany that all will be well at the one last pub at the end of a rainbowed road. The historic identity that the pub stands for, the civility and communal bonds it fosters, now find themselves razed by generic retailers owned far away. Values corrode as "the local-- as in the particular, the unique-- was under siege, batted about the head by the insistently global." (235)

One example that causes controversy stands for the whole capitulation of Ireland to modernization. "The two-lane blacktops pressed into service as highways are a problem, but should Tara be threatened to correct it, simply to please the commuters?" (200) The destruction of the national heritage, the exfoliation of the island's greenbelt, the savaging of the landscape by lack of planning: these too despoil the image of Ireland the postcards and guidebooks persist in peddling, not to mention the ubiquitious Guinness-- now owned by an Italian distributor (along with Alpo pet food, Burger King, Pillsbury dough, and the pseudo-ethnic concoction, Haagen-Dazs).

(Posted to Amazon US today.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Loud Enough to Wake the Dead?

Not the Joycean kind of wake exactly, although there's an analogy. Finnegan's feasting that would accompany the Hibernians, ribald games played with the body that may have given new associations to the term "stiff," what passed for an orgy in an Irish village when couples took advantage of the all-night festivities to indulge in revelry, and the general atmosphere of boozy reminiscence and wistful observance stereotyped what tomorrow will cast its faint shadow, a "vigil" memorial service.

However, I don't want that "open casket" encounter at the mortuary (inevitably named "O'Connor," and that the body was first shipped by mistake to be embalmed at rival "McCormick's" down the street only adds to the traditional associations) to be my last sight of my dad. (Strange trains of thought, but for a break from morbidity I started Bill Barich's travelogue through Irish pub life and its decline, "A Pint of Plain," and found out what solved my surprise when I saw it still extant in Kilfinnane, Co. Limerick. The custom of publicans doubling as undertakers came from an old allowance that shipped corpses to wine cellars to rest their in cool temperatures until the funerals could commence. Surely this somehow added to the revelry that ensued. Not that, Dad being a teetolling son of a repentant lush, there'll be "streams of whiskey flowing" at his postmortem festivities.) I'm not that squeamish about blood, hospitals, bodies in the abstract, when seen in my usual detached mode. But, it's different with one's own. Perhaps an ancient taboo, one that despite my ingrained Irish Catholicism failed to overcome my aversion. Or, perhaps a deeper taboo surfaces when one is another's son at that final moment.

With my mom, I did not advance forward, so my wife tells me (I blocked it all out), over twelve years ago, at that same mortuary to see her watched casket. On my entry the next day to the funeral mass, I was jolted, then, by the sight in the vestibule. I did not expect it, and it jarred my equilibrium. When after years of hospital stints, intensive care vigils, and calls in the night alerting you to ambulances and 911 calls, you get worn down. A loved one's death arrives with less sudden a knock. This time, I want to remember my parent differently. Dad as I last saw him, alive, waving to me as I blew him a soft and subtle kiss as I turned to leave and to shut the door so he could nap again.

For a man past 92, you'd think the same expectation for me would occur. But, it's never expected, is it? So, I face whether or not to go to the vigil tomorrow night. It's a hundred-mile round trip in rush-hour traffic, I have no desire to go, and I've been feeling a wreck even before I got the news last week. My wife and sons share my distaste for such a display; my head cold, here for a week, continues to disorient me further and space me out. On the other hand, my ingrained I.C. guilt reaches out from the grave to confront me. Must I worry more about what the few others will think, if anything at all? (Hardly anyone's left of what was never a large family or a close gathering of vague associates, and those who are will not recognize me; my sister and I have for decades had nothing that bonds us beyond the now nearly concluded necessity to worry about our elderly parents.)

As my friend Chris commented on my blog the other day, there's a freedom now. The past year's diminishment of verbal communication to a pad and paper follows a long decline in conversation with my dad (as with my mom) on anything deep or disturbing. You avoid such issues after long practice and harsh lessons from those whose relationships are built on fragile foundations not of common interests but familial duty. After nearly a half-century of dealing with a man very different from me, and vice versa, the time has come at last for its cessation. How his spirit will regard my attendance or lack of such at his vigil-- I have no idea, logically or practically, how this aligns with my sister's spoken attestations that he's with my mom in heaven now, and his spirit's at peace with the angels, and that according to her desire three doves should fly upward freed at his burial two days hence.

As I was mulling this all over, I was driving to pick up the boys for carpool from their schools. Despite my sniffles and muddleheadedness, obligations persist. I'd been reflecting on the Buddha's insistence that his monks meditate next to a corpse. I compared that with the Cohen priests of Jewish descent who were enjoined not to enter a cemetery. I favorably contrasted the Hebrew graveyard with its pine boxes and its instant, twenty-four hours or less, time from last breath to first pebble on top of the stone. (Perhaps I exaggerate the marker's prompt installment! Patrick Pearse's father's profession, I recall. What would Joyce have made of that?)

The classical music station, on to soothe my nerves, had an announcer come in as I toyed with my thoughts. She spoke of sad news. The first trombonist of the L.A. Philharmonic died suddenly last night. He was the same age I will be in two months.

A few minutes later, I stopped the car at Leo's school before he got out. I picked up my new library book, "What Makes You 'Not' a Buddhist?" The book jacket informed me that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse was born the same year as me, too. This Bhutanese monk drew his self-portrait, a playful yet serious sketch, rather than the usual snapshot. This reminded me of the linear space framing the emptiness within the solid body that we claim to inhabit and that seems from us trapped within it and those peering from without so lasting, so endurable, so immortal.

The monk began energetically, with the "four seals" (not to be confused with the Four Noble Truths): "all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts." (7) So far, so good. I continued with chapter two that elaborated point one. Siddhartha in his princely palace kept finding evidence that maturity brings not stability but decay. The walls could not shield him, nor his wealth protect him.

Khyentse reminds us: "Death has become a consumer product. Most of us do not contemplate the nature of death on a deep level. We don't acknowledge that our bodies and environment are made up of unstable elements that can fall apart with even the slightest provocation." (9) All this and I had barely begun the text. He went on to warn how we will never reach that plateau where we've got it all made. We yearn always for more "baby rattles" to distract us and to drown out this truth.

Starting the book in the few minutes I had, I heard the man in the pickup next to me going on in loud Spanish on his cellphone. Behind the window, but he made himself loud enough, as they say, to wake the dead. He had parked at a bad angle, nearly cutting off my own exit. I could not help but have his spiel interrupt my study. As his voice yammered on, I wondered how seekers can maintain their meditative spirit, their sense of detachment, within the city and the crowd. James Coleman's study that I reviewed here a few days ago finds that the "new Buddhists" follow the old in that most are from the elite: brainy, well-off if restive types. Professionals and bohos both, who cannot fit in to the societal or spiritual norm despite their outward success. They also benefit from their education, status, and income, it seems often in the West, to withdraw and do what their neighbors might call naval-gazing.

For many years, below the sometimes snow-capped mountain that towers at the right angle over the range under which I grew up and today parked my car to wait for Leo, one musical exponent and student of the dharma has taken retreats for years at a time. Leonard Cohen, speaking of those not halachically allowed to come near corpses (or marry divorceés), left his Mount Baldy Zen Center to go on tour after winning a $9 million settlement. I wondered where his money would go. Debts to producers and studios? Donations to hospices? His interior decoration or his inner fulfillment?

On Facebook recently, I read of a "Friend" jazzed about paying big bucks to see him in concert. She's a lawyer. Another "Friend" lamented not being able to afford the same concert (not to mention The Boss, advocate for The Working Stiff). I commiserated by commenting on the hundreds of dollars she saved. This brings me around to Chris' second remark. I wonder how we should send condolences now?

Will weddings be announced on MySpace? Is even Evite too antiquated? Will we bother engraving this and embossing that to tell our real friends (or those who familial duty summons to swell the guest list) of births and bat/bar mitzvahs, a bris or baptism, a getting hitched or a letting go? I felt awkward even blogging about my dad's death last Friday, but I figured I share the rest of my life here, so why not?

Yet, I did not feel compelled to post this on my FB Wall, nor tell anyone there. A columnist with whom I shared a dais (a folding table in fact) a year ago at a book reviewers IWOSC panel published a piece in last week's L.A. Times. She's nearly ten years younger than me from the "internal evidence" in her Op-Ed essay. But, she told of learning of the death of school classmates from Facebook, and I wondered if this agora, this public forum, will be in our future the way we promote of our comings (Twitter already annoys me) and, left in the hands of others, our goings.

Newspapers, as the mortuary employee doing my dad's paperwork with my sister and I informed us, charge $300 for an obituary now. We opted for the free internet link provided, with maps and opportunities for others to upload their own comments and pictures and tributes, by the mortuary. Not that many old folks will do so, but in time, we do and we will. So, one day who knows when, that's how I suppose we all will learn of each other's downloading from FB, Blogger, and whatever social networking supersedes or survives our own wake.

Illustration: 1873 Scene at an Irish Wake. Caption: Hand colored engraving from "Harper's Weekly," titled "An Irish Wake." Mourners are gathered in a small room with the coffin, crying and talking amongst themselves.