Saturday, March 26, 2011

Snakes on a Plane

Dummy me, forgot my camera. If I hadn't, you would have seen photos of a street in Hamra populated by throngs of green beer guzzling (mostly) Lebanese. You would have seen the green hair, the funny hats, the girl dancing with a pineapple. You would have noticed somewhere in the background the 500 year old, 500 pound Kuwaiti who kept trying to get me to go back to his hotel with him.

Did you know that pouring Blue Curacao into beer will turn it green?

The party was in a liquor store. Unlike in the US, where liquor stores tend to be synonymous with bad neighborhoods and unsavory characters, liquor stores in Beirut just sell liquor (and beer and wine, etc.) Except this one, Sam's Beverage, which, in addition to selling booze, held a street party for Paddy's Day with free green beer.

Sam's is where I buy my Almaza and wine, so when I stopped in last week, the owner invited me to the Paddy's Day party. I used to buy beer from one of two shops a few blocks away, but stopped going to one when once I purchased two large bottles of Almaza, took them home, and realized the old man had given me one small bottle but charged me for two big ones. The other place I stopped going to when I realized their prices were several dollars more than everyone else. (12000 for six Almazas when it should be 9000. That's two whole dollars more for a six pack.) Anyway, Sam's is closer - a minute's walk down my street. The owner's a nice guy (he should be - I'm in there enough) and it was a pleasant surprise to discover the beer was free (especially after having dropped a pretty penny at the Mayflower so I could have a few Paddy's Day Guinnesses.)

It's funny how a holiday that is supposed to be in memory of a Christian saint (though he’s never been canonized by Rome) has turned into a global celebration of drunkenness. Most people think nothing of the reason for the day. I do, of course, since I overthink everything. St. Patrick's Day wasn't much of a holiday in Ireland. You went to church of course, and you thanked St. Patrick for getting rid of the snakes and bringing Holy Christianity to heathen Ireland, but that was it. It was the Irish Americans who made it a holiday. They wanted to celebrate their heritage and the country they so loved but were pushed out by British oppression and forced starvation. Back then, the Irish were working class and generally too poor to travel to back to Ireland. So they brought Ireland to them.

Fate brought me to Ireland. By a stroke of luck, U2 was playing in Dublin one week before I was supposed to study abroad in Luxembourg during my Miami U years, so I flew over early and fell in love with the place. I can't forget flying in there for the first time, seeing from the plane window a green I'd never experienced, going to the ATM for money called pounds, trying to figure out the bus system to get into Dublin, watching rows and rows of red brick Georgian homes from the bus window, taking a taxi (I'm not sure I'd ever been in a taxi at that point in my life) to the Brewery Hostel, a yellow building next to the Guinness Brewery. I'd never had Guinness before, hated James Joyce (we had to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in my senior English class), and couldn't figure out how to make international telephone calls.

All these things make me chuckle now.

I began to learn about Ireland, about the history, about the politics, about the literature, about the music. I was interested in everything Ireland; it became a hobby of mine. And then, a curious thing happened. I began to identify with it. I began to understand what my own Irish ancestors had gone through, the O'Hagan clan from County Tyrone. Not only did Irishness become a part of me, but it became a part of my Americanness. These two things were inseparable from one another. We are a nation of immigrants, a land whose ancestors were poor and persecuted. Now, immigrants are the poor and prosecuted. The thing that made us a nation is now ripping us apart. Fear of difference, fear of the unknown, fear of lifestyles that are not like our own.

James Joyce, who is now my favorite writer, said while living outside Ireland,
“All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul, which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light, but though I seem to be driven out of my country as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.”
He wasn't talking about church faith, as he despised organized religion. He was talking about the essence of being, that which makes us human, what most people call the soul. Joyce desperately wanted to love his country, which was a part of his being, but he couldn't. He hated Dublin, but said “When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.” He couldn't bear to watch his fellow citizens' engage in politics, either supporting the British monarchy that had oppressed them for centuries or following the different nationalists sects that couldn’t get along to accomplish anything, and he couldn’t bear their blind obedience to the church that also oppressed them with its rules and superstitions with no regard for the human soul, and he didn’t tolerate the cultural and moral decay produced by economic development, particularly as the rich got richer while the poor continued to starve. These were all recurring themes in his books.

I know exactly how he felt.

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