I sincerely apologize to everyone, for I, The Great Wandering C-Bear, wandered away from my blog and my promise of a post a week. Admittedly, it’s a hard motivator to swear to report the past rather than live in the present through words, which, I would say, is my normal writing habit. But I will persist! Because once begun, I never quit.
For a few days, I did nothing but wander the hills in the tragically and hauntingly beautiful Connemara. Basically, all the sad, dark Irish myths and fairy tales you’ve heard besides the brownies and sprites and fairies, the nature in Connemara embodies it. At least, it did when I was there. Brooding cloudy sky, rolling hills of grass and moss and rocks, sheep roaming. And a seemingly aimless dirt path winding through it all above the highway. At some points I felt I was in Narnia, at some in Middle Earth. Either way, the solitude was serenely complete, and you felt a sad solidarity with the atmosphere.
Then I went to Dublin. There was nothing in Dublin I had particularly in mind to do besides drink Guinness, and Irish coffees, and see the various writers’ monuments. Also to see Stephen’s Green, mostly because I had just finished reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Once I’d done all that, and twiddled my thumbs in my hostel (again, I hopped off the bus in the middle of Dublin, walked down the street, and Oh look! A hostel! Only in Ireland would I have this luck), I went into the pub next door to the hostel with the book of Yeats poetry I’d bought. It was still early-ish in the evening, so there were only a few people there. I drank an Irish coffee, and then a half pint of Beamish. As I continued reading this sad Irish poetry, and continued drinking, I believe my facial expressions got more and more animated and expressive. I must have been hilarious to watch. And sure enough, in the middle of one such sad poem, someone snatched the book from my hands, saying “What’re you reading?” I looked up at a middle aged portly looking Irish man, in the corner with a few other older and elderly Irishmen. He held the book in front of him, squinting at the cover, and exclaimed “Yeats? What’re you reading Yeats for? Never a less Irish poet.” Now, at such an explication, I was quite taken aback. I’d felt rather proud that I’d been making a point of reading literature from wherever I was traveling, and this was in fact my second Irish writer. I’d expected appreciative smiles, not scolding. This man’s name was Stephen. His friend’s name was Stephen also. I thought of them as Stephen the Younger (the anti-Yeats-man) and Stephen the Elder. There was another friend or two that hopped into and out of the conversation, mostly to get my attention, but Stephens the Younger and Elder seemed more intent on conversing with me than showing me off, and thus kept my attention.
From these Stephens, I learned about “real” Irish, not Yeats Irish, the romanticized version all we Americans eat up. Stephen the Younger was a cab driver in Dublin, and he bemoaned how international the city was becoming. It used to be more Irish than it is, he told me. We discussed Yeats and why Stephen thought he was so un-Irish. Yeats doesn’t write about the Irish lower class, he said. He writes about the frills and romance, but not about the trudging peasantry that make up the real Irish tradition. He was just trying to sell books and cover his arse from the Brits, he said. Interesting perspective, I thought, taking my book back gingerly. Stephen the Elder was one of eight brothers and sisters, and was also illiterate. He quit school at 10 or 11 years old to start working for the family. This is the trudging lower class Stephen the Younger was talking about, he pointed out.
I was taken aback. Lover of learning and reading that I am, I’d never really imagined a life without books, without learning. And here sat before me, buying me drinks, a man of maybe 60-something reading at a fourth grade level. In that moment, I felt I’d taken my education for granted, and so did all of my peers back home. All those people who for weeks I’d been declaiming to myself as slaves to the system, narrow-mindedly following the educational path society has laid for them, not taking chances or learning what they love instead of just career training. Here was a man to whom society had never offered those opportunities. Or any opportunities. And I felt humbled. Truly humbled.