Friday, July 22, 2016

Irish addition by subtraction?

In continuation of last week’s post on Ireland, I feel obliged to mention what Ireland has few of, for better or worse.   Of course, I could be wrong about any of these points and confused the forest and trees. I am open to any correction.

Ireland has very few cats, pets or wild.  Neither in Dublin nor Galway did we see any cats in the streets or windows.  Apparently, something there, possibly the weather, discourages their procreation.  It certainly is not due to a lack of birds.

For that matter, Ireland lacks pests.  St. Patrick probably did not kick them out, but there are no native Irish snakes.  Furthermore, I didn’t see any cockroaches or mosquitoes either. The largest carnivore is a fox, not exactly a major threat to life. There are badgers but they apparently avoid the city and wreak only their havoc in the countryside. To be fair, midges can be problem at certain times but it is a much localized problem at that.

Curiously, with no connection to the previous paragraph, Ireland has few Israeli visitors. We were there some 12 days and did not meet a single Israeli.  I am not complaining but it was certainly surprising as Israelis are big travelers. I do not know the reason. It may the relatively high price or lack of Jewish roots in the Emerald island, but we could speak Hebrew freely without worry of being understood.

Continuing on the positive note, Irish food portions are respectable but not obscene. With no longer the appetite and capacity to burn calories that I had when I was in my 20’s, I appreciated getting up from Irish meals satisfied but not stuffed.  There was always room for the delicious dessert, which are also tasty but not copious. Less can be better.

While most people think driving on the left (not wrong) size of the road is very frightening, Irish road makers were very Scottish in their craft. The roads are so narrow. To my eye, the country roads are one way. However, somehow they serve two- way traffic, allowing even a bus and car to pass each other without damage.  I often thought of that scene in one of the Harry Potter movies in which the bus changes form in order not to hit a car. Those tight squeezes made me happy not to drive in Ireland. Phrased positively, Irish drivers are amazing.

Regarding subtraction, the politics of Ireland as expressed by the weather reports is quite fascinating. The Irish TV station always mentions the weather in Belfast and northern counties even though they are part of the UK. By the contrast, the BBC, including BBC Northern Ireland, steadfastly ignores the weather in the lower two thirds of the island, somewhat like the missing picture of the embarrassing aunt. By contrast, the Irish I spoke with rarely mentioned the British and their influence on Irish history. They were cryptically (sarcastically?) referred to as our English cousins.  The less said the better.

Finally, Irish (Gaelic) and Hebrew are both resurrected languages, effectively reborn for nationalistic reasons in the last century or so.  While in Israel the vast majority can and do use Hebrew in their daily lives, Irish is not widely spoken, only 16% of the population, mainly in rural areas, despite it being the first official language. My favorite Irish sound was the name of the Irish railroad, Iarnród Éireann. During our trip to and from Galway by train, we heard it at the end of every announcement, to my constant amusement. To an English ear, it sounds like here nor there, which is funny in the context of travel. In any case, I wish the Irish success in creating a true local national language.

To end my two-part Irish post, I heartily recommend a trip there. Come armed with a sense of humor and adventure. Both the country and its people are a bit wild in a positive way.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Irish plenty

My wife and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Ireland.  In the first of two posts, I wish to note those elements that distinguished Ireland, in both senses of that verb.

Ireland has plenty of water. Many countries are blessed (or cursed) with plentiful rain, but few as much as Ireland.  In fact, until a few years ago, water was actually free. The government had to start charging for water use as the pipe system needs to be replaced, so we were told.  Many people resent having to pay for water, even the minimal amount.  I suppose that the employees of the Israeli Electric Company feel the same about having to pay for electricity. It just shows how easy it is to get used to the good life.

Ireland has plenty of new Irish.  While in Israel immigrants are referred by their country of origin, i.e. Ethiopians, Russians, and Albanians, to name a few, the Irish have their new Irish residents, many of which take on citizenship.  Compared to its base population, a large amount has arrived on the Emerald Island to work since Ireland joined the EU.  One the one hand, now not all the Irish look “Irish”, which also can be said in most if not all European countries today.  On other hand, Dublin’s pubs and restaurant would close without its recent arrivals. It is almost impossible to find an Irish waiter or waitress in Dublin. By contrast, in the West, in Galway, most of the servers were actually Irish.

Ireland has plenty of cows and sheep. Due to its low population density and copious rain, healthy grass abounds.  The cows and sheep spend all summer outside eating fresh grass and look wonderfully healthy and happy. Their Middle Eastern cousins would die of envy.  The choice of cattle or sheep was a sure way to judge the quality of the land in any specific place.  We were in many places that reminded me of New Zealand - much more sheep than people.

Ireland has many stone fences.  Of course, it has many stones.  Still, these fences tell a rich history.  The skill of their builders is reflected in the fact that they stand for hundreds of years.  Some are constructed with the rocks placed horizontally, with holes to allow the wind to pass by. Others use vertically placed stones for reasons that are unclear to me.  Some randomly go up hills, built by starving Irish during the Great Famine upon instruction by the landowners to “justify” the meager food given to them. Ireland is truly fenced in.

Ireland has many uncomfortable chairs.  They come on all sizes and shapes.  Many are bar stools of varying heights, without or without back or hand rests.  Others are Louis XIV chairs with beautiful colors but collapsed bottoms. Some are wooden with angles designed to promote chiropractors.  A comfortable chair is hard to fine.

Ireland has many free museums. It is amazing to visit a modern museum and not pay anything for its maintenance.  Even if there is an entry fee, as for the castles, it is not significant. Culture is truly important.

Ireland has many bookstores.  This temple of culture, disappearing in many countries, is thriving in Ireland.  I had simply forgotten how fun it is to stroll through book stores, finding endless books that I want to buy.  Unfortunately for me, I did not have any room for such purchases. So, I painfully limited myself to the purchase of one paperback book for the flight back. 

Ireland has plenty of weather. I had the impression that it changes every five minutes. This moment’s rain or sun had nothing to do with the actual weather in fifteen minutes. I watched with the amusement as the weather forecasters spoke for two minutes, showed maps with winds and pressure settings, and then admitted that the weather was uncertain for tomorrow. Ireland, unlike Israel, has both weather and climate.

Ireland has plenty of women in tights, to paraphrase Mel Brooks. In almost complete disregard for the weather, countless women walk around in short skirts and stockings.  Some of them have the legs for this fashion while others don’t.  Regardless, I hadn’t seen such presentation of legs in a long time.

Finally, Ireland has many nice people. As one of my guides said, God gave us plenty of time. The Irish take it and enjoy life.  The pleasantness goes beyond formal politeness. It is genuine and strongly flavored by a sharp of sense of humor. It is probably the plenty that makes Ireland such a pleasant place to visit.

(Part II of this post will appear in a week or so.)