Not Paddywackery

Trip Start Aug 25, 2011
Trip End Sep 26, 2012

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Deep, Dark Corner

Flag of Ireland  , Leinster,
Friday, September 23, 2011

I sit here on a beautiful Tuesday evening, updating my blog for you all to learn about my life here in Ireland, and think, "Wow, Saturday marked my fourth week here."  And what a glorious way to spend that significant marker, too.

Today is 27 September.  I arrived on 27 August.  I just realized this right now when I checked the date.  One month.

Though you may notice that the date I wrote on my blog is the 23rd, not to confuse anybody or to test time travel, but because I stayed in Dublin this weekend and had to mark that very exciting arrival date!  What was I doing in Dublin, you might ask?  Well, not your usual paddywackery, that's for sure.  (Someone used that term to describe how my experience wasn't touristy, so I hope I am using it correctly, here.)

But first, I must talk about Cork.  Oh, another city, you might ask?  Well yes.  Although I didn't see much of Cork, save for one building at University College Cork and one restaurant that I visited during lunch break.  The ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology students hopped onto a minibus at 7am Thursday morning, as the sun just started to creep up over the horizon, and headed to the southernmost tip of Ireland for a day full of presentations.  I haven't been to anything like it, yet, though I understand these academic presentations occur all over the place, even in sunny SoCal.  I just haven't been exposed to them.  The title of the conference was "Integrating Research and Performance," and consisted of several PhD student and professor research presentations.  UCC has a relationship with the Finnish university system, so most presentations were by people from Cork and Finland (Sibelius Academy, U of Helsinki, etc.).  The crowd was an interesting multicultural mix - Americans, Irish, Finnish, and Estonian (students from Estonia who go to university in Finland).  While all presentations were fantastic, one really stood out.  A Finnish student gave a paper titled "Displaced Music and Poor Musical Domain: Afghan Forced Migrant Musicians in Finland."  He showed a variety of media on a screen, including great photos, videos, and sound clips from his time spent in an Afghan refuge camp, and shared his experiences.  Then, after all of this, he said that he can no longer conduct his research, that two years of work is finished, done, unsettled.  He had a major mix-up and miscommunication with the refugee camp and was banished, so much that even a guard stood in front of the camp and would not let him in.  He said that the miscommunication caused one of his subjects to fall into bad terms with his master teacher, which is shameful, disgraceful, and any other unfortunate word you can think of.  Talk about buzzkill.

The next morning I went to a presentation at the IWAMD by Mick Maloney, a professor at NYU, called "If it Weren't for the Irish and the Jews," about early popular music theater performance in the states, which was really all Irish and Jewish immigrants.  Maloney plays banjo, too, and guitar, and is quite well known amongst Irish musicians, so I learned.  Though the greatest part is that I interviewed him over the phone four years ago for my final undergraduate paper!  I didn't get a chance to talk to him in person.  Probably all the better for it.  I don't want to be remembered for my juvenile undergraduate work.  He did a performance later in the day with a bunch of students and faculty members, then one PhD in ethno student brought a bunch of kids from a Burmese refugee camp for a performance.  The kids sang and danced, and the boys goofed off in the back, just like any boys.

After the performance, I skidaddled out of there to catch a bus into town in time to hop onto a long distance bus headed for Dublin!  An ethnochoreology student happened to also be headed to Dublin to catch the Fringe Festival, a famous one that I would have attended if I wasn't going to a different festival.  So many things going on at one time!  In 3.5 hours, including one potty break, we arrived on the other side of the country.  I found my hostel and discovered very quickly why it was only €10 per night.  Oh boy.  Can't say it was the single worst hostel I've stayed at, but I can say it is on par with the less-than-ideal hostels I've stayed at.  Located on a dark street off the main drag, behind a nondescript door with a tiny sign, it was a maze of stairs going up, down, and all around.  My bed was lumpy, the bathroom floor was lumpy (?) the shower button let out about two seconds of water every time I pressed it (which meant my shower was an exciting dance akin to rubbing tummy, patting head, where I pumped the button with my left hand as I washed my hair with my right).  At least the staff and my fellow roommates were nice!  Minus an obnoxious Scottish woman 2x older than everyone else who took over the common area with her presence.  I carried on pleasant, albeit difficult, conversations with Brazilians and Spaniards who said they could understand me easier than the Irish.  I reassured them that I have a hard time understanding the Irish, too, even though we speak the same language.  They laughed.

I headed over to the Teacher's Club, a Georgian house just a short walk from my hostel where the Frank Hart Festival was taking place.  When I walked inside the green-lit room, I digested my surroundings.  I saw a sea of white hair and was immediately reminded of my Grandpa's World War Two pilot's reunion.  I wouldn't be too far off if I said I was the youngest by 50 years, at least gauging from first impressions.  I shall compare the evening to the geriatrics society bingo night, but replace bingo cards with pints of Guinness, and replace "Bingo!" with "Swear word!"  Ah, this was the place to be!  Old people with personality!  Upon a second glance around the room, I realized that many different ages graced the room, but they were just hidden by the far wilder mature crowd.  I befriended a girl my age, fellow first-timer, who got a BA in traditional music and a postgraduate certificate in music education, nabbing her contact info immediately so she could help me with my research.  Later that evening I finally saw the only person I did know, my new traditional singer friend who told me about the festival in the first place.  He said this was his first time at the festival, too, so he didn't really know what to expect.

Night One amazed me.  We sat for hours as different people felt inspired to sing traditional music, unaccompanied, singing, singing, singing.  Everyone listened intently.  Singers often looked down or closed their eyes, listeners closed their eyes, people stomped, people sang along, people laughed, people sighed.  Anyone could sing.  I did not, because I didn't know any appropriate music for the event.  While the group encouraged anyone to sing whenever and whatever and however they wanted, these whenevers and whatevers and howevers came with unspoken rules.  Must be traditional, at least in style.  Some were new songs that they composed but were still in traditional style.  Some were old songs that everyone knew.  Some were Sean-nos, some were English but Sean-nos style.  Some were hilarious, some were sad, some ballads, some fast, some slow.  Some were unfamiliar, but everyone caught on.  Here, they sing along to the chorus, refrain, tag, whatever might be familiar.  It's just a part of the experience.  Even if they don't know the song, they learn the refrain, which is usually repetitive, and sing along.  Because I am not used to this communal idea, I kept listening as an audience member, forgetting to join in.  Somebody once even told me, "I don't know this song, either, but I can sing this part.  You should be able to learn it, too," trying to help me fit in. 

The session officially ended late in the night.  How late?  I do not know.  But I was exhausted, and I was surprised that these people could go on for so long.  But the night did not end.  First, people stood around, talking, then someone with a broom started to sing, and friends gathered and sang, and thus began the unofficial session.  The workers kicked everybody out, but the night was clear and rather pleasant and the singing continued.  I stood in a circle with six others, five men and one woman, all much younger than the majority of that night's larger crowd, and we sang and sang on a Dublin street.  People walked by and clapped.  This time they urged me to sing something, and since the gathering was very small and informal, I felt less self-conscious than at the official session, so I said that while I don't know traditional Irish music, I shall sing an American folk tune, "As I went down in the river to pray."  Thankfully, they liked my voice.  Sigh of relief.  One guy sang a song called "Sleepy Pipi," which made my night.  Finally, after hugs and kisses (I guess I just have to get used to that), we bid our adieus.  They made sure I was escorted safely back to my hostel and we all went our own ways.  When I got to my bed, I looked at my phone - 3am!  I sang traditional music on a street in Dublin with Irish people until 3am!  The real deal.

I woke up the next morning at 8:45, ate my included breakfast of cornflakes, white bread, and tea, and headed off for day two of the festival.  I first participated in a workshop where I got to know some other festival attendees, learn some songs and backgrounds, and understand traditional singing a bit better.  I then went to two presentations: the first about Frank Hart (a well-known traditional singer) and the second about the record company Topic Label, which aids recording folk music.  Very interesting.  I started to get very sleepy, what with my lack of shut-eye the night before, so I decided to skip the next session (went to one the night before, going to one the next day, concert that night) and find a park and take a nap.  Boy, was the day beautiful.  I grabbed a pizza from a take-away counter, not without warning about how I wouldn't like that flavor because it is too spicy (thanks, worker, but I can handle my spice.  And for the record, not too spicy), posed at the bridge for a woman who was taking a bunch of official looking photos (weird), walked a ways to St. Stephen's Green, stretched out on the grass with hundreds of others, and slept for about 20 minutes.  On my way back across town again, I ordered a much too sugary Orange Mocha, wandered around Trinity College and Temple Bar, and headed back to the hostel to catch up on some reading.  That night I went to a Grand Concert put on by the festival.  The US fire marshal would not have been happy.  Chairs were squeezed in like cattle at the slaughter house.  I had to sit sideways to fit my legs and got close and personal with my neighbors.  The old woman behind me kept pushing down my chair after every song - later I discovered it was because she kept getting her beer which she had set at her feet and was using my chair for support.  Oh yeah.  A concert.  Beer.  Lots of it.  The first few acts were great, especially a few Sean-nos singers and an old man who told a story about a woman and her stockings ("What's this thing about the tights?  I don't know except they're stockin's with an ass in 'em") but then they kept coming and coming and coming.  It started at half eight (8:30), and when 11pm rolled around, I left early and plowed my way through sketch areas to get back to my hostel before the bell tolled midnight, just to stay safe. 

The next day goes down as one of the odder days of this trip so far.  I attended "'From Ashe to Zozimus' A singing and walking tour of Glasnevin Cemetery with members of An Goilin."  I imagined a solemn event, walking around an impressive graveyard as people sang at the graves of musicians and poets.  Boy, was my imagination wrong!  I should have known.  The festival organizers kept cracking jokes the day before like, "we are starting the tour dead on the hour," and they're Irish, for goodness sakes.  I drank a latte in the cafe and was lured into joining a table with a bunch of people who wanted to know why a young girl like me was attending this festival.  They flooded my notebook with contact information so that they can help me with my research and introduced me to their friends throughout the day.  Saying my name is Carrie isn't good enough.  I say, "I'm Carrie," then they ask for me to spell it, then they say, "Oh, Caaarrie, not Kerry," then they ask my surname, then they ask for me to spell it, then they say, "Are you Dutch?" then they ask where I am from, then they ask "Whereabouts in California?"  "Whereabouts in Los Angeles?" "I went to California, once," and "This is Caaarie.  She is from California," and "How do you find Ireland?" and so on and so forth.  I have a headache. We do not depart dead on 11am, because they are Irish, but we do begin the tour sometime, and immediately it begins with loads of laughs.  I watched in shock as people just climbed all over people's graves, ON the graves, plots, everything.  We get to one and an old man recites a poem that made my side hurt I was laughing so hard.  Most of the songs were quite lovely, and never fear, the age mix was actually quite varied.  It's just that the ones that stuck out to me are happily enjoying their later years.  And now for the event that really stuck out to me, the winner of all winners, the grand prize: we wander over to a tombstone with a circle cut out of it and a pint of Guinness strategically placed inside the hole.  Our tour guide goes through the life of the song-writer lying just below his feet who died of alcoholism.  Someone sang a song.  All was nice.  I thought it a bit strange that they would set a Guinness on an alcoholic's grave, but accepted it for what it was - strange.  Then our tour guide stepped onto the grave, picked up the Guinness, and drank it!  Right there!  The crowd roared in laughter.  I bent over double, unable to contain my hysterics.  It started to rain pretty heavily, so we gathered under trees to keep relatively dry while people sang for the last three musicians on our tour and we bemusedly watched the tour guide run around the graveyard in the rain pointing out where the musicians were buried.

When our tour finished, my new friends pushed me towards someone, "This is Caaarrie, will you give her a lift to the pub?" and I got squished into a car with a bunch of strangers.  On the way, the driver asked me about my background.  When I told him I am trained classically but am here to learn traditional music, he informed me that the best traditional singers are untrained.  He said that oftentimes the feeling is missing from trained singers, when traditional music needs to come from the heart.  If I learned anything from this festival, it's that under the facade of anything goes (all vocal qualities, backgrounds, etc.) and anyone can sing, some traditionalists are quite judgmental.  We lunched and beered (how do these people handle so much?), I socialized with new friends, then got a lift back to town for the final session of the festival.  This one went much like the one on Friday, except this one was in a room upstairs, a quite beautiful Georgian space.  A couple of hours later, the session ended, also ending the festival, I chatted with a bunch of folks including a PhD music student, and we parted.  But not for long!  Word got out that an unofficial session was happening in a hotel pub, so a large group of festival attendees joined the ever-growing circle of singers.  They ended up persuading me to sing, so I fought my way through the new song I learned in my voice lesson last week.  My traditional repertoire is slim.  New Goal: learn songs.  Because this unofficial, spontaneous session was more relaxed than the festival one, people were more experimental, and boy did I hear some funny ones, about dancing on the grave of dead wives and drunken girlfriends and the like.  I walked back to my hostel at about midnight, dead tired.

Someone from the festival was driving back to the west coast with his brother the next day and had to go through Limerick, so he offered to give me a lift.  I accepted immediately, excited to avoid a long bus trip.  I met them at their house and the whole family was speaking Irish to each other!  The dad asked me how my Irish was coming along, and I sadly responded not at all.  Even though I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I sat there in awe listening to such a beautiful, ancient language used fluently as the preferred, language of choice.  We arrived less than two hours later, I waved goodbye to my friends, and walked back to my apartment, ready for quality rest.

Dublin, a heavily touristed town, has a lot of paddywackery.  But this was not.  This was the real deal.
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