November 14, 2010
Ireland: Things I Forgot, New Things Learned
22 years later, give or take, I recently returned to Ireland, but this time, Dublin was the first and only stop. Unlike the last tour which took in the southern countryside, this adventure centered around Dublin and was jam packed with meetings, coffees, lunches, dinners, and more coffees. And of course, a few pints of Guinness along the way.
Having Irish friends in the states, England or any other country for that matter, doesn't really give you an authentic snapshot of Irish soil, largely because so much about the culture and experience IS the soil.....the soil and the rain, the wind and the air.
Some of my most vivid memories of my first trip to Ireland were of massive breakfasts and the charming albeit cold B&Bs. Twenty years ago, there wasn't a stop off that had central heating and your bones felt every bit of the result.
THINGS I FORGOT:
1. How incredibly witty the Irish are, and not just occasionally, but all the time.
2. The Irish live for a good story - telling one and taking one in. And, there are always interesting historical tidbits and mythical legends thrown in for good measure.
3. How much I resonate with Irish culture because of their zest for life AND their ability to pull something from a hat even when there isn't one.
4. If they don't know an answer, they'll make one up, and even if its wrong, it's almost always interesting.
6. Hospitality. Not only do they understand the word, but they're efficient at it. Ask for something and it'll be waiting for you with a smile, followed by a grin, not necessarily in that order.
7. When they say they're going to do something, they deliver. Their word means something as does the word Honor.
8. For the record, #5 is worth repeating.
9. How much many of the town layouts reminded me of some of the English rural towns, always marked with a pub in the center.
The difference is that the bartenders always seem to be happy, or if they're not when you first sit down, it doesn't take long to get a smile out of them.
10. The Irish are laid back; they left uptight behavior somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Guinness is not just an Irish brand, it's an institution. Pubs wear the name on their seats, towels, banners, coasters and glasses and people drink a lot of it. A helluva lot of it.
12. Just how damp the air is, not unlike my memories of England. The dampness not just hugs your bones but it goes through them.
14. History is a big deal. They all know a lot of it and you won't leave without a lesson or two.
15. Abortion is illegal. I forgot that it was and was shocked to learn that it still is.
16. How different the north and south is and how loyal the people are to their county, towns, villages, cities and pubs.
17. How entertaining any pub visit can be regardless of which one you walk into.
18. How gorgeous the pubs are -- inside and out, from the drapes and windows to the old wood, brass and textiles.
NEW THINGS LEARNED:
1. Sadly, American beers like Budweiser and Miller seem to have made a successful entry into Ireland despite the fact that they brew their own beer which is 10x better.
3. There's a growing technology scene in Dublin, Galway and other pockets of the country.....and a lot of innovative ideas and people are emerging.
4. You can find a great selection of boots and shoes and they're on par with what I found in France, Italy and Germany, but in more cases than not, for about the same price as Paris.
5. More people than not thought I was Irish and apparently it wasn't just because of my auburn hair and pale white skin. There's something in a walk I'm told and it looks like I have "it" whatever "it" is.
6. There are enough fabulous restaurants with great food and ambiance that you could eat out every night of the week in Dublin and never get bored or have a bad meal.
7. You can easily meet 5 Paddy's, 5 Connors, and 5 Iains in one afternoon.
8. Wine is heavily taxed, so much so that you can easily pay more for a bottle or glass of wine than you would in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of America's most expensive cities. And, for 6-8 Euros a glass, you may only end up with a mediocre French Bordeaux. It's considered a luxury I'm told whereas beer is not. Moral of the story is: drink beer. There's a ton of it and it's really good.
9. More people still read books, magazines and newspapers in their hard copy form, not on their iPads or laptops - even on a park bench in the rain.
10. People text a lot more than they do in the states.
11. Entrepreneurs I met are more interested in building a business than flipping one.
12. Radio still flies. I ran into one start-up CEO who met his $20K angel investor because of a local radio interview.
13. Google has their European headquarters in Dublin. The rest of Silicon Valley may already know this, but I didn't. I also learned that they're not easily "accessible."
14. Art in Dublin is pricey compared to what I've seen in other European cities. That said, there IS a scene.....from poets, painters, photographers and designers, to illustrators, architects, fiddlers and film producers.
15. The architecture industry is suffering; the decline being hit by a reduction in building because of the economic downturn. That said, there's more "church" architecture gigs than you'd find in the states because of the volume of them. And, projects could easily take a year or more.
17. Pub crawls in Dublin are not just for tourists. What else is cool and may not be well known, is that they have literary and music pub crawls too.
18. Festivals are quite possibly as common as pubs, and....they're scattered throughout the year. And, all of them look interesting and worth attending.
19. People may be having fewer kids but 3 is certainly not uncommon and more the norm than it is the states, particularly in cities.
Lastly, and most of all, the charm and yesteryear culture of Ireland remains. Misty gray skies are part of its unpredictable weather, regardless of the time of year, but with it comes a stronger tolerance for things and a heartier stock of folks who are a joy to meet and get to know.
Passion and creativity also reign as much as they always did, which will be enough of a reason alone to bring me back to Irish shores and valleys again and again.
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