Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shifting perspectives

As you may have noticed, the blog entries have slowed down considerably. I'm aware of this, but because I promised myself that this blog would not be about work or anything resembling work, I needed to keep it purely in the land of inclination. And I guess I haven't been so inclined, for various reasons.

But one reason is simply this: Dublin just isn't as weird to me anymore. When I first got here, my eyes were peeled in a newbie kind of way - I noticed the odd phrasings on street signs, and the way people walked, and the different foods on offer in the shops. But now that I've been here for seven months (today), the quirky has started to shift into the mundane, and it isn't captured by my consciousness in quite the same way. I have to intentionally create Brecht's verfremdungseffekt , in my mind's eye, to see the cultural peculiarities.

The fact that life here is becoming familiar is very interesting to me, because acculturation happens on many different levels, and at many different paces. Plenty of things still appear unusual or alien to me, but the things I notice now are harder to articulate, because they are about the fundamental ways that people interact with the world and others in it. When I have a better grasp on these more intuitive aspects, I will write about them.

My shift in perspective has been highlighted recently by a couple of factors. I have a new friend who is originally from Italy, and immediately I found her compelling; she is so different from the Irish. It's not that I am tired of the Irish, but more that, maybe, her particular cultural distinctiveness is refreshing, and it puts Irish customs and practices in relief. It helps me to see Dubliners, and myself, in a new light. My Italian friend, Elisabetta, is animated, and quick to engage passionately in conversation, and verbally free - she says things directly. She told me that in order to get along with colleagues in Ireland, she had to learn to be less direct; she's had to figure out how to come at things a bit sideways, because her regular approach - which she would use with colleagues at home - would be considered too forthright.

The international stereotype of the Irish is that they are friendly, and quick to bring outsiders into a chat, and great conversationalists, etc. Just look at the first 5 minutes of The Quiet Man, when the American is greeted with glee and offered directions by half a dozen animated little 'ole wans'. Or all the shenanigans that go on in films like The Matchmaker and Waking Ned. I choose the Hollywood Irish films because they have been instrumental in fabricating Irishness for lands beyond Ireland. And these representations are not complete fabrications - the people I have met are friendly, and they do love a great conversation and opportunities for good craic, but I am also finding that there is often a barrier or wall to real social intimacy. My friend Paul pointed out to me that Torontonians are not quite so different - we, too, can be friendly and welcoming to the outsider on one level, but then slightly closed when it comes to really letting people into our inner circles. I like to think that I have thrown away that barrier as I crossed the Atlantic and allowed myself to become vulnerable in so many ways. But it's hard to tell, of course, because how does one use the V-effect on oneself? I know that, in this blog in general, I have been approaching people entirely as products of their culture and society, and that this leaves out a whole realm of other factors that shape identity and behaviour, and that such an approach is reductive and potentially stereotyping, but... oh, well, I said this wasn't work :)

The second recent thing that has shifted my perspective is the arrival of my sister Amber, who in fewer than 12 hours has shown me how accustomed I have come to this place. She is finding so many things interesting that I now take for granted. She giggled at the sign for 'Irish Ferries' that was pointing in the direction of the harbour, and seemed genuinely concerned that our bus was going to crash into other vehicles on the way back from the airport. She isolated the combination of the short buildings and narrow streets as the distinct architectural feature of Temple Bar that creates the character of the space, and she noted the oddity of having one's washing machine in the kitchen. These are all things I noticed when I arrived, but that do not cross my radar any more. They seem like simple differences, but I think they are fundamental differences - radical differences, in fact. What I mean by this is that objects and the layout of objects in space affect our movement patterns in daily life. The narrowness of the streets means that bodies interact in a closer proximity than they do in places that have more space, like Canada. The height restrictions create a different aspect relationship between the human body and the world it inhabits - we are not dwarfed in the streets of Dublin. Amber said that the smaller scale made her focus more on the people and how they were interacting (she also had her ear opened outward, trying to soak up all the Irish accents). The placement of the laundry machine means that certain household tasks become related to one another in particular ways. It might sound like I am grasping at straws here, but I really do think that the shift in spatial relationships can have a concomitant effect on social relationships and customs. But this is starting to sound a bit like work, so perhaps I will switch gears, and leave you with two pictures of my lovely sister Amber, excited by the cobblestones of Temple Bar, and the Liffey and the beauty of its bridges, on her first night in Dublin (and her first night in Europe).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin

Just came back from the parade - I was able to watch it about 200 metres from my apartment, which reminds me how glad I am that I chose such a central location. It makes finding a bite to eat (at home) and changing clothes for the next adventure (at home) quite convenient.

This was my first Patrick's Day parade in Ireland, and I was quite excited, because it has to be the largest and most public way that Ireland performs her identity for herself, for the tourists, and to the world. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did think it would be big.

I was right, but it was not big in some of the ways I expected. For one, there seemed to be a real emphasis on bicycle or people-powered floats. There were lots of huge puppets operated by groundlings, and usually one person cycling, while others helped to push the float from behind. In some of my pics, you can see them struggling to get up the hill on Dame St. at Parliament. Only a few floats were gasoline-powered, and this was a nice surprise. I mean, I barely made it through all the cigarette smoke that surrounded me on Dame Street - burning fuel would not have been very pleasant. Most of the large spectacle items were animal figures, which I guess fits with the whole pagan thing, and the colours were bright and lively. There was an artisanal feel to many of the large puppets, which was a nice contrast with, say, all the plastic used in the Pride parade in Toronto.

There was hardly a nationalist inkling in site - in fact, there seemed to be an absence of demonstrably "Irish" elements. A few Irish cities/counties had contingents - Donegal, Waterford, Belfast, and there was an international presence as well - I saw Madrid, something from Italy, a group that looked like they were in traditional Indian garb, and a couple of African-themed groups. The most random one had the be the North Carolina State Marching Band. I was like, WTF? Overall, I would say that the multiculturalism of the parade - the presence of different ethnicities - outweighed the visibility of different ethnicities that I encounter on my wanderings around Dublin. But I don't really wander all that far around Dublin, so whaddoIknow?

The crowds were upbeat, but as far as I could tell, not really drunk yet, so that was a relief. Someone told me to wear wellies because it can get that messy outside. But right now, in my very central apartment, it's once again quiet outside, and the barriers on the street were coming down as the last group of cyclists passed by.

Anyway, off I go to other Patrick's Day adventures. Just needed to dump the SD card, recharge the camera battery, and fuel myself.

The pics below show my wanderings around Temple Bar and O'Connell/the Quays before the parade began, the parade itself, and then my street afterward. I had an ok position on the street, but there are lots of heads in the shots, so please skim through quickly!