Saturday 27 October 2007

Some of the new folks on the block

I'm sitting in a brand new Turkish kebab house in Limerick city, staffed by Egyptians, and Irish and Polish waitresses. There's free wifi, hardwood furniture and paintings on the walls. In the past 24 hours, not counting family, I have spoken to more people from Bangladesh, Lithuania and Iraq, than Limerick, or even Ireland. I never quite grasped the extent of the change that has happened over the past few years until now, now that I'm spending most of my time here in public areas: hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, the streets. It's a really interesting time, a really interesting place.

There's a man in his sixties who has just come in, bought his kebab, then sat down and and ordered a cup of tea. The Irish waitress says, "sure, would you like to pay for that now, or later?" And he says, "do you think I'm going to get up and walk out for the price of a cup of tea, after paying for my food?" He's genuinely hurt. "I've never done that in my life before, and I'm not going to start now." Of course, she's just doing her job, and she's concerned she'll forget about the price of the tea, that she'll have other customers to attend to. But he's a man of a certain working class pride, and he has taken her question very personally.

Three nights ago, I was standing at the traffic lights between the Marriott and Dunnes stores, and the row of bus stops that go all the way out to Moyross housing estate. Two elderly women were standing in front of me, waiting for the lights to change. One of them turned around, and with a look on her face like she was a very small thing talking to a very big thing, and laying herself bare before its mercy, asked me for two euro for a cup of tea. This woman was from Limerick, was in her late sixties or early seventies, sober, and sane. I've been concerned about my financial situation lately, to say the least, and I told her no, ma'am, I'm sorry, I don't have it. And we crossed the road. And as soon as I hit the other side, I stopped. Rooted in my wallet, got the two feckin euro, and marched after them. My apologies, madam, I said to her, I believe this belongs to you. And handed her the two euro coin.

I was called a 'dirty cunt' before 2 o'clock this afternoon, by a tiny, frail little blonde girl in a tiny, frail little blonde girl voice, as she rolled her pram across the Athlunkard Bridge (yeah, it all seems to be going on on the Athlunkard Bridge lately). I was on my bike at the time, and we sort of met. Didn't collide or anywhere near it, but enough for her to get her words out. Totally matter of fact, her expression. Kind of blank.

Limerick, today.

Two funny things I've just discovered

1. Freddy's was recommended in Cara, the aer lingus (national Irish airline) in-flight magazine, which is just HILARIOUS. You'd have to see both Cara and Freddy's to truly appreciate the beauty of this one.

2. Somebody in Seoul googled or bloggered "armpit lick" and got through to my blog. Bliss.

Friday 26 October 2007

On madness, intelligence and human kindness

It was Mental Health Week in Ireland, the week before I arrived. Just discovered this, written up on a billboard in some dank alleyway in Limerick city. I have something to say about mental health. An unusual slant, you might say. And I am deadly serious about this. Unkindness is a serious mental illness. Natural human intelligence is wildly kind. Where kindness is lacking, human intelligence is retarded, and just doesn't function right. Lack of intelligent compassion is serious mental illness. The inability to see the humanity in each human being you meet is highly socially dangerous behaviour.

Have a look around, folks. Where exactly are the sane people? Where is human intelligence? Is it in universities, in the bodies of professors spending their entire lives writing theses for 19 year olds to read in order to form an opinion so they can write an essay and get a degree so they can become somebody who writes essays for other 19 years olds to make opinions out of, and that no one else will ever ever ever read, including themselves? Is human intelligence in mensa? Is it making Manhattan go round? Is that human intelligence in motion? Do these words even resonate with you? I'm not fucking around here. Absence of kindness is a BLIGHT, a plague in the world. Funny how we're left to our own devices in addressing that one. No government grants or tax cuts on the kindness shortage.

The degree of our pleasure and pain in life is largely dependent on the way we respond to rolling with the punches. But some things wail like a siren in the soul.

We don't take pictures at funerals. We don't take pictures of our pain. We don't like to live through it and we don't like to be reminded of it. But this stuff is as much a part of life as laughing and joy and weddings. Death and pain and sadness and loneliness and hurt, these all sit at the wedding table too, though they are not given a place, and are usually invisible. Not so invisible, if you look a bit closely. For all the people up on the dancefloor giggling and having fun, there's often twice as many sitting around watching them, looking bored, unhappy, or just drinking themselves to oblivion.

It's interesting that the very people who make official power-wielding judgments about other people's mental health, I think, have their own damage, but have the distinction of being well attuned to living in the world, within world systems, keeping a job, paying the mortgage, maintaining the status quo, not rocking the boat, living a damp life.

It really takes a highly intuitive, instinctual intelligence, and a highly evolved, compassionate kind of understanding, in order to see into another human soul, and see what it is that's actually disturbed, or unaccepted, in that human life, and how to suggest ways of helping. We are not evolved as a species in many of the very basic ways. There isn't a richness of mental or physical sanity around, and human beings are very much copycats. Whatever the available model of living is, is generally what's followed.

People get shocked by a smile from a stranger, in some parts of the world. The thought that follows is, "What's that about? What does he want from me?" That gets called 'being sussed', and your other option in that zone is naivete. It's a vicious pit to live in. I'm talking about being a human being that likes yourself. Being truly friends with yourself. Having a loving air about life. Without that, I don't think we can really hear each other. Until then, we only hear some kind of a distortion. Of course all this is easy to say. Actually getting there is a journey of LIFE. And it's a rocking journey, a fantastic adventure.

This is why we listen to rocknroll. This is why we fucking LOVE rocknroll. When it's good, it's made from the place that the sane madness comes from, and it acts like a hole in the seamlessness of things, that offers a way to jump through into that sane madness of things.

True sanity is highly aberrant. If it's also smart, it probably knows how to keep its mouth shut. Unfortunately, I may be sane, but I'm not so smart.

Things are getting to the point where I NEED to make a rocknroll band.

True Wisdom (Cut to the chase)

I suppose true wisdom has, amongst other qualities, the understanding that any advice given will almost always fall on deaf ears, and it has no quarrel with that. Everybody has to do what they have to do. But then, there are approximately fourteen wise people in the whole wide world.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Celtic Tiger lies slain in the grounds of Lisa Stansfield's stately Dalkey pile

Limerick today: the window cleaners are barking instructions at each other in Polish. Real estate agents meet their clients in the Hilton hotel before bringing them to see prospective one bedroom apartments in blocks A, B and F. Lithuanian call centre agents are talking rurally isolated emailers through the process of setting up their computers for dial-up. The wifi techocrats are in love with the products they sell. And they need to sell. It makes them feel alive.

Hey, I don't know if anyone has actually absorbed this information, but the bell has tolled for the Celtic Tiger. Word got out a few days ago. Some minister or other made the announcement. No women in gold bikinis advertised THAT one on Grafton st. Now, I know it's been splashed all over the headlines of the newspapers, but as long as you can get an Amaretto truffle with your to-go cappucino served to you by an Estonian waitress working for the second highest minimum wage in Europe, I guess you mightn't really notice. Keep making those trips to Brown Thomas, and ripping the heart out of Georgian Limerick in order to replace it with more gigantic 24 hour shopping malls. But the news is in: the good times are over, folks. And you'll probably still have to commute for two and a half hours every day, even when it all turns grey. You just probably won't be able to rely on cashing in on your real estate investment (what used to be called home) at the end of the day.

I had an inkling about it when I heard that Lisa Stansfield had put her house on the market a couple of weeks ago. That day was it for the Celtic Tiger, as far as I'm concerned. Lisa Stansfield is a minor British popstar from the eighties who came to Dublin and bought a big house in Dalkey some time in the early nineties. I don't know how much she paid for it, but now her house is on the market for 7 million euros. And if she gets that, it may well be one of the last big killings of the Celtic Tiger years. It'll take care of her retirement, anyway. She was probably holding out for a while, enjoying the amazing views over Dublin bay, knowing that one day she was going to have to cash in her chips before time ran out, and the market evaporated.

Well, guess what, folks?

Monday 22 October 2007

Riding into Black

I have one thing to say to all car drivers, when driving along unlit night-time country roads (not that you'd notice, because your headlights always light up the roads, so you never have to face the fact that the roads are actually BLACK at night) wherever they and you may be:

When you meet a cyclist coming against you, DIM YOUR LIGHTS DUDE. Don't wait for her to put her arm in front of her face to try to block out the glare in her eyes as she steers her bike around that bend, with the other hand.

Cycling home along black country roads is really a piece of work. When cars come by, as they do often on these roads that lead to and from Limerick city, there are these surreally intense flashes of strong white light and visibility, then back to black immediately afterward. As a car passes, you watch his headlights illuminate the immediate path ahead of you, so you can see if there's a rock in your way, ready to send you flying under the tyres of an oncoming car. It's no joke. Potholes, hairpin bends, high speed cars, that lunatic who passed me so close he could have kissed me while he was doing it - THREE TIMES last night (how did he do it?), riding the loudest motorbike I have ever heard, and driving faster than Evel Knievel in a determined moment - stones, uneven road surfaces (what, in Ireland of the four billion pound roads? surely not!) sudden gaps in the road, as in, here's the road, and then suddenly, here is no road, all these things are leaps of faith into the pure unknown, on the cycle home.

And I love it. The wind rustles in the trees, the air smells so good, your senses are WIDE awake, you can hear the nocturnal animals moving around, responding to you, doing their do. Everything looks unfamiliar at night, cycling home. You can forget what country you're in, who you are, what you're doing, where you're even going to. There's just the focus on the road, the task of getting through it alive, and being exhilarated by the journey.

I had a moment some day last week, when I realised that there was so much interesting about this city and just about anywhere I could possibly be, and that I need to write about it. That the streets are FULL of stories, and moments. And I slipped inside that insight, somehow, and space expanded within it. I dunno, I just started having fun here. It helps to have your eyes open, and a sense of humour handy. It really helps to have loving people about. That's a huge blessing.

It's amazing the kinds of moments you can have in your long-left hometown. I roared down O' Connell street (Limerick's Broadway) yesterday, on the bike, belting out Mystery Train at the top and bottom of my voice. God I love that song. I can smell that song. I can smell the wet heat of it. People actually jumped in the air. I'm having fun here. The most fun I've had in years here, probably. It's not so serious as it used to be, here. At least, what I mean by that is that clearly, I'M not so serious as I used to be, here. There's still a fair whack of seriousness around the Limerick streets. But your hometown can so easily bring out the seriousness in you in a what-a-pity-that's-happening sort of way.

And shortly after that, I was cycling over the Athlunkard bridge, and I saw a man walking toward me, on the footpath. We looked right into each other, and I realised that we had been in the same class in school when we were about six years old, and I realised that he realised the same thing. There may or may not have been crushes involved. They may or may not have been mutual. They were certainly unrequited (requiting it meant holding hands in an intensely meaningful way, at six). We each may or may not have lived out the legacy of that maybe/maybe not crush for a number of subsequent crushes/relationships. Either of us may or may not be still living in the shadow of that maybe/maybe not relationship scenario.

And we looked into each other, and we were kind of amazed, and we smiled. And I cycled, and he walked, past. Over the bridge. In opposite directions.