Sunday 14 December 2008

Ireland on the way down, freefalling

I feel like doing a Gerry Ryan- style review of the papers today. Maybe I'll start making podcasts to post on here. Anybody like to hear that? she asks the void. Don't all start running to the comments like lemmings over a cliff, now. I know your keyboard fingers get itchy when you click on Lucy Takes Off.

So, I take the Irish Independent, dear. It doesn't take me anywhere interesting, I might add, but it is the only source of Irish news that I can get for free over the internet, being as it is that the Times is a pay per view affair (is this even POSSIBLE in this day and age?) and I haven't found anything else national worth glancing at. Perhaps the Examiner? Haven't tried that. Again, suggestions welcome (the void says yawp yawp yawp).

This is on the front page of the Indo today:

The Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, in a breathtaking admission of complacency, has said that the Government only became aware of the economic "decline" in July, two years after slowdown indicators first became apparent and when the country was actually in the grip of a full-scale crisis.

The only thing surprising about this headline is that Lenihan actually said what was on his mind. Ireland has to be the last country in the free world whose politicians do this. Perhaps even that complacency will go, when the squeeze becomes a tighter fit. When I was living in Denmark, I heard stories about the boom in the Faroe Islands. It didn't just reach Iceland, apparently as soon as things got good, everyone in the Faroes had a swimming pool built in their back garden. Maybe they're growing vegetables in them now...

See, in Ireland, the Celtic Tiger boom was our very first boom ever. We never had a boom before. We never had money before, as a nation. We knew about famine, recession, poverty, survival, the life of the spirit. Every time I visited Ireland after I left in 2003, as the rich got richer and the poor learned to put their hands out a little farther, I was struck by the sheer savage materialism of the place. The women seemed to be putting more and more make-up on (I was living in Denmark for a lot of this time, where the women were uniformly clean scrubbed, blonde and sensible) and the heels got higher and spindlier, the dresses got sequinnier and the tits spilled out over the tiny pieces of fabric containing them. Everybody was slamming booze and the statistics about cocaine made it sound like it had replaced the spliff as the casual chemical of choice.

I always asked the same question: where is it coming from? Various people pointed to the activity, the buzz, the relentless energy of an economy in rude health, a landscape where a restaurant in Dublin city centre could not possibly fail, would in fact, be packed out from the first day it opened and every day thereafter, where everyone was going out all the time, where people got used to service largely given by the reams of Poles and other East Europs flowing into the country to do jobs we had never had before in Ireland, let alone do them ourselves.

It was a very strange place to visit. I hadn't noticed it being like that before I left.

Meanwhile, I was living in an incredibly sensible and stable country, with a social welfare system that astonishes me still in its humanity and consideration of the value of a decent life for all. This did not make me want to leave any less. I just didn't know where to. So I tried Berlin and Barcelona and ended up back here in New York. This feels like home now. It certainly isn't stable.

So now apparently Ireland is on her way back to recession. She knows it well, even if the 40% of people under 24 there, only know of such things from history books. It's not so long ago though. They date the Tiger years from 1996, but I don't recall things being much different then. Really, the mega boom was just for the last very few years, in my opinion. The palpable madness and relief of it. Ireland needed this frenzy of consumption. It was like a counter-famine.

And, you know, she wears it well. When I saw a clip of the Satanic Sluts on the Late Late show that a New York friend of mine who has recently moved to Dublin, had posted on facebook, well, you've got to know things are peaking. Actually it's the fast train down. Because things tend to pick up speed slowly, accelerate quickly toward the top, plateau and dance for a little bit, then full speed down. There is some kind of absolute gravity freewheel that can be reached when the height one is falling from is high enough. It's a state where maximum velocity is reached, and everything is just coasting. It's a bit like that line from La Haine, where the man is falling from the top of a building, and as he falls past each floor, hurtling toward the ground, he says to himself, jusqu'ici, tout est bien. Jusqu'ici, tout est bien. So far, so good.

C'est pas la tombe. C'est la terrisage.

It's not the falling, it's the landing. Or, to quote another song from hard-hit times,

Is that all there is, my friend? Then let's go dancing....


  1. A brief binge. A long hunger.

    Let's go dancing, indeed.

  2. Yes, binge and starve seems to be a dynamic in Irish life. It would be cheap to say that it was a bulimic society. These things run deep, and oldly.