17 March 2010

Let the Great World Spin on St. Patrick's Day.

Let me start by writing that I am not Irish, nor will I pretend to be on this day.   I've never felt a particular kinship to this day of celebration, wearing green and drinking to excess, and I have only ever looked across the Irish Sea with a faint interest of what happens there.

Sure there may be a bit of Irish blood coursing through my diverse American veins, but it's not strong enough to illicit a calling to that land or people to which an overwhelming number of Americans claim ancestry.  (And even if there is some of that blood there, its involvement in my life is awfully complicated.)  I don't long to enter Dublin's pubs and I don't feel the pull of the music; for me, there is no kinship to Joyce or Guinness, and the history of violence in Belfast and Northern Ireland neither intrigues nor incites me to choose a side, no matter how much my faintly Irish-Catholic parish encouraged us to tentatively support Sinn Fein. Even then, at thirteen, I remained, in essence, a neutral, professing a greater interest in political struggles more endemic to the United States, or to me personally.

This is not to say that I take issue with the day, the people or the country; for I do not.  It is just not a part of who I am.

However, on this day, this absolutely beautiful cloudless St. Patrick's Day, I am lucky to have had the day off from work. As such, I walked to a local coffeehouse and finished reading the last hundred or so pages of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin.   He is an Irish writer who has written a novel that encompasses so many things and so many people, one would think  that he has all of us coursing through his veins, from the spindly legged funambulist who haunts the the opening pages of the novel, to the black prostitute facing her fortieth charge of solicitation in a courtroom to the Park Avenue housewife who loses her only son in the Vietnam War.  He seems to understand so many different people--or at least he imagines and writes them without judgment or malice.  He doesn't try to dissect or essentialize the psyche of any of his characters, and for that, I find that I have a great respect for both him and his writing.

So, I sat there on the front porch of the row house coffeehouse in Petworth soaking in the sun and reading while trying to imagine the New York that McCann had created, one that was as real and as true as the New York I've seen and about which I've heard.  However, during my reading I was a bit distracted at times.

There is a large building project going on across the street from the coffeeshop.  A big orange crane is hoisted in the air, and for the first time ever, I saw a crane's legs (or perhaps a blue heron's?)  in that metal contraption.  I'm not even sure if I am supposed to see that metaphor, but I do.  I used my hand to cover my eyes from the sun so that I could get a better look at the construction and the crane itself. Of course, one of the workers thought that I was flirting with him, and he waved, convinced that I could see more than the hardhat and bright yellow vest that pressed against a steel railing. 

How funny it is when we think we are the center of the universe.

But I digress.

It is St. Patrick's Day and I am not in a bar, but I have celebrated a writer of its lands, one who writes with a worldview that I find compelling and one who has made Ireland and the Irish a little less foreign to me. 

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh.


susan said...

I've never really noticed the crane/crane connection, myself, but I like the idea. Sounds like you had an enviably pleasant day :)

Fwiw, I love the sound of Irish bagpipes. (At least, I'm reasonably certain they're Irish in origin.) They're played sitting down, using a foot pedal bellows, and have a lovely, mellow sound to them.

susan said...

(Ah, I'm mixing up my pipes. Uilleann bagpipes are indeed the Irish ones and are played with a bellows, but not a foot pedal. I can't recall which ones have the pedal.)