By Roshi Fernando
Ok, a warning…..as is becoming more and more the case, this post has very little to do with the book itself. I have a few half written posts which I meant to finish off with a little bit more reference to the books in questions, but those books are in transit and by the time they arrive I’ll have ready plenty more books and this is becoming a bit like my early teen diaries, where I was trying to fill in my pages for April in October, so what I’d written a few months ago was this:
Homesick, an appropriate title considering how I feel so much of the time. I will never regret these years, I have grown to love Spain, something I would never have expected if you had asked me 10 years ago. I first studied Spanish for South America, had no great desire to spend any particular amount of time in Spain itself, the high-rise of Torremolinos having left enough of an imprint on my 6 year old mind. And now we’re at a situation where in a few months’ time we may feel a certain homesickness for Spain, our home away from home.
The Germans have a word, ‘Heimat’ which doesn’t really have any equivalent in English, it somehow explains in a much clearer way, that pull of the homeland, that something which you will never lose, whether you want to or not.
I was so busy at work that I didn’t notice Easter creeping up on us, then last night it was as if the realisation just hit me. ‘I’m going home tomorrow’ and I felt so excited. My sisters will also be home from the UK and as far as I’m aware, on Sunday we’ll all be together for the first time in 2014. And maybe partners too? Is it possible that for ‘the first’ time ever all of my family and all of our partners will be together? In one sense being abroad and then coming home really heightens the emotions of a family gathering. There will be stress and emotion, but mostly laughter. Or at least here’s hoping…
After long drawn out talks of potentially moving back we finally have a fixed timeline and it’s beginning to feel real. And I was chatting to my sister on Facebook a few nights ago and she ended enigmatically with ‘soon it will be me’ but didn’t respond when I looked for clarification it’s been 5 years since we’ve all been living in Ireland, I wonder how long before we’re all back.
When I was younger I soon realised that it was very strange that all of my aunts and uncles (all 9 families) lived in Ireland, none of them had emigrated. Of course we had American second cousins, who would come back every few years.
Between my siblings we’ve lived in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Scotland, South Africa, England and Belarus. Obviously most of this was the so-called lifestyle emigration, well some of them student summer jobs, some longer. But the emigration of the last 5 years, that is less voluntary.
Compared to the characters in this book we have it easy though. For most Irish emigrants language is not a problem in the destination countries. Or even in many of them where English is not the native language it is so commonly used as a lingua franca in business that it may as well be. Nowadays we don’t face the discrimination of the ‘no blacks, no Irish’ days, apart from some parts of Australia, where some people are giving the Irish a bad reputation.
But wherever you go, despite what you may intend you will often end up hanging around with people of your own nationality. And sometimes you feel a certain shame ‘I’ve come all this way and I’m starting a new life and I really want to integrate and yet here I am. You may dismiss it all you like, or feel very un-Irish at times when you are at home, but when you meet fellow Irish abroad, especially if we’re talking about somewhere there aren’t too many of us, there is just a certain humour that is shared that you don’t find with anybody else. I don’t think this is unique, each culture has its shared history. There is a history you have grown up with, TV programs you’ve watched, songs you’ve sung, schoolbooks you’ve studied. You don’t need this when it’s all around you, but in small doses it can be fantastic. There is another issue though. You may want to integrate. You may be ready to do your best to make new friends, embrace the local culture, but the locals, they aren’t embracing you (or at least, not enough for a full social circle). And why should they? What have you got to offer them? If you are living in your home country, think about how many times in the last few years you have generously offered the hand of friendship to someone new to your country. For once I can say yes, yes I have. But that’s because I went through it myself before, got offered that hand of friendship and realised how much it meant to me.
Anyway all of this is a preamble to explain why you have a group of people halfway across the world from their homeland meeting up on New Year’s Eve to celebrate.
And now I’m looking over the lights of Dublin and looking forward to that first mug of tea with a slice of my mother’s brown bread.
I’m now sitting in one of my favourite cafes in Dublin (in the apparently ‘disappointing’ Temple Bar). The name above the door is the Brick Alley Cafe but to me it will always be the Joy of Coffee. Back when I was in college it was one of the few pure cafes (as opposed to cafe bars, not that they had reached their peak at this stage) that opened late. There are large wooden tables and you just take your place there. There is no feeling that you are strange for being alone. There are loads of flyers for different arts events, the type of things I might not always attend but I like to know are there. I studied my Russian here while waiting for a train home. I met friends. I watched people coming here for informal language classes. I watched. I confess I do miss a certain level of anonymity. It is great in one way to be able to walk into a restaurant in Casares and the people know us, but I miss the anonymity of a big city cafe when people come and go and nobody notices you sitting in a corner taking it all in.
I’ve picked up a flyer for the Dublin Writers Festival. I’m still planning on coming next month for the Giro but also two weeks later. D is doing an exam but I was planning on staying in Spain. Until one of my best friends who lives in Australia mentioned she would be home and asked ‘you wouldn’t happen to be in Ireland that weekend?’
(I just watched the Hare Krishna episode of Mad Men a few days ago and it’s mad to see them singing down the street just now!)
I thought the book might remind me a bit of ‘One more year’ by Sara Krasikov but that one was more about recent emigrants, a bit like myself, who say ‘one more year’ in ‘one more year I’ll move home. It was a bit like that with us. That one more year was slippery. We went to Spain for two years, we’ve been there twice as long. I’m slightly terrified about coming home. I sit here in this cafe and it’s all so familiar. I walk from Connolly to O’Connell St. Everything is familiar even if it’s different. That bargain bookshop at the beginning of Grafton St. is closing. If you want bargain books I’d prefer to buy them on the internet than one of those shops. If I want a bookshop I want a real bookshop, not this fake. There is a McDonald’s in Temple Bar. That is a disappointment. In some ways O’Connell St is a lost cause, too many fast food joints. Surely there could have been something else here. The Centra was bad enough. I read about The Factory being evicted and I think, weren’t these last few years supposed to be a time of regeneration, to discover what we’re about. Art was popping up everywhere, revitalising the city, but now that the economy is out the up it’s like ‘thank you very much, you can go back to the side-lines where you belong’
So I’m not worried about settling back in , but people, people. I have my family, I have friends, but 4 years is a long time to be away, no matter how often you make it back. In some sense I have to start again from the beginning.
But this book was more about the children of people who have stayed away, the Sri Lankans born at home do get some stories but the focus is more on the London boom generation. It is interesting to be reading this the week after the Ireland state visit. There were many articles in the papers about the identity of Irish in Britain, especially second generation. Dara O’Briain famously said that he would ‘love his English child’.
I’m sitting in my parents-in-law conservatory looking out over Blessington lake. It’s not quite as warm today as it was in the past few days, but still lovely in the conservatory. I’ve gone for a walk at Russborough with my Mother in Law and Sister in Law and we’ve marvelled at the beautiful colours on display there. I think some time abroad really heightens your appreciation of home. At first in Spain we marvelled at the beautiful surroundings there. Everything was so much bigger. The wilds were so much wilder. And yet, after a few years away you take that for granted and come back and appreciate the different but equal beauties of Ireland.
And it really irritates me when I read about how there’s nothing to do in and around Dublin and how boring a city it is.
On Friday evening I went to that concert in the beautiful Adam and Eve’s church. I do love a good requiem and the Mornington Singers are fantastic, even if I am biased. I remember when they sang at my brother’s wedding, thinking, I may as well never get married, we’ll never be able to top this.
Yesterday I went to the Battle of Clontarf re-enactment then raced into Dublin to catch the end of the Villagers set in Towers Records for Record Store Day. We needed some new CDs for our car and anyway as I’m not supposed to be buying books it was a good substitute to buy some albums. I don’t know if there is something wrong with me though. I looked in the movies section and couldn’t see a single one I felt like buying. A lovely Easter walk this morning after mass and lazy brunch. Today we’re going back to Skerries to celebrate my sister’s 30th. It will be the first time all siblings and all their current partners have all been together. It’s always such an effort to get people together these days. As an emigrant coming home there is always a bit of heightened emotion, trying to pack as much as possible, but even leaving aside the family aspects there is so much else I could be doing. I have a Monday and Tuesday to plan out.
So…..that was how far I’d got to. 4 weeks in and I am happy to be home, though I’m sure some of the euphoria will disappear soon enough.
Like I said, I’m not going to write any more about the book at the moment, but it is a good one, well written and with moments of joy and horror and normal everyday life. It’s difficult to emigrate and be an emigrant, but you deal with those issues of living far away from home because….sometimes…..it’s even more difficult to move home.