When I was about 12, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I die. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not entirely certain this list was ever committed to paper, but it definitely lived in my head. And at this point, the only things I can remember being on it were "live in Ireland" and "swim with dolphins, but not somewhere they make you wear a safety vest with a logo on it".
Since then, the list has become a half-joke with myself, and I add celebrity things to it, like "kiss John Cusack on the cheek" and "give Michael Stipe a hug". But I still haven't swum (swam? swimmed? Swommeled?) with dolphins.
In 2003, from January to May, I participated in a semester abroad in Galway, Ireland. I relished every minute of it, and while other students were consistently travelling to Rome or Athens, I was consistently sitting around talking to locals and falling deeply in love with one or two or three Irish young men who may or may not have been attractive, given the amount of alcohol consumed, but who were witty and hilarious and quick and I loved them.
After graduating college in 2004, I went back to Ireland from September to December, lived in Dublin and worked at the Irish Film Institute, in their archive. The job wasn't as sexy as it sounds, and being in Dublin was much lonelier and less personal than Galway had been. The point is, though, I spent a fair amount of time in Ireland.
This means that, in my small, American outsider way, I kind of know what Ireland's like, or at least what it was like til the end of 2004. And that means that, in America, Ireland is ruined for me.
Before I lived in Galway (which is a great town and you should visit--Dublin could be any big city anywhere, for the most part), I was an aficionado for all things Irish. I had those obnoxious Putamayo Celtic music cds, I had read "Angela's Ashes" three times, and I told myself I loved Yeats and the movie "The Commitments", even though neither of those things were true.
As much as Americans want to tell you that we are culturally sensitive, there's a small-to-large part of us that thinks and hopes that Irish people are actually leprechauns. Americans get off the plane at Shannon or Dublin International shouting "Erin Go Braaaa!" and "Top o' the mornin' to ya!!!" without realizing a crucial fact:
No one in Ireland talks this way. No one.
They also don't have Lucky Charms for sale in the supermarket. Most of them don't live in thatched-roof houses and sit by the fire, staring at the sea and talking about silkies, either.
Dublin made me bitter and angry toward tourists in the extreme. In Galway, I was constantly getting mistaken for Irish by the American tourists ("Oh, God, Hal, she's American!" I remember one woman saying, with the strongest midwestern accent I have ever heard.), but I didn't watch them interact with the culture much. Most of the tourists who made it to Galway seemed to be a little more aware, anyway.
In Dublin, one of my bus stops was also a bus stop for those obnoxious red sightseeing buses (my other bus stop was in front of a strip club). And one day, the bus driver/tour guide was talking the last of his passengers off his bus. They were a middle aged couple. They were very fat. They were carrying eight shopping bags each (this is the equivalent of wearing a target across your face). They were taking their sweet time.
The man was asking the driver about more shopping. He responded in a strong Dubliner accent, his speech peppered with all sorts of clever and expected "Irish-isms". And I looked at this man, and thought, "Wow, he's literally jolly." And he chortled, and the Americans laughed loudly, and shuffled down the street, weighed down by their Aran sweaters and Irish linens.
The man walked up to the window of the sandwich shop behind me, leaving his bus, and sat heavily at the outdoor counter with a sigh. "Is this day over yet?" he said to the shop owner wearily. Or, I should say, he said to the shop owner in a completely different accent. Still Irish, but mellower, less campy.
Now, you can either get frustrated at this man for faking these people out, or you can think about the fact that he gets tipped by Americans, and the more he gives Americans what they want to see, the bigger his tips will be.
Working at the Irish Film Institute, I also got to see movies like "Adam and Paul" (view the trailer on YouTube here), about two heroin addicts in Dublin. It's a really good film, but it will never be distributed in the states, because it ruins the image that Americans have of the Irish. We might know there are heroin addicts everywhere, but we don't want to see it. Incidentally, most of "Adam and Paul" was filmed either in the neighborhood I lived in, or in the section of Dublin where I worked.
So now, whenever someone suggests something "Irish" to me, I all but recoil. Movies are overdrawn, most of the music either makes me painfully nostalgic or just puts me in pain, and most books, shows, stories and the like are either too overdrawn to be tolerated or are too spot on to be endured.
There are, of course, exceptions. If you haven't seen "My Left Foot", you should, mostly because Daniel Day-Lewis is in it and Daniel Day-Lewis is in the business of Changing Your Life.
And for the dozens of people who have said, "Oh, you have cerebral palsy. Yeah, I've seen 'My Left Foot'."--I have cerebral palsy, but I don't have it like that. Okay?
I will probably go back to Ireland at some point, but it won't be for a while. I have never liked being a tourist, but maybe if I wait long enough, I can go back and be that woman on the bus, buying green and orange trinkets for everyone she knows. I might even love it.
Do you have places or memories like this, that have almost spoiled an idea over time? What do you do with it?