-By Mark Stefanik. Mark is an old friend, middle school Language Arts teacher and union activist.
Rick Blaine came to Casablanca for the waters; I have come to Galway for the races.
Rick needed anonymity to elude the Nazis and to deny his grief. I seek anonymity to confront my grief, to patch that bruised and battered sense of self that accompanies losing my mate of 38 years.
This will not be a blog about grief, however; I’m still too busy navigating those seas to offer directions. Rather, I want to address the concept of intrusion, of a world disrupted not by an event but by the presence of just one person. Recall Rick’s iconic lament: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
In Casablanca he got Elsa.
In Galway I got Trump.
I’ll get on with it momentarily, but first, perhaps, I should explain my choice for ‘of all the towns in all the world.’ It’s a bucket list thing. The Irish are mad for their horse-racing, and the peak of that madness occurs in late July with an entire week of racing and partying. The hub of Galway is Eyre Square, a grassy park dotted with sculptures and statues, from which the streets branch out like so many spokes, each lined with shops and pubs and ancient churches. There are brilliant flowers everywhere in window boxes and on the riverfront lawns. Street musicians play in singles, pairs, or complete bands. The food, as they say, is brilliant. In fact, the only native contradiction to this idyll was a humorous one. A seagull the size of a small drone swooped over a man walking in front of me and deposited a massive amount of what might be described as licorice-veined yogurt down the fellow’s back. And if all of this is not enough to distinguish Galway, the prominent statue of Oscar Wilde speaks volumes about the culture of the town.
So, a good escape for me until the shield of my anonymity was pierced.
There are folks from all over the world visiting Galway, but there aren’t so many Americans that my Chicago accent goes unnoticed. Indeed, I had hoped that my voice would be a conversation starter and it was, but that’s where the intrusion became nearly universal. I do not exaggerate when I state that within 1-2 minutes of establishing my ‘American-ness’, I’d get the one word question, “Trump?” and we’d be off on the daft, and to many Irish, frightening turn in American politics. I’d want to talk about the races or the arts festival or books or food; instead, I’d be detoured by the new Gaelic-American ice-breaker-Trump.
I finally had a good conversation late last night riding home on the bus with a retired professor. Of course I had to put the ‘intrusion’ to rest, but the ride was long enough that we could actually discuss what we were currently reading.
And lest you think that this talk is just gab and the world famous Irish charm towards visitors, let me quote my host when we were having one of our first talks.
“We have Putin on one side of us, and now it looks like Trump on the other side.”
These are not polite jests to a Chicago boy about Al Capone or Michael Jordan. In 1968, protestors at the Democratic National Convention coined the phrase, “the whole world is watching.”
It still is.
So be forwarned, if you’re planning to travel outside the USA, you travel as a wee ambassador. Get Uncle Sam representing freedom and prosperity out of even your wildest assumptions about perceptions of our country. Instead, prepare for the ‘intrusion’, and, like me, resign yourselves to the fate of Lucy Ricardo when confronting a world of Ricky Ricardos:
“You got plenty of ‘splaining to do.”