Tag Archives: Irish American

THIS STORY SAYS “BOO!”

Jack-o-lantern
Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Halloween“Hallowed E’en” (Evening) – is what most people today call the last night of October.  Ancient Celts preferred their own word for it: Samhain, from their god of the dead, who drew back the curtain that separated a dead soul from a living world, granting it freedom to move, just for a night – October 31, the last night of their calendar year.   That’s right: what we call Halloween originated as the harrowing, pagan version of New Year’s Eve!

The scary monsters we associate with Halloween aren’t real, in the physical sense, but they strike a chord within us, for what they symbolize:

Vampires, for example, are depicted as sophisticated, cool under pressure, versatile menaces – the “royalty” of movie monsters – but they also epitomize lack of empathy for others, addiction (to blood), and fear of strangers; they reflect back at us our fear of isolation from others. Whether it’s Count Dracula or Edward Cullen, vamps are hardy perennials.

Werewolves, the more primal “country cousins” of the vampire, push this further, exploring a vision of ourselves, stripped of our literal humanity, altered by a full moon’s radiance into bloodthirsty animals of staggering power – our fear of losing our self-control. This may have found their inspiration in the wildness of ancient human totem-warriors – and yes, lycanthropes have their own fans.

Zombies, namely the fast-running version, are all the rage right now. They focus our fear of literal death, physical disintegration, and mindlessness – but they also seem to be the one such monster an ordinary person could defeat, given the weapons and sufficient ruthlessness, so that, I suspect, plays some role in their popularity, with literary and cinematic audiences.

Ghosts are about our fear of being forgotten,  regrets, frustrations – the kind that couldn’t end in a person’s bodily demise (talk about frightening, if it were true!).  They may also represent our wish to “liven up” our basic, everyday homes and work places, as well as our yearning to remain in contact with our lost loved ones. It may be that they act as a ‘container’ for our fear of oblivion – an odd thing to say about a disembodied spirit, perhaps.  They all pluck some strings within us, someplace where we still shiver at the thought of facing unknown menaces.

They also provide templates for excellent costumes… Happy Trick or Treat!

Advertisements

‘TIS A PALE STORY, AND GREEN!

English: engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'
English: engraving of ‘Emigrants leaving Ireland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it was early yet in my grade-school days when someone in the family, I suspect one of my parents, divulged to me that we were Irish.  Well, okay, better make that: IrishAmerican.  I “got” that it was supposed to be a good thing to be, and I thought I knew what being American meant from saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but the Irish bit didn’t ring my bells just yet.  I could read a map and spin a globe, though, so… yup, found it: Ireland was a tiny isle west of Great Britain – the “Emerald Isle”, which even I knew meant it was… green.

Seemed to me, at that tender age, like a strange thing to care about, especially since we had never been there, so far as I knew – of course, I could have slept through a visit, but if that happened, then I would have seen piles of photos of the place.  (I thought we were Vikings, because “Eric the Red” was a Viking… well, more on that later.)  I knew my parents had vacationed in Bermuda, but that wasn’t the same, and besides, I hadn’t gone with them.

Comes middle school; I’m, like most teens, trying to work out my part in the bigger play, living in California, where an “indoor complexion” (eventually, I did learn to call it a “moon-burn”) seemed like a character flaw to the sun worshipers in my student community, but some people don’t tan, we burn, because we’re so “fair”, which for me meant pale.  (I once looked like a surfer kid, with vanilla hair and copper skin, but that came from having been out in the  summer heat in Texas, when I was 9, 10 at most.)

High school, and I’m keen on it, at last, to a degree that amuses my friends, even now.  Some of my friends proclaimed themselves Scottish and/or Welsh and/or English, and I was the Irish one, even though we lived beside the Pacific Ocean, not the North Atlantic.  These are sub-sets, because we were considered various flavors of Celts, who – it works out – sprang from Spain, and then intermingled with Normans, whose ancestors in France and elsewhere were… Vikings – I was partly right!

University life in Texas, and I’m reading a pile of library books, from the Irish section, one summer: the mythological stories of Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cool, histories of multiple invasions, poems by William Butler Yeats, short stories by James Joyce.  I had wanted to visit England for a million years (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), so I figured it out that I should, if presented with the opportunity to do so, fit a side trip to the Auld Sod, too.  A coach (bus) and a ferry boat later, I watched Dublin harbor swallow us whole, and it… floored me, just how moving and emotional the experience was.  It all happened on the twenty-ninth of July, thus my posting this today.

We ran around, ate and drank, gave money to street musicians, the full-on tourist thing, but I think I felt “there” more than my non-Celtic schoolmates did.  (I had also met an Irish girl at my university in London… but ’tis a story for another time.)  In one pub I thanked the bar staff for the “Foreign Visitors Welcome” sign, only to be told by one friendly guy: “Yanks aren’t foreign to us.”  I don’t know if he was speaking for all of Ireland, or just that particular establishment, but given that something like 100 million people have emigrated from Ireland to the United States (and Britain, and Canada, and Australia, and South Africa, and what do you know, Bermuda), I just thanked him again, as a “local” for that night, and ordered another pint.

THIS IS NOT A “NUMBER”, IT’S A “FREE” STORY

Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene fro...
Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene from the episode “Free for All”, appears on the cover of the first continuation novel based upon the series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I became a fan of the brilliant and weird T.V. series, The Prisoner, before I was wizened enough to comprehend just what made it so great.  It’s become a classic of Sixties television and the pop culture of that decade although it strained to be not of its time, but outside of it. Irish-American actor Patrick McGoohan had already played a “more realistic” variation of James Bond in the series Danger Man – renamed Secret Agent for U.S. viewers – but he wanted The Prisoner to push hard in the opposite direction, so his ex-secret agent is abducted to “The Village”, an Orwellian mind-control experiment wrapped in the phony elegance of a resort community (the show filmed at a real Welsh beach hotel), employing all manner of fantasy gadgets and bizarre schemes to break his will.

Each of its 17 episodes forced the protagonist, “Number Six” (his real name is never used) to defend his physical and mental freedom from the creepy minions of an unseen interrogator, the inevitable “Number One” – who “only” wants to know why Six resigned, what he knows, and whether he’d be willing to “join the team”. Six wants to escape, to unmask One, and to shut down the Village. Each scheme to conquer him would involve some fantastic device: a machine to televise his dreams; a mind-swap, with another agent; even a double who apes him so well, he is forced to impersonate himself.  A giant, roaring balloon enforces “permanent guest” status; it’s called Rover, but this is no playful pet.

Some of the materials may feel like Swinging Sixties artifacts (i.e. the “speed-learning” computer, designed to brainwash Villagers, takes up one entire wall; it would fit on your desktop today) but the ideas discussed have real power, even today. Watch any scene in which a control-room team scrutinizes Six in his dwelling – see if it doesn’t remind you of the current firestorm surrounding corporate and government surveillance of our citizenry. Even the ritual hand salute of Villagers looks somewhat like an eye peering through a keyhole; that surely cannot be a coincidence. In a final twist, Six [REDACTED]… well, as the Villagers are fond of saying: “That would be telling.” You’ll have to watch and decide what happens.