Thursday, August 10, 2017

Expectations and Observations

Expectations I

Home is the place I can predict.
Away is the place I cannot.

To learn what home is, I leave.
I remind myself:
There are going to be surprises,
unexpected changes,
last-minute reshuffling of plans,
and maybe it will be good,
or possibly it will be bad,
but you certainly won’t die from it.
And then I forget
and predict the unpredictable.
I prophesy catastrophe:
I will misspell
my own name
on the customs forms,
be thrown into Irish airport jail,
never again to see the light of day.
The ATM will eat my debit card.
My purse will be stolen.
I will wander the streets destitute.
All of Ireland will have
neither restaurants nor grocery stores.
I will starve.
I will forget something
profoundly important
and expire on the spot.

A frenetic exorcism of my anxieties,
named and enumerated,
they wind themselves into a spring,
knot themselves into
the muscles of my shoulders and neck,
part of me now.
A bit of the unpredictable is diminished. 

Landing, somehow, I have not yet died
(of embarrassment,
or heights),
been robbed,
or been voted off the island.

Away is the place I cannot predict.


Bins for recycling are not often seen.
Mail drop-off boxes are painted bright green.
Jars of nut butter are buried in stores.
Coins aren’t just change; they’re worth a bit more.
Everyone smokes; thick fumes choke the air.
Street signs are hidden; lost tourists beware.
Clothing is labeled to “KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE”.
Trash bags are strewn on the street to admire.
Drinking is legal; let the taps flow.
A butty, not a biscuit, is a breakfast to go.
No one packs water; they buy it to drink.
Hot chocolate comes with marshmallows, and they’re probably pink.

Expectations II

Among the familiar, I am a known quantity.
Everyone has already decided who I am, locked me into a box, lovingly written a label on top.
Their expectations choke, piling like stones on my chest.

Leave the place I know and am known.
Flee the familiar.

Alone and unknown, I become multiple.

I might be almost anyone:
Someone’s granddaughter
Just another lost American
Old enough to treat as an adult
Still a child
Confident and belonging
Lost and uncertain
Silent and occupied
Talkative storyteller
Awkward and ignorant
Victim of a tragic backstory
Beneficiary of a promising future

Don’t become familiar.
Once is enough.

The freedom of anonymity beckons from the crowd.

"Angela's Ashes Are Calling"

Characters from Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes spring out of the pages and into life in the world premiere of Angela’s Ashes: The Musical. Much like its source material, the musical conveys the story of a “miserable Irish Catholic childhood” in an engaging way. At Belfast’s Grand Opera House, the performance showcases an effective set and superb musical numbers.
A movable bridge reminiscent of metal bed frames dominates the set (designed by Francis O’Connor). This set allows physical representation of power, as when Angela goes to the St. Vincent De Paul Society to ask for charity and is confronted by three men looming over her, visually reinforcing her vulnerability. Also exceptionally striking is the scene in which the McCourts move from America back to Ireland. The family stands on the bridge and looks forward to their new life, while the movement of the bridge in conjunction with bright stage lighting is suggestive of a ship, visually indicating the hope for a better home that drives the family’s move.
Adam Howell’s emotionally moving musical arrangements will follow you out of the theatre. “Sing River Shannon” and “Angela’s Ashes Are Calling” are outstandingly memorable, while Jacinta Whyte’s and Eoin Cannon’s musical performances enthrall the audience.
The McCourts’ desire to “make this our land” when returning to Limerick is particularly heartening. Despite the misery of Frank’s childhood, the musical does not vilify Limerick. Similarly, many of the less sympathetic characters get an open-minded treatment. Grandma, the Catholic Church, Frank’s schoolmasters, and Malachy McCourt Sr. are all represented as multifaceted people; they’re human.
Unfortunately, the shift between the adult narrator Frank and his child self is distractingly awkward. No clothing changes are used to signify the switch; Eoin Cannon imitates the physicality and facial expressions of a toddler when playing his younger self, which is disturbing more than convincing. The lack of any consistent markers for age makes it difficult to determine whether Frank and Malachy are toddlers, schoolchildren, or even teenagers. Emmet Byrne’s performance as the young Malachy McCourt is somewhat more credible, but scenes in which he stands significantly taller next to his mother only accentuate the fact that he is an adult playing a small child.
Although the childhood the musical describes is miserable—the alcoholic father, the family’s eviction, the multiple dead children—some of the book’s effect is lost. The tiny details of life in poverty, such as the flooded and wretched living conditions or Frank’s disreputable clothing, are erased. The songs from the musical create a similar emotional impact but are not a complete picture.
Angela’s Ashes: The Musical is a compelling retelling of Frank McCourt’s memoir, preserving much of the original humour and honesty of his book. As the second adaptation of Angela’s Ashes (preceded by the 1999 film), it just goes to show that “your story never ends, even after you’re gone”.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ireland Study Abroad, Installment 7

Belfast has been a very different experience from the other places we've been so far. Luckily, our border crossing was uneventful, although using pounds is odd after seven weeks of euros. I still don't understand why the two pence pieces are nearly the same size as the fifty pence pieces.
We've been able to stick to our normal class schedule while here; it's nice to have a routine. The close of the semester is drawing ever nearer; I still have a lot of writing to get done for my classes. There's been a lot less play-going while we're here, which is nice because that means we have most of our evenings to ourselves.
One of our first excursions was to see some of Belfast's murals. These are all generally of some political bent, sometimes local, sometimes more international, often featuring either Nationalist or Loyalist imagery or celebrating historical events. We also saw several informational panels, which are created digitally and then printed and posted. I'm not a big fan of these; the murals are far more striking and effective. Someone driving by won't read intimidating blocks of text, and only some walkers will do so, but an artistic image can be processed at a glance. Furthermore, the murals are temporary and generally reflective of the community's sentiments; the panels seem to defeat that purpose.
We also visited Healing Through Remembering, which I was really glad we were able to do. We saw a few items from their exhibit, Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict, as well as got to hear about a lot of their work and how their organization began. We were lucky to see them because they're currently in the process of a downsizing move.
On Thursday, we went to Angela's Ashes: The Musical, which I quite enjoyed. Several of the songs were rather catchy, and I think it did a reasonably good job of adapting the novel and maintaining a similar tone of sadness and humour. I was distracted by the children Malachy and Frank being played by adults.
Friday we took a field trip to several sites in County Antrim, including Giant's Causeway and the terrifying Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. We still have another week full of things to do in Belfast.