Dinner was to be at 7 but it was now late. I was staying in a small Bed and Breakfast on Inis Meáin, one of the Aran Islands. Guests were chatting and opening bottles of wine when our hostess came out of the kitchen almost in tears.
Earlier in the day her husband had been helicoptered to hospital with a broken leg and she was simply overwhelmed without his help. One guest who turned out to be a Chef from a hotel in Galway jumped in to her rescue. A few young girls said they would do the serving and the rest of us were told to relax as dinner would eventually arrive, but in “island time.”
Our hostess was an Irish speaking woman from Guatemala married to an islander she had met in New York. The Americans at the next table were second generation Inis Meáin emigrants over for a holiday. Another table of guests were native Irish speakers from Boston and the Chef’s Galway family were Irish Poles. Dinner eventually came and the party we had that night, stayed with me ever since. Scratch the surface with any group of Irish people and you will find deep connections to America and beyond. In my case it’s New York City, the next parish.
While my Grandmother worked in her first job as a buyer in what is now Shaw’s, her sister and brother emigrated to New York. Pat and Birdie were the youngest of nine children. Uncle Pat’s first job in America was working as an Elevator Operator in the Empire State Building while Auntie Birdie sold roasted peanuts on the streets.
Their return to Ireland in the 1960s was in glorious technicolour with big cars. America meant wealth, powder blue high heel shoes, having a small dog in your handbag. I couldn’t wait until I could go there myself and eventually got a J1 Visa. Glamour and glitz it was not.
I worked 3 jobs in Manhattan while living under the shadow of the Twin Towers, just behind the NY Stock Exchange.
New York was dark and gritty in the 1980s. I came across a suicide in the subway, there was a shooting outside the cafe where I worked the day shift and I was offered a paper bag full of cash to go to California with some guy in a bar. It wasn’t long before I was chewing gum and glaring at people like a native! It was an exciting, intense and yet a surprisingly familiar place. Mostly it was like being on a movie set. You could expect either Woody Allen around the next corner or to be dragged down an alley by a madman.
So I am drawn to what is happening there at the moment. Not just because of the grotesque theatre of it, or how it might impact on Ireland, but because of the dramatic way it highlights both the upside and the downside of life in America. With our tribal connections it seems we are all affected by this unstoppable drama.
The inauguration day had the atmosphere of a funeral. There was little warmth between the first family, little celebration, blank expressions instead of joy. It was like being back in New York in the 1980’s, half the time feeling like I was watching some blockbuster movie where Batman would suddenly arrive and save Gotham City? Or that Trump would spontaneously combust and we would all find out that he was an alien zombie after all?
But no, this is real life, for now.
More than anything the body language signals a very isolated individual. The glowering, the weird grimaces, the stilted cheek kissing. A lonely Prince leaving his golden palace to be out amongst the peasants. You could imagine him every evening, “Mirror mirror on the wall who is the bestest President of all ?”
I’ve had to turn off a lot of the media outlets I have been following because every five minutes they are posting sensational updates and my blood pressure is going through the roof. See what Trump has done now they scream!!!! If I found out in a headline that he was eating small children for breakfast, would it be a surprise?
Women friends are still protesting regularly outside Trump Tower. They seem motivated again, hopeful. The one and only time I marched up 5th Avenue was in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade last year. I was with the first ever Irish LGBT group sanctioned to take part. They fought for that right for 25 years! Sometimes that’s how long it takes. Only the very few have stamina for that kind of political advocacy.
And although I should feel energised and optimistic for my extended American family, today I just feel scared for them.