No Longer a Tourist

Every evening these days, we get a knock at the door a little after dinner.  At the door often stand two people, sometimes older, sometimes younger, and they politely ask for a moment of my time.  Am I by any chance voting in the upcoming election?  I have to admit that I’m a bit relieved to tell them that I’m not even eligible to vote, but I’m still interested to hear what they have to say about the issues.  And sometimes we don’t chat about politics at all.  For example, one man who was canvassing for a Fianna Fáil politician told me how he had spent time in Brooklyn, not far from where I used to live, renovating a house belonging to a member of Run DMC.  That’s Ireland for you.  Small country that travels.

Now that I’m more settled here in Galway, I’m beginning to take a deeper interest in the politics of the country.  It’s difficult for a visitor at first to feel a part of the national agenda; you hear the radio stories, read the editorials, but you can’t help but feel at first that you’re still listening to international news.  But then it dawns on you that the state of the Irish economy does affect you, not just because you love the country, but because practical decisions about health care and taxes and immigration have a real effect on your life too.  And that’s when the ears begin to perk up when the news comes on at the top of the hour.

All that is to say that I no longer feel like a tourist in Ireland.  I complain about Irish politics like a Galwegian, but get defensive whenever someone else starts to criticize it.  It’s the same way that you can poke fun at your family, but if someone else does the same– whoa, fighting words.

Along with this new sense of belonging has come a certain, easy routine to my days.  I know which brand of muesli I like, the pubs in Galway with the best snugs, the right place for tea and cake after class, and when foreign films are shown at the local theater.  I run down the Salthill promenade and kick the wall along with everyone else.  My classmates, too, are becoming more familiar; our classes now have the sort of merry feel about them that makes the university a cozy place to be on the dark and rainy afternoons.  Paul and I have lots of visitors these days, and we take them on a zippy tour of Connemara, having narrowed down the grand tour to the highlights (which inevitably include a pot of tea somewhere.)  We’ve made the long and winding trip to the Burren to see Father Ted’s parochial house, and took a photo.

Oddly, the new familiarity with Ireland comes at a time when I have to start to think of what happens for me post-Mitchell.  I hate that I always have to think of my next move before I even have a chance to finish the last one.  I know I’ll be in Ireland at least through June, but where will I be after that?  As Ireland enters an unknowable chapter in its history, for better or worse, I’ll be entering one of my own.

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