Last night, while drinking Guinness and reading Pete Dexter’s Spooner, I took a break to catch up on that menacing, guilt-inducing stack of magazines. I got pulled into a Vanity Fair piece by Michael Lewis, and was quickly reminded why he’s among the best non-fiction writers alive. In describing Ireland’s financial collapse, he manages to capture and summarize Irish culture and history (prompting me to switch from Guinness to Powers). As an Irish citizen (you can read that story here), I’m impressed by a writer who can portray the complicated psyche of Ireland in all it’s non-touristy messiness. Here are ten samples:
-Ireland’s financial disaster … was created by the sort of men who ignore their wives’ suggestion that maybe they should stop and ask for directions.
-Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was buy Ireland.
-When you fly into Dublin you are traveling, for the first time in 15 years, against the traffic. The Irish are once again leaving Ireland.
-Walk the streets at night and, through restaurant windows, you see important-looking men in suits, dining alone, studying important-looking papers. In some new and strange way, Dublin is now an occupied city: Hanoi, circa 1950.
-The politicians in Ireland speak Gaelic the way the Real Housewives of Orange County speak French. To ask “Why bother to speak it at all?” is of course to miss the point.
-The Irish people and their country are like lovers whose passion is heightened by their suspicion that they will probably wind up leaving each other.
-Anyone who has been anywhere near an Irish Catholic family knows the member who has had the most recent run of bad luck enjoys exalted status – the right to do pretty much whatever he wants, while everyone else squirms in silence.
-Normalizing a freak show is now a meaningful part of the job of being Ireland’s finance minister. At just the moment the crazy uncle leapt from the cellar, the drunken aunt lurched through the front door and, in front of the entire family and many important guests, they carved each other to bits with hunting knives. Daddy must now reassure eyewitnesses that they didn’t see what they think they saw … The finance minister might as well be standing in Pompeii and saying that actually the volcano wasn’t really worth mentioning. Just a little lava!
-Two things strike an American when he comes to Ireland: how small it is and how tight-lipped. An Irish person with a personal problem takes it into a hole with him, like a squirrel with a nut before winter. He tortures himself and sometimes his loved ones too.
*And, my favorite: The famous Irish gift of gab is a cover for all the things they aren’t telling you.