A ride on the Montreal Métro

February 16th, 2013

Here we have a rather extraordinary scene aboard the Montreal Métro.

As you can see, a woman is ranting at fellow passengers, shouting and waving her fingers at them because she suffered the indignity of having to hear a language other than French (most likely English) in a public place. This is the gist of her opening gambit: “Here in our home, it’s the same thing whether it’s at your home or ours. You are in Quebec and it is in French! IT IS FRENCH! Period! No! You speak to me in French or you don’t speak to me at all.”

One could sit down and write all day about it, but I prefer to view the scene as parody, a sort of play within a play. The woman plays the part of  Quebec, the other passengers the rest of Canada and the Métro car Canada itself. Given the opportunity of leaving the car, she chooses to remain on board and continue putting forward her point of view. Meanwhile the other passengers shuffle around wondering what to do, in the end doing not much at all. They’re particularly polite throughout, in a passive way, and the Métro car continues to go around in circles.


Montreal Ireland Supporters Club

January 26th, 2013

The Montreal branch of officially sanctioned Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Supporters Clubs is in the process of being established, and we could use your support. Once established, the club will join a Canada-wide umbrella group along with clubs from other cities. Official status would allow us to:

  • Coordinate and organise where to watch matches as a group.
  • Increase bargaining power when trying to get matches shown in pubs and sports bars.
  • Have an open directory of members across the country, so that when you are away on business or holiday you can still watch matches with other fans or just meet a friendly face for a drink.
  • Receive special treatment from the FAI if and when a party from the group of clubs travels to Dublin for a match, including reserved match tickets and access to the players’ lounge, among other benefits.
  • Further develop the network of Irish Societies in the great city of Montreal.
  • Communicate with other Supporters Clubs across the globe regarding best practice.

Please contact me on hugo@hugoodoherty.com if you’re interested in becoming a member!

America in 101 euphemisms

January 8th, 2013

  1. Friendly Fire
  2. Person held to service or labor
  3. Enhanced interrogation techniques
  4. Intelligent design
  5. To misspeak
  6. A misstatement
  7. Restroom
  8. I’m washing my hair that day
  9. Adult entertainment
  10. Gentlemen’s club
  11. To take someone for a ride
  12. Curvy
  13. Full-figured
  14. Wardrobe malfunction
  15. Air support missions
  16. Senior citizen
  17. To kick the bucket
  18. Heavy casualties were sustained
  19. Engage the enemy
  20. To see a man about a dog
  21. Reaching second and third base
  22. Aisle manager
  23. Loan office
  24. Nuptial ceremony
  25. Trying for a baby
  26. Shock and awe
  27. Pro-life
  28. Pro-choice
  29. Trail of tears
  30. Pre-owned
  31. Fun-loving
  32. The Plan B pill
  33. “The birth pangs of a new Middle East”
  34. Pacification
  35. Transfer of population
  36. War on Terror
  37. “Smoke him out”
  38. The peculiar institution
  39. Mission Accomplished
  40. The Surge
  41. Security contractor
  42. Waterboarding
  43. Collateral damage
  44. African American
  45. To freshen up
  46. To powder one’s nose
  47. To sleep with
  48. Freaking gosh darn heck
  49. Freedom isn’t free
  50. Institutionalized
  51. Doing time
  52. Sanitation engineer
  53. Differently abled
  54. Coalition of the willing
  55. Insurgency
  56. Neutralized
  57. Bootlegging
  58. Dental appliances
  59. A negative cash-flow position
  60. Sunshine units
  61. Hearing impaired
  62. Visually impaired
  63. Lost their lives
  64. A negative patient care outcome
  65. Torn between two lovers
  66. To defecate
  67. To copulate
  68. Rocky Mountain oysters
  69. Drumstick or white meat, madam?
  70. Water closet
  71. Downsize
  72. Outsource
  73. Area denial artillery munitions
  74. Securing the area
  75. Surgical strike
  76. Protective custody
  77. Executive action
  78. Family values
  79. Undocumented alien
  80. Urban contemporary music
  81. Substance abuse
  82. Special renditions
  83. The birds and the bees
  84. Sanctioning
  85. Harvesting whales
  86. Kinetic military action
  87. Post-kinetic development
  88. Prolonged detention
  89. Nation-building
  90. Reaching across the aisle
  91. Separate but equal
  92. A credibility gap
  93. Hiking the Appalachian Trail
  94. Pro-marriage
  95. Overseas contingency operations
  96. Denied area
  97. 85% fat free
  98. Till the fat lady sings
  99. Dry counties
  100. Tennessee white whiskey
  101. The Noble Experiment

Thoughts on Ireland from an Emigrant in 2013

January 2nd, 2013

After deciding to write this piece earlier this afternoon, I thought it would be nice to head to a café or pub to work. It would be better, I said to myself, if I could relax with a drink and earwig a bit. It would be better than the bedroom in my parents’ house, anyway.

I’ve spent the guts of two years abroad, spending roughly a year in Montreal and the same stretch in New York. We’ve gone from Bertie to Enda via Biffo, in doing so trading the dregs of one side of a pointless near century year-old civil war for the other. We’ve said goodnight for the last time to Anne Doyle, but Miriam, Dobbo and the ageless Sharon Ní Bheolain are still there every evening to confuse us to oblivion. We’re fucked, says one. No we’re not, says the interviewee. Sure we’ll be grand.

The local cafés with free internet were either closed or about to be and so, after a quick search, I found that one of my local pubs was listed as having WiFi. In I went, armed with one laptop and two questions: Can I get a cappuccino, and do you have internet? It was then that I realised I might be the problem with modern Ireland, and I felt dirty. Oh wash me, yore . . . drench me in mucky pints of Beamish and poke me with overcooked chicken goujons while smothering my face in ham sandwiches.

“We did have internet, but we took it away because people were cheating at the quizzes,” said the barman. An Irish solution to an Irish problem. That’s a phrase we have to describe this kind of mish-mash hodge-podge effort at resolving matters, and this is a good example. A classic example, quite frankly. Yes, it is amazing how many people can suddenly know the name of the storm that just passed through Tuvalu or which Bulgarian city is designated European Capital of Culture for 2014, but there is a better way of arresting the onset of cheating at table quizzes – we agree to stop being arseholes. But no, instead we’ll just get rid of what was once the only public WiFi zone in the entire village of Glasthule.

And here I am, all internetless but writing, just like they did, and did well, in the last century. My plan for a good earwig (eavesdrop) hit something of a stumbling block when I looked around and saw there was nobody else in the entire pub, save one man at the bar drinking cider and watching Premier League Years. For those uninitiated, this show tells, over the course of two hours, the story of a football (soccer) season of times past. It’s the sort of show that you catch by accident and watch for twenty minutes while coming up with something better to do. Nobody thinks ‘God I must rush home to catch Premier League Years!’ and absolutely nobody goes to the pub to watch it by design. The other TV is showing Barrow against Hereford in the FA Cup. That’s two teams ranked somewhere between 100th and 200th place in England, so both TVs are showing absolute rubbish. And that’s coming from a football fanatic. The music has gone from Mariah Carey to AC/DC by way of Westlife and some Christmas classics, because we all know that’s what people want to hear on the 2nd of January.

The limited bar taps offer the usuals (All Hail King Diageo!) plus a new offering called ‘Smirnoff Mojito’ that comes from a tap and looks like it could kill you. We’ll have Joe Duffy telling us in no time that he met a woman whose son died because of a badly cut Mojito. I hear they have Mojitos on the streets now. They’re dangerous, those Dublin streets, but not as dangerous as a Smirnoff Mojito.

Alas, I might not be the problem with modern Ireland. Maybe modern Ireland has neglected to keep up with modern kind. We can be pretty demanding and, by Zeus, if you don’t offer us a bit of internet and some thought and nuance behind your playlist, we’ll get you back by buying your coffee and writing on the internet with deadly sarcasm.

But I’m being harsh, cynical even – that’s what you’re saying. Perhaps I am. My Canadian girlfriend and I just got home from a few days in Galway and the pubs were savage. (Not savage in a Jack the Ripper way, but savage in a Jimmy Rabbitte from The Commitments way. You know, savage, as in deadly. And not deadly in a . . . oh forget it.) Not only were the pubs great, but we went to a cocktail bar in a city centre hotel and they gave us shots on the house because it was her birthday. That was after having tasty, well-mixed and thought-out cocktails made by an affable, I would go as far to say charming, barman. Galway in general was a joy, but then again that town rarely, if ever, disappoints. Not a Premier League Year or Smirnoff Mojito to be seen. St. Patrick must have chased them all out of the west and over to The Pale for the jackeens to enjoy.

Venturing west and then north a bit into Mayo before coming back, I kept seeing signs and references to ‘The Gathering’ – the official effort that is being made to get the Irish diaspora to visit the island in 2013. It’s weird, because in New York and Montreal – two cities with massive Irish diasporíní– I never heard about it nor saw it advertised. And yet I get home and I’m asked ‘Ah would ya not head home for a bit?’ while feeling as though somebody is trying to recruit me into a new religion, using rashers and strong tea as bait. Why are they only after me here? Why are they only advertising it in Ireland? We’re already here.

Why are we here? Socrates and his mates asked the same question over 2,500 years ago, but I don’t think they were thinking of Ireland in the year 2013. Why the feck are we here? A video that went semi-viral this week attempted a reply to that question with a thousand answers, counting as positives the existence of Bewley’s Café and the possibility of getting badly sunburnt in May, but I think we can do better than mediocre hot beverages and a trip to A&E.

For one thing, we’re now being offered good quality food in restaurants and at a fair price. No longer is the Irish style of cooking to boil the bejaysus out of anything that came up out of the ground and fry the fuck out of anything that ever breathed. We’ve introduced tone and forethought, dare I even say flair, into our cuisine. And we’re washing it down with some better quality, locally-produced booze. I was in my local pub (not the one I’m sitting in now) recently and saw that they’re stocking bottled beer made by a brewery called ‘Trouble Brewing’ – three lads I interviewed for Scope Magazine two years ago who took out a loan and stuck a load of shiny tanks in a barn in a field in Kildare and who, at that time, were struggling to get their product out on the market. That’s a good story, whichever way you look at it. The majority of my generation will probably skip the delicious beer and stick to Coors Light and Smirnoff Mojito, but hopefully enough people shop around a bit and stop consuming rubbish.

Those three men did something that Irish people are never formally told to do. You see, in Ireland we’re taught that the goal of education is to train to get a job. You go to school and then either do a trade or go to college, then apply for jobs. But if we’re passionate enough about something we can get that job, and on our terms, by creating it and investing time and effort in it.

It’s striking, however, how many of my fellow Irish emigrants are doing exactly that, only abroad. My brother is a web designer and multimedia producer in Berlin, two of my best friends in New York are Munster men with their own self-made Smartphone app that allows you to reserve time slots at sports clubs, and I have another school friend in Amsterdam with a startup company that’s trying to coordinate carpooling across the continent. Without wanting to sound all junior capitalist sitting in the corner, there is much to be said for entrepreneurialism as part of a solution to our collective and individual woes, and a lot to be said for eschewing the kind of conservative thinking that pervades within the Irish education system.

It’s inspiring stuff, and a reminder that getting up off your hole and not watching Premier League Years can lead to wonderful things. I have an idea – let’s get all these tech savvy, industrious emigrants back for a while to inspire those at home while spending a bit of money to help our ailing economy. We can call it ‘The Jamboree’ or even ‘The Get-Together’. We can even put Smirnoff Mojito on special offer while they’re all here. If only someone would organise such a thing.

“Well, she was just seventeen” : Anti-gay lawyer goes pimping for porn in Canada

November 22nd, 2012

Remember Larry Craig? He was the Republican Senator from Idaho who was arrested for “lewd conduct” in a Minneapolis airport restroom in 2007 after allegedly attempting to induce an undercover police officer in the stall beside him to engage in sexual activities. After a voting record with highlights that included strong support for “don’t ask, don’t tell” and vehement opposition to gay marriage, Craig then had to deal with the eight gay men who came forward to the Idaho Statesman newspaper claiming they had each had some sort of sexual encounter with the Senator. With his reputation in ruins, Craig’s position became untenable and he never ran for office again, the gulf between his public pronouncements and private fixations having revealed a Grade-A hypocrite.

There is something deliciously dramatic and inevitable, almost oedipan, about those who arm themselves with the breastplate of righteousness in their public lives and claim divine inspiration for their work. Next time you hear some distinctly pontificating speech, complete with all the moralising bells and whistles, set your watch and wait. It is likely that in no time at all, he or she who uttered the words will be found squalid and exposed, tied up as they surely will be in a heap of threatening text messages, crusty toilet paper and a defence that becomes thinner and more ludicrous by the minute.

And so the baton has now been handed to a certain Lisa Biron, a New Hampshire-based lawyer who worked for the euphemistically-named Alliance Defending Freedom (this firm has the distinction of containing three of the most favoured buzz words used by bigoted anti-gay groups; a token ‘Family’ would turn this ménage à trois into a full-blown foursome), a group that aims to “keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” Alas, federal prosecutors have said that Biron transported a teen girl from Manchester, NH to somewhere in Ontario, Canada, where she forced her young and presumably highly distressed kidnappee to engage in sexual acts with another, as yet undisclosed, person while being filmed by Biron. Biron has also been arrested for owning a computer stuffed with child pornography and, to top it all off, witnesses have testified that this defender of Christian values (another popular word among the dogmatic) has been found in possession of various illegal drugs.

So next time you hear those speeches, just sit and wait. The internal paranoia swimming around the minds and bodies of those purporting to do God’s work on Earth will eventually burst forth.


Celtic Thunder, Mythology II

November 16th, 2012

What is a name, and what is a hero? In the pantheon of mythological heroes, there is a place reserved for those who resonate more deeply with us today. Their names, for one reason or another, have become more than merely a means of identification, instead evoking the great acts they accomplished and the values they exhibited. The ancient story of Achilles is perhaps as well known today as it ever was, with his name lending itself not only to a part of the human anatomy, but also toward an acknowledgment that even the strongest among us usually have a fatal flaw. Robin Hood has in some sense become a byword for social justice, while Odysseus is best known for his legendary cunning.

There is a Celtic warrior, however, who stands comparison with any of the world’s great mythic heroes. Cúchulainn, despite the lingering air of tragedy around him that is a component of just about all Celtic mythology, was a classic hero, a man’s man, a young warrior who mastered the Gae Bolga, a spear molded from the bone of a sea monster which split open like an umbrella upon entering a body.

Flamboyant and aggressive, Cúchulainn single-handedly defended Ulster from invasion by the queen of Connacht, Medb, who sought to kidnap the extremely fertile stud bull Donn Cuailnge. While probably not being as ripe for Hollywood depiction as Helen of Troy, this bull was a great source of wealth, not to mention honour, and Cúchulainn alone was the bulwark between Medb’s greed on the one hand, and the prosperity and reverence of his people on the other.

There is a song, “Dearg Doom” (a rough translation would be “Red Destroyer”), which glorifies Cúchulainn’s deeds. Like the hero himself, the tune has a transcendental aura, opening with one of the most swashbuckling, snarling riffs you are ever likely to hear. For Horslips, who probably did more than anyone to bring Celtic music to a new stage by adapting traditional folk music for a rockier sound, “Dearg Doom” remains their finest hour. But as with mythology itself, the riff is borrowed, inevitably, from a traditional folk standard, “O’Neill’s Cavalry March”. For myth and music alike, what one sees and hears is all influenced by something that came before. It is a manifest trait of Celtic culture that what is truly valuable passes through the generations, in turn being recycled to fit a contemporary audience.

What truly inspires the Celtic mind, as it did for both Cúchulainn and Horslips, is the land one comes from – how it is an unmistakable part of them. “You are the song ever singing in me,” sings Celtic Thunder in “My Land”, an original composition for this tour, “And you are the heart ever true / For you are my land and you always will be, The voice ever calling me home to you.” For them the land is personified, an entity worthy of the pronoun “you”, a substance with a heart, and therefore a heartbeat. The land and people beat as one, and bleed as one.

Returning to the opening questions, what is a land, and what are a people? Throughout the western fringes of Europe – from Gallicia in northwest Spain to Ireland, from Brittany to Cornwall to Scotland – Celts are defined by the land they came to inhabit. You can see it in their festivals, their idiosyncratic and unmistakable humour, their music, their art, their food, and more besides. But if Celts must leave their land, and history reminds us that emigration to new lands is a recurring theme, they always bring their culture with them. Entering a local bar in Quebec, the air is often filled by traditional music with a distinctly Celtic flair. The literature of the American South has been influenced by the very myths that inspired this tour. There have been Gaelic-speaking Newfoundlanders in Canada and Welsh-speaking Argentines. They may have moved, but they never forgot their land. They never do.

Adapting and transforming those old traditions and cultures from old lands to new has been the signature trait of the diaspora – the descendants of Celtic people who moved to the New World. “Voices call from the old days, Voices tell from the past / Ancient laws and ancient old ways to recast,” they sing in “Voices,” another original composition. To recast is to fashion something new out of something aged, giving fresh impetus to the ancient world and making it relevant. Indeed, the very idea of recasting can be thought of as not only the singularly most important concept for the nomadic Celts, but also for this show itself.

The initial formation of cultures and lands of the Celtic world are said to have mythic origins. Consider The Giant’s Causeway, a truly extraordinary series of interlocking basalt columns on the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Legend has it that the 40,000 or so columns were built by Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool in English, the sort of name television producers spend hours trying to think up) as a walkway to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner. When Fionn was then chasing the giant away from his land, he picked up a huge clump of earth and flung it. He missed his target, with the clump creating the Isle of Mann and the void becoming Lough Neagh. The heroes of Celtic mythology are always tied to the land in some way, just as the Celtic people are.

Celts sing about the land in a relatively unique fashion, usually attaching an unhurried melody with lush texture and lyrics brimming with nostalgia – though Horslips’ more ostentatious “Dearg Doom” is very much an anomaly in that regard. Dick Farrelly’s “The Isle of Innisfree,” once a hit for Bing Crosby and the theme song for the romantic-comedy movie “The Quiet Man,” is one of those timeless and international favourites, enduring in the hearts of many as one of the great songs of the Celtic world in general and Ireland in particular. Ireland, given the moniker “Innisfree” in this case, is given a mythical quality. It is a place where rivers laugh, valleys dream, and birds make music. It is a land that, when missed, can bring a sort of wild trauma to the mind of the emigrant and, when that same person returns to the physical soil whence they were sprung, it naturally brings about an ecstatic reaction.

Some of the greatest songs elicit those same feelings, be it for a lover or for a place. In the case of the songs in this set list, it reminds us that patriotism can be a positive, perhaps even necessary, force in all our lives. When channeled correctly, patriotism is love, something for which we are all constantly yearning.

The great heroes of Mythology generally reveal themselves to be true patriots first and foremost. Cúchulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill were both tied to their land more than they were tied to any physical person, even speaking of that land as if it actually were a person. This sort of affection has been carried down to our present day, as “My Land” testifies. If this tells us anything, it is that love is not a quality that should be reserved solely for our fellow human beings. We can love the soil that gave us sustenance as much as we love the parents who brought us food and life.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: New York City after Sandy

November 1st, 2012

We’re a cocky bunch, us humans. We think it normal to go anywhere and everywhere. We have walked on the moon. We have invented devices that allow us to talk to friends on the other side of the planet, and we do so without a second thought. We have figured out why apples fall down from trees rather than up, why we get certain diseases and how to combat them, and we’ve travelled faster than the speed of sound. All things considered, we must be the most impressive species ever to have inhabited the Earth.

And then something comes along and reminds us that we’re a just globs of atoms running around, trying to enjoy, or just make sense of, the tiny, brief flicker of life that we each possess. This week, that something was Hurricane Sandy. We did not invent this thing (actually, this Texas-based radio host believes precisely the opposite), but it put a stop to most, if not all, of the aforementioned achievements. Telephone and internet connections went down, hospitals had to close, as did airports and other transportation centers. While gravity itself remained intact, things did not quite fall down in the normal way, preferring instead a more scenic route that also involved upward and sideways before joining other debris on the ground.

It sounds strange, maybe even cruel, but my friends and I got through the storm without much hassle. We huddled in an apartment, made Old Fashioneds, and even stepped out to see what was going on. The personal consequences for me are that I lost a few hundred dollars in terms of opportunity cost due to my workplace having suffered a blackout as well as some superficial damage. For others, they lost lives, homes, and other property.

A mixture of cabin fever, curiosity, sympathy, and an eerily calm and beautiful evening just hours after the storm led a few of us into a decision – we would walk from Bushwick, Brooklyn, where we live, to Manhattan. And so we did.

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, it looked like we were crossing into something more like Pyongyang than New York City. Complete darkness. Everything south of 34th street was powerless. Have a look at this photograph below, which would normally reveal the bright lights of the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center.

The whole of lower Manhattan – the centre of the financial world – was without a commodity that has been with us for almost two centuries: artificial light. No traffic lights (but plenty of cars almost crashing into each other), no phone network, no internet, no business, no public transportation.

We walked north about fifteen minutes from the Lower East Side to the East Village in almost complete darkness, save the odd candle flickering in the windows or the headlights of a car passing by. We found a bar, valiantly selling cans of cheap beer and liquor. Someone must have gone uptown for ice a few hours earlier. When a local with a dodgy haircut and raspy, New York voice shouted, in a way only Americans can pull off, “Everybody, let’s have it for New York! Wooooooo!” we all joined in. The lawlessness meant that a regular was smoking at the bar, and soon everyone except me was puffing away. It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to being in a Speakeasy, prohibition style.

I said it to a friend earlier today, and I still feel this way, but the complete lack of routine and ad hoc nature of daily life in recent days has made me feel that I am living in the third person. It doesn’t feel like I own the time that is passing before me. Without regular work, and also with the fact I’m moving out this week, Hurricane Sandy came at a very weird time. I’m just thankful (though to whom, I don’t know) that I am healthy and lost nothing material, and that my friends can say the same. To anyone reading who cannot say likewise, you have my utmost sympathy and moral support.