Monday, May 17, 2010

The Irish

Our last night in Ireland was spent at my friend Kevin’s cousin’s home for a home cooked meal and a right good kaleigh, a great session. Food, drink, laughs, songs, music, food, drinks, laughs, songs, music…

Being a fourth generation American I am as Americanized as they come, but there was something comforting, and familiar with the people, the land, and the food. Not to mention my friend’s cousin often referring to us returning to Ireland as, “when ye come back home.” I’ve never been to Denmark or Norway, but I’d like to suspect I’d have the same sensation because of my Mother’s blood lines. But there is so much Irish culture infused in American life, particularly New York City, that even my other friend, Chris, whose parents are Jamaican felt a similar bond to the culture of Ireland.

In true fashion of the Irish, all the cousins now in their 20’s, and with their own lives, were instructed to report to their parents home to say hello to their American cousin and his less-than-shy friends.

Taking full advantage of Irish hospitality and generosity I persuaded a woman I just met the night before to drive us to this home outside of Dublin. Herself looking like a distant cousin of either Joe or Rose Kennedy, this pretty lass, and lawyer, happily drove us out for our Sunday night dinner…festivities were to start at 1 PM. The meeting place? The local pub for pints before the ladies picked us up for dinner.

The Drink. Now, I have written often about how much drinking played a part in both my poor eating decisions, and itself contributing to my enormous weight gain. Also, it is a dicey situation to speak so freely about my drinking. In today’s America excessive drinking has become more taboo. Today any story about a drunken Johnny Depp, Derek Jeter, or Bono is the stuff of scandal, whereas the drink-infused stories around Humphrey Bogart, Mickey Mantle, or Frank Sinatra are the stuff of legend. Times have changed. Therefore some people are a little alarmed about my candid discussions on this blog.

In Ireland, even with the recent stiff drinking and driving regulations, “the drink” is still the cultural thread of everyday life. I saw scores of women, thin women in cocktail dresses, who could out-drink the average obnoxious Wall Streeter knocking back Jack and Cokes on Stone Street. Also, in Ireland, mixers for your drink are rare…so is ice. As the great Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald said in The Quiet Man, “When I drink whisky, I drink whisky, when I drink water, I drink water.”

Kevin’s cousins were Fergus and Beatrice, and like her sister Margaret, and husband Niall who opened their home to us in Galway, this family’s hospitality had no bounds.

As the women prepared the meal, Kevin brought his cousins up on all the goings on in America, Chris played soccer in the yard with the pesky but adorable neighborhood kid, and Fergus played his drums on the patio. His beautiful, young daughter works in a nutritionist’s office so we sat with My Vegan Quest opened on her laptop and I told her my story. Even though we sat side by side on a wicker bench next to the drums I always knew when I was inching, involuntarily, too close to her because Fergus’ drum playing would suddenly pitch from soft jazz taps to loud, tribal, banging thumps so as to scare me away. It worked.

And none of us where ever with an empty glass. Someone could be making mashed potatoes, spy one of our glasses of whisky running low, then sprint over for a refill. It was a house I did not dare nor desire to say “no.” Kevin’s cousins both on the west and east coast of Ireland where all too happy to exhibit such generosity, hospitality and showing the Americans a fabulous time. The three of us were legless by the end of the night, and the cousins beamed with pride. On this trip to Ireland moderation came in unique forms, but not on this night.

The meal started with halved avocado and a creamy sauce with shrimp. It was very good, and I realized that I would have loved just the avocado. Little feelings like these confirmed for me that this vegan quest changed what I want out of a meal – the best tasting, but healthiest option. The next course was salmon and salad. Equally tasty. The main course was roast beef, mashed potatoes, mushed peas, and gravy. What can I say? It tasted good. But, I would not want to eat this way every day. Being on holiday, and the guest in someone’s home it was easy not to think about or fret over the healthiness of one meal. After all, it was just one meal. But, this was the first time having a proper piece of red meat, and it made me think. I’ve had better meals that were entirely vegan. I enjoyed this dinner, it tasted good, but I knew I was not eating something that I had been “missing out on” this past 6 months. I was eating a tasty dinner of red meat and mashed potatoes with gobs of butter – but this was something that I will eat in someone’s home, happily I might add, and it will not be a weekly or monthly dish for me.

The evening ended with a friend of theirs bringing his guitar over for a rousing night of traditional Irish songs. I could not have been happier! The playing of the wooden spoons, the two ladies dancing around the furniture, the three Americans topped off with generous portions of hospitality, and the entire living room bouncing about with rousing renditions of all the classics:

As I was goin' over the far famed Kerry mountains,
I met with Captain Farrell, and his money he was countin'.
I first produced me pistol and I then produced me rapier,
Saying: "Stand and deliver, for you are a bold deceiver!".
Musha rig um du ruma da, Whack for the daddy-o,
Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar.

Yes, the next day I was hungover, and I craved my oatmeal, and salads, and fruit, and no booze. And that is the way I like it. Embracing moderation as a weekly, monthly, and lifetime event, which allows for these rare occasions of over-indulgence.
This is significant because for 10-20 years I would take this great night of less than healthy living and try to replicate it every chance I got. And like a dog chasing its tail, it was a futile effort to please myself through food and drink.

After this trip to Ireland I was able to step back, flirt with my old lifestyle, and walk away knowing I chose a better life for myself.


Stick Ball said...

Don't you have a daughter named Kaleigh? Interesting you named her that.
Hit the gym and lose that 7 pounds you gained.

Terrence said...

No, a niece. But the name fits. The 7 lbs could be lost by end of week - I have bigger fish to fry, like loosing a full 26 lbs. Not worried though.