When I was but 18 years old, I travelled to Ireland with my best friend Diane Sweeney (now Fowler). It wasn’t our intention just to visit Ireland… we had big plans: we, with dollars hard-earned from waitressing, babysitting, and what-have-you-ing, were going to TOUR EUROPE. We spent months making plans while poring over maps with exotic place names like The Black Forest… Giverney… Italy. We were going to see it all.
It just so happened that the least expensive airfare from the U.S. to anywhere in Europe was Ireland. My Dad was from Dublin, I had had a Granny (that I’d never met), aunts and uncles and cousins (most of whom I’d never met) all in the Dublin area. So, why not? A quick how’d-you-do and thank-you-very-much and we’d be on our way to our great BIG EUROPEAN ADVENTURE.
Wrong. We stayed our entire allotted time (roughly six weeks) in Ireland – everything and everyone charmed our socks off. It was a green heaven devoted to family and friends and art and wit spread over a magical landscape, and it changed my life forever. Unless you are asleep at your own wheel, the first time you leave your native country should change your life forever.
Looking back I can only think of it as a change of perspective. Sure, they looked like me, and they spoke roughly the same english, but there was still that inescapable foreignness. It was the wide awakening to another culture, a perfectly beautiful culture, a culture built on different priorities, passions and personalities. And suddenly my mind was gently blasted wide-open.
It wasn’t just that the music, visual arts and literature were different from ours; the whole nation’s embrace of the arts was different. Where we have images of past Presidents on our money, they had harps and poets. And while music is beloved in the United States to the tune of a multi-billion dollar industry, Irish children begin to sing when they begin to talk – and as far as I know, never stop. Social gatherings, whether in pubs or homes, were always multi-generational and always involved singing. (The multi-generational thing was a real eye-opener, after all, I was 18 and from the country that invented the term ‘generation-gap.’)
Another great difference was their perspective on what constituted wealth. This was decades before the “Celtic Tiger” and most people I met had very little money or any of the physical comforts that money can buy – but I can say without hesitation they were the most joyful people I had ever seen. Surrounded by loved ones, they didn’t need to be rich to know they were wealthy. This was where I vowed that neither my happiness, nor my idea of success, would never be tied to dollars and nonsense.
I see that first trip as a saturation of new perspectives. I’ve travelled to many a country since then and believe I’ve crossed every border with eyes, heart and mind wide open to still other perspectives, knowing these would be the most valuable souvenirs I could take home with me – the ones that could last forever and never need dusting.
So here I am today, packing for a return to Ireland, sorely in need of a perspective tune-up. As I’ll be touring quite a bit it won’t be feasible to bring my incredibly messy and slow-drying oil paints – but that’s okay; hopefully whatever I glean from this trip will make an appearance in the art I create upon my return.
You won’t be reading the Artful Life again until October… while it would be pretty to think I would take time out of my adventure to write a column, I know myself far better than that. But don’t be disappointed in me, just wait until I come back all supercharged!
And may I suggest, even if you can’t visit a foreign culture this summer, that you find something, someplace, someone, to turn your head around – if only to get a new perspective.