A Quick Guide to Sligo, Ireland

I haven’t been in Sligo long, but I waste no time in getting to know a new city.  (At two in the morning after my first night in town, I took a wrong turn walking home and found myself a mile up the road to Ben Bulben, next to an unlit Esso gas station and very little else.  This is about my only qualification to write this piece.)

So, here it is, a guide for culture vultures, beer snobs, Yeatsians, jazz cats, and trad lovers.

  1. The Cafe Scene
    • Anyone accustomed to late night coffee joints in the U.S. or the streetside cafes of Europe – clean, well lighted places anywhere in the world – might panic in Sligo: most cafes close at six.  I don’t have some miraculous exception, unfortunately – local culture dictates that the cafe crowd shifts to the pubs, and if you need to do a bit or work or a little reading, or just want to enjoy a drink in relative quiet, Sligo’s rowdy pubs are no place for you.  One glaring, glowing exception is A Casa Mia in Sligo’s Italian Quarter, open late and serving light plates, wine, and coffee drinks at tiny work booths and one massive communal table.  The constant soundtrack of operas broken by the occasional (soft) bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace is a definite plus, though the food, the hours, and the atmosphere should be more than enough reason to visit.
    • Honorable mentions include Osta Cafe & Wine Bar, however, which is open until 7 Monday-Friday and 8 Thursday-Saturday – although their hours are flexible and patrons often push them well past their schedule.  Aside from offering a decent wine selection, good coffee, and excellent, fresh, local food, the cafe also hosts Irish- and French-speaking discussion groups on Fridays and Mondays – anyone is welcome to join.  The best part, though, has to be the view: the Georgian Yeats Memorial Building on the left offering a noble counterpoint to the postmodern Glass House Hotel on the right, all above the Garavogue River bright with swans.  Meanwhile, just off Wine Street diagonally from the tourist office, the Cafe Fleur offers quite good espresso drinks and a salad bar with an array of imported meats and cheeses.  The salient con of the Cafe Fleur is its popularity, as it’ll be crowded at lunch time.  And through the wifi is good, there are no electrical outlets in sight.  I encourage you to visit Oscars Cafe on Wine Street just before the entrance to the Quayside pedestrian street and shopping center, which has the best croissant in Ireland. Sean, the proprietor of this 20th-century film-themed cafe, moved from his old Cafe de Paris this year.  In his new location he peddles standard coffee, a variety of cakes, and the best damn croissants you can have outside of Gay Paree.  The recipe is a closely guarded secret, but as one of those poets would say, gather ye pastries while ye may.
    • osta sandwich
  2. The Trad Scene
    • Traditional Irish music is alive and well in Sligo, Ireland: walking past the pubs on Teeling, Quay, or Wine Street, you’ll sometimes hear it as early as five o’clock.  Some of the best players have come out of Sligo; and in turn the city brings the highest class of performers to its coziest venues.  The Harp Tavern on Quay St. offers trad every Monday night, buoyed up on free-flowing Guinness (as well as the other standard beers of Ireland – Carlsberg, Heineken, and, inexplicably, Coors Light).  The Snag, just a quick walk down from Osta Cafe, also offers trad and folk bands in Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Shoot The Crow off O’Connell St. hosts good bands most nights of the week.
    • Trad fans should book their tickets for Sligo now: the Fleadh Cheoil (the world’s largest Irish folk festival) is coming to Sligo 10-17 Aug., and will likely double the town’s population.  There must be half a dozen excellent folk sessions going on seven days a week already – once the festival starts you won’t be able to escape it.  Prepare to be humming and jigging in your sleep – and (so I’m told) say goodbye to sobriety.
  3. Jazz, Punk, and All the Rest
    • While trad’s all well and good, Sligo is home to so many young jazz cats with heads full of syncopation and seventh chords that the fiddle-and-concertina set have to share space with a modern and decidedly global jazz scene strong enough to support the annual Sligo Jazz Festival and a permanent school of bebop acolytes and generally hip cats.  People come to Sligo just for the jazz: case in point, America’s Christian Scott, the Congo’s Tropicana Musica, and a host of students from continental Europe and the Americas in for last week’s festival.  5th on Teeling is the first club I’d head to for jazz and blues, but my favorite music pub has to be The Swagman.  This bar explodes backward from the front door, with plenty of high secluded booths and a parallel beer garden lit in jolly yellows and perfect for taking a bit of air or nicotine or a girl.  The bar also has the city’s widest selection of craft brews on tap – one of my favorites was the Galway Hooker IPA (that’s I for “Irish”), but visitors should grab at least one pint of the Swagman’s homebrew, Shtuff.  But I’m drifting off course: the Swagman’s best feature is its music.  On a Tuesday night, I found The Crack Heads, a bass, fiddle, electric guitar, and cajon/bodhrán band self billed as “Irish folk wi’ a bit of the funk.”  Actually, they played jazz-funk filtered through Irish trad and even incorporating Hungarian motifs.  The bar has music every night: on a Wednesday, I found a DJ mixing W.A.R., A Tribe Called Quest, and Led Zeppelin.  (And Parliament-Funkadelic, when I asked.)
    • Fureys is worth mentioning, if only for their Sunday night band, the Out of Towners.  This bar is packed on Sunday nights, such that moving, sitting, drinking, standing, and sometimes talking prove difficult.  But the music is worth it – the Out of Towners are a funky, bluesy, deeply original band, with new material as well as a host of covers that will surprise and delight.  (I’m talking Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” here.)
    • The Swagman Pub

      The talented Crack Heads on a Tuesday night at The Swagman’s Pub.

  4. The Arts
    • There’s too much going on in Sligo’s art and theatre scene to mention in a single post.  Suffice it to say that the Hawk’s Well Theatre‘s schedule is the first place any visitor to Sligo should turn to (or perhaps the second, after grabbing a pint and a local to fill you in).  The theatre offers a diverse mix of events, including lectures, plays, and trad concerts from acts too big for the local pubs.  The plays presented here won’t be as stylistically avant-gardeas the fare in Galway – but this is one of the only places in the world you’ll get to see Yeats’ plays, which are often too minimalist and stylistically challenging for art directors and dramaturgs elsewhere in the world.  Last week the theatre hosted jazz trumpet stylist Christian Scott; this week they present lectures from world-class Yeats scholars, a sold-out performance of The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, and a tribute to the late poet Seamus Heaney, led by his friend and contemporary legend Michael Longley (who’ll also have a book launch in the Hawk’s Well Monday at 7).  For visitors coming to Sligo in the next few weeks, the theatre will put on Yeats’ The Dreaming of the Bones followed by an octet of concerts from top artists across the entire spectrum of the trad scene, from Michael Rooney’s harp suite to the trad “supergroup” Máirtín O’Connor Band, much of this part of the Tread Softly Festival running through 8 Aug.  Poetry fans shouldn’t be dismayed that they missed Wednesday night’s Ciaran Carson, Ciaran Berry, and Andrew Jamison reading at the Wine Street Methodist Church: there isn’t a dull day in the festival, and the schedule is here.

[Click here for my Flickr album from Sligo.]

 

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Yeats Society Summer School, Two Days In

Graffiti kitty corner to the Sligo Cathedral

Graffiti kitty corner to the Sligo Cathedral

I’ve been in Ireland almost five days now, and I’ve barely had time to answer my emails.  I spent the first two days in Carrowduff, County Clare, visiting what’s left of the old Ryan farm, and a day in and around Limerick and Ennis – but more on that later.  For now I’ll skip to the good work of the folks behind the International Yeats Society Summer School in Sligo, Ireland.

Edinburgh’s hopping, getting ready to hold arguably the world’s biggest literary festival; hep cats are cooling their heels in Copenhagen; Glasgow just said goodbye to world class actors in for its own arts celebration; but I can’t think of a single European town that rivals Sligo in per capita hipness.  It seems like nine out of ten people here are semiprofessional actors who moonlight with trad bands in the local pubs and write poetry as a hobby.  Everyone’s preparing for an exhibition or a reading; and of course everyone reads W. B. Yeats.

Last week Sligo played host to Christian Scott, headliner of this year’s Sligo Jazz Festival.  He anchored a week of nightly concerts, daily masterclasses, and many, many midnight jams.  The whole thing buzzed, banged, danced, and howled to a close Sunday night at 5th on Teeling, a cool little joint with two stages and an embarrassment of craft beers.  (I didn’t order a Guinness the entire night.)  By chance, Sunday also marked the official start of the Yeats Society International Summer School.  After a bus tour and opening ceremony (which I missed) and a dinner at the Sligo City Hotel (which, of course, I caught) the students – a group of undergraduates and newly minted PhDs, scholars and critics and dilettantes (like myself), from Ireland and the UK, the US, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Japan, and the Philippines – found their way to 5th on Teeling, where one of their number, also a member of the Sligo Jazz Project, was taking part in the Jazz Fest wrap-up party and jam.  The Yeatsians watched from a cozy wood-paneled room, pocked with ineffectual and entirely superfluous wall lamps, as Tropicana Musica, a smooth Afrobeat band visiting from the Congo, got everyone dancing on the floor below.  The space seemed made for such cultural cocktails: the dark lounge stepped off into a bright purple dance floor, in a room lined with flat and ocular mirrors and covered in a dusty shag fur.  Septuagenarian tattooed Irishmen shuffled next to slick women in pixie cuts and halters that halted at the navel.  There were roving packs of local adolescents well below Ireland’s alleged drinking age of 18, and as many languages bubbling and percolating as one might hear in Grand Central Station.

Naturally, I joined the action.  While Tropicana Musica hummed steadily away in the back room, local and visiting musicians assembled in the front room for one last jam.  A jerry-rigged drum kit, a couple congas, a piano and a stand up bass stayed on the small stage, while the cats came and went carrying their own horns, harps, and gitfiddles, breaking often to take a craft brew to their friends in the booths.  Because of space constraints, a Swedish man played the trumpet from his seat in a booth by the stage, smiling mildly to wild applause.

Brian Devaney, an actor and fellow student at the Yeats School, beckoned to me from his congas on the stage.  I hopped behind the kit for two songs, what one Irish pianist shruggingly dubbed a “slow, slow blues … wi’ a bit of funk,” and the night’s second rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago,” led by a searing harmonica.

Somehow I made it to the first lectures at the Hawk’s Well Theatre at 9 the next morning.  Immediately I was impressed.  Margaret Mills Harper and Matthew Campbell, Director and Assistant Director of the summer school, opened with lectures that brought all present into close communion with the poet, a spiritual-intellectual state that will no doubt sustain through the next two weeks.

Seminars followed, mine led by Herbert Tucker, who told us to abandon metaphor and theme and imagery and even historical or biographical context in favor of metrics – the charms woven through the warp and woof of Yeats’ poetry.

After so much close reading (which I have to say I haven’t practiced to this extent since Jack Kenny’s and Tom Zabawa’s classes at St. Joe’s) I had to relax with a Syrah (and my homework) at the Osta cafe on the banks of the Garavogue, with a view of the stately, subtly dilapidated Yeats Memorial Building to the right of Hyde Bridge and the aggressively modern Glass House Hotel thrusting itself like some deconstructed postmodern Titanic through the old buildings on the left.

Left, the Yeats Memorial Building.  In between is the Hyde Bridge over the Garavogue River, and the Glasshouse Hotel on the right.

Left, the Yeats Memorial Building. In between is the Hyde Bridge over the Garavogue River, and the Glasshouse Hotel on the right.

Later that night the Young Yeats division of the society hosted a social at The Harp Tavern, on Quay Street, in easy view of Ben Bulben on a clear enough day.  The bar provided finger foods while we Yeatsians spread out and acquired the requisite pints of Guinness.

The trad band was supposed to start at 9, so naturally they all found their way to the stage at about 10 to 10.  Sean, the guitarist and bandleader, had been forced by some snafu to recruit two exceptionally talented (and exceptionally young) girls from the local pool to play fiddle and concertina.  As with seemingly everything in Sligo, the performance was collaborative – Sean invited a fiddler from D.C. to take the stage, and thrice called on a large group of reelers and jiggers to whirl in madcap fashion before the stage.  They, in turn, sucked an Austrian undergraduate by the name of Elizabeth into their circle.

I, likewise, found myself pulled in by irresistible charms, in this case the charms of a vacationing family from Charlotte, N.C.  Quite by accident the patriarch, a lawyer, had run into a colleague and a friend of mine, who happened to be studying at the Yeats School.  For over two hours the band played and every time I tried to rise to buy a round of drinks, the patriarch waved me down and bought the round himself.  Southern hospitality, it seems, knows no borders.

A group of dancers joined the trad musicians at The Harp Tavern on Monday night.

A group of dancers joined the trad musicians at The Harp Tavern on Monday night.

 I don’t plan on getting much sleep for the next two weeks.  Unrelenting 9 a.m. lectures follow on the heels of evening reading bleeding into loud and cozy mornings in the pubs.  A night not spent listening to “The Rose of Tralee” and “Finnegan’s Wake” is a night wasted.  This morning I listened to Lucy McDairmid give a lecture blending Yeats’ revolutionary poems and the memoirs of women close to the 1916 rebels, followed by Wim Van Mierlo on Yeats’ Creative Impulses, drawing on the Romantics and the often indecipherable early drafts of W.B.’s poems.  I ended the afternoon again on the banks of the Garavogue, committing to memory “No Second Troy,” – a homework assignment – before heading off to the Donal Ryan reading at 8.  Then, of course, music in the pubs, maybe The Swagman this time, where, so a colorful cartographer named John the Map informed me, I can find an even wider selection of craft brews.

Two days I’ve been in Sligo.  I know already it isn’t a town you visit once.

[Check out my Flickr Gallery of Ennis, Ennistymon, Limerick, and Galway here andmy Sligo gallery here.]

Aftermath, and Memories of Dachau

Buffalo’s North Park Theatre ran one of the more challenging films in recent memory last week, Aftermath (Pokłosie) released in Poland in 2012 and starring Ireneusz Czop and Maciej Stuhr. The movie is down: and despite the otherwise brilliant theatre’s unfortunate habit of running its best films for only one week – eliminating the possibility of any real word-of-mouth promotion or buzz – I still feel the way I felt when I left the theatre – namely, that I have to evangelize.  That everyone I know has to see this film.  So now I’m spreading the word; you can’t find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but this is one worth searching for.

Director Władysław Pasikowski’s film is not a strictly “historical” drama, though critics (of which there were many) did try to pin it down as such, characterizing it as mendacious and manipulative.  It did grow out of history, though, specifically historian Jan T. Gross’ 2000 book Neighbors, the controversial account of the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom, in which poor Polish farmers murderd some 300 Jews – the entire Jewish population of their town – without the help or prompting of the Nazi occupiers, as was previously held.

In Pasikowski’s film, Czop’s Franciszek Kalina, a Polish expatriate, returns to his hometown of Gurówka from Chicago after two decades to find his family house under siege, his brother on edge and hated by everyone, and the villagers silent.

Ireneusz Czop as Franciszek, left, and Maciej Stuhr as Józef.

The brother, Józef Kalina, has been digging up and hoarding gravestones – Jewish gravestones used for everything from reinforcing roads to serving as flagstones at the Catholic parish church.

The historical background, the tone, and the characters are distinctly Polish – the brothers, for example, fight up to their very last scene together, coming very close to fratricide, and there isn’t a “reconciliation moment,” as you’d find in a comparable American film – but Aftermath does have plenty of links to the American film tradition.  The plot fits into  “guilty town” tradition  The cinematography, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy adaptations – with brutal, searing images, close shots, and natural lighting.  I was most struck by the opposite character arcs, though: at first Franciszek doesn’t sympathize with his brother’s sudden compassion for the Jews; finally, crushed by the magnitude of the town’s guilt and by his own unknowing complicity, Józef breaks and wants to cover it all up again, while Franciszek realizes that they have to see it through.  Even then Franciszek is casually prejudiced against his “Chicago Jews” – but he’s motivated by what was hidden half a century under his father’s ancestral farm.  Watching the brothers – always at odds – change, break, bend, and so beautifully cross arcs just before the film’s shattering climax, I was reminded of the great moral dramas of the American masters, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet. Pasikowski can stand among them, now.

The Wednesday night screening at the North Park ended in silence, and some shocked, subdued sniffling.  One cannot have a “reaction” to film – at least not right away.  Most stayed in their seats until the credits – in Polish, mostly untranslated – had finished rolling, if only as an excuse to remain frozen, to put off standing and taking the long walk back to the real world.

Once I was able to reflect on the film – once I was able to have something akin to a thought – my mind flew straight back to Dachau.

I visited the concentration camp at Dachau in the summer of 2012, with my brothers and fellow travelers Steve Coffed and Matthias Spruch.  There wasn’t much talking between us.  We perhaps two or three hours wandering, reading the many plaques and displays inside the administrative building, and staring across the blank brutalist flatness of the  gravel-strewn plain still demarcated by the foundations of the barracks.

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The experience of visiting a concentration camp is stunning or even devastating because memory – the reason Dachau and places like it still stand – is at once so close and so ultimately inaccessible.  We walk through the gas chambers, through the prisons, past the impossible bunk beds, under the gray sky down the long line of barracks; we pause at the chapel to hear the sisters sing; we descend into an underground memorial to look at some twisted sculpture made of metal from the old camp, look past that to light let in at a slit above.  And in doing all this, for all the time that we’re there and for some time after, we try very hard to access what actually happened.  And we’re moved; and some of us cry.  But we can’t really do it.  The memory isn’t ours.

Aftermath ends with a group of Jewish travelers standing in the charred remains of the Kalinas’ field, amid the heavy Hebrew headstones that Józef reclaimed.  They pray, facing a bright new plaque on the final headstone – a memorial to the burning of hundreds of Jewish families in 1941.  Like most of us who visit places like Dachau – or any memorial, really – the visitors in the movie’s final scene cannot penetrate the marble or granite to find the flesh and blood – their own flesh and blood – the reason they’ve traveled across an ocean and half a continent to visit a fallow wheat field.  But behind them stands Franciszek Kalina.  He doesn’t remember the burning of the Jews of Gurówka, but he quite literally dug up that past: he held their bones.  And he is closer than almost anyone, at that point, to what actually happened.  He remembers the blood spilled to make the memorial, to finally “remember,” and he is the closest to remembering the flesh and blood there memorialized, the flesh burned more than half a century before.

And here the entire movie is thrown back on itself, gaining a new and richer layer.  Seeing Franciszek like that, observing from the edge, we, observing from a further edge, feel that we stand outside all of it.  It’s a Tralfamadorian effect: we see the Jews at the memorial, we see Franciszek and Józef fighting to expose the town’s buried crime, and we can almost see the crime itself – a tale told earlier in a moving scene from Danuta Szaflarska.  Thinking back on all this while faced with the memorial, we can’t help but recall the countless memorials we’ve each visited, and in so doing see ourselves at our true distance from the “events,” the murders or the tragedies, the flesh and the blood.  And though we don’t remember, we understand inarticulately what lies at the heart of all the concrete poured, all the marble and granite moved many miles from quarries to the sites of old crimes.

Aftermath is a vital film; I hope it finds you.

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Click the image to go to a small gallery of pictures from my trip to Dachau.

 

Today’s Brew: “La Fin du Monde,” an Ale for the End of the World

la fin du monde label

A few nights ago in Buffalo, N.Y., thunder cracked and rolled more sudden and booming than anything I’d heard since the days when I was very young, and I’d sit on my porch for every one of these summer storms, wondering (and thrilling) at the chance that by my proximity to the metal railings on all four sides, I would be fried.  I chose to watch the storms in (what I thought was) an open-air metal deathcage, because, at six or seven, I felt my mortality more acutely.  I stood, for fifteen or thirty minutes, on the very edge of an ending world.

So, when the thunder cracked, and when the whiteblue lightning flashed so bright that it lit my lonely blind alley like a dozen halogen studio floods, I felt that old thrill – and I knew exactly which beer to drink.

Most connoisseurs will talk about pairing beers with foods.  Well.  I’m more interested in pairing beers with emotions, psycho-spiritual states.  Consider Charles Baudelaire:

I have cultivated my hysteria with delight and terror. Now I suffer continually from vertigo, and today, 23rd of January, 1862, I have received a singular warning, I have felt the wind of the wing of madness pass over me.

The correct beer to pair with these feelings – hysteria, madness, richest melancholy – is of course Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde.

Named in honor of the European explorers who found North America and thought they’d reached the very end of the world, this is a tripel-style Belgian gold, Canada’s most highly decorated beer – for very good reason.

No aroma more immediately captures the word bittersweet.  You’ll catch coriander, yeast, alcohol, and cream as you put the tulip glass to your nose.  The head is rich and abundant; it’ll give way to champagne-style bubbles and lacing.  The first taste is of yeast and coriander – which combined here taste like sadness of the best vintage, the sadness of old monks who’ve seen the woes of this world  – and this taste yields to honey, intriguing malts, and warming alcohol.

This one goes down creamily – it’s a rich brew, opaque grainy gold.  If you do have time for a last meal before the world ends, pair this with mussels, a plate of pungent bleu cheeses, or braised beef.

Ideally, one should drink this beer alone, in a vast castle.  If not, one could settle for an outdoor café in a chilly European town, a small town, with many churches and burgher houses, a place at once modern and Medieval, where the cobbles of the street remember the blood of flagellants and martyrs and wars.

Failing that, find a metal-railinged porch and an unforgettable thunderstorm.

My Independence Day Blues

Buffalo marina at sunset. [Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

Buffalo marina at sunset. [Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

I can’t remember the last time I was perfectly happy on the Fourth of July – it was probably back in the days when I would reach for the Sunday paper and open straight to the comics.

I’m not that much of a curmudgeon.  It’s not some fear of lights and loud noises.  It’s not that I have submerged anti-American sentiments: I’m fairly vocal about the things I dislike in this country, but put me in front of a World Cup match and I’ll go hoarse shouting for America’s Capitalist-Imperialist Domination in an essentially foreign sport.  And while I do think that Lance Diamond should retire, it’s not like his performances at Buffalo’s Canalside throw me into a funk.  (First of all, that poor man doesn’t have any funk left.)

But it might have something to do with the fact that while watching the fireworks with family and friends, a cop could come up and give me a ticket for an open container violation.

I see it at Christmas too: any time that we gather to celebrate what we have, we feel acutely all that we’ve recently lost – or what we’re reminded was never ours in the first place.  So on the Fourth of July, when every radio station, billboard, car dealership mega-sale, hot dog bun, and pair of  star-spangled pants screams Democracy and Freedom, I can’t help but think about how far we are from all our ideals.  So I find myself blue – not so much red or white.  It’s just a Fourth of July thing.

I won’t dwell on this – Jeff Daniels’ character in The Newsroom says it all so well (clip below) – but it’s worth mentioning that our two-party system represses creative solutions and creative candidates; that only two states in our union have instituted proportional allotment of presidential delegates; that our political dialogue is for the most part either shrill and misguided or jaded and impotent; that government on the federal, state, and local levels is government of self-perpetuating and self-justifying bloat; that our bureaucracy strives against the threat of meritocracy; that our universities are filled with students who cannot articulate themselves in writing or in conversation and who furthermore cannot think critically; that populists on both the right and left continue to push extremist or ill-advised moral legislation, in imitation of the Puritans, their intellectual forebears; and that (most dangerous of all) we no longer have a consensus on the definition of personal liberties – we don’t even know how to talk about it.

So, ‘Merica, eh?

This Fourth of July I spent with my family at Canalside – and around 7 p.m., with the sun still high, kites flying, and happy kids all around me, I felt my Independence Day Blues.  “Blues” perhaps suggests something that this feeling is not – beause I’m not talking about a nice rich melancholy, something you can luxuriate in, and enjoy.  This is closer to a combination of having your parents deeply disappoint you and being ostracized at a ten year old’s birthday party.

Driven away by the aforementioned relic of Buffalo’s chintzy disco past, however, we left the decks and found a cooler, quieter berth just past the naval park.  This soon filled up, too, though – and somehow, my Blues started to fade.  It might have been the water, which always has a calming effect – or it might have been my Peanut Delight sundae from the Hatch.

Russell Salvatore was behind the fireworks at the Harbor this year, just like the old days in Delaware Park.  And once they started, I was struck by a strange heart-feeling not exactly patriotic but still somehow American.  There were Pakistani women standing and talking behind us, sometimes resting their hands on our chairs; their children chattered and bumped into our backs.  A veteran sold CDs of Mozart and the Beastie Boys.  A white man yelled at a black man for standing during the entire show to take photographs.  They eventually calmed down.

Rather like Salvatore’s eponymous restaurant, perhaps more thought should have been put into the flow, the dynamics and progression, the parts as they related to the whole; but again, as with the restaurant, one couldn’t be anything but struck by the verve and the expense and the joy.  My favorite, the weeping willows, were abundant, and I particularly enjoyed a new variety that seemed to drip sparkling red plastic fire.  Of course the finale was top notch, big and loud and bright, a cannonade of flashbombs and a white gold rain, all mirrored in expressionist blossoms on the harbor’s stained glass surface.  I felt then and still feel that there is no other way to enjoy Fourth of July fireworks than in a crowded place, over water, with foreign voices all around.

I wondered then: do our soldiers overseas put on displays as large as these?  A quick search suggests turns up nothing.  In fact, this article from June of 2013 reports that stateside military celebrations went without fireworks that year, victim to government furloughs.  As the would-be caliphate ISIS howls at the gates of Baghdad, poised to undo a decade of ware and nation-building and the gains of the so-called Arab Spring, I wonder where our billions went – I wonder if they might have been better spent.

What if Russell Salvatore paid for their fireworks?  What if we took a billion dollars – just one billion – and spent it all on these bombs without targets?  What if we put on a half-hour light and noise show for all our enemies?  Lit up the skies from Beirut to Kashmir in red and gold and neon green and sapphire?  They wouldn’t thrown down their weapons just then.  But their children would see, and remember.

So this is what I thought about, as my Independence Day Blues slowly gave way under the barrage of Salvatore’s bright bombs, mulling all the ways this country fails to live up to our most cherished buzzwords, all the ways we could be better.  Maybe it was the old patriotism stirring in me.  A Fourth of July thing.

[Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

[Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]