Sunday, December 16, 2007

What it's like being back in the states

Republican Politics, American Style
Published September 20th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Having been back in the states for more than a week now, I thought I would depart from my usual discourse on US politics and discuss how it feels to be back in my native land after spending most of the past year living, studying and working in Dublin.
While my flight from Dublin to Dallas by way of Chicago was relatively uneventful, it nonetheless felt quite different than any previous flight I have ever taken back to Dallas or the United States for that matter. Having flown over 4 million miles over the past 20 years, I can recall many journeys very similar to my most recent one, but none where I experienced the kind of mixed feelings I had on this last trip. For reasons I don't fully understand yet, this is the first time I have ever travelled back to the states where I wasn't really all that excited about going. I have always looked forward to seeing my family and friends after being away for any length of time, so I'm at a bit of a loss as regards explaining why I had such varied sentiments about this trip.
I had previously flown back to the states on the exact same flight itinerary in May and before that in December, so there was nothing different about either the logistics or length of this particular trip. I was also warmly greeted by the same friends and family members that had welcomed me before following past arrivals back into Dallas, so there was nothing different there either. What’s more, I have once again thoroughly enjoyed seeing and spending time talking with my numerous friends and family members here in the states. So what is the explanation for this mixture of feelings?
After contemplating this jumble of feelings for the last 10 days, I have concluded that the answer probably lies somewhere within the breadth of experiences that I had during this past summer after I returned to Dublin from my last trip to Dallas in May. In contrast with my prior months in Dublin, I have become aware that I spent much less time interacting with the many university friends I have made since I first came to Ireland, because most of my classmates had scattered to other countries and parts of Ireland following the completion of our taught courses and final exams. Like me, my ‘mates have also spent a substantial amount of time over the summer doing the solitary research required to write our respective dissertations.
While I have had much less contact with the post graduate students whom I spent most of my leisure and class time with during my first 8 months in Ireland, I have spent more time over the last 3 months with other members of the Irish community, particularly those who work or spend time as volunteers for Amnesty International’s Irish Section. I was also given an opportunity to speak and express my views about the cultural integration and immigration issues which Ireland is now grappling with at an Inter-Faith Conference in Blanchardstown. These activities have in turn led me to be introduced to a new group of acquaintances, some of whom have become very good friends.
Today I have many fond memories of my first summer in Ireland, although I am sure that many other Irish residents will remember it as a rather miserable vacation time of unseasonable rain and chilly temperatures. I too was disappointed that the lovely April weather I experienced in Dublin was not repeated again except for a couple of brief periods in early June and late August. On the other hand I sure am glad I wasn’t in the UK during this same timeframe since that country seemed to bear the brunt of this summer’s rainy weather and subsequent flooding.
Music has played a large part in my summer memories beginning with a front row (seat?) viewing spot for the Dave Matthews Band concert at the Point at the end of May, followed by similar vantage points for concerts by INXS and R.E.M. at the Olympia Theatre in June and July. I must say that I was very impressed by both the musicians and the setting for these bands, in particular the Olympia Theatre. The sound quality was excellent and while I have seen all of these bands perform before at concerts in the states, I must also say that the concert venues were neither as intimate nor as special as those in Dublin.
Then things got even better when I attended the Oxegen Festival as an Amnesty International volunteer. The weather was miserable, the food second-rate, the loos and showers were mediocre, the mud was insufferable and omnipresent, and the sound quality was far from the best I’ve ever heard. Yet I enjoyed myself more at Oxegen than anywhere else I went this summer including the Leeds Festival in late August. Please understand that in contrast to Oxegen, at Leeds the weather was sunny, the food was good, the showers and loos were always clean and the back stage viewing platforms we gained access to were far superior to the back stage areas we used at Oxegen.
So since I enjoyed Leeds, why do I still recall Oxegen so fondly? Well at Oxegen I did get to hear Daft Punk for the first time in 5 years and I got turned on to some great music I hadn’t heard before from DJ Cost Cut Chemist and a Canadian band named Arcade Fire. But I think maybe the difference in my feelings about these concert experiences has to do with the differences in the people who were there. Since I was also with some of the same Amnesty International volunteer friends at Leeds, maybe it was the bonding experience with other friends in the wretched conditions at Oxegen that made that weekend seem more special. Who knows?
Similarly, while I have yet to figure out exactly why I had such mixed feelings about returning to the states this time, I think it has something to do with the acquaintances and friendships I made this summer. Thus far, it is the only explanation I can come up with for my current sentiments. While I’m currently residing in my homeland of the United States, I no longer feel at home here. Today, the place where I feel most at home…. is Dublin Ireland.

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