When I can in the evenings or weekends, I stop and visit with our elderly neighbours, most of whom grew up in this area -- surrounded by precisely the same landscape but a different universe.
A sixty-year-old in my native USA would have grown up with cars, highways, televisions and electronic devices of all kinds. Their generation – as pampered as any that will ever be -- knew childhood in a time of unprecedented prosperity, youth in a time of unprecedented decadence, and approaches dotage at a time of unprecedented power and comfort for seniors.
A sixty-year-old in rural Ireland might have grown up during the same years but a different era – growing their own food, repairing their own materials and getting to town on horse, bicycle or their feet. Yet their world was also highly prosperous in its own way; they might have made less money than Third-World workers today, but they provided for most of their own needs, and money was less central to their lives.
At least in the mid-20th century, though, most people here had lifespans as long as people's today, and were probably healthier. Crime was unimaginably low, both by their testimony and official statistics. People had high levels of education --- school tests and letters from the time attest to a literacy and eloquence that would be rare today.
Their lives involved long hours of physical labour, and people had far fewer choices in their lives than we have today, so I don’t want to romanticise the past too much. Nor do I claim that people are improved by paucity alone, merely that people can build a peaceful and decent world without much money, if they know how.
Since these people knew how, their skills and attitudes might be valuable to my countrymen, who are growing poorer again but with no ability to cope with that change. My new project, then, is to take a video camera along and interview as many of my neighbours as possible, in the hopes of passing on lessons of a world whose memories are disappearing.
I mentioned a few months ago how we had seen Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet Alice in Wonderland in the cinemas, under a great new system that films plays, operas and ballets live and broadcasts them to cinemas around the world. It’s been a godsend to us, allowing us in rural Ireland to see performances that would ordinarily have entailed a trip to another country and a few hundred euros.
A fortnight ago, then, we saw La Fille Mal Gardee, Frederick Ashton’s lovely 1960 ballet, based on the 1828 play The Wayward Daughter. While my own daughter is to some extent a normal ten-year-old and had just enjoyed the Avengers film, I was pleased to see that she was not only willing to see the ballet, but thoroughly enjoyed it.
This past week we saw The Pirates of Penzance; I had introduced her to The Mikado on television last year, but this was her first time seeing such a thing in the theatre. She had been understandably apprehensive about sitting through an opera, but I sold her on the fact that it was 1.) in English, and 2.) funny. Gilbert and Sullivan offer a very accessible entry to the art, even for modern kids, and now she feels ready to see something in another language.
Top photo: Glendalough, a monastery near us, founded as a retreat from the world in the 500s and continued for more than a thousand years.