“So have you seen that movie yet?”
“The one with all the terrific Irish brogues in it, Brooklyn”
“No, but I’m planning to go, some of it was shot in my home town, I’ve seen the ads and they show a scene with the beach where I swim.”
I am on the bike in the gym again, Forrest and I are shouting across a man pushing 200 pounds of barbell.
“Have you been to the Tal-bet Hotel?”
I have seen this man on the bike next to me many times at the gym and he’s always kept himself to himself, but now he was removing his ear buds and asking me about a Wexford hotel. At first I didn’t recognize what he was saying, but once my translator kicked in I realized he was talking about the Talbot Hotel on the Quay, a place where I attended many family weddings and reunions as a kid, and where I have performed on several occasions as an adult. It was always the fanciest hotel in town, with really fancy food and snappy service, as a kid I was particularly impressed with the soup and the bread rolls. Every major employer had an annual reunion for which you would buy a classy ticket with embossed print and curved corners, for twenty one shillings. They were almost always at the Talbot. Starched white tablecloths and napkins, long tables laid out wedding- style with more silverware than you could comprehend and, most astoundingly (even for a 12 year old), glasses were filled with complimentary cigarettes at regular intervals along the tables. After the meal a live band played – I danced with my mother.
“Yes of course I have, is that in the movie?”
“I can’t recall, but it’s in the book.”
This man has always caught my imagination; he is very scholarly looking, with a neck that appears to be stiff from many years of bearing down on a typewriter. I had decided that he might be a retired journalist, a truthful person of character. He has scholarly grey hair draped behind his ears, and horn rimmed spectacles, I may have assumed his occupation because he looks like another Irish American friend who worked for Newsday as an editor-in-chief, or maybe it was because he carried the weight of that kind of character in his earnestness. I was pleased that he was now talking to me. I miss my friend who worked for Newsday, he died about fifteen years ago from prostate cancer. I was too young to know him as a peer, but he was always decent and kind of parental. I somehow miss him and his kind. It was warming to talk to someone of his ilk.
“What did you think of the book?”
“I enjoyed it”
“How do you rate Colm Toibin as a writer?”
He stumbled for a while, not wanting to be inaccurate in his assessment.
“I don’t know if he’s as great as one of the iconic giants”, finally he blurted out. “He’s not James Joyce!”
I was tempted to say that I didn’t think anyone was, but left it to swim in its own ambiguity instead.
It’s become topical to be Irish again, in the Village. It got worn out there for a while; no-one seemed to care much about the oul accent. But “Brooklyn” seems to have reawakened the old romanticism of the brogue. In the ads on the telly they show Curracloe Beach, a seven mile stretch of fine golden sand where I have always swam. It’s also the beach that inspired my song “Orange Coloured Sun”.
“Brooklyn” has dug up a lot of buried Irish memories. Being a Wexfordian has always been in the minority amongst Irish Americans, most of their ancestors came from the West of Ireland. But Wexford, in the “sunny south east”, is where the Irish themselves go on vacation. Now because of Colm’s story, maybe visitors will go see why. I have always loved Brooklyn, it’s the first place that I lived when I came here, some of my most valued friends come from there. Now it seems I’m married to it again.
Have you seen Brooklyn? What did you think of it. Just wondering.