Friday, December 26, 2008
Had lunch with friends on Monday just as an awfully big storm raged over the Island. Talking about future plans and this spring my friend and his family are off to Cuba, which is near the top of my list of places to go. But as I have said before my problem with travel is that I always want to return to where I have already been, to continue to peel away the layers of each city, to do my best to know it. If you were to give me a choice tomorrow of where I could go the top of the list would likely be Dublin (been twice), London (once), Ireland proper (once), the Highlands of Scotland (never been) and then likely either Cuba (never been) or Newfoundland (I have been to St. John’s once).
With a finite amount of time and money and three young children a lot of this travel waits down the road but every once in a while lightning strikes, as it did this past February when I found myself in Dublin for a week on business. The meetings and work were casual and so I had my evenings and a full weekend to wander about the city. My first time to Ireland was with my wife, back in 2002, and our three days in Dublin were spent seeing the sights. The National Museum and Gallery, the cathedrals of St. Patricks and Christchurch, the Guinness storehouse, Dublin Castle, the GPO, pockmarked with bullets from 1916. Most impressive to me was the ancient Book of Kells and the great library at Trinity College, a bright soaring hall which took my breath away.
Dublin is a very walkable city and so we wandered the streets and visited pubs and shops and so our visit was a nice introduction, a skimming of the top of what the city has to offer.
Having seen all of the touristy sights then, my trip last winter was more of a true wandering, meandering along the Liffey for a while, gazing at the brightly coloured buildings opposite, then dodging into the city, down crooked laneways and streets, lost in thought on St. Stephen’s Green, following kilted shouting Scotsman in the city for the rugby, gazing at the monuments to authors and poets and thinkers, so different from Scotland where the memorials are to the violent successes of war, and, of course, in and out of the pubs, a quick pint or two at each, the older the pub the better.
I like to do my drinking at pubs in the afternoon, when they are quiet, only a few people here and there, no rush of tourists even at the most famous of them, The Brazen Head, which had two tables of students in full roar, an older American couple enjoying soup and a pint and a couple of men at the bar beside me when I visited. And so it went, to all of these century old pubs, few TVs and little music, just the quiet murmur of a young couple at Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street, the good natured kidding of rugby fans at The Stag’s Head, the lunchtime crowd at Davy Byrne’s, the loud obscene banter of the publican at The Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn.
And Neary’s and Dawson’s Lounge and The Long Hall and The Old Stand and McDaid’s and on and on.
It was a good trip. ;)
And in the back of my mind, always, the fact that these old pubs had seen thousands over the generations, the common man, like myself, and the uncommon, the drunken genius Brendan Behan, the youthful promise that was James Joyce and plenty of the men who had fought to bring Ireland her freedom, men like Michael Collins, who often drank with his men in these pubs, often with the men that he was fighting, British officers and spies, men who were drinking with a young man who in many cases would order their executions.
Collins has come into focus in recent years, thanks in part to a movie that was reasonably accurate, as Hollywood movies go. He, along with Arthur Griffiths, in my opinion, was the man most responsible for Ireland’s escaping British rule. A fascinating and brilliant man and if you are interested in history someone that you should know about. It was Griffiths who came up with the idea of a separate parliament from Westminster, so when Sinn Fein swept Irish seats those elected refused to sit in London, but rather sat in an Irish Parliament, the Dail, and carried on a shadow government of Ireland from there. Quite illegal and yet by its actions, carried on in peace and under the rule of law, an effective undermining of British authority in Ireland. Collins sat in the Dail and wore many hats, one of which was Minister of Finance. But he also had another, much more brutal role.
For the peaceable means of bringing the English to the table would not work alone and had to be backed by violence, cold and brutal. And this too was Collins’ work and it was here that he was the hard man, as the Irish call it, cold and calculating. British spies and agents would be warned and if they did not back off, which few did, being hard men themselves, then Collins would sign their death warrant. And so by executions in the streets of Dublin did he and his men cut off the head of British power in Ireland. It turned into an ugly war and violence begat violence and in the end Michael Collins and some hundreds of men had brought the British Empire to the table to negotiate an independent Ireland.
Collins himself did not find pleasure in his orders, indeed he often lamented ordering the killing, but it had to be done and he had the will to have it done. A hard man.
The Oilers start their post Christmas schedule against the Canucks who have surged nicely and are now trundling along while waiting for Luongo to heal. They still have a nice blueline and the Sedins and of course now they have Sundin to go along with Demitra and some other nice pieces up front. But make no mistake that the guy who makes this team go is Ryan Kesler. A guy who causes the red mist to come over Jesse Boulerice, who makes Ales Hemsky seek him out for vengeance, a guy who takes on the opponents’ best and drives them to distraction with stick and elbows and fists, always hard on the puck, fast and mean and tough. He is the hard man on the Canucks and man oh man do I wish he was an Oiler. He, along with Willie Mitchell, gives the Canucks their edge and makes them an unpleasant team to play against. Interviewed the other day after a brawl filled match with the Ducks he paused, bemused, and wondered about the fact that it seemed that this club had an intense rivalry with so many teams in the league.
Recent history has seen players like Cooke and May and Bertuzzi in Vancouver colours and now there is the pest Burrows and hard rocks like Bieksa and Ohlund and at the head of the line, Kesler, who plays with nothing but malice in his heart. Goddamn him for it but I want him on my club.
Amongst other things the Oilers need they could use a Ryan Kesler in the bottom six. Pouliot has the size and he can skate and recently he has shown more vinegar but I don’t think its his nature and its too bad because if it was he’d be an Oiler for a decade. As it is only Souray and Moreau fit the bill on this club, a team that in its glory days was filled with hard cases, Lowe and Beukebeum and Muni and Semenko and Hunter and McClelland and even among their most skilled, the kid Graves, the pest Tikkanen, the flashy and vicious Anderson and of course, Messier, a wonderfully skilled thug in the cut of Gordie Howe.
In the Original Six every player had to be hard and cold – those who talk about the old days being a time of gentle respect between players have not a clue of what they are talking about – sticks carving and bloody fists, eye gouging and sneaky elbows, cold eyed men brawling until the ice ran red. Howe and Orr, Shore and Hull, the Richards, Mikita, even Jean Beliveau – even the stars were tough and mean and angry when they stepped on the ice. They had to be to survive.
I remember watching a YouTube video of Gator from a game when he was miked and his cold stare when someone from the other team began to yap. There was no wild antics that day – just that dead eye and a voice, bitter and frozen, dripping with violent malice. “Try me”, he said. “Try me.”
They rarely did.
The Oilers need a hard man or two who can play this game. If they have any pretensions to be a team to be reckoned with in the years to come, they need to find someone who makes the other team wonder where they are all of the time.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:30 PM