A Travellerspoint blog

Pub Diplomacy

Galway City, 2004

February, 2004 was a tense time internationally. Coalition forces had toppled the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Efforts to locate weapons of mass destruction were proving difficult. It seemed everyone had differing opinions on the invasion of Iraq and the future in the Gulf region was very much uncertain.

As a family, we decided that the international turmoil would not change our planned trip to Ireland. Tension was definitely higher than we had ever encountered there, but it was not uncomfortable for us, until that night at The Crane Bar.

The Crane is a very well known venue for traditional Irish Music. The music session is held nightly upstairs. These are usually loosely arranged affairs where talented local musicians show up around 9:30PM and play off and on in various configurations until closing time. With our kids safely with their Nana, my wife and I headed out for a pint and a few laughs. When we arrived we realized that lots of people had the same idea.

The only way we could get a seat was to share a table. We were aware of how things worked and we had no problem asking a couple of gents if we could join them. If I had to describe them, I would say that they looked like something like the deck hands in the film version of The Perfect Storm.

We were far enough away from the music that we could hold a conversation pretty easily. In the course of small talk we learned that they were not Irish but rather from the European continent and they were visiting Galway to sharpen their English language skills which were already quite good for both. Once they learned we were American, it didn’t take long for them to start going on the assault. “America does this, all Americans think that, America needs to do this, blah, blah, blah.” My wife had already extracted my word that we weren’t going to talk politics on vacation, especially with strangers. The Iraq situation was far too complex to tackle when we were very far from home and vastly outnumbered. I wasn’t up for a barroom brawl and I am pretty sure neither was my wife. The problem was that we didn’t want to leave and there was nowhere else to sit. Basically, if we wanted to have a Guinness and enjoy the music we were going to have to endure the political rants of a couple of chain smoking hippies pubbing their way across the west coast of Ireland.

Back in 2004, it was still legal to smoke in pubs in Ireland. If you can picture a wooden tobacco barn slowly smoldering on a hot North Carolina day you can picture the scene in Crane’s that night. The air was as thick as cotton candy. One of these two characters (let’s call him Beavis) had a habit of very dramatically hand rolling a cigarette while verbally ripping apart anything that did not meet his personal code of ethics, honor, and behavior. His favorite target that night was American society. When his diatribe was through he would casually smoke the cigarette, staring off into the distance like some great poet/philosopher. I actually kind of enjoyed his theatrics. My wife reconfirmed that that we were not going to engage in the debate by way of a hard squeeze of my knee. Instead the plan would be to let these two enlighten us with their global perspectives.

I told the boys we wanted to hear all about their view of the world but it would have to wait while I refilled my pint. I offered to do the same for them and they eagerly accepted. They talked, they smoked, we listened, we refilled. Slowly the tension began to melt away. We never disagreed with what they said no matter how ill-informed or off the mark the comments were.

With each successive pint, Beavis found it increasingly difficult to roll a tight cigarette. His political points became as unstructured as his cigarettes. His buddy (let’s call him Beavis II) began to talk less about politics and more about my wife’s sophisticated charm or some such thing.

By the end of the night, Beavis and Beavis II had been converted. Speaking through the glow of a loosely packed half filled cigarette with excess rolling paper fully ablaze Beavis acknowledged that maybe they were wrong about Americans. He was thankful they had the chance to get to know us and understand our perspective (even though we never offered any).

As for us, we were simply glad we got a seat and we enjoyed some great music. It may have cost us a little more than expected since the Beavis Boys never exactly reciprocated on refills but their side show was worth every penny. Gandhi said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” I usually have a hard time adhering to those words. On this evening however, we enjoyed diffusing a tense situation and having a few laughs merely by listening instead of arguing.

Posted by EuropInFebruary 08:52 Archived in Ireland Tagged traditional city music bar galway crane's Comments (0)

I Promised My Wife Everything Would Be Fine

Paris, 2010

It was a day we all looked forward to for months. We were in France for three days. We made a deal with our daughters. If they were good sports about the museums we wanted them to experience I would treat them to a day at Disneyland Paris. My wife would spend the day on her own shopping and strolling in the City of Light.

My wife kindly asked if I was sure I could manage the whole day without her help. I assured her I had everything under control. She reminded me to keep the kids close to me at all times.

We left our apartment in the shadow of Notre Dame bright and early and set out for the Gare de Lyon train station. We stocked up on water and grabbed decadent pastries for the one hour train ride. Everything was going smoothly and according to plan, too smoothly.

The Paris transit system is amazing. It is fast, clean, safe and efficient. We descended underneath the bustling station and headed for our platform. When we turned the corner a train was already there challenging us to climb aboard. I quickly double checked to make sure the train was headed for Marne la Vallee-Chessy. It was the right train and I told the kids to hurry up. We were excited.

I messed up. I violated my own rule. When we travel, I remind everyone that we all stick together and don't make impulsive moves. In my hasty desire to make good time I let the group get too spread out. Instead of just waiting I made a push to make the train.

My middle daughter, then 10 years old, was at the front of our pack. With a nod of my consent she jumped on board with us a good few paces behind. As she was mid-stride a loud tone sounded. To a parent with one child on the train and two children still moving down the platform this was an alarm of impending doom.

I knew that within an instant the train doors would close and my precious little girl would be alone on a rapidly moving train heading out of Paris. She was 3,000 miles from home. She did not speak a single word of French and she had no way to explain to anyone where she came from and where she was going. All she knew was we were headed to Disneyland.

For someone who goes to great lengths to be prepared, sheer dread set in. How could I let this happen? I couldn't jump on the train and leave my 8-year-old and 12-year-old behind. I felt helpless.

The scene was playing itself in slow motion. I could see the utter confusion in my daughter's eyes. I imagine that her expression was a mirror reflection of mine.

When all seemed lost an amazing thing happened. A passenger with incredible instinct recognized exactly what was happening and what needed to be done. In retrospect, I suppose he must have known what was going to happen even before it occurred.

From the platform, I watched this person burst from his seat on the train. He didn't lunge for my daughter, which is what my instincts were telling me. Instead he stretched his arms out towards the doors of the train. He had the backs of his hands together, palms outward. As the doors closed, only his fingers protruded through. A second stranger now joined to help. He wedged his hands between the narrow gap in the doors. I could see tears in my daughter's eyes as the two began to pry open the doors.

Once the doors reached a certain point they jerked fully open. My daughter leaped from the train and grabbed on to me.

There I stood, face to face with two strangers who acted swiftly, decisively, and selflessly. Why did they do it? Because we needed help.

Just as quickly as before the tone sounded again and the doors closed. As the train began to pull away I looked through the windows and uttered the words "thank you, merci, merci". The men nodded. One smiled. Then they were gone.

I'll never have the opportunity to personally thank those two men. Their quick actions averted a crisis. As for us, we regrouped, we talked about what happened and the lessons we learned, we caught the next train, and we put it behind us. We spent a glorious day in Disneyland.

In a world where we try to control everything, sometimes we need help. Similarly, we need to realize that people all around us need help. Sometimes it's just little things. Little actions can make a big difference. We were reminded of that one morning deep underground the streets of Paris.

Posted by EuropInFebruary 07:45 Archived in France Tagged paris metro disneyland Comments (1)

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