Sunday, June 01, 2008

A sense of place

I have written a bit lately about a sense of place. Land has form and spirit and presence. One place is not interchangeable with another. Globalization and standardization and horrid lowest common denominators all work against this truth and seek to subvert it. It matters little what Macdonalds or Starbucks you visit, you get pretty much the same product and you have no sense of place. Character and identity are stripped from place and person and we become increasingly unrooted.

Mimi and I shared today our sense of place. She wondered whether she should say anything and if she might give offense but, as the truth came out, desert places just don't work for her. She has been to Santa Fe but hills with no substantial greenery leave her feeling in an alien space. I confessed in turn that I have said I just don't belong in the swamps. As I flew into NOLA at the end of April I looked down at expanses of green algae-covered water and my flesh crawled. I was entering an alien place. Lush greenery is pleasant but I seem to like my water in manageable doses.

Eileen (and her mother) have introduced me to Celtic Thunder, a group of singing Irishmen, and I was surfing several songs from their show on YouTube. I came to this one, sung by their youngest member (with an amazingly strong voice). The sense of place got me all choked up. All Celtic music seems bittersweet and gets to me. [Granted, the first verse in Irish is more silly boasting to impress a woman than love of place.]

Come by the Hills (Buachaill ón Eirne) sung by Damian McGinty

Come By The Hills – Celtic Thunder Ltd

The first verse is done in Irish.
Buachaill ón Eirne mé's bhréagfainn féin cailín deas óg
Né iarfainn bó spré léithe tá mé saibhir go leor 'S liom
Corcaigh a mhéid e , dhá thaobh a ghleanna's Tír Eoghain
'S mur n-athraí mé béasaí 's mé n' t-oibhr ar Chontae
Mhaigh Eo
Here is translation
I am a boy from Ireland and I'd coax a nice young girl, I
wouldn't ask for a dowry with her, I'm rich enough
myself, I own Cork, big as it is both sides of the glen and
Tyrone, And if I don't change my ways I'll be the heir for
County Mayo.

Come by the hills to the land where fancy is free.
And stand where the peaks meet the sky and the loughs
meet the sea,
Where the rivers run clear and the bracken is gold in the sun;
And the cares of tomorrow can wait till this day is done.

Come by the hills to the land where life is a song.
And stand where the birds fill the air with their joy all day long,
Where the trees sway in time and even the wind sings in
And, the cares of tomorrow can wait till this day is done.

Come by the hills to the land where legend remains.
The stories of old, fill the heart and may yet come again,
Where the past has been lost and the future is still to be
And, the cares of tomorrow can wait till this day is done.

And, the cares of tomorrow can wait till this day is done.


Diane said...

I still remember driving from Denver to Albuquerque once years ago, and, upon entering New Mexcio, feeling a sense of wonder. So different and yet so beautiful! After that, I told everyone, it really is the Land of Enchantment. No offense to Arizona, but I think New Mexico is much more beautiful.

And re: New Orleans, well, when I think about New Orleans, I think about the people we met, the friendly people on the streets, the blues guitar players, etc. We didn't get out in the countryside.

Paul said...

The people of New Orleans are, indeed, quite wonderful and I enjoy them very much. Even amid the devastation there is also much beauty in the city as well.

There is a geographic and environmental sense that "I don't belong here" that is quite distinct from whether one gets along with the people and culture.

New Mexico did not get called the Land of Enchantment (or La Tierra Encantada, which is somewhat different) for nothing. It has a wonderful, somewhat desolate, beauty. One needs to enjoy the shift of light on the landscape, see the Sandias or other mountains washed in colors of sunset, or have the moon rise in the desert sky to appreciate it.

I also love the Sierra and the Bay Area in California, my native state.

Eileen said...

Paul - I also almost put that song up on my blog, because that child truly sings it beautifully. Ireland is using it for a tourism commercial!

I understand what you mean, about a sense of place. I remember traveling to Utah...11 years ago now...and thinking how vastly different it was from the mountain I was used to in the east. Everything seemed to me both spare and overwhelmingly large.

But the canyons were truly magnificent. It's just weird for an eastern girl to see hills with no trees, you know?

The place I feel most at home, really, is the Hudson Valley in NY. I haven't lived there in 24 years now..but, when I see certain sights when visiting, it steals my breath away, and makes me feel young, and sleepy and innocent.

I've lived in NJ for 25 years, and New York for about 14 (only 11 of it in the Hudson Valley), but to my heart, that is home. Foothills of the Catskills.

Paul said...

I have only seen the Hudson Valley once, while at a meeting at West Park (Holy Cross Monastery). I can understand the attraction. To this day I have a piece of exfoliated slate from the banks of the Hudson that I brought home to remember it by. Thanks for sharing YOUR sense of place.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Paul was too kind when he said that desert places didn't work for me. I actually said that if I suddenly had to move to the desert, I thought that I would die. However, when Paul describes the wonders that he sees around him in New Mexico, I can see through his eyes, and I find the beauty. I wish I could have visited Santa Fe with Paul, but I was with two friends from New Orleans, and we all felt the same about the desert.

For some of us the sense of place is quite strong. I had a lovely day with Paul in my beloved New Orleans. She's tattered and torn, but she's still a lovely lady to me. I'll write more on my blog. After all, I can't give all the good stuff away here.

I tear up myself when I hear Irish songs.

FranIAm said...

What a provocative post.

Sense of place.

Two of my favorite spots on earth are diametrically different... One is Santa Fe and the other is Hanalei on the rainy north shore of Kauai.

One is that open and seemingly (but not) barren high desert and mountain space. Vast. Dry.

The other is green, tight, lush... and very humid.

I love hearing what you think and also Mimi and the others in the comments.

Thank you.

Kirstin said...

I seem to like my water in manageable doses.

And your wind?

We've talked about how much I miss my mountains. I know exactly what you're saying.

Paul said...

Eileen says more about her sense of place and shares a photo of the Moodna Viaduct at her place.