travel

Reel-y, reel-y in Ireland

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Ireland: the land of the leanan sídhe, and unbelievable folk music. The Irish culture is one that many American adopt (and no I’m not talking about this).

The story of the struggle of both being Irish then an Irish immigrant lives on stronger than possibly any other immigrant group. In fact, you could never meet anyone of Irish decent in your life but a lot of people just feel  a bit Irish. That history has allowed people to become obsessed with that intoxicating culture of drinks, smiles and great music.

On a personal note, Ireland has been a country that I have wanted to visit since I was a kid. I used to be an Irish dancer when I was a kid. For years my friends and I tried to plot how to get to the green isle. Who knew the answer was to move in with the English? The Irish Fest in Milwaukee is the biggest in North America. Lots of that love is returned. Gaelic Storm’s “Floating the Flambeau” is a reel named after a river in Northern Wisconsin. Sounds as beautiful as it looks.

After visiting Dublin, it’s clear that the magic lays outside of that city in the hills, valleys and the streams. No one could blame the Irish for being so fiercely proud of what they are. Very few countries are as quite as aware of who they are. The traditional jigs and reels may not be what dominates the pubs in Temple Bar (that would be covers of Kings of Leon these days, it seems), but if you choose to be quiet and still enough on a clear day in the country, the music still makes sense – you can hear it playing in your head.

Mambo Italiano

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Like the Irish, Italian-American families are still incredibly proud of their heritage. Just listen to that guy on Cake Boss (he’s so obnoxious, but the love is only in good spirit). Italians who arrived in America were a part of the new immigrants – those who arrived after the Germans, Irish and Nordic people in the 19th century. With them, the Italians brought an irresistible culture that has influenced American life in many ways from food to dress to music.

Over the course of the 50s and 60s America had a fascination with European cultures, particularly the Italians. Rosemary Clooney’s (though Italian and German) “Mambo Italiano” became a top 10 hit for her in 1954. The song was even written in an Italian restaurant in New York. Many crooners have an Italian heritage like Tony Bennett, Sinatra and Dean Martin. The latter released several successful songs in an Italian-spirit like a cover of Domenico Modugno’s “Volare” and the pizza-worshiping “That’s Amore”.

One of the best renditions of  the Burke and Johnston song “Pennies From Heaven” is by Louis Prima. Although born in New Orleans, Martin was heavily influenced by his Italian family. The significance of that is quite noticeable in his spin. He throws in humorous lines related to various pastas and pizzaioli. The song was originally about finding happiness in the darkness of the Depression. I’d like to think that Martin’s winks to Italian culture was his way of talking about what things he found simple joy in.

Many of these songs do show their age, but they do offer a look at a group of people that really are their own.

Das alles ist Deutschland

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Ah Germany. Land of my ancestors and home to the great beer culture.

My family originally came from Woedtke, in the former German province of Pomerania (now a part of Poland). You would never know because even my grandparents act like we are from Munich. Outside of Bayern, the culture of Germany is quite different. Many of the distinctive traditional dress and icons people know are very much from that south eastern state.

Regardless, all my cousins donned lederhosen (working clothes) or traditional dress. We still have my sister’s dress that is still an endless joke for amusement.

In many respects, my family has probably lost their true heritage. Immigration to Wisconsin by many Germans probably formed a new type of German culture. This has resulted in families like mine adopting traditions from parts of Germany not their own. But it’s a good thing and I’m quite happy to be a part of it.

Possibly the best part about having a German family is the weddings. The best memories  I have of my late grandfather is of us polkaing together at celebrations. It’s a bit silly now for my generation to still be doing this, but traditions carry on and it’s not actually terrible to remember where you came from. Polka IS the Wisconsin state dance, afterall.

Polkas are really diverse (there is Polish, Slovenian, Austrian…) – I’ve only played a few in my life so I am by no means an expert. This video is worth a watch if you are interested. The family is pretty funny and probably much more equipped to explain anything more than me:

An American Abroad

For the next couple weeks this blog will be something a little different than the norm. My lovely family will be flying to London to visit me before we embark on a trip through Europe.

I have been to the continent once before two years ago on a trip with my father. I saw Paris, Munich and Edinburgh, and while we had a reasonably good time we encountered about every problem you could: a stolen phone, a UTI, all sorts of questionable illnesses, and either constant downpours or unbearable heat. Anyway, fingers crossed this time things go by more smoothly.

In honour of the new lands I encounter, American in London will be more of…”An American Abroad.” I have a few posts scheduled in my absence. At the end of September, I’ll be back in Britain and life (like this blog) will return to normal.

(Also, I’m not going back  to Paris, but the thought of not posting Gershwin just seemed like a shame).