Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Cork’s a-poppin’

The years are rushing by too fast. Here I am in Cork again. It seems like I was just here. But that was a whole year ago. Yet it seems like yesterday. It’s just like that movie with Bill Murray, Groundhog Day. But, wait, something is different this time. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but…

Yes, I’ve got it. This year Cork has paved streets. I don’t actually remember, but according to my own web page, I have attended the Cork Film Festival five times over a nine-year period. And during all of this time, the streets in downtown Cork have been torn up. I don’t know how long the project was going on (I seem to recall vaguely that it had something to do with sewers), but it was ages. In fact, I fully expect that, among the memorabilia from the festival’s birth (the festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year), I will see grainy old photographs of 1950s festival attendees negotiating their way around mounds of dirt and deep trenches in the streets—just as their grandchildren would be doing in the 21st century.

It was such a pleasant surprise to drive into the city and find the streets uncluttered that I nearly got carried away. Having done this drill so many times in the past, I confidently zipped my car down Lancaster Quay and made the left turn onto a bridge over the south channel of the River Lee, which leads to the parking lot of the hotel where I always stay. Or, I should say, the bridge which formerly led to my hotel’s parking lot. Instead, I came abruptly upon a big iron gate across the bridge, blocking off what is now a huge construction site. (But at least it doesn’t involve the streets!) It seems that the big hotel next to my small hotel has been razed and something else is now going into its place. So there is a new entrance to my own hotel’s car park. I just knew things had gone way too smoothly up to that point. Anyway, the good news is that I didn’t need to bring my alarm clock after all, since the bulldozers and other heavy machinery start work promptly outside my window every morning at 8:00 a.m., making sure I won’t have to worry about having a lie-in after any of those 11:30 p.m. screenings.

But enough about me. As I mentioned, the Cork Film Festival has attained the half-century mark, and that is a big deal. The Opening Night Gala was some kind of retrospective of the past 50 years. Of course, I didn’t go. I have never ever successfully attained a ticket for Opening Night in Cork, so this time I didn’t even bother to try. And it was just as well. When I breezed into the box office on Sunday, I saw signs proclaiming that there was a dress code for Opening Night. Something about black tie and/or nostalgia clothing. Whew! And here I had thought that I had arranged for every possible apparel contingency by throwing a second pair of jeans into my bag!

There is a real buzz in the air in Cork this year. And I don’t merely mean the constant buzz of machinery coming through the hotel walls. I’m not even referring to the discernable buzz from the film festival celebrating its 50th. On top of all this, Cork was selected the European Capital of Culture for 2005. This is quite a feather in the city’s cap. I am sure that there are many fine events and exhibitions and performances going on to mark this landmark. Mostly, however, this honor seems to be noted in the pubs, which are all flying banners, provided by local brewer, Heineken Ireland, exhorting the masses to participate in the “cultural revolution.” The banners, which are quite clever, are all done up in the social realism style of old Soviet-era propaganda posters. (The red star in the Heineken logo fits into this nicely.) Except that, instead of workers holding plows or hammers or sickles, the posters feature Munster men and women holding hurling sticks and other sporting implements. Which gets us to why there is really a buzz in Cork these days. For the past several weeks, one hasn’t been able to turn on the evening news on the Irish channels without seeing sports-mad Cork men and women celebrating the winning of this all-Ireland trophy or that one. Nothing gets the beer-guzzling revolution rolling like a string a major sports victories.

Unfortunately, the mood of sports euphoria surrounding me may be a bit dimmed after last night, as Ireland lost its chance to compete in the next soccer World Cup playoffs, as they failed to defeat Switzerland. (Appropriately enough, the two politically neutral nations played to a draw.) But that may not slow down the Cork people that much. They know that Ireland’s campaign was cut short only because their greatest (and hence Ireland’s and hence the world’s) reigning athlete, Manchester United’s Roy Keane (about whom I had promised myself I wasn’t going to write about again; oh well) was sidelined, due to an injury.

Apparent conspicuous alcohol consumption and sports mania are just a couple of the reasons that I always tend to think of Cork as (and I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this) the Texas of Ireland. No, I really have other reasons for thinking this. For one thing, Cork is a large southern county, just as Texas is a large southern state. Also, people in both places have a healthy self-esteem, nearly tending to regard other regions of the country as irrelevant or unnecessary. The first time I arrived in Cork, I climbed into a taxi and the driver, spotting me as a Yank, asked if it was my first time in Ireland. “No,” I said, “but it’s my first time in Cork.” He smiled back, “Ah, you’re seeing the best of it now!”

At least that is what I think he said. Another parallel between Cork and Texas is that the people have their own way of talking. After spending literally years in Ireland, the Cork accent is still the one most likely to trip up my ears. I remember on one of my first visits, I stopped into a pub, and an older gentleman took an immediate interest in chatting with me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a single word he was saying. All I could do was smile and nod my head and hope to catch an odd word so as to follow the general drift of his conversation. Finally, he asked me a question. Where was I from? I said that I was originally from California. “Oh,” he smiled. “My sister lives in Bakersfield!” Hearing the name of my birthplace enunciated unexpectedly with a Cork accent, the world suddenly seemed a whole lot smaller and bigger, all at the same time.

It is frequently amusing to watch Americans (including myself) try to make out different Irish regional accents and local dialects. Around the time the Missus and I tied the knot, my brother and his family were visiting us in Kerry, when we had to get a flat tire fixed at a local garage. My brother’s wife had been well versed in the fact that there was an Irish (Gaelic) language and that there were Irish-speaking areas in Kerry. While the puncture was being repaired, she came running up to me excitedly, saying, “I think I heard those guys speaking Irish!” I stepped over and had a listen. I could certainly understand her mistake, as the conversation was barely intelligible to American ears. But the two lads were speaking the Queen’s English, albeit with thick Kerry accents.

Well, once again I have digressed from the topic at hand and rambled all over the place. Presumably, next week I will have all kinds of pithy observations and comments to make about the 50th Cork Film Festival itself. It will be easier to write about it, now that I am no longer under the self-induced stress of trying to remember not to write about Roy Keane.

-S.L., 13 October 2005

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