Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Midsummer



This photo was taken at 11 pm outside our land, and that tells you a lot of what you need to know about life in Ireland. 

In the Missouri of my childhood, summer could bring 40-degree heat and winter heavy snow, and the days in between swung wildly through all kinds of weather fronts. There’s a reason it’s called Tornado Alley.

Here in Ireland, though, a cool and rainy day could be July or January; the weather remains remarkably constant through the year. It’s the light that varies from one extreme to another, from seven hours of dim December day submerged in seventeen hours of total night, to seven hours of  June night surrounded by long brightness. We are, after all, a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle.

Winters here hit us hard, not because of the cold -- it rarely dips below freezing -- but because of the lack of light. Going to work when it's dark and coming home when it's dark, you feel like a mine worker that never comes up to surface. I began to understand why northern European cultures had special names for the long stretches of total darkness, what inhabitants of these islands a thousand years ago called the Mother Night.

This time of year, though, we feel an energy that December saps from us; I can ride my bicycle to town and back to catch the bus to work, and when I return my daughter and I can pull weeds or chop wood as we do our home-schooling lessons. Still, I must cover my windows with foil this time of year, or I wouldn’t sleep. 

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In what has become our yearly ritual on Midsummer Night, my daughter and I watched A Midsummer Night's Dream. We love the 1999 version with so many great actors and soon-to-be-stars --  Kevin Kline, Sam Rockwell, Dominic West, Christian Bale, Sophie Marceau, Roger Rees and David Strahairn. 

The Girl loved the film the first time we saw it -- she was eight then, and loved the touches of broad comedy that more jaded viewers ignore. She laughed at Bottom flubbing his lines, referring to the “odourous” queen as “odious,” or saying that his friends would “make an ass of me.” I pictured Elizabethans at the Globe Theatre laughing at the same lowbrow moments.

She also gets some references that I think a lot of modern audiences might miss. We have foraged through woods together since she was small, so she knows "where the oxlip and nodding violet grows" in a way that many children these days do not.

A few things still bother me about the film; Rupert Everett gave a strangely lethargic and horizontal performance as Oberon, and– while he’s an excellent actor – the bald and fiftyish Stanley Tucci was not an intuitive choice for Puck. Calista Flockheart was famous at the time from the television programme Ally McBeal, but her whiny petulance is a distraction from the delightful performances around her.
Now that I live here certain references make a new kind of sense to me; for example, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Now that I know how short Midsummer Night is here, I realise that all the quarrels, reconciliations and musical-chair relationships took place in only a few hours. The very name of the play was a joke in itself, to emphasize how quickly love can change or disappear -- one that you have to live here to get.

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For those who don't already know, The American Conservative  -- one of the best political magazines around -- has published my piece on the UK’s departure from the European Union. Check it out.

2 comments:

gavinthornbury said...

I too have an eight year old daughter, also with a split heritage. She was born and grew up in a small market town in South Gloucestershire, going to the local infants school. However, she currently lives and goes to Junior school in central Moscow. Fortunately, she is totally bi-lingual.

I bought the same DVD of Midsummer's Night's Dream, which she loves. So, many thanks for the recommendation. In turn, I can trongly recommend one of her favourite films on DVD, the Pirates of Penzance. Again with Kevin Kline, plus Linda Rondstadt. A lovely introduction to Gilbert & Sullivan.

Gavin

Brian Kaller said...

Gavin,

Glad you liked the film! I love the Pirates of Penzance, and have been looking for that version. I showed her the Mikado, and she loved it; tonight we're going to a nearby village here in Ireland and seeing a version of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," set during the Irish revolution.

Thanks for reading.