When I was at school, I learned a poem in Irish called ‘Tháinig Long ó Valparaiso’ by Pádraig de Brún (it’s actually a translation of one called ‘The Ship’ by Oliver St John Gogarty, but I didn’t know that then).
A ship from Valparaiso came
And in the Bay her sails were furled;
She brought the wonder of her name,
And tidings from a sunnier world.
The idea is that the poet, as a child, is enraptured by the sight of this ship and the name of the city it came from, which represents the world of exciting possibilities. (Gogarty was a colourful character who leapt into the River Liffey to escape gunmen during the Irish Civil War, and later gave two swans to the river as a gesture of thanks — but that’s another story.)
I’m an Irish person who hasn’t done a huge amount of travelling: I’ve visited several European countries as well as Turkey and Canada, and lived in London for a few years. The point of all this is that my network of editor friends around the world (which I wrote about in my last blog post) is, for me, like a fleet of little ships from Valparaiso. Facebook posts and comments from colleagues in Sydney, Shanghai, Cape Town and Toronto are tidings from places that, if not necessarily sunnier, are certainly different.
They serve as energy pills for which I’m grateful in the course of a tedious or arduous edit, bringing camaraderie and insight into other worlds — physical and psychic — and what things are like there: weather, wildlife, religion, politics, parenting, music, how people relate to each other, turns of phrase, food, ways of cooking, ways of swearing, ways of dressing, ways of being. Even a map showing where someone is eating lunch in a North American city, for me, is fascinating on account of the strict grid-like pattern of the streets, so different from our chaotic schemes. The place names are endlessly intriguing.
There’s a particular mystique about the USA, possibly because of long exposure to its music, television and film (Evelyn Waugh said that for the Irishman there are two final realities — hell and the United States), so it’s really interesting to catch a glimpse of fairly ordinary people just walking around there, so to speak, and doing stuff. But every place has its own charms.
In Gogarty’s words:
O you must voyage far if you
Would sail away from gloom and wet …
(Believe it or not, Ireland is often gloomy and wet.)
Voyaging far, at least mentally, is hugely facilitated by my social media network. He concludes:
But she will come for me once more,
And I shall see that city set,
The mountainous, Pacific shore —
By God, I half believe it yet!
Personal paraphrase: I’ll do more travelling, go to more conferences and meet more of my edibuddies around the world — I hope.
And maybe rural Ireland can serve as someone else’s Valparaiso from time to time.
Previous post from Brendan O’Brien: My Network.
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