An American in Galway

“He doesn’t sound American.”
          Micah: 1
          Random club goer: 0

One of the most exciting things about traveling is the ability to reinvent yourself. Of course, it helps to look slightly european and be able to turn on a non-descript eastern-european-Irish-mixed accent at any time. (when you can’t master any one accent, the trick is to just throw them all into the mix). Last week at the the dance club Róisín Dubh in Galway’s historic district, just west of downtown, I aimed to perfect this non-American traveler persona. While I was doing pretty well with aforementioned randos and the like, I soon learned that maybe I was going about it all wrong. I mean, my assumption was that no one would want to state that they’re from the world’s melting pot when they could pretend they’re actually from a country with culture or history. A half hour after I arrived at Róisín Dubh, I was proved very, very wrong. But let’s back track.

Saturday night began with nice enough anticipation. My first week on the job and I had already been invited out for a night on the town! Toby, the guy whose cubicle is next to mine shot me a text about meeting at his place and heading out to a club. As I biked downtown, I saw two guys from our lab walking the same way and asked them where they were headed. “We were told we’re supposed to go downtown on Saturday nights instead of working.” Know when you’re working with nerds? When the institute has to enforce fun. Anyway, the three of us headed off to Toby’s place to begin our night of mandated fun.

Toby lives in the Spanish Arch district of Galway. His building retains the brick of centuries past, and out his window you can see the stream that leads into the bay that leads into the Atlantic ocean. The bay is one of the defining characteristics of Galway. Most likely a port town at one time, the city’s docks retain some fishing boats, bayside parks and even a kilometer-long walk out to a lighthouse (the walk is windy but beautiful). While much of the bayside is now hotels or abandoned lots, there’s talk of a new multi-million dollar arts center, Féach, that would bring internationally renowned visual art shows and raise the appeal of the waterside.

Inside Toby’s apartment I met people of all types: Mr. Manchester and Ms. Kilkenny his new roommates from Dublin, Mr. and Mr. Galway his tight rainbow tee wearing friends of a friend, and I got to know Christophe (Mr. Cameroon) and Xibin (Mr. China) the two lab-mates who I walked over with. When a group of us took off for the silent disco at Róisín Dubh my mind was about to be blown.

Silent discos are a strictly European event. While there are occasional sightings in America, the twenty-something, international crowd in Galway seemed to take it as second nature. The basic premise is this: you walk into a room with a pair of wireless FM-enabled headphones, a number of DJs in the corner, and no speakers in sight. Everyone in the room puts their headphones on and switches between the various radio stations of the DJs as they please. The outcome is that you have no idea what song or, indeed, what genre of music the person across from you is dancing to. Take your headphones off and you glimpse a crowd of swaying, head-banging, singing bodies and mouths all out of rhythm and tune with each other. Quite an experience. And here is where my preconceptions came crashing down.

When I first entered the Silent Disco room at Róisín Dubh, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was playing (well, it was playing on the station I happened to flip to first on my headset). “Cool,” I thought, “they listen to some American music here, too.” When Jackson 5 started up next I began to realize “American music” might be a bit of a misnomer. While the songs that would play one after another were, truly, American-born, the Irish/European crowd seemed to know these songs just as well, if not better, than Americans themselves. When the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air came on, I had to just take off my headphones in complete wonder. Almost everyone in the room was not only tuned to that channel – they were rapping along with Will Smith, word-for-word. Finally convinced that maybe it is cool to be American I put my headset back on and sang along to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (And yes, when you’re in Europe, even Canadians are considered “American”).

The next day (July 4th!) I walked around downtown Galway with a newfound American pride. I stopped into a pub where a New Orleans’ style brass band was playing. Later, I randomly met a University of Wisconsin – Madison medical student with his family. Even without fireworks, my Sunday closed with my American pride intact and any assumed alienation absent.


The obligatory random photos (from my phone)…

New Orleans-style band in a pub on July 4th
New Orleans-style band in a pub on July 4th
Busker on the Street of Downtown Galway
Busker on the Street of Downtown Galway
Swan Face in Galway
Swan at a fence near South Park in Galway
Swan Licking Self in Galway
Swan cleaning itself (those necks are flexible!)

And some short, terrible quality videos… (they only work in Safari)

The pub from the 4th.

Eyre Square Fountain

Eyre Square Street

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