In this modern age there isn’t a lot of practical difference between traveling to a foreign country and moving to live in one. Both acts entail a degree of psychic upheaval, which is, after all, the point. They both require a certain level of packing, and in either case you have to make some arrangements for the mail.
The main difference as I see it is that if you want to write about your experiences, the travel writer has it easy. It’s hard to hit a moving target, and as long as you stay away from criticisms of religion you can pretty much be as honest as you like without fear that someone’s going to put a price on your head. Chances are you’ll be back home before any targets of your wit read what you’ve written anyway. You’ll never see them again — who cares?
It isn’t the same if you want to write about the place you’re actually going to try to live in. No matter how you transpose events or disguise your subjects, people are always going to recognize themselves, and no matter how delicate you try to be, they’re never going to be happy with their portrait.
Take our postman, for example. People in uniforms make me nervous to begin with, and I have a particular respect for anyone who’s got the power to lose my paycheck or tell the neighbors just how many beer cans I have in my shed. You don’t mess around with people like that.
But our postman is peculiar. The very first day he came here, he pulled into the drive, leapt from his little green van and waved an envelope under my nose. “If you’d given out your correct address, you’d have had this yesterday,” he cried. Okay, I thought, it’s only an advertisement, but you’re right. I’ll let everyone know our correct address.”
“That’s odd,” Joanne said, looking at the offending envelope, when he’d left. “That’s the address that the post office told us to use.”
The very next morning he returned with a similar offense. “I told ye, I can’t get my post to ye on time unless…” And it was at that moment that I knew we were doomed. There was no point in defending myself. The seemingly obvious fact that I couldn’t possibly have corrected the letters that were already en route was of no account to him. It was his post, and I was messing with the otherwise flawless performance of his official duties.
In all other respects I’d have to say that the Irish postal service is fairly loose. The cost, for example, of sending an envelope is determined by its size, not weight. You can actually make them carry one that weighs forty pounds for the same price as one that has nothing in it. The Special Delivery service is also, well, not very special. If it makes you feel better, you can send something `overnight delivery’ but it will still get where it’s going in the same three days it would take by ordinary mail. The clerk at the post office will actually tell you that. Do they care? Not really.
But I like the way the rural delivery system works, despite its quirks. Unlike the strict system in the States where the federal government actually owns the mailbox that you bought at Wal-Mart, our official Irish mailbox is a bucket in the shed behind the house. It’s a personal arrangement that we made with our mailman, and if we’re not home, he simply drops the mail inside, pops the lid back on and puts a rock on top. No rock, no mail. It’s easy, and though at first it seemed a lax and possibly prosecutable offense to us, it’s worked so far.
Of course, the point is that you’re supposed to be home. The poor guy actually expects, indeed seems eager, to get out of his van in the pouring rain, come to the door and have a little chat every morning. It’s his way of having fun, I suppose, and it serves the greater purpose of tying the community together. For those who live on isolated farms, and especially for the elderly, it’s a safety net to have someone check on you every day. In case of illness or, the Lord forbid, of death, you’ll get attention right away. And even on the least worrisome of mornings you can at least catch up on what that new American couple is up to.
Which is why we ask you, please, get our address right, will you? The postman’s really touchy about it. He’s probably the only person in the whole postal service, indeed in the whole of Ireland who gives a damn about anything, but then his last name’s Quirk, which might explain a lot. In any case he’s got our reputation in his hands, and I’ll never be able to write about him. And whatever you do, don’t mention anything about this on a postcard. We’d have to move.
Will Cook is from midcoast Maine. He and his wife, Joanne are currently renovating a police barracks in Tremane, County Roscommon, where they live with T.C. the Cat, Peg the Donkey, Lilly the Filly, and 75 sheep, all named Ewe. ♦