Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Happy Saint Paddy's day
I always feel like smiling on St. Patrick's day, though I can't explain why. There is nothing remotely Irish about me except the shamrocks currently blooming in my front yard.
(Aside: I have not seen any other outdoor blooming shamrocks here in Vancouver except in a plant nursery. I found a tiny clump of these in a hidden corner of my side yard when we moved into this house six years ago, and transplanted them to the front. They have thrived and colonised, even through the nastiest of winters, and delight me by blooming every year around leprechaun day.)
As I was saying, despite the red hair and a fondness for a bottle of O'Hara's Red, I have no Irish blood. I am seventh generation Canadian, a Heinz 57 mix of Scot and several other nationalities, including native Indian.
So why do I have an affection for St. Patrick's day? Bartenders ruin beer in his name by turning it green. Leprechauns are greedy, gold chasing little buggers. Irish people talk funny so. I don't even know an Irish person.
Wait a minute, I do know an Irish person. Or did, once. Dilip Kerrigan. He was Indo-Irish, with caramel skin, licorice hair, and deep navy eyes. His smile radiated sensuality way beyond his 16 years. I was 15, and Dilip was my first boyfriend. We met at a party of ex-pat teens in Dar Es Salaam in 1973. We were both home for holidays from boarding school, his in Dublin, mine in Nairobi. We had four weeks before we had to return to school, and we met every day after that party.
Dilip had a motor scooter. We would ride it to one of the empty beaches north of town and swim, then make out under palm trees. I learned from Dilip that kissing could transport me to an exquisite new world, and the shy touch of his fingertips on my breast could ignite a fire that thrilled and terrified me. In the evenings when most ex-pat parents were at the gymkhanna club playing bridge or snooker, we met up with friends and went to Etienne's. Etienne was a French bar owner with a passion for African bands and no scruples about serving beer (but no hard liquor) to under-age kids. That month I developed a taste for beer. And kissing.
Etienne's was an open-air bar with rickety tables and a dirt floor. The drumbeats would reach up through the ground and free our timid western limbs into wild dancing, leaving us sweat soaked and breathless when we hurried home to make our curfews.
When Dilip and I returned to school we wrote to each other for a while. Dilip wrote me vaguely suggestive poems which I hid in my Swahili textbook and devoured nightly after lights out. I never saw Dilip Kerrigan again. Our next school holidays did not coincide, and later that year my family and I returned to Canada.
Perhaps St Patrick's day, with its reminders and celebration of all things Irish, evokes the sensation of the first awakening of sensual passion in my life by that sweet Irish boy. Now that's a reason to celebrate.
Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!