Native Californian John Givens received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has published novels, non-fiction books, and short stories in the US, Japan and Europe. Givens studied art and language in Kyoto for four years. He worked extensively in Tokyo, San Francisco and New York, and took up residence in Ireland a few years ago. Givens currently lives out on the wet and windy Howth peninsula, and he teaches fiction writing in Dublin and wrote recently about the state of the Irish nation.
Dublin: Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei
by John Givens (Korea 1967–69)
ANYONE NOT LIVING ON MARS in a cave (without broadband) knows that the euro is in a parlous state. Shared by 17 of the 27 EU countries, the single currency is the glue that holds the whole rickety enterprise together. The absence of a monolithic fiscal authority has long suggested to sensible persons that it’s all going to end in tears, but in Dublin, the reality of that actually happening has arrived with a sickening thud. Arguments justifying why countries on the periphery of the euro zone might have to be sacrificed are not hard to find. The Greeks … the Portuguese … but the Irish? Surely an exception can be made for us? After all, we don’t even have a delightful Mediterranean climate to fall back on!
Every unhappy country is unhappy in its own way.
We sit in our pubs and watch the Greeks rioting on TV and wonder if we will build up sufficient fury to try it ourselves. Or, rather, sufficient hope, perhaps. We parse the differences between us and the others and become experts (pub-quality experts) on the failures of the Greek tax authorities, the absurdity of the two-tier Spanish labor market, the fecklessness of the Portuguese government, the deer-in-the-headlights Mario Monti brought in to replace the buffoonery of Burlusconi, the rigidity of Merkel, Sarko’s jittery response to her, how they greet each other, how unconvincing are their air kisses… We paw through the entrails like haruspices then order another pint of the black stuff. Guinness is good for you. But for how much longer?
Irish banks loaned improvidently into a bubbling property market, and as the world financial system teetered in the crisis of 2008, the Irish government was prevailed upon to guarantee its bankers’ bad loans, in effect doubling sovereign debt and making the Irish economic situation unsustainable. A few people profited from this mess. Some of them have since suffered reversals, but the suspicion lingers in Dublin that the folks who created the catastrophe have escaped retribution. Wouldn’t many of our erstwhile property tycoons have stashed away money in offshore bank accounts? The “cute hoor” is as Irish as Guinness.
We probably won’t riot in Dublin. The next budget is due soon, with its added taxes and charges and reduced benefits across the board. Yet no one’s burning cars or prying up cobblestones or defying orders to disperse. Even our ‘occupy’ movement in front of the Bank of Ireland headquarters is a dreary, poorly attended affair, hardly worth the time of An Garda Síochána. The simple fact is, we’re depressed. And although we hope the problem will be solved by someone else (meaning the Germans), we also suspect that it’s already too late. The solution isn’t there. Angela Merkel won’t muster sufficient nous, and sacrifices will have to be made. By us.
The Kenyans say, When elephants fight, the grass suffers. We’re the grass, the ol’ sod, well-trampled and supine. But the elephants aren’t fighting so much as stumbling around in a stupor of confusion.
A Friend in the Police, Givens’s “Peace Corps novel” (if the Peace Corps had been managed by Franz Kafka), has recently been republished as an e-book by Concord ePress. It is available at Amazon.