Not because I’ve ever been or seen what the country has to offer besides what can be gleaned from the closed captions of Netflix’s “Derry Girls,” but for the simple fact that Irish pubs offer a happy break for English within any large city.
Here in Rennes, there are many, though I’ve only been to three so far.
In Munich and Vienna, I found safe places to grab a beer and take a beat. Their large spaces are frequently furnished in wood and kind people who typically let you mind your business. Though, if you desire a conversation, there are always chatty English speakers who are more than ready to strike up an impromptu friendship.
My first journey to Rennes’ Ireland took me to a basement pub, aptly named Penny Lane, to lure tourists and locals into an anglo night out.
The pub expanded as I stepped down the few steps that broke off from the street-level entrance. Barrells and light-washed wooden stools made stereotypical tables in the corners of each room, while couches and short coffee tables took up most of the space.
I ordered my lager and settled into a tall seat along the plank-lined wall. My stool rested just next to the stage, and I wished there was a live show that night. The small stage accentuated my longing to attend the gigs of my friend’s band, Mind, in Chicago.
I miss those shows while I attend to my travels and only have my memory of how the building shakes with sound and the pounding swell of music compels you to trade your daily stress for flying your arms loose in the air and swaying to the rhythm with your friends on and off stage.
Nothing compares to live music or the pride you feel when your friends rock the stage.
But alas, it was just me and the rest of the pub doing Irish cosplay, humming softly to whatever American band beat from the loudspeaker.
I Love Music
Isn’t it so important?
I whisper this to my best friend
as we slip into the familiar conversation.
I can’t live without it, can you?
I can’t imagine life without
the hum from car speakers,
the bass of the motor.
I feel it before the beat finds the canals in our heads
before it translates rhythm onto the drums inside.
Isn’t it crazy that our bodies have instruments?
I love it.
I love music
we laugh in matrimony through our worst nights,
armed with our love for each other and sound.
I love music
we cry through highway hazards,
tears shed for lyrics we swear must hear what we only say inside.
I love music
we sing in midnight storms,
drunk on the mist that clouds all other noise.
I love music
when the cops pull us over, again
for a broken tail light.
I love music
and I’m sorry, officer, I didn’t know
I love music
so I forgot
or I didn’t want to open my eyes
or a million other excuses
while we drowned the real world out
with the only one that makes sense
blasting from the radio.
For my next excursion, I found Bar A Cocktails le Irish Pub Shamrock. In true Irish fashion, the pub was decked out in dark wood planks and declarations of English words. Beer is good! How to drink Beer? Drink it! (some profound stuff). A tower of canned soup rose from an abandoned section of the bar while grunge indie rock circa 2010 blared from unseen speakers.
I smiled as the familiar voices sang-talked along hectic beats just as they did from my corded headphones in middle school.
All of this came together as the owner introduced himself to me. The French-forward man and his potbelly spoke sparse English, but enough to try and convince me to drink a green jager-inspired pint and sell me a bucket of fries.
I stuck to my cider, handed to me by the blue and white striped bartender who leaned across the bar and whispered to me that he would keep the boss from bothering me.
I appreciated him as I settled into my barreled seat in the corner and continued to read and write in my own world.
It wasn’t long before a “fellow writer” approached me and bought me another cider in exchange for my company. He proceeded to tell me all about the one book he managed to publish, some study on psychology he clearly had too much confidence in if he thought our conversation was going to end up where he wanted it to.
I wished him a good evening as he finally rewound red scarf around his neck and departed before it rained again.
A moment of silence warmed me before the next inevitable “what are you writing?” came from another male voice. This visitor was a kid, hardly over eighteen, and harmless, as we laughed over the last man’s attempts at flirting with me.
It was nice to have a laugh, but I was tired of male attention and bid him goodnight by 10:30, taking my bus home before more English speakers asked for my number.
From all sides I am surrounded
by every intention but the real thing.
Someone says something because they want something.
It’s always something.
A look over my book is read
as an invitation to speak to me.
A conversation starter, right?
This attempted barrier between us,
and the problem is, it is.
From her, I’d love nothing more than to look up
and explain its pages,
but I expect all the hims to know the difference.
And this smile I’ve been taught to maintain,
this civility hurts more than it helps.
Sometimes, it’s always sometimes.
A laugh doesn’t mean I like you,
but it can
and how are they supposed to know
when it means don’t be mad,
please don’t make this more uncomfortable,
let this be my last laugh and leave me alone.
Sometimes I imagine myself so hardened,
and other times, I meet these hard women.
So beautiful that their soft gold has tarnished to iron,
but that’s not right because they can still be soft,
Maybe we were always diamonds,
and youth covered us in gaudy gold,
but these women have been polished
sharper by every time they had to scream no.
And this happened so many times that they glint the answer, now
before the question.
Because sometimes we know the question,
And I wonder as they protect me,
what made you so strong?
So unafraid of being hard and then soft,
of making someone earn it.
Even though I know the answer.
My next Irish adventure brought me to O’Connell’s Irish pub. As soon as I passed through its blonde threshold, I knew this was the place I had been looking for.
The tables sat in multiple open rooms, and the bar menu called every drink by its English name.
Don’t get me wrong, I love studying the French language and crave the unmatched swell of pride that follows any conversation where I do not have to break into English.
That being said, I long for deeper friendships. Friends who understand my nuances and can follow every turn of phrase. People who can laugh at my jokes without their explanation and rise with the sun on this side of the world. And at O’Connell’s, I finally broke the cycle of men and found friends.
I chose a nice nook in the second deepest room, ordered my first half pint in French before ordering my second in English from a seat at the bar.
The sweet young girl on the other side introduced herself, and we quickly broke the customer-server wall on our way to an easy friendship. She took her break with me, and we exchanged anecdotes about our English degrees and life as foreigners in France.
Contrary to these preceding paragraphs, bars are not my preferred places to make friends. Pubs can be better, but you still run the risk of appearing as an object rather than a person. But in this case, it worked.
Shortly after this meeting, my love of a woman’s tights led to a seat with her group of friends who formed a sort of “English Club.” This was their name, but the club was not formal; about seven people of various ages from different English-speaking countries who met for a pint on Wednesdays.
Thankfully, the third time was the charm, and how fitting, in Ireland.
English and the Acrobatics of a World Without
Nothing makes me happier than your words
spilling from any mouth.
I feel a release at your sound and
broken from the conversation in my mind
I hear you aloud.
I smile & laugh
at the simple joy of an anglo “hello”
and god, I love your letters.
In a way I never realized before.
All these years spent studying you,
the regulations on your order,
breaking them for the sake of art.
I’ve spent hours, and I’ll spend more,
sounding out what spelled a sentence the most beautiful,
choosing which crescendo of consonants sounded the most alive
and all this time I took you for granted.
I understood you,
so I ignored how you made my life easy.
I spoke you under my breath
so many times I stopped hearing you.
I violated your rules with my friends for cheap laughs,
used you to close the gap
so many times
between two moleculed mouths
who know the words we say to each other.
I knew I loved you, but I wanted more.
I was greedy
for a worldliness to call my own.
foreign friends and other lovers
to teach me again how to see the world.
I am happy
because I’ve met them.
And it feels good to feel the meaning of other alphabets
once I break through the headache,
but I find my head always aching.
I always own this yearning for simple beauty,
for the elementary love of a language I understand.
Your words breed affection in me,
making any mouth’s movements captivating.
It’s you who draws me into their every breath,
and this lasts for a while.
Until I turn over their words in my head
like I am used to doing with all the others,
and realize they used you to say nothing new.