Some American Encounters

Petey E. Menz

KILKENNY, Ireland—“This is the explanation of where you are in Kilkenny,” the cardiologist says. “Usually, you do not really get the impression that you’re in houses that are at least from the early 1600s.” He goes on—oh boy, does he go on—but his point is that here, in this tiny bar that he operates in his spare time, the past hasn’t been scraped up and replaced with linoleum floors. The stone floors, the stone walls, the drafty chill are all what you could have experienced 400 years ago. Here, you get the impression of age.

The reason I’m in Ireland is to write about it for Let’s Go, and as the cardiologist delivers his speech I’m taking notes furiously. This is great copy, I think. But this is not why he’s explaining where I am in Kilkenny. He’s explaining it because I am an American. We haven’t discussed my nationality yet—when we do talk about America, we talk about the JFK assassination—but his speech about the bar is not the same one he gives to locals. There are numerous interruptions, times when he talks at length about Irish history between 1600 and 1800. He presumes I know nothing about this topic. He presumes correctly.

A few days, later, in a Galway bar, a man asks me if I’m American. I say yes and he grins. “You have an American face.” We end up talking about American writers, and then American music. Somehow, we reach the conclusion that Martha and the Vandellas contributed more to society than Thomas Pynchon. Before I leave, his friend gives me a slip of paper, upon which is written: “Robert Coover—The Public Burning — READ THIS.” Thus far, it hasn’t been in any of the secondhand bookstores I’ve frequented.

In this same bar, two days later, a Czech woman will ask me to describe America to her. I tell her that things are bigger there, except for the pint glasses. She and her boyfriend laugh, and then he buys me a drink.

Petey E. Menz '15, a Crimson FM chair, is a joint history of art and architecture and English concentrator in Kirkland House.