|PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL|
Mar 17, 1970
Bob's "Irish Roots"
God must have intended me to be Irish.
I arrived in North America on March 17, 1970 - St. Patrick's Day. And was totally clueless about why the immigration and customs officials were so happy and relaxed. Everybody seemed to be having a good time.
"What a country!" I thought in amazement. "I wonder if they are like that all the time?"
Little did I know, of course, that the "happy hour" at the airport was due to ample quantities of Guinness or Jamieson's that the officials must have consumed.
Over the years, I've made many Irish friends. And have found them to be quite similar to the Serbs in almost every respect except the language and the religion.
Both nations have been oppressed by various empires through the centuries. Both are rebellious, and have resisted the occupation violently, until they did win their freedom. And both are capable of going from despair to laughter in a second.
I traveled through Serbia, both during the
after I had visited bombed-out sites and given speeches and interviews to the
media, I had been met with nothing but kindness by the ordinary folks in the
streets despite my American passport. And
after it was all over,
people were singing and dancing and enjoying as if the 79-day bombing never happened.
As an Irish friend of mine once told me in London, where he is a producer and a screenwriter for the BBC TV network, "I love the Serbs. They talk too much, they sing too much, they drink too much... they are so - IRISH."
Another Irish friend (from Chicago, a retired university professor of linguistics), claims that, "the Serbs are the easternmost Irish, and the Irish are the westernmost Serbs" (because of an ancient Celtic connection - see history of Gaul).
Two years ago, this friend and I went to Ireland together. He, as my "tour guide;" I, as a first-time visitor. We had a ball touring all over this small island in our rental car! (see "Tour of Ireland," 1998).
Once in Belfast I played my Irish (republican) rebel songs CD on my computer laptop in our hotel room. Belfast, as you may know, is still British territory. My friend was at first startled and a little scared, but then he laughed and joined me in humming along.
Afterwards, I even wrote a short story about our subsequent Belfast experiences, crossing the war zone lines between the Protestants and the Catholics with a help of a local cab driver (see the "War of the Hooligans" which also contains some photos I took).
As for this photo of yours truly (right), taken somewhere on a road in western Ireland...
But don't get your hopes up, ladies. The kind of "stud laying" like this Irish sign was a reference to pavement road markers. That's what the Irish call "studs." You wouldn't want those in your bed, would you? (
"May the road rise up to meet you, and the wind be always at your back," as the Irish say. And if you're reading this in December, Nollaig Shona! (Happy Christmas)
More on Bob's "Irishness"
SCOTTSDALE, Sep 23, 2007 - A few days ago a new Irish-American friend asked me in all innocence, "have you ever heard that the Serbs and the Irish are alike?" "Heard? I have lived it!", I replied to her.
All my adult life, my best friends, and even some girlfriends/lovers, have been Irish. I did not know why until years ago, an Irish American friend of mine from Chicago, a retired linguistics professor, explained it to me. As you saw above, he said that "the Serbs are the easternmost Irish, and the Irish are the westernmost Serbs." I don't quite remember his proof point. I just know from experience it's true.
He has even learned to speak nearly perfect Serbian to prove the point. And when he corresponds with me, he uses the Serbian version of his name (Peter) which is Pero or Petar. And in turn, I sign my name with all my Irish friends as "Bob O'Dj." :-)
You've also see above what my London BBC producer friend said about the Serbs. But there is more to my "Irishness" that has evolved since the 1990s...
One of my closest cousins, also a Djurdjevic, has two daughters. Both were born and raised in Belgrade. When the older one was in her twenties, she went to Spain to perfect her Spanish (she was also a linguist). She met an Irish lad there whom she eventually married. They made their home in Dublin. Then her younger sister met another Irish lad while visiting her sister there. And they married, too, and now are living happily in Dublin. My cousin, who did not speak a word of English beforehand, is now babysitting his grandchildren in Ireland for several months at a time. And loving it there.
As you can see, the affinity between the Serbs and the Irish is something rather uncanny. I am convinced that there is a lot more to it than just that both nations have been oppressed. For example, when an Irish American girlfriend of mine (several years ago, before I met Karen) decided to teach me a bit of Gaelic, she warned me that the only thing she knew were some cuss words.
"Okay," I said, "that's not unusual. That's what the Serbs do all the time. They teach a foreigner some swear words, and then laugh when he/she misuses them in a conversation. Alright, give me an example of something you know in Gaelic."
She said, "can you guess what 'pogue mahone' means?"
"Kiss my ass," I said without thinking.
Her eyes got as wide as saucers and her jaw dropped. "How did you know that?"
"I didn't," I said. And I really didn't. "I just said the first thing that popped into my mind."
So how do you explain something like that, folks? Pretty amazing, wouldn't you say?
Finally [and then I'll stop with my Irish stories, I promise... remember, "the Serbs talk too much..." ( ], I arrived in America on St. Patrick's Day. Was that fate? Providence? Something else?
I had no idea what it meant at the time, of course, as you saw above. But every March 17 for the last 37 years I have been celebrating it as my second birthday. Because getting out of the communist shackles did feel like being born again. What I didn't know was that I was going to be born into "Irishness."
Good night (I don't have to say "and good luck", as Ed Morrow used to say. We all know about "the luck of the Irish"). (
P.S. I can't help it... one more Irish story. This correspondence has unleashed an avalanche of "Irishness" in me. One of my dearest friends shared with me a story of something that happened during the British colonial days in Ireland:
There lived an old man in the Irish countryside - all alone by himself. [pause & smile]
As you may know, like Yogi Berra, the Irish like to repeat things for emphasis… like the double “no parking”-line on Dublin’s main (O’Connell) street is interpreted by the locals as: “You may not park in this spot - at all, at all!” :-)
So it came time for the old man to spade his potato garden, but that was hard work. His only son, who would have helped him, was languishing in Long Kesh Prison.
The old man wrote a letter to his son and mentioned his predicament.
Shortly after sending the letter, the father received this reply:
"For GOD's SAKE Dad! Don't dig up that garden. That's where I buried the GUNS!"
At 4 A.M. the next morning, a dozen British soldiers showed up with shovels. They dug up the garden, but found no munitions.
Confused, the old man wrote another note to his son telling him what had happened. His son's reply was:
"Now plant your potatoes, Dad."
Tour of Ireland 1998
Belfast Belfast-1, Belfast-2,
Unpublished Belfast-3, Drogheda
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