ArticleIn Search For Meaning
Most wonders - be they permanent or seasonal - are, so-to-say, authentic: talented people, beautiful places, innovative practices and breakthrough concepts that are in a class of their own. However, there are also circumstantial (for a lack of better words) wonders - for instance, one might routinely see an alligator in the Nile or some other natural habitat, but running into one such in your own neighbourhood would be quite a wonder (even though the experience itself might prove to be anything but wonderful). Such an occasion would inevitably and completely upset one's expectations formed by a powerful combination of past experience and…language, and the latter is, arguably, the more important of the two. It is language that provides definitions necessary to both process information about the world and interpret our experiences - to, ultimately, mould them into a coherent world view. That worldview is responsible for living in “houses”, shopping in “stores”, dining in “restaurants”, enjoying art in “museums”, "movie houses", "concert halls", "theatres", and such… It is also responsible for picturing alligators in “rivers”, not in “grocery stores” or, say, “elevators”! It's when the reality begins to contradict and defy language (for instance, houses are built in parks, and parks themselves are turned into museums, like it happened in Freiburg or in Vigeland Park in Oslo) that temporary circumstantial wonders appear. If that happens, language has to adjust and catch up - that's why it's a perfect indicator of change and development.
The last 50 years or so have seen a flurry of such developments in the field of technology - each of them swiftly addressed by and reflected in language. Spaceship, internet, cellphone, microchip … When it comes to social life, the most significant changes have arguably been related to dining. Food, along with air, is the foundation of life - unsurprisingly, it permeates almost everything living species, including humans, do. So, the above-mentioned pattern of “dining” or “shopping”, or "getting entertained" - all of that at different times and places - has been inexorably getting replaced with a much more inclusive “and”-pattern. There appeared more and more places offering food and services, and goods to buy, and various entertainments… As a result, a new word, “mall”, emerged and became the most comprehensive symbol of the social aspect of modern life. However, between the “or”- and full-fledged “and” patterns there squeezed in one more variety that can be described as “a partial ”and": public spaces where people would come to both eat and, mostly, socialize. Following one's natural tendency to shorten words, those public spaces/houses were colloquially reduced to “pubs”.
Pubs have been around for what seems like forever (the oldest pub in Dublin opened - or should I say “was founded”?! - in the 10th century AD!), and most likely, initially they were meant to be strict eateries. The social aspect came naturally - both because most patrons already knew each other, as people in small villages usually do, and due to alcohol's ability to facilitate communication. Obviously, it's equally able to loosen tongues and inhibit restrictions thus facilitating brawls and outright fights - so, pubs had over time earned a certain reputation that drew people with simple tastes and kept away those with more sophisticated ones. Eventually, pubs would become “blue collars' home away from home” - and they felt even more obliged to provide what was considered “typical blue collars' entertainment”. Fast-forward a number of centuries, television had become the most dominant mass-media and, as such, it was added to the traditional entertainment menu - mostly to stir up emotions by recreating the atmosphere of big sporting events. Along similar lines, musical bands were hired to perform gigs…
Music as such has for a long time been as common in pubs as alligators in the Nile. It's a particular kind of music - quiet songs, ballads or even chamber music - that seems as much out of place there as alligators in a grocery store. And yet… As it happens, tender violins became a common feature in pubs as early as the 17th century - and the artists below
just continue a centuries-long tradition that has arguably developed contrary to all intuitive expectations of what pubs should look and feel like. A tradition so striking that those sessions easily become one of the main attractions whatever else a given town might offer. A tradition that must have easily taken hold in Ireland, because of the place music occupies in Gaelic culture…
It was close to midnight when I left the King's Head. Less than a block away from the pub, there was a man sitting on the ground and playing an instrument. In theory, the instrument case was open, and one could make small donations. In reality, the street was empty, and the man clearly couldn't count on any earnings. As clearly, he didn't care. He was playing Music.