‘TIS A FINE WEEK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Surely, ’tis the best week of the year, is it not?  St. Patrick’s Day is not until Wednesday but some of us have begun celebrating early.  I am personally contributing to the festivities by drinking a pint of Guinness every day. Guinness is the mother’s milk of Ireland, and for good reason.  Three years ago I had the good fortune of spending time in the Emerald Isle with four of my girlfriends.  On the first day of the trip I ate something that didn’t agree with me.  Our driver suggested that I “take a Guinness”, extolling it’s virtues as a cure-all for most any ailment.  I gulped it down and, sure enough, I began to feel better.  He went on to explain that when he was growing up, doctors were scarce – and unaffordable – so Irish mothers gave their children a nip of Guinness whenever they were sick, as it was believed to be chocked full of vitamins and minerals.  Sort of the Irish version of Children’s  One-A-Day.

Once back home I began to research the miracle of Guinness.  Was it really a health food?  Should I be drinking more?  Turns out that back in the 1920s, when the “Guinness is Good for You” slogan was introduced, the claim was based on market research that found people felt good after they drank a pint of the dark and foamy stout.  Okay, but substitute “stout” for almost any form of alcohol and you’d probably have the same result.  Soon after the slogan gained popularity the flimsy claim was bolstered by the discovery that Guinness contains iron. A ha!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Even pregnant women were advised to have an occasional pint. Of course, it would take something like a dozen pints a day for a woman to get her recommended daily allowance of iron, in which point the alcohol and calories would cause more harm than good.

But in 2003 researchers at the University of Wisconsin found a truly redeeming feature of the beloved Guinness.  Turns out that stout beer like Guinness (as opposed to lager and other light beer) is high in the antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—similar to those found in red wine, tea and chocolate—that can reduce the risk of heart attack from blood clotting.   The researchers carried out laboratory tests on dogs with clogged arteries, comparing the effects of Guinness and Heineken. Only those dogs fed Guinness had reduced clotting.  Wow – red wine, chocolate, dogs and Guinness.  The gods have come together to link all of my favorite things together into one healthy bundle!  I should live to be 100.

My brother and I share a love for Ireland, even though our DNA results show our Irish heritage to be somewhat limited.  I am 12% Irish and he is 8%, which doesn’t seem fair because he has frequented a lot more Irish pubs than I have.  In fact, he has a unique ability to find an Irish pub everywhere he travels.  When he hiked Machu Picchu,  he fortified himself beforehand at Paddy’s Irish Pub in Cusco, Peru, which holds the distinction of being the highest elevation pub on the planet at over 11,156 feet.  I recently watched the Amazon Prime Video movie “The Irish Pub” and it became clear why we cling to our small but powerful Irish ancestry.  The documentary highlighted pubs all over Ireland, interviewing the owners and customers.  Charming doesn’t begin to describe it.  Yes, some of the pubs were dark and possibly had not been cleaned since 1947.  But the owners and customers alike took great pride in their establishments and their welcoming of strangers.   Anyone who has visited Ireland can attest to that – the Irish seem to be universally good-natured and friendly.  The film made it clear that the local pub provides a gathering place for people to chat and get to know one another and many customers remarked that they would rather do that than watch television.

I think what we can conclude from all this is that America would be a far better – and healthier – place if we all gathered down at the local pub for a good conversation and a pint of Guinness.  Throw in a dog by the fire and that’s about as close to Heaven as one can get.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and…Slainte!!

 

MARCH MADNESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

If you live in a sunbelt state you would know what month this is without looking at a calendar.  The tip off is increased traffic, a shortage of dinner reservation slots and thousands of white legs in Bermuda shorts.  All that adds up to one thing, it’s March – the month of Spring training for baseball.  Both Florida and Arizona get swamped with visitors this month and then – like magic – they dissapear on April 1.  Last year more than 1,737,975 people attended Spring training games in Arizona’s Cactus League!  Oh sure, some die-hard fans may have attended 20 games or more, but still, that’s a LOT of people coming to the desert in a short period of time.  According to the official Cactus League stats (and isn’t baseball just full of those?), the biggest number of fans visit from Chicago to see their beloved Cubbies.  More than 16,000 people showed up for just ONE game last year.  And who can blame them when the average temperature here is 75 and back home…well, they’re putting on six layers of clothes just to walk the dog.

Baseball is not the only event that March brings.  Seemingly every school in the United States is on Spring Break over the next four weeks.  Normally Arizona is not as inundated as Florida, given that we don’t have sandy beaches or a long history of hosting drunk college students.  But this year it seems there are more kids visiting grandparents in our community.  Maybe with the corona virus people have cancelled trips to Disneyworld or Atlantis...who knows?  Grandma and Grandpa’s house sounds like a good alternative – it’s free and less germ-ridden than your average hotel room.  I expect that for the next month our community pool is going to need extra chlorine for those youngsters who confuse the pool with the restroom.  Our gym will also be packed – mostly with college-age kids who run on the treadmill at speeds that I could only dream about.  God, they make me feel old.  They will also be talking on their phone and – most disturbingly – not wipe off the equipment after they use it.  When they leave at the end of the month we will have been exposed to every virus currently circulating in our institutions of higher learning.  Personally, I’m skipping the gym this month – I can’t find a hazmat suit to fit me.

Finally, for some reason the golf clubs around here have conspired to schedule all the big invitational tournaments this month.  Okay, granted, I don’t have to play in our club’s event, but it’s really fun and at least it’s an outside activity.  Plus it’s always fun to bet on the same people who win every year.  In the golf world these people are known as “sandbaggers”, meaning they artifically inflate their handicap and and then shocked – SHOCKED! – when they shoot an unbelievely low score in the tournament.  So betting on them to win is the only way to feel good about these people – they are so reliable that every year there is money to be made on their shenanigans.  I’m just hoping that my score isn’t so bad that I’ll wish I had been quarantined with the corona virus instead.

The good news is that this March will bring two great events – this week we will be hosting brother Bob and his wife Linda and next week is St Patrick’s Day.  It’s fortuitous that these two events will happen so close together because not only are we excited to spend some time with Bob and Linda, but just to add to the anticipation, my brother is the only member of my family who will share a Guinness with me in salute to the old country. That almost makes up for all those white legs we’ll be spotting this month.  On my visit to Ireland I was told that Guinness is considered medicinal, packed with vitamins and minerals.  That’s probably a lot of blarney.  Still, maybe the CDC should put it on their “recommended” list, right up there with hand sanitizer.  After all, it’s probably just as effective and it’s a heck of a lot easier to find.

THE LUCK O’ THE IRISH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Are you sober yet?  If you’re like millions of Americans you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Friday by consuming some spirits in honor of the occasion.  Some of us are genuinely of Irish extraction but on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish.  Simply donning a green hat or sporting shamrock underwear gives the wearer some implicit permission to get toilet-hugging drunk.  There actually are a lot of Americans with Irish bloodlines – 37 million to be exact.  That’s 12% of the population, ranking just behind Germany in most frequently reported ancestry.  Heck, we have eight times the number of Irish than Ireland itself!   Which is probably as good an explanation as any as to why the holiday is so much more popular here than in Ireland.  Twenty years ago my husband’s cousin from Scotland came to San Francisco on business and we met him for dinner near our workplaces.  Unfortunately, the only night he had available was St. Patrick’s Day and to further the problem, we worked right around the corner from Harrington’s Bar and Grill.   We met at a nearby restaurant that required our cousin to walk from his hotel right by Harrington’s front door.  Or as close to the front door as he could get.  There are a lot of Irish in San Francisco and they seemingly all gather at Harrington’s each year to celebrate the patron saint.  When he finally navigated his way to the restaurant he was wild-eyed and I think just the tiniest bit shell-shocked.  He stammered, “What is with you Americans and St. Patrick’s Day?”  Well, it turns out, we practically invented the holiday.

 

 

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast of St. Patrick on March 17.  But the first parade held in honor of St. Patrick’s Day took place in the United States.  On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.  The parade, along with their native music, helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots and fellow countrymen.  Over the next three decades numerous groups formed to celebrate Irish heritage, each sponsoring a parade on St. Patrick’s Day.  By the mid-1800s the groups combined forces into what is now known as the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the largest in the country and the oldest civilian-sponsored parade in the world.

 

Of course, all that marching is exhausting so finding a good pub to quench one’s thirst became part of the day’s tradition.  Some people take pride in finding good Irish pubs wherever they go, regardless of the time of year.  In fact, although I won’t mention names, someone I’m related to that also writes for this blog fashions himself a connoisseur of Irish drinking establishments.  He is the only person I know who could trek all the way to Machu Picchu and find an authentic Irish pub in which to have a Guinness.  But he is far from alone.  What is this obsession so many have with the Irish?  I’ve read more than one article claiming the Irish are the most beloved ethnic group in the world.  Of course, part of that affection is tied to the “happy drunk” reputation, but in fact it goes further than that.  The Irish are deemed to be some of the most sentimental souls on Earth.  One need only read the famous Irish poets to understand the truth of that.  The Irish are also known world-wide for their sense of humor and dry wit.  Oscar Wilde, the noted Irish writer, filled our world with his bon mots.  One of my favorites is:  “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious”. George Carlin was perhaps one of the funniest comedians ever with his wry observations of everyday life and Melissa McCarthy is a talented entertainer (come on, that bathroom scene in Bridesmaids is a classic!).  The Irish also have the ability to write lyrically and capture an audience, despite sometimes playing fast and loose with the facts.  One of my favorite sayings, told to me by an Irish friend who was wound-up in the middle of a fantastical yarn, is “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.  My brother and I have at times adopted that as our motto.

 

There’s also the famous saying “Luck of the Irish”, although I have discovered that the phrase started as a derisive jab at the Irish immigrants who came to America in the late 1800’s.  It originated in the gold and silver mines to describe the Irish who found their “pot of gold” and became rich and successful.  The Irish were never given full credit for their accomplishments.  Instead it was widely believed that the “Irish fools” had gained fortune only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains and hard work.  Our only full-blooded Irish ancestor, Julia Stack Billiou, came to America during this period but as you might recall from my last post, she was not lucky in any sense of the word, having been shot by her Chinese cook.  Nevertheless, her immigration gives our family claim to Irish heritage and provides cover for our love of good writing, a stout beer, and a strong Irish Coffee.  I call that lucky indeed!