Friday, July 15, 2011

Guest Blog with Derek Flynn

Today I welcome Derek Flynn to my blog. He's traveled all the way from Ireland to be here and he's brought memories with him. Awesome! So grab your cup of coffee, or depending on which time zone you're in, your soda, sit back, relax and read.

Some years back – when I lived in New York – we took a road trip to Virginia. We spent our first night in the Shenandoah Valley. The site of many a John Denver song, the awe-inspiring landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains more than lived up to their reputation. Coming from Ireland, the lush, green landscape wasn’t necessarily what impressed; it was the sheer expanse of it. I’ve never seen a country so big. You’ve got to wonder what the first settlers would have made of it, as they drove their makeshift wagons across the country, seeing nothing but more and more mountain ranges and forests. Did it scare the life out of them? Or were they just so glad to get away from it all – to find their own little piece of land – that they thought they were in paradise?

The following morning, we left the Shenandoah Valley and made our way into Pennsylvania. We decided to take the local roads instead of the Interstate, so as to better see the surrounding countryside and the little quaint towns that the aforementioned John Denver songs have conjured up for us, and we weren’t disappointed.

The map read like a Bruce Springsteen set list, with names like Waynesboro and Shawnee. But our next stop was a town called Intercourse, Pennsylvania. That’s right, Intercourse. The main claim to fame there is that the town and its surrounding area houses one of the largest settlements of Amish people in the U.S. It’s also the place where Peter Weir filmed the Amish’s crowning cinematic movement – the film Witness with Harrison Ford. Not surprising then that as soon as we turn on the TV in our motel, Witness is playing (I’m not sure if this is a lucky coincidence or if they just play the film continuously on the local station for the benefit of the tourists).

Intercourse was probably the oddest town on the trip. The Amish community shuns publicity and yet every year thousands of people descend on the town to gawk and point at them. The town meanwhile, is in the awkward position of wanting the tourist trade but realizing that it can’t seem too insensitive to the Amish community. Their solution has been to set up a visitor’s centre selling books and showing films aimed at promoting respect and understanding for the Amish and their way of life. Paradoxically while the town seems to be at pains to defend and explain them, the Amish themselves it would appear, couldn’t care less what people think.

Either way it was a strange sight driving along a country road at 11pm and coming upon a horse drawn buggy with its indicators and brake lights (recent additions that a new State law requires).

The next day, as we left Intercourse, we snapped our obligatory shot of the Amish and hightailed it out of town before any buggies give chase.

On the way home, I was thinking about the towns we’d passed through, and I kept coming back to the old maxim: nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t like to live there. As enjoyable to visit as these towns were for me, I couldn’t help wondering if, somewhere in the bowels of Intercourse or Waynesboro, there was a kid – just like me when I was their age and growing up in Ireland – straining at the leash to get out.

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician. He has an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here: http://derekflynn.wordpress.com and on Twitter, he can be found here: http://twitter.com/#!/derekf03

9 comments:

  1. hahaha a town named Intercourse, thats gas! I woudl love to go and see the Amish, just watch how they love. We have nothing like that here.

    Very interesting.

    Michelle

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  2. Isn't it brilliant! According to @KrystalWade they have a bumper sticker that says: "Virginia may be for lovers, but Pennysylvania has Intercourse"! Couldn't find the bumper sticker, but here it is on a mug: http://www.amishstuffstore.com/imb4lm.html

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  3. When I was a kid we drove cross country from VA to Yellowstone National Park. My dad made a point of taking a northern route west and a southern route back home so we saw dozens of states. Twenty years later, that's one of my fondest memories ... there's simply no better way to see the country than to experience it firsthand. (I did a similar tour of Spain a couple of years later, and I remember it well). But what a great experience - how fortunate you are!

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  4. That's so true, Sarah. And even more so for us writers. I was writing a novel set in a small Wyoming town and I was lucky enough to get to visit a similar town. When I came back and started writing again, the book came to life.

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  5. Anonymous7/15/2011

    There is an Amish community just north of where I live. The first time I ran across a few of them, in a store, I couldn't help but notice the other shoppers' reactions. Some stared, most did the 'it's impolite to stare' repeated peeks. When I walked up to the Amish people and said, "Hi, I'm Sandy...Can I ask you a question?...." I found myself in the most interesting, refreshing conversation ever! It's like the difference between bottled water and cold well water straight from the ground; they just seem more 'real'. One of my favorite things about travel is not just seeing these amazing new frontiers in my life, but talking to them as well!! Thanks for this post! -Sandy

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  6. Great post, and thanks Krystal and Derek for sharing it with us. Of course it can't be the same to visit a place as live there, but the longer I live on this earth, I more I realise how we all have a lot more in common than we might initially think. I am sure there is a little boy there thinking the same thing as you did Derek - little boys/girls wanting to take wings and fly are everywhere!

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  7. Anonymous - Isn't it funny the way we stereotype people? Just because they dress differently and have different belief systems, doesn't mean they're any different from us. In fact, chances are, they may be even more interesting!

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  8. Louise, that's what I just said in the previous comment. Different geographical locations doesn't necessarily mean different attitudes. And that applies especially to young dreamers looking for a way out!

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  9. It's funny: the Amish are a source of controversy around here. They generally don't cause any problems, but I know of people who hate their guts. Once, in a college Ohio History class, people all but got in a screaming match over the Amish haha.

    The source of the problem is that they don't pay taxes (besides sale tax) and their horses leave their "exhaust" as my dad calls it all over the road. Not sure why that's a source of so much acrimony but, well, I've found that people will find any reason whatever to throw a fit.

    And I guarantee you there were more than one kid in those towns dreaming to get out, haha. I live in a town like that, and most of the towns around here are like that too, and I honestly think most of the people who live here not so secretly hate it haha

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