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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Omagh, Bluegrass, the Sacred Harp, and Bollywood

Real Bollywood movies are so, so much better than that travesty recently perpetrated on us - Bride and Prejudice - which has the awful cross-over quality of sweet-and-sour chicken made with ketchup.

I had the satisfaction of finally seeing, this week, the last 20 minutes of the longest running Bollywood movie of all time, a three-hour extravaganza made in 1995: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

I had seen the first 2-1/2 hours on an Air India trip from London to Dulles after the United flight we had originally been booked on was "delayed 24 hours" - have you ever heard this euphemism for "cancelled" ?

My travel companions and I were returning from a gig at the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland, site of a lovely open-air museum:
The museum tells the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th & 19th centuries and provides visitors with a "living history" experience on its outdoor site. Costumed demonstrators go about their everyday tasks in the traditional manner in authentically furnished Old and New World buildings.

The Ship and Dockside Gallery features a full-size reconstruction of an early 19th century sailing ship of the type which carried thousands of emigrants across the Atlantic and a major indoor exhibition "Emigrants" complements the outdoor site. The Centre for Migration Studies can assist those who wish to find out more about emigration history and the way of life of emigrants and settlers.
I found it a little disappointing that, as someone who spent 15 years fiddling and singing in an Irish/Celtic/British Isles band called the "Pratie Heads," I got my first opportunity to sing in Ireland at a bluegrass festival.

The Omagh Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival is held every year and in the fall of 2004 the promoters hired our ad hoc Sacred Harp group to go over and sing for them.

Sacred Harp (also called shape-note hymns) became quite popular in Ireland after the movie Cold Mountain came out. We were told that many Irish emigrants had fought in the Civil War and that family members who had remained behind in Ireland had followed the war with intense interest and now, so many years later, are still fascinated by its history and are nuts for shape note music - "Idumea" really got to them.

They have daily Civil War re-enactments at the Ulster Folk Park. I guess it all makes some kind of sense.

Well, I don't really care for bluegrass music much - although I was kind of amused to hear the European bands like the Bluegrass Boogiemen (right) from the Netherlands - but I loved wandering the park.

It was the Mellon family which brought many old buildings - from humble stone one-room huts which had housed 10-member families to weaver's studios and churches - to be reassembled at this lovely park.

The Mellons are descendants of Thomas Mellon who, at the age of 5, in 1818, emigrated with his family from their humble farm (left) in Omagh to the United States. The Mellons settled on a small, rocky farm they called "Poverty Point," about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

When I got home I bought Thomas Mellon and his Times.

At 14 young Mellon was transfixed by the "Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin."
Here was Franklin, poorer than myself, who by industry, thrift and frugality had become learned and wise, and elevated to wealth and fame. ... I regard the reading of Franklin's Autobiography as the turning point of my life."
Mellon wanted to continue his education, but his dad thought it would be a waste, and that it would be far less risky for him to stay there on Poverty Point and be a farmer.

When Thomas was 17, his father was moseying to town with a neighbor who was selling out; Thomas's father was buying this adjacent property for his son. After they left, Thomas realized if that farm were purchased, his life's course would be set.
The utter collapse of all my fond young hopes...nearly crazed me. I could stand it no longer. I put on my coat, ran down past the house, flung the axe over the fence into the yard, and without stopping made the best possible time on foot for the town. My father had taken the only available saddle horse, but my feet were light under the circumstances.
He ran all the way to town and caught up with the two older men as they were having a smoke before entering the courthouse to sign the deed. He arrived in time to stop the purchase.

He finished school, taught Latin, went to law school, spent 20 years as a lawyer and then ten years as a judge, all the while investing in Pittsburgh real estate. When he retired in 1870 he opened the Mellon Bank.

Mellon's eight children included bankers Andrew W. Mellon, secretary of the Treasury under presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover and founder of the National Gallery of Art, and Richard B. Mellon, who became president of Mellon Bank. By 1936, one generation after Thomas Mellon's death, the Mellons had become one of the four wealthiest families in the United States, along with the Rockefellers, DuPonts and Fords.

I think the choice not to take up farming on Poverty Point was a successful one.

Anyway, back in Omagh - we shape-note singers had had a good time singing and the area was beautiful for long walks. However, the food in Ireland was absolutely awful.

The best meal I had while I was gone was the lunch served on Air India on the way home.

The flight was ok, but I almost shouted in frustration when their videotape of Dilwale Dulhania wheezed to an untimely end.

What preposterous plot turns were going to save our busty heroine (raised in London by a Punjabi emigrant) from having to move back to the Punjab and marry the womanizing son of her father's best friend - a slimy though handsome young man never seen without his gun - when she in fact she loved the chubby obnoxious (but cute) only son of an Indian who had - somewhat like Thomas Mellon - become a millionaire after emigrating to London?

To finish the story where I began: our Air India flight landed with no further incident, though we had to go to Chicago instead of Dulles. There is a story about an orange I will save for another time. And my luggage went to Singapore and stayed there for a week before it got back to the Raleigh-Durham airport.

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At 10:38 AM, Blogger MaR said...

I should watch an Indian film, never have. Interesting post, long flights are my nightmare, I have a transatlantic one coming up and only hope for a) no delays and b) to get my luggage right away! Here via Michele's today.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger craziequeen said...

hi - here from michele's today.

Although in chilly England, I do like a bit of bluegrass - such busy and chipper music!


At 4:16 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Indian movies are WONDERFUL. They're also really, really unrealistic, but once you accept that, they're a great escape.

The Man always buys a whole bunch of them whenever we go to Malaysia, because there they come with English subtitles. They're always long, though (3 hours is normal) so I rarely have time to watch one all the way through. Fabulously ludicrous storylines, great music, gorgeous dancing...

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I was talking with The Man about your post, and he said he also had some Tamil movies. When I looked them up, I discovered something neither of us knew: there is not only Bollywood, but also Kollywood (Tamil), Tollywood (Telugu), and Malluwood (Malayalam).

I found it all here

At 3:46 PM, Blogger DiceyWily said...

Hi. I live in Omagh near the Folk Park and remember your visit well. I'm fascinated by sacred harp and have never had the opportunity to try it ( I didn't make it to the try out at the park). About the food - what was wrong with it? Was it different to what you're used to or just badly cooked / presented.

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there, I never knew people outside of India loved Hindi movies... I agree they are unrealistic... but rich and elaborate nevertheless...


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