We leave for Vancouver in the morning and realized that I was on the rota to do a piece for broadcast on Downtown Radio in the North on the morning of Sunday, 13th July. The “Letter from Dublin” goes out on the Sunday morning religious programme once every six weeks. This is the script of the MP3 recording I emailed to my friend Colm.
My favourite broadcaster is an American.
For fifteen years or more, I have listened to him. He does monologues, stories about a fictional small town in a rural part of the state of Minnesota in the United States.
Back in the early 1990s, I would have bought cassette tapes of these talks that I would have played on the car radio. There would be double cassette packs on sale in a bookshop in Belfast – two ninety minute tapes, each containing six fifteen minute talks. I listened to some of those tapes so many times I could almost have joined in some of the lines
I still listen to those monologues, except that now I get them for free. Every week the broadcaster, Garrison Keillor presents his programme The Prairie Home Companion on national public radio in the United States on a Saturday evening and by Monday the programme is on the internet and I can sit here looking out at the Dublin mountains and try to imagine life on the vast American prairies.
His talks begin with the same sentence each week, “It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon” and he signs off with the same words each week, “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average”.
It’s fascinating that I can now get for free what I used to have to pay for!
Anyway, I wondered why Lake Wobegon is so attractive, why do fictional stories about everyday life in a very small and very ordinary American town still have a fascination about them?
I think it’s about there being a community, about it being a place where everyone has a place and where everyone is recognized. I love living in Dublin, but there’s not much sense of community.
When I lived in the North, I would buy the local paper for whatever town I lived in: the Newtownards Chronicle, the Down Recorder, the Larne Times. We don’t have a local paper where I live; there are a few free papers, but they are not like having a proper weekly paper that you would buy every Wednesday or Thursday. There is no record of all the events in the life of community: the smiling faces of all the children starting school each September, the serious young people photographed with the bishop after their confirmation service; the obituaries of the local characters.
Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon is probably like many towns across the length and breadth of Ireland, but it’s not like Dublin. The city is fine; it’s just not a place where you get the atmosphere of a small town community.
I’m always fascinated to read the Gospel story of Jesus calling his followers, he goes to a quiet, conservative, rural community; the big city is the place where he meets opposition. Maybe that’s the attraction of places like Lake Wobegon, it’s the sort of place where Jesus might have found friends.