Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Temporary Dubliners

We spent the weekend in the city of Ulysses, in the city that countless writers—Joyce, but also Samuel Beckett and Edmund Spenser and even Bram Stoker at some point called home. It was my first time in Ireland, so all my impressions were firsts: the difficulty I had understanding the Irish brogue of our taxi driver as we made our way from the airport to our B&B; the abundance of pubs and the even greater abundance of men in those pubs, with a stark minority of women (noticeable even by the standards of Andrew’s school, where having a handful of women at a party is remarkable); the bright signs for “off license” stores, the exact meaning of which still remains a mystery; the painstaking process that is the pouring of a Guinness.

We’d planned this trip—part of an extensive trip that I will continue on my own—as the final Trip of Exile that will render my passport flawless to even the most dutiful of border control agents. It gets increasingly ridiculous to be so deliberate about this—my passport wasn’t even stamped when I flew back to Spain a few weeks ago, which means that, going by stamps alone, my new 90-day period won’t begin until March 4, when I return from this trip—but no matter. Better to be safe than sorry, etc. In any case, unbeknownst to us, the Dublin leg of this trip coincided with a big rugby match between England and Ireland, which made our search for a hotel difficult—room rates had jumped, and many places were booked. But Andrew found us a little B&B outside of the city center that turned out to be perfect. We had a large, pretty room, and a bus into the center stopped right across the street.

Over our three full days in the city, we saw all the Dublin highlights. On Thursday, we went to Christ Church Cathedral; the Guinness Storehouse; and the Gaol, a former prison. We had an uncharacteristically difficult time finding the prison, even though on our map it appeared to be only a block or two from the Guinness Storehouse; only after walking for what had to have been miles did we notice that the map said in small print, “not to scale.” Indeed, the map had conveniently minimized an approximately hour-long walk into a seemingly tiny distance. Later, we went to the National Gallery, impressed with the artistic lineup—Monet, El Greco, Caravaggio, and Vermeer were among the excellent collection. We finished off the day at a pub.

On Friday, after a hearty Irish breakfast at the B&B (Andrew and I, neither of us normally able to stomach anything more than a cup of coffee in the morning, tucked into gigantic spreads of eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, toast, orange juice, and more every morning in Dublin, only to then find ourselves hungry again a few hours later—we ate what seemed like huge quantities of food over the past few days), we headed to the Hugh Lane Gallery, a lovely museum full of gems, including several Corots. There was a fascinating wing focusing on the studio of the artist Francis Bacon, who claimed to thrive in and draw all his ideas from his chaotic work space; he donated his studio and its entire contents to the Hugh Lane, where it has been reassembled.

We followed that entirely satisfying museum experience with a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum, which included a few first-editions, letters, and other ephemera of Dublin’s most famous writers. Having just finished reading A Pound of Paper by John Baxter, a memoir about book collecting, I found the first edition of Dracula particularly interesting—how much would that be worth? A visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity College rounded out our cultural activities of the day. We even had coffee at a bar on Trinity’s campus. “This is just like being in college!” Andrew said. Except for the fact that we’re engaged and thirty, and were standing at the bar drinking extremely suspect coffee (how long had it been sitting there, exactly?) instead of beer.

We’d gotten tickets to a play that night called A Number, which was at the Pavilion (part of the Abbey Theater). There were just two actors—one man played a father, and the other man played three sons who were expressing their confusion and rage over having been, unbeknownst to them until recently, cloned from the father’s “original” son. It was an odd, disturbing play, raising troubling questions about identity and what makes someone that person and not another.

On Saturday, we headed a little ways out of town to Howth. From the summit of the town, we could look down from craggy cliffs into the Irish Sea; there were paths along the cliffs, so we set out on a hike. Saturday was, as our B&B host said that morning, a “soft day,” rainy and misty. Though parts of the path were gravelly, there were many muddy patches and puddles, making for some slippery walking. At a particularly treacherous junction, I found myself holding desperately to a wooden fence as the mushy ground slipped out from under my suede-shod feet, which suddenly were not only sliding on mud but sinking in mud. I screamed and flailed before finally regaining my footing. Andrew tried to hide his laughter and could not. He pretended to be shocked at how non-outdoorsy I’d proved myself to be, as though this were a revelation. We hiked a bit further, but when the rain became a lot more like a downpour than “soft,” we retreated to a mountaintop pub and spent the afternoon cozily with beer and club sandwiches, drying off and watching a soccer match.

We headed back into Dublin late that afternoon and found a not-too-crowded pub in which to watch the big rugby game. Neither of us know anything at all about rugby, but being out of the rain and doing what every other Dubliner in the city was doing was fun. Ireland won, and as we walked around Temple Bar afterwards to soak up the atmosphere, the celebrations were in full swing even though it was barely 9pm. We had hoped for a dinner of fish and chips in a pub, but we revised our plan and sat in a cozy restaurant after seeing the masses of people spilling from every pub we passed.

And so our lovely weekend in Dublin came to a close. It was strange traveling together in an English-speaking country—just something different about being able to ask for details about a specific bus pass, for example, or making small talk with the men who ran our B&B, or looking at the headlines of the newspaper. Small things that make for a simpler, but no less charming, little trip.

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