Monday, March 17, 2014

Raising Eire

In the past, I've posted excerpts from my Ireland journals in order to mark St. Patrick's Day.   Those previous two entries can be found here:  Day 2  &  Day 3.  The following post details my first day in country. 

At the gate for Air Lingus, I nearly laughed when I saw the open bar in one corner, despite ours being a 6:30 take-off.  At the exact moment they made the final boarding call, the gate over the bar slammed shut.  

The flight from Glasgow was short, around 40 minutes, and on my first view of the Irish coast I nearly wept.  I was amazed at the bright shade of green of the earth, and thought how the island deserves its reputation for being that color.  Then I realized that I was looking at a golf course. 

We touched down, and at the far end of the runway, I noticed a rainbow.  The flight attendants made their final announcements in both English and Gaelic.  It was one of those airports where you walk directly up to the plane, and the moment my feet hit the tarmac, I couldn't stop smiling.  The smile returned when my passport was stamped.  

I took the bus into town through a misty rain, which bled the scenery into a bland vision not unlike that found in most English suburbs, of long identical flats, and identical young mums in identical coats pushing identical prams.

Off the bus in Dublin proper, I set off toward Trinity College.   I found the Liffey, and beside it stood a man in African dress being interviewed by a variety of news cameras, probably about the iron statues of Ethiopean men behind him.   I followed the river a little while, cut over to Oscar Wilde's house, turned a corner, and entered the Trinity Gate.  I liked the idea of a walled island of knowledge purposely cut off from the rest of the world.  As I crossed the campus, that line of Van Morrison's, 'that smell of perfume comes drifting through' entered my ears the exact moment the scent of the sea entered my nose.  Beside the rugby field, the university's theatre building looked like it had been uprooted from Southeast Asia.  On the library steps was an orb built of steel bars, in the process of being pulled apart.  I took it for a metaphor for the earth, mechanized and on the brink of destruction. 

 Not far away was the Book of Kells.  The displays leading to the book itself dealt with the history of print in Ireland. At first glance, the Book itself wasn't much.  But something made me lean in for a closer look, and it was then I noticed the color and intricacy of the letters.  It looked to me like body art, perhaps because I'd spent months trying to find the right Celtic symbol for a tattoo I never got.

Upstairs, the Long Room further blew me away.  Two levels of books extended the length of the room on both sides, every shelf packed with dusty old volumes which must number in the tens of thousands.  It reminded me of the storeroom of relics at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I linger long here (due to the name perhaps?), amidst the soft light and rolling ladders, pondering if any one person has ever read, let along owned, so many books.  I could picture Joyce or Shaw in here, planting seeds. 

As the bells tolled noon,  I stepped back out into a drizzly rain, so I ducked into the chapel, which was closed, though a small antechamber offered a dry place to sit.  I tucked into my paperback copy of "Dubliners," having long wanted to read it here. ( I was thankful for the short length of the stories, allowing me to sit for brief periods at various locales throughout the city.)  I read a few stories while an organist practiced on the other side of the wall.  

I began to grow hungry, so joined the outflow of students passing through the school's main arch.   Turning right, I entered the maze of narrow cobblestone streets of Temple Bar.  The area looked rightly old, but I knew that a good many bars were new and somewhat trendy.  I found the Porterhouse pub (circa 1989 --Jeez!) and escaped the rain with a Strove Tuesday special of Brie Pancake and Chips and a pint.  After lunch, I wound through the old Viking settlements (where no real trace remains) and down toward St. Patrick's Cathedral.  In Dublin, it seems that the churches require admission, so not wanting to feed the beast, I opted out. I sat in the park to read, after passing the wall that highlights the names of Dublin's famous writers.  A wild, punk-looking guys in his 40s, with long dreads, Docs, fatigues, and multiple piercings repeatedly took laps around the fountain, hands tucked deep into his pockets.

I wandered the smaller streets awhile, trying to turn my brain on to increase awareness.  I saw the same bicycle courier twice.  Gangs of schoolgirls in uniform, with their long, swirling pleated skirts; the boys in suits of blue and identical haircuts.  Double-decker buses in yellow.  Three guys on a corner acting shady, probably scoring.  Two others on the walls of the fort, using.  (As I approached, one guy had a suspicious look on, one hand in his pocket.  I took my own hands out of my pockets and opened them.  He visibly relaxed.)  Lot's of familiar features in the faces of those who passed, of Irish friends and family, and of course my own late son Ken.    

More tomorrow...

On the turntable:  Johnny Winter, "Second Winter"

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