Dave Goes Irish Part 1: Dublin City

Dublin Map

“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”   – James Joyce, Dubliners

Dear Dublin,

You’re my kind of town and you’re full of contradictions.  You’re immensely walkable and compact yet your streets make no sense (at least to Americans bred on city grids) as they meander like tangled spider webs from the city center, and you’re lucky if you find any signage on the building edifices at round corners.  Thank god for the River Liffey, dividing the North and South sides and giving pilgrims their bearings for centuries.  You have no skyscrapers, the outline of your cityscape stooping to great visitors while spiked spires of churches and monuments point to the heavens.  You’re grimy and gritty and often overcast, yet when the sun makes an appearance it casts a lovely sheen on your hidden beauty.  Overall I wouldn’t cast you as a beautiful city (you wouldn’t want to be called that either), yet there are breathtaking medieval churches around every corner (topped in population only by your orgy of pubs) and heading out towards the suburbs and heather-strewn mountains of Wicklow you boast Georgian-era streets whose artfulness put Philadelphia’s Society Hill to shame.  You seem to want to jam in as many shops, pubs and whatnots into as tightly packed tenement-style spaces as possible (with only Jervis and Grafton Street shopping districts gentrified with wide boulevards), yet you luxuriate in the tranquility of St. Stephen’s Green.  Never have I seen more buses (both touring and commuter), your car traffic is thick and wicked (rivaling the “get the f*** out of my way” rudeness of NYC and where bikers dart to a fro at their own risk unlike in Amsterdam where bike lanes are the norm), and your pedestrian throngs would indicate a city three times your size, yet you claim to be a small city with a laid-back, friendly vibe (which is also true).  You have monuments and markers for everything and everyone of note spanning your over thousand-year history…for saints and writers, patriots and politicians, Vikings and Celts and Brits, beheadings and crownings, history and myth.   You love your bloody history as much as you love your sweet elixirs of whiskey and beer brewed in waters from that “black pool” from which the Vikings gave you your name.

Dublin…you’re a city so bursting with inspiration and things to do, one could never do you justice in just one trip.  I was with you long enough just to get to know you a bit, to see the hints of your charms amongst the slivers of your faults, and I saw enough to know that one day I would want to see more, more that I could never fully have because you belong to everyone and no one, to Joyce alone and to all the world.  Is it any wonder that James Joyce said, “When I die Dublin will be written in my heart”?  For was it not you that made him immortal?  Once touched by you, we all become Dubliners.  I’ll be back, my dear.  I consider myself warned.

Sincerely, Dave. Continue reading

Bring Out “The Dead”

CAPTION:  Man dies from boredom on Dublin’s Ha’Penny Bridge while reading a very long novel.  *Photo courtesy of  Philip Pankov (www.philpankov.com) and www.thenocturnes.com.

Kurt Vonnegut once said of novels that “reading one is like being married forever to somebody nobody else knows or cares about.”

I couldn’t agree more while I find myself in a laborious relationship with The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl.  The novel is a fictionalized account of a Baltimore lawyer’s quest to solve the mystery behind the death of Edgar Allan Poe.  This is one of those books with an interesting concept ruined by the author’s insistence on telling the story in the static, unimaginative style of prose from the stuffy time period in which the novel takes place.  It’s makes for a dry, boring read.  Much like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, I fear I may never finish it.  I’m currently stuck at about the 100 page mark.  I should’ve known better when I saw Carr’s glowingly positive blurb splattered on the cover of Matthew Pearl’s magnum opus.  Though I find the topic of Poe’s death fascinating, reading Pearl’s novel makes me feel…well, dead.

And that brings us to James Joyce and “The Dead.”  Thankfully for every bad novel I torture myself with, there are dozens of short stories I can read in between chapters that are as Vonnegut once described, “Buddhist catnaps.”  Short stories provide perfect little meditative escapes from everyday life and respite from bad novels.  Occasionally, I come across one that reaches the level of art.  James Joyce’s “The Dead” is one such story.  It’s possibly the greatest short story I have ever read.  Continue reading