Postcard from: Dublin
By Woody Brown '11
I often consider whether or not I am happy that I chose to study in Dublin and I think the answer is, you can never really know that. Who is keeping count, anyway? The answer people want to hear is that, yes, I am quite happy and have experienced no hardships whatsoever. But my answer is, of course, that neither of those things is true. And if either were, I’d be living in Disneyland or Amsterdam or some similarly happy-go-lucky place.

I came to Dublin because I like James Joyce. In Professor Cameron’s ENGL-84 class we read “Dubliners,” “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and “Ulysses” and I loved them all, especially the last. Joyce places his stories and characters in a city that is unmistakably Dublin, down to the sallow-faced homeless man sitting on the one crooked step leading up to Sweny’s Chemist on Lincoln Place and Westland Row. Naturally, I thought, “Cool, I will go there.”

The hilarious honesty of Dublin is that the only people interested in the literary legacy of pubs and storefronts like Sweny’s Chemist are American students and the storeowners who exploit them. Take the famous Davy Byrne’s, a pub in which famous Leopold Bloom famously eats his depressing feast of a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of wine while he listens through the partition between the bar room and the dining room to Simon Dedalus singing the aria “M’appari” from Flotow’s “Martha.” Bloom ponders such cheery subjects as the death of his son Rudy, his wife’s affair with Blazes Boylan and his general exclusion from most aspects of Dublin life by virtue of being a Jew. I thought that this place must surely be my first stop. And of course Davy Byrne’s is now some nonsense nouveau fusion piece of garbage, replete with a neon blue sign and soft jazz coming from speakers behind superblue aquariums.

To come to Dublin, or indeed to study abroad anywhere, with the aim of running into William Butler Yeats rocking back and forth on a bench in St. Stephen’s Green and drawing pictures of gyres on a napkin or Patrick Kavanagh shouting “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” from the back door of Grogan’s Castle Bar would be as reasonable as expecting to see a leprechaun underneath your kitchen sink controlling the temperature of the water, and not simply because both of those men are dead and leprechauns are (maybe) fake. Cities change often and unpredictably, and the writer whose voice we may call Irish in the U.S. might be less affectionately referred to as a “culchie of Sligo clay” in his supposedly native land.

Not to mention the effect of the so-called Celtic Tiger, the economic boom that ended in 2007 which brought about the Ireland in which I live, a Guinness-pickled and hungover one. Actually, that sounds a bit harsh. The people here are generally very nice, but they cannot make up for the fact that Dublin is more expensive to live in than Manhattan. The stereotype of the red-faced ginger Irish drunk is puzzling to me, as while I can see why one might drink his face off here, I cannot see how. Ireland is in the throes of a depression of mythic proportions, yet people are still more than willing to spend 7.50 USD on a pint. But I guess that is what alcoholism is.

I don’t mean to sound like such a mope. While an eager American touristudent like myself will find his search for men wearing sandwich boards that spell HELY’S disappointing and brief, there remains behind the literary legacy the place that made the people, and it is a fascinating and terrific place. Dublin, I mean. I had never been outside of the United States before coming here in January and I cannot come to terms with all that I have seen and learned since then. Most buildings are hundreds of years old and beautiful. Many pubs and stores have been at their same location since they first opened long before the Celtic Tiger, the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Great Famine. Sweny’s, for example, is exactly where Joyce said it was, which happens to be right around the corner from my dorm (and they sell lemon soap). The Stag’s Head, Doyle’s, O’Neill’s, Mulligan’s — they are all ancient, beautiful pubs with more snugs and cozy places in which to sauce yourself into oblivion than you can wrap your head around. It’s the kind of place where you feel like if you were a psychic you would absolutely lose it from the amount of history contained within each stone in O’Connell Street or each alcoholic molecule of water in the River Liffey.

Dublin can be profoundly depressing. It rains constantly, is often quite cold and the general color of the city and its people is greenish gray with a red blush in there somewhere. Trinity College Dublin is almost completely backwards in terms of its logistical and administrative organization. If you choose to study abroad here, you should make sure to go with a program from another school. I did not do this and I have regretted it often and deeply. I cannot tell you how bewildering it is to stagger off a seven-hour flight during which you, of course, do not sleep because you are so excited, only to find that you have no clue as to where you are, where your dorm is or where the key to said dorm is. I was so desperate I flagged down a police officer who promptly called me a gobshite and wished me good craic in my search. And then of course, when I crawled into the international office, I was greeted by the swift departure of three women with names that made as much sense as Ralph Fiennes (pronounced Rayf Fynez). Lunch time, didn’t I know?

Also, I have mentioned alcohol a lot and that was only partly intentional. Drinking is a major part of life here, and I don’t mean to sound silly or angelic or obnoxious when I say that, though I probably come off as all three. This is also true of the other parts of Europe that I have visited, and Dublin is by no means exceptional in its obsession with the sauce. For example, I was asked upon seating myself at nine in the morning at a fine hole in the wall in Valencia, Spain whether I would like café or cerveza. Alcohol and tobacco are nowhere near as stigmatized here as they are in the States. Do not cheer so loudly: life is a bitch when you find you know the bartender at the Ginger Man better than you do your spooky space cadet roommate with a blank look in his glassy eyes and a Rubik’s Cube rotating spasmodically in his pudgy purple fingers.

Okay, I got a bit carried away with that. I would not trade this experience for the world. No, it is not a vacation and no, it is not easy. While classes are easier, adjusting to your obvious “otherness” is harder. But, I mean, I saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo in Paris and I stood in Prague Castle and I was accosted by Amish-looking Hasidim in Montmartre with cries of “C’est juif?! C’est juif?!” (They said it was the nose that gave it away. I am not making this up.) The professors at Trinity are brilliant. Dublin is so strange and unique and honest that you cannot help but fall right into step with the rush hour pedestrian traffic headed straight for the pub.

Issue 21, Submitted 2010-04-07 00:12:30