Snapshot from Dublin
On my way to the national gallery I put a hand on the big metal button. It ticked, beating like a heart, the rhythm of Dublin’s footsteps as the sound told me to cross the road. In the six o’clock fog the fair city was murky, dripping with secrets hidden in the dark water that splashed my ankles. It all had the air of New York about it. A black man casually wandered down the middle of the road offering the evening newspaper through stationary car windows. Their fumes spit out blather into the heavy air, adding to the endless conversation of a city built from stories.
I couldn’t help but look everywhere for signs of the great modernist writing Dublin has inspired. The bricks of the streets and buildings were made not from cement and mortar but from words. On my first afternoon I walked along O’Connell Bridge seeing snapshots of Dublin’s history. Well travelled and well-versed scenes played out in contemporary versions. A young couple stood outside a convenience store, the teenage girl heavily pregnant. As she clutched her thin grey cardigan around her stomach, the father whispered sweet promises of economic stability in her ear. I stopped at the traffic lights, maimed characters standing on the other side. No longer do revolutionary one-legged men have to limp down cobbled streets, modern medicine replacing Roddy Doyle’s tales of peg legs.
I couldn’t help but look everywhere for signs of the great modernist writing Dublin has inspired.
Under the railway bride a man, thick grey beard and browning t-shirt, inked, lay on the floor. As a train clattered over my head I remembered the wavering candle in the pub last night, flickering wax pouring down its sides, solidifying and warming the dripping Dublin shower outside. The flame ignited the city of the dead, resurrected in the condensation of my pint glass. The man on the ground, a soul now, is lost to a communion of his own. He was feeding bread to some pigeons. The birds covered his body, clawing at his head. They were no different from Joyce’s Dubliners, the literary dregs asking for one more crumb, last orders, closing time. In this twilight city, night is day, the alley is home, the dark rooms never close. Hierarchy has been distorted, the birds have come down from the sky, picking at men at the bottom, written in the creeds of the past as if they were at the top.
Lost in worn out paragraphs I headed for a drink. As I opened the door to Kehoe’s I walked straight into another previous chapter. I sat at the bar and ordered a Guinness. The bartender was a short man with noticeably square shoulders. He took his job with an air of professionalism. There were several other men wandering mysteriously in and out of back rooms lining the side of the bar. A few appeared to be carrying suitcases, contents unknown. One sported a velvet jacket complete with top hat.
I nursed my pint, drinking in the dark-brown wood stalls with tiny corrugated glass windows. At the far end of the counter a man peered over the horses in the paper. He held a strange implement over the pages, a magnified glass equip with tiny spotlights in the frame for optimum viewing. These were the shadows, coming to light for the Saturday afternoon races. The place began to fill up with a wedding party. I slipped away into the dusk to catch my plane.
Light-headed, exiting the dwelling I recalled how full Dublin is of the everyday epiphany, the tiny revolutions that keep the spirit alive. Despite the weight of its history, it’s the broken visions and unintelligible images that create a city not asking to be solved. When put together, it asks only to be experienced in all its tiny and inconsequential detail.