Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 13, 2009

Things about Dublin that we find entertainingly different, yummy, or otherwise remarkable:

I will start with Bill, whose list is by far the longest. As a meatatarian with a foodographic memory, he liked the Meat Pies, commented most lovingly on the Donegal Lamb Pie and Shepherd's pie at Foley's pub. However, as he has pointed out, we are on the Euro diet. Since everything costs 2.5 times more than it would back home, and we are currently eating every single meal at a restaurant, we've become much more conscious of eating light. It would be a damn shame to have to slink home with our tails between our legs earlier than we had planned because we spent all of our money in our first three days on Guinness and meat pies.

Speaking of Guinness, and money, Bill is a fan of Free Beer Samples at the bar. When I asked for something lighter than Guinness (what exactly would not be lighter?) the very sweet waitress offered me something she said would be "just like Budweiser." I grimaced, and she offered me a sample. It was absolutely perfect beer, just like my favorite Coney Island brew back home at The Gate. There was as little resemblance between it and Budweiser as between Trinity College and Hudson Valley Community College.

Bill was also a big fan of Kilmanham Gaol, Dubin's historical prison. He loved it despite that fact that our official tourguigde Cieran, that graying redheaded Gaelic-speaking Irish crazy-serious man couldn't quite get Bill's sarcastic jokes about the differences between the Victorian panopticon architecture and the lack of natural light back at Riker's Jail Complex. Cieran seemed to think that Bill was a prison administrator, and tried to come up with nice explanations of why Riker's hadn't yet come to its senses.

Bill also very much liked all the signs reminding Dubliners to "Bin Your Gum. " It's hard to believe that gumchewing is their biggest issue (a giant stuffed bear mascot for youth suicide prevention strolling up and down Grafton Street, and all the strange shame-focused ads for how to get help if you are a victim of sexual abuse make one assume there are bigger fish to fry in terms of social issues.) But unlike suicide and rape, gum is an open topic of conversation. While we were at the Irish Jail Museum, a group of four slatternly dressed girls was waiting for the tour we just finished. Without the benefit of the tour guide's, well, guidance, they were snapping their gum like crazy. The chipper eager beaver at the front desk asked them to throw it away before the tour, and they remarked to one another, both chastened and smart-ass, "You'd think we were still in school."

Apparently, we are all quite still in school, unless we're in a bar. Irish culture seemed rulebound, both to Bill and to me: stuffy without being particularly stylish, and tidy without being actually attractive. Then we would duck into a pub, and an other-times upstanding man would fall straight out of his chair onto the floor of the bar. Without skipping a beat, the other patrons would get him a glass of water, rouse him back first to an agape-sitting posture, then to lean on a stool, and finally right back up on his seat like a trooper. The wife and mother-in-law jokes hardly ever stop, suggesting that the need for drunken release is more powerful than in some other places.

Of course, as a Park Sloper fully familiar with maternal control-freakishness and too many goddamn rules, I suppose I shouldn't talk. My own forays to the corner pub (I may have stumbled on the way home, but never fell on the ground, mind you) presumably have the same goal: getting me away from all those overbearing mothers.

Bill loves the sound of a walk signal. It begins with a Phaser sort of noise, as though you're in Star Wars or a Video Game. The phaser is immediately followed by a high-speed knocking Woodpecker sound when you get a green walk sign crossing the street. "Phieeew!" it shrieks out, then "dit dit dit dit dit dit…" all super fast. Somehow you're supposed to spirit your way across the narrow street in about 2 seconds worth of woodpecker, which we just couldn't do because of little misses not-paying-attention, but the ubiquitous public buses and zooming little Mercedes Tacsai's haven't killed us yet.

Finally, Bill and I share a deep fondness for the soundtrack we've been hearing since we arrived. Lots of rules, but great beer and great music. Starting last night at the pub, we heard "Kung Fu Fighting," a few Billy Bragg songs, then Katrina and the Waves's, "Walking on Sunshine, " which we instantly added to Love Handel's imaginary playlist. Today in the Queen of Tarts pastry shop, I teared up hearing John Prine's "Big Old Goofy World," morbidly imagining it playing at my own funeral, as there may be no song that better articulates my religious views.

Grace's observations were even quirkier than Bill's. She noted the similarities between Dublin and Brooklyn: both countries speak English, and while there aren't a lot of Americans here in Dublin, she felt there to be :"lots of fashion, but not as much violence and kissing as in Italy." Apparently she finds Donegal sweaters, "I Heart Dublin" T-shirts and raincoats to be fashionable.

Grace's other major observations had to do with her mother's lack of fun-ness, the extremely unjust earliness of her bedtime (apparently being dragged out of bed at 9:00 am does not make her adequately tired at 9:30 PM) and the fact that I have not upheld my promise, made as we were leaving summer camp together this year, to be "more like a counselor" and less like a grouchy old mom. Grace is quite frustrated by "the number of times a day you say no," although we in return are awful tired of the times she ignores us.

We have also quickly tired of keeping the children alive despite their tendency to drift to the edges of sidewalks and the tendency of buses to drive nearly on said sidewalks. Bill calls it "herding spacy cats with no sense of self-preservation," and I could not agree more.

Abigail's views were, as usual, straightforward and not unlike her mother's. I will quote her in the entirety of her comments, which took some doing to drag out at all: "Well, it's a very busy place. And the hotels are good. I love the rooms, that's what I like about it."

So what do I love? Not a short list, really.

First, breakfast: The Full Irish. Cheese Omlette. Yogurt with Rhubarb puree (this should receive the not-yet-created Nobel Prize for yogurt.) I also loved the blonde cook who found the girls gorgeous. It is extremely gratifying to me to have other people find my children irresistible, as it reminds me in turn to resist the urge to find them irritating.

I loved hopping the Dublin Bus Tour to the jail, although neither of today's (male) drivers were as funny or adorably self-depricating as yesterday's Shauna and her pleasant use of the conditional tense. ("If you liked the tour, my name would be Shauna. If you didn't like it, then my name would be Claire.")

At the jail, the sad Irish half-proud focus on failure was once again on display. "God Loves a Trier," our bus driver had asserted, and the jail tour's focus on the despicable social and political depredations of the English relative to the Irish kept bringing that home. The Irish seem proud of themselves for striving on despite it all. This constant drumbeat theme reminds me of home and a tendency of some of the New Yorker Irish I know best: although they will never quite give up, they seem to have a ready excuse and perhaps even a nice lilting ballad for every failed martyr you could hope to meet. All of you proud Irish in the crowd are now welcome to place me squarely in the category of arrogant bastards who have tried unsuccessfully to keep you down.

This tendency to celebrate one's own embattledness is so different from the American depth of affection for one's own success, and the belief that everyone else will succeed too, someday. American pride and hope seem so foolish in the light of Irish history and culture. Over the course of my two days in Dublin, I have heard three authoritative explanations of the meaning of the Green, White and Orange stripes of the Irish flag, and none of them seem to lead in the direction of good cheer:

Shauna of the adorable singing and conditional tense told us that the flag's stripes represent religions: Green for the Catholics, Orange for the Protestants, brought together in white peace at the center.

Cieran of Gaol, a big social and political history fan, told us that Green was for the Nationalists, Orange for the Loyalists, brought together in white peace at the center.

Then the least interesting of our tourguides (the only one to ask for a tip) told us that Green for the Irish Nationalists, Orange was for the Protestants, and White Peace was in the middle to bring them together.

In any of the three cases, it was clear as day what brought the Irish down: the British divided and conquered. Even right after the successful bid for Irish independence, the Irish immediately split themselves into factions and one half beat the other half into submission. Based on my extremely limited vision of Irish history, I would have to say that the hopeful slash of peace between the green and the orange is the place they will never quite meet, and it is that tension rather than that peace that makes Ireland what it is.

Back to lighter matters on my list of things I love. Although Grace may not believe it, I loved that we played freeze tag at St. Stephen's Green.

I loved The Queen of Tarts, best savory and sweet pies ever: Spinach, Brie and Pinenuts. Chicken and Stuffing Sandwich, Ham and Cheese with incredibly spicy mustard. Followed up by a Raspberry Cheesecake tart and a Lemon Meringue tart.

I loved my yoga nap when we limped back to the hotel for a few hours of afternoon ipod and television I made a few pathetic passes at cat-cow, quickly pulling myself into child's pose, then twisting back stretch, goddess pose and then right into Abigail's single bed to fall fast and fully asleep.

But what did I love best from the whole long day? Watching the girls brush their teeth from the back as they stood together at the sink -- hair glistening, wearing little Boden pajamas in yellow flowers and blue flowers, both almost the same height, skinny and tall and strong as hell. Backlit in a bathroom tiled in dark brown. I could not believe that these were the children I had made. This is the image I will remember from this cave-like posh hotel room: their golden glistening near-Californian American loveliness as they brushed teeth and pulled out the hair bands holding their braids and pigtails, putting in their retainers and fighting us every second on the way to bed.

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