Trainsleeping worked well: after a big Irish breakfast, we were awake and ready for exploring. “Let’s Go Guide to Western Europe” is worth its weight in gold: this book adequately provided our only map for the trip and plenty of useful advice, from what to see to where to sleep and even how to talk like a Dubliner.
As most cities do, Dublin has a rich share of historic sights. Trinity College was stuffy but nice, a preened campus with a lot of history that still seemed lively. Most impressive at Trinity was The Book of Kells, a really old but exquisitely illustrated copy of the Gospels. Maybe it’s just a healthy way to exercise secret agent yearnings, but I’ve been getting a kick out of sneaking photographs of areas where cameras aren’t allowed. Turn off the flash, keep it low while you shoot, and you can get pictures of just about any artifact, including Scotland’s crown jewels and a book from the ninth century. Next was Dublin Castle, which had a sweet garden but paled in comparison to Edinburgh’s fortress. Christ Church Cathedral’s highlights were a mummified cat and mouse, and St. Stephen’s Green provides a pretty, large park.
My favorite thing about Dublin was Grafton Street. While ritzy stores line it, the real attraction’s free: I saw double-digit street performers in just a few hours. The AC-DC tribute guitarists and solo R&B dancer were of questionable talent but definite comic value. Several little boys probably outearned their exploiting parents, singing traditional Irish songs in high little voices. Sounding as if they should be on the radio instead of the street, guitar and assorted-other-instrument ensembles sounded great.
Most interesting was the Canadian stuntman. From juggling fire to laying on a bed of nails, he pulled off cool tricks flawlessly. On the other hand, he screwed up common sense stuff. Most magic included yelling at his volunteers from the audience, and he also cracked stupid jokes in between a laugh that sounded more like someone clearing his throat. Worst of all, he was a beggar and chooser: a long speech detailed donation expectations of 20 euros ($22) or 10 euros ($11) and with a minimum of 2 ($2.20): “if you can’t spare 2 euros, you obviously need it more than me.” A skilled artist, goofy little eccentricities are hurting his earnings.
An “Irish solidarity with Palestinians” campaign really made me think. During polite discussion with one of the supporters as a lady of at least 70 yelled about Jesus, I mentioned something about the Camp David negotiations. I don’t know very much about the complex issue, but my understanding is that Israel offered more to the Palestinians than they ever had and that Arafat’s rejection of this offer combined with his failures to crack down on terrorism cast serious doubt on his legitimacy as a negotiating partner. To this, the demonstrator denied that Israel had seriously made a record-setting offer, called the American media biased, and labeled Israelis “the real terrorists.” Drastically different views about even basic facts, even though we’re from fairly similar cultures and speak the same language. Sheds some light on how misunderstandings large enough to start wars are possible…
Pat Ingoldsby is a cool old man. I saw his books on the street before him: he’d wandered away for awhile. Upon returning, he said something in Gaelic to a much younger woman; she laughed then left. “I just told her the most dirty thing!” Pat says, turning to me, a total stranger, and explaining the dirty limerick of a poem he’s just recited. I browsed his books of poetry awhile as he made friendly conversation, explaining how the police have hassled him and how ridiculous it is that they want him to get a vendor’s license. I tried to buy a book; not having exact change, I gave him an extra pound. He then insisted that I take a poster, too. Unable to decide between the 2, I gave him more money and told him I’d buy both. My attempt to buy 1 book turned into a purchase of a book and a poster with another poster and a tape of children’s poetry thrown in for free. Wanting to remember this old beat poet, I asked Pat if I could take his picture. Showing me a poem about how he wants to shove cameras up peoples’ arses when they take his picture without asking, he happily obliged. We shook hands and I was off, having met a real-life Bozo, the pavement artist from Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London,” a happy hippie harassed in but loving Dublin.