[…Dublin, Ireland June 10, 2011…]
They gave me a room on the 4th floor overlooking the Liffey river. It’s one of those windows that does not open all the way in case some nutcase wanted to jump. Definitely no jumper here, just wanted to see if the barrel of my lens would squeeze in through the gap, and it wouldn’t. Too bad, because I have a nice view, and although it has some blind spots, it still gives me a decent visual sweep of the south bank which seems to contain most of the attractions. I have the three-masted Jeanie Johnston ship almost directly below me, the Sean O’Casey bridge to the right, and Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett bridge is not too far downstream.
I’ve been skeptical about the weather since I got here. It looks like two different stories written in the sky. It has been sunny for the most part, with passing rain showers at least once a day. On the third day though it was just unforgiving rain – a bitter reminder of how photographers are always at the mercy of the weather. It is also a true test of one’s faith; I seem to pray more often when it rains.
They say Dublin is a compact city, but walking down the length of the Liffey, it seemed endless. I’ve lost count of how many bridges there are in between the Samuel Beckett and the James Joyce bridge, which is at least 3-kms apart. At first I decided to explore the city by zone, but eventually it became too easy – once I set on foot, I just kept going. If there were more places in between that piqued my interest, it would probably have taken me longer to scope out one area, but there was hardly any. At least, nothing that wasn’t too touristy or where I don’t have to dole out any euros for what would turn out to be an overrated attraction.
Since Ireland is predominantly Christian, over 80% of which are Catholics, there are many churches here – St. Patrick’s Cathedral being the most popular one. And in the middle of all these is where a different congregation gather for something other than bread and wine.
The Temple Bar, which if you come to think of it are 2 words that make up an oxymoron, is where the giddy tourist can pick up a pint of stout for about 5 euros. I knew what to expect of Temple Bar, and it was one of those things I had to do although I knew it would benefit me none. It’s part of Irish culture after all. Indeed, if you don’t drink or if you didn’t come to Dublin for work or photography, I really don’t see how you can last 3 days here feeling like you’ve accomplished anything.
I was looking for a place to have a late lunch on my third day, and decided to try one of those nondescript-looking pubs at the end of O’Connell bridge. Dripping wet from the rain, I entered the eerily quiet – save for the TV softly playing a soccer game – and musty room. It looked like a scene cross between a saloon from an old Western movie and Moe’s Bar from The Simpsons. Apart from the male bartender, there were 3 other men inside who all looked at me as I entered: one straight ahead with a half-empty pint and a crumpled Irish Times in his hand (I could tell this one’s been there awhile); an old man with a long white beard seated at the bar in front of the taps; and one on my right, an American tourist (sports jersey and cap a dead giveaway). I could feel their eyes follow me as I entered and found a seat by the window. I ordered my salad and coffee and minded my own business, but it was definitely not the most comfortable lunch I’ve ever had. Suffice to say, I would’ve been more invisible in a coffee house.
In fact, I did have a better experience at Bewley’s café in busy Grafton Street on my first day here. Enjoying a foamy soy latté and being surrounded by stained-glass Harry Clarke windows in a place once frequented by famous Dubliners like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey – who, by the way, are now all bridges as well – is more my cup of tea, or coffee. I don’t even mind the McCafé here, something I miss when I moved from Germany to England. The McCafé was a nice shelter during my first rain shower here in Dublin which lasted for half an hour on the first night. I sat by the large windows watching backlit golden rain beat heavily on the red bricks of Grafton Street and umbrella-toting folks splashing on the puddles of Wicklow Street. The famous busty Molly Malone at the end of the street would probably be tourist-free by now, but somehow I doubt it. Every time I pass by her, she’s never alone.
Maybe that’s why it’s green so much here because it rains a lot. St. Stephen’s Green lives up to its name. I was there on day one, watching evasive ducks glide across the pond and kids pelting them with hard stale bread among other things. Never have I seen a park adorned with so many statues, it feels like you’re being watched as you stroll around the 20+ acre park. But then, there’s also shopping all over in case you’ve had enough of the parks or the churches or would rather spend your money on something more substantial than a pint of stout.
Dublin, without a doubt, makes its presence known via sight and sound. It’s not architecturally impressive compared to its European counterparts, but it does have a nice collection of Georgian townhouses, which if you can get past the pubs you’ll see. Then there’s the eye-catching yellow city buses, and as I’ve mentioned the many statues and monuments, that make the city visually busy. And as for sound, other than the pitter-patter of the rain, the cacophony of mumbles and slurs from drunken folks, there’s also the constant sirens wailing from police cars and ambulance that race across the city all through the day. In fact, on my first night here, as I have just returned to the hotel from night shooting, I watched 5 fire trucks, an ambulance and a police car pull up below my window. Their attention were all directed towards the river, and I could only guess that someone might have fallen there. I never saw them pull out a body or found out what happened, but it was a topic of discussion in the breakfast room the next morning.
There’s never a dull moment in Dublin, if you choose to look at it that way. And lest one forgets, there’s also rich history here, although sometimes a bit overshadowed by glamorized touristy venues such as Temple Bar or O’Connell and Grafton Streets. As a writer, I am more interested in literary Dublin. I find it impressive that such a small city can produce so many prolific writers like Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and the few I mentioned above. No wonder they have so many monuments here, there’s a lot of Dubliners to honor, and rightfully so. The Celtic monks from centuries ago are also great testaments to Irish literary talent. The Book of Kells, a lavishly-decorated manuscript of the 4 gospels of the Bible which the monks have written in Latin, are preserved in Dublin’s Trinity College. It was not on my agenda only because I wasn’t willing to get in queue or pay to see it.
As a photographer, I came here for the bridges. Although they pale in comparison to the bridges I’ve already seen, I still want to think that each of them has a potential to be great. Perhaps in the right light they’ll look extraordinary.
I was sitting at the boardwalk by Ha’Penny bridge waiting for the light when two girls stopped to talk to me. Both beaming with big smiles, they asked me where I was from and if I was enjoying my visit. They were genuinely friendly I could tell, and I was delighted to have been given some of that famous Irish hospitality. It’s nice to know that you can feel at ease here in Dublin, whether you’re in a pub with a glass of Guinness in your hand, or outside sitting by the bridge alongside empty beer bottles and 2 sleeping drunks on the other end of the bench.
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