Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Dublin Town

Actually, before I continue with my adventures, I want to say a few things about Dublin as a whole. I was thinking about all of this while wandering around that first day, and I've had time since to talk to my fellow students and even to some Irish people. It took me until today, actually, to successfully answer the question “What do you think of Dublin?” with something that both sounded positive and didn't make me feel dishonest.

The word that came out (the person asking was an overly friendly museum guard) was “exciting.” I was pretty satisfied with that. It's true, it leaves out what I dislike without necessarily implying it's not there, and it's a compliment that's also a little bit of a euphemism.

It's not that I dislike Dublin. I'd be quite content to spend a little more time here, especially now that I'm starting to learn my way around and am not constantly frustrated. I'm definitely planning to come back up for a weekend at some point during the semester.

But I'm not enamored of it, either. Dublin is a dreary, Old World New York, a city of crowds and litter and buses and concrete. I had been warned that it's packed with tourists; I was completely unprepared for the reality of it. London is much the same: sprawling, grey, packed with people and traffic everywhere you look, constantly busy-but I still love London, or I did when I was fourteen, at any rate. I really think the tourists there, and in NYC as well, are less obtrusive somehow than here. Maybe they are more concentrated in smaller areas, or maybe there are simply more natives to balance them out, but I don't think I've ever felt quite as much as though every single person around me on the street was a visitor.

Dublin is also not an attractive city. There are beautiful buildings, certainly, and vast Georgian neighborhoods* that are, again, much like London and New York. There are also places and things that remind me somewhat of Paris-great grey stone buildings in an architectural style that currently escapes me, old-fashioned street lamps, wide pedestrian streets and broad avenues line with monuments, carefully planned gardens alongside wild natural-ish woods alongside neat rows of planted trees in the city parks. But on the whole, there is nothing I find particularly special about Dublin in the visually appealing sense. Simply looking around has largely ceased to interest me, and was never as exciting as I normally find it to be in cities.

The mighty Liffey, too, is unimpressive. It would hardly compete in the same class as the Lehigh.

There are things I like about Dublin, too. I've already mentioned that there are a lot of things to see and places to go, and there are the odd parts of the city (though not as many as I expected) that have retained their pre-modern-urban-planning feel in medieval architecture and narrow cobblestone streets. If I had the money and the time to eat everywhere I wanted, I might never leave. And while Dublin is a city filled with stone and concrete and hurrying people who don't see one another, it is also a city of history and books and coffee, all of which are everywhere you look and all of which are things of which Dubliners seem to be quite proud. On some level, I don't really ask for much more than that.

I'd never want to live here, though.

And honestly, if after I visit again later this fall I've seen everything I really want to see, I'm not sure I'll ever really feel a tug to come back here. I have enjoyed this time (mostly) and I want a bit more, but Dublin has failed to make me fall in love with it. And I fall in love with almost every place I go.

To Cork tomorrow. I was warned ages ago that Cork is a drab, shabby, tired, post-industry city; not the best or most exciting place for students. Its natives (and a couple of transplants), on the other hand, cannot praise it enough, and the Southwest is allegedly the most authentically Irish part of the island.

So we'll see.

As a side note, since both of these last two posts have had titles lifted from “The Foggy Dew” (which has been stuck in my head since Fiona the tour guide's grand finale lecture last week about the Easter Rising), on one of the many tour buses I've been on since my arrival I heard a rendition of that song that I found very interesting by comparison. I, of course, grew up on Sinead O'Connor's version (backed by The Chieftains). This lady was far less dramatic about it, and I laughed when she clearly referred to “Britannia's sons”… because that is not at all what Sinead calls them.

* the colorful doors of which are such a big deal to Dubliners that they are pointed out by tour guides and featured on postcards

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