Friday, December 3, 2010

Fare Thee Well, Dear Anna Liffey

I don’t think there is much of interest to you about my most recent Saturday in Dublin, the day before the odd bus tour of my last post. I woke up early and availed myself of a truly impressive continental breakfast in the hostel before walking to the Collins Barracks Museum of History and Decorative Arts (or something like that). I went there back in August with some of the other IFSA Butler kids, but very briefly and I wanted to see the rest of it. I got there right after it opened for the day and stayed for almost three hours*, after which I walked back up the river to Temple Bar, where a really neat outdoor food market was underway. (I ate grilled lamb meat on a stick and bought a pecan tart that looked like it might measure up to my mother’s but sadly did not.) That afternoon I revisited the National Museum of Archaeology, just to take a closer look at the Viking exhibit since I kind of got rushed through last time and since I’m now taking an actual Viking archaeology class. By the time I was done with archaeology (which took a surprisingly short time because it’s a small museum and I was just there a couple of months ago), I still had about an hour before the museums closed for the day, so I went around the corner to the natural history museum, a.k.a. “The Dead Zoo.”

Ireland’s National Museum of Natural History is an interesting place. It’s a very small building and it’s called the Dead Zoo because the only exhibits are of stuffed animals. Most of them have been there forever. The museum opened in (I think) the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and basically hasn’t changed since then. Most of the displays and the labels are exactly as they’ve always been. Specimens are mostly grouped with others they’re at least vaguely related to, but sometimes there seem to be multiple groupings in the same case that don’t really go together at all. (The ground floor, which is all Irish animals, is a bit more consistent in this regard than the exotic animals section upstairs, where, for example, there is one case that has a family of lions side-by-side with an assortment of South American monkeys.) Also, a fair number of specimens are just mounted heads hanging along the walls and around the support columns.

On the one hand, this is pretty neat. I like old things. I like seeing how things used to be, and keeping them that way where it’s practical.**

On the other hand, I do think there are some problems with it from a museums-are-for-educating-the-public standpoint. Species names and classifications sometimes change, and I definitely noticed some labels that are either outdated (i.e. a name that isn’t used anymore, or a subspecies that’s no longer recognized) or not very specific.*** (And since I’m not a biologist, if I noticed some… God knows how many there actually are.) There was also a specimen or two that I’m pretty sure represent species that are now extinct, but which are still mixed in with everything else with no indication that that’s the case. So I guess we’ve found the point at which I stop being in favor of avoiding change just for the sake of preservation.

However, something encouraging from the frontlines of the war on ignorance: More than once during my museum adventures that day, I heard parents actually gently correcting their children when they announced something that was wrong, or explaining something to their children that was actually correct. So often I just get depressed and angry overhearing conversations in situations like this, because it’s obvious the parents are just as uninformed/misinformed/just plain stupid as their kids and end up reinforcing their wrongness instead of teaching them something (or, God forbid, reading a sign and learning something themselves). It’s really nice to know there are people out there who do value knowledge.

Unfortunately, that good feeling was slightly dampened by my acute awareness that Irish children are just as obnoxious as American children, and Irish parents apparently no more interested than their American counterparts in attempting to teach their children that different situations call for different standards of behavior—e.g., use your inside voice, or better yet, just shut the hell up once in a while.

I don’t hate children. I hate badly behaved children. Just like I hate poorly-trained dogs. In both cases it’s not their fault; it’s the fault of the person responsible for teaching them manners.

Of course, there are plenty of rude adults in museums, too, and I’m not sure I can believe that they just don’t know any better.

Moving on. That evening I think I just hung around my hostel. The next night, after my day trip, I went to a pub around the corner for trad music and what I’m pretty sure is the best whiskey ever made. It was a personal goal this semester to find a whiskey I like at least as much as (and preferably better than) Jameson that’s not prohibitively expensive. Success. Massive success. It’s a little more expensive than would have been ideal, but it’s not outrageous and it’s so good I don’t even care. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to obtain even here. I’m hoping to hunt down a bottle before I come home, but I may not be able to outside Dublin. Sigh. At any rate, I thought that was a pretty good way to end what was potentially my last trip to the first part of Ireland I saw.

I said when I left it the first time that I’d be content never to go back to Dublin once I’d seen what there was to see. Now that I’ve done that, it turns out I was wrong. I have a soft spot for it after all.

I’m still not sure I’d ever want to LIVE there, though.

* More than a third of this was spent in a single exhibit: “The Way We Wore”—roughly three centuries of clothing styles. Conclusion #1: I really need to get back on friendly terms with a sewing machine. Conclusion #2: Wherever I find myself after college, I really need to find myself a theatre company to work for.
** Alternative sentence: I have a pathological aversion to relatively minor changes that can’t be undone. Specifically, changes that involve undoing something, like putting away a puzzle you spent hours putting together. So leaving displays exactly the same for decades kind of works for me.
*** “Tapir.” Right… that’s nice. You know there’s more than one kind, right?

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