Finding the Art in Everything

29 June, 2010

D is for Dublin

From Ireland 2009

A year ago I was in Dublin, completely alone. But no one is ever alone for long in Dublin. It is, by far, the most hospitable city I know. I had never been there and knew no one, but it never felt like that was the case.

A corner cop helped me locate my hotel, The Pembroke House. It's around the corner from the American Embassy, and it had an Italian concierge who laughed and smiled the way Italian men do at American women, but he also made sure I came back safely that night.

I walked all the way to Temple Bar to find a place that served food in the evening. Irish pubs, unlike English pubs, have kitchens with very limited hours. Touristy Temple Bar made dinner a possibility, it also made watching the USA-Brazil World Cup Qualifier with my countrymen, and Irishmen, a possibility. Dempsey and Donovan both scored and we were up at the half, which is NOT like anything we've seen in the World Cup itself. Guinness, football, "live music" by a cover-playing troubadour, friendly bartenders, and cheering work magic on the self-consciously alone. It was also my first taste of the Dublin magic that made it seem I had been there already before.

My first morning, I walked to Insomnia coffee on my way into the city. I was reading Paul Johnson's Ireland: A History when I was interrupted by Martin, "You're American, then?"
Damn. I was trying to blend in. "It's not you're fault, I lived in the States for years, I can spot an American with no trouble." I know. That's how I am with English people. I call it UKdar. I guess his would be USAdar.

I swear I am not making this up: Martin, a little younger, maybe, than my dad, worked for my dad's former company and knew my hometown. They knew some of the same people. Oddly, I felt like the fake, because all he was saying about his American experience was so familiar to me, he must have thought I was making up the points of commonality! Unlike Dublin, America is incomprehensible in size. How does someone meet a former Seagate employee and Bloomington MN resident an hour (ok, two if you count my lengthy morning routine) after waking up in a foreign city? It's Dublin.

The next day, I went to the National Gallery of Art. Now, I like to be alone in galleries. I wanted to travel alone in the first place so I wasn't rushed or interrupted. But it's Dublin. So I met a man who's as much a fixture of the museum as the Yeats National Collection, volunteer guard, Noel Clarke from Co. Sligo. He had to be 70 yrs old. His was the best small talk I've ever heard--polite chit-chat otherwise meaningless but for its ability to convey such genuine warmth. He says "there ought to be enough space in this world for people to say 'hello' to each other." He said he didn't know a thing about art, but he did know the stories of the paintings. His kind of hospitality with a worldwide presence in Art Museums would improve everyone's opinion of both art and museums.

I also met Barry, from High Fidelity--I mean, from Road Records, Dublin's installment of Championship Vinyl. His name was really Barry. He recommended a couple of cds and directed me to the indie music site, Whelan's Pub, that had previously hosted Damien Rice, Snow Patrol, and Glen Hansard. So the next night, I joined Dublin's open-mic singer-songwriter scene for the evening, even though I was the only one in the crowd who couldn't play the guitar and wasn't Irish. I made friends with a nurse, named Moira, who invited me to a pub "up the road" after the show. One difference between a folk night at Wheelan's and one at The Social: the whole place was drenched in sincerity. Folk-indie music fans everywhere, and not a smug hipster in sight. Half the perfomers were pretty good, half weren't, but no one was too cool to be there. Moira ventured it was because Dublin was so poor for so long, that no one learned how to put on pretense. Sincerity and friendliness were innate to the culture. Any Singer-songwriter scene has an intense localism to it - you know the ones that belong to your city, that you can see. In Dublin, it was all the lovely localism but, for me, none of the nativism.

The show ended early and I walked home, only to be drawn into another pub where trad music spilled onto the street. The bar had a dozen pints of Guinness in a line, already half pulled, just begging someone to come request the rest. What's more welcoming than that? The source of the music was half a dozen musicians around a table in the corner, who finished up their tune, then introduced themselves to each other. They had just made great music together as total strangers! The anthem of Dublin hospitality! I stood with a stomping, clapping crowd until the pub closed.

Truly, no one is alone in Dublin.

My Dublin Top-five:

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