Monday, March 7, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Dublin Day 2: The Dead Ringer

Our second full day in Dublin started off with a brisk walk and only progressed from there. Another 10.17 miles (yes, miles) later, we are finally back in the room to relax, sleep, and read some James Joyce. But experiencing the cathedrals of Dublin definitely gave me some perspective on just how old and storied this city is, on both sides of the wall. Plus, we got to see a mummified cat and rat, and ring some little old bells in the tower of Christ Church. Not such a shabby day. 

We departed the hotel at exactly 9:05 to arrive at Dublin Castle State apartments, the home of the Office of Public Works. It was about a thirty-minute walk, but we went through Grafton Street, one of the most popular shopping destinations in Dublin. Once at the castle, we received Heritage Cards so that many of the historical sights in the country are free for us to tour. We took some photos of the castle itself, though the official tour will not be until Wednesday. I cannot wait to see the medieval sections of the structure and get to be inside the cathedral, along with the underground portion of the River Poddle. 

Next, we walked a roundabout way to the back of Christ Church Cathedral and passed by the Handel Hotel. Handel’s Messiah was first performed here, so there is a hotel and a plaque dedicated to the historic show. Can you handle that?! We also walked through a set of sidewalk plaques that illustrate certain artifacts left by the Vikings who settled Dublin. There was even a section of the sidewalk that used stones to show the shapes and sizes of buildings or structures that were unearthed during modern construction and excavation a few years ago. I thought this was a really cool way to remind not only tourists, but the residents of Dublin what came before them. We then left Christ Church after getting some initial photos and glances, but would return later for our 1PM guided tour. 

Temporarily saying goodbye, we continued on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the surrounding park. I strolled around the green park, watched the fountain bubble and the dogs run, and walked the little writer’s lane—a commemorative series of plaques denoting the various authors of Dublin origin. I finally got to see some Wilde! The cathedral itself is so huge that it was hard to get it all in one picture. In fact, I think I still failed. Each part has been so intricately thought out and executed that it is absolutely a piece of art. The Gothic style will never cease to amaze me. And if I thought the outside was cool, the inside was stunning. Vaulted ceilings true to the medieval period, and a collection of knightly coat of arms flags to rival any I’ve seen. Helmets lined the choir stalls in correspondence with each flag, all of them weathered but still impressive. The whole building is laid out in a cross, so there are multiple side chapels that have both sanctuaries and tourist activities. We saw the old organ enclosed in a display and an amazing spiral staircase. And on the opposite side, there was a counter to try brass rubbing! The molds were mostly saints, but I found the two praying knights to be the most enticing. I did pretty well, but the wax wasn’t quite soft enough to get a perfect etching. Even so, I am still so happy I got to make one. The whole time we were there, an organist was practicing softly in the background. It was quite the experience, even if it wasn’t guided.

After our first church, we walked back to the second one. We arrived just as the priest was starting a peace service, so we all ended up shaking his hand and receiving peace before our guided tour. It was nice to know that someone, however mildly, was looking after me. The tour explained a lot about the architecture of the church and the artifacts housed in it, such as the gold eagle lectern, the Romanesque pulpit, old organ, and the various treasures in the crypt. Being down in the tunnels was a treat, since we got to view not only gold plates and old books, but we got to see the mummified cat and rat that got stuck in the organ! It was really cool. Once we got a quick bite to eat, a cup of tea, and some postcard souvenirs, we got to make the ascent up the narrow, steep set of stone stairs that leads to the roof and bell tower. The climb was worth it, because we not only got to see Dublin from the roof of the church, but we all got to take a turn ringing the bells! That was the most fun thing I have done this entire trip. It was exhilarating to know that I was ringing the bell to the entire city. What an experience. We quickly made the decent back down, which was precarious, but ended well. An amazing time at Christ Church! I would absolutely recommend the guided tour—our leader was incredibly knowledgeable about everything from Tudor era British monarchs to the contents of the Washington DC museum to famous Irish actors. And he made a lot of puns, which just always makes my day better.

When the tour finished, the professors dismissed us to do as we pleased. Despite being very hungry before the muffin (aka lunch), we actually skipped any more sustenance and instead opted to use the time to explore. Diana and I followed some people to go see Molly Malone, or, as most people call her, the Tart with the Cart. All of the famous sculptures in Dublin have degrading names, so she is not alone. However, there is a logical reason as to why she is called a tart: it is apparently good luck to rub her—generously exposed—chest. I mustered all my courage and placed a single finger, only in the name of good luck. I certainly hope it comes—I feel as though I will be harboring embarrassment for a while.

We ditched Molly and the rest of the students after hitting Grafton Street, and went on up Kildare Street to see some of the more tourist-oriented shops. The sweater store looked amazing, and ships packages for only €15 each. However many sweaters fit, they are yours to ship to the US. That’s a bargain over the €40 charge at Guinness, but I suppose that should be expected. I’ll absolutely be back there to buy some sweaters for everyone I know. A door down was the House of Names, where I inquired about the name Harty for my friend Sean (Patrick Harty, the most Irish American lad to grace our campus). So far, I had been unable to find anything with his name on it. In fact, I was starting to doubt that his name was actually even Irish. But I asked the man if he had anything on the name, and he said he would look it up on the computer. Boom! A hit! An explanation of meaning, territories located, prominent ancestors, and a description of the coat of arms all comes on a fancy sheet of paper, which I will give to Sean when I get back. He’s Irish, it’s okay! Finally, we walked back up Grafton Street to our hotel, where Diana bought us some beautiful red tulips for our room. Our feet were tired and our bodies weary, but we were invigorated with the sense of adventure. Exploring was never easy for anyone.

Dinner was great again tonight! We got broccoli, among other things like tomato basil soup, baked hake “fillet” (pronouncing the et rather than ending it the French way, who needs that?), and a delicious Bailey’s chocolate cream cake. I could not finish the whole thing, but it was absolutely worth trying.

After dinner, our music professor had those interested lined up to go to a pub for some live music. I could not wait! Finally, I have been to a session. I absolutely loved my first experience with traditional Irish music, along with the unbelievably talented musicians behind it. Our professor initially warned us that many of the sessions end up being tourist attractions, so they are really just performed versions of the real thing so that foreigners can feel as though they are immersed in “true” Irishness. I knew this from prior research as well, along with knowing that outright filming or photos is considered disrespectful to the players. I was on guard, but still open to having a good time no matter what we heard. Once we settled in to the cozy pub (aptly called Mother Reilly’s), however, we knew we were in for a great night. The ceilings were so low that the guys had to slouch a little bit. The rooms sprouted off of the main bar area like little tunnels, opening up into stone caverns that held warm fireplaces, soft lighting, and—of course—fantastic pub décor. I refused a Guinness once more and went with something called a Bulmer’s; think hard apple juice that has an intense amount of carbonation. Not as horrible as Guinness, but also not something I would want to consume every day. Worth trying, however, since it is apparently a famous on-tap drink around Dublin.
Once the musicians started arriving, I got my hopes up. At first, there were only three musicians: one banjo player, a tin whistler, and a piper. Small in number but mighty in sound. Then, more and more people started trickling in—another piper, this one much younger. A guitarist and a bódhran player, who borrowed his instrument from another drummer who came in at the same time. The owner of the drums quickly became one of our favorite players, simply for his vibrant participation and obvious passion for the muic and the technique of playing. He lived the music, he played with the blood. Those things are important to note, and also important for musicians to indicate to other musicians. He and the guitar player sat opposite each other, and would repeatedly and randomly start dancing and adding flair to their melodies. Improvisation is a large part of session music, and I knew that going in. But I did not realize how evidently and wonderfully it would be communicated and performed.

A second later, a female flautist followed timidly, but ultimately joined in as well. Another woman who ended up playing both the flute and the harp came in next, and the group rounded out soon after with the arrival of the elderly fiddle player. We saw his case and immediately knew it would be a violin. But of course, I have to keep things interesting. So when I saw the end of the actual violin creep out into the doorway, I affirmed enthusiastically, “I see a scroll!” He added lilts to the melodies that mimicked the pipers and made me smile despite myself. Those bent notes may not be much to some people, but they make any song I hear better. A little bit of spontaneity and expression never hurt anyone. That is one of the reasons I love the fiddle so much more than the “violin”.
Even our professor was impressed with the quality of the music. When he said the session was a 7 out of 10, I was over the moon. Our first session, that high on the ranking scale? And in Dublin, the most commercialized section of Ireland? Nothing could top that. Absolutely nothing. Sorry there are no pictures to commemorate this momentous occasion or the music that drove it, but I stayed true to my word and didn’t even try to shoot. It is forever nestled into my brain and my brain alone, but I encourage everyone to get out and try it some time. Nothing compares to sitting in a warm pub, facing musicians doing what they love, in a room just bright enough to see them. An incredible and unforgettable experience. I cannot wait to go again.

photo credit Diana Cleveland

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