Ireland

(1)

The chassis touched the ground. The plane landed in a nearly nocturnal Dublin. To my surprise, nobody was waiting for me at the airport. Soon my surprise grew into embarrassment: wearied by a long flight I had no idea where I should go, and felt myself lonely and helpless, ready to start crying. A friendly Irishman, who seemed to be waiting for somebody, noticed my confusion and offered his help. This was the first time I encountered the true Irish character. My distrust, confronted by the strong stranger's willingness to overcome my discomfiture, had disappeared: the Irishman did a few phone calls, grabbed my luggage and told to follow him. I was like a puppy that had lost his mom: calmly trailing him, I was trying to match his big strides. While we were riding, the gray-haired savior was asking me about strange Russia, and even stranger Siberia. Ten minutes after I got a shelter - it was a small but very cosy hotel. My friend (I still think of him with gratitude) bluntly refused my offer to compensate for his help, wished me a good night, and disappeared through the doorway.

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Next day I got a permanent residence. This was one of the oldest educational institutions - Trinity College. The breath of antiquities fanned me as I stepped on its paved central yard. I felt it further as I was walking among cold-gray Victorian buildings with the pendent vaults of the columns. Again I experienced that feeling later when I came so close to the house where Joyce had lived and written. That house was on the Seaside Mountains that are washed by the waves (it was very windy that day). A light in the attic and the platform, where I was standing and from where I was looking down at the sea, were connected in my mind with Joyce's evening strolls long time ago, his thoughts and reflections, when the wind blew from everywhere, water splashed, and trees harked to the endless sea.

It was July, and few students were on campus. Sometimes in the evenings I heard their cries of joy, laugh, clappings and whoopings. Mornings were quiet and sad, though, very Russian.

A few days after my arrival I visited one of the most marvelous sights in Trinity - a very old library (which is also an exhibition) "Book of Kells", which narrated about ancient letters, books, and their history. The library amazed me with a great number of high shelves full of ancient books. They were everywhere. You would need a long ladder to get a book from the top shelf. The yellowed "Daily news" issues arranged in heavy volumes, printed in the beginning or in the middle of the 20th century, attracted my attention. I smelled antiquity, binding leather, perhaps, unexisting dust, and, old ink. Everything, including carved ceilings, was made of dark wood. Rare books and newspapers were kept under glass caps in order to keep them from overzealous tourists who are always eager to break the order. It seemed every book had found its shelter: the infinite space was in everything. An ideal depository of memory, history, and knowledge. I thought that books did not like density and crush.

Bru' na Boine was the first place I visited as I crossed Dublin's boundaries. Its age is supposed to be at least five thousand years, and it is famous all over Western Europe for its ancient stone burial places. Their rigorous majesty, solidity and shape charm you a lot. The Newgrange barrow, for example. Fully braided with greenery, it looks like a big closed marquee on the ground - you recognize a UFO in its shape. Feeling reverence and trepidation near this barrow, I stepped in and seemed to sink underground. There were a few burial-vaults inside, whose size depended on the status of the dead. I was a little bit terrified. The brave guide, telling about ancient rituals, took the stunned tourists to the tangled labyrinth. You could feel a similar thing watching the Egyptian Pyramids. My imagination took me to the outer worlds, and my eyes captured all the details which made me understand the secrecy of the universe. On leaving these burial-vaults, I could see green endless plains, stud with bushes and saplings. The museum is in a separate building. I could learn everything I wanted to know about Celts' life, food, and even their dwellings (looking like wigwams) there.

It was pouring cats and dogs when I paid a visit there; I was drenched to the skin while going back to the bus, but the driver's humor and his fast driving (which, I even think, are the common traits of all Irish taxi-drivers) warmed me up; so I had some stamina to break into Dublin's night life. Fortunately, I was living in the heart of the city, close to the crossroads of Grafton Street, Dawson Street, St Georges Street, and O'Connell Street (Dublin's main street), stuffed with pubs, restaurants, cafes, and night clubs. Irish culture of evening entertainment let me choose according to my mood. Clubs where folk music is normally played are oldest in the city. The majority of the public are in their forties; they know all songs by heart - people join in singing, slap, and often dance, drinking cold beer. It is often very funny there. The atmosphere of folk celebrations flourishes here. I called these places the heart of Ireland, its soul. I often noticed how tourists, who wandered into the pubs out of curiosity, finally started to sing and dance, dissolved in the environment of amazing music. I was tuned to a lyrical way of thinking, and intuitively decided to go to "Cafe en Seine" (Dawson Street, 40) - a unique mix of French, Eastern, and Irish cultures. Light music, good choice of alcoholic beverages, Eastern lanterns with their pale light, and tropical trees, densely filling the cafe, plus Irish hospitality and marvelous Irish coffee helped to relax and enjoy the evening. Live jazz concerts are often held there. Alone, I was sipping a cocktail and thinking of Russia when I heard the sounds of the well-known romance "Ochi chornye".

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If you want to jump into the rhythms of modern music and youth culture, you better go to the clubs like "Zanzibar" (Ormond Quay), "Sosume" (St Great Georges), "Bob's" (East Essex St.), "The George" (St Great Georges St.), "Pravda". The latter is a conventionalized reminder of Soviet Russia. The club interior is decorated with scenes from documentary films of the Soviet era. When I found myself there for the first time, I thought people who had created that place decided to save the memory of Russia being far away from it, but truly loving it. There I was offered real Russian vodka, though it is sold only in Russian shops. However, its absence is compensated by a large choice of beers. You won't find a more significant Irish tradition. The world-famous Guinness is a symbol, protected by "impulsive red-haired guys with blue eyes". Moreover, it is produced right there, in Guinness Brewery, which is a very interesting place. The exploration of this seven-store miracle, which the Irish are proud of (as proud as Russians are proud of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg), starts with an exhibition of a great number of beer brands. It stupefies you. Storefronts, filled with different cans and bottles of all shapes and ages, big mugs, badges, post cards, strange ware and complex crockery, only prove the truth of the saying I found in the museum's guidebook: "Guinness is an integral part of Ireland and the Irish people". I could watch the process of beer-brewing at this factory: I could touch, explore, read the history of Guinness on small wooden planks, watch TV-ads, and, finally, most terrific: a view from the roof of Guinness Brewery - you can see whole Dublin through glass walls and ceilings of the bar. Sipping my cold beer, I watched the city of Dublin at night through those glass walls.

Only well-known Irish Whisky can compete with beer. There is another small alcoholic miracle - Jameson Distillery (Bow St., Smithfield Village, Dublin 7). It is a whisky factory, which is also a museum, where the guides finish every excursion with an interesting ritual: five people are taken from the group, and are asked to taste different types of whisky telling to everybody if they like each one or not. The environment is very festive, and that's why quite entertaining; I got a certificate, which reminds me about that funny event, and especially the "after-testing dizziness". You can buy quite cheap and at the same time very good whisky down at the shop (Jameson, Bushmill, Paddy). All of them are of different extract and are complemented with clothes, accessories with logos, and miscellaneous stuff.

Hurling is a national type of football in Ireland - a very fast and exciting game, admired by everyone. There are a lot of fans on the streets during the match. All of them are waving the banners and blowing the whistles. Another wild passion in Ireland is horse-racing, which are held in the country and bring lots of gamblers together. They shout, get nervous, and gesticulate a lot watching every other heat. According to my friends, Ireland is the sole country where men with leather suitcases full of crispy notes circulating from those who lose to those who win, still exist.

To be continued...

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Copyright ╘ 2003 by Galina Chunayeva
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