Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lazy Fair

I think it was the only night I had a full eight hours of sleep, but I carried a vague sense of exhaustion anyway from the B&B up in Beaumont down the bus route to the city center. I thought I'd explore the dockland area near the mouth of the Liffey, an area I remember being run down, full of warehouses and factories and filth. Now it's home to international banks, accounting firms, and tech companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, earning it the nick name Silicon Docks.

Taken from the internet
I don't know if I remember the area correctly. I only ventured down there a couple of times to make a pilgrimage to Windmill Lane Studios, which was sadly demolished in 2015. I am fortunate to have been inside it while it stood, standing in front of U2's many platinum records hanging on the wall in one unforgettable night of my young life.

picture of a picture of a 22 year old

I never thought about those warehouses and factories down there when I walked around the area back then. I felt somewhat uneasy at times; there weren't many people and those I did see were mean looking to a 20 year old girl traveling on her own for the first time. There was nothing special about the area to me aside from the studio; the only photos I have are of that building. I didn't know how to see things, then. (I had a 33mm camera with film that was rather expensive to develop, so I really didn't know how to take photos, either, and pictures were at a premium. When I returned home from this trip, I got out my photo albums to look at the old Dublin pics and wow, what bad photography. I have a nice camera now and a much better eye, but I am still learning how to use it. I finally got the settings off automatic after I took a photography class in January, but now I need practice.)

I practiced at the famine monument.

Now look, every American with a drop of Irish blood (which is a ton of us - nearly 35 million, actually, seven times the population of Ireland and 11% of Americans) knows about The Famine. It's part of the trifecta of Irish things Americans know: famine, leprechauns, and St. Patrick's Day. Ugh. Throw in Riverdance and corned beef and cabbage and it's freaking Irish Disneyland.

Except none of it is correct, really.

You see, there was plenty of food in Ireland during The Famine. Actually, there wasn't just one famine, there were several, though it was the 1845-1847 one known as The Great Hunger that we all think of. It was the oppression of Catholic Irish by the British capitalists that led to mass starvation. The Brits exported thousands of tons of food at the time. Charles Trevelyan, the British Secretary of the Treasury and the man in charge of famine relief, believed there should be no interference in free trade, that the starving Irish were lazy and didn't deserve help, and that the famine was a mechanism for removing the surplus population.

God, doesn't that sound so familiar. Free trade, lazy poor people, get rid of undesirables...all beliefs of the Republican Party and the Trump regime. This mentality has real and deadly consequences.

They don't teach you this when talking about The Famine in America. They say it was all because of the potato blight. But a million people died and a million people emigrated because all the government cared about were "free markets." They lost half the population in a few years.

I found the juxtaposition between the famine monument and the development of the docklands to be striking.

UBS Financial Services building, one of the major companies that helps the rich avoid paying taxes across the globe
looking at a very different Ireland
in the background is the dome of the Customs House, in charge of exports now and at the time of The Famine
I wanted to cry.

I wanted to cry not just for the people who died in The Famine, though it really hit home. I wanted to cry for those who suffer still, who starve, who fight wars for food and water. I wanted to cry most of all because this is all preventable, it is all willfully allowed, it is done intentionally, without care for humanity. Poverty is a human creation.

I wanted to cry because it is happening right now in the United States of America, where 35 million people live because of the Irish famines that were allowed to happen to a people deemed undesirable by the free market capitalists. Those same people whose ancestors suffered so greatly, people like Paul Ryan, are now positioning themselves to let poor people die for the same free markets that let their own ancestors die.

For what? So they can hoard even more of the world's wealth? That's all they are. They are hoarders, like that television show, carrying the same mental disease as those who have to make paths in their small homes just to get to the toilet.

Then there is the ironic phenomenon of using The Famine as a tourist attraction. In Dublin, this ship gives you the "famine experience." There was a place in Donegal, too, that I saw a sign for, and there are a few other places across the island that are clearly geared towards Americans looking to claim their Irish roots.

"The Famine Experience"
I was stunned by all the development though I had known all about it.

This development? It benefits a few people. It helps for a time - it helped transform Ireland from a third world country to a wealthy one. But it helps to a point and then greed kicks in. That's when a people lose their soul. That's what happened to America. Quite awhile ago, I think.

glass and steel and concrete and no character
Back in those juvenile traipsing-through-Dublin days, they called the Irish economy the Celtic Tiger, characterized by high growth and low unemployment. Global conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation hailed Ireland as the quintessential model of successful laissez faire capitalism.

But you know what happened? The Celtic Tiger was shot by a hunter called Reality. Private finance had been given the power to make all the decisions in the country. Capital gains tax was reduced, regulations were lax, and low rates of income and corporate tax - a laissez faire wet dream - led to economic collapse. BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE TIME THE FREE MARKET CULT GETS ITS WAY.

There weren't enough taxes to pay for things, leaving the state vulnerable to economic shocks, so when the real estate bubble burst, everything fell apart.

Of course, if you talk to a laissez faire cultist, they'll blame the EU, corrupt politicians, or even the Irish for "too much partying." Because it's never ever the fault of their ideology.

EU structural funds are the reason that the Celtic Tiger was born in the first place.

There has to be a balance. Without balance, people starve, or fight, or destroy. When taxes are as low as the cultists want them to be, bubbles are created, and they always burst. Always. It took the IMF and the EU to bail Ireland out. Again.

It's pretty damn lazy to be such an adherent to an ideology that you refuse to think about any other possibility at all. But that's what religion is, and laissez faire is a religion full of merchants in the temple.

Yes, I really do think these things as I'm wandering around in my travels.

I continued to amble through the silicon streets, once made of mud, still made of mud under all that glitter, and found myself experiencing that vague sense of familiarity about my surroundings, despite all the new glass and steel in the area. I say it was vague, because it wasn't as it once was and it was not possible to recognize it. I only felt it.

I found myself at Windmill Lane, not knowing that the studio had been demolished.

Therein lies the fundamental problem with "development," something I recognized long ago in America. When you tear down iconic places, you tear down our identities.

Look, maybe this particular place meant something to me personally, but pick any place in any town and you'll find the same thing. You tear down old buildings to build a Walmart or an Applebees and create Anywhere, USA instead of My Hometown and there's nothing unique to make unique people. You take away people's childhood memories and they become just this ambiguous dream that melds pieces of real life with the transgressions of a memory plagued by Time. Photographs are no replacement for memory, either, because they become the sole representation of a particular memory, and all the things that happened around it are erased.

Jesus, when is our identity bubble going to burst?

After all this walking and reflecting and raging, I was hungry and in a mood to write things down, so I moved to the city center.

Here is an example of my lack of experience with manual camera settings. I could never get the photo I wanted. Too dark, too light, too out of focus, not the right depth. I need to go on another trip soon to practice.
Here is one I think I got right.
Dublin Castle
I liked the gardens, of course.
Hmm...a serpent in the garden...
Anonymous graffiti
Stopped in for a Bailey's coffee and a pint of Guinness
Stopped in for a pint at O'Neill's, where one of those wealthy British society types was blabbering about her charity work through mouthfuls of chardonnay
Crying "cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh"
After I'd had a few pints and a rest and my brain started to calm down a bit and the politico-economic agitations had subsided, I headed off to meet an old friend from college with whom I had studied abroad in Luxembourg and whom I hadn't seen in twenty years despite us both living in Washington forever now. I met her and her friend for dinner before we headed over to a U2 pre-concert day event in Temple Bar. I probably shouldn't have had that last pint, though...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

But sometimes you just need to exist

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. - Oscar Wilde

I had originally intended to take my time driving from the sea-bound hills of Malin Head to the sprawling town of Dublin for the last leg of my trip, but I was feeling a Guinness-induced exhaustion and decided I'd just stop for lunch somewhere along the way and drop off the car a day early. I had to return through Northern Ireland, specifically County Tyrone, where the O'Hagan (my ancestors) clan is from. Honestly, if I had seen a pub or restaurant called O'Hagan's, I would have stopped. But I didn't, and I really didn't see much of anywhere to stop until I got to Omagh.  By then, I was just ready to be in Dublin.

The car and I had never been friends. It never really took to driving; give it a hill and it would cry out from exhaustion, ready to quit as soon as we hit elevation. I think I angered it the first time I bumped a curb in my inexperience with driving on the right side of a car, and it never really forgave me. The man at the rental place had chuckled when he showed me the shifter, muttering "German cars" as I watched at how easy it would be to bump the thing into neutral as I was driving, though I never did for the fear of it. I imagined what the white Opel looked like as it chugged along the winding Irish roads as if it were racing a tortoise, jealous of the cars that passed it carrying owners that didn't threaten its existence. But hey, it got me there, and I never put a scratch on it.

Wow, did I make a mistake in booking the B&B I did. The car rental place was right across from Croke Park, where U2 would be playing, and I thought I'd walk to the B&B to learn the way in case a cab were hard to come by after the show.

An hour later, I was wet and pissed off and wondering if my entire time in Dublin would be ruined by the hotel's location. Yeah, it took that long to walk there. Yeah, I was tired and cranky. I dropped off my bag and took the doubledecker bus to the city to look for dinner, thinking about the previous night and wishing to find another great conversion, as the same could not be possible. I drifted across the Liffey from the Customs House area in awe of how many new buildings have been built where warehouses and filth once lay, remembering when the building first began, back when I was a kid and could walk an entire city in a day and remember every nook and cranny in the surface of things.

But I'm not 20 anymore and haven't been for quite awhile.

When you're not 20 anymore you can't walk for days on end and you can't drink the Guinness factory night after night and you can't remember the nooks and the crannies and you can't look innocently at things like the docklands and marvel at the construction without knowing that a mere few wealthy men are getting richer while no one else truly benefits outside the margins. When you're not 20 anymore you can see the inside of things rather than the surfaces and sometimes when your only memories are the surfaces the magic you once felt is lost completely. That's how I felt that first night back in Dublin, a sense of loss and a certain disconnect that was dispiriting. All I had ever wanted to do back in those days was live in Dublin; fate had not allowed it and time had taken my longing from me.

I ended up walking around Merrion Square with its colorful doors and remembered my own door in Washington and how I told Chris it reminded me of the doors of Dublin and I sort of missed home at that moment. I walked around and rediscovered the Oscar Wilde statue (above photo) and I thought about how they treated him and how one of the greatest literary minds the world has ever known was ruined by homophobia and religious nuttery, how he rotted away in a prison cell because he was gay, dying at age 46, a mere three years after his release, broke, depressed, and alone.

He had lived, and then when he couldn't live, he couldn't exist.

He would have been appalled at the dump they called "Oscar's Bar" across from his childhood house. At that point I was pretty hungry and ready to go into the first place I saw. Given that it was named for Wilde and that it was part of the hotel next door, I thought it might be a decent place to get some food and have a pint.

I should have left when I saw it was empty save for two tables of tourists. I should have left after I ordered a pint and had a bit of a rest. But no, I had to order some food. I thought I ordered a reuben. I guess I had been so tired I couldn't read. It was a reuben burger, like an actual hamburger, and it had pastrami, not corned beef, and it was so overcooked that it might as well have been any animal - it no longer tasted like beef. I left half of it on the plate.

Oscar Wilde's house
Disheartened and tired, I decided to return to the hotel - if I got a second wind there was a local pub I could go to down the street. I didn't go. I returned to the hotel and nearly went right to sleep. It wasn't a bad place to stay if you're an older person who hits the pillow at 10pm; the proprietors were nice and helpful and there was a commitment to cleanliness. That was the last night I'd be that old person...

Friday, July 28, 2017

Time Travel

The whole reason to travel is to meet people. Oh, sure, there are pretty landscapes, historic sites, food to eat, but none of those things matter if you aren't meeting people from the place you've traveled to. You don't really meet people when you go in those big tour buses with fifty other people. You don't really get much of anything doing that, except a smaller bank account.

I was staying in a place called Seaview Tavern in Malin Head, Ireland, when I had the most meaningful encounter of the trip. Malin Head is a lightly populated peninsula largely and thankfully ignored by tourists, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go there. I wanted to get away from everything. If only I had stayed three nights there instead of Portrush.

the view from the tavern parking lot

a lighthouse stands in the distance

the building in the middle of the pic is the Seaview Tavern

kites. perfect day for it. the tavern is in view between the houses

the road to the tavern

The trip from Portrush to Malin Head was more than two hours - maybe closer to three - along narrow, winding roads, but I wasn't feeling all that uncomfortable driving. The day was gorgeous. I found the border crossing odd in that the only indication you had crossed the border at all was a sign telling you that speed limit signs were now in kilometers per hour instead of miles. I am sure that is intentional.

When I arrived, I checked in to one of the tavern's three rooms and went to the beach. I had intended to explore the peninsula a bit and maybe check out Farren's, the "most northerly pub in Ireland," when my stomach had other plans. I was on the beach when I started feeling bad. At first I thought it was the Guinness I had had the night before, but then the familiar pains began and I knew I was about to suffer from yet another bout of food poisoning on a trip. It had to have been that awful hamburger.

I laid in bed staring out at the sea for several hours. There are worse ways to be sick, I suppose. But the beautiful day was wasted. I tried to eat dinner in the evening but it didn't stay down. Oddly enough, though, I started feeling better after that, and in the morning, I had a weak stomach but was ok to go.

The weather wasn't, though. It was gray and ugly in the morning and then it rained because that's what it does in Ireland. I drove around the peninsula and stopped at various points to take photos, but when the rains really started coming down, I knew that the day was shot. I had been planning on hiking and walking on beaches all day. Oh well. I stopped at a pub called McGrory's to take a break from the driving and then decided just to head back to the tavern and drink Guinness all night. I'd been driving around for four or five hours anyway and had at least seen enough of the peninsula to feel like I got something out of it. County Donegal is truly beautiful, like all the emigrant songs say.

Walking on Malin Head

I don't know what the 80 is for.

Then a guy from north of Dublin came in and we chatted all night about life things, Irish and American politics, music, art, travel, Bono, and all sorts of things, the kind of conversation I seek when I go somewhere, the reason I get on the airplane, but it was more, because I felt a real connection with him, like we were kindred spirits. We'd be friends in less fleeting moments.

Something inside me seemed to wake up that night, the artful soul in me. I felt totally at ease for the first time in ages, with none of the vexing anxiety I've been carrying for an insufferable while, anxiety that's stolen the creativity and ambition from me. I felt so comfortable in our conversation that I saw no need to hold back or hide anything; I said what I wanted to say like we were old friends, even before the Guinness started to take over. We joked and teased without worry about offense or cultural sensitivities. He showed me a painting of his. I admitted I still wanted to write. He was humble and modest and vulnerable. I was curious and attentive and self-assured. I have always tried to surround myself with people from whom I can learn, and he taught me a bit about Ireland and something about people.

Several local residents were there. At one point a group of guys tried to get a soccer game on the television, but they were blacked out. I was outraged for them and tried to help them get it on, wishing to be the hero of the night. Alas, I failed. It seems MLB and NFL aren't the only corporations who actively seek to block customers from using their products.

The night had to end sometime, and it ended with the spoken acknowledgement that we'd never see each other again, and that is depressing, because I would like to see him again. Therein lies the worst of travel, the ephemeral nature of it all. That may be why I take so many photos. It's as if I'm trying to capture every moment to take with me and live forever, desperately trying to bottle time itself. That night I wanted to stretch out for days. But nobody ever fights time and wins.