Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dublin: The One Detail

So the plan was this: after finals, we would pack, watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony, then grab the last train to London and get to the airport for Dublin.

I've mentioned I always miss my train when I buy the tickets in advance. At least this time it wasn't just me. There were four of us going: two California natives, and a friend from Hong Kong (one of whom we sadly had to leave behind at the very last minute). We took too long watching the opening ceremony and didn't have enough time to grab our suitcases and run to the train station. The train was just disappearing from sight as we approached, and the next one wouldn't leave for at least five hours... which would give us nowhere near enough time to catch our flights. So we pooled our money together, and got a cab at 11:30 pm, headed for London. It took two hours.

I didn't bring my laptop or my iPod, so all I had for that drive was my journal and my mind, still discordant from the day's events. Which began with my first honest "I'll-never-get-this-done" all-nighter. I was writing the proposal to a study which would examine linguistic profiling and attractiveness; it had to be about ten pages, sans bibliography, and I was scrambling to get it done. Just as the sun rose, I found my paltry revisions complete, and slept for an hour and a half. After a quick shower and breakfast, I attended my first Cambridge exam.

We sat in a long, quiet room on tables built for only two students at a time, but extending back about twenty tables. The test waited for us as we filed in silently, four different classes at a time. We started directly at 9:37, and weren't allowed to leave until the first half hour was through. It was quiet, and felt much more high-stress than perhaps it needed to be.

I rewarded myself afterward with my first Doctor Who episode since landing in the UK; there are some serials that are not available in the US, but I can easily find on Netflix here. I settled on The Planet of the Dead, which had a great premise but was executed like a first-year screenplay writer. What they tried to do was replicate the Smith and Jones episode, where Martha's character is replaced by some international thief, or something. It's hardly worth the time, honestly. On the bright side, I also watched the pilot episode to BBC's Life on Mars, which was heart-wrenching, mind-boggling, and beautiful.

The story revolves around Sam Tyler (played by John Simm, easily recognizable to any Whovian). He is a cop in 2006 who gets into an accident and finds himself in 1976. The show is in part a police procedural, detailing the differences in policies between the 70s and the early 2000s. But more than that, it makes commentary on how we define ourselves. Sam is a DCI in 2006, but is essentially just another cop. In 1976, what he considers to be the norm of policework is seen as a radical set of new ideas. Throughout the episode, though, we get the sense that he may actually be in a coma in 2006, with an overactive imagination whisking him away to 1976. At the end of the pilot, Sam is about to jump off a building, in the hopes that it will wake him from his coma and he can return to the present day. Another character, Annie, stops him at the last minute. She grabs for him, and he notices the grit on her hand. He thinks, "Why would my mind include that detail?" It strikes him as so authentic that decides not to jump as a result.

I left for lunch afterward, wondering what detail would convince me I was in the real world... and to be honest, there isn't much. I'm feeling privileged out here as a temporary student of Cambridge, validated in my interests (even the low-brow ones) and grateful to experience a study abroad program in this way.

I digress. Dublin.

We arrived at 7:45 in the morning, and after that all-nighter I mentioned, it was safe to say I hadn't gotten a whole REM cycle in about twenty four hours. But we only had a short time to explore the city, so no sleeping yet! After dropping off our suitcases and such at the Isaacs Hostel, we walked to Trinity College, Dublin and got a short tour before being let loose in the Old Library.

This is the College Green of Trinity College. On the left going on past the frame is the largest sample of an oak tree in the UK, apparently. It was given to the college by the United States. Trinity was founded with only four areas of study: medicine, theology, math, and arts, but now has many available majors. Our tour guide had a very good grasp of the college's history and included some great anecdotal stories.

We got to visit the Long Room of the Old Library, just after seeing the Book of Kells, neither of which I was allowed to photograph myself, but here are some sanctioned pictures:

This is the Chi Ro page (Chi Ro being a Latin form of Christ). The Book of Kells is not the only illuminated text of the New Testament, nor is it even the oldest. However, its story is quite remarkable, and deserves your research... or a single viewing of The Secret of Kells. Whichever.

This room here is one of the most beautiful libraries I've ever seen, known as the Long Room. I stayed in here as long as I possibly could, before my friends found me and dragged me away. 

After my companions convinced me to leave the gift shop (which, let me say, took just as long as the Long Room), we went in search of a fabled marketplace which was around the Temple Bar District. This is not only close to the college, but also within easy walking distance of our hostel, and  would have been a very easy walk, therefore, if not for one thing.

You see, Dublin's weather is a bit like a child just old enough to throw around words like, "Yes" and "No." So for about fifteen minutes, we would get hard, heavy rains and strong, cold winds that would leave us hiding beneath whatever cover we could find, which is where the below picture was taken.

And then, the rain would disappear, and we would have to scramble out of our sweatshirts and heavy raingear because the weather would get so warm so quickly. In the other half of Dublin's fantastic weather tantrums, only t-shirts and sunglasses are welcome. We thought the electric box below was appropriate, given that all the locals shook it off and said, "Yeah, it's always like this." 

At the end of the day, I did finally get some sleep. It felt glorious. I dreamt of villains and warm winds, parallels to events I could only begin to grasp, slipping rather quickly into that great minefield of forgotten dreams once I awoke.

We visited St. Patrick's Cathedral the next day.

I only have one picture here, because there is no way any number of them could give you any sense as to what it felt like to be inside this sacred space. It was cold within the stone walls, but also felt full somehow. It was potently filled with history and ritual and ardent worship. From the windows on the right of the picture, the sun streamed through the stained glass windows and parted into separate rays of brilliant light, to be covered up only moments later by the ever-present looming storm clouds. People milled about--photographers ignoring the sanctity of the chapel (separate from the church proper). They snapped photos of saints entombed and decaying beneath a stone replica of their image. They grabbed pictures of a huge display of flags, and of the pews where quiet prayers were whispered into the full, cold church. In the front of the chapel, the choir rehearsed, and they were nearing a point where entire songs could be sung without  breaks. I heard that perfect "Amen" chord just as I reached for a rosary to give to my mother.

We did quite a bit of exploring. Visited a flea market, and I found two books, only one of which I enjoyed. It was "The Devil's Ladder," by Graham Joyce, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting just a few weeks prior. Written for young adults, it is properly frightening and inspiring. I wish I had had it around when I was in middle school.

The next day, we got on the train to the Irish coast, to Howth. Debate reigns over how to pronounce this, but the two biggest contenders I've heard are "how + th" and "goat with an h." It was a lovely summer day. Clouds passed us overhead, as if waiting to drop their heavy loads on Dublin rather than spoil it for us. One of us had a bike, so she got to see the cliffs of Howth, but those of us without the cycle went and found this abbey:

After a long trip through dodgy alleyways, we found the entrance, and it was surprising to see what lay beyond the wall.

We walked among the gravestones, catching names and snippets of history that few can retell. The only sound was a seagull, aggressively attacking a tin can for whatever lay within. Our footsteps barely disturbed the gravel, and we felt both guilty for and obligated to photograph what we saw. Someone has to remember this place. After that investigation, we all met up for a luncheon, and then headed back to the coast.

At the end, we sat at the edge of the sea, and breathed in the salty ocean air, before getting on the train again.

We packed up the last of our things, and returned to the airport, landing in London late in the evening. It took us until nearly two in the morning to get back to Cambridge, but was well worth the hell it worked on my sleeping schedule. The land is enchanting in a way nothing else can be. When I returned, I thought back on all the events of the weekend, and wondered if somehow, the whole trip was that one detail, the thing that could remind me that the world is real, it is beautiful, and it is worth exploring.

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