Picking up from the last post, I came back to a lovely but deserted house after an amazing time in Kashmir. Parents and sister came over for a while to spend time with me and it was nice to have them around during the transition from matrimonial to singlehood again, in all practical sense. Although it was May and getting hotter, we managed some relaxed trips inside and around Bhopal. My parents enjoyed grand sunsets offered at many expansive lakes across the city. They particularly savoured our visit to Satpura jungles and ancient rock caves of Bhimbethka.
Soon it was time for me to embark on my next trip. Both me and my partner fortunately got selected for this big conference in Dublin. We spent a few weeks planning and preparing, but he could not make it due to last moment technical problems at his office. This left me feeling quite lonely and lovelorn ahead of a the much awaited reunion. Bhopal-Delhi-Dubai-Dublin. By the time I landed in a not- so- impressive looking airport, my body and mind were in different places with little clue of how many hours I travelled between the time zones. Coming out of the arrivals terminal, crisp cool air brought some of me back to senses. We (me and boss), buy a return travel pass of the airport bus and board. The driver and helper were kind enough to help me in my confused daze. The bus had free wi-fi to my delight! Gliding freely through the roads, I could feel a whiff of fresh, clean winds sweeping through the evening. The hotel was situated opposite Custom House Quay, overlooking Liffey, the river.
A lasting memory from this trip is an unexpectedly happy, long walk with my boss right after we arrived in Dublin which ended in an Indian buffet! Who would have thought of this?! We randomly explored the streets and lanes in the neighbouring area, wonderfully coloured doors, quaint looking shops, window sills blooming with flower boxes. At one point my company grew uncomfortable around a girl smoking in front of us at the traffic light and i avoided engaging into his remarks. Except this little incident it was quite a gay evening. Sky was alight with an after sunset glow by the time we finished.
We walked for around three hours. But there was still light at 10pm when I was finally a little sleepy, although loneliness caught hold of me once I was back in the hotel room. That feeling, when you cannot handle beauty without pining for certain company in the depths of your mind. Next three days were going to be hectic, I told myself and tried to brush aside all the gloominess. I woke up earlier than usual. Sky was alight and from the window I could spot morning walkers and runners, the serene waters and the anchored ship that kept me company throughout.
Although still fighting the gloomy pangs, I had a good time, especially after my sweetest friend came all the way from Belgium (yes, beating the Belgian chocolates!) to spend a few days with me. Dublin, the city, felt nothing like I have ever felt. It was not overwhelming and was charming enough, with seemingly a perfect mix of art, culture, music, nature and refined ingredients of modern life.
Staying on the banks of the calm Liffey flowing through the city was a delight in itself. The long daylight hours made me almost delirious with confusion about when to sleep! But more than all this, the sheer freedom of being able to walk freely, at any time of the day AND night, alone, undaunted, unapologetic, was incredibly liberating. The air was still cool in May and city lights sparkled till late in the day. Talking back home was little bit of a challenge due to the time lag, but we managed fine.
My presentation at the daunting conference was received very well and I spent the day basking in my celebrity status- of a brown girl from India in Indian clothes talking about the difficulties of working in mental health in the poor country. Yeah, give me a break! People from everywhere kept coming and introducing themselves and encouraging, congratulating me all the way, felt good. Another pinch of salt, nonetheless! My boss was dismayed at my cynicism, I must add. Actually, earlier in the day, an octogenarian, veteran Chair of my session, confused my tiny spirit, by telling me that it’s a great thing that I am presenting, because, he said, “my dear, you are not white and you are a woman so I am really happy to see you here”. I could not really decipher the meaning of that well intentioned compliment till the euphoric day passed. Well, I think, this is it. A beautiful little fool, that’s what a girl should be, in this world. That’s not mine, that’s Daisy from The Great Gatsby.
Jess and I did the usual touristy stuff in Dublin, we went and looked at the beautiful city while drinking Hops beer and cooled our feet in the sprawling gardens of Dublin, while I wandered aimlessly with my camera everywhere. We roamed around in Temple Bar area with a delightful night life experience. And did a good amount of shopping too. I particularly enjoyed the hop on –hop off bus service in the city which was both cheap and convenient (on a recent trip to Delhi I noticed we have one too!).
Dublin has a long history of music and some amazing architecture, both modern and from bygone eras. Not to forget, it also boasts of giving us some of the luminary literary figures such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Y.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Kavanagh and George Bernard Shaw to name a few. There are multiple galleries, museums and libraries for those with such a bent of mind to experience and learn. I wish I had a little more time to understand their rich cultural heritage and was able to write more specifically.
I happened to discover accidentally, that Ireland has a history of what the rest of the world calls “guerilla terrorism” in recent times (1960s) but, in very simple terms an identity war from people within who consider themselves “British” versus “Irish”. You can read more about it by a simple search for “The Troubles” in Ireland. To put things in perspective, Ireland won independence from Britain in 1921 but Northern Ireland opted out of this free Irish state and went back to British rule. Currently, Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom as a separate entity from the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland also experienced a ravaging Potato Famine between 1845 and 1852. According to the Wikipedia page, “The Great Famine or the Great Hunger was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in this period. The cause of famine was Phytophthora infestans, a potato disease commonly known as potato blight, which ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s. However, the impact in Ireland was disproportionate, as one third of the population was dependent on potato for a range of ethnic, religious, political, social, and economic reasons, such as land acquisition, absentee landlords, and the Corn Laws, which all contributed to the disaster to varying degrees and remain the subject of intense historical debate. During the famine, approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.”
One constant enjoyment I had throughout my brief stay was taking an after dinner walk along the riverside. One day, a lady acquaintance accompanied me for the walk. As she lighted her cigarette, our eyes following the seagulls clamouring for their last meal of the day, we noticed a couple of boys staring at us from afar. Eventually, one of them came and asked for a cigarette. Unsure of how to react, we contemplated for a second and said no. With a sly smile, he turned. Then turned back and said, “we just wanted one”. We finally decided to give in. It was an unlikely event for us but a memory for me! I realized later that our hesitation has a lot to do with our background, our conditioning too. A food for thought around gendered experiences in public space; would a girl ask for a cigarette from men, would I react the same way if it was a girl, would this guy have asked if we were men….many possibilities to think of. And of course, would this ever have happened in India?
Being around the business district, I saw a lot of office goers; dressed mostly in black and blue who seemed to be at peace in the mornings, with the usual slackening pace while returning from work. I might be wrong, but one could see a lot of walkers, runners and cyclists in the morning and evenings. It seemed that Dubliners love to be outdoors. Walking around the Custom House, the vegetable markets were particularly enjoyable. They looked bright and fresh. But then, I had the same feeling in the markets of Barcelona too. It probably has to do with the visual delight of bigger, good looking fruits and vegetables. The illusion of beauty, that never fails to hold. The Indian (or Pakistani) buffet place was visited again. Their masalas smelled a little different, but after a few cold meals it definitely felt reassuring to have piping hot daal and rice.
People I encountered were mostly delegates from other places, like us, in the conference. However, on the roads whatever little conversation I could manage was quite endearing. Frequently asking for directions while walking alone a couple of evenings, I met people who took extreme care to make sure I reach the right place in the fastest time possible. They would also spend time generously in telling me if I had to visit ONE park, which one should it be, if I had to try one Irish meal, where should I go and so on. Vegetarianism restricts my culinary experience in many places, but in Dublin I could find myself wholesome, filling dishes to eat quite easily. Fresh fruits and vegetables seemed to be easily available and part of most meals. Also, potato was a recurring feature that I could not fail to notice. The traditional, full Irish breakfast is something everyone should try. Quoting from IrishCentral, “The traditional Irish breakfast incites memories of meals in kitchens that smell of freshly-cooked meats, fried vegetables and baked bread.” Their current food, as an Irish lady kindly enlightened me, is a fusion of popular western food cultures and a revival of the traditional food cultures. Beer forms an important part of the Irish food scene.
The Shamrock leaves and sheep feature as an important souvenir obsession. This appears to be so as St. Patick being the parton saint of Ireland, is said to have used the shamrock leaf, a young one of clover plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts (from Wikipedia). St Patrick is also said to have worked as a shepherd before becoming a priest. Hence, Shamrock and Sheep! There could be other theories, but this is my limited guess.
Must see places would definitely be the Trinity College complex, Temple Bar, Phoenix Park, The Little Museum of Dublin (and the National Gallery of Ireland if you have time) and the Guinness Storehouse (you can see the entire process of how the famous Irish beer is brewed and have one glassful at the end of it while savoring the sight of the city from the top of the building). I could not do any of the many countryside tour options available here, but was highly recommended to visit the Cliffs of Moher, Cork and Blarney and I desperately wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway. So if you happen to visit these, remember to bring me a souvenir!
Ireland is known for giving the world some of the best whiskey (I had only heard of Bailey’s and Jameson, but my knowledge was enhanced). I had the brains to pick up a few traveller bottles from the airport on firm advice of the stern lady there! In Ireland, they also give you a cash-back option (of the extra duty) if you fill a form with your credit card details, at most of the tourist targeted shops.
To sum up, a memorable week that I left with a yearning to stay back. The perfect blend of history, art, brimming music and pub culture, beautifully preserved naturescapes and sprawling infrastructure won me over and over. Of course, I cannot blind myself to believe that my brief romance with Dublin could capture its essence, but it did manage to tug at my heartstrings. Joyce said, “When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart” and the place surely deserves such an ovation!
Note- all photos used are mine and in unedited form, except for one with the black grilled gate. Some of the facts presented are taken from other sources and acknowledged there in. This post is dedicated to a dear friend who might be shifting close to Dublin very soon!